Crusader Kings: Lead Your Dynasty to Triumph

I wasn't very surprised to see a game like Sid Meier's Civilization adapted to a board game. Civ (the computer game) was always heavily inspired by board games to begin it, and so it's mechanics translated easily back into board game formats without losing much other than the broader scope of the PC game.

Paradox's Crusader Kings, on the other hand, is a totally different beast of a PC game. It is an insanely complicated, system-based blend of grand strategy game, RPG, and social sim. It simulates thousands of individual characters across hundreds of countries and duchies through dozens of generations. The possibility space is vast. As such, I would never have expected to see anyone attempt to try to boil down this deep historical simulation into a tabletop board game. Well, I guess I shouldn't say "never". In this age of every media property being adapted to board game formats, I suppose it was inevitable for someone to try.

And someone did try. In 2019, a year before the release of the Crusader Kings III PC game, Swedish board game manufacturer Fria Ligen ("Free League Publishing") released a board game version licensed by Paradox. I received the game as a gift last fall (during the height of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic), and so didn't get to start playing the game until well into 2021, when we finally felt a little more comfortable meeting up with friends.

As much a story-generator as a board game

For any PC players coming to the board game, there is something very important that you should know about Crusader Kings: the Board Game: it's focus is largely on the story-telling aspect of the Crusader Kings experience. If you play the Crusader Kings PC game as a hardcore strategy game, then you will probably find the board game lacking in that respect. The Crusader Kings board game is as much a story generator as it is a strategy game -- perhaps moreso.

As a story generator, my friends and I have found Crusader Kings to be very entertaining. It's certainly one of the better story-telling games that I've ever played.

Each action card will include a random event that is either disruptive to the current player,
or which benefits another player.

The way that Crusader Kings creates its little stories is through the random events of each player's action cards, and through the resolution of events by drawing trait tokens. Each turn, a player plays a pre-selected card from their hand. You perform your chosen action, and then you resolve a random event on the card. All cards, except for the "Crusade" action cards, will have a random event that is either harmful to the active player, or which provides a benefit to another player (usually the next player in the turn order).

Many actions and card events will also require that the player draw traits from a bag (similar to a die roll in most other games). Each player character starts with a pre-determined set of traits at the start of the game, and can acquire new traits through marriages, succession, or other events. All your traits go into a bag, and you draw one or more blindly from the bag to resolve a given trait check and determine the outcome of an event.

Player actions, card events, and trait draws, thus combine together to create emergent stories in both the short and long term. Sometimes these little stories can play out over the course of a few actions or turns. Other times, game-long narratives can form.

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Crusader Kings 3 - title

My blog readers know that I'm a fan of historic strategy games. Two of my favorite PC game franchises are Civilization and Total War, and I've dipped my hands into plenty of other historic strategy games ranging from the prehistoric Dawn of Man, all the way to Ultimate General: Civil War and Company of Heroes. But there's one prestigious set of historic strategy games that I've yet to get into. That is Paradox's historic strategy lineup of Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron. I own Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV on Steam, and I've always wanted to get into them. I have a friend who plays them a lot, and the game looks really fun, but I was just never able to figure either of them out.

I tried booting up both a couple times and was just immediately overwhelmed. I tried the Crusader Kings II tutorial twice, and still didn't feel like I had a firm enough grasp on the game to feel compelled to keep playing. Part of that is because both games have myriad expansions and DLC that have just further complicated the games and repeatedly raised the bar of entry for newcomers. The only one of Paradox's tutorials that I felt gave me a reasonable grasp on the game was the tutorial for Stellaris.

When I saw previews for Crusader Kings III, I immediately put it on my watch list and committed myself to buying it day one, so that I could get in on the ground level in the hopes that it will be easier to grasp before Paradox starts releasing countless DLCs. It seems to have paid off, as I've been hooked on the game on and off since launch, and that addiction has cut into my Civ playing time, as well as delayed many of my blog projects and YouTube content. So for those of you eagerly awaiting new Civ strategies or the next installment of "How Madden Fails to Simulate Football", you can blame Paradox Interactive for the delay...

