One of my best buys in the last year or so is Europa Universalis IV. It’s a grand strategy game from the grand strategy experts at Paradox Studios. For some reason, I hadn’t heard of the series until Europa Universalis III was on one of those ridiculous sales on Steam, and I bought it for probably 5 Euros or something like that. The problem, as often is the case with those sales, is that I ended up with several games, and EU III fell off the radar again, not the least because is already was quite old at the time and the graphics were… well. Not quite up to par any more. Also it looked complicated, which, I guess, is the whole idea of grand strategy games, but I never got around to wrap my head around its intricacies.
Enter EU IV, which was on sale a few months ago. Even though my last 9 months were very deprived of game time (writing my dissertation and silly things like that), I managed to rack up quite a large amount of hours. In fact, just last week, it managed to dethrone the previous king of play time, GTA IV (plus expansions)… which really surprised me back when I noticed, because I never felt I had played that much GTA… oh well.
In honor of the occasion, I’ll try, for the first time, to write a more detailed description of what I do in a game, with a plan to do so over several installments. It will be some sort of AAR (After Action Report), and I’ll try to make it understandable to people who have no idea about the game. The reason is threefold: First, I want to have a chance to have something to write about regularly, if I can’t think of anything else. Second, I hope it’ll entertain my readers, and maybe make some of them interested in the game. Finally, I hope it will remind me to take more screenshots while I’m playing. I noticed that one of my largest problems is that I want to write about something, but I need visuals to show what I mean. But I generally forgot to take screenshots while I’m playing, and later on regret it. So for this series, I’ll try to take screenshots until I’m blue in the face.
Despite the fact that I’m now beyond 200 hours played, I still don’t feel like I have an in-depth understanding of all the mechanics in the game. My games so far were mostly land expansion based: I played France, a suggested choice for first-timers, because their armies have strong bonuses and make it easy to conquer and defend. I then played Poland, reforming into Commonwealth. Next, I played the Palatinate, and went expanding within the Holy Roman Empire. Finally, my last game was with the Ottomans, going for one of their special nation goals, “Unify Islam”, which basically required you to expand the Ottomans, a small regional power in 1444, into pretty much the borders of the Umayyad Caliphate (plus Anatolia and Greece). And because a post talking so much about taking more screenshots should at least have one, here’s the end of the campaign, when I reached that goal:
For this new campaign, I want to try out something else. Whereas before I mostly did land-based expansion, this time I want to build a world-wide colonial empire, with dominance on the seas, powerful trade steering, and colonial viceroyalties. At the same time, I don’t want to ignore Europe completely, but rather try to expand there by alliances, marriages and personal unions instead of the sheer power of armies. Thus, I chose Spain for this game. Only, there’s no Spain in 1444, so I’ll go with Castile.
I’ll also play Ironman, which is one of the coolest features of the game. In Ironman mode, your save game is saved in the (Steam) cloud. You cannot save and load manually, and the game is automatically saved almost constantly. This means that save scumming is almost impossible. I have a tendency to get onto the slippery slope of save scumming in my games. It generally starts with innocent curiosity: “I wonder how the game behaves if I do A. It might be catastrophic, though, so good thing I can roll back!”. It progresses to “I don’t think I can take this nation, especially if its allies join. Let’s see if they do if I declare war!”, and ends up in depravity with “I bet I can win a war against this far more powerful nation if I just get lucky and win this 1:3 odds battle between the main forces. I bet it won’t take more than a dozen reloads until it ends in my favor!”. Ironman mode is probably the killer feature that made me play this game so much (as opposed to Civ V, for example, which I paid more for, and which I played a lot less): it protects myself from my save-scumming tendencies, and keeps the tension: a bad decision might actually cost me dearly, with no way to undo it. It also makes me more risk-averse, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
So. Castile. Ironman mode. The date is November 11, 1444. For reference, this is the state of Europe: (Like always, click for larger version)
Note how France is fractured, though many of those minor states are its vassals. The Hundred Years’ War is still trucking. The Emirate of Granada still controls southern Spain. Germany and Italy are divided between many powers (no surprise there, they’ll still be 400 years later in “vanilla” history). The king of Castile is a simpleton:
Next time, I’ll start in earnest, writing about the first few years into the campaign. Who to ally? Who to rival? Expand where and how? And the most important: when will the next major patch roll around, and will it mess with old save games like 1.9 last year, which put Brazil into Russia and unexplored colonial provinces into Sweden (I hope not!)?