Ayutthaya Universalis: Building an Empire in Southeast Asia

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV
Ayutthaya (dark green) at the start of the game.
Ayutthaya (dark green) at the start of the game.

The Kingdom of Ayutthaya was the major power in Southeast Asia in the 14th and 15th centuries. Based in the capital of Ayutthaya on the Chao Phraya River, this decentralized Thai kingdom managed to exercise hegemony over the area for many years. Trade rivalry with Malacca and constant wars with neighboring Burmese and Khmer kingdoms typified the history.

EU4 developer diary 38

At the start of Europa Universalis IV, Ayutthaya is a big fish in a small pond. As the largest and strongest state in Southeast Asia, it is still a minnow compared to Ming China and the eventual European invaders. Over the 350 years of the game, I set out to change this. With patience, luck, and the odd save/reload, I succeeded:

Final score.
Final score.

My journey took me from Southeast Asian minor to Asian power; from an Asian power to the Asian power; and from Asian hegemon to one of the world’s Great Powers. This was one occasion when EU4 shone as an “empire-building game”, and I’ve given some thought as to why.

The starting point lies in EU4’s (and, by extension, the entire Europa Universalis series’s) choice of subject. Every Paradox game is about the struggle for power: Crusader Kings is about the struggle between individuals, Victoria is about struggle between states and struggle within states, and Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis are almost entirely about the struggle between states. The player’s tools in EU4 reflect that focus: you fight wars, colonise territory, befriend (or antagonise) other states, send out explorers, merchants, and trade fleets, and unlock bonuses via technology or National Ideas. Other aspects of the period are abstracted or, in the case of the emerging gap between European and non-European powers, taken for granted.

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CA announces Total War: Attila (updated to add video)

Creative Assembly has announced Total War: Attila, a sequel in all but name to 2005’s Rome: Barbarian InvasionEurogamer, IGN, and USGamer (amongst others) have previews up. (Update: I have added a gameplay video above – skip to 4:12. Hat tip to frogbeastegg.)

By way of background, the original Barbarian Invasion was my favourite Total War game until Empire and Shogun 2. If 99% of strategy games are about going from rags to riches, Barbarian Invasion (played as the Romans) was the exception: a game about staving off and ultimately reversing decline. The Western Roman Empire begins with an empty treasury, rioting cities, and mutinous generals – I remember looking at an FAQ, reading that I should have used a certain general to lead my counterattack, and then realising that guy had already rebelled. And after that, they still have the barbarians to worry about! By the time I stabilised the situation, stopped the Huns at the river crossings into Italy, and began my grand counterattack, I felt like a cross between Augustus and Diocletian. Even though I never finished that campaign – my hard drive died partway through – it remains one of the most memorable, unique experiences I’ve had with a strategy game.

Based on the previews, CA understands how much Barbarian Invasion relied on that apocalyptic mood. Here’s a particularly interesting comment from IGN – it suggests that the player must race to prepare for an endgame showdown:

A few turns after the start of the campaign in 395 AD, Attila will be born. Once he grows to adulthood, he’ll lead a nearly unstoppable army of Huns in a terrifying march to the west, steamrolling everyone in his way. Your job, as the ruler of one of the powers in his way, is to prepare your defenses and alliances in order to hold out as best you can or to divert Attila to your weaker neighbors.

Over the game’s 60 to 70 year campaign, which is played out in seasons, certain portents of doom will herald Attila’s coming. These portents coincide with a gradual shift in the snow line, which moves south, pushing Germanic tribes with it. It gets so bad, that some of the toughest towns in the north have three seasons of snow per year. Attila and his forces are not a faction in the traditional sense and can’t be played. They’re more like a force of nature that sweeps across the map, destroying and spoiling everything they touch…

For Attila to succeed, CA will have to avoid its traditional pitfalls – bugs, bad AI, late-game pacing, and sprawl. These problems ensnared Rome II — though from what I hear, a year’s worth of patches have finally turned it into a good game. There’s a lot of potential here… but time will tell if it can be realised.

