Out of all the games I’ve played, and I’ve played a lot, I’ve never played an honest-to-gosh wargame. Years ago I tried to learn them with a game called NATO: The Next War in Europe, but I never comprehended all the rules and ended up giving it away. I guess the closest I’ve ever come to true wargames might be Battletech, Struggle of Empires, or hell, maybe Axis and Allies.
That changed last night, when Matt brought over Crusader Rex!
Crusader Rex is a wargame for two players that attempts to replicate the Third Crusade, from 1187 through 1192. One side (Matt) is the Christians, the other (me) is the Muslims. There are seven key cities on the map, and the goal is to either control all seven or control four of them at the end of the game.
When most people think of wargames — assuming they do at all — they usually think of little square pieces of cardboard being pushed around hex maps. Crusader Rex is what’s called a “block wargame” in which the units are wooden blocks with stickers on them:
The blocks are stood up facing their owners, which creates a sort of “fog of war” effect. You know there are two dudes in Tripoli, for example, but unless you go poke at them you don’t necessarily know who or how strong they are.
Here’s a closeup of my MVP, Saladin:
Saladin starts out in Damascus. In the bottom left you can see that he can move 3 spaces per turn. The bottom right shows that he is an “A” unit (he attacks before “B” and “C” units), and he hits on a die roll of 3 or less. The number of diamonds is his troop strength. Right now it’s at four, which means he’ll roll four dice in combat. If he gets wounded, I rotate the block to show a smaller number of diamonds, and now he’ll roll fewer dice. Once he rotates past one diamond, Saladin gets his 72 virgins in Paradise.
Matt’s Frankish warriors had an ability called the “knight’s charge” which was super-deadly. Basically he could roll more dice at the risk of injuring his own troops. He cut huge swaths through my soldiers with this. My guys had an ability called “harry” where they could essentially hit-and-run: dash in, take a whack at a guy, and leave before he could hit back.
The game is set up so that the Franks start with four of the key cities, but at a distinct disadvantage. The Muslims have increased mobility, plus the harry ability, which makes them very hard to kill. As the game progresses, though, due to the reinforcement blocks that are drawn, Crusaders arrive from Europe who are extremely buff. Also, a lot of the Frankish player’s troops can come back from death, since they’re just Sir J. Random Templar. On the other hand, most of the Muslims are named leaders who don’t come back once they die, so their numbers diminish if that player isn’t careful.
Which I wasn’t. It took me a few rounds to figure out what I should be doing with my guys and how to effectively use them, and by the time I did so, the Frankish reinforcements were huge. Many of my leaders were in Allah’s arms before I had formed any kind of strategy, and when 1192 rolled around I was trying desperately to steal a fourth city from Matt and hold it long enough to win. I failed at Jerusalem, and I failed at Acre. However, as the year waned I made last-ditch thrusts at two cities. This ended up drawing troops away from Jerusalem, and Saladin and his Republican Guard were able to run in there and claim it. It was sheer luck on my part, really.
I’m a total neophyte at games like this, and even the games I’ve played which are somewhat similar (the above, plus other miniatures-combat games) I’ve usually done terrible at because I just can’t see the huge picture and how to make all the little pieces fit. It took me about half the game to get even the small amount of handle I eventually got on it, but by the end I was making smarter decisions and having a better idea of how things might go. So I really did learn not only how to play this game, but how to better play games of this type in general.
In addition, it was just plain fun. The battles were fun to fight, there were blocks of Matt’s that I grew to despise (King Guy and Richard, in particular), and as the time ran out, it really was exciting to see the battlefield change. I’m glad I finally gave wargames a chance, and I look forward to playing more and getting better at them.