Crusader Kings 2 diary: How far can one AI go using wits, skill, and lots of cheats?

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica was only ever hypothetical—a right of conquest granted to James II of Aragon by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297. He wouldn’t get around to conquering Sardinia until almost 30 years later, and he never took Corsica. In this game of Crusader Kings II, however, not only has the kingdom unified, it’s expanded. It was created by an Italian duchess, Matilda di Canossa, in 1069, after she conquered enough of it to declare herself queen. 

In the three decades that followed, Matilda launched into a series of wars, some for new land, others for the Pope and a few seemingly for the hell of it. This all happened because, while Matilda is being controlled by the game’s AI, I’ve been offering assistance in the form of console commands, or ‘cheats’ as they’re more commonly known. The vast bulk of this assistance has been cash and assassination plots, keeping Matilda’s soldiers well paid and fed, and her enemies betrayed by their closest allies. 

As I resume the campaign, the Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica has undergone a massive expansion. It had already consumed a good chunk of Italy—putting Matilda in conflict with its new king, Adalberto III—and a small corner of France. Then, in April, 1094, the Pope gifted Matilda the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem in recognition for her help during the last Crusade. It’s in moments like this that I’m glad I’m letting the AI play for me. Matilda is now holding the titles to 51 parcels of land, which is not the done thing in the feudal system. Those will have to be distributed among various minor lords, and, frankly, that sounds like a lot of tedious admin.

For god's sake

The computer neatly hands out the excess titles and then goes back to immediately and recklessly starting wars. I’m just going to say it: letting Matilda loose in the Middle East was a mistake. She’s now free to declare Holy War on basically anyone she wants, and has set her sights on the entirety of Arabia. I worry that she’s finally bitten off more than she can chew. On the one hand, her army is massive. On the other, they’re very tired. The bulk of her force is coming from Italy, which means her soldiers are forced to trek through Croatia and across the entire Byzantine Empire just to reach Jerusalem. Many die on the way. 

The time it takes for the survivors to arrive gives Caliph Amr—a ten-year-old child and ruler of the Fatimid Sultanate—an early lead. It’s not enough. Resupplying in Jerusalem, Matilda’s forces get to work, steamrolling through Amr’s smaller, more spread out armies. Soon, though, the warscore tips back in Amr’s favour. That’s when I realise he’s sent a force of his own to Italy. It seems we’ve got ourselves a base race.

I’m just going to say it: letting Matilda loose in the Middle East was a mistake. She’s now free to declare Holy War on basically anyone she wants, and has set her sights on the entirety of Arabia.

Matilda seems to be making better use of her armies—she’s fought enough battles to be able to outwit a ten-year-old—but Amr keeps reinforcing. Soon he’s gathered a force roughly equal to Matilda’s own, that trails after her army retaking any castles and cities that she sieges. The outcome is never really in doubt, but the war drags on regardless. By the time Matilda finally wins, Amr has turned 16. Arabia is added to the growing borders of Sardinia and Corsica. 

This is yet another sizeable expansion, one that’s a step too far for some people’s liking. Matilda’s European neighbours establish a defensive pact against her—committing to come to one another’s aid if she ever attacks them. Which, to be honest, is fair enough. She has attacked a lot of people. The pact consists of the new head of the Vatican, Pope Victor III ‘the Holy’, Queen Ekaterina ‘Daughter of the Devil’ of Croatia, Duke Miroslav ‘the Evil’ of Duklja, and Serene Doge Vitale II of Venice. And, look, guys, maybe work on your branding a bit, because you’re sending some very mixed signals right now. 

I’ve played nicely with Rome up until now, but this latest unholy alliance has persuaded me to do something catastrophically stupid. To explain: you can’t just start a war for territory in Crusader Kings II. First, you need a reason. For Matilda right now, the reason tends to just be ‘infidels’, followed by a shrug and a new chunk of the Middle East. But in Europe you need a claim. For many decades now, Matilda’s Chancellor has been attempting to fabricate a claim to Rome. He hasn’t succeeded, either because he’s meeting resistance, or because Matilda keeps changing her mind. I’m going to force the issue.

Fad dietrich

Using the console, I fabricate a strong claim on Rome. I can’t force Matilda to use it, but it’s there if she needs it. I’m intrigued to see what she’ll do. She’s been pro-Pope throughout her rule. Will the defensive pact and her insatiable ambition overrule that instinct? It seems as if it won’t. She launches a war, but not against the Vatican. Rather, she’s going after the Holy Roman Empire in a war to have its ruler, Kaiser Dietrich, excommunicated. 

