Crusader Kings III is grand historical simulation in which the player takes on the role of a medieval ruler and their dynasty, blending roleplaying with traditional strategy map conquest through marriages, alliance-building, intrigue, and warfare. This is the fourth part of a multi-part recap of a Crusader Kings III game that I played from September 2020 through March 2021. The historical start date of the campaign was 867.
I'm going to step out of narration mode for a moment here, so bear with me. The reason I love this game, the reason it and its predecessor share a spot in my top ten games of all time, comes down to the simple genius of taking all of the numbers (army size, wealth, culture, happiness, etc.) that underpin a traditional grand strategy game and putting faces and names to those numbers.
You are not a nation, you are a person, and as a person you have other people you know and care about. To win wars, to build alliances, to hold off rebellions--it all depends on how you approach the game of building (or undermining) interpersonal relationships. And likewise, each strategic or tactical choice you make can come back to bite you in ways that may be insignificant to your success but utterly devastating nonetheless.
Remember Theodelinda? Karlmann's daughter, who survived both smallpox and bubonic plague? Her husband was not so lucky. So Karlmann then arranged a marriage for her to the Lord-Mayor of Pisa. It seemed like a good strategic move at the time; the Lord-Mayor had a decent-sized army at his command.
Not two months later, a message arrived: "Your daughter Theodelinda was killed during the Peasant Uprising in Pisa."
You see, what happened is, Theodelinda left her father's court to go live with her husband in Pisa. And there, shortly after, the peasants revolted and sacked the city. And Theodelinda was one of the casualties. If I hadn't arranged that marriage, her character would have remained safely in Regensburg. It turns out, she could survive everything, except her father's poor choice of husbands.
In-game, Karlmann reacted to his daughter's death by taking up drinking. Out of game, as the realization dawned on me that Theodelinda had died this sudden and unhappy death because of my choices--because I had used her like a pawn in my strategic schemes without considering the consequences--I gasped, and then I shouted, "No!" at the screen.
There are very, very few games that are capable of creating those kinds of moments. This was the first in this particular campaign, and it wasn't the last.