Wot I Think: Crusader Kings II

I have never had a ruler this handsome or beardless.

I’ve counted my plots before they hatched, I’ve duked it out with my brothers and sons, and I’ve lorded over an entire continent. Now, having lost more than I’ve gained and suffered more than I’ve succeeded, I’m finally ready to share Wot I Think about the majestic Crusader Kings II.

Did the word majestic give it away, or did my previous bursts of excitement already give you an inkling of how I feel about the strategic role-playing grandeur of Paradox’ latest?

It’s more than a bit good at what it does so rather than immediately talking about how much I’ve fallen for its brutish charms, I’m going to try and summarise exactly what that is first. What does Crusader Kings II set out to do?

The most important difference between this game and the vast majority of grand strategy titles is that it’s all about characters. There are thousands of the blighters populating the world at any one time, with skills, traits, personalities, jobs and relationships. You are one of them. You’re not a country or a culture, you’re a bloke, or less frequently a blokess, with a family, some friends and a huge gallery of foes. When you die, you’ll take control of your heir following the lines of succession in your locality.

There are big players, like kings, the Pope and his antis, and the occasional emperor, but mostly there are courtiers, waiting to be plucked from relative obscurity, landed with position and maybe even some land, and then cut back down to size when they start bulging out of their boots. There are children to marry off for political gain and there are children to quietly dispense with because do you really want your entire dynasty to be in the hands of Reginald whose jousting ineptitude has left him with a few splinters of lance in the amygdala and a severe case of being an absolute moron?

No you don’t because he’d need someone else to do the job of running your disintegrating duchy for him and the brains behind his brains are likely to be your spymaster, who has been a little too chummy with that cousin you never liked who has a claim on your most fertile parts, all based on an ill-advised, lust-fuelled marriage that your grandfather made forty years ago. Best, then, to make sure Reginald dies before you do or you’ll have to change the laws of succession and that’s going to piss off a whole other group of people, weaken your stability and bring the walls crashing down around your ears.

Does it sound like a soap opera? A particularly violent soap opera, laced with infanticide, religious warfare and sexually transmitted unpleasantries? Maybe the religious warfare and disease weren’t clear in the above example but believe me, somebody in the story has almost definitely contracted a case of genitirritation and most of them have definitely killed people for not reading the same books as them.

It sounds like a soap opera because it’s a bit like one. It’s also a historical epic, a bloody tale of intrigue and even a sort of sit-com. In fact, when you find yourself playing a four year old count caught up in the collapse of the Kingdom of Wales, ordered to defend your lands against the suddenly and, to your childish understanding, inexplicably pissed off Bishop of Rome, it’s hard not to laugh. If you’d been an adult and a master theologian you’d understand that your king had decided to believe that the three in one is actually the one made three and therefore everybody had to kill everybody else and mutilate their corpses so badly that they wouldn’t be allowed into Heaven, which runs a no trainers, all innards policy.

One of the reasons that Crusader Kings II is brilliant is because it understands that losing is fun. In fact, I don’t think winning is as much fun. Better the slow and noble decline than the bloat of victory and expansion. I’m sure it’s possible to learn exactly how the game works and be better than it but there’s so much happening with every minute that passes (the game is real time but can be paused) that I can’t be bothered to understand half of it and I certainly don’t want to decipher it because I’m not viewing the world as a machine but as a collection of minds.

When gluttonous, heavingly overweight Count Peter, well into his sixties, was given the choice of turning his mind to God in his dotage, he said “sod that and pass the boar’s cheeks”. A bit of piety might have been good for him and the prestige would certainly have cheered up his soon-to-inherit son, but you should have seen the size of the man. He was gargantuan, like a medieval Jabba with sixteen bastard children off fighting the battles he was too corpulent to partake in. I could have snaffled up the good stats but I’d never have forgiven myself; Peter was snaffling nothing but a county’s worth of wild animals with a side of eggs.

There are times when I’ve been a man of influence, particularly when starting on these British isles, where I always find myself more in control. It’s not because I know the lay of the land or believe that roleplaying an Englishman requires a striving for excellence, it’s because it’s a lot harder to be surrounded by murderous landgrabbers when you’re on an island.

In fact, I’d suggest that anyone starting out who is afraid of being bewildered by the amount of things happening around them gives Scotland or Ireland a shot. They’re both good starting points and you can go through a couple of generations struggling over control of that little corner of Europe before you even glance across and realise that –

Oh my sweet pajamas, what in the name of God has happened to the continent? Judging by the number of Muslims in Spain whatever happened was definitely in the name of God, although it may not have been the Scotch one. And is France really supposed to be that big? And why is Italy entirely comprised of men hitting each other in the kidneys with swords?

My absolute most favourite thing about Crusader Kings II is that the world will happily continue without me. Maybe if I play my kids right I’ll be the centre of attention for a couple of years over the centuries covered, but most of the time this is one of the games that suffers least from Truman Show syndrome that I’ve ever played. In that respect, Crusader Kings II is up there with Football Manager and Dwarf Fortress. It’s a strategy game, it’s an RPG but it’s also a simulator. Yes, it’s not a historically accurate simulator, with plenty of alterations to reality made for balance and to sustain dynastic evolution, but it is a remarkable study of alternatives, a playground of ‘might have beens’.

My most memorable game to date didn’t involve forging a mighty kingdom. I was playing a count on the borders of the Kingdom of Hungary. I was, by necessity, mostly passive. That’s when speeding the game up comes in useful. At its fastest rate, the years tick by fairly quickly, with automatic pauses when decisions need to be made. My king would occasionally call me into service, usually when he himself had been called into service, and my armies would dutifully chop their way through infidels or vulnerable neighbours. Other than that, I made marriages for my children, attempting to make something out of them so that when I passed on I wouldn’t have a total incompetent in charge of my tiny realm.

It was sometime around 1100 that everything went wrong. The young king called up all his levies and took us off adventuring into the east. As soon as the troops had marched out of earshot, the dastardly duke of Transylvania, one of the king’s vassals and possibly a vampire, began to assault all of Hungary with armies of his own. He declared independence and chipped away at the lands surrounding him, and Hungary, for the first time since 1066, was fractured.

But then, but then. An exchange of the mighty cash reserves I had built up in my passivity allowed me to hire mercenaries, raise my personal levy and march on Transylvania. I, the forgotten and the subservient, made Hungary intact once more.

I’d like to say the story ends with me being granted titles and bounty on the king’s return but that’s not what happened. I faded back into obscurity even as the borders of Hungary eventually expanded. There have been times when I’ve received thanks for noble deeds and times when I’ve received greater thanks for committing atrocities, but mostly Crusader Kings II doesn’t pander to the player.

And that is precisely why it isn’t an impenetrable mess of a game to the uninitiated. The game is not overwhelming, not in any way whatsoever, because it lets you get on with things, never forcing you to balance imponderable digits against one another. There is a great deal of information but you don’t ever need it all, and it’s only when at war or engaged in particularly complex plots that you’ll need to repeatedly pause the game to make sure your strategy isn’t failing spectacularly.

Most of the time, things will continue to happen and it’s very hard to find yourself in a dead end that isn’t logical and based around the readily understandable actions of people. This isn’t Victoria or Europa Universalis where having a slider in the wrong position can lead to severe punishment; Crusader Kings II is about people and what makes them tick.

The interface is simple as well, even though it may look daunting. You’ll only ever have to click the right button to interact with people and move armies, and the left button to bring up information, whether cycling through map overlays or selecting tabs. And there may seem to be a lot of them, but don’t be daunted. Ignore what you don’t understand until the need arises to understand it. Context may help when an event occurs, or you can dip into the dry but useful tutorials.

If you’re not terrified of maps then you can play and enjoy Crusader Kings II. It’s that simple. Do you like pondering alternate histories and creating grand narratives? That’s what this game is about. Do you enjoy courtly interplay and elaborate plots of succession, marriage and murder? That’s also what this game is about.

Heck, do you like A Game of Thrones? This is the best Game of Thrones game you will probably ever play, unless you really need the fantasy element and if you do, then for God’s sake just pretend that pagans are riding wolves and French people have six eyes or whatever it is you need to do, but play this game. There’s incest and intrigue aplenty and isn’t that what GRRARGH Martin is really all about?

There have been so many strategy games in recent years that have made me wish I was playing Crusader Kings instead and when Sengoku was among them, I was worried. It seemed like a poor foundation on which to build a sequel to one of my favourite games, lacking the complexity of interaction that I craved.

I needn’t have worried. Crusader Kings II is everything I wanted from a sequel and it’s a sequel that I hadn’t expected to ever see. The interface is improved, it’s visually far more attractive and the simulation model seems to create more interesting alternate realities. It’s also (for me and by most reports) almost completely stable and although I can imagine what will be added in the expected (and I’ve got to admit, hoped for) expansions, there are no features missing that I expected to be included. I haven’t even dabbled in multiplayer yet, which is also a thing that exists.

