As you may have read in our exclusive Q&A , Crusader Kings II's next expansion (scheduled to release next week) is opening up the merchant republics of Venice, Pisa, Genoa, Gotland, and the Hanseatic League as playable factions. Paradox has been releasing a series of developer diaries with fresh info on how republics will play differently (and the changes coming for everyone in the accompanying 1.09 patch).
While you dine on lamb shanks and plot your overly-ambitious half-brother's untimely demise, allow me to break down some of the most significant tidbits.
As the leader of one of five Patrician families in your chosen republic, you will find yourself at odds, naturally, with the other four clans. This can extend beyond the constant battle to be elected Doge (the closest thing to a monarch in a republic), however. If your standing with the head of another family falls too low, it can actually trigger a multi-generational feud.
From the devs: "Even if your family members can't remember what started the feud all those years ago, they'll still know that those Morosini dogs can't be trusted as far as they can throw them—and the feeling will be mutual!
"There are a number of ways for this feud to end, of course, and not all of them involve the complete eradication of one of the rival families. Some events, including a Romeo & Juliet inspired chain, will give you an option to end the vendetta peacefully as long as both parties agree to bury the hatchet."
Since republics kind of exist as these strange, diffuse, coastal entities that want to own sea regions, and often overlap with feudal land holdings, you may be asking yourself where exactly your republic "is." The answer seems to be your Family Palace. It's a unique holding, like a castle or a city, and each Patrician family has one. The interesting part is that, according to Paradox, "it does not exist on the map," and "thus, it cannot be occupied or otherwise interfered with by your enemies."
The implication of this is that it should be technically impossible to lose the game by losing all of your holdings, like a feudal leader can. It also tempts me to sacrifice my historical immersion and imagine said palace as a Sigil -esque pocket dimension where my family looks down on the world from a crystal tower using a golden basin of magical water. But that's just me.
Playing as a republic and managing your trade empire will lead to much greater incomes than a feudal lord with an equivalently-sized demesne, but wealth comes with its pitfalls. Prominent among them is that every single male member of your dynasty will expect you to pay them an allowance for that mercenary army they want to hire, those boats they want to build, or that really flamboyant, poofy shirt they want to have custom-made. The closer the relation, the more they will expect you to fork over.
I expect this to mess with my general strategy in CK2, which is to set my realm up for Elective succession, pump out as many freaking kids as possible, and hope at least one of them turns out to be a charming, wise, brilliant leader. As the leader of a Republic, the allowance mechanic will encourage being a bit more judicious about procreation so your successors don't end up being beggared by half a thousand snot-nosed nephews, second cousins, and half-uncles.
With the 1.09 patch (which will modify the game for everyone, regardless of whether you bought the expansion) a handful of new features are becoming available for non-republic leaders. First and foremost are two new succession laws. Ultimogeniture succession means your youngest eligible child inherits everything, which, in just about every CK2 game I've ever played, sounds absolutely disastrous.
Tanistry succession is described as "a version of Feudal Elective where the electors must pick a member of your dynasty, but will tend to pick distant relatives, preferably old claimants." So you can have the benefits of Elective succession (which I almost always use to prevent cases of a half-witted jackass of an eldest son inheriting), but avoid the biggest risk inherent in it: that someone outside your dynasty might be elected, costing you the game. The bit about distant, older claimants seems a bit more like a balancing measure to keep Feudal Elective a viable choice than any sort of logical simulation, however.