Crusader Kings 2 – An Idiot in Charge

February 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

History is replete with tales of idiots. Not that I can think of any off-hand, as I think I may be remembered as one of them. Crusader Kings 2 has pretty much dissuaded me of any notion that I could be a clever, witty, urbane monarch – with the intellectual prowess to not only secure my country, but to fend off any number of attempts to usurp and destroy my mighty lineage.

Six months in, my bloody brother has already tried to bump me off and my kids absolutely hate me.

It’s hardly surprising I suppose. Treating CK 2 as a standard grand-strategy game is akin to sticking your head in a badger and yelling “LIGHT ITS TAIL!”. A brutal feudal-mentality surrounds you, and even your own vassals will take no funny business. I learned this the hard way early on as I attempted to increase my gold income a tad by introducing a slightly higher tax… and to do that, I had to persuade my subjects to bequeath me with a little bit more power. Yes, you have to actually ASK your sub-ordinates if it’s okay to ASK for more taxes. So I did.

The tail, my friends, is now lit. Stand back.

 

With a bit of cuddling, a few winks and a streak of shame a mile wide, I managed to gain my tax increase. For a whole month. Then, as anyone with half an orange between their ears could have predicted, the few dukes that vehemently opposed my decision banded together and attempted to rip my head off. Thanks to the fact that I was the King of Scotland, and I didn’t have much experience with combat yet, I received a severe kicking. Eventually surrendering, I was then henceforth banned from making any monarch-income-boosting laws ever again.  Seriously.

Being a King is hard.

Now, before you start snorting tea all over your keyboard, I do have an excuse – aside from a few games of Europa Universalis in the past, I have never played a strategy game quite like this. The first Crusader Kings game passed me by without me even noticing, and let’s face it – most of these historically accurate games are boring as hell. CK 2 manages something quite special, in that it plays like one big, brutal game of The Sims. It weaves plots, stories and basic human madness into a tapestry that even Mr George R.R. Martin would be proud of.

It even manages to convey some pretty unsettling imagery with fairly simple text. “Sire, your brother is plotting to have you killed…” came as a shock to me, doubly so as he was my Marshal (the chap that deals with your military). A quick dialogue and the ball is rolling – I can ignore it, order him to stop plotting, or simply imprison him. I decide the latter has the best chance of heading this off, and he was a crap Marshal anyway. But it fails, and he flees down to England. This is bad, yeah? A quick chat with my spy-guy as to the possibilities of dealing with my wayward brother a tad more permanently brings another mechanic into play – the old, dreaded “% of success” thing. It seems I have a 34% chance of the assassination attempt being successful (not great), and a 66% chance of me being discovered as the culprit (even worse).

I guess my little bro will live to fight another day.

There are titanic forces at work in CK 2. A healthy spin on other strategy games is CK 2’s crown jewel – you actually play a character. Let me explain. I am the King of Scotland, but Argyle is held and controlled by a Duke, and I can’t make him do anything. Oh, I can requisition levies (his personal troops), I can butter him up to be more malleable… but the Duke of Argyle is a separate character in CK 2.  The same goes for just about any region other than your own, of course you can grant yourself more control over these – but as I said before, you really don’t want to piss that badger off. Characters go through life, as you would expect, choosing heirs and regents. If you die – that is, if the king you play dies – you automatically assume control of his heir, either a son or someone else, depending on the current laws of succession.

Wars and income suddenly take a back seat to getting a wife and getting her pregnant as swiftly as possible. If you die, and you have no eligible heirs, the game is over. This introduces a true horror, when you realize just how close to A Song of Fire and Ice this game can be – with plots, murders, scheming vassals, all the way to assassination attempts on you or your heir’s life. A single man with a dagger can end a reign – and the game – just as swiftly as a city-chewing army of death. And you can at least see the army coming. Of course, you have options at your disposal; your Spymaster can be used to root out plots and intrigue in your kingdom, and when discovered, you can imprison, quell or banish the nasty plotter with impunity.

I managed to play my little King of Scotland for a fair few hours now, getting to grips with the game and its quirks. What surprises me most is the fact that, during my play, I have barely even glanced at expanding my borders through military conquest. My attention has been so focused on my own kingdom, I barely even noticed the massive war raging to the south between England and Norway. I have managed to get my heir married off to a French princess, though, and my wayward brother has returned home with his tail between his legs. A short stint in the dungeons taught him the error of his ways, and he is now back as my Marshal. He’s quite good at it now.

My non-heir sons still hate me though, and I’ve yet to figure out a way to make them happy. It’s a shame the Playstation Vita won’t be invented for a thousand years or so… that would do the trick.

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