The biggest complaint appears to be the inability to play as Pagans or Muslims. It’s easily fixed with mods and I for one am glad those characters haven’t been crudely forced into the hereditary models followed by the dynasties of Christendom. If they are playable in the future, I hope the experience is quite drastically different, otherwise the brilliant emphasis on culture and people that is the game’s core would be compromised.

Now, what did they get wrong? Levies seem to replenish a little bit too fast.

There’s so much I haven’t written about but my initial draft was the typed equivalent of a man waving his arms and making incoherent sounds of delight and excitement. It’s such a huge game that people will find different ways of enjoying it and, of course, some people won’t find anything to love at all. Those people are dead inside. Anyone interested in emergent gameplay, dynamic narrative and the humanising of strategy would do well to spend a few days in the company of Crusader Kings II.

For me, the genius of Paradox’ best grand strategy titles has always been that they don’t tell you what to do or how to win. Instead, they give you the tools to find your own way through history and let you live with the consequences. When the consequences are so human they mean all the much more and this is probably the most human strategy game I’ve ever played. If it doesn’t wind up being among my very favourite games of the year, spectacular things will occur in the next ten months.


  1. frypiggy says:

    But I love the “… bloat of victory and expansion.” It’s what validates my gaming existence! Oh well, I guess change (aka, building character) never killed anyone.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      You can certainly enjoy the bloat if that tickles your fancy but you may find you enjoy the stages before and after as well!

    • frenz0rz says:

      Its odd that.

      While I thoroughly enjoyed the success of having rebuilt the Byzantine Empire and reestablished the Pentarchy in EU3, I actually enjoyed its following slow, inevitable decline all the more. The gradual collapse caused by war weariness, attrition, rebellion, enemies on all sides, failed westernisation and a repeated succession of inept Emperors and regencies was a fantastic experience to behold. Probably because it seemed to be completely out of my control.

      I suppose that shows theres two sides to how and why I enjoy strategy gaming – the success of having genuinely achieved something, and the story that is created by attempting to do so (regardless of whether or not it all goes to hell).

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    • HexagonalBolts says:

      I hate the bloat! Like when in a Total War game you dominate half the map and all that’s left to do is fight the same victory over and over again until you have acquired all of the required 53 provinces.

  2. MrThingy says:

    Without doubt Paradox’s best game to date, really superb.

    Currently King of Ireland, joining in a huge war alongside England, Wales and Norway against an imploding Scotland that went Cathar and decided to declare war on everyone. :D

    Something about CK2 that bored me at first was being hassled to educate children, but I’ve realised it’s actually quite a good way to improve relations with vassals. Just sort your list by rank and opinion and, if their stats don’t suck, use them. If it’s a relative you don’t care about, even better, pick anyone whose opinion of you could be better. (and result in better levies)

    • Zealuu says:

      It’s also a good way to groom your children (or your courtiers’ children) into useful pawns. If the mother and father have one stat notably higher than the others, send the kid off to someone with a high value of that particular stat. Chances are, when the child comes of age, they’ll get the “uber” trait for that stat (brilliant strategist, grey eminence, midas touched, and so on) and consequently be ideal council members and/or decent heirs.

      Right now, as the Doux (Byzantine Duke) of Sicily, Calabria and Capua (grandson of the formerly lowly, isoloated, old, unmarried and childless Count Sergios Spartanos of Napoli), I have a brood of children, each specially tailored for a spot on my conucil. It may not be the biggest territory, but among my byzantine peers, probably the smoothest by a wide margin.

  3. Jockie says:

    It’s a bit special this. The first time I’ve dared dip my toes in the murky waters of ‘Grand Strategy’ and it turned out the waters were warm and bubbly, kind of like a soothing Jacuzzi filled with complex historical characters trying to kill me and steal my stuff.

    This metaphor isn’t working at all. I like the game a lot.

    • Chris D says:

      You’re completely wrong. That was a brilliant metaphor.

    • Ian says:

      Ah, so it’s not terrifying and overwhelming? Might have a bash at the demo.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Your metaphor is working perfectly

    • Smashbox says:

      Over the course of this story I went from “I do not know know or care about this” to “I must play this.”

      Lovely review, and I’m really looking forward to playing this game.

    • Discopanda says:

      Tell the gang I said hello, Jockie! Oh, and also CK 2 is da bomb.

  4. Fashigady says:

    I had no idea what this was before reading but now I want it. Badly.

    • Schadenfreude says:

      Me too. I just bought it on Steam before I’d even finished reading the article. Sounds right up my street.

    • Apples says:

      Same. I thought this was some sort of Civ ripoff and had dismissed it since I don’t really like those sorts of games, and now I’m actually annoyed that I’m going out after work so I won’t be able to play it. The DF comparison clinched it. Amazing review, Mr Smith.

      edit: although I think some of the problematic non-gameplay issues were too glossed over. Not being able to play as a Muslim country was mentioned but if I’m thinking of the right game, I’ve also heard that you can beat your children to remove the homosexuality trait with the only disadvantage being they’re mad at you for five years. um yeah

    • mike2R says:

      You get education events if you tutor a child, which allow you to take actions that effect the traits they develop, including beating them.

      I’ve certainly not seen that for the homosexual trait though, and I’d be pretty surprised if it existed… Someone would have had to actually sit down and write that event, and I find it hard to believe anyone would think that that was a good idea…

    • Apples says:

      Well, I know, I’m very surprised too. Here’s where I got that info from: link to forums.somethingawful.com There’s then a couple of pages of discussion on it and nobody goes “that’s not real” (although the comments in the code look a bit weird) so I can only conclude that it is.

      BTW I should mention before anyone gets the wrong idea I’m not ‘offended’ by the event but rather that the result is simply that the child ‘stops being gay’ and is mad at you for a while. Not particularly realistic, is it. Yes these events probably happened in those times, but they can still be presented problematically from a modern perspective.

    • circadianwolf says:

      I’ve never had a child come up with the Homosexuality trait (seen a few other characters with it though; it’s just a minor decrease to fertility, which can actually be useful for rulers assuming you can protect what heirs you get), but yes, if you educate your child yourself you will almost always have the option to beat them when a decision comes up. It’s usually a bad decision, though.

      What generally happens is an event pops up wherein your child has been caught doing something linked to a trait, like Charitable (giving away food to poor kids), Honesty (telling a courtier she’s fat), or Wroth (fighting with other kids). Then you have four options:
      1. Have a talk with the kid. This either involves keeping the trait or losing it with a significant chance of replacing it with something better (depending on the trait).
      2. Present her as an example to the court. This gives the kid prestige and she keeps the trait, but lowers relations with the court (presumably they think you’re being obsequious).
      3. Beat the kid. This has only like a 20% chance of losing the trait and a significant chance of her gaining something worse.
      4. Pray to God. This has a 90% chance of doing nothing.

      I actually really like educating my children. I almost always choose Option 1 and my children generally turn out to be quite good people. On paper, at least. In practice they’re all ruthless tyrants and power-hungry betrayers, because that’s what this game assumes all rulers are, regardless of their personal morals (which seems rather accurate).

      • belgand says:

        Praying can be a useful way to increase your piety when you’re tutoring someone else’s child. I mean, who cares if they have terrible traits if you don’t have any need for them. I need that piety to declare a kingdom!

    • sogeking99 says:

      I don’t think he ‘beats the gay out of him’. He probably just represses it, this is medieval times after all.

    • Apples says:

      Yeah sure. That was one of the suggestions made in the thread I linked to, that the trait shouldn’t be removed but rather replaced with some sort of repression trait. Otherwise it just looks like the kid can become totally straight through the magic of violence and that’s obviously troubling (and as far as I know has never happened in reality even in those sorts of strange religious progams where they try to do that), and presumably implies that their homosexuality is literally never acted upon throughout their lives, which is unlikely and removes some potentially interesting gameplay consequences. Overall I think it was just a case of mechanics being considered over implications of those mechanics and that led to something unfortunate.

    • killias2 says:

      I haven’t seen this event yet, but it seems like it’s part of a more generic set of decisions. AFAIK, homosexuality is just one among many traits being treated like this, although I guess you could argue that it shouldn’t be treated like this. I don’t think anyone sat down and coded this event. I think someone coded homosexuality, and someone else (or the same person at a different time) coded the rules for dealing with children. The fact that homosexuality is flagged as changeable is probably wrong, but I think this is definitely puffed up out of proportion.

    • mike2R says:

      ok that does surprise me. Are we positive it is actually used in the game though?

      I believe the education events start with the child, and trigger the relevant event for the guardian, so there would need to be a corresponding “I’m growing increasing interested in man-love” event for the child for it actually to happen.