I am not the state

As someone who was never able to get into the previous game, I cannot say if Crusader Kings III is "dumbed-down" compared to its predecessor. It is, after all, still insanely complicated. But I definitely feel like it has a gentler learning curve and a much more effective tutorial compared to its predecessors. The hand-holding of the tutorial really did help me get a better understanding of how the various mechanics were working, and I've also found it much easier to navigate the revised U.I. and find the information that I'm looking for. I still feel like I have no idea what many of the U.I. panels mean, but I at least understand enough of the basics this time around to actually feel comfortable playing the game.

If you're unfamiliar, Crusader Kings is a medieval grand strategy game in which you play as the king of a small, European (or Middle Eastern or African) kingdom. You engage in diplomacy and court intrigue to increase your wealth and power, fight wars to conquer territory, and manage your growing holdings. But unlike a game like, say Civilization, you do not play as an abstraction of the state itself. Instead, you play as a line of rulers in a single family dynasty. You play as a single king (or queen) character at any given time. This king grows old, and eventually dies, at which point, you take control over you chosen heir and continue playing the game as that character. If you ever get to a point in which you have no family heir to carry on when you die, it's Game Over.

When your player character dies, you take over as that character's primary heir.

As much improved as the tutorial is, I do feel that it has one glaring weakness: it doesn't really cover succession. The tutorial basically puts you in control of a 40-year-old king in Ireland. It shows you how to press a few claims, use a casus belli to press those claims, create a title, deal with vassals, marry off a child, and then it basically just hands you the reigns and says "OK, now keep playing". And yeah sure, these are all the things that you spend most of the game doing. But I would say that arguably the most important part of the game is declaring your heir and setting up your inheritance to maximize the territory that your primary heir retains power over. I think succession is the single most important part of the game, and the tutorial doesn't cover it at all. When it finally happens, there's a tool tip that pops up to explain some stuff, but it didn't really help me all that much to understand what was happening, and a tool tip popping up after the fact certainly didn't help me to prepare for my king's inevitable death and inheritance.

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Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2020 - title

I bought Maximum Football 2020 for PS4 on launch day and found that the PS4 version launched with a set of bugs that made the game almost unplayable. In those first couple hours, I noticed some benign bugs. Every team in the game was duplicated in the team select and customization screens, and Canadian rules showed the wrong button icon for the sixth receiver. The more game-breaking bug, however was that running plays were completely absent from the user playbook, and the on-field action was very unstable.

The PS4 version was riddled with bugs at launch and practically unplayable.

After resigning myself to wait for a patch before bothering to play any further matches (let alone starting a Dynasty), I tried playing around with the logo creator, play designer, and other customization features to pass the time. The logo creator seems to be pretty much identical to last year. You have a handful of basic shapes, letters, and numbers that you place in layers on a canvas. If you ever created a logo with the Rock Band 3 logo creator, then you have a pretty good idea of how Maximum Football's logo editor works. Except that Rock Band 3 had a tremendous amount of shapes -- and even pre-made art -- that you could add to your canvas. Maximum Football has way less to work with here. The thing that stops me from even bothering with the logo creator is that I can't use an existing team's logo as a baseline.

I'd love to be able to take one of the cowboy logos from Columbia or another school to use for my Las Vegas Pioneers in Dynasty mode. Change the colors up a bit, maybe add the words "Las Vegas" (or at least the letters "LV"), and so forth. Just take the existing logo and give it a more personal touch. Nope. Can't. I either have to use the existing logo as is, or make a new one from scratch out of layers of basic geometric shapes. I'm not necessarily expecting to be able to disassemble each existing logo into their constituent parts, but at the very least it would be nice to insert the existing logo as part of a new logo, and maybe change the colors.

