The other night at the weekly Wednesday night game event, I had the chance to play a game that was hot for me a while back but had died off a bit lately. The last time I played Crusader Rex was this past summer at the World Boardgaming Championships where Bobby Tweaks laid the smack down on me with some amazing dice tossing skills. Seriously, the game lasted like 30 min, he was hitting 7 out of 8 shots when needing 1's. The world had waited 2000 years for miracles such as these. In short it was a total ass kicking.
Anyway I put the game away after that, not due to the loss, more due to my having the attention span of a retarded gnat when it comes to games. So when Mr. Tweaks phones me up yesterday afternoon and asks if I am interested in playing a block game at the game night, Crusader Rex seem like a fresh choice.
Now, I don't know if any of you have followed this game from the beginning, but I think it is safe to say that the original game was not the best fresh "out of the box." The rules have been through many changes over the subsequent years, some minor clarifications, other (knights Charge) big changes.
Initially my experience with the game (and I was not an early adopter here) was mixed. I really liked it, but could see how it was clearly unbalanced in favor of the Saracens. Many of the earlier rules fixes have not completely corrected this, but the new 1.4 rules were about to be released. The game we played last summer was the first time we had a chance to try out the 1.4 rules (I think these are still current). Too bad it was such a poor showing on my part because we totally missed having a chance to truly test them. Last night we had that chance.
Before I run ahead of myself, I guess I should explain a bit about the game. Wait... why bother I'll just point you to BGG where you can read the reviews that cover the game mechanics. Click here.
So anyway, last nights game was interesting. It had been a while so I can not say it was the best executed game of Crusader Rex ever played. I know I as the Saracens, made some huge mistakes. We played the full game (it takes about 3 hours) and the whole thing came down to the very last battle. A huge tactical mistake by Bobby T and some top notch dice skills by yours truly pulled out a win for Malloc in the end, but it was one heck of a wild ride.
Even though the Saracens won yet again the game felt a lot more balanced to me. The Franks had many chances to win and if they had done some more to keep blocks from going back into the draw pool the crusaders may have arrived a lot sooner than the last turn.
So I have been rambling on for a while now but I have not mentioned what it is I like about this game. To start the theme (IMHO) is great. The Crusades were a strange, interesting, and often misunderstood bit of history. I really like the look of the game and the Art on the blocks is both functional and cool. The rules take a bit of playing before they click but I think 1.4 has cleared up some of the problems around combat found in earlier version.
Game play is similar to Hammer of the Scots, but a lot more tactical. Also the combat is a bit more detailed. The defenders have the option of falling back into a castle to increase the number of hits they can take. The attackers can storm or siege that castle. Also, the Saracens and a few Franks units can harry, retreat while shooting and the Franks can Knights charge, a risky move where 2x the number of dice are tossed but 6's inflict a self wound. This leads to some interesting choices during the battle and sometimes to huge upsets when a Knight's charge goes either really well or catastrophically wrong. The latest rules make it so that the Saracens have to move in, Take ground and fall back with their better blocks to heal. For the Franks its all about weathering the storm until the Crusaders arrive from Europe. These guys are total bad asses that can swing the game in a new direction just by showing up.
Each side plays very differently. Tactics that work for one side are not possible with the other. This goes a long way in keeping the game fresh, just when I think I have mastered the Saracens I play the Franks a few times and have to start all over.
So if you are looking for a medium weight combat game for 2 players, I strongly suggest you check out Crusader Rex. Personally I feel it is the best of the Columbia Block games. Succeeding in a lot of areas that HotS and Liberty fall down. It's not the quickest game but you can, with experience, get it done in under 3 hours. So check it out and have a good time letting the dice fly.