Matilda wins, Dietrich is excommunicated, and a new ruler takes charge of the HRE. Thus, as in pretty much every Papal war Matilda has fought, nothing of note was achieved. Matilda’s army took minimal losses, which is fortunate as the King of Italy is back for a second round. He’s still in a bit of a strop over all of the bits of Italy that Matilda owns, and hopes he can use the distraction of her war against the Holy Roman Empire to sneak away with Tuscany. It doesn’t work. King Adalberto is repelled—sent away to lick his wounds for another ten years. 

The war isn’t without casualties, though. On September 15, 1101, at the age of 55, Matilda is killed in battle by Bishop Tommaso of Pinerolo. Setting aside what a tragedy this is for the Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica as a whole, I’ll just note that it’s entirely fitting given her love of war, the Church and wars for the Church that she was killed in a battle with some bishop. 

As Matilda’s daughter, the 22-year-old Tomasina, ascends to the throne, I step in to help quash an uprising in Arabia by using the console to throw its leader in jail. Things probably aren’t great for the peasants of that remote branch of the Kingdom, but it’s Tomasina’s first day on the job and she’s got a funeral to arrange and a war against the Italians to finish. Frankly, this is not the time. 

If anything, Tomasina’s life is even more remarkable than her mother’s. But her first few years are difficult. Remember Amr of the Fatimid Sultanate? It turns out he died in battle at the age of 21. I know this because it’s his brother, Caliph Ashraf, who declares the war to reclaim Jerusalem. Amazingly, he wins. Ashraf is a far better tactician than his brother, and has used these past two decades to train a sizeable army. Tomasina, meanwhile, not only isn’t as battle hardened as her mother, but isn’t as beloved by her vassals, meaning she has access to fewer troops overall. She does technically still have the title of Queen of Jerusalem, but it’s hypothetical—a right of conquest granted by a Pope.

Tomasina spends the next few decades acquiring and then losing various bits of the Muslim world. She gains Kabylia in North Africa and even, for seemingly no reason, goes to war against the Jyadid Emirate for control of Denia in Spain. I know it can be hard to follow in your parents’ footsteps what with the inevitable unfair comparisons, but I do feel Matilda had a better grasp of the difficulties of creating such a spread out empire. Sure, there was the Jerusalem thing, but that was the Pope’s fault. And I guess there was also Provence and Nice… OK, fine. This whole family is hopeless at geography. 

Despite—or maybe because of—the constant warring against Muslim-ruled nations, Tomasina becomes sympathetic to Islam. And yet, she’s also a dutiful Catholic, and so in 1131, at the age of 50, she launches herself with gusto when a new Crusade is called. She’s so gung-ho about the business that, as with her mother before her, she’s gifted Jerusalem. The Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica is now larger than it’s ever been. Tomasina gains the stressed trait.

Doting dohtor

Soon after, despite over 30 years of marriage, Tomasina announces that—as with most of her siblings—she’s gay. Her lover is Sifflæd Edmundsdohtor, an otherwise unremarkable courtier of Count Clemence of Cornwall. I guess they met during the Crusade? How romantic. Later, at the age of 63, Tomasina gains the possessed trait—making her prone to “frequent violent episodes, speaking in tongues, spitting and assaulting those nearby”. Despite this, and the accompanying reversal of faith that results, she still never presses her mother’s claim on Rome. This family really loves their popes. 

It’s a tragic end for Sardinia and Corsica’s second queen. Tomasina’s rule is long, but much of it is spent defending the kingdom’s territory. When she isn’t fighting her own wars, she joins the King of France to help fight his. In her final years, Tomasina grows crueller, her Cornish lover dies, and the Fatimid Sultanate once again reclaims Jerusalem. In response she launches a war for control of the Hijaz region—a huge area southeast of Arabia. She never sees it finished. Tomasina dies of "depression" in 1154, age 74.

For the first time in its history, the Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica is to be ruled by a king—Tomasina’s son, King Rainero ‘the Ill-Ruler’. He’s a dunce—wrathful, slothful and a drunkard (and stressed, of course). Despite my help, it takes him nine years to finish his mother’s war at which point the entire kingdom decides that it’s had enough of his incompetence and rises up to depose him. Say what you will about the cruel, possibly possessed Tomasina, but she got shit done. At least, she did when she wasn’t off organising secret trysts with her distant Cornish mistress. 

For the stability of the kingdom, I throw Rainero in jail. The revolutionaries win their war, and Rainero is deposed. His daughter, Antonia, takes the throne in his place. She’s young and full of promise—charitable, gregarious and erudite. Less than a year into her rule, she’s called into a Crusade on Aquitaine, currently owned by the Almovarid Sultanate. Sardinia and Corsica once again leads the charge, and once again is gifted a big new chunk of land. Long live the new queen, same as the old ones.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.