Tim assumed I'd want to play the Teutonic Knights - the playboy Crusader order that savaged the Baltic states just to show off what they'd learned in the wars of the Middle East. But no. I actually wanted to give those self-righteous Christians a kicking, and play as the last pagan nation in Europe: Lithuania. My soldiers might be unsophisticated and unruly, but by the Gods I'm going to give those Bible bashers what for.
These are the kind of militant options that Kingdoms, the Medieval II expansion pack, gives you. Instead of simply taking on the whole of the Old World and a chunk of the New in one giant campaign, it focuses a little closer on the history. You're playing the individual decades of war that made Europe, America and the Middle East such extreme and bloody places to live in those earlier times, and they make superb scenarios.
There are four modules to choose from, each one bringing you a specific theatre of pike-hefting, and a handful of factions that make up that specific conflict. This means you get less overall variety than in the original game, but also far more access to quick and gripping campaigns that have unique factions, unique cities, unique events, and unique units.
With a bit of effort you should be able to fight through one of the modules in a weekend and a day, but you can still come back to it from another angle too. Once I've satiated my pagan urges with the Lithuanians I can come back and enjoy commanding the expensive, powerful cavalry-led armies of the Teutonic Order itself. Once my enraged Welshmen rule the British Isles I can spend some time as King Edward.
So let's take a look at the four iron-clad campaigns. You can choose to play whichever one you like after installation, but I suspect for quite a few people the Britannia campaign will come first. This is the classic unification of England in Medieval times.
Assuming you play as England (and you might well want to play as one of the other great factions of Albion, or Norway) you'll be starting with those central southern regions and working outwards. As you fight you'll encounter a load more historical situations that will change the course of your campaign.
You might have to face the Baron's Alliance as they try to usurp the monarchy, or if you're the Welsh king you might be facing tough duels in the border counties as you attempt to cement your position against England. Britannia is a superb campaign that encompasses the full range of early Medieval warfare.
Also fully rooted in the mire of temperate Medieval swords and shield stuff are the Teutonic Wars. These have a superb Eastern European feel to them, with lots of muddy or icy battlefields.
Some of the largest battles of the early Middle Ages took place as the Teutonic Order and Poland duked it out with Lithuania and the powers of the East, and you can recreate those battles readily. If you're Lithuania you can choose to convert to Catholicism (never!) and open up more advanced units types, at the cost of losing all your native pagan soldiers.
Other factions get involved in the region via events and missions, such as the Union of Kalmar (pesky Crusading nobles) and the Hanseatic League (Medieval multi-national corporation, trading their way to dominance in the Baltic area). This is a really interesting fight, but much easier if you're the Teutonic chaps. You've got excellent knight units and a focus on castle building to make you into a military superpower.
The campaign I was initially least excited about was the Americas. Perhaps it's simply that I have less interest in that particular period of history, but it might also be with the kinds of units I end up fielding. I play Medieval II for the massed cavalry charges, the Crusader sieges, and loads of heavily-armoured men clubbing each other with maces.