    • Levanon says:

      I haven’t seen it myself, but I’m fairly certain it does exist in the game. I’ve had a homosexual character at one point. It does leave you less fertile than normal (which can be a good or bad thing depending), it also makes everybody in the world have a lower opinion of you due to your homosexuality, which is pretty crippling. While it is somewhat odd to be given a choice to beat the gay out of your kids, it is very much just a part of the mechanics of the game. When a child develops a trait (which is a random event), you’re given a choice of whether you want to encourage it or not. I see no reason why homosexuality should be treated any differently in game terms than anything else.

      The only real solution would be to remove the homosexual trait from the game entirely, which wouldn’t be a huge loss. That said, I rather enjoyed playing as a gay duke. Once he finally managed to have a kid with his wife, he offed her, and presumably spent the rest of his life playing with his squires.

      Take it with a large medieval grain of salt IMO. If you don’t like the idea of beating the gay out of a child, then don’t do it, you are given the choice after all. I don’t see it much different than all the other times in the game where you’re given the option of being a nice person or a total cock.

    • AlKaPwn says:

      Just to respond to the homosexuality thing, a few things, homosexuality in the game determines a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes of the game that are made implicit, you will for instance have a much higher opinion of certain male characters and other characters who are homosexual will have a high opinion of you as well. The gay king of france for instance out of the blue granting my gay vassal some land b/c he essentially liked him a lot even though my vassal did almost nothing to deserve the praise. Also being gay is behind a lot of blackmail in the game.

      The second thing is that from what i can tell beating a gay child does not permantly get rid of the trait but just delays its appearance. Boleslaw the Bold’s son was approaching the high 20s mark in military and he was my heir so I wanted him to have lots of good military babies and the gay thing popped up so I beat him and after boleslaw the bold died (after ironically being murdered in a plot from the gay son) it reappeared. It could be coincidence but I kind of doubt it.

    • Fiatil says:

      My King of Wales/Ireland came out of the closet at aged 65 after almost 60 years of rule. Immediately after, he impregnated his wife again. He was definitely the best king.

    • MyPetHamster says:

      I’m playing as Queen Cecilia of Scotland, a fiery red-headed lesbian married to a gay Greek hunchback. Unfortunately, the local nobility had a problem with this! It was resolved by revoking their titles, throwing them in gaol and then chopping their heads off. They raised their levies and attacked me, but my predecessor had the foresight to build up his military. With a bit of help from a band of mercenaries their armies were slaughtered.

      My youngest daughter is also a lesbian, so homosexuality seems to be hereditary.

      Edit: Oh pooh! I’ve been excommunicated.

    • Bork Titflopsen says:

      It seems it would lend itself for a good, refreshing addition to gameplay if they fleshed it out a little more, however, I don’t think this is any more of an issue than beating your own child because he -as you said- gave food to the poor.

  5. fauxC says:

    I loved the first game so very much but the random crashes that persisted even after patches almost ruined it for me, so the stability of this new one is very important to me. Glad to hear it seems ok.

    Very excited to get this soon, need to clear my calendar for about a month first though.

    • Lord Byte says:

      How is the current one? I’ve been burned on buggy or incomplete Paradox games so often I’m really afraid of buying this one. But I really, really want to.

  6. mike2R says:

    I’ve posted this on the forum thread, but I’ll put it here too since it could have come straight out of Game of Thrones:

    As king of Poland I saw a kinswoman duchess of mine had had a son who was married to another duchess of mine, with their daughter set to inherit both duchies.

    My kinswoman was a widow, so I did a bit of wincest hoping to have a son, and I also caused the death of her son when he started plotting against me – threw him in the darkest dungeon I could find, where he soon died.

    Then my king started an affair with the second duchess and fathered a bastard on her. I legitimised him, displacing my wife’s granddaughter in the succession for that duchy with my own bastard.

    My wife’s second son married my lover. I had him assassinated (rather more publicly than I had intended).

    My wife truly hated me by this point and rebelled. I beat her, imprisoned her, then executed her. Then I married my lover.

    Oh and my dude was a dwarf.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I had a bastard with my sons wife. He was my vassal, and for some reason I suddenly got a lot less tax money from his county.

      I also matri married my daughter to an unknown pretender to the Aragon throne, then waited til they had a son, invaded Aragon, installed the lowly courtier on the throne and rejoiced that soon my progeny would rule a kingdom. Then the bloody infidels of Iberia steam rolled the tiny kingdom sending the king I made, his wife and my grandson fleeing back to my court. As if I haven’t got enough people hanging around asking me for help or just being in the way.

      And now, I suspect I’ll need to kill my nephew, the king of France. He is ambitious, has been lusting for my duchy for a decade and will soon pass a law expanding crown authority. I suspect I’ll get a demanding letter as soon as that happens. Better do something about it before he does.

  7. ChainsawHands says:

    … it may not have been the Scotch one

    If you can’t eat it, drink it, or mend your underpants with it, it’s not scotch.

  8. Schadenfreude says:

    Bought, purchased and awaiting download. I think it’ll appeal to me – my favourite parts of Total War has always been the strat map and the whole dynasty thing they have going.

    My first Paradox game too – have some money Fred Wester.

  9. caddyB says:

    Thats what I’ve been waiting for. I knew it was a good game, but I didn’t know how good, or how stable it would be. After what happened… when… when..

    Yes, I’ve preordered Sword of the Stars II. ( which by the way, is pretty stable and fun these days, long after release )

    • Blackcompany says:

      This…actually sounds fun. Really it does.
      Also, I would love to see an updated review of Sword of the Stars II now that its patched and working. Always seemed intriguing and like offered a ton of replay value. As does this game, apparently.

  10. Calculon says:

    This is without a doubt the best strategy game Ive played in a very long time.

    While I usually also strive for the huge bloated RAWR crushing empire as well, Adam is correct, if/when you do get spanked (and it hasnt failed to happen to me yet), it actually turns out to be more entertaining than the building and maintaining of the RAWR empire.

    I had carefully built the portugese kingdom, in essence usurping the rightful title from the actual portugese (quite entertaining), and used my mighty armies to crush any resistance or lip from them, stabbing all in the back who were foolish enough to turn said backs to me.

    Of course when I died, my half retarded hunch-backed son (my only son – who really was a hunch back – that made me laugh) was unable to maintain any sort of diplomatic relationships, due to being 6 years old and hunch backed, quickly had a mass of revolts on his hands, and my kingdom cumbled into obscurity…..oh good times.

    Im very much looking forward to any expansions and DLC. This game is great.

  11. Bhazor says:

    Bit of a weird question but does this model the genetics/heredity at all? Are there recessive genes from that quicky marriage that will come back to haunt your grandchildren? Can I purposely breed a stable of hot daughters to sell for influential marriages? Are there specific hereditary syndromes like blindness or brittle bones?

    Or is it just a crap shoot what traits you get?

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Not sure how hereditary genes work, but via education you can reliably have that stable of daughters. At least when it comes to stats. I’m not quite sure how traits work.

    • Calculon says:

      There is some of that yes. It appears that there are traits that are inherited, but also taught. It matters who you choose as your childs educator, but also who you choose as your wife.

      If you choose a cruel educator, you have a higher chance of having a cruel child, but along the way there are choices you can make when raising your child which will directly affect how they are as adults, and there are some things you cant change at all.

      There is an attractive trait which does give you +1 to diplomacy. I kind of wished it gave a bit more of a bonus, but perhaps its balanced (im sure you could mod it anyways, I hear its an easy game to mod). I did find that “ugly”, “clubfoot” or “hunchback” traits have a big negative to a number of areas, which makes it interesting.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      It does model heredity, though not (I think) down to the level of recessive genes that pop up every X generations. A large part of the strategy in the game comes down to breeding — finding mates for your character and his/her children whose combination of “traits” (personality/physique attributes like “kind” or “shy” or “clubfooted”) and “attributes” (skill levels in various capacities of governance — war, diplomacy, intrigue, etc.) will produce children who keep their parents’ helpful characteristics, while removing or improving their less helpful ones.

      It’s not all nature, there’s room for nurture too — children can be put under the tutelage of another character from age 6 to 16, and the characteristics of their mentor can tilt their eventual traits/attributes makeup as well. But even the best mentor can’t make a silk purse from the proverbial sow’s ear, so who you marry your characters to is a crucial determinant of the future strength of your dynasty.

    • matnym says:

      Also, random events occurs during a characters lifetime that can grant new traits. Like any other event you’re given a choice of actions and depending of which one you pick the concerned character might be rewarded with either a good or bad trait.

      E.g. You catch your son stealing. What course of action will you take? Let him go and he will like you but there’s a great chance he’ll get the negative trait ‘greed’. Try and talk sense into him and he might either get the trait ‘honest’ or ‘liar’. Etc.

      The example above is not necessarily accurate but you get the idea.

