DI­ARY

How far can one AI go us­ing noth­ing but wits, skill and lots of cheats?

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Phil Sav­age

Play­ing god in Cru­saderKingsII.

I WANT TO SEE IF, WITH THE RIG HT PROD­DING , THEY’LL MAKE A PLAY FOR THE THRON E

As much as I’ve en­joyed Cru­sader Kings II over the years, I’m still not good at it. Sure, I can em­broil my­self in drama and in­trigue just as well as the next aris­to­crat, but when it comes to am­bi­tion – to ex­pand­ing my king­dom and crush­ing my en­e­mies – it al­most al­ways goes wrong. To counter this fail­ing, I’ve de­vised a new strat­egy: don’t play Cru­sader Kings II.

At least, don’t play it di­rectly. In­stead, I’m go­ing to pick a char­ac­ter and use the ‘ob­serve’ con­sole com­mand to hand them over to the AI. Then, as the com­puter does all the heavy lift­ing, I’ll offer sup­port in the form of other con­sole com­mands. There’s a lot I can do here: give char­ac­ters gold, pres­tige and piety, add or re­move traits and even set lovers or ri­vals. I can also mur­der peo­ple with the ‘kill’ com­mand. I de­cide against us­ing this lat­ter op­tion – it’s a lit­tle too pow­er­ful, even for some­one set­ting them­selves up with god­like pow­ers.

I load up the game, en­abling all DLC packs (thanks Steam sales!) save for Sun­set In­va­sion – an al­ter­nate history pack that imag­ines what would hap­pen if Aztecs crossed into Europe to de­stroy your save file. I opt for a tra­di­tional 1066 start, and be­gin hunt­ing for a char­ac­ter to adopt. I figure a duke would make for the best ward – I want to see if, with the right prod­ding, they’ll make a play for the throne. While ab­sent­mind­edly click­ing around the de jure duchies map, I stum­ble upon Matilda di Canossa, Duchess of Tus­cany.

Matilda holds a chunk of cen­tral Italy, and also has vas­sals over­see­ing Cor­sica, Lucca and Ci­narca. She’s also young and has small fam­ily – hope­fully en­sur­ing a life free of jeal­ous sib­lings. And if she’s feel­ing am­bi­tious, Matilda’s liege is Kaiser Hein­rich IV of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire.

My lit­tle spy

First, though, Matilda needs to get her house in or­der. She’s pop­u­lar among her vas­sals, which is good, but her ad­vi­sors leave much to be de­sired. Her Spy­mas­ter in par­tic­u­lar is deemed an in­com­pe­tent schemer by Cru­sader Kings II’s rat­ing sys­tem. Luck­ily, I can help with this. Us­ing the con­sole, I up­grade the key at­tribute of each mem­ber of Matilda’s court. Then I raise all of Matilda’s stats, and give her a boost to money, pres­tige and piety.

I un­pause, and Matilda’s trea­sury im­me­di­ately emp­ties. I soon see why, as armies start march­ing out from her prov­inces. Some troops head north, join­ing Kaiser Hein­rich’s war with France over the county of Zee­land. But Matilda has also started a war of her own to con­vince the Count of Gal­lura to be­come her vas­sal, thus ex­tend­ing her ter­ri­tory into Sar­dinia. A 4,767-strong army begins a siege of Gal­lura’s towns and cas­tles. This will not be a long war.

While wait­ing for the wars to end, I no­tice Matilda has gained some life goals. The first is to marry a ruler. “The am­bi­tious Duchess Matilda thinks that mar­ry­ing a ruler would be an ex­cel­lent way to climb the so­cial lad­der,” the game ex­plains. My hope is that Matilda’s AI brain will have the good sense to marry ma­tri­lin­eally, thus re­tain­ing her ti­tle and sta­tus rather than hand­ing it off to some rando dude. Matilda has also launched a plot to kill her Mar­shal, Count Anselmo di Lucca. I’m not sure what the point of this is – per­haps mur­der is one of her hob­bies?

The war against the Count of Gal­lura is won in Jan­uary 1068, with Matilda adding an­other vas­sal to her court. Things set­tle down soon after – in May, Matilda throws a fair, which, thanks to me fur­ther boost­ing her cof­fers, should be lavish. In June, it’s re­vealed that Matilda is preg­nant. Thanks to the de­bug info I’ve

en­abled, I can see that the fa­ther is Matilda’s Court Chap­lain, Bishop Lealdo. And look, I’m not here to judge. All I’ll say is that Lealdo’s am­bi­tion is to be­come a paragon of virtue so it seems like he’s got a ways to go.

Rather than let preg­nancy slow her down, in Oc­to­ber 1068, Matilda starts an­other war to vas­salise yet an­other Sar­dinian count. This time she takes com­mand of a 7,493-strong army, leav­ing be­hind an­other 3,000 troops to de­fend the main­land. In De­cem­ber, she gives birth to Ermenegilda di Florenz, pre­sum­ably on the bat­tle­field.

