Armies consist of a Marshall and up to 9 military squads and 4 siege weapons. Since no units can be fielded without a Marshall, a given Kingdom can only ever have 9 armies at a given time, and that’s only if they decide not to fill any other Knight offices. Military squads are produced in Towns, depending on which buildings are built there. As with the province special features, different military units are available in different provinces. Some are regional, such as Feudal Knights, some are kingdom specific, such as the Viking units. All told, there is quite an impressive array of medieval units. Once an army is raised, the Marshall can leave the town and begin their military campaign.
When two enemy armies meet, battle ensues. Battles can be automatically resolved or the players can take control in a rather simplistic RTS combat. While it’s certainly simpler to let the computer decide the victor, taking personal control of the combat can greatly improve the outcome. The RTS component is decent, but not terribly impressive. Each squad is deployed on the field, along with the Marshall and his guards. The controls are a bit clunky, although the action is pausable at any point in the combat, so things don’t get too out-of-control. In addition to health, squads also have a morale value. Morale is depleted by taking heavy losses, gained by doing particularly well, and bolstered by the presence of a Marshall fighting nearby. When a squad loses too much morale, they’ll break and run. If either Marshall is ever killed in battle, or if all units of one side are wiped out, the battle ends. While the open-field battles were a bit bland, I found myself enjoying the town sieges quite a bit. Unfortunately, the AI isn’t great, and a few tricks were soon learned to make some battles laughably easy.
Military might isn’t the only route to victory. Diplomacy also plays a vital role along the path to controlling all of Europe. Neighboring kingdoms can be cajoled, coerced, or threatened into furthering the player’s cause. A relatively detailed diplomacy system is in place, allowing players to set up and break treaties, arrange marriages, demand vassalage or tribute, or when all else fails, make a formal declaration of war. How a player deals with his neighbors is noticed by all, detailed by a Kingdom Power rating. Breaking alliances and treaties willy-nilly causes Kingdom Power to shift downward, causing other nations and one’s own people to become annoyed. Spend a little money and resources, Kingdom Power rises, and with it political clout.
Not only does a kingdom need to deal with secular matters, they must also pay close attention to matters of religion. Each kingdom has a dominant religion, which greatly affects how the game plays. Playing a Catholic kingdom nets some pretty big rewards, but it severely limits actions against other Catholic nations for fear of excommunication. In addition, the Pope will often call upon some of the best Marshalls, and “offer” them the chance to lead a Crusade. Failure to answer this call can, once again, put a kingdom in the Church’s bad graces. Players can also play an Orthodox kingdom, a follower of Islam, or a Pagan nation. Each has benefits and drawbacks, and each lends itself toward a different style of play.
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