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Subject: Reiner Knizia’s Crusader Rex rss

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Michael Sosa
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Interesting perspective! I have not played Crusader Rex but did play Hammer of the Scots twice and had the same feelings you have: good game but I did not feel like I was moving units around. I felt I was moving A-B-C-D blocks trying to kill other similar blocks. I do not get that feeling from playing Command and Colors for example.

But perhaps light wargaming, by definition, has to be light on theme too. So you have to use your imagination when playing light wargames to add the needed thematic element so that it is fun. Of course the game has to by asymetric, so the Jihad example you mention could be difficult to roleplay for the Crusaders.

Because I was disappointed with the quality of the components and thematic feel for HotS I did not buy any Columbia games until Texas Glory, which I am still waiting to pay. I feel that despite of their thematic weaknesses there is a place in my library for "short" wargames with historical flavor!
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Jim Krohn
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Pssst... Reiner Knizia is NOT the designer. Not even close. Or did you write that just to get our attention?
I think the Knizia reference is related to his reputation for having a "pasted on theme" - one that doesn't drive the mechanics.
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Jim Krohn
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I like CR a lot and I have done a lot of extra reading on the boards about it. Let me try to give some of the thematic reasoning behind things in the game. Of course, I am not the designer and I don't work for Columbia, so they can feel free to correct me. Anyway, here's my take:

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Roads are lines that can be thick or thin. More units can move along thick lines, fewer – along thin ones. If those units attack, the movement limits are halved. Why? Says who? Well, the rules do. And for a good reason, too. You need those limitations to keep the brilliant game balance in place. And it works. Of course, “roads” don’t work that way in any actual “reality”, but it’s ok – they are not roads here, they are just lines.
One of the biggest things that commanders had to deal with in the campaign was water. The thinner roads were to represent paths that were difficult to move large bodies of troops because of terrain and or water. It wasn't because the road didn't work that way.

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Blocks? They’re blocks. Two different colours, the same characteristics, one special ability for each colour. If blocks “fight” in the field, it’s a normal fight.
Actually, there is quite a difference in some of the blocks between the sides which (to my layman's eyes) seem to match up well with history. The special abilities also seem historical, right? I know there was a lot of discussion on how powerful to make the knights charge (and the self hits) because the third crusade happened at a time when its power was waning.

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If one set of blocks hides in a “fortress”, the other side can only use up to twice the number of defending blocks for the “siege”. Why? Because the rules say so. And – you guessed it – for a good reason. Again, actual “armies” don’t work like that, but it’s ok, they’re just blocks here.
The conflict occured at a time when the advancement in siege artillery made it easier to take fortresses than it was previously. I also know that blocks retreating into a siege represented, not the entire town, but the smaller fortress/keep section of the town. This smaller section could not hold/sustain as large a force or be stormed by as large a force. Hence, the restrictions on defending and attacking forces. For obvious historical reasons, Tyre has even stricter restrictions on the number of attacking blocks.

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Why, in the world, does the Franc player benefit from the “Jihad” card in exactly the same way as the Saracens? Why does he benefit from it at all?
Perhaps it could have been better named, but the concept is the addition of reinforcements in the call for a "holy war." This was a concept shared by both sides. The Franks also considered it a holy war.

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All reinforcements are drawn blindly from the pool. No problem here. However, nine particularly powerful blocks the Franc player has in his pool – the crusaders – have to be collected into sets of three before they can be deployed.
The idea behind this was to make the Crusader apearance random (I think). Historically, the English showed up, the French showed up and left, and the Germans showed up in limited numbers because of the death of Barbarossa. You never know who is going to show up, or when. This randomness is slightly offset by the fact that, if you don't draw a crusader, you get an extra outremer block right away.

I think I also read that Jerry Taylor said this was a little bit of design for effect. Saladin was under pressure to do something and the mechanic of drawing Crusaders from a draw pool encourages Saracen aggressiveness. He wants to kill Franks and pollute the draw pool. Instead of coming up with special rules to get you to have the same pressures as the Saracens, he designed the game system to put that same pressure on you.

It sounds like you like the game, but your enjoyment of it is being dampened because it seems random. If so, then you are exactly like me. If I'm going to play a wargame, it has to make sense to me. I hope this helps!


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Jim Krohn
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knights' charge has become insanely more powerful, for example. I seriously doubt this is because extra hours of research indicated this needs to be so. More likely, it's because the Francs start with fewer blocks, and remain so for a long time, and need something to balance things out. So I completely support this decision. But it's tacked on asymmetry.
Oh, there were plenty of arguments on this topic and I was part of them. Many argued that it should be more powerful than the released version. The version currently in play was one that they didn't use originally because they were afraid it was too powerful. In the end, they switched back to it. In researching medieval games you have to make a judgment call. A lot of the decisions are qualitative. Which version of the knights charge is more realistic? I'm not sure and I'm not sure CG knows, but they switched back to a position that is justifiable historically and helps with game play.

Anyway, I'm just trying to help you enjoy the game more.

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Jim Krohn
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Ultimately, though, it may be a problem of stereotypes. Columbia positions itself as a serious wargame publisher. So we expect serious wargames from it.
This is my opinion, but I think CG does a good job of capturing the FEEL of a conflict and maybe even the crucial question of the conflict.

Hammer - the switching of nobles and fighting for the support of Scottish nobility.

Liberty - Washington has to keep his army in being. You can disband and recruit easily, but block elimination in combat likely means permanent elimination. Washington won far less than half of the battles he fought, but won the war because he kept his army alive. On the other hand if the Brits lose too many troops (they lost support back home because of this), they can't hold enough territory to win.

