Tips For Playing Crusader Kings III

Illustration for article titled Tips For Playing iCrusader Kings III/i
Screenshot: Crusader Kings III

Oh boy. Oh boy. Where to even begin with this. How about...we try something new.

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Approaching a grand strategy game like this can be a daunting experience. You need to be prepared to take on so much, from an enormous interface to a web of complex systems, right down to a working knowledge of the laws and terms of the time period Crusader Kings III is set in.

I’ve already recommended this game to tons of people who don’t normally play Paradox grand strategy games, and many of them run into the same obstacle, where the problem isn’t that they’re unable to play it in terms of grappling with the basics. It’s actually very well designed to hold your hand throughout the experience! The biggest problem I’m seeing is that many new players are so scared, so overwhelmed by the game’s depth, that they simply fold in the face of it.

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That’s what I’m going to help with here. You don’t need me to tell you how to play Crusader Kings III. Both the tutorial and in-game reminders do a great job of that themselves. And if/when you need more help than that, I actually think written guides are a nightmare, and you’re better off settling in with YouTube walkthroughs.

What you might need most initially, and what I’m here to try and give you, is the strength to get there in the first place.

FAILURE IS OK

You can’t think of Crusader Kings III as a traditional video game, something that you learn piece by piece in order to “get better”, or somehow “complete” it. It’s a sprawling simulation of life, politics and people, and just like you can never perfect those things in real life, you’ll never perfect them here either.

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The best games of Crusader Kings III aren’t the ones where you relentlessly march against your opponents, securing optimal marriages and winning every battle. No, because this is such a personal game, and also based on history where nothing is forever, the best games are the ones where you both rise and fall in the same campaign.

Beginning as a King and then finding yourself as a Duke isn’t failure, it’s adversity. It’s part of the story that you’re creating through your actions, and while in some ways it sucks, in others it’s simply a result of things that may be well out of your control. Don’t get upset at a demotion, just roll with it! Chances are you’ll be able to work your way into some kind of revenge anyway....

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YOU CAN’T MASTER THIS GAME

Which leads me neatly into my next tip. This isn’t Street Fighter. You can’t approach this thinking that you will only truly “get” Crusader Kings III once you’ve mastered all of its systems, because boy, that is going to crush you. Hell, I’ve been playing the series for almost a decade and I still get confused by De Jure realms.

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Even if you could gain a complete understanding of everything happening under this game’s hood, that doesn’t matter since this isn’t a scripted single-player experience. Crusader Kings is pure chaos, and no two games will ever play out the same, so even if you were to do exactly the same things twice in a row, believing you’d mastered it, sometimes that might bring you success, but the next game it might get you your ass kicked.

During your early days/weeks with the game, then, don’t bother trying to tame it! You don’t need to know how to foil plots, overthrow regimes, kidnap princesses, murder children, worship the Horned God, go on a crusade, get a cat, hire some mercenaries, build a farm, divorce your wife, or commit suicide right away.

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Take your time. Considering (as we’ve discussed) failure is fine, and that there’s a massive degree of automation at play, you can leave a lot of Crusader Kings III up to the AI, treat it as a particularly murderous medieval sandbox and just play with it. Even engaging in the most minimal amount of play, which would basically be just responding to the game’s decisions and events, you’ll both learn a lot and have a lot of fun!

Every word in blue here can be expanded to explain what it means.
Every word in blue here can be expanded to explain what it means.
Screenshot: Kotaku
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READ UP

I said this in my review, but one of the trends in strategy gaming over the past few years has been a growing reliance on pop-ups and tooltips to explain terms and systems that might usually have been reserved for a tutorial or, worse, the manual.

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Crusader Kings III is just full of pop-ups, and it’s a safe bet that if you’re ever wondering what a word means, it’ll be displayed in blue on the screen, meaning you can hold your mouse cursor over it and be shown everything you need to know about it.

This sounds really minor, but in a game where weird terms and historical jargon are everything, it’s super important! Mostly because this makes the pop-ups contextual, meaning you get to look the information up at precisely the time you need it.

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If you’re a history nerd and know what most of this shit means, then great, but if you’re not, and the term “Agnatic-Cognatic Promgeniture” has your eyes rolling into the back of your skull, don’t freak out. Just look for a pop-up and hopefully your questions will be answered.

START SMALL

As I’ve hinted at, a lot of your Crusader Kings III experience can be shaped as much by your neighbour’s actions as your own. Even if you’ve played a perfect century building up a fledgling Balkan Kingdom, it’ll all be for nought if the Byzantine Empire wants your land, because there’ll be nothing you can do about it.

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So if you’re taking your first steps in the game, start small. The tutorial drops you in Ireland for a reason. The degree to which Crusader Kings III can overwhelm you is directly related to the size of your realm and how much trouble you’ll be getting from neighbours, so starting somewhere cozy and remote like Ireland (or anywhere in Britain, really) is a great way to ensure you get the necessary breathing space to get to at least the most basic grips with the game.

And that’s it! Hopefully that’s enough perspective to stop you freaking out if the game has felt like it’s a bit much. If it was, you’re probably ready to move onto some more comprehensive guides than the tutorial or written articles can manage. One of the better ones out there being this one by PartyElite:

Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor based in Canberra, Australia. He has written a book on cosplay, designed a game about airplanes, and also runs cosplay.kotaku.com.

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DISCUSSION

whispergod
WhisperGod

So this is my first actual Crusader Kings title after being a big Europa Universalis fan. I know everyone tells me to play a certain way and that is to roll with the punches and roleplay. I say no and proceed on the path to World Conquest. Because that’s how I want to play. Similar to how EU stops you from rapidly expanding with coalitions, this game stops you by only allowing you to declare war one at a time. Sure you can be in multiple defensive wars, but you’re only allowed one offensive war. Not counting ally wars that is.

What surprised me the most is that a lot of things in the game can still be accomplished with straight up brute force. The AI is not particularly smart during wars. It pretty much runs away from larger armies and chases after small armies. You can do the same and eat smaller armies and pick battles where only you will win. Doing this will allow you to build up war score and with enough war score and maybe some sieged cities, will allow you to declare victory pretty quickly. Just don’t attack countries where they are already fighting a war, because if you win, you’ll have to fight yet another war to defend that country you just took over.

I’ve done this over and over again until I became a country that was on the verge of shattering into a million tiny pieces from civil war to the largest military in the world.

I’m not that big on the drama, but it is pretty amusing when my own spymaster, whom I have a great relationship with by the way, discovers that I killed my own son, then proceeds to black mail me. A couple years later, he conveniently tells me himself that he’s having an affair (a crime), and I proceed to throw him in jail never to utter my secret to anyone. He still thinks I’m a swell guy though.