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Subject: A Crusade Historian's Review rss

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Tom Madden
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Yes, it’s true. I’m a professional historian of the Crusades. I have written several books and train Ph.D.s on the subject. I have to admit that, given that I am not much into wargames, I would not have tried this game were it not for the theme. I’m glad I did. My opponent was my nine-year-old daughter, who became enthralled with the game. She now asks to play it all the time. She knew nothing at all about the Crusades before we started playing, but throughout the first game she kept asking about various characters (she played the Crusaders) and what really happened. So, aside from being just plain fun, this game is pretty educational.

Rather than give a synopsis of rules, etc., I want to approach this review from the perspective of a Crusade historian. (For this review I am using version 1.3 of the rules.) First off, a game with the level of abstraction of a block game is never going to be a completely faithful reproduction of its subject. That said, however, I was constantly amazed at how this seemed to recreate the factors that were really at work at the time. For example, the Saracens are powerful so long as they can keep the emirs alive, but if they are eliminated, then they are just drawing low quality Turks, Arabs, and Kurds every turn. This nicely mirrors the fact that Saladin’s emirs were willing to support his jihad so long as it was both successful and reasonably short. Time was always his enemy.

The purpose of the early game is to reproduce the lopsided situation in the region just before and immediately after the Battle of Hattin. It does this very well. In the games that I have played (always as the Saracen) I have been able to defend my current position and, without too much trouble, have the Christians on the run. It is never clear precisely when the Crusaders from Europe will arrive, so I need to take that into account as well. This is exactly the situation as it occurred in history. The Saracen must move quickly to secure his position before the kings of Europe arrive.

I was amazed during my first game of this how closely it recreated actual historical events. It is a coincidence – at least in part – but amazing nonetheless. As the Saracen I quickly captured Jerusalem and then moved on to Acre, which I took after a short siege. Tripoli almost fell to me, but was saved by the arrival of some pilgrims from Sicily. In reality, it was Conrad of Montferrat that saved Tripoli, but the Normans from Sicily did play an important part in the early crusade.

With not much more than Tripoli and Antioch, the Christians held on until the first of the Crusaders arrived. Frederick Barbarossa arrived first, but ran into a buzzsaw with my forces besieging Antioch. This did not really happen, but I thought it was a nice parallel to the disintegration of German forces after Frederick’s drowning in the Saleph. The English and French forces arrived shortly thereafter and my daughter (who knew nothing of the real events) decided to lay siege to Acre. My attempts to break the siege were ineffective and the city finally fell to her. I should have known!

She then went south and hesitated, trying to decide whether to attack Jerusalem or Egypt – just as Richard and his men did. Finally, she headed to Egypt and captured it. In reality, that did not happen, but it was what Richard wanted to do. Perhaps it was good that he did not, for she quickly found herself surrounded by my forces and lost Egypt. I won, four to three principal towns – just like the real events.

Things didn’t go so close to the historical events in the other games we’ve played, which is good, since it would be rather boring otherwise. But we have always had a great time. She asks to play the game frequently and it even caused her to ask to read one of my books on the Crusades. I’m not sure if she is really reading it, but it is sitting next to her bed, so that’s something. She does, though, frequently ask historical questions during the game.

A game like this should first and foremost be fun – and it is. It should secondly be true to its subject, and it is – at least to a point. I would suggest only one change in light of history, although I’m not sure how it would be implemented. In CR Jerusalem is just one of the seven principal towns. In reality, though, it was the reason why anything else in the region mattered. The Christians were there for the sole reason of securing and defending Jerusalem and the other holy sites. It was the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 that led three kings to take the cross. The fall of Acre or Tripoli would not have had that sort of impact. Despite restoring most of the coast, Richard considered his crusade to be a failure, really unfinished because he had failed to capture Jerusalem. I wonder if there isn’t some way to have this dynamic, which was so central to the crusades, represented in the game.

Overall, though, I enjoy this game very much. It faithfully reproduces many factors that were at work at the time. And it does so within the framework of a fun experience. That’s no small thing.

Thomas F. Madden
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Andy B
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I need to order your book "Concise History of the Crusades"! I've been meaning to pick this up for a long time now but I got side-tracked and bogged-down in Phillips' "The Fourth Crusade And The Sack Of Constantinople".
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Jesse Miller
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Wow, that is one hell of an endorsement. Thanks for the review-- I'm now going to pick this game up.
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Bertrand Russell
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enricodandolo wrote:
I would suggest only one change in light of history, although I’m not sure how it would be implemented. In CR Jerusalem is just one of the seven principal towns. In reality, though, it was the reason why anything else in the region mattered. The Christians were there for the sole reason of securing and defending Jerusalem and the other holy sites. It was the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 that led three kings to take the cross. The fall of Acre or Tripoli would not have had that sort of impact. Despite restoring most of the coast, Richard considered his crusade to be a failure, really unfinished because he had failed to capture Jerusalem. I wonder if there isn’t some way to have this dynamic, which was so central to the crusades, represented in the game.


