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Barbarossa’s Last Swim

Ah yes, the medieval pastime of "balance your helmeted forehead atop your pommel." Games were different then.

I have a thing for controversial games. If board games can be art in addition to mere product — which is a point I would heatedly defend — then they can also say something about the world around us. National identity, history, aesthetics, social justice, cultural assumptions; it’s all up for grabs. A lot of the time a game will even tell us something without particularly meaning to. Sometimes that thing is even more telling than its actual message.

When I heard that Seth Jaffee’s Crusaders: They Will Be Done had sparked some minor controversy, with complaints ranging from the tone-deafness of its setting to racial insensitivity, I had to get a look. After all, my background is in religious history, up to and including the actual crusades. I’m practically obligated to have an opinion on such things. It’s as reflexive as noshing on potato chips if they happen to be sitting in front of me. Which is why, going in, my assumption was that I’d find the game’s mechanisms compelling but its history uninsightful.

Imagine my surprise when Crusaders tipped my assumption on its head.

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