Grab historical sandbox Crusader Kings II free today

Crusader Kings 2

It’s good to be king, and even better when you’re not paying a penny for it. Today, Paradox are giving away the base version of their enormously enduring historical simulation sandbox Crusader Kings II, completely free. Grab it on Steam here, and you get to keep it forever, no strings attached, although the temptation of collecting over a dozen major expansions is now open to you.

For newcomers, don’t be put off by the initially dry-looking interface and the Grand Strategy aesthetic of the game. Crusader Kings II has more in common with The Sims than Europa Universalis. Pick a single historical figure to control, great or small, and live out their life of scheming, plotting, ill-considered romance and backstabbing. If you die? No problem, just switch control to your next of kin, or an entirely different character. There are no real victory or failure states, as entropy will naturally splinter even the greatest of empires, and every leader (no matter how mighty) must eventually die, so just enjoy the ride and don’t sweat the details.

Much of the joy of Crusader Kings II is rolling with the punches and riding the tide of history, creating your own legacy, roleplaying as much or as little as you please. There are countless after-action reports and Let’s Plays of the game, although one I feel especially captures the spirit of the game at its best is Thanqol’s Flamboyant Schemers. Playing as an inconsequential minor count in the at-the-time inconsequential state of Denmark, it charts a long and bizarre saga of ambition, failure and eventual glory claimed against improbable odds. RPS’s own Adam chronicled his own past life as an Iberian poet in his diary series beginning here. Here’s an excerpt:

Murder is a terrible way to prove oneself, especially to a father who does not seem to understand that there are other ways of existence. It was not enough to leave me to my learning for until I had fought and survived, he saw no reason to believe I was a man at all. To make matters worse, although my wives were fine women I had no children until my thirtieth year while Mohammad, my brother and my betrayer, had three fine sons already.

It was before the birth of my first son, before I had created a life, that I first killed a man. In the cold of 1068 I had travelled to the mountains in order to oversee construction of a fort. Meanwhile, my father undertook a great pilgrimage and, perhaps believing that the Emirate would be weakened in his absence, the Christians attacked. They have long desired to ‘liberate’ these lands, though they have no historic claim to them, and the worst of them, mad King Sancho of Castille, marched on the small Sheikhdom of Aragorn Aragon (ahem) in the north.

Accompanying this giveaway is a major sale on every expansion released for the game, and there are a lot of them, each adding some major gameplay mechanic, event or civilization to the mix. All of these major expansions can be bought together via this bundle on Steam, which will set you back around £55/$70 if you only own the base game itself. This isn’t even counting the multitude of minor aesthetic DLC packs, adding historically accurate portraits to characters, models to military units and music for various factions and eras. As expansive as the base game is by itself, Crusader Kings II can grow into a habit capable of draining a king’s treasury dry.

You can grab Crusader Kings II here. The game will be free from now until Saturday, 10am Pacific time and if you grab it before then, you keep it forever.


  1. pizzapicante27 says:

    70dls for a complete version of this game, and thats WITH a 50% discount.

    Man, this game has gotten REALLY expensive.

    • ulix says:

      You can get the complete gameplay experience with the major 14 DLCs, the rest is cosmetic fluff.

      14 DLCs is still a lot, but depending on which character you play you don’t actually need all 14 for a full experience.

      If you start out playing European Christians (which is how the game started) you really don’t need the Rajas of India, Old Gods or Sword of Islam DLC.

      • SaintAn says:

        Still a rip off. They don’t have an affordable way for people to catch up to the newer DLC so anyone new at this point is better off pirating it. Same with EU4, and Stellaris is getting there. Hearts of Iron 4 should just be boycotted all together because it whitewashes the atrocities of WW2 by not including them and Paradox doesn’t let anyone talk about the holocaust in their forums.

        • rochrist says:

          Waah wah, I don’t like that they’ve supported this game for years with new content, I should just steal it!

