10 Games Like Crusader Kings You Should Play

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Crusader Kings 2

Paradox Interactive is known for its massive real-time strategy games, with one of the biggest smash successes found in Crusader Kings 3, an excellent blend of strategic depth and the story-rich environment of Medieval era politics and diplomacy. Though it was Crusader Kings 2 that really got the ball rolling, the third game in the series solidifies the franchise’s legacy with a slew of improvements, refinements, and greater accessibility.

For players who can’t get enough of this period of history or this style of gameplay, here is a list of the best games like Crusader Kings players should check out, limiting ourselves to one entry per franchise.

 

Games Like Crusader Kings

10. Total War: Three Kingdoms

Total War: Three Kingdoms
Total War: Three Kingdoms

Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: Sega
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

The first entry in the list takes players back to the Three Kingdoms period of Ancient China, when the ruling Han dynasty crumbled and led to the rise of powerful warlords. Unlike the older pre-Warhammer entries, Three Kingdoms is the first Total War game to explicitly focus on romanticized history, using the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” by Luo Guangzhong as its source material, which leads to the game accentuating the mythical and legendary.

Total War is known for its compelling blend of strategic campaigns and large-scale real-time tactical battles, the latter of which Crusader Kings omits. Characters have always been a part of Total War’s DNA (Medieval 2 is a great alternative) though not to the same extent as Paradox’s monster. Out of all of Creative Assembly’s games, Three Kingdoms does its best to put characters front-and-center, as well as their relationships to each other.

While the character system may not be as deep or involved as Crusader Kings, it’s still plenty entertaining and has a strategic and tactical effect on the player’s decision-making. Though CA may have unceremoniously and bafflingly wrapped up Three Kingdoms’ post-launch life cycle with many bugs and issues unaddressed, it still remains a high quality, vibrant, and innovative title for the series.

 

9. Knights of Honor

Knights of Honor
Knights of Honor

Developer: Black Sea Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive, Sunflowers Interactive, Atari Inc.
Platform(s): PC

Stepping away from the role-playing and back into the Medieval era, Knights of Honor is probably the closest non-Paradox developed game to Crusader Kings. Most notably Knights of Honor shares the real-time approach to the strategic layer, but also adds in a small-scale tactical combat system.

Knights of Honor focuses less on the whims of individuals and more on the political and diplomatic concerns of Medieval countries, like France or the Byzantine Empire, where characters are utilized as resources and aides to further the player’s strategic goals rather than as centerpiece figures to the entirety of the gameplay loop. As a result, the game has added depth to its army area of recruitment feature and settlement construction mechanics.

In addition, where Knights of Honor really stood out for its time is a complex and functional espionage system that opened up a whole row of possibilities that other games can look upon with envy. Altogether, Knights of Honor is an older, but no less impressive alternative strategy game to Crusader Kings that’s definitely worth a look.

 

8. Old World

Old World Archetypes
Old World Archetypes

Developer: Mohawk Games Inc.
Publisher: Mohawk Games Inc.
Platform(s): PC, macOS

One type of strategy game that’s eluded the addition of role-playing systems is the Civilization-style 4X grand strategy game. This has now been remedied with Mohawk’s grand strategy game set during Iron Age Antiquity around the Mediterranean Sea.

Old World’s character system skews a bit closer to Total War or Knights of Honor, where they play more of a functional role to the empire’s overall success, but it’s still highly reminiscent of Crusader Kings’ character system due to the presence of an extensive random event mechanic, providing great grounds for emergent storytelling. The two games are also quite similar in that victory is predicated on the maintenance, survival, and expansion of the ruling dynasty, which can lead to plenty of interesting strategic choices.

One of the biggest criticisms levied at Paradox’s grand strategy games was their overall inaccessibility with Crusader Kings 3 one of the few games to have addressed the issue, though unfortunately, Old World, compared to Paradox’s game and Civilization, is the odd one out with a poor tutorial making it hard for new players to immerse themselves in the game. Nevertheless, Old World has plenty of fresh mechanics and features that make it a unique and rewarding 4X strategy game.

 

7. Star Dynasties

Star Dynasties
Star Dynasties

Developer: Pawley Games
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Platform(s): PC

Most of history has had the Crusader Kings treatment in one form or another. So what’s next? Space, obviously. Pawley Games’ Star Dynasties does just that and is unashamedly inspired by Crusader Kings, but in space.

Unlike Paradox’s grand strategy behemoth where players still have non-character related strategic options to work with, Star Dynasties almost completely focuses on characters, their relationships, and how that can lead to expansion and ultimately victory. Members of the disparate noble houses will make connections, sponsor marriages, and go through all sorts of shenanigans to become the top dog of the local sector and the player can participate in this feudal merry-go-round with their entire in-game family.

Star Dynasties’ devotion to its clear inspiration is obvious, but it leaves the game feeling a bit shallow and uninspired as it doesn’t fully utilize the sci-fi setting to its full potential. Star Dynasties is a great start, however, and shows promise that we might see more character-centric sci-fi grand strategy games.

 

6. Stellar Monarch

Stellar Monarch
Stellar Monarch

Developer: Silver Lemur Games
Publisher: Silver Lemur Games
Platform(s): PC

The first real game to go into space with Crusader Kings’ premise, Stellar Monarch is an indie title that heavily emphasizes the idea of hands-off strategic gameplay. It’s always interesting to see how games approach this kind of strategy gameplay, as it rides the line of being an unengaging point-and-click adventure or a compelling and accurate take on governance and ruling.

