This is the eighth in a series of reviews looking at the evolution of Crusader Kings II. See the previous reviews here:
Crusader Kings II:
The Second Crusade
The Old Gods: That Old-Time Religion
Sons of Abraham: A Little of Everything
Rajas of India: My Elephant for a Kingdom
Charlemagne: Back in Time
Way of Life: The Short Way
Horse Lords: For the Horde

Paradox took a while while to announce the another CK II expansion after Horse Lords, but when they did, it turned out to be focused largely on the inner workings of the realm (while most expansions had been focused on expanding the scope of the game), and hoped to increase mid- to late-game challenge.

Conclave came out on January 1, 2016, alongside patch 2.5, which featured the same ability to log into your Paradox account from the launcher that had recently been introduced to EU IV.

Shattered Combat

Combat came in for a round of changes again. In this case, the number of casualties from each day of combat was reduced. This only has a moderate effect in modest realms as a multiplier was taken out that was causing what was considered excessive losses in huge armies. Overall, the plan was to make combat less decisive, so that one battle would not make the main army useless, and not decide a war completely on that basis.

To aid with this, shattered retreat was brought over from EU IV, so that a defeated army will automatically try to retreat some distance to somewhere ‘safe’, where it can regain morale. Also, an army in friendly territory will start regaining a few men every month, instead of them going to the appropriate muster/garrison.

Overall, the differences are somewhat subtle. The ability to rotate armies ‘home’ for some reinforcing is welcome, but outside of large realms (admittedly, this is more aimed at the experience of the Holy Roman Emperor), shattered retreat isn’t accompanied by the ‘blocking’ action of forts in EU IV, so its still not too hard to chase down a defeated army for another defeat, and so just makes the ‘ping ponging’ that Paradox was working to eliminate take longer.


Children got a rework in the expansion. Normally, they had need of a guardian/educator at age 6, and were then with that character until something happens to him or until the child is considered an adult at 16, when he/she gets all their main traits. Along the way, the child had a chance of picking up traits from the guardian, as well as some form of the guardian’s education trait (and… could even pick up that character’s religion and culture).

With Conclave, childhood is in three parts (including the 0-5 pre-education phase which didn’t really change). In childhood (6-11), they get a focus (akin to the ones used in Way of Life), which determines what kind of (new, child-specific) traits they get. At age 12, they switch to an education focus, which will eventually turn into the education trait at 16.

A lot of the effect of the guardian is taken out, and you can’t really drift cultures and religions that way anymore. The childhood focus generally determines what childhood traits are likely, and those determine which educational focus will be the best fit, with poor fits causing lower-level traits, and good fits making high-level ones likely. Similarly, primary attribute growth is more directly tied to the parents’ base attributes, though the educator can intervene, if he has an appropriate trait and direct the child towards a positive, rather than negative trait.

There are ten childhood foci (two per attribute, just like the normal ones in WoL), all with their own likely traits, which then tend to turn into adult traits. So overall, it’s a much more robust and natural system. I’m not sure how much difference in attribute scores there tends to be between the two, but the results certainly feel more natural.

Diplomacy & Favors

The diplomatic system was overhauled, with marriages now creating non-aggression pacts, which can then lead to alliances. This requires good relations with the ally as well as… relations. Close relatives can also become allies, and while they are rarer, alliances can now automatically pull someone into a war, making them a bit more certain than in the past.

A version of EU IV’s coalitions showed up with the patch as well, though they were renamed defensive pacts in a patch to give a better idea of their purpose. Conquering land generates a threat value with everyone around you, and when it gets high they start entering defensive pacts with each other (this is almost a direct return of ‘badboy’ ratings from earlier EU games). If you go to war with one member, all the other members automatically go to war with you.

Threat does decline over time, and members of the pact will drop out again once threat gets low enough. But it’s not too hard for the pact to feel futile, as the defensive pact is still too small to deal with your expanding realm. But of course, taking land from them drives up threat, and the pact gets bigger….

And finally, the expansion introduced favors, akin to what had just appeared in EU IV: The Cossacks. However, there it was just a brake on using an alliance offensively, and here it’s a more full-featured system in keeping with the personal nature of the game. I find the favors are a little rarer in use than I’d like to see, but there are a number of ways to get one (including providing a hefty amount of cash, though that also requires that they like you). Once a character owes you a favor, you can use it to pressure them into certain actions, such as leaving a faction, or joining yours.


The central feature of the expansion however was the council. Along with the original five positions that help with certain ‘realm scores’, and do tasks such as aiding research and diplomacy, the men in those positions are on the council, which can have little, or great effect, depending. Additionally, kings have an extra advisor seat on the council, and emperors have two.

A new faction goal is to increase the council’s power. The first step is to empower it as a potential decision-making body at all, and then there are seven types of things that can be made into a council decision, instead of the ruler’s, including declaring wars, granting titles, and so on. This is a new tab in the laws section, which got a general overhaul as part of this.

Whereas before council positions were generally a matter of appointing the most qualified person who liked you enough not to stab you in the back (quite literally for the spymaster), now your most powerful vassals expect to be on the council, and get very upset (making them more likely to plot against you, or join factions) if they are not. You can still ignore this, but since they are the powerful nobles, it’s not a group you can afford to have angry with you, even if they are all simpletons.

Once on the council, a character has an attitude that determines largely how they will vote. The three general attitudes are pragmatist (opposes challenging wars, and creating other strong vassals), glory hound (favors a strong realm and wars against stronger opponents), and zealot (favors enforcing his religion in the realm). Some may also be loyalists (who will generally follow the liege’s lead) and malcontents (will oppose anything the king wants that doesn’t grant him power).

All of this adds to the power tug-of-war that CK II has built in to its structure for some time. A relatively weak and unpopular king can be bullied into signing away much of his power to the council (largely through faction demands), limiting his (and his heir’s) options. On the other hand a council can be a way of approving a number of centralization options as the council gets a say in it. Not only can a well-respected king swing members of the council around, but favors can be used to get votes.


This is the second time CK II looked more internally than just expanding the scope of the game, and is very successful at it. Way of Life is a ‘take it or leave it’ expansion, that is generally good, but doesn’t necessarily add a lot to the game as a whole. Conclave is a great expansion of one of the core features that is important to every titled character, and does a good job with it.

I’m a little more iffy on the changes to combat in the patch, but it didn’t really break anything either. The overall changes to diplomacy are something of a wash… except that favors are also a big help to the council system. My biggest disappointment is that I feel the rework of childhood should have gone into the main game, rather than splitting it off into the expansion.

If you like CK II as a medieval drama generator (which is the main reason to like it), this expansion delivers more of that. This is the best ‘general use’ expansion, and short of wanting one of the “scope” features of another expansion, this would be a good first expansion to get.