Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Crusader Kings II: The Normans repulsed

Please see my previous post for an introduction to Crusader Kings II.

Rather cheekily, for my third game I decided to play as Harold II of England in 1066 AD, aged 44, defending against simultaneous invasions by King Harald of Norway and Duke William of Normandy. As any English child used to know, the real Harold II defeated the Norwegians emphatically and killed Harald, but then died himself losing the Battle of Hastings against William.

I see that the real Harold left a good chunk of his victorious forces behind in the north of England, presumably to defend against more incoming Norwegians, when he marched south to fight William. Harold under my direction ruthlessly took every man south, also recruiting further troops on the way, so that the English army usefully outnumbered the Normans when they came to battle in Somerset. Weirdly, the William in my game sailed his ships all the way around Cornwall and landed them in Somerset, so that's where the crucial battle was fought; though after winning that one I had to chase the Normans from one county to another in order to wipe them out completely.

That wasn't the end of it. The Norwegians landed more troops in the north; the Normans landed another much smaller army in the south. I went around with my one large army beating them all up in turn, and then made peace with both invaders. As I hadn't touched their home bases, I couldn't insist on reparations, but a simple peace agreement gave me a hefty gain in prestige at their expense. At the start of the game I had a prestige level of 40; after less than two years of successful war, this rose to 737. And it wasn't even particularly difficult. Perhaps I should have tried to invade Normandy or something; but I have little experience of the game, no experience of invading across water, and it seemed prudent not to push my luck. People tend to get fed up with long wars, even in this game, which has a war-weariness mechanism.

CKII isn't designed primarily as a wargame, and it shows. The warfare works quite well and isn't hard to manage, but a wargamer would regard it as over-simplified, and it's quite unrealistic in various ways. Here are some examples:

  • Orders to my forces around the country apparently go by radio and are received instantly (I noticed this when recruiting fresh levies from various counties).
  • Orders are obeyed instantly and accurately without question. "I say to one, go, and he goeth; and to another, come, and he cometh."
  • My large army marched constantly here and there across the country from one battle to another, mainly between the north-east and the south-west, and must have worn out a good many pairs of shoes, but seemed to suffer no significant penalty in terms of slower movement, impaired combat ability, desertion, etc. No supply problems, either, although I believe that supply problems can arise in the game in some circumstances.

The real Harold would truly have thought himself blessed by God if his forces had responded to his orders as mine did.

Harold's army at the start of the game was commanded by a strange assortment of military leaders, including one of his incompetent teenage sons; I took care to select the most skilled leaders available and put them in charge. As military skill gets a numerical rating in the game for all to see, selecting the best leaders was a good deal easier for me than it would have been for the real Harold. Furthermore, if I assign a leader to a force, he's right there and ready to go immediately, having apparently travelled at the speed of light from wherever he happened to be before.

So, if you want a truly realistic wargame, look elsewhere. This game is of course a good deal more realistic than Sid Meier's Civilization, but that's not saying much! CKII is a role-playing game of royal dynasties; warfare has to appear in it, but it's not what the game is about. Bear in mind that a truly realistic wargame is likely to be much more complicated, harder work to learn and to play.

However unrealistic my achievement, I do feel quite chuffed at having beaten off the Norwegians and the Normans all by myself. The game warned me in advance that Harold is more difficult to play than William. Really?

Three cheers for Jonathan the Conqueror!

Of course, having defeated the initial invaders in less than two years, I still have three and half centuries left to play in the same game, if I decide to finish it. This was just the beginning...


Jonathan said...

I continued the same game yesterday, but made a number of serious mistakes in managing my kingdom, because I'm still learning how the game works. Eventually I managed to lose the kingdom to a usurper and found myself playing as a mere duke, so I think I'll quit that game (in 1080 AD) and start another one, hoping to do better next time. However, I now have work to do, so gaming will have to be put on hold.

Jonathan said...

I've tried to play Harold a couple more times now, and I think I must have been lucky the first time.

In my second attempt, the Normans defeated me in battle, despite my somewhat superior numbers.

In my third attempt, it was a close-run thing, but then William of Normandy was unexpectedly killed in battle, and Harald of Norway died of natural causes, so both invasions were cancelled! That didn't count as my victory, so I got no prestige out of it, but I lived to fight another day. Later on, I successfully grabbed Cumberland from the Scots, but was invaded by the Holy Roman Empire (possibly called in by the Scots?), so that was the end of that game. You don't win a war against the Holy Roman Empire.