Theme and What is it?
It is the height of the Middle Ages and various orders of knights are exerting their influence across Europe. As they fight new foes, erect buildings and spread their power, they grow in influence, ultimately causing King Philip to become nervous and to entreat the Pope to disband the holy orders, thus ending their rise to power. Compete to see who can amass the most influence during this tumultuous time.
Crusaders: Thy Will be Done from Tasty Minstrel Games is a game for two to four players in which players control different orders of knights, spreading across Europe and vying for influence. To set up the game, each player will take their set of components (player board, action wedge tiles, knight meeples, building meeples, action tokens, and troop tokens) and then draw two random knight order tiles of which they will select one to keep. Some knight order tiles have special powers that affect set up, while others give special powers for the duration of the game. Players will then set up the board. Shuffle the enemy tokens and place them randomly on the indicated spaces with the Saracen tokens being placed with their building or troop icon faceup. Place the enemy majority award tiles near the board and place 20 influence worth of tokens plus 60 per player near the board, setting the rest aside. Players will alternate taking turns throughout the game.
On a player’s turn, they will either resolve an action or upgrade a wedge. There are five different actions spread across the starting action tiles. The power of each action is determined the number of action tokens on the wedge when it is selected, plus any applicable bonuses from your player board. Upgraded action wedges feature two actions and allow the player to split the action tokens between them, but they must place at least one action token in order to benefit from the action. So even if you have bonuses from your player board for one of the two actions, they will not trigger unless you place at least one action token on the action. After resolving an action, the player takes all action tokens from the space and distributes them one at a time, clockwise around the wheel, beginning with the next action space. When a player chooses to upgrade an action wedge, they select a wedge, flip it over, leaving all action tokens in place. They may then distribute the action tokens of any wedge as normal
The five actions in Crusaders are Travel, Muster, Crusade, Influence, and Build. Remember, each action has a power value equal to the number of action tokens plus any player board bonuses. Travel allows a player to distribute movement points between their knight tokens. Leaving a space costs one point while leaving a space occupied by an enemy token costs two points of movement. Muster allows you to flip your lowest level troop token, provided the power of the action is equal to or greater than the cost of the token. Troop tokens also provide a number of influence based on their level once acquired. Crusade allows the player to fight one of the enemy tokens on the board, provided they also have one of their own knights in that region. The power of the
Crusade action must be equal to or greater than the strength of their enemy, as indicated by the strength track for the appropriate enemy. Each time a Slav or Prussian is defeated, the players will keep the token, and raise the correlating marker up one on the defense track. When defeating a Saracen, you may place the next building of that type onto the board or flip the next troop tile as indicated by the token and receive influence accordingly. Influence simply awards influence tokens to the player equal to the power of the action. Finally, Build allows a player to place a building from their player board into an unoccupied space holding one of your own knights. Players choose any type of building for which the power of their build action is equal to or greater than the lowest-level building of that type. Some regions have building bonus tiles that give discounts to certain buildings or extra influence for specific buildings. Each new building placed uncovers further action bonuses, which are cumulative. Unlocked knights are placed into the same region as the castle that unlocked them.
When the last influence token is taken, the game will end at the end of that round, so that all players have an equal number of turns. Influence can still be collected, either from the spare tokens or on paper if those have also run out. Next, the enemy majority tiles are awarded to the players with the most enemy tokens of each type. Finally, players may receive bonus influence from level IV buildings. The player with the most influence is the winner.
As a medieval historian, I was very intrigued by this game from the outset. By his own admission, the designer has taken some artistic license in order to include a wide variety of orders and for the needs of the game. While not intending to be a history lesson, the theme provides an interesting jumping off point for this euro game.
Game Build Quality
Crusaders comes with 32 enemy tokens, 30 building bonus tiles, six enemy majority award tiles, 61 influence tokens, 10 knight order tiles, and 4 sets of player pieces each of which including: one player board, six action wedge tiles, three knight tokens, 16 building tokens, 12 action tokens, and five troop tokens. All of the punchboard tokens are very thick and sturdy. The knight and building tokens are standard meeples of good quality. All in all, the game feels very durable. There isn’t an insert per se, but as usual with Tasty Minstrel Games, there are plenty of baggies included.
The artsyle, apart from the knights on the order tiles, is relatively subdued. Good color choices and graphic design give the map of a Europe a clean feel. I like the way that most areas of that have color, the color has sort of a sunburst feeling. The iconography on the building bonus tiles are easy to read and convey the information without making the board feel cluttered.
Age Range & Weight
At the heart of Crusaders: Thy Will be Done is an action rondel powered by a mancala mechanism and is therefore, relatively simple. Maximizing efficiency on the rondel and deciding when best to upgrade one of your actions and which to choose is slightly more difficult. However, assuming you do not take umbrage with the theme of the game, I would think children as young as 10 could understand the game, with slightly younger than that possibly able to simply play along. I would expect most kids of a middle school age could play it well. While there is some depth to your choices, it all does come back to the action rondel.
Crusaders: Thy Will be Done took me a little by surprise. It looks at once both very complex and very simple, yet manages to blend the two so that what you are left with is not so much something of middling difficulty, but more so a game with a very simple base mechanism that allows a surprising amount of strategic depth in its execution. The actions are straightforward and the graphic design of the player board and various tiles and tokens convey quite a bit of information easily. Our first game with four new players only took 90 minutes to setup, teach, and play. The game just keeps moving along. You are either taking actions to work on powering up a specific action for later, or selecting that action once it reaches critical mass. In the early game, choosing to upgrade an action token and then redistribute action tiles from a different wedge can help you course correct if you haven’t been able to build up a particularly powerful action yet. It feels like there is quite a bit of depth here and there are even a few variants listed at the back of the rulebook. The game just flows and packs a lot of action into a game that plays in under an hour. Tasty Minstrel Games looks to have another hit on their hands and if haven’t gotten a chance to check it out yet, you should look for it during the upcoming convention season.