A certain chain-smoking grizzled video game hero once said "War's always changing," and rarely is that more evident than in the strategy games of Creative Assembly. Where Total War campaigns used to be defined by your exploits on the battlefield, the developer has been adding systems over the years to reflect how power can be wrangled by more underhand means.
In Total War: Pharaoh, this takes the form of the Royal Court, as Egypt's many factions vie for political capital and legitimacy using blackmail, mutual aid, and good old-fashioned gossip.
It's an 'intriguing' system, in more ways than one, so let's dive into the Royal Court and see how it feeds into your goal of claiming the Egyptian crown.
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Not too deep into your campaign, you'll unlock the Royal Court, where you'll see which leader commands which position, as well as the hierarchy of power leading up to Pharaoh.
Each turn you'll have two Court Actions available to use. The baseline way to spend these is on Gossip, which will gain you 20 Regard with whoever you use the action on. At 60 Regard with a given courtier, you can make requests of that person, whether that's asking the Viceroy for some extra money, or even getting the Pharaoh themselves to strongarm a courtier that you're plotting against.
But someone with pharaonic aspirations like you won't want to be low-level schmoozing forever. You'll want to claim a court position for yourself! Build up your Legitimacy through conquests, as well as blackmailing and threatening courtiers, and eventually you'll be able to make a grab for a position.
To claim an occupied court position, you'll need to initiate plots to Threaten or even Assassinate whoever's occupying it. For this to succeed, you may need to persuade other courtiers to support your plot, but the more co-conspirators you have, the more likely you are to get caught. The higher your target's legitimacy, the harder it'll be to take their position, so you may want to shoot for court positions held by those with lower legitimacy than you (or lower a target's legitimacy by using actions like 'Discredit').
Oh, and try not to make the mistake I made, which is to create an elaborate scheme to oust a courtier from their position only to find that you don't have enough gold to take the position on yourself. There are few things sadder than seeing someone richer than you take the job you fought for.
You can only hold one court position at a time, and each comes with unique benefits. As First Commander, for example, you'll get military perks like the Flanking manoeuvre and cheaper unit costs on Shemsu Hor, while the Treasurer has unlimited access to the Embezzle plot, letting you steal from the royal coffers and blame it on another courtier of your choosing.
Power of the Crown
The one position you can't occupy through shady schemes is that of Pharaoh. While playing puppetmaster in court can gain you Legitimacy, which is required to make a claim for the throne, you'll need to go to war to become top dog.
This is managed through the Power of the Crown screen, where you'll see the current legitimacy levels of other factions, the incumbent pharaoh, and the option to start a civil war.
You don't need to start a civil war yourself. If you have enough legitimacy, you can join an existing civil war instead, which will put you at war with all the other pretenders as well as the pharaoh himself. This can sometimes mean a four-, five- or even six-way war, so brace yourself for things to get messy.
You'll need to be shrewd in court and bold on the battlefield at this time, targeting the faction with high legitimacy rather than lesser pretenders. At the end of a Civil War, the faction with the most legitimacy will have its leader anointed as pharaoh.
A nice touch here is that when you join a Civil War, you get to pick what headgear to wear. Each headgear, which you find on your conquests, grants you a different bonus, and there are different rarity levels for the gear too. Crucially you get to flaunt that Egyptian swag as you can see the headgear equipped on your leader screen and in battle.
Should you become pharaoh, the game doesn't end there. You'll be able to use your new Royal Powers to bestow bonuses on things like construction speed and workforce. On the other hand, you'll need to use (or abuse) your powers to strengthen your position, electing courtiers who are friendly with you, and even forcing smaller provinces into annexation.
Then of course there are the threats of foreign invasions from Canaan and Hittite, not to mention raiders from across the sea and other regions. If you thought that being pharaoh just means you get to wear cool headgear and fake beards while drinking wine, you're in for a tough awakening.