I don’t normally review video games, but then again I don’t normally get requests either. And since I do enjoy both history and strategy games I guess this isn’t much of a stretch. CK2 takes place over the last four centuries of the Middle Ages. With various expansion packs it includes all of Europe and a stretch from India to Muslim Africa. As a player you can choose to be any historical character from a major king (William the Conqueror) to a vassal of a minor king. You then become every ruling member of that dynasty.
What impressed me from the start was the general knowledge base about medieval politics, religion, and strategy. The breadth of character options is also quite good. By comparison the long-running Civilization franchise only allows about twenty-five possibilities and they are all kings. Also neat is the marriage. Historically, marriage were used to gain territory and make alliances. Here choosing the right match will help you breed heirs with specifically characteristics. No one in the Middle Ages was worried about a woman’s contribution but it does add dimension to the game.
What I didn’t like were details that made gameplay easier. New dynasties began among the Christians because of the failure to find a male heir or, rarely, because the kings became weaker than the leader of their guards over the course of generations (the Franks come to mind). In this game it is possible, however, for one of William’s vassals to usurp the English crown by steadily gaining more prestige than his lord. While I couldn’t tell you why that never happened, the fact that at one point the king of France only controlled the area around Paris but never had his kingship taken tells me that there was something in place (rule by divine right? Tradition? Popular beliefs?) that made it inconceivable. In the game, however, this makes for more exciting possibilities. If you’re smart you can maneuver yourself into becoming a king.
War here also seems a little more interesting than the reality. Because of the nature of feudalism and fighting, warfare was not a matter of hundreds of thousands of fighters strategically located in several armies. Sieges were common but rarely conclusive unless they were drawn out because nothing until gunpowder could destroy castle walls. Very often, the two major players would meet in battle and the winner would win while the loser would die or submit. The only exception that comes to mind is the Hundred Years War, which was actually three wars and was only really waged when England came to France and when France felt confident enough in its numbers to defeat England. And yet in this game you can win without defeating the opponent in battle through a scoring system.
Overall this is a good game, with more detail and relevant focus than many other history games out there. I would appreciate less focus on sieges except as a strategy to draw opponents into battle and the limiting of dynastic improvement to successful marriages, but overall this is something I would recommend.