Friday, 28 March 2014

Crusader Kings II (PC)

Crusader Kings 2 launcher background
My odyssey through the alphabet shall continue, but today I've reached the final 'C' game I'll be playing this year: Crusader Kings II, and man what a C it is; I've definitely saved the best 'til last, typographically speaking.

I have to admit, I've been deliberately putting this off as long as I could, because it seems like it's horrifically complex and strategy games aren't really my genre at the best of times. This is really out of my comfort zone and I won't be surprised if I get hopelessly stuck halfway through the tutorial, and have nothing else to show to you.

I know, tell you what; if the worst case scenario happens and I get absolutely impossibly lost in the game, I'll quit and fill the rest of the space up with more screenshots of Charly the Clown.

(Click the images to restore them to their previous size.)

Oh shit, I'm going to need a tutorial to tell me what tutorial to start with. This is just the 'Basic' tab as well, there's two more pages of this.

Hang on, I've just noticed a "Start from the beginning..." button down there on the bottom right. I'll give that one a shot.

I know it's hard to see on these scaled down screenshots, so I'll try to describe what you're looking at here:


Buttons all along the top, a window open with buttons all over it on the left, and a mini-map fortified with two walls of the things. Even things like the portrait images and the shields are buttons as well, and they can be right clicked to bring up more buttons.

Okay, I'm going to try to ignore the buttons for now and focus instead on the very simple instructions given to me step by step in the tutorial message boxes. First up it tells me that I should click the 'De Jure' checkbox to see regions that are tied to my title by bonds that will never break. Hang on, just need to look this up.

de ju·re: adverb or adjective \(ˌ)dē-ˈju̇r-ē, (ˌ)dā-ˈyu̇r-\
law : based on or according to the law

1: by right : of right
2: based on laws or actions of the state

Also the first known use of the word was in 1611 and this is 1066 right now, so we're actually using future slang. Okay... so clicking the 'De Jure' button shows the lands held by the King of Scotland then right? Which is me apparently. Awesome, I think I understand the concept introduced by the first tutorial message box in the game!

Man, I feel like I should be writing down notes here (which is good because I am).


I'm going to start cropping these pictures now to give people a fighting chance to read the text, even if it does sacrifice the beautiful purity of untouched screenshots. Still at least this means you get a better view of the interface design, which is absolutely fantastic looking I reckon. The game's presentation is surprisingly excellent all over, from the clever way the region names automatically bend across the map, to the awesome soundtrack: Crusader Kings II Main Theme youtube link.

Anyway, the tutorial has given me two units: an infantry group and a fleet of boats. All it wants me to do now is simply put the soldiers onto the ships... and those little bastards utterly refuse to march there.

No, what are you doing? My troops have got it into their heads to march north, while my empty ships are apparently on their way to Ireland. How did that even happen, I didn't even scroll the camera away from Scotland!

Well they've got it in their heads to go on an adventure and I don't know how to stop them. Whatever, I'll skip ahead to the next tutorial instead.  I can always go back and figure out how to move units later.


Alright now I'm learning how to declare war on people; always handy to know. I've pretty much forgotten everything else I've been taught so far, but this one seems like something I'd want to remember.

First I need a 'casus belli', which I'm guessing from the context to be Latin for 'a cause for war'. I can't just attack regions without a claim on the territory it seems, though I can just get my chancellor to fabricate one for me.

The problem I'm having here though, is that I've followed every step and done everything it's asked me to, but the bloody 'declare war' button is ghosted out. According to the box that popped up when I hovered my mouse over the button, the reason I can't start my war is: "You are not bankrupt". Sure, I am, I've got -8 coin! Oh wait, I get what it means now.

Well I can't declare war until I get money, but it's a tutorial so the only option it's giving me now is to declare war. Man... I actually did it! I don't believe it, but I did it. I managed to lose the game while inside the tutorial. You're truly observing a master of the craft at work here.


