Things To Do Now that Game of Thrones has Finished: Part II
by Henry Gorman
I promised that I would give you more recommendations about what to do now that you have finished watching Game of Thrones. I struggle to be a Ned Stark and not a Petyr Baelish to you, dear readers. Today, I make good on my word.
Making good on your word is the opposite of what my next recommendation is all about. Today, I dip my pen in praise of my beloved Crusader Kings II, a medieval dynasty simulator crafted by a team of thoughtful and meticulous Swedes at Paradox Interactive, and my personal Game of The Year for 2012.
CK II places the player in the middle of slaughterhouse Europe and hands her a butcher knife. You start the game as a landed medieval nobleman or noblewoman. You will have a motley court, consisting of your bannermen (er, vassals), your family, and a passel of assorted hangers-on. There will be a few wise councilors and dedicated servants among them, but most will be scheming vipers plotting to take each other’s lives and lands, when they’re not trying to murder or depose you. You will likely serve at the court of some greater nobleman, where, if you’re any good, you yourself will be scheming for glory.
Like the Lannisters, you will ultimately begin to chafe at bending the knee to a mightier lord. So you will gather whatever power you can to yourself. You might win glory and land on crusade against the Heathen Turk (or, if you play a lord of the Muslim persuasion, on jihad against the Heathen Frank). You might expand your domain by forging claims on your neighbors, whether or not you share a liege. Much as Robert secured Tywin’s support on the throne by marrying Cersei Lannister, you too can find yourself powerful allies with the right wedding. And, with a few strokes of the knife, the younger daughter who you married while seeking an alliance might become an heiress whose son will unite your lands.
When you finally march on King’s Landing and take your uncomfortable seat on the Iron Throne (er, rather, by accumulating enough lands or plotting a rebellion, becoming your country’s king), life doesn’t get any easier. You will constantly be pressured to expand your realm, help your allies, and give land to your children. And, after you perish and your son or daughter takes the throne, he or she will have to face the murderous ambitions of his or her siblings.
Much like Game of Thrones, the game is rivetingly uncertain. At any moment, your previously strong, healthy monarch, the ruler of a stable kingdom, might be felled by an assassin’s blade, a foeman’s sword, a boar’s tusks, or the thousand cuts of disease (both physical and mental). Her heir might be a baby vulnerable to corrupt regents and opportunistic rebellions. Even a well-established king can find his situation suddenly dire on account of o’erweeningly proud and ambitious vassals, sudden excommunications, or surprise invasions by Mongol hordes.
The game also lends itself to one of the medium’s oddest and most investment-generating of character-driven storytelling. Each of the game’s characters has a certain set of traits, reflecting personality traits, virtues, vices, education, and accomplishments. These, along with the events of each character’s lifetime and our human capacity to construct narratives from the events that we encounter, help make each game a triumph and tragedy-filled tale.
On my very first outing, I started playing as Aed of Ossory, an Irish count who sought to become something more. Aed was a brave man and a mighty warrior, but he was rough and ill-spoken. Nevertheless, his position in the world began to look up when, he promised his sword to the mighty man-hewing King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, in his battle for the throne of England. Harald lost the war, but Aed still won the hand of Ingrid, the king’s daughter. The marriage soon bore fruit: a son named Lachlann, the bonniest Irish boy who ever lived. After a civil war in Norway left most of Hardrada’s sons dead, Ingrid took the throne of Norway, and Aed found himself traveling there to serve as his wife’s marshall, her first sword in war. Lachlan was raised and educated as a true Prince of Norway. When he came of age, he proved to be wise, just, kind, and silver-tongued. Ingrid sought to succeed where her father had failed, and again raised her banner and took her longships across the cold dark sea to lay claim to the English throne where William the Bastard, cursed be his name, currently sat. But as her armies, lead by the valiant Aed, set torch to England’s castles and churches, she was poisoned at a banquet. Norway’s fickle lords decided against young Lachlan and instead chose one of their own in the next royal election. A mournful, embittered Aed returned to Ireland with his son, Prince Lachlann, the apple of his eye. Aed loved and trusted his son terribly, and, when he seized a second county in Ireland, gave it to his son. But rule was not kind to the boy. Lachlann, who evidently carried scars from his mother’s betrayal and his own disinheritance, became first stressed, then depressed, then mad. He raised a sword against his father in rebellion. The two met on the field of combat. Lachlann maimed his father, but Aed, a great captain who had led the Norweyan hordes, shrugged off the injury, and in the heat of battle, cut down his own son. Aed lived out the rest of his days a maimed cripple in his castle in Ossory, finding his only relief from his bitter life in cruelty and sin. When he died, his lands passed to Lachlann’s only son, a craven, envious hunchback despised by all of his vassals and hated by his wife. This sorrowful tale took place over just one lifetime.
So, Crusader Kings II captures much of the same moral savagery, temporal distance, compelling uncertainty, and narrative engagement as Game of Thrones. Fans of the show would do well to pick it up. Oh, yeah, there’s also a Game of Thrones mod. Where you can play as Tywin. Or Ned Stark. Or Prince Rhaegar. Or Littlefinger. You’re welcome.
If this pleases you and you want more recommendations, or if you have suggestions of your own, drop a line in the comments section, and I’ll see what I can do!