Im Zeichen des Kreuzes is a big box game (about El Grande/Eufrat & Tigris sized) which promises new mechanics and un-germanlike conflict. Reason enough for our group to buy it.
The graphics of this Queen Games release are brilliant, a very nice colourful box with a beautiful medieval-style map. Playing pieces consist of the basic wooden stuff, nothing special there. Also present is a plastic and cardboard tower which is used in combat, more about that
This is a game about the crusades: two to five players compete in trying to be the one that frees Jeruzalem from the Moors. Each player receives a certain an amount of army units and some treasure chests. These are kept on a seperate card for each player, this card also notes the starting location which is different for each player. Each
player also receives a number of action-cards. Most of these cards are used for movement, they either depict sea, plain, mountains or a joker.
Playing such a card allows the player's army to travel to that specific terrain. Some of these movement cards also show a symbol which allows the same player to move Moorish units: useful if you want them to attack an opponent. Some action-cards also show events which can be positive or
A player can play as much cards as he likes in his turn, but after completing it he an only draw three cards up to a hand of five. When an army reaches a city, the player has some choices: a Moorish city can only be attacked. A Christian city however can either be attacked, used to buy
new troops, or used to pray to increase morale. Morale is lost by losing battles, attacking christian cities and some other factors. If morale is below a certain level, attacking Jeruzalem is not allowed, if it's even lower your card redraw rate will decline. Morale is also raised by
plundering Moorish cities, which also gets the attacker a random amount of treasure chests which can be used in friendly cities to buy new armies.
Battles are fun. When a player meets a moorish army or attacks a city he selects how many armies to use in the attack. The amount the opponent has is fixed by type. When a battle occurs the army cubes of both sides are dropped into a tower. On the inside of this tower are horizontal
levels with holes in them. Laws of gravity and friction dictate whether a cube falls out of the bottom of the tower or whether it stays hidden inside on top of one of the internal levels. Cubes that fall out are collected in a bowl and the side with the most cubes wins. The loser
loses al his cubes, the winner loses the same amount.
Cubes hidden in the tower are not removed after combat! They may reappear in the next fight, when fresh troops bounce against the hidden ones and dislodge them from the tower. This means that you never quite know how much troops to allocate because the Moors may have hidden troops in the
tower which may or may not show up.
Jeruzalem is the target of this game, combat against Jeruzalem is handled a bit differently. The city starts out with 15 armies but this number may grow during the game. Whenever an army attacks it, the person to the right of the owner of this army decides how many armies Jeruzalem puts in the defense. This means that a battle for Jeruzalem may take several rounds until all defenders are defeated. The first three attacks on Jeruzalem are rewarded by extra treasure chests even if they fail.
To summarise: Players play card to move their armies from their starting point towards Jeruzalem, plundering cities along the way. The first few attacks on Jeruzalem will probably fail, so armies will retreat to friendly cities to restock their army. Continuous attacks will weaken the defenses of Jeruzalem until one player is victorious.
My opinion: I'm a bit disappointed with this game, the graphics are great, the combat-tower is brilliant, but sadly the player interaction is lacking. The player's armies cannot interact in any way and the only
influence you have on other players is by playing event cards or moving the Moors. The endgame reminds me of a bunch of vultures waiting until a prey is weak before going for the kill. It's a fun game, but not the smash hit that I thought it would be after I first read the description.