    • Bhazor says:

      Pity. I had an idea of completely ruining my family by having every other child die at 23 after inadvertently marrying my daughter carrier to another carrier and making sure no body ever wants to marry my offspring again.

      It just seems strange to me to have such a focus on families and not include recessive traits. Nevermind, seems like something that could be modded in without breaking anything important.

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      Malarious says:

      Some traits are genetic — ‘Genius’, ‘Strong’, ‘Imbecile’, ‘Inbred’, ‘Hunchback’, etc, and I don’t know how fleshed out the system is, but I’ve definitely had some gnarly traits show up after a few generations have passed. Also, you can marry your close family members which vastly increases the probability of any genetic traits coming out, negative or positive.
      The personality traits are, as far as I can tell, completely nurture-based. A kind father isn’t more likely to have a kind son unless he personally raises and educates him, for instance.

  12. Schaulustiger says:

    Something I don’t understand: How does CK2 compare to, let’s say, Europa Universalis3? Or Victoria 1/2? Is it a grand strategy game with armies and stuff, but an additional layer of people management on top of it? Or does it leave the big warfare out and concentrate solely on being the Paradox version of The Sims?

    I’m really curios and I can’t tell from the review.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      This makes it sound neater than it is, but essentially all of the strategy that could be in the control of the ruler is retained. So your council will handle a lot what would be micromanagement and you won’t build armies in any traditional sense, but instead you can raise them from your holdings and then command them. Or, if you have a more powerful ruler over you, then you’ll sometimes be commanded to obey his strategic demands.

      It’s a grand strategy game but one that works at the level of individuals rather than abstract and often arbitrary collectives.

      Any help?

    • S Jay says:

      Yes, armies and all too, but who is commanding your army is as important as the composition of the army (anyone, you will get more troops if you have better relationships with your vassals)

    • mike2R says:

      It is similar in the sense that you have a world map, and armies, and wars and stuff. But the character system is absolutely fundamental to how the game works.

      You simply cannot control more than a small amount of land yourself, so you have to use vassals. And since you are dependent on them, the effects of the character system on your game can be profound.

      A reasonably common example: say you have two powerful dukedoms in your kingdom, and one of them dukes only has daughters. These two dukes may well marry their heirs to each other, and the generation after that the two families lands and power will be combined. Now where once you had two vassals, each of whom you could dominate, you have one who may well have more personal lands than you do.

      It is very possible to be king, but not the most powerful noble in your kingdom. Yes as king you have certain rights – you can levie a proportion of the troops available in all your vassals territory – but your real power, especially when times are rough, comes from your own personal holdings, and if these are weak and one of your vassals is very strong then you hold the throne on sufferance. The kingdom of France starts in very much this situation with the duchy of Aquitaine.

    • briktal says:

      It’s somewhat like EU or Vicky except you deal with the individual rulers of land (and some people who have no land), with traits and stats and ambitions and opinions of their own, rather than the generic “government” of a piece of land.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      It’s sort of like this:

      EU3 and Victoria 2 are nation-state management games. You play as the “spirit of the nation” (God, essentially, or at least God if God were spending all his time looking out for one country) rather than as any one particular ruler, and your task is to preserve and extend the power of your nation-state.

      CK2 is a dynasty management game. Rather than nation-states, the game is organized around families, and you play as whomever happens to be at the head at the moment of whatever family you selected. Your task is to preserve and extend the power of your family.

      Both types of games have the usual grand-strategy mechanisms — war, diplomacy, espionage, etc. — so you still push armies around in CK2 in much the same way mechanically as you do in EU3. But the reasons you’re pushing those armies around are different. In EU3, you push armies around to seize a long-disputed province from a neighboring nation so that your nation can gain access to its resources; in CK2, you push armies around to smack down once and for all that annoying cousin of yours who was exiled twenty years ago but keeps muttering about coming home and “taking back what’s mine.”

    • McCool says:

      I might just be lucky, but in my experience Crusader Kings II is also a much, MUCH easier game than Europa Universallis III, or, of course, either of the Vicky games. In my first ever go I got from the bastard Count Brian of Cornwall to the King of England in two steps. Crusader Kings II is not challenging, but it IS fun.

    • mike2R says:

      re: difficulty
      My 2 province count who started the game as king of Denmark, before being deposed by the king of Poland and replaced with the latter’s son, based on a claim generated through a marriage that seemed perfectly harmless at the time, begs to differ! Will no-one rid me of these turbulent Piasts :)

      Best game of CK2 I’ve had yet!

    • killias2 says:

      RE: Difficulty
      I don’t think CK2 can be seen as easy or hard. The fact of the matter is the game’s difficulty is -inconsistent by design-. This is a good thing. What I mean by this is, yeah, sure, that great king who has been reigning for 40 years, who has great stats and relations; and who has the prestige of a God, yeah.. he’ll do well. You’ll conquer what you want, do what you want, and you’ll be large and in charge.
      And then he’ll die. And, if something crappy happens, his heir can die. This is when the game gets difficult. I went from two straight Godly monarchs to collapsing in a civil war and losing my monarchical titles. Sure, I could’ve prevented this with more long-term thinking. However, I just assumed I was in a place of power. I was wrong.

      CK2 is more about hanging on to power and making it constant than simply attaining it to begin with. There is a reason why, historically, the king of France is in a similar position at the beginning of EU3 as he is as the beginning of CK2: hanging onto power is difficult enough on its own.

    • briktal says:

      There can definitely be luck involved, but there are also many starting situations where you can have a relatively easy way to gain (or lose) a bunch of power.

    • Schaulustiger says:

      @Adam and the others:

      Ah, now it’s much clearer. This does sound rather intriguing and since I always found the actual “war” part of EU3 or Vicky 2 a bit underwhelming, CK2 sound like it’s right up my alley. I think it’s time to make a purchase… :)

      Thanks, guys!

    • McCool says:

      Staying on top is MUCH harder than getting there. It is surprisingly easy to work your way from the least powerful playable character in a Kingdom like England to the King. Trickier is staying on top. This is the opposite difficulty curve to EU3 (in my estimation anyway), where starting off as a lowly Duke and fighting for survival can be really tricky (and often impossible), but once you gain some momentum and a strong tax base/system of vassals, the steam-rolling starts and never finishes.

      Ultimately this makes CKII the more compelling game. I’ve just been shocked how in all my games so far how easy grabbing enormous power is, no matter how high you stack the odds against you.

  13. Drake Sigar says:

    As I child I dreamt of one day getting two major games – a co-op Resident evil (wow, that sure didn’t turn out well!), and a medieval simulator with all the trimmings you just described. I can see why I was snorted at when I asked if it was something like the family tree of the Total War series, for clearly there’s no comparison. Copy ordered. Well played sir.

    Could you maybe write up a long story on one of your experiences with a family in game? I want to read more. MOREEE!

  14. Gothnak says:

    I got this last weekend and have seen time disappear to the beast.

    Much like playing a Football Management game for the first time, I start non-league, i was the Count of Telemark (Mainly because of the film, Heroes Of Telemark!), not the King of Norway, not a even a Duke, a bloody Count!

    Jeez, that game lasted years, i learnt how to upgrade buildings and get bishops to like me, and generally helped the Duke & also the King in battles. Then i saw my opportunity, marrying a sister to the Prince. One of the other counts rebelled against the Duke, and we popped him off, now i had an ally nearby, and then my Duke declared war on the new Queen (my sister!). Well, i dumped him, quick smart and allied with her, we defeated him, and she awarded me Lappland… LAPPLAND! The Huge region miles away from Telemark surrounded by angry Pagans with armies in the thousands, when i’d amassed just 500. Also, because it was just conquered, it didn’t allow me to raise a levy, so it’s defence was rubbish. It was my high point. Over the next 5 years, Norway was attacked by Finnmark (one of the Pagan kingdoms), England, and then, the nail in the coffin, the whole of THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE.

    The Queen was deposed, Lappland was lost, and i was stuck back in Telemark.. Then my awesome Count died, and who took over? His homosexual, chaste daughter… That game didn’t last much longer.

    • Gothnak says:

      Oh, and this one in a lunchtime:

      I decided to be the King Of Assyria, a 56 yr old chap in his twilight who already had a 30 yr old son to take over. well, first thing, grabbed him a wife, then one for me to keep me happier. Noticed the region to the east had a casus belai allowing me to invade, so i built up my troops over a couple of years. Well, the two neighbouring regions attacked each other, and a few months later, i also charged in. At this point, the Assyrian dung hit the Assyrian Fan…

      My son died of natural causes.. My 30 yr old son, my only heir, me at 58…

      So that was that, was just hoping for the impossible, that my 40 yr old wife would have a child. Then the Birth screen popped up… My dead son’s wife had been pregnant, there was hope!

      2 years later we were finishing the siege on the first region when… I died… In the siege… A 60yr old king, leading the troops, well, that was unforseen!