 

This painting seemed appropriate: "The Course of Empire - Destruction", by Thomas Cole, 1836

(I’ve used the above painting before, during my interview with Jon Shafer about At the Gates. The time seemed ripe to haul it out again.)

Clippings: Xenos and Wastelands

I haven’t forgotten about that Europa Universalis IV piece! I have half of it written, along with half of a first impressions piece about Xenonauts. The short version is, Xenonauts is a clever homage to the original X-COM, and my first seven hours have been a blast – but I wonder if the next seven will be as fun. Perhaps it’s the rose-coloured glasses talking, but Xenonauts‘ ground combat seems slower and more grindy than X-COM‘s. It’s definitely slower and more grindy than Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Just a few links this week:

Musical Tuesday: “Walls No Man Has Seen” (The Banner Saga), composed by Austin Wintory

This week’s song begins slowly, and it’s not as “attention-grabbing” as, say, the music that plays during the finale. Give it 30 seconds. I love how it builds to a higher, hopeful note. Enjoy!
 

 

Change of format this week – I’m including the video on the front page. I’ll revert this if it ends up lagging the page; otherwise, it should spare the need to click through. 

Clippings: Sims, Space, and Seedless

The good news is that The Sims 4 is out. The bad news is that reviews are lukewarm. Read one review, and you’ve pretty much read them all. The consensus is that TS4‘s new features, such as the ability for Sims to multi-task, don’t make up for the loss of TS3 features such as a wide-open neighbourhood. As someone who’s loved The Sims ever since the first game, this is a bit of a disappointment – I think I’ll stick with 3.

One game that has come out of nowhere is space-opera RTS Ancient Space, developed by new studio Creative Forge and published by Paradox. Beyond a couple of good-looking videos, details are scanty. I don’t think I’ve seen a single hands-on preview, and this for a game due out next week. For now, I’m cautious. Once the game’s out, I would love to hear impressions.

Did you know that there was an ill-fated attempt in the ’90s to create a Witcher video game? Meanwhile, The Witcher 3‘s release date – next February – has crept up on me. I still haven’t finished the second game…

What I have finished is my Ayutthaya run in Europa Universalis IV. Good fun! I’m also this close to finishing Final Fantasy X HD, which is very good despite a few flaws. I’ve written part of a follow-up article about EU4, and I will probably post some concluding thoughts on FFX, so stay tuned. And I’m fiddling with a preview build of  Offworld Trading Companyif you have any questions you’d like me to ask Soren Johnson, please leave them in the comments.

In book news, I’ve been reading quite a bit by fantasy author Daniel Abraham. Most recently, I’ve been reading his Long Price Quartet: the first two books are decent and original, the third book was a WHOA, and I hope the fourth will be as good. Here is a good write-up of the series. I hope to add my own write-up about Abraham once I’ve finished the last book.

Lastly, if anyone wants a free copy of the original Warlock: Master of the Arcane, please comment during the next week – I picked up several copies from Humble Bundle promotion. They’ll expire if not redeemed by the 22nd.

 

 

 

Buy Armageddon Empires, one of my favourite strategy games, for $1

The main map of Armageddon Empires. My hand of cards is visible at the bottom.
The main map of Armageddon Empires. My hand of cards is visible at the bottom.

 

Heads up — Armageddon Empires (together with several other games) is $1 at Humble Bundle for another four days.

AE is a 4X post-apocalyptic turn-based strategy game, overlaid with a CCG. Before each match, players choose units, heroes, and buildings for their deck, and the cards on hand determine what can be built on any given turn. I described AE as something that “every strategy aficionado, and certainly every strategy designer, should play” – it’s unique, quick to play, and marvellously evocative of pulp science fiction. At this price, there’s no better chance!

Musical Monday: “Cherry Blossom Color Season” (Katamari Damacy), composed by Yu Miyake

This week’s song is a great, quirky, happy piece from a great, quirky, happy game. It’s perhaps my single favourite from the Katamari soundtrack – no small feat, given how strong the other songs are. Enjoy!

 

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