Friday, 4 May 2007

Crusader Rex, (Try it again for the First Time)

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.



Pat H said...

How is the complexity? I was thinking of picking up East Front II but will I be able to teach the rules quickly enough to a non-grognard?

These block games intrigue me and the crusades are definitely one of my favorite themes and historical periods for gaming.

Michael Barnes said...

Great to see Columbia Games get some love here on F:AT- I'm a huge devotee of their games (I have pretty much all of them other than the Civil War stuff and the "Front" series). For you folks who haven't tried them, they're definitely a TON of fun and give you a really great wargame experience with plenty of chrome without bogging down in a lot of minutiae and going overboard on playtime- and they're all fundamentally based on the same system, so it's easy to get into the other titles once you've played one or two.

CRUSADER REX is likely their all-around best game- like Mal said, the theme is great and the assymmetry provides some really interesting situations. The Saracens have to win early or wind up steamrollered by the Crusaders but that requires a huge dose of cunning and a lot of tactical risk-taking. I like it slightly better than HAMMER OF THE SCOTS if only because there's just a little more flavor to it and also because I prefer the point-to-point movement. Oh, and he's right too about the updated rules- essential. Early games were DOMINATED by even the most incompetent Crusader player.

I just got a bunch of WIZARD KINGS stuff, the new 2.0 edition...there's plenty of (somewhat justified) online bitching about the collectible "boosters", but the fact remains that it's a great game and it splits the difference nicely between a "serious" wargame and a fantasy-themed one. It's also neat because unlike CRUSADER REX or their other titles it's very much a kit- you can design all kinds of crazy scenarios and situations with it.

And I completely suck at all Columbia Games...I think I'm 0-18 at ROMMEL IN THE DESERT. Clearly broken.

Michael Barnes said...

Pat- the complexity level on all of the Columbia titles _other than the Front games_ is very low- we're talking 6-8 pages of rules, large font and easy to read. I've found they're very easy to teach, but sometimes some oddball rules questions pop up (particularly in WIZARD KINGS). ROMMEL is quite a bit more complex than the others as well, but it's still manageable.

CRUSADER REX sounds like your best bet since you dig the theme...but if you want "ease" into the block game scene, check out the early titles like WAR OF 1812 and QUEBEC 1759...they're _extremely_ easy to play, fairly short (45-60 minutes), and yet they offer a lot o f the same mechanics and rules.

Pat H said...

Those two titles are bound to stir up controversy in these parts - especially Quebec 1759. With the effects of this engagement still being discussed up here and my game group being a mixed bag linguistically this one should go over with some heat. I must have it.

Thanks for the tip!

Wargamer66 said...

Crusader Rex with the old rules (1.3 and below) is totally unwinnable by the crusaders. (if you dont believe me, we can play for money!) I never gave the 1.4 rules a go because I got disgusted and traded it.

That said, if the 1.4 rules fix this problem, it could be the greatest Colombia game. Boy, I wanted to like this one.

Malloc said...

I will reply to a bunch of the comments.

CR is fairly easy to learn/teach. If you know either Hammer, liberty or wizard kings they rules changes are more flavor changes than anything else.

1812 and Quebec are far simpler games than CR and its siblings. I like them and will play them but I would start with hammer or cr.

I am interested in WK2.0 as well, but it seems like one of those things that will frustrate me in the end with the way it is putout. I tend to be one of those morons who tries and get all parys to a game and the way the expansions are handled now make it seem like a pain in the ass to get the army you want without spending a ton of cash.

Wargammer66, 1.4 fixes most things. It may even go too far. Notable changes.

Saracens have to goto thier home seat to gain pips = to the city str. any other spot they get 1 pip per 2 city str points.

Crusaders come in as 1 group move and not 3 individual moves.

The germans can enter at either ciry in the north not just the franks controled one.

They also clarified the whoe fall into the castle/storm/sally mess from other editions.


Ken B. said...

Nice report! Thanks, Malloc!

Pat H said...

Malloc, could you please provide a basic turn sequence? I would appreciate it.

Russ Fade said...

My FLGS is supposed to start carrying the Columbia block line sometime soon. Bad news for my wallet. I've never played one but have been intrigued for ages (well, ok, for several months.)

Malloc said...

Lifted this from the geek.

Crusader Rex (Rules v1.4)
Franks deploy first. Saracens can swap Saladin’s location. Saracens draw 6 blocks.