      So, in that game, i am now a 2 year old girl attacking her neighbours for no reason she can fathom, with the weight of the kingdom waiting for her to be old enough to have a child!

  15. Khemm says:

    I applaud Paradox for releasing a DRM-free version on Gamersgate. I hope it’ll become the norm from now on.

    • killias2 says:

      None of Paradox’s games (at least for a long while now) have DRM. This includes the Steam version of CK2, which does -not- use Steamworks.

    • Khemm says:

      Unfortunately, the boxed versions will require Steam to install.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      Edit : Beaten to it (by several hours).

    • killias2 says:

      Yeah, the boxed versions require Steam to install, to update, and to install DLC/expansions/etc. However, CK2 does not use Steamworks DRM. You can play the game independently of Steam, once it’s installed, and I think you can even copy the game folder to another folder to play independently. Requiring Steam is not, in itself, DRM.

  16. One Pigeon says:

    Damn, damn, damn! I’m only half way through my back catalogue of unplayed/finish steam games and then you go and throw this in my lap.
    Shogun 2 is in there and that’s going to take me enough time as it is.

    Damn you and your glorious reviews of games that I know will such all my time away.

  17. westyfield says:

    This sounds awesome. I was barely aware of this beforehand, now it’s near the top of my “if only you had time for these games” list.

  18. wv502 says:

    After a few days I had built up the Duchy of Barcelona into a military and financial powerhouse. Then I had a look at who was to inherit. It was my son who was basically the WORST human being in the world. Cruel, greedy, gluttonous, schemey. Needless to say once he inherited all my vassals decided to declare independence at once. I lost.

  19. Llewyn says:

    Does anyone happen to know if the boxed retail version is also DRM-free? I happened to notice it’s £21 on tescoentertainment.com, which seems like a pretty good deal.

    • mike2R says:

      The boxed version is Steamworks. Whether this is DRM or not is an argument I don’t have anymore :)

      If you want the version which is simply just the files with absolutely nothing that anyone could call DRM, buy the GamersGate download version.

    • Llewyn says:

      Thank you. Steamworks is fine for me as I’d have happily bought it from Steam if they’d had the better price, regardless of the is-it-or-isn’t-it argument :-)

    • Khemm says:

      “Whether this is DRM or not”

      I never understood people who claim it isn’t.

    • killias2 says:

      Whether or not Steamworks is DRM, CK2 does -not- have DRM. Why? Because even the Steam version does NOT use Steamworks.

      Edit: To be more specific, Steam is required (except for the GG versions, of course) to install the game, update the game, and install expansions/DLC. However, it doesn’t need to be running for you to play the game. AFAIK, you can even copy the directory and play a second copy of the game without any issues, which mod fans will sometimes do.
      Steam is how CK2 interacts with the internet, but you do not have to run CK2 through Steam.

    • Khemm says:

      That’s much better, but still – Steam is required to even install. That means the DVD is completely useless, kind of renders the retail version obsolete.

    • killias2 says:

      It’s true that the disc isn’t really worth getting for Paradox games. They basically admit it. They get the vast majority of their income from digital sales, and most expansions aren’t even made available through retail. I’m a big fan of digital content, so I guess this isn’t really a downside for me. However, I can appreciate that not everyone holds my opinion.

    • Brun says:

      renders the retail version obsolete

      Welcome to the future.

  20. Chris D says:

    This is my first foray into paradox strategy. Had a few false starts but getting into it relatively painlessly. Well, I say relatively……

    By the third generation I had managed to declare myself King of Lithuania (average tech. level 0 What is this the dark ages? Why yes, yes it is.). Before the ink was dry the kingdom descended into bloody civil war. The timing was bad as I’d just picked a fight with Estonia to the north who had turned out to be that bit tougher than I’d realised and they called in some allies who had descended on me with over five thousand men, way more than I had at that time. I surrendered, losing half the kingdom, which was a shame as I had given away the other half in an attempt to keep order, leaving me with a single county of my own.

    Realising I was now in serious danger of becoming an oppressed minority in my own kingdom I took drastic action and imprisoned then banished the duke of Vitebsk who controlled the majority of land left. It wasn’t a popular move and almost all my vassals revolted at once. Fortuitously so did some peasants who destroyed one invading army and blocked another so I was able to wipe out the remaining rebels piecemeal with the aid of some mercenaries.

    I had had mixed success with mercs to that point. First time: absolutely useless, ran away and wiped out. Second time: Found myself unable to pay after a surrender, they turned on me ,but fortunately had been weakened enough not to be too much of a threat. Third time: The cheap ones had been hired by someone else but I was desperate and went for a more expensive band, hoping to take the invaders out quickly but they took ages to walk anywhere and I went bankrupt before they even saw action. Fortunately they disbanded rather than turning on me. Fourth time, though, it actually worked.

    King Nikita the Great, as he became known, was not a popular man after that. Rebellions and uprisings became an annual event. It didn’t help that he embraced the monophysite heresy at that point and no-one likes a tyrant-heretic. He had married the Duchess of Varoslavl some years before, in an attempt to get some cheap counties. It sort of worked eventually, although the counties in question are several countries away from the rest of the realm and right at the edge of an incredibly aggressive Bulgar frontier. An unforeseen side effect of the marriage was that the children were part of their mother’s court not mine so I had no control over their education or marriages, or their children’s after that.

    This is the story of King Nikita the Great, founder of Lithuania, who earned more prestige than his father and grandfather combined. Tyrant, heretic and with no idea what was happening to the next two generations. By the end I was praying that he’d just die. Bastard held on till seventy-nine.

    His heir died about eight years after that so now it’s down to his seventeen year old grandson to pick up the pieces. For some reason the rest of the kingdom still seems to be holding a grudge.

  21. Zeewolf says:

    I notice on one of the screens that part of Scandinavia follows a religion called “No”. Would that be “norse”, and would I be able to convert the rest of Scandinavia to it? Because you know, christianity was a big mistake and I’d like to set things right.

    • Duke Nasty VI says:

      I don’t know if you can convert to that specific religion, but I’ve had events where my spiritual advisor converted to Cathar and compelled me (and the kingdom) to follow in his footsteps.

    • Blackcompany says:

      This alone would be reason to play this game.

    • iniudan says:

      You can be converted to Norse, but you cannot start a new game with anyone else then christian noble without modding the game.

      But converting to Norse religion is quite easy, just get a Norse religious adviser, will get event to convert at some point.

  22. Drac40k says:

    I think you need a certain mindset to enjoy this type of game. I played the demo and was constantly plagued by the feeling that I was doing something wrong. It was frustrating. However, I will give it another shot after this glorious review – it seems worth the trouble. Player authored narrative is the way to go.

    • mike2R says:

      I know that feeling. I’ve been playing Paradox games for years, and learning a new one still makes me feel like that (still haven’t got my head around Victoria 2 properly).

      The key is just to accept it. Ignore what you don’t understand and just deal with what you know. If you get in trouble go looking for the cause. Fairly soon you find that you’ve kind of assimilated enough of the basics

    • Chris D says:

      It took me a while to get over that feeling too. Mostly because in so many other strategy games if you don’t develop properly at the start someone else comes along and stomps you.

      From what I can tell CK2 is far more fluid, nations will rise and fall and rise again. You might be top of the world today but that’s no guarantee you wont be overthrown, usurped or assassinated tomorrow.

      If you’re down on your luck that’s ok too. Make a few alliances, marry into a good family, maybe stab a few backs and you’re one step closer to the throne again.

    • McCool says:

      I know the feeling!

      Luckily, Crusader Kings II is one game where it is entirely unfounded. The court system, and the fact you play as a person not the guiding spirit of a nation, couples to make it so you are never, ever playing the game wrong. If you are missing out on opportunities of intrigue, that is just you being a clueless king. You can be very very busy, or rather passive, and both approaches create stories that are fun to play/

  23. Dolphan says:

    Can you try and become Pope?

    • MrThingy says:

      Nope. At least not in vanilla CK2.

    • Chris D says:

      You can try to install your own Antipope, though.

    • Torgen says:

      You can also be person pulling the Pope’s strings. Very handy for taking care of rivals. When the Pope “gets his promotion” and the seat is vacant, the bishop of the ruler with the highest piety becomes the new Pope. Then you tell him to excommunicate your enemy.

  24. Buttless Boy says:

    This game is awesome and all, but am I the only one that wants to ignore all the boring war crap and focus on the soap opera bits? Every time some butthead declares war or raises my levies I think “dammit, leave me alone and let me assassinate my family in peace.”

    • RegisteredUser says:

      I quite literally want to rule the world as evil oppressor in every game possible, so I am thankful for any which one that lets me do just that.