        • Fishslap says:

          Or just maybe it is because people play video games to be entertained and distracted, and not be treated to superfluous political lectures that they have all heard a million times before. You make them cut off such things with your endless PC diatribes, and no one else. And you can’t even see it.

    • klops says:

      That’s a strange way to think. The game is free. You don’t need to buy every DLC for it. In fact you don’t need to buy any DLC for it and it still is very good.

  2. napoleonic says:

    For all you new players, a tip: your first few games should be as the Count of Dublin in 1066. It’s easy mode: no pressure, lots of time to get used to the mechanics.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Coward! Dive into northern Spain. Fume as your imbecile neighbours weaken you with petty feuds and periodically invite the wrath of every Muslim in Africa upon you on. Sputter as the Pope rewards “good christians” in norway or Wales or whatever while you’re singlehandedly keeping a million pissed off jihadis back for free. Be proud of the mighty achievement of uniting, what, 7 provinces in 100 years. Vow to destroy the Earth as you finally tip the scales and consolidate enough to unite Spain, only for France, who you were allied with not 3 years ago, to bastard their way in from the North with their gigantic superpower-backed army while the Pope looks the other way again.

      Also if you play as a Spanish ruler you might be able to wangle basque culture, so you can have women inherit as equals.

      Or you can pick the count in the HRE with the Homosexual trait, and concentrate your efforts on inviting every other gay or dwarf or heretic noble you can to your court, just to see what happens.

      • Bawan says:

        Better yet start as austria’s in the 769 start date.
        To survive you need to win the first holy war the umayyads declare on you. If you win that you buy 10 years of time to revoke land from your vassals for more troops. If you manage to do that you stand half a chance agaist the umayyads.

      • doodler says:

        Starting in Spain is my bread and butter. It doesn’t matter which brother you pick but I like Leon the best. First send a your chancellor to improve relations with one and your chaplain to Rome. This will stop them from declaring war on you or being excommunicated. Eventually one will declare war or have war declared on them by a Muslim neighbor and you can pounce on them after their armies are defeated to take their provinces while they are busy. If the Pope starts to like you way more than one of them before this happens you can also get them excommunicated. Once you have one of your brother’s territory you’ll be one of the strongest in Spain and then can just do Holy wars with the muslims for gains each time they split up. You get them to split by constantly sending assassins after the rulers… So on and so forth until the whole of Hispania is yours. If you buy the secret societies expansion it is even easier because you can unite everyone under you if you go lucifer’s own by possessing them or you can extend your life into the 80s so you can get off gavelkind with Hermetic.

      • napoleonic says:

        That’s fine for experienced players, but it’s the kind of advice that leads newbies to think the game’s too difficult, which it really isn’t.

        • Sin Vega says:

          It’s where I started, which is why I was being so flippant about it. And why I made it pretty clear how abdsurdly difficult it was.

    • Fishslap says:

      People need to get over the hump of the core mechanics. It is not good advice therefore to start them off with an atypical situation like pre-feudal Ireland. Lots of work there to even get to feudal and a more normal inheritance law if you’re starting in 766.
      Personally I learned the game by playing the Norwegian/Norman conquest of England a few times. When you win that you get personal control of every town, church and castle in the entire country. If you can hand out all that real estate without causing immediate disaster you can do everything else in CKII as well.

  3. Cederic says:

    I really just don’t get this game. I’ve tried it a couple of times and just bounce off without it working at all for me.

    However at this price it’s surely a no brainer. The sheer volume of DLC is testament to the size of the player base and that many continued fans of the game shows that it must be providing a great experience to a lot of people.

    So take the opportunity to give it a go. Worse case, you find out it’s not your thing. Or maybe worse still, it is your thing and you need all that dlc…

    • Doug Exeter says:

      Same! I own it and load it up every now and then but it’s just too dense. This is the one game I can think of where I’ve spent far more time reading guides and watching tutorials than I have with the actual game.

