CK2 Rules Critique
Let me start off by saying that I love this game. Even though this criticism may seem harsh, every time I have played, I came closer to living my childhood dream of being a power-mad, Dark Age Warlord. The card text is incredibly immersive, and miniature poses are incredibly thematic, even if not perfect quality. The knights are mostly perfect. I don’t like the Spanish pose; he looks like he’s shying from charging down some worthless peasants. Let me sing the praises of the others. The French knight captures the spirit of droit du ravage, the Italian knight oozes a haughty aggression, the English knight breathes a spirit of callous and reckless determination and the German knight is pure brutality. The infantry figures are fine, but I love the French and Italian ones.
The character portraits and trait system do give a human element to every little corner of the board. Ireland isn’t just a docile sheep, awaiting the ravenous English wolves, it is a proud independent state ruled over by high king Robert the Humble. Most events are incredibly thematic, the demon child card immediately comes to mind as my favorite. I bought the base edition and I regret nothing.
But I feel that while these core systems are quite good, the board is excellent and the theme is to die for, the base leaves something wanting. The three problems that have made most of my friend group refuse to play this game are doozies. The game victory is entirely beyond your control, hinging upon who gets the best crusade cards and plentiful children to avoid succession crises. The challenges against you are feeble, which compounds the next problem. The player interaction as played is entirely negative. I am a naturally bellicose human being, so this doesn’t bother me, but anyone with a cooperative or scheming bone in their body does not share my enthusiasm.
In every game I have played, the victor was the one who stole the most dynasty shields from the crusade track. The game rewards hunkering in your territory, going out on crusade and not interacting with the other players. However, this was not all. I have read many online reports, apparently the top way to eliminate a player is to starve them of kids by hoarding the birth cards and murder any kids that slip though and cause a succession crisis. Yeah, they can get one on a crusade, but guess who can sabotage their extra draws? Hope you have the cruel trait, or you have a 50-50 shot of collapsing into nothingness, 40-60% if they married a positive trait.
The worst of it is that this is a game primarily driven by player interaction and every action you do to another player is profoundly negative. The only real positive interaction is pacts, but they have huge issues. Why would Spain let Italy get a territory and a VP? Games hinge by one point. Also, why would you give them a good child? Why would you clutter your precious dynasty board with a trash couple that will ruin your chances of running a decent state if they do inherit? Even if you do this 200 IQ play to preserve your line, thinking that everyone won’t kill a trash couple, guess what? Succession crises are so terrible that it is worth it to murder your trash couple. Your pact was almost certainly not worth it, they can decline to help you at any time. You would have been better taking that trash child/sibling and marrying them to any local independent dynasty and annexing it with one of your 1-4 attacks.
Even if you wanted to run that pact, what would it give you? Independent states are as easy to crush with only 1 success, the crusade board only requires one success. Just in case anything was hard, if you crusade successfully in the last three before Jerusalem you have +1 attack/defense and the longbow/plate armor invention making your lands impenetrable and your armies able to take on mobilized territories with castles. You have three native draws; with another army you have 4 and a gold you have 5. This is easy if you have been hunkering in Italy/England.
This game cannot be played to win and enjoy it. It lacks meaningful choice, in that I know that if I have many children, nab the good crusade cards and take spouses with positive traits, I will win. 2 of these actions are controlled by others, 1 is relatively simple. The mechanics will leave the winner feeling unsatisfied and the losers feeling burned. Certainly, I enjoyed spending my 3 generations murdering my own recalcitrant subjects, picking fights with all my neighbors and going down fighting the half of Europe I recklessly alienated. But no one else in my group enjoyed it, they wouldn’t touch this game with a 50-foot pole.
I hate to be a negative Nancy without offering any solutions, so I have put together a series of homebrew rules changes.
I thought out these changes with three key objectives in mind. To make choices meaningful, I constructed rules changes to increase the difficulty, and offered tempting prizes for long term harmful actions. But if you can make it work, you can reap the benefits. Additionally, I reworked crusade mechanic into something contentious and cooperative and reworked succession crises to be much less punishing.
The short of it is that I made independent territories function like duchies, removed a players’ ability to grant duchies of their own, completely changed the way marriages, births and inventions work, and make pacts far more easy to sabotage thanks to an assassin’s knife or bad luck. Crusades have an interesting cooperative mechanic to deal with increasing Muslim resistance.
The start is much more customized still relatively balanced, allowing for new and interesting playthroughs.
The fact that territories are so unstable and worth a VP each in a game contributes to a “nothing-but-the-last-turn-matters’. I altered it such that only territories with castles are worth 1 VP and territories without castles need to pair to generate a victory point. 3 territories and 2 territories are only 1 VP. Also, each of the achievements now rewards and even tempts taking a sacrifice in the early turns, rather than the vulture who sweeps in and seizes it.
I just need to find people to test this with.
Additionally, thanks for making the game. Best $70 U.S. I have spent in some time.