Instead of playing a nation, as in the other grand strategy games designed by Paradox Studios, Crusader Kings lets play the ruling family of a Christian kingdom, duchy, or county. You play medieval power politics, expand your realm, and gain influence. The size and efficiency of your personal territory is limited by the abilities of your monarch and his/her advisor. This means that any additional lands have to be farmed out to vassals and relatives. More vassals mean more prestige, the major currency in the game.
Unlike the other games by Paradox, Crusader Kings is only loosely historical. Events are generic, with some historical flavor. The characters at the beginning of a scenario are real people, but everyone else is created as the game campaign moves along. Similar to Medieval: Total War, characters have personalities and properties. In Crusader Kings, these properties can have serious consequences. Characteristics govern which options you get in events, how your children will turn out, and how quickly vassals regain lost loyalty.
Even though there is less information to manage here than in, say, Victoria, there is no easy way to find a lot of it. You cannot sort your courtiers by talent or trait, meaning that by mid-game, you have to scroll down a list of fifty names until you find your perfect chancellor. Finding desirable brides or grooms for royal marriages is almost as much trouble as wedding planning in the real world.
The title is also a bit of a misnomer. Though kings are expected to crusade, the computer-controlled monarchs have little desire to take up the cross. This means that the player usually faces the Muslim armies alone. The AI of the generals aren’t that good, though, so defeating the Saracens in detail is not a major chore. The period of the Crusades is also treated as one long war, where failure to participate means less piety for your ruler. This continual pressure to wage war can end in large swaths of the Muslim world under your control by the 13th century.
This means that erecting an empire is only slightly more work than keeping it, which isnâ€™t necessarily a bad thing. Vassals have a number of things to worry about and revolt over, and any major military effort will put a heavy strain on the goodwill of your underlings. One long war can crack a kingdom as much as build it. Still, Crusader Kings is more â€œSim-Throne Roomâ€ than a wargame, and is most satisfying if played with this in mind.
System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, WinXP