There was little point in me continuing with that tutorial anyway; my brain wasn't designed for info-dumps. Especially when I feel like I'm missing the context to each lesson. What's the point in going through the details when I'm not even sure what the broad goals of the game are yet. I mean I guess I'm supposed to conquer the world, but it'd be nice if it'd tell me what kind of process one would go through to achieve such a thing.

Okay this image above is the single player character select screen, where I get to pick my starting year and region. I'm going to go with 1066, the year of the Battle of Hastings (as that's the earliest it goes), and I'll be choosing one of the Irish leaders as I've been told they're the best for beginners. The King of Munster sounds cool, I'll go with him.

There's also an option to activate iron man mode, which I'm not going anywhere near, even though activating it is the only way to earn Steam achievements. Seems unnecessarily harsh to me.

Then again, anyone who puts a Duke Nukem reference in one of their achievements probably knows what they're doing.


Well it's nice to know that even the main game mode isn't going to just throw me into the deep end without telling me what the cryptic buttons do, although this 'hint' looks suspiciously like a page of instructions to me. I know I should be patient and read through it all, but my brain is convinced that it's not relevant right now and refuses to absorb any of it, and I'm too overwhelmed with words to argue.

I mean most racing games don't begin with a tutorial on tire pressure, you don't introduce someone to chess by jumping straight into the intricacies of castling... it's best to get a player familiar with the overall nature of the game first so that they'll understand how the specific features fit into the big picture. Probably. Like I said it's not really my genre.

Anyway, speaking of my overall goals... I'm not sure I even have any yet. I'm going to put the game clock on maximum speed and see if something happens.

Oh hang on, pause the game! I've just figured out that those circles along the top edge of the screen are stained glass notifications of things I should get done.

My ruler is unmarried, so I should sort that out immediately. Don't want to miss out on that +10 piety bonus. First though I need to figure out how to get him to marry someone. Typically to get character related things done I need to right click their portrait, then click the diplomacy button to show the potential actions related to them.

Well I found an 'Arrange Marriage' and a 'Arrange Betrothal' option in the Diplomacy menu, but neither of them are letting me select my King as the groom! I was so sure I'd at least figured this part of the game out, but nope.

None of these four even look to be ready for marriage, whoever they are. Donal at the top has no skills, no traits and he's 1 year old. He's old enough to hate me though, judging by that -17 under his portrait.

Aha, I've figured it out.

It's apparently important to think very carefully about who you choose to marry in this, as their stats will be added to your ruler's (to reflect their role as advisor). Things like diplomacy, combat, stewardship etc. I've also got traits to worry about, which act as stat modifiers and will presumably be passed down to their kids. My character is craven, arbitrary, cynical, cruel, and a poor commander, so I'll need to choose someone extraordinary to make up for the incredible drag factor of his personality.

Oh, plus I need to pay attention to where they're from and their social standing! I could no doubt make an valuable alliance with another region by marrying into their ruling family.

Nah, I'll just choose someone who seems nice.

And so Hunydd the courtier from Gwynedd becomes the latest Munster in my family. Now I have the option to either make a little cash from this, or get prestige instead. I think I'd rather have the prestige, seeing as I don't have anything on my shopping list right now. Plus what's the point of having a huge royal wedding if I can't use it to show off?

Alright, next on my agenda is this de jure ducal claim for Desmond (that's the county south of mine). I have no idea what I'm meant to do about it, but it seems like it's something I could start a war over at least.

Ah, I've got an option here to offer the Earl of Desmond a chance to become one of my vassals. That means I get his land right? That's how the feudal system works right?

I haven't actually got a clue, but I'll never learn unless I try it and see what happens.

He rebuffed me? This is an outrage! I won't stand for this.

I'll know! I'll send over some medieval dump trucks full of cash to his doorstep to win him over!

56.9 gold coins should be enough to buy his undying loyalty, surely?

The Earl accepted the cash graciously, then re-repudiated my claim on his land! Of course you know that this means war (because I'm all out of useful buttons here).

And so I click the raise levies buttons to conscript an army of 927 men to take by force what BY RIGHTS SHOULD BE MINE.

