It’s a dark time in Europe for infidels. The holy wars are raging on, and it’s time for you, the grandmaster of your knight’s order to orchestrate and execute the plan to cleanse the landscape, and strengthen your influence across the land.
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, is a game of action selection, and area control set during the Crusades players compete to secure the strongest influence for their Order as the seek to control the most territory across Europe.
So, should Crusaders invade your game night? Or does it leave you uninspired? Let’s find out!
Double-Sided board (you’ll pick a side depending on player count)
Knight Order tiles
4 Player boards (and 6 Action tiles for each board, as well as 5 Troop tokens for each board)
Knight meeples (sets of 3 in 4 different colors)
A whole mess of building meeples (Castles, Churches, Barns and Banks. Again, sets in 4 different colors)
32 Enemy tokens (The Slavs, the Prussians, and Saracels) There’s a whole pile of these
30 Building bonus tokens
48 Action tokens
A giant pile of Influence tokens (these are VPs)
The setup is a touch lengthy but it breaks down into two phases: the Game board, and the Player board. Let’s look at the Game board first.
You’ll place a random Enemy token in the spaces on the board that have a flag icon on them. Then you’ll randomly place building bonus tiles on the spaces that have outlines for them. Depending on the number of players you’ll count out a specific value of Influence tokens and place them next to the Game board. You’ll also place 1 Prussian, and 1 Slav token on the strength tracks on the board.
The Player board setup goes like this. You’ll place Building pieces and 2 of your Knight meeples on the player board in the designated spots. The five Troop tokens go face down (pendant side up), the first player randomly places the six Action tiles on their board, and then all players match the same setup. Then each player places 2 Action tokens on each of those Action tiles. Then starting with the last player and going counter-clockwise players place one of their Knight meeples on the board—there are four spots on the board that have a Knight icon on them.
Each player will also select an Order tile which will possibly change how your player board is setup slightly.
Each turn you’ll either take an Action, or Upgrade one of your tiles.
Let’s talk about the Actions, and how you take them. Remember when we put those 2 Action tokens on each of the Action tiles on your board? Those tokens represent the strength of the Action you can take. At the start each Action is sitting at a strength of 2. Once you take an Action, you remove the tokens on that tile and then drop one on each of the following tiles going counter-clockwise, making those actions stronger. The strength of your Actions are in this way, constantly in flux. So let’s talk about the Actions…
Move—Simply move one of your Knights a number of spaces equal to the power of the Action. You can also split those moves up between multiple Knights, if you so choose.
Muster—The Troop tokens on your board have a cost on them, if your Muster action’s strength is equal to that cost, you can Muster: You’ll get instant VPs, and you’ll flip the tile, giving you a bonus to your Crusade actions. Speaking of the Crusade action…
Crusade—If you have a Knight in the same space as one of the Enemy tokens, you can Crusade. So earlier when I said there was a strength track for the Enemies, this is where that comes into play. Your strength has to match the current strength of the Enemy you’re trying to defeat. If you defeat them, cool, you keep the token (you get bonus points for having defeated the most of a type of Enemy at the end of the game), and then you move the strength token, so they get stronger for the next time they’re attacked. The Saracels act a little differently than the others; their strength is always 6, and you can either take 3 VPs, or flip the token you defeated over and gain the sweet reward shown on it, like build a Building (sweet!) Oh, and speaking of building Buildings…
Build—To do this action you have to check the cost of the left-most Building that you want to build, and if you have that strength available on your Build Action tile, you can build it! Also you get bonuses or discounts if there is a building bonus token on the spot you’re building on (which has to have one of your knights on it). Once you build the Building, you’ll score VPs, plus it’ll uncover a bonus on your player board—these can give you bonuses to crusading, building, etc.
Influence—The last available action is Influence. This one is easy—you just take VPs equal to your strength on this action. That’s it.
The other option you have on a turn is to Upgrade a Wedge. To do this simply flip over a Wedge Action tile, and place the Action tokens back on it. When you flip over an Action Wedge it gives you a second Action option on that wedge. You can either use all of the tokens to do one of the two Actions, or split your Action tokens between the two Actions available.
The End Game
The game ends when the last VP token is taken from the pool you created based on player count. You’ll finish the round of turns so that each player gets the same amount of turns. Then end game scoring is done. Players will add up their VP tokens, count their defeated Enemy tokens (and gain points for having the most or second most of each type), and if you happened to uncover the fourth spot on any of your building tracks you’ll get end game points from those spots too.
That’s it. Most points wins!
Jeremiah—So… both Tasty Minstrel Games, and designer Seth Jaffee have acknowledged that the Crusades were a dark time in history. The theme and goal of the game is not to behead as many infidels as possible—the name of the game is Influence, (VPs are “Influence” tokens), spreading influence across Europe to become the most influential Knight Order is the name of the game, and that reads pretty well here. Yes. Crusading, and defeating enemies is one of the things you do. But it’s abstracted, and mechanically very much like all of the other actions. I think this is a tasteful take on a sensitive historical period.
