Crusader Kings 2 (and 3)
Release Date: This medieval backstabbing sim launched on the 14th of February, 2012. Feeling old, yet?
Genre: Political Grand-Strategy.
Best for: Folk with somewhat of a deep understanding of medieval politics and Medieval II just doesn’t cut it. Avoid if you want tactical battles, because there are none.
Excels at: Political representation of all of Middle Ages.
Feature List: It’s hard to pin down the exact features of this game with more than a decade of constant updates and DLCs.
Everyone in the room and their grandmothers already heard about Crusader Kings II. Far from being the sole Paradox Interactive success story, it helped put them on the map and solidify the company as the world-leading grand-strategy design. Their flagship title is so massive, dense, and different since it was released that I don’t even remember how the game was when I played it for the first time, all the way back in 2013.
What Crusader Kings is, in all actuality, is a political simulator set in the middle ages where the player takes control of the leading member of a noble family (no matter how high or low born they are, if they have land, you can control them) and make sure you secure your line of succession and your family’s wellbeing across the centuries by whatever means necessary, and I sincerely mean when I say *any* means necessary. Akin to other games on Paradox’s catalog, Crusader Kings II is of a sandbox-y nature: choose a starting date and a family, and off you go, scheming your way from a lowly count to the king of a continent-spanning empire; to recreate the historical events of your favorite medieval ruler, and I’m pretty sure you can play as the pope even though I had never attempted to do so or to become one.
The game contemplates nearly all aspects of political life- court intrigues, arranged marriages, power struggles, sabotage, poisoning, assassinations, dungeon-keeping. If you can scheme it, the game probably has it in-store waiting for it to be used. Subsequent additions to the base code focused on adding a lot of depth to these existing systems, and the game is such a monster now, that I don’t feel comfortable addressing its current state but if the 66.000 Steam reviews are something to go by, I supposed Crusader Kings II latest DLCs haven’t done any wrong since the last time I played it, maybe 5 years ago.
CKII is about reading the political implications of your actions and thinking a couple of generations ahead. Power moves don’t always entail raising your levies and marching into the nearby counties, instead, it is better to patiently wait- or accelerate, if you catch my drift- the untimely demise of a court power player before making such a drastic move and wait for their house to weaken and losing favor in court before committing to such an act. Sending gifts and bribes can go a long way to secure loyalties and conspiracy partners. Money and influence can also assure your line finds a suitable party to marry that benefits both your families.
Crusader Kings is at its best when armies have their swords sheathed while court spies and assassins carry their blades and vials of poison close to them. It’s probably the most complex and unwieldy game on this list but if you have the time and learn it and enjoy the subject matter it’s going to be one of the most fulfilling gaming experiences you’ll ever have. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can justify purchasing Crusader Kings III at the time of this writing but from what I’ve read, it is pretty much the same with some more graphical flair to it.