Crusader Kings II preview

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Don't be fooled. Although its screenshots feature a world map, the Crusader series is more about the soap opera of history than the economic graphs. Your first goal after selecting your historical leader is to secure your dynasty by gaining a spouse and then an heir. It doesn't matter whether you're a warmonger in an unstable country or a comfy leader in Switzerland: if you run out of sprogs, it's game over.

William the Conqueror has made some poor choices. A wife a little too close on the family tree has produced offspring with the inbred trait, while his lust has resulted in a child born out of wedlock.

Do you deny or acknowledge that bastard child? Denying them could leave you with an angry, vengeful young man waiting in your future, but acknowledging them could turn your wife against you or create rivalries with your inbred legitimate children. It's like The Sims: Royal Family Edition.

Although there is no ultimate win condition, the goal is to gain as much prestige for your family as possible. Every character in the game – dukes, bishops, other kings, the Pope – has their own agenda, and you gain power and respect through their crafty manipulation.

But William the Conqueror – 'the Conq' to his friends – isn't doing too well. Acknowledging your bastard offspring has angered your wife, which is bad enough. If she's got the ambitious trait, she might start plotting his demise so one of her legitimate children can take your throne. But no, the worst thing is that the Pope is pissed off.

Each country of the game is split into provinces, and you can control a duke as easily as a king; the equivalent of taking control of a lower league team in Football Manager. Each province has a church, and if the bishops inside are loyal to you, you'll get money from them. If they're loyal to the Pope, however, you're screwed when the Pope turns against you.

Luckily, there are more options available to you than ring-kissing and prayer. Don't like the Pope? Make your own. At one point in history there were three Popes claiming control of the Catholic church, and CKII lets you do the same. You could even try to have the Pope killed and install your own.

It looks like a geography lesson and it's controlled using a lot of menus, but the tumbling momentum of choice and consequence means that Crusader Kings II spits out fun situations constantly.

These situations are mostly based on your own choices, but there are two semiscripted events that always occur. The first is the title's hinted Crusades and the second is Genghis Khan, whose Mongol hordes will arrive to wreck your game.

Now this is the kind of history I can get behind.