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
AragornAragon (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.