I send the army of King Murchad of Munster marching 80 miles south from Limerick to Earl Muiredach's city of Cork... only to find out that I can't declare war if I've already raised levies. So then I have to march them all the way back home again to disband them.

You may have won this round Muiredach...

... but you shall not win the war!

My forces returned in force to force the Earl's force to face them and then force a sword into his gut. Checkmate, kind of.

Huh, I lost the fight? But I killed their leader! Isn't that how it works, or am I thinking of Klingons again?

The forces of Desmond then carried on marching north to lay siege to my capital! I'd love to set up a counter-attack but I'm apparently all out of armies right now.

My defenders are still holding out, but things are looking bleak.

There's just 750 men left between me and over a thousand vengeful troops outside... and my nephew decides to choose this moment to whine to me that I promised to get him married?

Holy shit how could I have been so absent minded? Of course I'll arrange a marriage to the fairest princess in Ireland right away! Let's throw open the gates for her as she arrives, give her a proper welcome! We can have a parade in the streets to celebrate as the city burns around us!

And then, my dear nephew Conchobar, I'll make certain that you and your lovely wife shall be there to formally greet the new Earl of Desmond as he strides into our castle, sword in hand and bloodlust in his eyes. You dumb fuck.

Anyway I clicked 'I have just the person in mind', so hopefully I'll be setting him up with someone good.

And so the notice of my defeat appears on screen and... oh hang on, this is just news about one of my vassals plotting to claim my Kingdom. Harmony and contentment indeed.

Fine, I guess I'll throw him in the cells. Executing him would surely lower people's opinions of me, but with any luck the invaders outside the gates will soon swarm in and kill all the guards who know he's down there and then he'll eventually starve to death. Or single-handedly solve my rat problems I suppose.

And so the notice of my defeat appears on screen. It's all over now...

... but then the new Earl of Desmond declares peace, helps himself to 15 gold, and goes back home again. So I guess I didn't lose the game then?

A week later and everything seems just that little bit brighter in the Kingdom of Munster. We have survived the war, the plot to seize claim of my land has been ended, and my nephew Conchobar finally got that wedding he was after.

Sure the Kingdom is in debt now, but that's nothing that can't be fixed with a bit of vigorous taxation. I think I'll even move the treacherous Earl of of Ormond to a nicer cell to celebrate.


Well if that last screenshot's anything to go by, then at least he died happy. These two messages really did appear one after another on the same day.

Now I'm playing as Murchad's son King Brian II, who apparently hired the same artist as his dad to paint his royal portrait.


Hang on, this is new. Seems that King Brian II has a quest ahead of him, should he choose to accept it. Judging from my progress so far, anything that keeps me away from actively ruling my kingdom is probably a good thing for everyone, so I shall go on a journey to find this hermit.

Man, this is turning into a sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I have travelled far, you miserable old bastard, and I shall not be denied! C'mon mate, just give me a bit of wisdom and then I'll be out of your life again. Unless we're actually still in my county right now, in which case my influence on your life will be a long and miserable one.

Crusader Kings II semper ubi sub ubi ubique
Hey, don't put quotes around wisdom, that's a genuinely good piece of advice there. Sure it's the Latin equivalent of typing 5318008 into a calculator, but it's nice to get some guidance about something in this game. And from it King Brian II gains 2.00 Learning.

Right, now what can I do? Well, I suppose I could arrange a few more marriages for my family members then stick the game on fast forward again and wait for an event to happen. Oh, plus invade Desmond again obviously.


There we go, Desmond is finally mine! This time I used the cunning strategy of 'doing exactly the same thing again', and it worked! I guess I must have raised a bigger army this time somehow. Now I just have to march back to Limerick to clear up the 366 invaders laying siege to my city, and the job's done.

Though I can't help but notice that Desmond isn't actually becoming my territory, they've just erected signs all over it, so I don't know what's going on there. Seems that I can't even invade a county right in the game.


Alright, I'm going to forget about gaining territory for now, as there's obviously something that I'm not understanding there. Instead I'm going to go through the family tree and see which of these kids are still without a guardian to tutor them. Choosing the right guardian is important, as I believe they pass on skills to the children and raise their stats.

