Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Learning to Play Crusader Kings II

I've always been intrigued by grand strategy games. They seem such complex things as someone whose never played one before with all of the rules, countless factors to consider, and tons of historical depth to them. I think for a lot of people it feels a little daunting trying to get a handle on such a game. A while back I got my mitts on Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis 3, and Hearts of Iron 3, but up until this point my time with the games can only really be considered fiddling riddled with false starts and silly mistakes as I try to get a handle on the genre.

Now I've decided to really sit down and try and get comfortable with these games starting with Crusader Kings II. I chose this one because I find it a little easier to grasp than the others, and it has a nice sense of humor to it as well where it feels like even if I lose I still kinda win just because of the hijinks my characters got into while playing.

I have a du jure claim on Briefne, but it ;make take some work to
bring it under my control
If you're not familiar with the game, the whole point is to pick a noble family and build up as much prestige and piety as you can. There's a lot of variety in the sorts of families you can control with four different ranks to choose from: count, duke, king, and emperor. You'll be able to pick these from all sorts of areas in Europe such as obvious places like France, England, Denmark, Hungary, etc. With expansions it's also possible to play as leaders from the Islamic world in areas like the south of Spain, North Africa, spreading some ways into the Middle East, as well as Byzantium. About the only rulers that aren't available are pagans, which is a bit disappointing because I'd love to play as one. I guess that's what mods are for.

So, for someone like myself who likes lots of history, as well as games with a lot of meat on their bones, I guess it was inevitable that I'd sink my teeth into these games. This go around I plan to play through a session until the bitter end amassing as much prestige and piety as I can until my family line dies off or I make it to the year 1453, the year the game ends in. I'm going to give it a go as an Irish duke in Connacht, Aed I. Ireland is pretty much referred to as tutorial island in the game because it's a relatively quiet area of the world where not much happens. The larger nations mostly leave it alone seeing as it's so far away, and nearby countries like England and Scotland have their own problems without trying to invade. About the only thing players need to worry about is other Irish rulers trying to take over neighboring regions. Just to make sure I've got a handle on the game's mechanics I'll be playing it on the lowest difficulty setting. If I survive I'll play a new game with it set to normal and see how that goes.

Hunts have been very good to Duke Aed I
I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with my family. What time I've spent with the game, I've not been a very aggressive leader, so I'm not sure how hard I'll try to push into nearby regions. I do have a du jure claim on Breifne, but they also have a larger, better armed military than I, so it's a bit iffy that I'd be able to take them. I tried once in a previous game and things went very badly, though I did rush in there within a year of starting the game, which may have been a bad decision on my part.

And that's one of the things that I'm noticing with Crusader Kings II: you need to take the long view on things. A lot of things take a really long time to come to fruition, so don't go running around guns blazing all the time like one would in countless other games. Realize that a plan that has just been set in motion may take many, many years before anything comes of it. Research takes time.  Construction takes time. Getting all of the pieces in place for some grand scheme takes time.

That isn't to say nothing happens in the game, and that players are forced to wait ages before events come to pass. There's still a lot to do for fun, for profit, for the benefit of your family / vassals / subjects / the clergy. That's largely what I've been doing so far, going on hunts, having feasts and festivals, and finding a wife for my son (landed him a daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine). With a steady flow of tax income, research into ways to get more taxes, improve military tactics, and get more monthly prestige, things seem to be going well.

One of the first orders of business in this session was finding a wife for
Aed's only son.
Prestige has been pouring in and I'm only a few of years into the game. This is largely thanks to some extremely eventful hunts and festivals that have become near annual events (I like to gamble on catching thieves selling stolen goods at the summer fair, as it's an easy 15 gold that can pay for all of the year's festivities with money to spare). The hunts in particular have gone unusually well with my duke constantly fighting packs of wolves, single-handedly slaying stags and bears, and really just clobbering any cute forest animal in sight. Well, maybe not quite all of them. I've let a few live when I could get a decent boost to my piety for doing so.

I've also held a couple of winter feasts, sparing no expense on food or entertainment. Guests have been treated to mountains of food, rivers of drink, and conjurers, tumblers, and fire breathers. These things are really quite the spectacle. The local bishop seems to be a bit of a jerk at the feasts, though. At the first feast he turned down more wine, which thoroughly pissed off Aed. At the next one, held a couple of years later, he was openly complaining about the food. It's weird, because he has a really high opinion of my character, in fact he holds my duke in higher regard than the pope, and yet he's bad mouthing him at these parties, and turning down his hospitality. Maybe it's water under the bridge, though, because at the last feast he and Aed stayed up until the wee hours chatting about this and that, and they seemed to have a good time.

Hurray, free money! I mean bad thieves! Bad!
The duke has also been trying to better himself via ambitions I've set for him. A lot of the ones available were the sort that would be difficult if not impossible for him to attain like gaining 500 piety or gold. His lands are just to small for him to do either of those before he dies. He's getting old. Thankfully I did get a couple of nice ambitions to choose from. First was one to bring his diplomacy up to an 8, as we was severely lacking in that area. Those feasts really helped with that and it wasn't long before he'd reached his goal at which point I was awarded an easy 100 prestige. Next came an opportunity to try and bring his scholastics up to an 8, as that was also pretty low. I leapt at this one, as I knew there was a decent chance I could get an event that would help me achieve this ambition. After a year or so of waiting my opportunity came, as a mysterious man left a book that the duke found. I had him read it thoroughly. When he was done with it he said the thing was full of nonsensical malarkey, but I did get a nice scholarship bonus, and blammo, another ambition completed, and another 100 prestige in the bank.

It's always nice when everyone survives one of my
parties eyebrows intact.
So, up to this point it's been a non-stop party in Connacht with the occasional bought of self betterment, and it has resulted in me already raking in about 450 prestige points, so I guess that's not bad. I'm not ready to go to war with anyone just yet, though I did notice that my neighbors to the south have been having at it of late. It was tempting to send in my own troops while they were weakened, but I'm not quite comfortable with doing that, as Osmond was the aggressor there, and they too have a larger military than I do. I am putting the feelers out for possibly trying to press my du jure claim on Briefne, though. I already have my spymaster over there seeing what dirt she can dig up, and I may send my chancellor there soon as well to see if he can sow some dissent and destabilize the area. I'll still need to build up my military before I can attempt something, though, so I suspect the waiting game will continue. Perhaps my character's son will be the one who has to lead Connacht into this battle, as I suspect Duke Aed I will already have passed away by the time pieces are in place for this.

That's all still a long ways off, though. For now it's time to party, and really fortify things on the home front. Some expansion will come eventually, but I'm not willing to jump the gun on it. I'll satisfy myself with feasts, festivals, and hunting for the time being.

On to Part II of this adventure.

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