Between the glamorous weddings, lavish feasts and thrilling hunts with the lads, it's a wonder I have any time to write about Crusader Kings 3 (opens in new tab)'s Tours & Tournaments expansion, which launched at the end of last week. My social calendar is filled to the brim, and the anecdote generator is on fire.
Tours & Tournaments is a granular expansion with a big impact. It takes events like those mentioned above and turns them into much more elaborate storytelling aids and denser systems, giving what would have once been some pop-ups a greater sense of importance and adventure. And in many cases this starts with the journey to the event, as your ruler must physically travel across the map with an entourage, potentially getting into entertaining scrapes.
My first hunt as William the Bastard (soon to be William the Conqueror), saw me kill a wolf before we'd even arrived at the hunting grounds. After selecting my entourage and caravan master—whose skills determine how risky the trip will be—I approved a safe route to our destination, but on the road we encountered a knight being mauled by a forest beastie. We saved him, because we're just nice like that, and he then joined us on our adventure. Depending on the route and a bit of random chance, you might encounter much greater dangers during your travels, but that's balanced out by the opportunities to explore your realm in greater detail and make new pals.
Keeping the throne warm
Every trip can present you with dangers, though—not just because of what might happen to you on your adventure, but what might happen back home, where a regent is looking after your affairs. The new regency system is part of the free update, but through Tours & Tournaments you'll have more chances to explore it. When you're off gallivanting, your regent can try to push changes to your realm, kicking off a tug of war as you try to curb your regent's *ahem* enthusiasm, while they try to grab more power.
You too can enjoy playing regent. In another game, as a minor French count, I muscled my way into the position, pissing off a lot of people higher up the pecking order, and then rapidly tried to push my own vision of the duchy while my duke was taking in the sights of the realm. You can try to wrest power from your liege by leveraging your prestige or piety, but you can also do it simply by doing your job, following your ruler's mandates while they are away. For instance, the duchy needed more gold, so I took a risk and started taxing the Church, hoping that my popularity with the clergy would protect me from unwanted drama.
Whenever you zip off on holiday, then, you're setting the scene for all sorts of crises and opportunities and riveting stories that run the gamut from befriending a baby bird of prey to your entire realm spiralling into civil war. All because you wanted a wee break. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
These activities really emphasise CK3's focus on roleplaying and separate it even more from its already flavourful predecessor. While they give you so many more opportunities to tell your dynasty's story, there are also heaps of mechanical additions, fattening up the already dense systems by giving you more options and more fine control.
Take feasting, for example: this mainstay activity now lets you plan the big event, selecting the menu, guest of honour and purpose of the feast. Splash out on more exotic grub and you'll get a bigger prestige reward, or turn the whole affair into an excuse to murder a rival. Roleplaying and strategy work in perfect tandem to spit out surprising yarns with all sorts of practical rewards—or potentially punishments should things go awry. And this being Crusader Kings, things absolutely do go awry.
Naturally, the titular tours and tournaments are the most involved. Tournaments are expensive, elaborate events which you can start planning long before you can afford to host them. Certain buildings can reduce the cost of specific tournament activities, and you'll want to place them in appropriate provinces—a mountainous area, for instance, is a poorer tournament site than a flat one. When you've got some cash to throw around, that's when you can properly get started, selecting the location, purpose of the tournament—personal glory, recreation, more murder and so on—who your champion will be, and the quality of the accommodation and prizes. Tournament activities include jousts, melees, recitals and even board games.
When you arrive at the tournament you're greeted with a view of the settlement and tournament grounds, which is frankly thrilling after so much time just spent staring at maps and pop-ups. So much of the important work this expansion does is focused on making your realm feel tangible, getting you to physically travel across it, meet its inhabitants and visit places up close. By removing another level of abstraction, Tours & Tournaments makes CK3 a much stronger RPG.
Upon entering the tournament grounds I noticed that I didn't have a high enough qualification score to enter the first competition: the joust. Being a more scholarly ruler I really shouldn't have been jumping on a horse and charging at anyone, but I needed to lead by example and earn myself some glory. Luckily, visiting places like the temple or tavern unlocks opportunities to increase that score. In the tavern, for instance, I entertained the patrons with a tall tale, which was clearly exceedingly well received, since I qualified for the joust.
Sadly, things did not go to plan. I decided I was too honourable to sabotage any of my opponents, and while my strategy during the joust seemed like the safest one, I ended up getting a brutal gash and then unceremoniously got knocked off my horse. To make matters worse, too many people were on one of the stands, which then collapsed. Not being a tyrant, I decided against executing the builders, instead compensating the bereaved relatives. What a lovely boy I am. Each activity gives you ample opportunities to screw over the opposition and select your approach, while navigating random crises, and even with a loss you can walk away with a compelling anecdote or two.
Tours, meanwhile, are a fantastic way to get to know your realm and vassals. As William the Conqueror, this became imperative after I stole the English crown. My realm was full of potential enemies and rivals who saw me as an invader. I could travel the realm collecting gold, spreading dread, or showing off my majesty. Since diplomacy was the goal, I went with the latter.
I visited a cultural festival in Kent and showed off my benevolence by hiring a physician for an injured entertainer, and I made some new pals in the form of some wee street urchins. I developed a bond with a duke over our common love of hunting, and then beat up a drunk in a pub. Each stop ensures several event sequences, and between them there's the chance for all sorts of adventures on the road. Tours, then, are one of the best ways to develop your ruler as you revel in all the roleplaying opportunities. By the time I was done, my control over my new realm was significantly stronger, and I'd made plenty of new mates. What more could I ask for?
This is easily my favourite CK3 expansion, and a high point for the whole series, pushing many of the best parts of the grand strategy romp to the fore. I noticed that throughout I was mostly sticking to low speeds because there was just so much going on. Before Tours & Tournaments, CK3 was already riveting, but there were also big gaps where not much was happening, resulting in me kicking up the game speed while I perused menus. Now I'm engaged more frequently and for longer stretches.
While I started with William the Conqueror, I recommend taking a lesser noble for a spin first. With fewer big wars and crises and squabbling vassals to worry about, you can really focus on the expansion's best bits. That said, it pairs very nicely with the Royal Court expansion, which is mostly interested in monarchs, so I still had a superb time with Big Bill. Ultimately, it should elevate any playthrough, making it feel pretty much essential, especially for roleplayers.