Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done was originally forecast to arrive with Kickstarter backers in June 2018. However, as often happens, there were delays… several delays… and it ended up reaching backers in January 2019. The question is, was it worth the wait?
One of the first things that struck me about Crusaders was the production quality. I had opted for the Deluxified TM version because I have other Tiny Minstrel Games (TMG) Deluxified TM games, and have been impressed with the quality.
On that front, TMG did not disappoint. The dual-layer player boards and tiles are extremely thick, the screen-printed wooden buildings are gorgeous, and the metal influence tokens have a wonderful solid feel. The alternative plastic buildings and knights are a matter of taste - I’m sure some would prefer these (they were a Kickstarter stretch goal, after all), but I will always choose wood over plastic components. The wooden enemy tokens and the drawstring bags make a nice finishing touch. The box is also sleeved - make of that what you will.
Crusaders uses a mancala mechanism to select actions each turn. On the player board there are six wedges arranged in a circle. Initially there are two action markers on each wedge. On their turn, a player selects an action, performs it with a strength in accordance with the number of action markers on that wedge, then redistributes the wedges, one each on each of the next wedges, in a clockwise order.
In this way, the number of action markers on some wedges can increase during the game, making the actions stronger. There is a shared map, on which there are knights representing each player (one each, initially), and a number of hexes with enemies, building spaces and building bonuses or discounts for specific building types. Most of the game action takes place on this map, in accordance with the player actions.
There are five basic actions (once of the actions, travel, appears twice):
- Travel - A player can move their knight a number of hexes on the board (although leaving a hex with an enemy token in it requires additional “travel” points).
- Influence - Influence represents victory points in the game. This is a simple “collect victory points” action.
- Muster - There are five troops which can be recruited through the game. Each adds one point of military strength for crusades. Each troop requires an increasing number of muster points.
- Crusade - Attack an enemy token. Enemy tokens occupy spaces on the board, and have a strength determined by a track on the board. As long as the player has crusade points to match or exceed the strength of the token in the space they occupy, they may defeat the enemy, receive influence points, and then increase the strength of that type of enemy for the remainder of the game.
- Build - There are four building types, and four of each type of building. Each type of building has an ever-increasing cost, but in placing the building on the map, the player reveals an additional bonus which provides a boost for subsequent actions. Banks provide a build bonus, farms provide a muster bonus and so on. It wouldn’t be hard to justify the bonuses thematically. Placing a building on the board also provides a number of influence points - this amount increases with successive buildings in each type.
In essence, that’s all there is to Crusaders. There is a fixed number of influence points to be earned; once the supply is exhausted, the round is finished, and the game ends. There are, however, a number of additional elements which make the game more interesting.
Action Wedge Upgrades
The action wedges each depict a single action. They can, however, be upgraded to show an additional action. What makes this so appealing is that the action markers can be divided between the two depicted actions. So, a player could, with sufficient markers, move and build in the same turn. If you wanted to find yourself the subject of much frustration, you could do this just as a fellow player has cleared a hex of an enemy, thereby thwarting them from building in that hex. This is a neat addition to the game, as it adds a little depth to the planning of actions.
Knight Order Abilities
At the start of the game, players are given the choice of two knight order tiles. These give some variability to the game, as the tiles present different unique abilities to choose from, such as having more action markers, having some of the action wedges already upgraded, or being able to distribute anticlockwise instead of clockwise. Although they may seem trivial, these can go some way to shaping strategy in the game.
Final Thoughts on Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done
From the Kickstarter campaign, many had the impression that Crusaders was going to be quite a meaty game, with a lot of depth, and a substantial running time. Neither are true. In fact, a game of Crusaders will typically play in under an hour - perhaps slightly longer with four players, but not much longer. In truth, however, it seems to be the perfect length.
Crusaders is not a particularly weighty game - the decisions are fairly short term, although a strategy can be based around either predominantly building or predominantly crusading…. Or simply spamming the “influence” actions as much as possible. When I realised how light, and how short a game of Crusaders was going to be, I was a little concerned, however, I am very impressed by quite how enjoyable a game it has turned out to be. It has already proved to be one of my most played games of 2019, and I can imagine that continuing for a little while, at least.