Hang on, why is there a skull next to my eldest daughter's name?

CONCHOBAR, YOU PIECE OF SHIT! When the fuck did this happen?

Eleven years ago? How did I not notice that message box appearing? Well now I definitely know what I'm going to do next: I'm going to get this guy dragged off to one of my cells and then I'm going to serve him nothing but uncooked rodent every day for the rest of life. We'll see what that does for his political ambitions.

Actually I've changed my mind, I'm just going to execute him. Let my vassals have a lower opinion of me; better that than having to put up with Conchoban whining about his prison conditions every few months.

On the plus side, I've figured out how to send my council members out to go stand in the forest. This apparently gets me all kinds of bonuses to things and is therefore a good thing.


Uh... okay? Who's Tadg? Why are you watching him eat anyway? The drop of blood next to the portrait makes me think he's family, so perhaps I can send him away somewhere to get rid of him. Make him Earl of Ormond or something.


Hey, I've got some points to put into tech advancements and new upgrades for my holdings. I can actually build new cities and castles, and improve the ones I have, but it's so costly and takes so long to finish that I haven't actually managed to do that anywhere yet.

Well I don't understand the game well enough yet to know which of these are best to focus on, so I'll just click random buttons and close the window.


Things have started to go a bit downhill lately. Desmond was invaded by the armies of King Bleddyn of Gwynedd, which took me by surprise seeing as I believe he was the father of my first king's first wife. Bleddyn is far better at the game than me though, so he thoroughly kicked my ass, forcing me to take desperate measures. So I hired 6000 mercenaries to come and wipe the floor with his pitiful army. They marched in, whooped ass, then asked for their pay... which was a little bit more than I had at the time.

Long story short, I'm currently fighting a war against 6000 pissed off mercenaries and all my own soldiers were dead before it even started. Plus I have no money and everyone hates me.

Oh plus I just accidentally made my 7 year old son the new Earl of Ormond, so now he's running that county (I was trying to send him to school).

You know what, I give up. I'm sure a smarter player than me could figure this all out as they went, but I'm lost, frustrated, miserable and just digging myself a bigger hole with every button I click on. Maybe I'll come back to the game after reading a Let's Play and actually learning what to do, but I'm ending this run now before I accidentally declare war with England or piss off the Vikings or something. Final score: 105 points and 26 years.


I can't judge Crusader Kings II, because I just don't understand it well enough. Well okay I can judge the music and visuals for sure (they're very nice), and I can judge its ability to teach idiots how to play as they go (it wouldn't win awards for it), but as gameplay goes I have no clue if this is good or not. For me personally, I got pretty much no fun at all out of the experience, as besides making sure that everyone I knew got married I wasn't really sure what my goal was, and everything I tried led to complete failure without me having a clear idea of why. If I wanted to be completely baffled by a game's core concepts I'd play a sports game.

Though I admit that it's not really my kind of genre in the first place, plus I was playing it like a stubborn idiot, refusing to ask players for advice or look up a walkthrough because I wanted to play it blind. In retrospect this probably wasn't the right game to do that with, though on the other hand the game never really tempted me to look these things up either. Maybe I'll mark this one down as one to replay at some point.

Anyway, those were my first impressions of Crusader Kings II! I hope that reading all this has improved your day to some degree. Actually, why not leave me a comment, then you can let me know exactly what you think about it.


  1. This is a genera of games I WANT to love, but can never get into.
    Should be able to get at least an Associates in Tutorials from all of that.

  2. Yeesh. Sorry to hear that you had a rotten time. I like this series of games, but I don't know how I got into them, let alone what's the best way, and the designers wouldn't use it anyway. Their best tutorial is probably in Hearts of Iron 3, and that's just because the guy giving the tutorial is Hitler and he shoots himself in the end.

    There's no way to win Crusader Kings 2. Normally that might be the kiss of death - it's why SimCity and me don't get along - but CK2 banks on its ability to provide short-term goals and on making the players work to avoid losing.

