Flash of Steel header image 2

Lionheart: King’s Crusade – The Politics of War

October 27th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Design, Medieval

I am still in the early moments of Lionheart: King’s Crusade. I am reviewing it for Gameshark, so I’ll leave any expansive comments on its quality for there once I am sure how I feel about it. Like Neocore’s last game, King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame, it makes some interesting design decisions in the battle mode that I am not entirely comfortable with, but it is otherwise a major step forward for the developer.

One interesting decision they have made is to try to model the Crusader army as a bunch of factions that you as King Richard can court or ignore. Each of the four factions (France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Templars and the Pope) present you with battle plans that serve their own interests and whichever one you choose to support earns you a little favor. You can then spend this favor on bonuses and support from that group (hero units, special powers, morale improvements, etc.)

Anyone who has read about Richard’s crusade knows that this is not much of an approximation of how things went down in the Holy Land. Richard kicked some butt in Cyprus, had to deal with a bunch of people who wanted to become King of Jerusalem and spent some time getting dissed by the French. The politics of the the Crusade was not about how to get people to like him as much as it was getting people to stop screwing up what he was trying to do.

The entropy of alliances is hard to model in games. Here in this medieval conflict, the Christian rulers all had an incentive to cooperate but also had their own agendas that often collided and led to bad feelings. Richard may have been the greatest soldier king in Europe, but he wasn’t the boss. Lionheart makes him the hero, of course, following on centuries of tapestries and stories and folk tales. But the politics is largely reduced to a shopping spree; you accumulate favor more than you diminish it. You have complete control of the battlefield. No snooty king or uppity knight is going to do anything to steal your glory.

Given the state of the AI in a AAA game like Civilization, I certainly don’t expect Neocore to surprise me with political machinations or a Pope who feels like a pope. I might have to wait for Crusader Kings 2 to get anything near this and even there, I expect more soap opera stuff than diplomatic drama.

But I do want an historical game that demonstrates the fragility of these alliances. Romance of the Three Kingdoms comes closest; heroes can be lured from one side or another, captured and converted or killed. But even here there isn’t much sense that the heroes have their own desires beyond being pushed toward an enemy. Maybe I am asking for too much, but this is really the diplomatic game holy grail.

More on Lionheart later.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • FhnuZoag

    Curiously, I’m playing a freeform rpg thing that seems to be trying to model this. The factions of the game are groups of PCs, and theoretically all the factions are allied, and all the PCs should be loyal to their particular factions. Everyone should be fighting the common enemy. But everyone has different goals to go after, arrogant general characters and stealthy spy characters constantly mess things up (or try to repair the alliance). And meanwhile the enemy is doing sneaky assassinationy stuff meant to divide us.

  • Paul

    I’m looking forward to this review as I rather liked a lot of what they did with Arthur, but I really have a hard time enjoying the battles, which is a shame when the game is so centered around them.

    I was happy to see James Allen do a review of the game, but since he didn’t play Arthur I was a little disappointed in his review for not being able to draw distinctions between the two games. Certainly not his fault, but I had hoped he’d give me some better insight than what I was getting on the GWJ forums. So, Troy, I look to you.

  • frags

    I kinda thought King Arthur was better. Or at least I had more fun playing that(with all the spell casting in battle). Anyway, looking forward to your review.

  • Chris

    Sigh, once again the Knights Templar get the spotlight instead of the Knights Hospitaller. I’m used to it, but it always makes me sad.

  • Peter S (Mind Elemental)

    I would kill for a Westeros game that focused on diplomatic and familial interactions. There’s been little detail released about AGOT: Genesis, but I doubt they’ll take their inspiration from games as obscure as Crusader Kings and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

  • Greggo

    as of this writing, your lionheart review for gameshark hasn’t been published yet… what’s happening? Would definitely like to know your take on this, considering I enjoyed King Arthur