Europa Universalis: Crown of the North
Europa Universalis: Crown of the North gives grand strategy treatment to a short time period and a small area of the globe. Covering Scandinavia during the early Middle Ages, the limited subject and scope of Crown of the North would have seriously risked a Not Recommended rating here. Luckily the product includes a full version of its ground-breaking forebear, Europa Universalis 2. So considering it's a consumer bargain and has its own merits, it lands squarely in the Fans Only area.
If nothing else, the title illustrates the versatility of the basic game engine. It can depict an entire epoch as in the four hundred years covered in EU2, or the entire globe during a few years as with Hearts of Iron and World War II, or a short but critical span of the history of a specific geographical area. With Crown of the North a student of history can play through a little known series of events and come away with a deeper appreciation of the nation-forming in the northland after the Viking era.
Here you play a personage rather than a country, one of the handful of powerful warlords to emerge from the Dark Ages to forge the nations of the North. You may choose to follow the path of one of the best-named kings from this or any time, Haakon V, and work toward consolidating the lands that would become Norway.
It's quick, simpler and more fluid game play. There are no glacial philosophical doctrine controls where a setting can be changed once every ten game years, and no voluminous technology tree. It's 'build an army and decide where to attack.'? Or sit tight and watch how things develop with the other kings. Naval action is minimal, but the descendants of the Viking long ships are available and are handy for ferrying troops
Careful attention must be paid to four major factions: nobles, peasants, burghers and clergy. They react to events and to your decisions in self-interested ways. High regard from all of them at once is difficult to achieve and sustain. Their respect, the winning of battles, elimination of rivals and behaving with honor all translate into victory points.
The Europa Universalis II that ships with the game will install alongside your previous installation, differentiating with the Roman numeral II rather than the number 2. There's no separate installation of three bonus EU2 variants that are included so you'll have to install the new EU II to get at them, essentially as separate games, through your Windows Start menu. The scenario editor is included and it doesn't appear you lose anything if you take out your old EU2 install.
Unfortunately Crown of the North includes no period music. This is disappointing considering the collections that shipped with the previous titles. Music adds a lot and is missed.
So, as with the others in this clan of strategy games, choose your message settings, set a comfortable game speed and play along with the Scandinavians.