Having had less work to do than usual for the last two weeks, I've accumulated more experience of the Crusader Kings II game, and I'm gradually learning more about it.
From the standard starting point of 1066 AD, I've played repeatedly as Murchad of Ireland and repeatedly as Harold of England, and I'm currently playing for the first time as Ramon-Berenguer of Catalonia: an obvious choice for me as I live in Catalonia, but I held off for a while because Ramon-Berenguer has a rather awkward strategic position: squeezed into a few provinces of north-east Catalonia, with south-west Catalonia and southern Spain occupied by the Arabs.
This is not an impossible situation, because what you have to do in this game is to get alliances. In Europe in the 11th century, the major power was the Holy Roman Empire, which (despite the name) consisted of just about all the German-speaking peoples put together. If you play as anyone else, you're a relatively minor power, and you have to watch your step. Anyone with allies can overwhelm you; conversely, with enough assistance from allies you can overwhelm anyone else.
I soon learned that rulers with no allies are easy prey. I learned later that I become easy prey myself if I inadvertently run out of allies. There are two good things about an ally:
- It won't attack you, as far as I know.
- It may come to your aid if requested. However, it can refuse if it likes your opponent better than it likes you, or if it's too far away, or if it has more important business elsewhere.
You get allies through arranged marriages. You can do this only if you and your intended ally have unmarried relations of opposite sex who are at least 16 years old, and if the intended ally is willing. The unmarried relations have no say in the matter, unless they have lands of their own, in which case they pass out of your control. (Of course, you can also get an alliance by marrying yourself.)
But arranging marriages is a rather tricky decision because you also want to arrange good marriages that will produce useful children. If you arrange marriages to idiots, you may get some useful alliances in the short term, but you'll raise a generation of idiots in the process, because the traits and abilities of a character are influenced by their genes.
When you pick a character to play at the start of the game, the game gives you an indication of the difficulty of playing as that character: usually a number in the range 40 to 60, with a comment such as "Hard" or "Relatively easy". When I tried picking the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, I found that the number is zero and the comment is "Pointless", which I take to mean that I'd be wasting my time because there's no challenge in winning with that character.
I find the game interesting, even absorbing, and it really has a flavour of playing your way through history. However, it has some drawbacks from my point of view:
- This is a very long, life-eating game: a single game can take up your life for days. To be sure, you can save the game and continue later, but I'd prefer a game that I could start and finish in one session.
- Wars are fast and active, apart from sieges. Peace is static and rather slow, although things continue to happen in a rather slow and static way. You have to spend most of your time at peace because soldiers die in war (sadly) and it takes time to replace them. Furthermore, peace allows you to build up your economy, and you can't make war at all without some suitable excuse, which usually takes time to arrange; unless your neighbour is of a different religion, which is in itself a suitable excuse!
- There are a number of random events, which are realistic enough but can be painful. In one game, I had a fairly mediocre character with a talented son, and I was looking forward to playing as the son. However, a random event intervened: the son got injured while training troops (not even in battle), and then died young, leaving me with a baby grandson as my heir. It's very useful to have plenty of legitimate children, but that's partly a matter of luck; unless of course you're unmarried, in which case you should be looking for a spouse.