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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz    RAM: 256 MB

Crusader Kings
October 19, 2005 | Joseph Cadotte

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Crusader Kings, developed by Paradox and brought to the Mac by Virtual Programming, is a real-time strategy game running on a similar engine as its predecessors, Europa Universalis II (EU II) and Victoria. The engine is a bit stretched here, and it is showing some age. The graphics are as good as the previous games; in other words, a little better than they need to be, but not as good as they should be. The music is appropriate as well, and is fairly good. The sound, on the other hand, is loud and obnoxious.

The first and foremost problem and advantage with Crusader Kings is its sheer length. Even at its fastest speed, a year takes five to ten minutes, and the game can last almost four hundred years. This assumes that nothing happens and you do absolutely nothing. After a week and a half of play, I'd only advanced one century playing as the Byzantines, and there were two and a half centuries remaining. As an added feature, the saved game can be imported into EU II and from there into Victoria. In other words, with all three you could play the same world from 1066 to 1922. This functionally means that there can be three or four months of play starting with one session. This is good value, but it can get tedious, especially with the time that saving a game takes.

Dovetailing into the tedious is a side effect of the accuracy of the game. In most strategy games, when a technology is discovered, it is immediately available for use everywhere you control. Not so with Crusader Kings. In Crusader Kings, the technologies trickle outward from their discovery point, which is usually, but not always, your capital. For example, I held Sicily for over two centuries, and they still didn't know about roads, much less theaters, moneylenders, and the other things my Greek and Arab territories enjoyed (never mind double entry bookkeeping and the horse-collar). This speed of technology transfer is mirrored in many other ways, and can lead to many years passing without the player having to make a decision.

Unlike the two previous games in the series, events don't seem to be discrete history lessons. Instead, the history is tightly woven into the game. Plague and foreign troops come and go with alarming regularity. A favored son will probably die in childhood or go stark raving mad, hopefully before he inherits your dynasty. Courtiers will jockey for position and all the while the slow pace of the middle ages restricts your growth as a nation. The central government can only maintain a certain number of states (here called counties) under direct control. The remainder must be parceled out or you will have revolts and simple mismanagement leading you to doom.

Players can only play the Christian kingdoms of Europe, and play is centered in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Muslim and non-Abrahamic states (like Finland and Rus) are played by the computer, as is the Golden Horde. While the player can interact with these states, and even form alliances, the actions are tightly restricted. In addition, the Orthodox states, such as the Byzantine empire, can be the target of a Crusade (as my version was and as happened in the Fourth Crusade).

Because this is a game about dynasties, marriage, children, and titles are an important element, if not the most important element, of the game. You manage an extended and frequently bickering family over the centuries as much as a nation, and, depending on your inheritance laws (which you, as the player, can change, but only at great cost), you may be playing for six decades with an Otto the Great or an Elizabeth Bathory. When you look at your current crop of children, you may decide that Richard III had the right idea and assassinate the little freaks, hoping a better successor comes down the pike. At one point, I had to assassinate my Empress after she went mad and started killing her own children. All of the characters the game produces are stored in the save files (thus causing save times to increase as the game goes on), as well as their ancestors back to two centuries prior to the start of the game.

All of this depth is wonderful for the history buff, and one begins to understand Machiavelli and Cardinal Richelieu in a way that one never could before. Management of vassals becomes part of the meat of the game, and one needs to decide and balance the needs of the state, opting for more federated or confederated systems. You must decide on where loyalty should lie, and you must endeavor to keep your more powerful vassals happy while simultaneously keeping them from attacking each other.


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