Published on April 12th, 2016 | by Tony Odett0
Crusader Kings II: Conclave Review
Summary: A solid expansion that overhauls several game systems and really adds a lot of new play options, especially for vassals.
I’ve played a lot of Crusader Kings 2. If you were to go back through my “Most Played Game” files, I’m guessing that the only game that rivals it in play time is Europa Universalis IV. These are games of obsession, of building an empire and expanding your power. Crusader Kings 2 has the added benefit of a strong role playing element. I’d argue that I have more fun plotting against my enemies and enjoying the events than I do fighting and conquering. The newest expansion, The Conclave, breaks away a bit from what the previous expansions to the game have done. Instead of offering more lands to conquer and more nobles to play as, it revamps the act of leadership itself.
The Conclave is the big headliner in this expansion, and yet, I found it wanting. Your council is made up of ministers of various kinds like before. But now, as you make certain types of decisions, like say, throwing that nephew who keeps plotting to overthrow you into the dungeon, the council will weigh in. This system replaces Crown Authority, which was a measure of how strong the king was versus how strong his vassals were. Disobey the council too many times, and they will rebel in order to reign in your tyranny. From the viewpoint of the king, I found the execution of the mechanic odd. Each councilor was rated in how favorably they saw me, but I couldn’t really tell why they were rated in certain way and how my actions affected those rating. There is a system in which you can gain favors to force a councilor to support you for a year, in exchange for money or fulfillment of ambitions. It’s an improvement over Crown Authority (because, previously, of course the vassals would always want a weaker king), in that you have a general idea of what your councilors think and why. But I can’t help feeling that the sort of give and take that my English king would have had with his councilors, as they jockey for supremacy beneath him, felt a bit hollow. I wanted some give and take with my conclave- negotiations and so forth. The mechanic is nice, but I wish it did more to put me in the role, as opposed to making everything feel like a department store transaction.
The real success of the Conclave mechanic, however, is not in what it does for playing as the king. Its true value, instead, is the way it develops your play as a vassal. Instead of trying to lower crown authority so that you can conquer your fellow vassals, you now have a variety of interactions with your lord that you can use to expand your dominion. By assenting to demands, the favors you gain can force your liege to allow a marriage into your family (I used to this get some royal blood into my family, on my way to, a few generations down the line, become King of France) or to get fellow vassals to join my faction. I even once got my King to declare war on a neighboring kingdom in order to press a claim I had manufactured. Conclave adds a lot of options to being a vassal that simply weren’t available before, making it a more enjoyable option to play.
The expansion’s other big add is an overhaul to the child education system. Instead of simply finding someone to raise your child (and watching them become more like that person), you get to choose an educational focus for your child. Children will get traits when they are small that evolve into different traits as they grow older. You, as the parent, can influence these traits to good or ill. In a number of events, you can even sacrifice your own vitality for the good of your child (something real life parents like myself can identify with). It’s a better system than the previous one, which largely made children into political pawns, and I appreciate not having to search through the entirety of the kingdom for the proper proxy with the right stats to raise my child.
Conclave is a very nice expansion, that really adds a lot of gameplay in the vassal realm. If you’re looking to play as a king, there are some interesting options (forming mercenary companies, for example, and of course raising children), but I really recommend hopping in as a vassal lord to truly get the full experience. Crusader Kings II has been around for a long time, and if it keeps getting expansions, I’d say Crusader Kings III will be moved further and further off.