So, now that my Medieval II game has drawn to a close, I have moved on to a game which was largely the reason my Medieval II updates were so delayed. Crusader Kings II is a game developed by Paradox Interactive and set in the Middle Ages as well and covers the course of history beginning with the Norman invasion of England and leading straight up to the cusp of the Renaissance. Over the course of this game, you control one particular dynasty with landed titles, going from counts, to dukes, to kings, all the way to imperial titles.
Furthermore, you have a council of ministers to do your bidding and the way to victory necessitates using both diplomacy, intrigue and brute military force in order to claim what is rightfully yours. This in my opinion is really a step up from most strategy "take over Europe" style games. Typically any characters in the game outside of your military units are at best ancillaries and at worst wholly a waste of time and resources. In Crusader Kings, non-combatant characters are essential to keeping your vassals happy with you, collecting your revenue, ensuring the Church doesn't excommunicate you, and of course leading your men to victory on the battlefield. The holistic nature of the game's setup is really very appealing, though does create some headaches which I will discuss later on.
One of the most interesting things about this game is there is no set "win" condition. It is a truly open ended game and can be mostly whatever the player wants it to be. You want to get a ridiculously high score? Go for it. You want to rise from a count to an emperor? Do it. You want to simply survive the approximately 400 years of history this game spans? Make it happen. (Seriously, simply surviving is a legitimate goal sometimes with this game.) What is winning and what is losing is totally up to the player and that makes for some interesting gameplay choices.
The lack of a end win condition is, I think, both a boon and a drawback. Again, the major plus is that you have the freedom to do really whatever you want within the games system of rules, and that does give you a lot of freedom and can be very fun. However, the lack of something to build towards, or measure success by is also felt, and until you invest a decent chunk of time into the game, you have no idea how to grade your play of the game. Many games are fun because the player is working towards a specific goal (defeating the bad guy, taking over X amount of something, finding the damn princess, etc.) and once that goal has been achieved there is a sense of accomplishment that Crusader Kings II can lack at times.
Another major part of Crusader Kings II is the rules system within the game. This largely comes down to two major groups which I will call the "inheritance laws" and the "claims laws." The inheritance laws basically state who gets what when someone dies, and can be somewhat unforgiving at times. These laws have strict conditions to change them, and maybe it's just my play style, but I find that you are largely stuck with the system you adopt within the first 50 years or so of the game. The claims laws focus on who can call dibs on a particular piece of dirt. These are a little more simple but the game is rather restrictive with information as to why a claim can/cannot be pressed. There have been times where I have had to dig through title histories and family members past and present before I can figure out why I can't attack something I initially thought I could. Essentially my gripe here is that the learning curve is tremendous, and unfortunately I found the tutorial largely unhelpful in these matters. Is it impossible to learn all the rules? Of course not, but as the title would suggest, I still haven't quite mastered them after several months of fairly regular play.
Overall, despite my complaints, Crusader Kings has largely eaten up my free time. It is certainly immersive and addicting if you allow it to grow to that extent. While some of the setup and complexity leaves some additional information to be wanting, fans of strategy gaming will enjoy the various levels of thought that must go into it. It is not perfect, but certainly enjoyable.
Oh, and it is the game which my next Let's Play series will feature.
God Save the Queen