      That said, I do end up playing it a bit more every time I give it a try and now that I’m reminded I’m currently installing. Lets see if ….. 5th? times a charm.

      • Fishslap says:

        Too much bad advice floating around on the web. Like Ireland, which people imagine is easy just because someone made a tutorial video from there early on that everyone has watched and copied ever since. But it is not easy. It is atypical, and will not teach you the things you need as a noob.
        Trial and error, followed by specific questions about specific things on the extremely helpful Steam forum, is a much better way of getting to grips with CKII than youtube videos and guides. There is too much to explain for guides and youtube videos, while trial and error followed by clarifying questions asked to the community can be kept short and to the point. Much better way to learn.
        CKII is like a new pair of shoes; you have to walk in them for a while before they become comfortable. Listening to someone tell you about this on youtube or reading about it in a guide will not.

        Personally I have now come to the conclusion that this might just be the best computer game ever made. Genre preferences aside, PC gamers who don’t take the CKII plunge are really cheating themselves of an amazing experience.

    • napoleonic says:

      You need to start as the Count of Dublin in 1066. It’s nice and easy with no one around to bother you too much, and lots of time to learn the mechanics.

  4. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    I’m kind of surprised they didn’t just make the base game free-to-play forever a long time ago. What with the huge volume of DLC, the base game is effectively a demo for “CK2 as she is played” anyway, and a demo that’s free will bring in a larger stream of new sales prospects for those DLC than a demo that costs $20 will.

    • rochrist says:

      Eh. There are countless sales in which the base game might as well be free.

  5. ramshackabooba says:

    As an old time player of this game, I must say to people considering it, you do NOT need any DLCs to enjoy the game for hundreds of hours. In fact, if you have the base game and some DLCs and have never played it, I recommend disabling all the DLCs for your first game. The game is complex enough as it is for you to learn without adding all the extra features each DLC adds.

    If you have money to spare I would get Way of Life, Legacy of Rome, The Old Gods and Reaper’s Due in that order, but again, you don’t need them (but you’ll want them eventually).

    • Sin Vega says:

      Yeah, honestly, much as I’d love to try the DLC, I only bothered buying I think the first one (the one where you can “be” a muslim ruler) and after hundreds of hours of play in Ireland and Spain, I’ve never actually tried playing as one yet. Who has the time, right? Let alone a pagan one or merchant republic or all the other cool stuff that will still sound cool in 30 years when I might actually get round to trying it.

  6. Viral Frog says:

    If you’ve never played any of the Paradox grand strategies, do yourself a favor and skip the in-game tutorial and instead opt for YouTube. You’ll actually be able to learn how to play the game.

    • Creeping Death says:

      As someone that loves the idea of CK but bounces off it every time they try I need to ask, do you have any good YouTube tutorial recommendations to share?

  7. NotEvenBatman says:

    I recommend Arumba’s series… It helped me learn the game.

  8. Arglebargle says:

    Got multiple thousands of hours in on CK2. At this point, it’s only about playing some of the many spectacular mods that are available for the game. The modding community for CK2 is tremendous, and really helps the longevity of the game for me.

    Now back to getting my African Berber-Roman-Vandal Mithraest descendents of Vespasian further on in their reconquest of Italia!

    • Captain Narol says:

      I’m curious, in what Mod are you playing those descendent of Vespasian please ?

      Is it WTWSMS or another ? ( “When The World Stopped Making Sense”, starting at the time of the Barbarian invasions)

      • Arglebargle says:

        The mod in question is Lux Invicta, a full alternate history of the world. Continually developed from a strong base, complete with a designer otiosus.

        WTWSMS is a good one too, but I tend to play the Gallo-Romans under Syagrius there.

  9. Captain Narol says:


    The point is, it’s a game about politics and not a classical 4X, which can make new players feel lost.

    War is only a tool for your politics, not the central part of the game.