Crusader Kings II, by Paradox Interactive, 2012, $39.99 (Windows/PC)

In Crusader Kings II you control a medieval dynasty between 1066 and 1453. As a Christian noble, your goals are to expand your borders, fill your coffers and ascend the hierarchy to become king or emperor. Gameplay centers on character-level narratives: Marry well, father progeny and die, then continue play as your own heir. The game features a genetics and education system by which heirs inherit the traits, culture, religion and skills of parents and educators. Thus marriage itself becomes a strategy. You must also forge alliances, build your forces, quell rebellions and enemy invasions, fight the Crusades and interact with such medieval giants as William the Conqueror and Heinrich IV.

The complexity of gameplay means you’ll need to spend several hours learning the ropes. Another drawback is the intense focus you must employ just to keep your fiefdom afloat. But once you do master the controls, Crusader Kings II is a medieval history buff’s game in shining armor.

 —Ryan Burke