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Crusader Kings III was released a week or so ago, mostly to critical acclaim. I, too, have played the new release, and enjoyed it thoroughly. However, the while the new map is significantly better than its predecessor, the matter of where the edges are drawn is still causing me a bit of unease. Do they actually reflect real geographical and/or cultural discontinuities/separations/gulfs/etc in the medieval world?

This is what the map looks like for the 867 AD start.

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And this is my take on the four edges: north, west, east and south.

North

This, I think, is the least contentious edge. The 'wide and wasteful' arctic ocean presents an impossible barrier even today. The only things north of Norway's North Cape are Svalbard and the ice cap, neither of which were inhabited in medieval times.

The closest thing to a criticism of the map's northern edge that I can think of would be that large parts of northern Russia have been excluded from the game. But these regions are sparsely populated even today, and had little impact even on Russia's more temperate climes.

West

This, again, is fairly uncontroversial. Leif Erikson may have landed in America, but the true significance of his voyages wasn't realised until centuries later. Even Madeira wasn't discovered until 1420, so the Atlantic makes a good western edge.

East

This edge would be the one that has aroused the most controversy amongst the community, but I personally am quite happy about it. The Gobi desert is a natural barrier between China and Mongolia, just as the Himalayas are a natural barrier between China and Tibet (or between Tibet and the rest of China, depending on your politics). If you're going to exclude China from the map, this is the way to do it.

For me, the one question mark over the eastern edge is the cutoff between Burma/Myanmar and Bangladesh. Perusing Google maps, there are almost no roads joining the two modern day countries, and Bengali is an Indo-European language whereas Burmese is Sino-Tibetan. On the other hand, Burma was part of British India. Is this a reasonable place to draw such an absolute border? Was there much contact between Bengal and Burma in the middle ages?

South

The southern edge represents the biggest change from CK2's map, which had drawn a straight line through both Ethiopia and Mali. The new edge is a massive improvement, but I still have two queries:

  1. The western-most cutoff on the southern edge is around the Gulf of Guinea. I remember reading that dense jungle around what is now Cameroon prevented Islam from spreading any further south into Africa. Is that true? Was there much contact Southern and West Africa in the middle ages?
  2. The most questionable boundary, for me, is the eastern-most cutoff of the southern edge, in southern Somalia. Was there much contact between Somalia and Kenya in the middle ages? A brief perusal of Wikipedia suggests that there was; Ibn Battuta spent the night in Mombasa. But I'd be eager to hear a more learned opinion on this one.
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    The Gobi desert is not a natural barrier between China and Mongolia. Much of it is not even desert. Which is why the Chonese again and again built walls along their northern border. – Jan Sep 9 '20 at 14:51
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    You give good answers yourself. The game has to stop somewhere - each country more increase computational costs. Burma/Bangladesh is a relatively narrow geographic bottleneck (little roads even today, as you say), and if you include all Burma besides coastal lands you'd have to include all of Indochina. Sahara+Gulf+Islam stopping at African Forest, at least it stops at a biome/religious frontier. If they go south from Kenya, it would be harder to fit the map into a rectangle, this might be arbitrary. And China would be too large and politically complex to represent - it just stops before it. – Luiz Sep 9 '20 at 15:00
  • @Luiz Thanks, I'm especially interested in that southern edge, and the Somalia-Kenya border in particular. I was thinking of doing my next playthrough in Somalia. Could I, playing as a monarch of a realm centred on Mogadishu, reasonably imagine that the lands to the south are only as developed as Siberia? Does that stand up to historical scrutiny? I'm worried about being so well-informed that I lose my immersion and my emotional investment in the game! – Tom Hosker Sep 9 '20 at 15:58
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    They have to have blank spots to put the inevitable "East Asia" DLC – Gort the Robot Sep 9 '20 at 16:29
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    I got your pain. If you are on the eastern edge, you can fancy that the Chinese Emperor is on a (centuries long) isolationist mood. But on Somalia, you can not bring yourself to fancy that Kenya is a black hole. Guess, no game can be perfect. – Luiz Sep 9 '20 at 17:15

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