The endgame of Matilda’s vas­sal­i­sa­tion wars comes the next year, when in De­cem­ber 1069, at the age of 23, she de­clares her­self the Queen of Sar­dinia and Cor­sica. And yet none of her stated aims have been ful­filled. She’s un­mar­ried – a prob­lem, be­cause her il­le­git­i­mate daugh­ter can’t in­herit her ti­tle, mean­ing ev­ery­thing would pass to Kaiser Hein­rich in the event of Matilda’s death.

She also still hasn’t mur­dered Count Anselmo of Lucca. A lit­tle dig­ging has re­vealed that Matilda is the heir to the county of Lucca, but also that Anselmo has been abus­ing his po­si­tion of Mar­shal – both pos­si­ble rea­sons why she wants him dead. I think I can help with this. While my self-im­posed rule pre­vents me from killing Anselmo my­self, I still left my­self some loop­holes in case such a sit­u­a­tion arose.

I find Matilda’s Spy­mas­ter, and… wait, why is he an idiot? I specif­i­cally made him a mas­ter­ful schemer to counter any po­ten­tial as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts. I check Cru­sader King’s II’s char­ac­ter data­base, search through Matilda’s realm, and re­alise what went wrong. At some

point, she de­cided to fire the man I trans­formed into a ge­nius plot­ter, and re­placed him with the Count of Gal­lura, a man with no in­trigue whom she once de­clared war on. This is, I feel, a bold choice. It’s cer­tainly not one I’d have made had I been in con­trol. Still, this is the bed I have made, and now I’d bet­ter fix it be­fore the legs fall off.

EV­ERY­THING IS PER­MIT­TED

Firstly, I re­store the orig­i­nal Spy­mas­ter’s orig­i­nal in­trigue score so it’s back to pretty much noth­ing. He was an­noyed at Matilda for fir­ing him, and that’s just an as­sas­si­na­tion wait­ing to hap­pen. Then, I raise the Count of Gal­lura’s in­trigue, re­move some of his more er­ratic traits, and add pos­i­tive traits that match some of Matilda’s own – rais­ing his opin­ion of her due to their shared out­look. When I’m fin­ished I have a new mas­ter Spy­mas­ter who’s happy to over­look all of that war busi­ness from a few years be­fore.

Fi­nally, I use the ‘mur­der’ com­mand. No, don’t look at me like that. The con­sole’s ‘mur­der’ com­mand is very dif­fer­ent to the ‘kill’ com­mand. The lat­ter sim­ply makes your target be dead. The former re­quires you spec­ify a mur­derer who will at­tempt to kill the target. That means there’s a chance the mur­der will fail – although given that I’m ask­ing Matilda’s new mas­ter as­sas­sin the Count of Gal­lura to mur­der the obliv­i­ous and cor­rupt Anselmo, it seems un­likely. Sure enough, Anselmo is killed, and one of Matilda’s pri­mary aims has been achieved.

Over the next few months, Matilda starts to con­sol­i­date the Sar­dinian part of Sar­dinia and Cor­sica. The Counts of Tor­res and Ar­borea join the king­dom peace­fully, and the Sar­dinian island is handed over to Duke Con­stantino. The only hold­out is Cagliari, on the south­ern tip of the island. It’s owned by Abd-al’Haqq, a re­volter who broke off from the Zirid Sul­tanate. He’s now fight­ing a war on three fronts – one of which is against the en­tire Holy Ro­man Em­pire.

While the Em­pire and Sul­tanate do their thing, Matilda launches a war of her own – as seems to be her wont. This time she’s fight­ing to make Count Jor­dan of Ca­pua her vas­sal. This is no­table for be­ing the first ma­jor war she’s waged on the Ital­ian main­land. With Cor­sica and Sar­dinia al­most en­tirely un­der her heel, is she now mak­ing a play for Italy it­self?

Un­for­tu­nately, the war isn’t go­ing well. Not be­cause of a lack of troops – Matilda’s lead­ing a 12,000 stack against Jor­dan’s 1,106 troops. The prob­lem is her army has camped out in Spo­leto for some rea­son, while Jor­dan gets on with at­tack­ing Florenz. This is in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing. Matilda’s army just sits there doing noth­ing as the Warscore tips in Jor­dan’s favour.

Us­ing the ‘play’ com­mand to take di­rect con­trol of Matilda’s army is clearly cheat­ing, so I just have to let things play out. Al­most out of des­per­a­tion, I give her the Bril­liant Strate­gist trait, although I’m pretty sure that’s not go­ing to do any­thing. Sure enough it doesn’t. Luck­ily for Matilda, some­one else takes action in­stead. The neigh­bour­ing Serene Doge Tedice of Pisa sends an army in to Florenz, not to fight Jor­dan him­self, but rather the bit of his army on loan from the Queen of Croa­tia. It turns

We’re lock­ing down the Boot’s shin re­gion.

A gi­ant man works a tiny tre­buchet.

The Holy Ro­man Em­pire isn’t hav­ing any of our shit.

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