Crusader - They arrival of the Crusaders obviously, sieges, permanently eliminating the hospitallers and templars that saladin hated so much, charges and harrying.

All three of those games have exactly the same core system, yet with a few tweaks they FEEL like totally different games. I never feel like I am playing Hammer when I am playing Crusader, for instance.

Are any of them simulations? Probably not.

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Belisarius88 wrote:

Interesting perspective! I have not played Crusader Rex but did play Hammer of the Scots twice and had the same feelings you have: good game but I did not feel like I was moving units around. I felt I was moving A-B-C-D blocks trying to kill other similar blocks. I do not get that feeling from playing Command and Colors for example.

!
For me Crusader Rex is the weakest of the three Jerry Taylor games.
Regarding the comment about Command & Colors I have the opposite view - for me it unbelievably bland with no feel for the subject matter, I might as well play Chinese checkers. The most overrated game out there.
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Justin
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Interesting take, thanks for posting it!

My real inspiration to respond is on the Frank draws. Yes, they come from a pool but there isn't a whole lot in there to start and you have some control over what gets added: play defensively, and consider sacrificing (generally stronger) "die-upon-death" units in battle rather than placing a recurring one into the pool. If that's not enough for your tastes, you could even consider house ruling structured entry based on game turns.

Personally, I'd love more unit chrome but I like the theme and definitely feel its presence. I can also see how games could turn into a turtlefest if the Saracens don't draw blood quickly, and don't care for the end-of-the-world syndrome with all-out assaults by the losing player on the final turn (unfortunately common in many games). Still, I really enjoy Crusader Rex overall and wish the same for everyone.
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Well the captured hospitallers and the templars were killed by Saladin after Hattin. It makes sense to me that they are permanently eliminated.

For the Emirs (who are now permanently eliminated) there is again a legitimate argument for both sides. How loyal were they to Saladin really? Their permanent elimination AND allowing them to gain steps one for one only at their home seat was a good move not only for play balance, but to represent the nature of their loyalty (in my opinion).
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Oked wrote:
But this mechanic is also one of those that works quite nicely as a game and for balancing purposes, but feels very arbitrary and artificial if we consider the theme.
Well, I'm not sure that there's a game made which wouldn't fall victim to that statement. For me, something either has "enough" theme or "not enough" theme. If it has enough, I'll generally enjoy and forgive stuff. If it doesn't, I'll end up noticing a lot more of the abstraction. I'm not sure there's an end in sight if you keep looking for it once your disbelief has already failed to be suspended.

I wouldn't attempt to change your mind on theme, just trying to help with your main mechanical problem - I think that part could be saved.

Also, I missed 13 out of 14 50% chances to hit during a battle in my last game so don't be so sure about those buckets of dice evening out :-)
 
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Pierce (敏敦) Ostrander
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For me, in more complex and involved war games:

(1) where overly-detailed mechanics that require constant rules-checking and
(2) that evolve so slowly that an interested casual observer that “stops by” the table once-an-hour to see “how it’s going” can see no obvious and significant change in the board position

… the theme is lost in the details of “operating the machine” i.e. crunching out the details of play.

The war games / consims that capture the essence of a theme in a simple, quickly understood and fast-playing mechanic are the ones that “get it right” because in those games the mechanic doesn’t get in the way of the experience.

The “tipping point” for each individual is very different. For me, Jerry Taylor’s games are spot-on.

When playing Crusader Rex I can put on the soundtrack from “Kingdom of Heaven” and by the time the disk has played through a couple of times, my glorious Crusaders are charging out of a castle in the climatic battle of a game that has ebbed and flowed through a series of bold maneuvers and counter-thrusts for nearly a decade up and down that incredibly strategic strip of land in the Eastern Med.

The reality of the wargame consim universe is that very few games – on their own, without the imaginations of the players – are ever really very evocative of theme. You’ve got to add imagination. Sometimes, your just not in the mood and any game will feel like “turning a crank”. Other times, you are totally into it.

For me, the mechanics need to stay the heck out of the way.

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Pierce (敏敦) Ostrander
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For a completely different opinion, I'd suggest this review:

A historian's review

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Craig Hebert
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Old post, but Fubar above generally has it right in my opinion.

A game should always strive to remain above being tedious,and far too often that isn't the case.

As for this game, I find it evocative of the period it is trying to emulate - in a purely grand strategic sense. This might not seem like the most likely of comparisons, but I find it similar to Victory in the Pacific, in the same grand sweeping manner that game makes me feel. Those that say it seems pasted on - I think miss the point of some of the special abilities - IE - harrying and Knights charge - that give the game experience flavor. Read about Arsuf and again state that the designer did not create an interesting and well modeled mechanic - I say he did.

As for the movie, like most of these sort - (Braveheart being amongst the worst) - is generally going to be more Dramatical History than Historical Drama. I did find it entertaining, despite the many absolute black and white characters, and particularly preferred the director's cut - which at least seems more streamlined and complete - despite the many deficiencies the OP has brought out.
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Steven Hall
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I agree wholeheartedly. I find Crusader Rex to be absolutely enthralling and soaked with theme. The rules are precise and scientific and the game engine runs perfectly. The old warriors come back to life and battle for the Holy Land. CR has all the tactical and amphibious combinations we grognards dream of.
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This is a great post. Especially the point about the critical component of imagination necessarily being employed for the enjoyment of a (war) game like CR. Great point Fubar.
 
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