      Paradox does help towards this a little bit(Hearts of Iron 2 is really a “Germany taking over the world” simulator), but I do miss properly evil games(enslavement, tyranny, dystopian ultimate control state etc pp) that do it right and don’t skid off too far in the wrong direction(that abuct-torture-break-them-maze game was already too ugh just by reading about it, whereas exterminating other alien races as planetary setting in Distant Worlds is perfectly good policy roleplay fun).

  25. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who can compare this to Football Manager. In a good light, too.

  26. sogeking99 says:

    Adam you should post some AAR’s!

    Also could you give Magna Mundi some love? Looks amazing.

  27. JB says:

    It’s Machiavellian, it’s Borgia-tastic, it really is Game of Thrones without the fantasy. Though there IS an event where peasants witness a “dragon” in a nearby forest =)

    Ireland is a great shout for starting out, I took Count of Tyrone all the way to being King of Ireland and having the Duchy of Galloway on the mainland too.

  28. Duke Nasty VI says:

    I started playing as the king of Norway in 1066. I ended the norman invasion early and set my sights on the bordering countries. It’s now 12-something, and I’ve conquered Sweden, Finland, some of Russia and all of the independent heretic riff-raff that was nearby.

    I’ve had a rivalry with one of the Swedish dynasties for over a hundred years (basically because they wanted Sweden back). Slowly but surely I’ve revoked their titles, and now they’re pretty much powerless. But when one dynasty falls, another will take its place, so you’re never really safe.

    I’ve had one of my sons, a 4-year old with a single county, declare war for independence against me. He spent the rest of his life in a prison cell (while his advisors walked free).

    I’ve joined a crusade and failed miserably. The king died of pneumonia and his son, the heir to the throne, got disfigured, which in addition to all of his other faults didn’t help. The kingdom was thrown into chaos yet again.

    Now that the civil war has ended I’m wondering if I should produce a casus belli for Denmark…

    I love the game. Think I might try a duchy next time.

  29. Blackcompany says:

    Is it just me, or does this sound like more of a Game of Thrones strategy game than the actual GoT game does?

    • Jimbo says:

      Seems like a Game of Thrones flavour expansion (or really good mod) would be great. It’s a shame Cyanide somehow ended up with the game rights.

    • man-eater chimp says:

      Westeros mod please.

  30. MannyCalavera says:

    Lovely write up. “the bloat of victory and expansion” – Very true this. By the time victory cam in Rome Total War, one of my favourite games everywhere, I hated my empire. I hated the rebellious fringes and difficulty with managing an empire.

    Having lots of great fun playing as various counts of backwater shitholes, struggling along. Gives you a nice feeling of satisfaction to build up from.

    I have had some disastrous games. I really wanted to become King of Bohemia but ended up siring lots of bastards and breaking up with my wife and completely missing the impending civil war that was about the destroy me. I ended up a lustful drunkard who son ended up rising against me.

    It is a brilliant medieval soap opera though it did take me a while to figure out what I was meant to do. Not being able to invade willy nilly left me at a loss at the beginning. But now I have started to get it it has rapidly become one of my favourite games.

  31. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Thank you for the review.

    I’m not sure I agree with the notion that Paradox does a good thing not properly tutoring players into their grand strategy games. It’s just that some of us want to invest the learning time into these games, but don’t actually have the much free time to do it. Good and informative manuals and proper tutorials makes saves us a good deal of time. Anyone interested on grand strategy games isn’t going to be afraid of a thick manual.

    That said the game does ship with a gazillion of informative tooltips for about every pixel on the screen.

    As for the game, I find it absolutely brilliant. Paradox masterpiece, following a decade of accumulated experience all crammed into one title. Why then I’m finding it hard to play?

    Mostly fear of doing something wrong and having to start over. A pure sense of self-preservation. Now, I quickly realized this slows down my learning of it and also cuts down on the enjoyment. So my advise to anyone (one I started taking recently) is to just experiment. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Consider your first couple of months on it as your Coming of Age in Crusader Kings II. Your blunders will provide you with a wealth of information.

    Example 1:

    Played King of Leon for 30 minutes. Because my sister Urraca, countess of Zamora had a claim to my Kingdom, I decided to Assassinate her. That way I could get rid of that claimant. Right? Right. Only, our brother, the King of Galicia, was her heir and when my assassins did their job, I found myself at war against him because he took no time using this inheritable claim. Instead of a Countess, I was now fighting a King. That was smart!

    Example 2:

    Next I start playing King Sancho of Galicia. All is well until I decide to marry Princess Urraca (another Urraca) because she was the heir to the throne of her Kingdom and I thought that would be a nice way to add land to my kingdom throne when her father dies. Right? Right. Only… once we got married I start being visited by assassins. After the second try, her father has no other choice than to declare war on me. He would never leave his kingdom to a foreigner.

    These are some examples of how being reckless pays off in this game, as you get to understand its mechanics and the wealth of diplomatic happenings it supports. Later, as I gain experience with it, the time will come for rewarding gameplay.

  32. schiapu says:

    The Game of Thrones license needs to be in the hands of Paradox.

  33. Mirdini says:

    Alt-text for the first image is so true

    so tragically true.

    • Berzee says:

      I only just realized he was talking about in the game and not in real life….

      ..right? o_o

  34. Mr Bismarck says:

    I have spent so much of the past week stabbing people, (and in the game™), that I’m beginning to dream about it.

    I started off stabbing the Duchess of Kent and things spiraled out of control to the degree that I then stabbed her sister, (my daughter in law), her four year old son, (my grandson), her two year old daughter’s, spymaster’s wife and then set up her spymaster with a raven haired beauty from my court to bring him on side so that he wouldn’t grumble when I stabbed that daughter, (my granddaughter).

    This let me crown myself King of Wales and Duke of Kent. A position I enjoyed for about twenty minutes before the King of England came in and flipped all my tables. 11 years I later I stabbed him and his wife. I have a short knife and a long memory.

    Much like DF has an answer to every problem, (magma), in CK the answer is always stabbing.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Stabbing people in the back is something I can..get behind.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      Bravo sir.

      Now I must stab you.

    • Drake Sigar says:

      Was your name Stabby Mcstabbington by any chance?

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      Sir Stabsalot : “Baby Got Back(stabs).”

    • JB says:

      Next time I have a kid I want to push into having a high intrigue stat, I think I will call them Shiv McShanking.

      Assassinating family and friends is an important part of “diplomacy”.

    • frypiggy says:

      I absolutely love a game that encourages this kind of creativity. It seems there’s nothing a good old fashioned stabbing cannot rectify. Bravo!

  35. Levanon says:

    This game really is brilliant. The first Paradox game that I’ve really gotten on with (as opposed to wanting to get on with).

    I’m playing as the Duke of Brittany, my first ruler had a bastard son and became known as “the Great”. Towards the end of my life, I decided to get a pretty young wife to keep me happy, and ended up having a legitimate son, which was the worst thing ever to happen to the duchy. Within 10 years of inheriting the throne, he was known as the Drunkard, excommunicated from the church, had the entire world declare war on him, and was forced to surrender the throne to his daughter, who thankfully took after her grandfather. She took mercy and put him on her council as spymaster until one day she heard that he intended to assassinate her son. So she banished him from the duchy, he ended up some king’s marshall, and died in battle for some other kingdom not long after.

    That is why this is the greatest strategy game ever. Fast forward 50 more years, and Brittany is still hanging on as an independent duchy, but with France rightfully plucking counties one at a time from us, and England making up reasons to do so as well, and my family falling apart at the seams, I’m not sure how much longer things will last.

    • Sunjumper says:

      Marry into the lesser families of France and England. By the time they have conquered you, you will have planted your seed within their courts and can start eating them from within.

      Who knows maybe your family will unite England and France?

  36. Kaira- says:

    So, what is the deal with retail-version? I know it is “Steam-version”, but what does it actually mean – do I have to activate it through Steam?

    • killias2 says:

      It requires Steam to install the game, updates, DLC, and expansions. However, it does not use Steamworks DRM, so you can actually play the game outside of Steam entirely.. once it’s installed.

    • Kaira- says:

      What a shame.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      So buy it from GamersGate – Steam isn’t involved there at all.

    • killias2 says:

      There is also a versions at Gamersgate that does not require Steam. Honestly, I don’t think it matters much one way or the other, as neither version has DRM.

    • Kaira- says:

      Yeah, the thing is that at the current price point I’m reluctant (to say the least) to buy it from a DD-service.

    • killias2 says:

      Understandable. I’m sure it will be super cheap on sale at both Steam and GG within a few months. Probably 20 dollars by May and 10 dollars sometime this summer. It will probably drop below 10 for Christmas.

      I love PC gaming.

  37. RegisteredUser says:

    God dammit. When will people stop propagating “Losing is fun!111”.

    It is not a universal truth, nor is it even an option for some very OCD / must-win-and-over-optimize-ALL-the-things inclined people.

