The large-scale grand strategy of Crusader Kings 2 can feel Game of Thrones-ian in its web of intrigue and plotting. The Republic expansion takes place on a smaller scale. At times, its petty inter-family squabbling feels more like medieval Eastenders. Brilliant.
The Republic is largely about trade. Your early to-do list as Doge ruler is simple: build ports, on every coastal county that you can afford. As your influence expands, you'll clash with the other republics. They want your ports. You want theirs. You are never going to be BFFs.
Back at home, there are the great families of your own republic to contend with. Unlike troublesome feudal vassals, these houses can't be stripped of their titles. They're a constant throughout the game – your allies, subjects and bitter enemies, all rolled into one. The mercantile focus means you can quickly build an impressive war chest, and much of it will be invested in screwing over both these groups. You'll use mercenaries to fund wars abroad, bribe courtiers to join plots against rival houses, and fund your election campaign, ensuring that it's your heir that benefits from the expansion's new succession system.
If you really want to screw over another republic, you can attempt to persuade a king to enforce a trade embargo. This razes any harbours they've built in a liege's territory, and blocks them from rebuilding for ten years, leaving you free to expand. The same can work in reverse – you can't ignore the whims of the landowners, because getting on their bad side can prove devastating.
Inevitably, things become micromanagement heavy. The more harbours you hold, the more upgrades you'll need to be building. It wouldn't matter as much if the choices were as balanced and complex as that of a castle or city. Instead, you have three options – tax, troops or trade price – ad infinitum.
Then there's your family. Having to assign tutors to their constant procession of mewling spawn was tedious enough in the base game. With no fiefs to grant particularly reproductive siblings, here you're in charge of every excruciating scholastic decision. It's a symptom of a larger problem. The Republic provides the most divergent CK2 campaign yet but, in doing so, it feels only loosely integrated with the game's complex systems.
The tactical sandbox is tighter and less sprawling, but the detail hasn't been increased to balance out the reduction of scope. The family feuding, harbour seizing and electoral wrangling are placed front and centre. But, while fun, these additions don't provide the breadth of options for an expansive and varied set of strategies.
If Paradox continue their admirable post-release content patches, The Republic could prove a lasting alternative. For now it's a cheap and enjoyable sideshow to CK2's endless replayability.
◆ Expect to pay: $12.30 / £8
◆ Release: Out now
◆ Developer: Paradox Interactive
◆ Publisher: In-house
◆ Multiplayer: Up to 32
◆ Link: www.crusaderkings.com