Les Croisades (Vae Victis 17)

Playings; 2 (1 draw, 1 Saracen win), 3 Ĺ hours.

The translations for most of the Vae Victis games are on the web, this should stop all excuses for not getting hold of this French glossy. I find the English translations handy for skimming through on the bus and use the French for examples of play and hard and fast rules interpretations. Les Croisades is a pretty accurate translation by Richard Fluck who has done over a few of the other game rules as well.

Les Croisades uses many of the Belisarie systems, a game that I also own but have not got around to playing. There are a lot of interesting ideas here that could be drafted onto lesser games. Actions are point based with the number of points each side can play per turn judged by chit draw. Some of the chits in the cup are handy bonus events that you get to keep as well as drawing an action chit. These events give a chance to capture a city without loss, eliminate an enemy leader or improve the chance of locating an enemy army. They are not the same as the random events that can occur each turn and can be good or bad. Action chits are double sided with differing values for each player, on average the Moslem is going to get better results. There does not appear to be a system relating the numbers on each side of the chit but as you have to mount them yourself two options are available. One sideís numbers can back similar numbers for the opposition, tending to give one player a high chit on a turn and the other a low (because they pull a different chit) or the numbers can be far apart giving the players similar chit ratings.

The chits are spent by leaders or fleets, a land unit without a leader cannot use the points which are needed for movement, attack and improving city defence. Fleets can move 10 hexes any number of times in a turn although they will not do a lot as the Crusaders will have to move inland to take Jerusalem and possibly Damascus. Other stacks can move a maximum of 6 hexes but can spend up to the total available number of operation points within that 6. Most hexes cost 1 point bad going 2, initiating battle in the same hex another 1. Enemy stacks have to be found with an average 50% success rate. If this fails the enemy cannot be attacked nor searched for again in the same turn, you can wander off and try to find somebody else. The non-moving player can also spend points to intercept a moving stack. Although you can go 6 very few stacks will because of the high chance of attrition losses from longer moves. This is a low unit count game and every lost unit hurts. I suggest eking out the units by allowing all except value 1 units to take half losses when the loss required for any reason is below that of a round number of units. In the event that you have not cut the counters the whole lot could be photocopied and the grey copy mounted behind the issue unit to show half losses. If like me you are too late they will have to be flipped and the new value assumed.

Losses are a big problem, the game can end up with 1 or both sides seriously low on units. The number of leaders provided is more than adequate at the beginning of the game but as the units in play diminish more leaders end up stacked as there is really nothing for them to do. The only use for this surplus is to become besieged and allow points to be spent to improve the defence of the hex. Attackers and besieged can use operations points to improve the chance of taking a hex. The attackers can modify the die roll and the defenders the defence strength. The best way to handle this is to only allow the defence strength to be modified if a leader is present and to allow the defender the chance to spend points for this before the attacker spends his points and declares his option to attack.

Battle occurs in rounds with limited losses but a chance of units being disrupted. Either side can withdraw taking a final attack from the enemy cavalry. Disrupted units that fail moral are destroyed giving the possibility of big losses in defeat. In reality the threat of this will make most battles 1 round affairs with neither side wanting to risk a crushing pursuit. As well as losses from marching, units are lost in sieges by both sides. You need at least 2:1 to take a town but 4:1 or better are recommended. The attacker will lose at least 10% of his force, this may not sound a lot but victory is based on controlling towns so a lot will have to change hands. This will wear down the advancing player. The only way apart from a treason chit to take a town without loss is to lay formal siege. This has a guaranteed success in 8 months in a game that lasts less than 2 years. There is of course no point in laying siege to anywhere within 8 turns of the game end unless that siege also ties up enemy troops.

To again minimise losses the march attrition table die roll can be modified:

Force <= 4 points -2

Force 5-10 points -1

Force 40+ points +1

Red turns +1

Also change the siege rule to:

At the end of every game turn roll a D10 for each hex under siege. It falls if the roll is equal to or less than the siege number. Increase the number before checking for siege so a hex can fall on the 1st turn of a siege. The numbers still go up to 8 so there is a chance that a hex may never fall.

These changes certainly donít do the game any harm. Even so it is a not on a par with bigger and more expensive efforts. The S&T Crusades is more fun to play although the limited decisions and critical shortage of troops on both sides may be more accurate. The whole point of this game is that it looks great, costs under £5 and has some handy ideas that may or may not find use in other games. As an example the melee system would graft rather well onto I Am Spartacus with a slight change in the pursuit rules (lack of Roman cavalry).