I've just finished playing Crusader Kings II to completion for the first time, from 1066 to 1453 AD. It took me three weeks, during which my workload was relatively light, so I was able to spend plenty of hours on the game. This is a very long game.
Starting as the Duke of Barcelona, I worked my way up to Emperor of Hispania, playing as 16 different characters from the same Catalan dynasty, one after another: two dukes, ten kings, and four emperors. By the end, I ruled (a bit precariously) over the whole of modern Spain and Portugal, plus part of Morocco and the Balearic and Canary Islands. It was a lot of work, but much of it was absorbing and interesting, although some of the detailed work I could have done without.
Bear in mind that the game includes the whole of Europe plus northern Africa and a large chunk of Asia, all of which is playable area. Ruling the whole map is a fantasy, although I hear that some players have managed to rule quite a lot of it.
Arranging marriages is an interesting task, there are various factors to be considered, and the results are important. Educating children is a more mechanical chore; I can see why this is done manually, but I think it was a wrong decision: I don't think it adds enough to the game to justify the time spent on it. If I were designing this game, children would just inherit their parents' characteristics with some random variation, and that would be that.
I also find plots more trouble than they're worth, and some of the random events are tedious and could be better designed.
Warfare works quite well. It's not designed with the usual obsession with realism, which may offend some people; but from a game-player's point of view it's quite simple and straightforward to operate, and it's vaguely realistic in broad terms, compared with something like Sid Meier's Civilization. This is more of a royal role-playing game than a wargame.
It is frustrating, having played other wargames, to have to find an acceptable reason for war before you can attack someone; especially as this tends to be quite difficult and time-consuming. However, you can attack people of another religion whenever you like: free pass! This does of course mean that they can attack you, too.
At the end of this long and laborious game (2nd of January 1453) there was no fanfare or orgy of celebration: just a simple window announcing my score, with a list of the characters I'd played and a list of dynasties in real history and their scores as imagined by the game designers. I scored 80,893 points, narrowly ahead of the Rurikid dynasty at 80,000, but coming in behind the von Hapsburgs (90,000) and the Capets (100,000). The Plantagenets, I noticed, were assigned a score of 40,000.
I should note a couple of things, especially for people who are familiar with the game:
- If I make a bad mistake after investing many hours of work in the game, I don't scrap the game and start again from 1066: I go back to a saved game from before the mistake, and restart from there. Strictly speaking this is cheating, and it invalidates my final score, but I'm afraid I don't care. I play this game for my own amusement, not in competition with others, and it doesn't amuse me to have all my work wasted by a single mistake. If I make a lesser mistake that I can live with, I live with it.
- Up to now I've been playing with the original game plus all the free patches. I haven't paid for any optional extras. In future, I think I'll pay for the Legacy of Rome DLC, because it provides the additional feature of retinues (standing armies), which are referenced in the patched game but unimplemented unless you buy the DLC. The game works well enough without them, but I feel I'd like to try them. I don't feel a need of the other DLCs so far, which mostly enable you to play as dynasties outside the European mainstream: most recently, the Rajas of India DLC enables you to play as an Indian ruler.