Here in the Golden Age of Boardgaming there is a veritable cornucopia of great games to choose from. Still, there are times when a game just stands out from the pack for one reason or another. Sometimes it is a unique new mechanic. Sometimes it is a serendipitous cross-pollination of theme and mechanics. Whatever is, these games just seem to find their way to the table the most often and always leave a satisfied smile on this gamer’s face. Crusaders: Thy Will Be Doneis one of those games.
Designed by Seth Jaffeeand published by Tasty Minstrel Games, Crusaders pits 2-4 players against each other as Knights Templar on a journey to conquer and develop Europe, to establish themselves as the greatest of all the knights. Now, while that sounds thematically grand and epic, the real genius of Crusaders is in its streamlined and well thought out mechanics, which are implemented about as perfectly as a board game can hope to achieve.
Each player will have their own board containing four rows of buildings – castles, churches, farms, and banks. Additionally the player’s board has six wedges forming a carousel of actions, also known as the rondel. The wedges are double sided and contain the different actions available during the game. The actions are travel, build, muster, crusade, and influence. That’s it, five total actions. The wedges start the game with only a single action on each, but on a turn a player may use her turn to flip over any wedge and unlock a second action on the board which will provide greater options on future turns. Every wedge on the board gets two tokens on it at the beginning of the game, though each player is assigned a unique faction which could increase or reduce the starting tokens for that player.
On his turn a player gets to choose only one wedge to activate. The number of tokens on that wedge indicate the power of the action or actions listed on that wedge. Once the player performs the action(s) on the wedge the player then picks up the tokens on the wedge and in clockwise order, places one wedge on each of the of the following wedges until the tokens are gone. Timing is everything when it comes to strategy in Crusaders. Building, mustering and crusading actions increase in cost the more players do them, so in order to keep progressing, they’ll need to pay more and more attention to the order in which they take their actions. This makes the wedge/tokens mechanic the main dictator of strategy. At the end of this turn you may have enough power to crusade on your next turn, but another player may take the crusade action in the interim, thereby increasing the cost of further crusades, which could leave you one short when it is your turn again. These types of things will happen to everyone, and better planning and coping will increase the chances of victory – a key quality in any good strategy game.
Another great design idea in Crusaders was the use of influence. Influence are the game’s victory points. Players get influence for every action in the game except travel. At the beginning of the game there will be a number of influence tokens set aside based on player count. As players gain influence they take the tokens from the pool. When the last token is gone the game will end after that round. So, players can see the clock ticking away and can plan accordingly. This simple little detail exemplifies the tightness of Mr. Jaffee’s design. There is nothing wasted in Crusaders and everything matters. The tension starts early and only ramps up as the game goes on. Still, with only one action per turn there is not too much room for analysis paralysis and the game moves quickly, clocking in at just around an hour. The game pieces are sturdy and the art is colorful while being minimalist, giving Crusaders the classic feel it deserves.
In sum, Crusaders is a gem of game design deserving to hit my table often, which it has and will. If you haven’t checked it out you definitely should. Thanks for reading and keep nerding on.
For a great how to play video check out Rodney on Watch It Played: