Crusader18 May 2004 0
Some opponents need a little sand kicked in their face.
Such grudges beg resolution, yet the age-old problem wargamers face is time. Often, the first hours of any session are filled with stacking counters and a few turns of hemming and hawing before the bullets actually start flying. Enter Crusader from The Gamers/MMP, sporting a lean set of rules and rifle-racking gameplay that starts fast and doesn't let up. It's one of those gems that'll have wargamers gleefully brewing up each other's armor within minutes.
Modeled after Operation Crusader of November 1941, this title delivers the feel of 15 and 21Pz rooster-tailing across the sands of North Africa as British forces seek to wear down Axis armor with a newly-delivered supply of Crusader tanks and M3 "Honeys." The city of Tobruk is under siege, and both New Zealander and Indian forces are pressed with the task of breaking it. Once more, the plains of Sidi Rezegh await the largest armored clash in the theatre to that date, and it's quite likely that this game will offer up its own version of this ham-fisted duel as the turn track moves along.
Crusader is a game of sweeping possibilities, and it captures the basics of this operation and the myriad directions in which commanders could have wheeled their forces. It's not an exacting simulation, yet it doesn't position itself as such. Quite simply, it's a wide-open, combined arms extravaganza with a low-density rules set - and it serves up a helluva afternoon.
Something about a colorful map inset with all the movement, barrage, and combat tables a player needs simply sets the day right. Throw in a single sheet of counters that will dull just one X-Acto blade and it's clear that Crusader is all about getting gamers up and running in a snap.
A 22"x 34" map covers the ground between Egypt on the east and the area around Tobruk on the west at 2.5 miles to the hex. The overall tonality is spot-on. Washes of ochre, dun, and putty represent the wadis, escarpments, and, yes, sand that dominates the terrain. The only tick against the map is the thin stock on which it's printed. Mine came out of the box a bit wrinkled in places, so I'd suggest careful handling.
Unit scale ranges anywhere from small, defense-minded detachments to brigade-strength artillery that says, "Luuuucy, I'm home!" The counters are pleasant enough and take on the familiar form of World War II-era unit designations with the standard triumvirate of attack, defense, and movement values. Some nice touches that enhance gameplay are yellow bands that designate a unit as eligible for exploit movement and different colors for units of varying nationality, which make for an expeditious state of affairs when it comes time to actually push around the cardboard.
The core rules cover fewer than seven pages, and an additional booklet of game-specific rules toss in the chrome. Players have the choice of an eleven-turn campaign game or one of four scenarios that pick up the battle at various points. Neither rulebook should generate any head-scratching; the presentation is very tight. A salty old grog should be up and running after the counters are freshly punched whereas greenhorns might invest a couple hours should they set up a few pieces and give the game's concepts a few dry runs.