A Game of Kings
I’m deeply entrenched into George R.R. Martin’s wonderful world of A song of Ice and Fire. This proved to be something of a boon playing Crusader Kings II: the vivid storytelling of the succession war in A Clash of Kings provides the perfect backdrop for a game where the death of a king often leads to insane amounts of chaos and bloodshed. Being heir to the throne is as much a blessing as a curse and donning your new crown is usually the start of open strive, laced with covert assassinations and spiced up with a healthy dose of bribery.
Crusader Kings II is a ‘grand strategy’ title in the vein of the Europa Universalis games and starts with selecting a ruler on a map that spans Europe, parts of the Middle-East and a big slice of Russia. There are hundreds of rulers to choose from and – as long as you pick a Christian – you’re free to play as any ruler that tickles your fancy. Your choice has a wide range of implications and affects the starting size of your budding empire, its vassals and its allies. Perhaps more importantly, it determines which rulers you will bump heads with first as your country will be surrounded by enemies. In the game of thrones there are few certainties, except that everyone is after your head, even your kin.
Reeling and dealing
Set during the High Middle Ages, brazen land-grabs are a daily affair and the astute ruler works diligently to benefit from these as much as he can. Your lands provide you with income and much of that will go towards hiring mercenaries and upgrading castles so that they provide stronger levies and better protection from invasion. It can also be employed to bribe unruly vassals and improve relations with neighboring kings.
Unfortunately, AI players in the game have a strong tendency to forget your kindness and often it is just more efficient dealing with threats using arms rather than diplomacy. This means that you will spend most of the game at war with one party or another. Internal strive becomes more and more prevalent as your empire grows, a mechanic that seems to have been designed to put a natural break on your expansion plans. It is possible to keep your vassals happy by granting them new lands to control but with each title granted, their power grows and with that, their ambitions. You can spread some of the risk by increasing the number of vassals and limit how many titles you give to each individual but that also adds to the number of potentially unhappy ones. Catch 22.
Running out of positive motivational measures, you can always sing a somewhat darker tune and imprison or even assassinate a vassal. Doing so is not without risk as other members of your court may protest against your actions, but it’s very rewarding to permanently remove a long-standing threat. It is worth checking – why – a vassal dislikes you though, as some of the reasons may affect others and prove easy to fix.
When sh*t hits the fan
Planned wars can be lots of fun. To attack a non-Christian ruler, all one has to do is declare war and set the stakes. The stakes are either a single county or a small set of counties that belong to the same Duchy. To attack a Christian ruler, you will need a Casus Belli which can either be a natural one like a claim to a title, or a fabricated one which your spin-doctor (chancellor) can provide.
Best Europa Universalis game to date, hands down.
The Emperor’s New Clothes applies, even if they’re very nice ones.