Just curious, was the recent movie Kingdom of Heaven true to history? It definitely hammered home your point about Jerusalem.
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Kevin Moody
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Quote:
I need to order your book "Concise History of the Crusades"
Aha! Now I recognize the name. You had a great interview with Prager recently. Well done.

Quote:
Just curious, was the recent movie Kingdom of Heaven true to history?
Oh, I know your answer to this one laugh May I?

It's true to Hollywood's view of history.

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Daniel Rocchi
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What a fantastic and informative review. Thank you.

I just finished putting my stickers on this weekend, and I hope it hits the table soon!
 
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Dan Dolan
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It's a great game. Lots of fun stuff happening all over.

The Saracen is a bit easier to play in the beginning but repeated playings will show one how to utilize the Crusader's strengths.

It's nice to see someone who knows the era comment on the game. Jerry did a real nice job of merging history and game with this one.
 
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Dane Peacock
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Holy crap! Excellent review. I thought I knew a thing or two about the crusades just from reading Madden's books. This guy actually wrote them. This is very high praise indeed. I wish more experts would do this.
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A+

Very fine review.
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Andrew Young
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And if you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.
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Nice review.

This was why I liked the game so much even though it had some issues (IMO) when released: it simulates the historical situation very well.

Jerry Taylor has done an excellent job of creating the feel of both the 3rd Crusade and of the wars in Scotland (Hammer of the Scots).

Andy
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Doug DeMoss
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On Jerusalem, I can see your point, but I don't think that the game would work if the rules gave Jerusalem more prominence. As you note, as is Richard had the choice of going to Egypt OR Jerusalem in your game, and if Jerusalem was more important, this choice would effectively be taken away. Also, note the positions of the Saracen starting victory cities - loss of one would have been a disaster for Saladin, and if that's taken away, the game could easily devolve into a race to pile as much force as possible into the vicinity of Jerusalem.

The placement of the victory cities effectively does give Jerusalem its historical importance; it's the fourth city for either side. One of the hallmarks of great game design is that such effects arise naturally from other details without requiring special rules.
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Jim Scheiderich
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Quote:
Just curious, was the recent movie Kingdom of Heaven true to history? It definitely hammered home your point about Jerusalem.


Somewheres there was a synopsis of how the movie matched history; Balian being the hero though not of the poor craftsman's roots as depicted.

Unfortunately, I do not recall the reference (Geeklist or whatever) so if someone else reads this and can repsond, thanks.
 
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David desJardins
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demoss1 wrote:
On Jerusalem, I can see your point, but I don't think that the game would work if the rules gave Jerusalem more prominence. As you note, as is Richard had the choice of going to Egypt OR Jerusalem in your game, and if Jerusalem was more important, this choice would effectively be taken away.


I don't think that's really true, because Jerusalem would also be defended more strongly, and so the increased difficulty of taking it would offset its increased value.
 
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Tom Madden
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I'm glad that my review was useful! As I mentioned, I don't have a good idea how to implement a more prominent role for Jerusalem. I just know that historically it had one. The primary purpose of this game, though, is to be fun. And it is that.

Kevin concisely sums up my take on The Kingdom of Heaven. For a longer review one might see http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/madden200505270751.asp . I'm in the DVD bonus disk too, but (not surprisingly) they didn't include anything critical I said about the movie...
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Jerry Taylor
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Thanks for taking the time to write such a nice and thorough review of C-Rex, Tom! I'm particularly pleased that your 9 year-old daughter can so quickly pick up the game and enjoy it.

I certainly take your point regarding Jerusalem. In fact, early playtest versions of the game made control of Jerusalem the sole criteria for winning the game. Loss of other cities reduced one's ability to field an army in the playtest version, so that both sides had an incentive to pay attention to regions outside of Jerusalem regardless.

But that victory condition (control of Jerusalem) caused a lot of problems. For instance, if the Saracens were to lose Aleppo and Damascus but were to take Jerusalem, would that REALLY have been considered a win for the Saladin? I don't think so. The Franks would probably have been able to successfully bargain off those cities for the return of Jerusalem (in fact, they probably could have bargained off Damascus for Jerusalem and kept Aleppo in the deal!) If you accept that, then you are forced to broaden the victory conditions to consider control of key cities in the aggregate for the win.

Now, we could have done this and given each city a victory point designation, which would allow us to give more weight to control of Jerusalem than, say, Tripoli (an approach, by the way, that was adopted in Columbia Games' "Liberty" - a game on the American Revolution), but I never liked counting victory points. It just seems more elegant to to say "a majority of the seven wins." Happily, playtesting discovered that Jerusalem was more often than not in the center of things anyway, so I didn't sense that too much violence was being done to history.

As a game, I think it works better to keep as much of the board in play as possible. When we playtested C-Rex with this set of victory conditions (that is, assigning a varying number of victory points to each of the seven cities), activity tended to concentrate in a small part of the board and it made for a less fluid, dynamic - and thus, less fun - game than the one we ultimately published.