Firestone—I’m gonna go ahead and say that this theme choice was just a miss. There’s no reason this couldn’t have been any other theme, and one that’s not such a black eye for those of us who hold to the Christian faith. Have it be a make-believe land where you’re coming in and fighting fake races! Anything! Lots of stupid things have been done and said in the name of my faith, but I don’t want to play a game that doesn’t push back against those stupid things. Just a couple of weeks ago we reviewed Freedom: The Underground Railroad, which is about another dark time in history, but it looked it square in the eye and said, “We want players to right this wrong—even if it’s well after the fact, and in a game.” (I’m NOT saying designer Jaffee is in any way condoning or celebrating what happened. I think he sees it as just a semi-historical theme.)
But make no mistake: Setting aside the theme choice, Crusaders is a good game.
Jeremiah—We got copies of the non-Deluxified version of the game and I gotta tell ya, I LOVE the components. They’re custom cut wooden meeples for the knights, and buildings. The Deluxifed version gives you very detailed plastic bits that look amazing, too. But if you can’t get ahold of that, the standard version doesn’t disappoint! Everything is so chunky and well made. Everything about the aesthetics of the game is super pleasing to the eye and tactilely appealing!
Firestone—Often I lament “only” getting the regular version of games, but in this case I’m totally fine with the regular version. Yes, those plastic pieces are nice, but playing with those terrific wooden pieces reminds me of why I was first drawn to this hobby: bits!
I also like the bright colors, and the clear iconography (though I think the icons could be a bit bigger on the Action tiles). The player boards and the various tokens are THICK and chunky—really nice. And I appreciated the small touches, such as having different artwork for each of the Orders of Knights players use. Aesthetically, it’s terrific.
Jeremiah—Okay, we’ve talked about the theme and the components, but how does this game PLAY? Well. The answer is…GREAT! I love the puzzley nature of the rondel/mancala action selection, trying to load up certain abilities while maximizing the actions you’re taking to plan ahead. It’s a really clever game, and I love that about it.
Firestone—I agree: this has solid gameplay. I was afraid the mancala would just be like Stefan Feld’s Trajan, but it’s different, and I like how it’s different. Speaking of different, I love that there are 10 different Orders to play, each with a special power (though many are similar). The Designer Notes say that they originally weren’t going to have different Orders—I’m so glad they went this direction, because it ups the replayability tremendously.
Jeremiah—With 4 players the game is tense to the end, lots of jockeying for position to try and defeat enemies, or block other players from getting building bonuses. While the action selection rondel is very much a solo activity that everyone is doing sort of on their own, the board got pretty crowded, pretty fast as more knights enter the board for each player. There’s also not one single best path to victory, so if you’re able to adjust your strategy and take advantage of the shifting landscape you’re still going to be in the thick of it as the game comes to an end.
Firestone—In our first game (4 players), it sort of fizzled out at the end. We all ran out onto the board, building willy nilly, so it got to a point where there weren’t any places to build anymore, but not enough Influence tokens had been taken to trigger the end game. So we spent a number of turns trying to work the mancala to get a bunch of tokens in the Influence space and then grab a bunch of tokens to move toward the end-game.
Now, that might have just been groupthink, where we all assumed one thing was the best and all went for that thing. And it didn’t happen in any of the other games I played (none of which were with the full count of 4 players, though). So it obviously doesn’t happen in every game, but it can happen, and makes those last few turns less-than-thrilling.
Jeremiah—I love that this is what I call a simple deep game. All of the actions make sense (Move, Muster, Build, Crusade, etc.) but the rondel gives weight to every turn—you can’t just burn a turn to load up a specific action, so you’ve got to balance your approach. And the layers of that strategy alone add great depth to Crusaders!
The one thing I would caution about is that this game is very susceptible to analysis paralysis—it can be puzzley and thinky, so if you or the gamer(s) you’re planning on playing with are prone to AP, be sure to allot more time than the box says, because it will get away from you. That being said, plan ahead, but be flexible, shifting your strategy will keep you in it!
Firestone—We never had any AP problems in my games. Most games came in at right around an hour, and that feels right for the weight of this game.
Jeremiah’s Final Verdict—I’ve been excited to play Crusaders since I first heard of it last year. The game and mechanic concepts were very intriguing to me. Once I got into my second turn I knew that my anticipation was well founded. Crusaders is a satisfying, clever, intriguing and smooth game. Its simple gameplay and deep strategic concepts, paired with outstanding components, make this a great addition to any gamer’s collection!
Firestone’s Final Verdict—Theme aside, I really liked Crusaders. There are multiple ways to engage the game, and the rondel mechanism is used cleverly. Those great mechanisms are paired with terrific components, and great artwork. The decisions were interesting and fun, and I’ve enjoyed exploring this. Thumbs up!
Theology of Games would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing review copies of Crusaders. This in no way affected our opinions of the game.
Thanks so much for reading!