5 turns
Simultaneous card play, if tied Franks choose start
Group move or Muster (friendly town)
Road limits 8/4, half if attacking / retreating
Forced march +1 but roll die
Pinning concept
Sea move between 2 friendly ports costs 1 movement point per block

4 rounds, attacker must retreat in 4th round
Reserves only join in 2nd round
Franks can knight charge. Saracens can harry, except sallying forces.
Victor can regroup, use normal road limits
Permanent elimination for crusaders, military orders & Saladin’s family

Siege: Fight 3 rounds. 2 hits needed to hurt defender. Storming attackers cannot exceed twice town rating. Siege attrition on 2nd turn besieged onwards.

Draw block (Year 2 onwards)
Deploy at own seat, or strength 1 at other

Winter turn – Move -1, no force march, no battle. Unit exceeding town limits die. Originally owned town give triple supply. Heal units, Saracens not home get half.

Sudden death – conquer all 7 victory cities

Game end – majority of victory cities, if besieged, the defender controls the city

English & French enter by sea, Germans by Antioch

pwn3d said...

A grognard buddy recommended eastfront for the PC instead of the cardboard version because it is a much faster game. I have tried HOTS and Quebec, I cannot wait to try Crusader Rex.

hughthehand said...

I like it slightly better than HAMMER OF THE SCOTS if only because there's just a little more flavor to it and also because I prefer the point-to-point movement.

100% agree.

This was my first "war" game that I ventured into. Hammer was second.

For me fellow euro players that venture here, this game is as close to a euro as a war game can get. I've only played with 1.4 rules, and only online on vassal, but I will definitely be getting this at Origins this year.

If you are teetering on the edge of trying a block game, let me knock you to the right side of the fence. Crusader kicks all forms of ass. And I don't really care about the historical part of this one. It is just a damn good game.

Thanks malloc for the article and bringing this out for us to see again. This is a game both sides can enjoy.

My review of the game at the other site:

Muzza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Muzza said...

Just when I thought I could put my wallet away for a while I read this.

Might have to sell a kidney...

hacksword said...

Screw Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Carcassone, and that other crap; Columbia Games is making some of the best "gateway" games out there. My cousin lived in Scotland for sixth months, and when he got back home I showed him Hammer of the Scots. We've played four games so far, and he liked it enough he was willing to try one of my other games, Wilderness War. It just goes to show you should try to find games on subjects people are already interested in, rather than the oft-recommended magic bullet games that aren't really about anything.

Russ Fade said...

It just goes to show you should try to find games on subjects people are already interested in, rather than the oft-recommended magic bullet games that aren't really about anything.

My wife is interested in American Idol, knitting, and dogs. Can anyone recommend a good gateway Wargame? So far she has shown no interest in TI3, Combat Commander, or Commands & Colors.

Anonymous said...

The neat thing about HoTS vs CR is that they are both so different. Two card-driven block games, both ancients - but two completely different gaming experiences.

The best sequence of play plus rules summary is here:

Malloc said...

I believe that the topic of wargames in general tends to attract non-gamers who happento be interested in that slice of history.

I have a neighbor who is a history buff who expressed interest in Wilderness War. he has never played a game before but liked that topic.

This is one area that I think wargames beat out both AT and euros. They can suck you in on topic alone.

I know I have picked up way more wargames than I can count due to my interest in history. I am a complete sucker for anything WWII pacific.


Pat H said...

You are correct sir. It was my interest in modern warfare as a youngster while reading "The Longest Day" by Cornelius Ryan and watching films like "Pork Chop Hill" that pushed me from playing with plastic army men to pick up Panzer Leader and Squad Leader when I was 13. I wanted to get as much an idea as possible of what it must have been like to either have the responsibility of a Field Marshall or a Sergeant(abstracted of course - I don't want to invite anonymous here to inject some "oh a 13 year old wanting to understand what it is like to throw lives away at the Dzerhezinsky Tractor Works" blah blah..).

You could also stretch this to the "Theme" element once more which is history of conflict more than art history for example. It is the conflict theme more so than the theme of religious bullying and cathedral building.

It is this correlation that you make that is the reason why Total War is advertised on the History Channel and the engine used in some of their productions. TV advertising is expensive but I would imagine you could grab plenty of sales for Tide of Iron from Advertising on the History Channel during the right slots.

