20 years in the ‘Crusader Kings II’ demo
“Crusader Kings II” might be a spreadsheet, but so help me God, it is the most engaging and addictive spreadsheet I’ve ever played.
It’s the latest in a proud line of unabashedly complex grand-strategy games from Swedish publisher Paradox Interactive, focusing on medieval Europe between 1066 and 1453. Each game begins the same way: you pick a ruler and attempt to preserve your dynasty across the centuries. Along the way, you’ll fight wars, engage in diplomatic relations, clash with the pope and have more illegitimate children than you can count.
I downloaded the demo to see if I could actually come to grips with a Paradox game, with the intention of making it through the 20 years allotted in the demo version. The game recommended the easiest character, King Boleslaw “The Bold” of Poland’s Piast Dynasty. What follows is an account of my play-through, beginning on the 15th of September in the Year of Our Lord 1066.
The first thing to do in any game of “Crusader Kings II” is to choose an ambition. I opt to start small and get married. I choose Princess Adelheid of the Holy Roman Empire, whose brother is Kaiser. To keep my new wife happy, I grant her the honorary (meaningless) title of Keeper of the Swans.
Later that year, my vassal Duke Frzemyslaw I of Greater Poland decides to conquer a fellow vassal in a smaller region. He succeeds, and now Frzemyslaw holds a portion of Poland large enough to almost rival my own personal holdings. I worry that he might attempt to revolt.
However, my marshal distracts me by pressing a false claim on one of my own territories. I imprison him, which considerably lowers my vassals’ opinions of me. I also imprison my chaplain for heretical thinking, another unpopular decision. As I predicted, Frzemyslaw declares war upon his liege—me.
I raise my personal levies from my still loyal vassals, and soldiers pop-up on the map, ready to reunite Poland under their glorious regent. With my consolidated 1000-man army, I crush Frzemyslaw’s smaller force and lay siege to his holdings.
It takes years to complete my siege of Frzemyslaw’s lands, yet he still refuses to accept my demands. I attempt an assassination, which fails. King Boleslaw does not accept failure, and I immediately order another assassination. This attempt succeeds, but my assassin is caught and blurts out my name when tortured. For whatever reason, the pope is none too pleased.
In the meantime, my wife blesses me with both a son and a daughter, the masculine Kazimierz Piast and the beautiful Agnieszka Piast. I can only hope my children take after their father’s cunning ways. In late 1074, the consumption takes Poland, but it eventually passes without too much issue. Later on, I have a shockingly lewd affair with a courtier.
In 1078, I catch wind of another vassal’s thoughts of revolt. This time, the assassination goes smoothly, leaving his three-year-old son on the throne. I take the young boy in as my ward, meaning I become his guardian. I am consulted about his discipline, so I have some control over which traits he develops as he grows. Yes, in “Crusader Kings II,” you can silently murder a boy’s father and raise him as your own son.
Time passes, and my wife decides to go to the monastery to collect her thoughts. It’s the perfect opportunity for our hero to meet with his mistress, and she becomes pregnant. In 1080, my first illegitimate son, Czcibor Piast, is born. I take the option of legitimizing him, which makes my courtier happy, but it angers her husband and my wife. My character doesn’t even bother feigning surprise when he uncovers a plot involving his wife wanting to kill his mistress.
Not much happens until late 1085, when I hear news of a jihad. Caliph Al-Mustansir I is leading a religious war against Christians in Antiochia. My only possible response: “Foolish infidels!” And so my demo ends on Jan. 1, 1086.
That’s “Crusader Kings II” in a nutshell. It really is daunting at first, but it tries to be accessible by offering 27 mini-tutorials and numerous hints. There’s still information overload on every screen, but you can ignore most of it and focus on the important alerts that automatically pause the game. With patience and wiki-reading, you can gradually take on more management aspects, and if you stick to it, you’ll be changing succession laws and arranging marriages like a pro. As an added bonus, “Crusader Kings II” is set to authentic—and rather dramatic—period music that will put anybody in the mood to crusade. There are also Wikipedia links for historical characters, which is a nice touch.
It’s part spreadsheet, part soap opera and part war-game, but it’s all personal in a way most games can only dream of being. If you’re a fan of the historical period or want to dip your toes into the deep end of the strategy pool, you should have a go at “Crusader Kings II.”