Stellar Monarch is unfortunately more of a curious experiment that didn’t quite live up to its potential, likely due to a small budget and it clearly shows in the game’s antiquated graphics and clunky UI. There’s still fun to be had as the game does illustrate the challenges of an acting high-level ruler who doesn’t concern themselves with the nitty-gritty of planetary policies, but instead the overall development of the entire nation and its grand military endeavors.

Stellar Monarch’s greatest success lies in this innovative take on strategy, which is refreshing given the majority of the genre’s incessant focus on giving the player more and more control. Sometimes interesting limitations can lead to clever game design and Stellar Monarch has that in spades.

 

5. Europa Universalis 4

Europa Universalis IV
Europa Universalis 4

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

It wouldn’t be a complete list without mentioning Paradox’s other non-Crusader Kings grand strategy offerings. They might not be exactly like their Medieval counterpart, but they still have many similar design features and ideas that are worth looking into.

Europa Universalis 4 is a great sequel piece to Crusader Kings, history-wise, as it picks up during the Late Middle Ages and goes all the way up to the early 19th century, just before the Industrial Revolution. If Crusader Kings focuses more on characters and their plight, Europa Universalis emphasizes diplomacy, conquest, and exploration as the Early Modern era saw the world open up to colonial exploitation, religious upheaval, and naval dominance, all of which is modeled in this monster of a game.

It even has a leg up on Crusader Kings as it models more of the world and gives players an even greater incentive to try different strategies from a wide selection of distinct countries. The sheer scale and the compelling setting alone should give all strategy players a hunger to try out Europa Universalis 4.

 

4. Hearts of Iron 4

Hearts of Iron 4
Hearts of Iron 4

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

Not all of Paradox’s grand strategy games take place over centuries, as Hearts of Iron 4, a World War Two strategy game, can attest. Sometimes all a good grand strategy game needs is a big ol’ conflict and a decent sandbox for players to experiment with to see how they can change history.

Hearts of Iron 4, along with Stellaris, is a Paradox strategy game that is most distant to Crusader Kings as characters really only play supporting roles as generals and politicians while focusing mostly on international diplomacy, production lines, logistics, and war. This gives the game a unique perspective that’s often abstracted or omitted altogether, despite being critical to the success of any war effort.

Hearts of Iron 4, unfortunately, can suffer from a measure of soullessness that many of Paradox’s older games, due to an overreliance on numbers, stats, and modifiers rather than resources that unlock new avenues of decision-making. This issue does little to hinder Hearts of Iron 4’s overall solid gameplay structure and is one of the largest scale WWII games on the market to boot.

 

3. Imperator: Rome

Imperator Rome
Imperator Rome

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

Winding the clock back to Antiquity, Imperator: Rome is Paradox’s most recent return to the rise of Rome and its many conflicts with its neighbors. Though it may have had an infamously rocky launch, Paradox has since refurbished Imperator: Rome into a decent grand strategy game in its own right.

Though characters may not be as integral to the game’s core gameplay, they still play an important role in passing laws and defining the political landscape across the Mediterranean. More impressively, Imperator: Rome differs from Crusader Kings with a great resource and trading system, as well as robust diplomacy feature that can actually model and support a hegemonic approach to international relations, a la the Holy Roman Empire in during the Middle Ages, though without the same kind of blood ties and dynastic struggles.

Paradox has to be commended for the effort they put into revitalizing what seemed to be a dud of a game. Imperator: Rome at this point is definitely one of the best strategy games like Crusader Kings that’s worth your attention almost solely for its arc of redemption.

 

2. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Spheres of Influence

Nobunaga’s Ambition Sphere of Influence
Nobunaga’s Ambition Sphere of Influence

Developer: Koei Tecmo Games
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games, Koei Tecmo, Broadmedia
Platform(s): PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo Switch

One region that doesn’t get quite as much attention in the whole mess of Medieval blood feuds and backstabbing shenanigans is Japan’s Warring States period or Sengoku Jidai. Nobunaga’s Ambition has a long and storied history as a strategy series developed in Japan and, while the series even predates the first Crusader Kings, it shares Paradox’s focus on characters.

If you thought Crusader Kings had a complex system of character management, wait until you get a load of Nobunaga’s Ambition. Though the character system in this game is far less reliant on relationships and role-playing, they’re every bit as integral to the strategic and tactical gameplay as they are to immersing the player in the game’s world and getting attached to their samurai retainers.

Nobunaga’s Ambition does have some annoying idiosyncrasies, such as a clunky UI and control system that can get in the way of the overall enjoyment level. However, these issues aren’t enough to stave off the game’s compelling quality and funky strategy mechanics, unseen in the wider strategy market.

 

1. Suzerain

Suzerain
Suzerain

Developer: Torpor Games
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Nintendo Switch

Suzerain is the odd pick for the list as it skews far closer to being a point-and-click role-playing adventure in the same vein as Stellar Monarch, but there’s just enough character management and strategic decision-making to make it a worthwhile game like Crusader Kings.

Suzerain sees the player taking the role of a recently elected president of a fictional country with the goal of experiencing and living with the consequences of their choices, be it as a compassionate ruler or a despot or something in between.

Suzerain will immediately win Crusader Kings fans over with its simple, beautiful, and informative aesthetics and superb world-building where players will feel like they’re in the game’s alternate world. The character management element in Suzerain is quite similar to Crusader Kings’ system, despite not being as open or sandbox-style in its approach.

The game’s small size is immediately apparent in that the narrative cuts too short and depending on the player’s choices, ends anticlimactically and nonsensically. Nevertheless, Suzerain is a great little strategy role-playing hybrid that boils Crusader Kings down into a small digestible package and makes it one of the best strategy games like Crusader Kings.

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