    Your most important concern is the health of your family line. If your ruler croaks and there's no ruler of your dynasty to leap to, you lose. To that end you marry people and marry them off, have kids and murder people who are ahead of them in the line of succession, etc. (There have been some "When did you realize you're a horrible person?" threads about this game.)

    Some of the short-term goals are the usual: money, power, wine, not being killed by the Mongols. Some come from the way this game is a court drama simulator, as Conchobar went and demonstrated. Some are just historical geekery, if that tickles you, like trying to conquer England as Ireland.

    I've seen a fair bit of CK2 and played a game of CK1. It dragged at times, but a lot of fun things happened, like the kingdom that I was a part of falling into civil war, or later my own throne being succeeded by some sick idiot relative who lived only long enough to get his competent successor killed in a battle against rebels. At its best it generated memorable things, like the time I found my son a wife with brilliant stats, ignoring the fact that she was a Machiavellian schemer, he handed her a part of his lands, and she used them to start a rebellion against me. Or the business with the Mad Emperor.

    The problem is that dealing with, or even noticing, those great clusterfucks can take skill with the game, and to a beginning user Crusader Kings II handles like a whale carcass.

    1. A tutorial... from Hitler? Hearts of Iron 3 has just crept a little higher on my list of games I need to see.

      Yeah, I think the game really needs some kind of introduction at the start which states very clearly "This game is about people; marrying them off, scheming against them, and trying to prolong your family's hold on power. Sure you can do lots of other stuff, but that's what you need to be focusing on." Maybe even a little demonstration of what can go right and what can go wrong.

      Though to be honest, even when I understood the importance of the diplomacy options I still found it hard to care. I guess I might just lack the natural healthy human urge to dominate all of Europe. It's a shame really, because everyone else I know who owns the game loves the thing. All the signs point to it being really good when it's clicked with you.

    2. No argument here.

      I've only played CK1 but I can try to tell why I cared. It let me tinker: build a new kingdow on the periphery and make it as advanced as possible. Inventions are spread more often than discovered, so to help them along I'd cover the land in roads, schools, and monasteries. Then I'd go "Yay, my realm is now using double-entry bookkeeping!" CK2 seems to blandly have the player reach Town Infrastructure 5 instead of having the people on one peninsula get really good at making cheese.

      I quickly got into the characters. When my ruler first became a king I decided he'd be known as "the Seventh" because, centuries later, some fool would try to legitimize his reign by inventing more. Then I thought "Oh no, here we go."

      The characters gave me faces to punch, or times when I just had to hold on because the dynasty was playing musical chairs with the throne. The king was succeeded by his eldest son: genius, master strategist, possible adulterer with his eldest sister. A flood of little vassals flocked to him when Germany disintegrated. He was succeeded by his half-brother, who spent most of his reign fighting against rebels to keep his engorged realm together, despite having no talent for command whatsoever. I played him as the most annoyed person in the world. He was succeeded by his son, the emperor, who saw ten years of great rule and twenty years of homicidal insanity. He got special events and everything.

  3. Hey Ray! Thanks for giving Max Payne (PC) full fledged playtrough article. I see that you came up with alpabetical system for this year. Do you still take requests for upcoming next letters? I have one for "H". This blog already has articles for all main Build engine based games but still misses few DooM engine based ones. So I have request for one game from Heretic/HeXen series by Raven software. I let you pick which one. (But I wouldnt mind of you could possibly take on this series in chronological order in future.) Thanks. :)

    1. Yeah requests are still cool, though the further down the alphabet they are the more likely I am to have a slot free for them. D and E are pretty much locked up now for sure.

      I cannot accept your request for Heretic however... as it is already part of my sinister schemes. The second half of May is my best guess for when I'll have that up. I've bought a virtual stack of Hexen series games to write about in fact, so expect the rest of them when you see them.

      I realise it's awkward and fairly ridiculous to have game series split up by a whole year like this, but I promise I'll be bending the rules to get at least two popular first/third person shooter franchises written up in their entirety before this alphabetic gimmick is over. Unless I screw everything up or my PC explodes, in which case I won't.


Semi-Random Game Box