    Accordingly it should be more fun to crush others with beating a sound CHALLENGE(as opposed to cheating, cheese or just plain badly made AI and gameplay / design), not suffering a “well done” frustration within a loss.

    If I invest time and energy into something, I want to see growth, development and maybe even that bit of struggle. I do not want to just see it all go to shit “in a fun way” and end up being locked out of further play by that accordingly.
    Getting bogged down a bit and managing / being able to turn it around by a mix of cleverness and luck? Yes please.
    Getting raped because there aren’t many alternative options or just plain horrendous decisions behind it(hello Dwarf Failtress) is neither cool nor fun nor should it be encouraged when making games.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • killias2 says:

      1. Opinions are opinions.
      2. You say you like challenge, but how can there be a challenge if you never lose? If you’re playing a “challenging” game without ever losing, then you’re not really playing a challenging game at all.3
      3. Have you played CK2? The fun in CK2 isn’t really losing per se.. it’s about dealing with inconsistent difficulty. Just as with history, there is no upward, obvious progressive tendency. You need to do your best to grab onto and hang onto as much power as possible for as long as possible. That’s fun to -me- and to many others playing the game, even if you’re not sure about it.

    • fauxC says:

      Press “A” to win.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      I think if you parse “losing is fun” as a pithy version of “winning isn’t the only fun” you’d have a much less severe response to it.

      But by the same token, if you require every game to finish with the AI laying a wreath of laurels on your shoulders, while doves flutter overhead bearing a pink satin banner proclaiming “WINNER!” then CKII possibly isn’t for you.

      I’m not sure what winning would look like in CKII outside of some self-created finish line around becoming King, or increasing demesne size.

      Personally, my victory conditions have been to have fun and end up with some cool and/or funny stories to tell, which means that, thus far, I’ve won every game.

    • RegisteredUser says:


      How can you imply that there is no challenge if you don’t lose? There has to be a possibility to lose, but not actual losing. Challenge means, er, being challenged in the progress and not as fauxc has managed to successfully misunderstood pressing a button to win.

      Let’s take something like Silent Storm or Jagged Alliance(or if you want to stick to PDI, Hearts Of Iron 2). If you plan well, you can get away with barely a scrape. If you don’t, you can get someone literally killed. That won’t lose you “the game”, but it is a challenge. And you can make it tough enough that you have to actually put effort into planning and playing.
      That’s how it should be.
      If however like in some games the enemy literally can see through walls, always know where you are and/or is otherwise badly done so as that it isn’t challenge and planning, but either chance or bad design making it “difficult”(see also just money or unit cheating workarounds by some designers) then “losing” isn’t fun and the “challenge” isn’t, either.

      If however by virtue of understanding the game and it’s mechanics, thorough planning, thought and oversight I can test myself vs a game / game design and come out on top, that’s a challenge and entertaining. Making it so I am prone to lose because something is badly designed or just plain sloppy or overdone is neither fun nor why I would play something.

      And clearly if I play Paradox strategy games and TBS I am not the “press a button” to win kind of person to begin with. But I do enjoy dominating something if I am good at it and I _earned_ it. That’s where the challenge and fun sits, not in simple clickyclickywins nor in being brutalized for no reason(like no explanations of mechanics, bad interfaces, unecessary randomness etc..all things DF remind me of again).

      Too many a times “losing is fun” seems to be like the guy throwing your shit into the street while laughing loudly so as to try and make asshole behavior relateably funny. It isn’t. And it won’t become so by trying to force “Hurrhurr guess you lost hurr? Wusn’t THAT fun!!1” gestures onto the player/me, either.
      It just feels like trying to distract from the fact that someone was/is being a careless dick.

      From how it all reads CK2 is likely not even really suffering from the bad design forcing you to suck / lose at all(i.e. I expect you can actually do well if you know how), but the inherent danger of implying that “losing is fun” makes it highly necessary to point out the whole dilemma around this, because it is just a really crap phrase to start with.

      As for victory condition in Paradox games(V2, HOI2, EU3) I want to (be able to) own/rule 100% of the globe.

      Cue link to youtube.com

    • killias2 says:

      I agree that those games are all challenging and that, when you get good enough at it, it can be possible not to lose. However, you’re misreading my argument. In the process of getting good enough at those games, you -do- lose sometimes. Otherwise, it really isn’t challenging. I’m doubting anyone has ever played Jagged Alliance for the first time just to play a perfect campaign.

      Like you say later in your comment, I don’t think CK2 suffers from -unfair- difficulty or for an inability to master its mechanics. However, while learning and playing the game, yes, you will definitely lose, just as you lose while playing JA.

      “If however by virtue of understanding the game and it’s mechanics, thorough planning, thought and oversight I can test myself vs a game / game design and come out on top, that’s a challenge and entertaining.” – This, for example, is definitely true of CK2.

      “As for victory condition in Paradox games(V2, HOI2, EU3) I want to (be able to) own/rule 100% of the globe.” – You can achieve those goals, but they are -very- difficult. EU3 is probably your best bet, as HRE+colonization=controlling half the damn world to begin with.

  38. Maldomel says:

    Great great game. And a great wot I think too.
    Also yes, a Game of Thrones. I totally thought about that when I saw the council menu, and dwarf characters (and bastards too).

  39. craigdolphin says:

    Dang! I have too many great games backlogged already. I won’t get to Skyrim or ME3 til I’ve finished Red Dead Redemption and that won;t be likely to happen til later in the year with all the projects I have. And now I NEED this game too.

    What’s the word on the DRM? Maybe that will save me from buying the game.

  40. Master_of_None says:

    A couple of things:

    One complaint is that there does not seem to be much incentive to focus on building up the cities/bishoprics/baronies within provinces… the balance seems to be in favor of hoarding money to spend on mercenaries.

    Having levies replenish more slowly would actually INCREASE the importance of mercenaries, so I am ok with that.

    Also, does anyone know of a way to increase the font size in the game without lowering the screen resolution?

    EDIT: Here is a good discussion of the trade-off between investing in your demesne vs. hoarding for mercenaries: link to forum.paradoxplaza.com

    • killias2 says:

      As the article you reference notes, there is a clear structure to this decision: mercenaries are good for the short-term, but investment is good for the long-term. You need to balance your long-term needs against your short-term needs and the political/military context you’re in.

      Personally, I invested a crapload in my economy, and it certainly paid dividends even for my merc hiring. My kingdom was rich as hell.. until I lost my titles in a series of succession crises. Boy, do I regret a few decisions I made….

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      >> Also, does anyone know of a way to increase the font size in the game without lowering the screen resolution?

      This came on twitter the day before yesterday. And Paradox answer was “no can do”.

  41. Troy Goodfellow says:

    The entropy towards chaos and breakdown is my favorite part of CK2. You can, if you are careful and lucky, build a huge empire but caution is not always enough and sometimes only the risk takers can keep their dynasty moving. Failure in CK2 is treated differently, I think, then failure in other strategy games because there are so many ways for things to break down and some hiccups are really small things in the long run.

    It is an open game in a lot of ways and easily Paradox’s best piece of work.

    (disclaimer: Paradox Interactive is a client, but CK2 is not.)

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I read your piece on the game over at Flash of Steel. A very good piece and much in line with my own thinking.

      Currently I’m feeling like I am juggling man eating eels covered in grease in my game, due to just having done a succession after my grand mother who ruled the duchy for 32 years. It’s not easy taking over her carefully groomed vassals, I’ll tell you. I’ve had to stop any number of plots to keep myself and my heirs alive. And the king of France is eying one of my titles.

      It’s great!

  42. Valanthyr says:

    I know it will be hard to compare, especially with a game already 5 years old and probably not having the same goals/gameplay, but this game reminds me of Knights of Honour.

    Can anyone who played both give us some thoughts?

    • killias2 says:

      They’re not really comparable at all. Knights of Honor is more like a hybrid of Total War and Age of Empires. This doesn’t have any real tactical elements at all in terms of combat, but a far, far, far more robust grand strategy element. If you’ve played any of Paradox’s other games, they’re much better points of comparison. If not.. the strategy elements of Knights of Honor and Total War give some of the idea, I guess. Grand Strategy is also sort of 4x-ey in some ways as well…

      I suggest watching some of a Let’s Play of CK2. That should give you an idea.

    • Valanthyr says:

      Thanks for your input. Actually I was not referring to the AoEish part of KoH, which I always skipped in favor of the fast combat, but rather to the knights management, city building, feudal diplomacy, heir wedding, etc.

      Anyway I’ll follow your advice and watch some Let’s Play videos.

  43. Carra says:

    This game gives you stories to tell!

    I married off my heir to a princess of Wales, not really thinking much about it at the time. But after watching again ten years later I noticed that the king of Wales actually only had one child… And surely, twenty years later my wife was the queen of Wales. Another twenty years saw my son as the king of both Wales & Ireland! All with one lucky marriage.