C'mon - History, Wargame and toys all in a box, even if it is lite. (Holy shit this game isn't even out yet and I'm starting to sound like a fucken fan boy...yeesh.)

Wargames to marry well with AT and I for one have always looked for that balance.

Darilian said...

If you like Crusader Rex, or Hammer of the Scots, then take a look at the Columbia Website and decide if you would like to preorder the Texas Revolution Game. I know one of the designers, Dan Mings, and he's a great guy. A few more people signing up, DEMANDING, FINISH THIS GAME, would be enough to justify my locking up Dan in the back room of the LGS and forcing him to finish it. It looks like it will be very very cool.

William Boykin

Mr Skeletor said...

So if I only buy 1 block game, which block game should it be?

Anonymous said...

Think Lays potato chips Frank.

They're a bunch for trade on the geek... it's very common for eurosnoots to hear about them, try them and then return to their preference. Oh, that's right, you hissyfitted and stomped away -- never mind.

Malloc said...


I would pick CR if I have to choose one columbia block game, but I know them and know how they work. CR may not be my choice for a newbie.

For newbies, I think hammer is easier to learn.


Michael Barnes said...

Funny enough...if I had to buy only one block wargame, I probably wouldn't pick the "best" (CRUSADER REX)...I'd probably take ROMMEL IN THE DESERT or WIZARD KINGS. ROMMEL because it's so incredibly rich, complex, and challenging- the replay is going to be a lot higher in the long run. WIZARD KINGS because it's really what you make out of it and it offers variety in terms of scenarios, situations, and setups- I've seen scenarios that play out like adventure games, civ building games, and 4x style games. Plus it's pretty much the only one out there with real multiplayer capacity.

hughthehand said...

Michael, you gonna be at Origins this year? If so, I would love to try out Rommel. I have heard great things about the game from a couple of different people. If not, anyone else gonna be there that has the game? I'd love to learn!

To Malloc, I played CR first, and Hammer did indeed seem easier, but I don't know if that is because they are so similar in mechanics, that once you learn one, the rest are easy. Are you thinking this because of the siege rules in CR?

Also, I haven't checked in quite awhile, but how close is War of the Roses to these two games? Is movement handled differently?

And how is Liberty?

Malloc said...

I learned Hammer 1st. I also had to suffer through some of hte earlier CR rules. So I may be jaded by that.

Liberty is great and also very similar.

As far the new War of the roses game I have no clue as to what the game is like. Might be worth some digging on consimworld.


Michael Barnes said...

Alas Origins for me...but keep (ahem) late October free and maybe I'll meet you here in ATL for a schoolin'...hey, learn the rules and maybe we could do some VASSAL action!

It's a TOUGH game...every move is stressful. I have a really hard time managing supply lines in it and I usually wind up completely cut off. Definitely not the beginner's choice.

BTW- the recent podcast with Grant Dagliesh was probably the most painfully boring thing I've ever heard in my life. Unfortunate, because I was really hoping he'd have something exciting to say.

Rough summary-

"We make games. We make block wargames. We make HAMMER OF THE SCOTS. In the future we will make more block wargames".

Thanks for the games anyway, Mr. D.

Mr Skeletor said...

WIZARD KINGS is out because I want a complete game, rather than have to get blind booster junk. Plus I played 1st edition and thought it was merely OK. I don't see how 4 players is meant to work with fog of war, since it's hard to keep blocks covered from the player to your left and right.

I played and Enjoyed Hammer, but this crusader rex talk makes me think I should get that one instead.

Andy said...

Is Eastfront really *that* complex as Barnes and everyone seem to be making it out to be? Based on reading the rules it actually seemed *less* complex, or at least more intuitive, than Rommel in the Desert.

Michael Barnes said...

Yeah Andy, you might be is a little more intuitive than ROMMEL, likely since it's an in-house design and shares Columbia's general system whereas ROMMEL was a Craig Besinque one. What makes EASTFRONT more complex more than the rules is the scope really, the range of possibilities and the much larger theater of operations. Compared to game like CRUSADER REX, EASTFRONT isn't necessarily mechanically more complex but it's definitely a lot deeper and denser in terms of actual play.

The thing about WIZARD KINGS is it really is only as good as you make really demands creative scenarios to reach its potential. As for the blind boosters, they're not that can really play the game straight out of the box and never buy a booster but getting some gives you a lot of flexibilty in terms of what you field and a larger base to develop scenarios from.

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