The logo editor has rudimentary shapes, and does not allow you to import or edit an existing logo.

These limitations don't mean that you can't make a good logo. Plenty of people with a lot more time and patience have certainly made some good stuff. I just don't care enough to put that much effort into it. Especially if I can't even share it online or expect to be able to export the logo into next year's game.

So I moved on to the play designer, and was almost immediately roadblocked by bugs. I was excited to try out the play designer in this game, but I went in with measured expectations. I was expecting to find a token play editor that was limited to basic football concepts. I didn't even get that far because the damn thing didn't work. I couldn't select different formations for new offensive plays. I couldn't test defensive plays. And I soft-locked the game by trying to back out of a certain menu, then hard-locked the game by trying to change the ruleset and re-enter the play designer.

The Play Designer didn't work as intended at launch, but I committed myself to coming back to it later.

Booting up the game to find nothing but bugs and lackluster new features in every corner that I looked was absolutely not the first impression that I was hoping to get from Maximum Football 2020. Sadly, this was the condition of the PS4 launch. How this got past Sony's approval process, but Axis Football got held up or blocked for both 2018 and 2019 is beyond me. At least Axis worked!

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It's summer time, which means that football video game developers are hard at work implementing features for the fall release of this year's games. It's probably too late to influence the design of the 2020 slate of games (due to release in September), but I'd still like to take some time to express some of my ideas for growing these games over the long term. This post should hopefully give both Canuck Play and Axis an idea of the roadmap of improvements that I'd like to see over the next two or three years.

For each suggestion that I'm going to make, I'm going to try to provide a general goal that I want to achieve with the idea. Then I will provide one (or more) ideas for how I think the games' developers can attain that goal. If Canuck and/or Axis like the ideas, then by all means use them. If, however, they think they can accomplish the goal with a different method or implementation, then by all means do that. You know your games better than I do. I'm just a blogger with a YouTube channel and little more than a basic understanding of how game development work. You guys and gals do whatever you think is going to make your games the best that they can possibly be.

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Maximum Football 2019 - title

I was harsh on Maximum Football 2018 last year. Perhaps overly so, considering the game's indie nature and budget price. I wasn't trying to hate on the game, nor am I a Madden fanboy (feel free to check out my reviews of the last few years' of Madden releases if you need proof of my being fed up with lackluster releases from EA).

I was harsh because I wanted to point out as many possible flaws as I could, so that as many of them as possible could be resolved, and Maximum Football would get better the following year. I bought Maximum Football 2018 in order to support the developer, Canuck Play, to that end. I also bought Maximum Football 2019 in order to continue to support Canuck, because I am still hopeful that this game can turn into to something special. I didn't wait a couple weeks and buy a used disc for cheap off of eBay, which is what I usually do with Madden because I don't want to give EA a cent until they actually earn it.

College and Canadian football legend Doug Flutie offered his name and likeness.

Not in the bargain bin anymore

Canuck isn't there yet. But I honestly didn't expect them to be (which is why I made a YouTube video about being excited for 2020, rather than 2019). I'm still approaching Maximum Football 2019 as an "early access" work-in-progress.

At last year's budget price point of about $15, it wasn't too hard for me to overlook Maximum Football's many flaws and limitations and still recommend it to people who want to see competition in the football video gaming marketplace. It wasn't much different than paying for "early access", after all. However, with the price of this year's game nearly doubled to $30, it's a lot harder to make a similar recommendation. The inclusion of a Dynasty mode does partially resolve my single, largest complaint with last year's game, as it means that there is an actual game here to play now, with an actual sense of progression and accomplishment. But Maximum made so few strides in its core gameplay, that I'm just not sure it's worth the hike in price.

$30 pulls Maximum Football out of the category of "budget indie title", and puts it firmly into the price point of "Double-A" or "mid-market game", alongside games like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Lords of the Fallen, and Cities: Skylines. But Maximum is not "Double-A" quality!

...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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