    Next up: Conquering Spain as the Basques. And of course, making the Duke of Flanders into the King of France as it rightly should be.

    Oh, I was reminded of Crusader Kings 2 when I watched the Tudors this week, it really feels like it. Being happy and legitimizing your bastard which seriously pisses of your wife? Yeah, done that.

    • Calculon says:

      Does it ever give you stories to tell.

      Ive been playing a lot as King of Galicia lately. It provides an excellent challenge, while starting me off as King.

      Anyhoo, in my game last night, I had twin boys. I thought WOo hoo! Twin Boys!

      They grew up, and my Kingdom grew. I conquered many infidel lands and subjugated their people. As a present, I gave my twin boys each a county conquered from Muslim lands, knowing full well that they could not use the county for funds, or for a levy for many years, but I would gain prestiege from providing landed titles to my heir(s).

      Well, one of my boys was very clever. He was rather upset that his brother, born a full 2 minutes earlier, was going to be King and he was not. He plotted to asassinate me. I plotted to throw him in prison. I tried, but alas, he eluded my grasp and threatened to revolt.

      I was pondering this conundrum, not quite sure how to deal with the situation (in a previous save game, I admit I tried to crush his revolt, but he called in 4 other kingdoms and buthchered me), and my fiance, who was watching me play, asked: “Cant you just kill him?.

      Kill my own son I asked. Could I kill my own son? The moral conundrum. You betcha I can kill him! In the meantime my oldest son and heir, who was also slothful, greedy and cruel had married some local gutter tramp, much to my disapproval. I decided that I would instead kill off my oldest son, and keep the clever little dickens that had caused me so much stress, in his lust for the throne.

      Well it went off without a hitch. I killed him and no one ever knew. The youngest of the twins became heir, and has some great traits to boot, and the kingdom has for now stabilized.

      In the mean time I have married his evil sister to my arch enemy – the Duke of ‘Portugal’ – in the effort to get my own bloodline into the dutchy, and remove the -10 foreigner stat.

      Endless entertainment, and endless outcomes, all with the same little kingdom.

    • Carra says:

      It’s weird to actually wish that your king is assassinated. I had one who had very bad stats, he even was incapacitated. So yes, I was glad when his brother took over the thrown and had a healthy rain for forty years after!

  44. Possums says:

    This sounds incredible. I’ve always found the family tree in the Total War games the most compelling part of that franchise for whatever reason. Creating your own narrative with it is fun, and CK2 seems to take that to the ultimate level. Purchased. I wonder how many sales can be directly credited to this review?

  45. Om says:

    Too late Smithie! I’ve already ordered the game so I don’t care what you think! Hahahahaha!!!!

    Wait, you actually liked it? A lot? Oh, well I guess that’s good. Great minds and all that, I suppose. I feel like I’ve wasted all those exclamation marks though…

  46. eggroll74 says:

    Great write up, and so true!!! I enjoyed reading the review, and also all of the great stories from other players.

    I’ve always wanted a game like this, but only invested time in the Total War series. If you want to conquer Japan and become Shogun, or dominate colonial era Europe, via a military campaign then the TW series is great. But if you want an RPG/RTS combo-style game, then CK2 is awesome.

    I think people with more experience in games like the TW series might be too concerned about neighboring factions moving in for the attack to take away your hard earned lands. But in CW2, usually the only neighbors you need to worry about are specific Dukes, Barons, etc. that have a claim to your lands. If they dont have a claim, then most likely they wont be attacking you no matter how much it might benefit them. This affords players time to build up their cities, castles and churches, rather than always hoarding gold in case you need to buy mercs to defend the kingdom.

    Using armies is not the only way to gain new lands for your growing kingdom. In fact, long military campaigns are going to upset your vassals because their levies have been away from home for too long during your little excursions. As a player of the fledgling Dutch kingdom, I typically recruit the best Chancellor possible, then send him away to hang out with the king of the Holy Roman Empire. If your prestige is high enough (by having lots of feasts, hunts, and summer fairs), maybe you’ll even be invited to the king’s feast and kick back some ale with the old codger! After that, he might like your company so much that he wants you to be his new Marshall. If your Chancellor is skilled enough, he can convince your king of just how great you are, and that you deserve more lands in recognition of your longtime support with levies when the King needed them for all his wild crusades.

    I ended up being granted several lands in the Lombardi area of northern Italy, and suddenly had a new host of vassals to try and keep happy. I was managing my new lands in Italy and my Dutch lands so superbly, that the King of the Holy Roman Empire began nominating himself as the heir to parts of my growing kingdom! And after all I did for him, what a douchebag! ;)

    Another method for gaining claims to lands is to use your children and siblings as pawns for marriages that might eventually provide rights to succession in the lands that you want to claim as your own. If you have a rightful claim, you might be able to invade. Or send your Chancellor into nearby lands and try to make a claim that you have a right to inherit those lands. Just be careful your Chancellor doesn’t get assassinated in the process!

    If you want to be the commander of an army on the battlefield, positioning your troops to ambush unsuspecting armies, then perhaps CW2 is not for you. But clearly, there is much, much more long-term strategy to this game than most RTS games.

    Time for me to quit babbling and get back to my dynasty!

  47. equatorian says:

    All right, RPS, I am sold. I find that I don’t have the time to win a proper campaign in these things anymore, so a game that lets me have fun for failing horribly is pure win. The fact that it’s about people being rational douchebags to each other instead of the AI Trying To Win a Game And Also The AI Cheats makes it all the more appealing.

  48. Lambchops says:

    So I’d always kind of wanted to try out one of these grand strategy games. i’ve always enjoyed reading write ups of them but a combination of the caveats mentioned (usually clunky interface and not beginner friendly) and my complete lack of any historical perspective has put me off.

    However this time I was convinced to at least try out the demo. That was at 8 o’clock. It’s now 1:20 am and way past my bedtime! It’s the first time I’ve done that with a game since my Spacechem addiction at the start of last year.

    I’m loving it and I’ll be sad if on purchasing the full game it doesn’t remember my first steps into forging a dynasty. Perhaps I would have been put off by being a beginner if things hadn’t fallen so easily into place for me (though I can definitely see now how things being tougher would mean there’s a lot more to do and worry about, which is a good thing). Setting my character’s goal to get married i quickly forged an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. This proved handy later when my initial misunderstanding of how war worked (apparantly it’s not all pointy sticks!) seemed set to lead me into early disaster and a childless death until 8000 troops arrived to save my bacon. From then on I had a great time, starting a couple of wars, gaining some more land and having decided I fancied a bit more intrigue rather than fighting next generation retiring my master spy to become my son’s tutor.

    I think the thing that had me buying straight away was I just genuinely didn’t know what would have happened next had I stayed up. Would raising my son into intruige lead to him plotting against me? Would my second child be a boy or a girl? Would the Kaiser be pissed off that I said I’d help him fight but couldn’t be bothered sending men all the way from Poland to bloody Tunisia (seriously, it’s a long way!). Of course who knows what else could happen? This seems like the type of game where your child could succumb to disease or the rules of inheritance could soon see your dynasty out of power and so on. Personally I can’t wait to find out.

    I’m glad I waited till this game game out though. I have a feeling that some of the previous titles just might not have clicked with me. This one has clicked quickly though and I can only see it becoming more compelling. The Football Manager comparision thrown out in the review seems rather apt actually; both games just have that way of getting under your skin and encouraging you to experiment and try something different just to see what happens. Where winning or losing can both be fun. I really wanted to love this but didn’t expect to so I’m pleasantly suprised by how much I’ve enjoyed just a little taste.

    Think my weekend might be gone!

  49. eggroll74 says:

    Regarding the ‘losing is fun vs losing sucks’ issue of CW2…there is no winning or losing in this game. What the game promotes is achievement, and achievement comes in many forms in CW2. However, after retiring your dynasty from the game you get points based on the Prestige and Piety of all the past and most recent rulers in your dynasty. Then your dynasty is measured against other dynasties in history to see how well you stack up.

    The only detail lacking in this part of the game that would really have been a great bit of polish and depth, is that you get to read a brief description of the historical dynasty that the game ultimately measures against your dynasty, but there’s no detailed synopsis for the most meaningful events or characters in your own dynasty. All you get regarding your own dynasty is a chronological list of dynasty rulers, the length of each ruler’s reign, and the Prestige/Piety score of each ruler.

    • JB says:

      I agree, a timeline of your dynasty’s important events (possibly with a setting you can adjust before game start to change the threshold of what is “important” – events affecting your dynasty at kingdom level only, duchy level and lower, or county level or lower, maybe?) would be amazing.

  50. luckystriker says:

    Wow, what a glowing review. I went from ambivalent to purchase ASAP. The bloody game better live up to it…