By: Dan Dankert
I think as a gamer we all go through phases. For me, I went through a lot of them, a Skyrim phase, a League of Legends phase, an NCAA football phase, and many more. Some of these phases last years, others days or weeks. I think most gamers at one point or another have a turn based strategy (TBS) phase. The one problem about the TBS genre is that there is no one game that in my opinion outclasses the competition in the genre.
I was originally going to write a piece talking about a host of different games in the TBS genre and let you decide which one you like to play, but after working on this series for a few weeks, this series is dedicated the 5 games every PC gamer should own and I am going to stick to that. So #3 goes to Crusader Kings 2 (CK2) the only TBS that has ever had me at the edge of my seat for hours at a time.
When I was in college I remember there was one Friday night I played the game for 7 hours straight and checked the clock and it was 5 a.m. I had a room to myself because I was an R.A. I had several desks in my room, I was playing CK2 on my laptop at my desk, another friend was playing his own game of CK2 on his MAC at the other desk, and my other good friend was playing NBA 2k on the ps4.
After several unsuccessful attempts at taking Spain I decided to switch my start up. Instead of being in charge of a small kingdom in Spain I decided I should do some research on other popular scenarios. I stumbled across a video on YouTube about starting off as an independent count in Ireland. The goal of the scenario is to unite the Kingdom of Ireland, and then try and take over Wales, Scotland, and England to form Britannia which is an empire. Here is a map of Ireland in the game.
When you start the game Ireland is broken up into 14 counties, with about the same amount of counts owning them. You only own one county and have to get territory through wars one claim at a time, slowly moving your way across the island, eventually you are able to become the King after you take over half of the counties. Once this is done, most of the other counts will accept vassalization then you have a united Ireland. Boom goes the dynamite.
I then attempted to go take over Scotland, and after losing the war, England declaring war, and taking over my entire Kingdom, I decided to quit. I checked my phone for the first time in 7 hours and it turned out to be 5 a.m!
CK2 takes place mostly in Europe during the years 1066 and 1453 though you can start earlier by purchasing certain DLC. When you start the game you pick a character you want to play as. There are thousands of playable characters, you can play as a king, a vassal, or anything in between.
The game has no win condition, you can do whatever you like, when I play, I usually set some sort of long term goal, like take over all of Spain, the entire United Kingdom, or recreate the Roman Empire. Any of these are quality options and they are actually obtainable.
You can achieve these goals through a plethora of ways. The most common, and the most obvious is through war. But in CK2 you can’t just run around declaring war and taking land as quickly as your army allows you to. Instead you must have casus belli meaning you have worthy cause to go to war. The most common way you get casus belli is to have a claim on that land. For example, my favorite person to play as, the King of Leon in Spain, has claim on the Kingdoms of Glacia and Castile because the kingdom was split into three for three brothers and all of the brothers have claim on each other’s kingdom. You can see below I marked out all of the brothers different kingdoms and also the most interesting part of Spain is the difference in religion that regularly leads to war in the country.
You can also inherit lands through marriage and through what the game calls intrigue, which basically means you kill people who are in charge of lands where you have the primary claim on the land. You can also fabricate claims on land which you have no right to have using intrigue, once you fabricate the claim you can go to war to try and take it over.
This game is not for the casual player. There is a rather steep learning curve, and after 100+ hours on the game I still learn about game mechanics I never knew existed. As a ruler you have to balance your public opinion and the opinion of your vassals of you, because you need their support to change laws, increase taxes, and go to war. But also, if they get too upset with you they could develop a faction and try and kill you or rebel against you for independence.
One of the coolest and subtlest things about the game is that you have to keep track of culture, and religion as you expand. For example, it’s much harder to keep the peace in lands that you have taken over if the populous is of a different culture or a different religion. In fact one of the best forms of expansion is to offer vassalization to smaller kingdoms, that aren’t big enough to protect themselves, but if you are a different culture or religion, they will never accept your offer even though it’s in the best interest of both parties. For example, above in the map of Spain, when I go and conquer lands south of that dividing line, I have trouble keeping them from revolting because of the religious differences.
Cost: $39.99 for the base game. Though the bundle that includes all of the DLC goes for a lofty $159.99. The major problem comes in that you only get half of the game from the base edition. You can only play as Christian rulers. That means no Muslim or Pagan rulers, or any of the rulers from India, or the Far East.
That being said the game and its DLC often go on sale and you can pick and choose which DLC content you want to buy. If you are looking to get the game I would recommend buying the base game as well as getting the Ruler Designer DLC for $4.99. It brings some nice changes to the game, the only problem that I have with it is that it should have been a part of the base game, there is absolutely no reason that we should have to pay for that ruler designer feature, but I love the feature, and I will put up with Paradox being stingy and I am glad I purchased the feature. I have, on several occasions made a John Snow character, it brings some replay ability to the game which it needs.
Ultimately Crusader Kings 2 is a well-made TBS that has no obvious flaw. It is a great game that requires a strategic mind, the ability to think several moves ahead, and the dedication to push through numerous obstacles. The only problem I have with the game is the lofty price and its ridiculous amounts of DLC.
XCOM series, Civilization Series