Today I’m going to talk to you about Grand-Strategy games. I like Grand-Strategy games. Typically they can be lighter on things like graphics and visuals, but they possess so much depth and potential options that it provides a nice counter-balance. Plus as someone with an active imagination, I also get a kick out of visualising events in my head anyway. One of the leaders in grand-strategy is a company called Paradox Interactive, and they’ve got several key franchises, each focusing on a different theme. Hearts of Iron for warfare, Victoria for Economy, Crusader Kings focuses on the human aspect of ruling a kingdom and politics, and Europa Universalis is blend of everything.
I went to see them in Iceland recently, and they’ve got a lot of great titles in their line-up for these games – expansions for Victoria 2 and Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, March of the Eagles, a Hearts of Iron spin-off called East vs. West (Which looks amazing). You’ll be able to see my coverage of these games dotted around the place, mainly on Strategy Informer, but it’s caused me to have a bit of a relapse into some of the older games – especially Victoria 2.
Victoria 2 is in itself a bit of a paradox – essentially it’s a game that focuses on the industrial revolution, so the economy system is very robust. You have a detailed population interface, with everyone having different jobs and you have to make sure you provide for all their needs. You can open different types of factories, which all require different types of resources that you can either find from within your nation or export from elsewhere. This is backed up by a very hands-on political system, where you have different parties and philosophies that your people with vote on (some political parties, for example, won’t let you build your own factories, letting the private investors do it for you). There’s also the diplomatic stage, where you compete with other great powers to draw minor nations into your sphere of influence, which gives you priority over trade. Essentially, they didn’t want this game to be a wargame, like the previous title they release – Hearts of Iron III.
The funny thing is though, as the name suggest, the game is set within the backdrop of the late 19th century colonial era. The scramble for Africa is accurately represented through a colonisation interface, there are the eastern nations you can interact with, and there were a lot of wars during this period. The 1871 Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian-Austrian War, the Zulu war in South Africa… the game’s time span stretches all the way to 1935, so you’ve got the First World War in there as well. None of these events are prescribed in the game – there are tools and systems in place for such events to happen. It’s strange then that they’d focus the game so much on economy, during a time where there was a fair share of fighting. And it’s not like you can sit back and avoid the fighting either. In order to be a great power, you need to have high prestige, a good industry, and a large army, and an easy way to get prestige is to fight wars. The military side of things though is rather tame – you can build three different types of units – Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, and there are several variations you can get as you climb up the tech tree. (Tanks and Aeroplanes do appear very late in the game as well, although they don’t fit quite as neatly.)
Armies can be controlled by generals, and there are plenty of military techs you can research to make your military more efficient, but when it comes down to it a war is all about making sure your army stack is bigger than the other guys… like how Civilization used to be. At the time, it was a bit of a let down from the wonderful deep combat systems of Hearts of Iron III, and now, playing through it again, I can’t help but think it’d benefit loads from the developments made in March of the Eagles.
What I so like about Victoria 2 though is the long-term goals you can achieve. Crusader Kings II is good for this as well, in a way, as you can form De Jure Kingdoms and Empires eventually if you conquer/vassalise the right people. Victoria 2 has similar system in place for certain countries. Choose any of the Italian states, for example, and provided you can reach Great Power status you can work on bringing the rest into your sphere of influence (or just out-right conquer them), and then form the nation of Italy. Play as either Austria or Prussia (or any of the other German states, I think, although it’s much harder with them), and you can initially form the South or North German Confederation respectively, and then go on to create the German Empire. Austria also has the option to become Austria-Hungary, as it did in history. There are other ones as well for other key nations, some interesting, some not… Denmark or Sweden, for example can form an a-historical ‘Scandinavian’ nation, which I did once, although since the expansion it’s harder as you essentially have to fight Prussia for a particular territory, and you have to work really hard or get some powerful friends to become stronger than Sweden.
In my current play-through, I played as Prussia, with the eventual aim of forming Germany (going through a bit of a Germanic phase right now). The first step – forming the North German Confederation – is the easy part (relatively). You start with most of the key states under your sphere of influence; you only need to fight Austria (and maybe Denmark) for the rest. Provided you get your act together quickly enough, you can attack Austria before they have any chance of forming any decent alliances, and boom, North German Confederation. The hard part was forming Germany though, as the last few key provinces I needed were held by France, who is typically stronger than you, and in my game by the time I got around to looking their way, they had several key alliances which meant I would be fighting a war on multiple fronts. To my shame, I played a game where every so often, I’d start the war to see who joined which side (we shared several allies), and even play it out a bit to see how easy it would be… it didn’t work I, I reloaded to a save I made just before I declared war. Took a couple of goes and some more diplomatic shenanigans before I found a scenario that was favourable.
The ‘Great War’ of 1900-1905 (eventually, wars that contain multiple great powers are called ‘Great Wars’ in the game, to simulate the First World War) was North German Confederation and my lackeys, Italy, Great Britain and perhaps a couple of others, versus France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Russia. It was the best chance I was going to get, and experience through fighting out the previous attempts gave me ideas to keep the Russians pinned on that front, allowing me to fully concentrate on the French. Essentially, the war boiled down to a massive dog-pile in Strasbourg, with two huge stacks going toe-to-toe for the whole war. Italy proved quite effective in fighting France in the south, while Great Britain kept the French navy at bay and also went for their overseas territories. I used what few stacks weren’t tied up to take out Belgium – which was harder than it should of been – and support my allies whilst making a play for Paris. Eventually, the French army just broke, and it was only after I’d occupied all of their territories that they finally gave in. Three Cheers for Germany!
It was kind of interesting to watch the balance of power change after that – every nation on the losing side of a Great War has to ‘capitulate’, so they get rid of half their army, and other reparations as well. It removed France and Russia from the Great Power list completely, and at the time of wiring France is in the sphere of influence of The Netherlands, of all places. Russia is in the pocket of Austria, who I’ve just gone to war with as they’ve been sitting pretty gathering strength for too long. So far, the ‘Second Great War’ is going well for me.
All Hail the Fatherland.