It’s fair to say that I have been stalking Justin Jacobson, the founder and “Board Game Necromancer” of Restoration Games, for almost two years now.
When I first met Justin at Gen Con 2021, I learned of his plans to eventually reskin and reprint Crossbows & Catapults, a game that I owned as a kid after its original release in 1983. When I heard this news, I begged Justin to let me review the prototype if it ever saw the light of day.
Then, at PAX Unplugged last year, I met with Justin, Suzanne Sheldon, Rob Daviau, and the rest of the Restoration team at their booth to get a chance at seeing the Crossbows & Catapults prototype in action.
I was floored. It was just like I remembered it, save for the fact that I played the new Crossbows & Catapults on a table, and not on the kitchen floor at my childhood house in Rochester, NY.
I stayed in touch with Suzanne, and recently, I got an e-mail: the Crossbows & Catapults prototype was in a box headed my way. I was giddy with excitement; I’m a father, and to have the chance to take this experience full circle was a thrill I was not going to pass up.
I ripped open the box—sent from the home of Stephen Baker, the game’s designer!!—and unpacked all of the pieces before setting up the game on my dining room floor. The kids gathered around, intrigued. My daughter sidled up to me.
“Daddy, is this a castle game?”
“Oh, it is, kiddo…in fact, it’s a castle destruction game.”
My daughter’s eyes widened.
1983, Right Now
Crossbows & Catapults is a two-player dexterity game. Each player has a set of blocks used to build a makeshift castle, complete with a castle gate, towers, soldiers, a jail (to hold one guard from the opposing player), and a commander whose goal is to survive the onslaught of caroms being flung by the other player.
Those caroms are coming in from the other team’s crossbow—a small plastic device that can best be described as a table-mounted pinch gun—or catapult. The catapult is a marvel: a spring-operated flicking device that holds one carom on its end, manipulated to fling caroms high or flat, to deal damage to castle armaments as creatively as the user can think up scenarios.
On a turn, a player can take two actions: either move one of their soldiers, or fire one of their weapons from a point near one of their soldiers on the battlefield. They can do the same action twice or split those actions. In my experience, most players spend most of their time firing, because it’s fun to fire those weighted carom discs at stationary targets while watching plastic bricks splinter all over the place. Taking out soldiers and the commander is the goal, but I always house rule this so that the first player to take out the other team’s general wins the game. This means that a player can always snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a well-placed shot late in the game.
Crossbows & Catapults is a short game in most cases. In a world where games seem to regularly take hours now (even the ones that I adore), Crossbows & Catapults is a refreshing throwback: set up a bunch of blocks, then take turns destroying everything.
I love it. I may love it even more now because I get to play it with my kids.
A child of almost any age can use the catapult. The crossbow is a skill shot move now; pinching the crossbow to fling a carom towards a specific location is a harder skill for most children now that I see it in practice. But watching my kids feel out the catapult and using the right amount of touch to take out soldiers hidden behind a wall is absolutely glorious and such a thrill; more games need these types of wow moments, and Crossbows & Catapults has them in spades.
The teach takes about a minute; on my first round of plays when I received the prototype, I knocked out three games in about an hour. It’s easy to introduce team play with Crossbows & Catapults, so we can pit two family members against two others by simply having players switch on each turn.
Crossbows & Catapults will be released in two flavors: a retail version with less bling and fewer extras, and a hobbyist version that is the only way to fly for people like me who owned the game as a kid. The extras for the hobbyist version of the game are fantastic; a two-carom catapult, you say? Count me in. There will be other scenarios and cards used to drive more events in the crowdfunding version of the game, which I’m excited to see in action.
How much of my love for this game is tied to nostalgia? Quite a bit. But I’m thankful that the game has aged so well; in fact, I was shocked to see how high the score for the game is on BGG, because many of the games I grew up with (LIFE, Monopoly, Pay Day, etc.) are getting killed by gamers who believe those older products have been lapped by more modern experiences.
Crossbows & Catapults holds a special place in my heart, and it’s great to see that now we will have a chance to own a game that was such a fantastic part of my childhood. The next time my brother is in town, I have a feeling I know what we are going to play late into the night on my dining room floor.