By the way, I see we have something else in common besides the Crusades - both of us write for NRO!
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Johan Pettersson
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Thanks a lot for a wonderful article. The approach of comparing the game (the model) with the reality is very interesting. I always read and study "The designer's notes", for understanding the thoughts behind the model. Yous article is even more interesing as it is more objectiv.

I hope this kind of reviews will appear more often.

Again...Thank You.
 
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Endre Fodstad
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enricodandolo wrote:
http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/madden200505270751.asp . I'm in the DVD bonus disk too, but (not surprisingly) they didn't include anything critical I said about the movie...


They did include a nice little info-blurb that helpfully informs us europeans learned to make soap and bathe from the muslims in the levant, though. How sad for those poor iron age celts and all the bathhouses in medieval western europe before the crusades; the ancient invention of soap and frequent mention (not to mention excavation)of bathhouses must be figments of our imagination laugh
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Mark W
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I'm chiming in a little late but - great review! Thanks!
 
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Chris Abratte
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What a great review. I've been looking at Columbia's block games and this one looks to be the best so far.
 
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Jerry Taylor wrote:
In fact, early playtest versions of the game made control of Jerusalem the sole criteria for winning the game. Loss of other cities reduced one's ability to field an army in the playtest version, so that both sides had an incentive to pay attention to regions outside of Jerusalem regardless.

But that victory condition (control of Jerusalem) caused a lot of problems.

Now, we could have done this and given each city a victory point designation, which would allow us to give more weight to control of Jerusalem than, say, Tripoli (an approach, by the way, that was adopted in Columbia Games' "Liberty" - a game on the American Revolution), but I never liked counting victory points. It just seems more elegant to to say "a majority of the seven wins." Happily, playtesting discovered that Jerusalem was more often than not in the center of things anyway, so I didn't sense that too much violence was being done to history.

As a game, I think it works better to keep as much of the board in play as possible. When we playtested C-Rex with this set of victory conditions (that is, assigning a varying number of victory points to each of the seven cities), activity tended to concentrate in a small part of the board and it made for a less fluid, dynamic - and thus, less fun - game than the one we ultimately published.


Let's see another option: all cities are given 1 victory point except Jerusalem, which gives 2 victory points to Crusaders but only 1 victory point to Muslims. What do you think about this option?
 
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Philippe de Monneron
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enricodandolo wrote:
I'm glad that my review was useful! As I mentioned, I don't have a good idea how to implement a more prominent role for Jerusalem. I just know that historically it had one. The primary purpose of this game, though, is to be fun. And it is that.

Kevin concisely sums up my take on The Kingdom of Heaven. For a longer review one might see http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/madden200505270751.asp . I'm in the DVD bonus disk too, but (not surprisingly) they didn't include anything critical I said about the movie...


Excellent review indeed. I worked (only a bit) in medieval history - on Lothar III, roman emperor. It's a pity to see so much money lost in a movie that is so full of errors and easy preaching.

As for the game, I only played two games (well, the first one was half a game) and I do appreciate like you the historical blend it has. My first winter with a big army in the middle of ennemy territory was a disaster... well, medieval logistics !
 
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Mike Windsor
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Still not sure about the game, but I ordered the book.
 
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Rob Francis
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“"To Aetius, now consul for the third time: the groans of the Britons ... The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus two modes of death await us, we are either slain or drowned".” ―Gildas
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Greatest review of my favourite wargame.
 
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Roger Masters
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Looks like I'm a trifle late coming in on this thread! I already own this game, but I enjoy reading reviews, and I agree with everything Mr. Madden stated. This is in my Top 5 of favorite board games of all-time. I love the tension of not knowing when OR if the Europeans will show up. And I love the tactics; when I first played the game, I was the Franks, and I threw my knights into battle without a second thought, only to see them get utterly slaughtered. I was relying too much on their heavy charge, and it did not break the Saracen line. I feel like if you lose your knights too early in the game, before European arrival, then you will be hard-pressed to take on the offensive.

I just started reading the book the CG website recommended concerning the Knights Templar (Helen Nicholas I believe). It's for general audiences. Perhaps after I finish it I'll pick up one of Madden's book on the Crusades!
 
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Jim Lee

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Great review and fun to read, Thomas!

These games stimulate me to buy books and learn. The Crusades is a subject providing new ground for engaging in historical inquiry.

I just purchased your books, The Crusades Controversy: Setting the Record Straight, and The New Concise History of the Crusades. I read the shorter "setting the record straight" in an hour. It was fascinating and I learned a lot in that short read! Now I'm on to the larger book.

I haven't even played the game yet, but did extensive research (hours) on BGG to make sure it's a good buy and had the map mounted on 1.75 the original size. Your book(s) have provided color to my imagination for the upcoming war game engagement I'll be having with my friend, a retired ex-Army colonel who loves history, too. Anyway, looking forward to learning more from you, Mr. Madden, and thanks for the excellent review.

P.S. Try Hammer of the Scots if you have not already, another middle-ages gem from Columbia. I did not like it greatly at first, but after 20 plays, it keeps getting better and better.

Blessings!
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