Let’s Play EU4: Common Sense! Pt 2: East Meets West

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

Report of the Spanish ambassador to Meiguo, 1600

In the three months since I departed Your Majesty’s presence, I have travelled first to our colony of New Spain, then thousands of miles north overland. I write to you now from the court of Meiguo, on the shores of another sea.

Like ourselves, the rulers of Meiguo are not native to the New World. They trace their ancestry to a deposed emperor of China, who fled his home near two centuries ago. Since arriving, they have extended their reach far south and east: they abut our colonies in Mexico, and also along the Rio Grande.

While Meiguo’s domains are vast, they are sparsely populated. I saw few towns during our journey north; I will be surprised if these lands contribute much to the Meiguo purse.

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Let’s Play EU4: Common Sense! Part 1: Welcome to Meiguo

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

In 1402, the Ming Emperor’s uncle usurped the throne.

The imperial palace burned.

According to one legend, the Emperor survived, and fled overseas; Zheng He’s fleets were dispatched to hunt him down.

What if the Emperor made it further than Zheng could have dreamed?

Hello, and welcome back to my coverage of Europa Universalis IV. Since I last wrote about EU4, it has received a further two expansions – El Dorado, which added a custom nation designer, and the newly released Common Sense. For my current game, I will play as Meiguo, a Chinese custom nation on the west coast of North America.

This is Meiguo in 1456, 12 years after the game began:

EU4 Welcome to Meiguo

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My Games of 2014

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

Welcome back to another Game of the Year list. This year, I’ve tweaked the format again — many of the games I played in 2014 were released in previous years. Sometimes, I played the old game “as is”; sometimes, I played a new port or an expanded version of the old game. So I’ve broken this post down into two parts. First, I review the accomplishments of 2014. And second, I take a look back at the notable games I played, whether or not they were originally released that year.

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The Qing in the North: Reflections on Europa Universalis IV: Art of War

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

The Manchu conquest of Ming China, in which a much smaller, younger state managed to overthrow the greatest empire in the world, is one of those episodes in history that seems tailor-made for a grand strategy game. After recent versions of Europa Universalis IV (the Art of War expansion, the accompanying 1.8 patch, and the subsequent 1.9 patch) fleshed out East Asia and Siberia, I was eager to give the Manchu a spin.

Here are the Jianzhou Jurchens at the start of the game. Historically, their leaders forged a new “Manchu” state and went on to establish China’s final imperial dynasty, the Qing:

EU4 Jianzhou Start

It took me three attempts1 to successfully follow in their footsteps. Similar to my pre-Art of War Ayutthaya game, there was a nice progression:

1. Building a power base to the north of Ming China. I began by subjugating the other Manchu tribes, Siberia, and chunks of Korea, and by the 1510s, I was strong enough to fight off a Ming invasion attempt. My counterattack took the northern tip of China, around Beijing. I took the screenshot below shortly before my war with Ming:

EU4 Jianzhou Phase 1

2. Pushing into China proper, and Westernising. As early as the 1560s, I was planting outposts on the west coast of North America while simultaneously fighting the Russians to a standstill. Decades later, the Ming were still a paper tiger: after a second war, I briefly held all of coastal China down to the wealthy Yangtze delta. A vicious burst of revolts in occupied China was only a temporary setback: by 1630 I had picked up Western technology (courtesy of my American colonies). The screenshot below depicts the situation a couple of decades later, by which point  it was simply a matter of…

EU4 Qing Phase 2

3. Mopping up. Once I controlled a decent chunk of China, my manpower, wealth, and technological edge allowed me to snowball through the rest. I spent the rest of the 1600s and 1700s absorbing the remainder of China, fighting the odd war against Europeans, and bullying nearby minnows.

Here are my borders at the end of the game (note that Siberia was a client state of mine). Had I wanted to, I could have pushed much further — I had a standing army of over 180,000 men, manpower reserves of another 300,000, maximum technology, and the most provinces of any nation in the world:

EU4 Qing EndgameOverall, I had great fun, perhaps more so in the first half of the campaign. I think the second half was held back by a common genre problem — EU4’s mechanics don’t scale well to large empires. Otherwise, I am very pleased with the current version of the game, which addresses one of my longest-running complaints with the series. Even with its late-game problems, I think EU4 is a very good strategy game; and I particularly appreciate that the developers have fleshed out my favourite aspect — the world beyond Europe. If you haven’t played EU4, or if you played back at launch, this would be a great time to jump in.

I’ve divided the rest of this post into several sections. Below, I elaborate on EU4‘s design (and the state of the game). If you’d like to try forming the Qing, skip to the mini-guide at the end of this post.

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  1. For all three attempts, I played in Ironman mode, which prevents save/reload, gives selected European AI countries a “lucky nations” bonus, and enables Steam achievements. Perhaps Paradox could consider making AI Jianzhou a lucky nation. They fit the description as well as any of the others – France, England, etc.

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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Paradox’s Latest Games

Paradox has announced two new games and two new expansions, all of which will come from Paradox Development Studio, its first-party arm. The games are Hearts of Iron IV and a new IP — Runemaster, an RPG set in a world inspired by Norse myth. The expansions are Rajas of India, which will expand Crusader Kings II‘s map all the way to the subcontinent, and Wealth of Nations, which will flesh out EU4‘s trade system and — it seems — add chartered companies such as the British and Dutch East India Companies. Detail is scant at this stage, but I can speculate…

 

Of the four, I’m most interested in Rajas. It should be reasonably likely to pan out:  Paradox has plenty of experience producing expansions for Crusader Kings II, a game that has been out for two years. It’ll be unique: other than Champion of the Raj, have there been any other historical strategy games set in India? And I can’t wait to see the alternate histories that’ll arise from the collision of Norse, Indians, and Mongols. (It makes me wonder if anyone at Paradox has read a delightful book named GURPS Alternate Earths 2, which contains a timeline in which super-Vikings made it all the way to Southeast Asia.) I’m also interested in Wealth of Nations, which promises to cover one of my favourite aspects of the period, but I’d have to see more specifics.

 

The new games are more of a wild card. Hearts of Iron 3 was an interesting but unsuccessful design experiment, and IV could be very good or very disappointing, depending on the extent to which Paradox learns from past mistakes. About the only thing we know is that “battle plans”, a HOI3 feature allowing players to doodle arrows on the map, can now be used to give orders; this suggests that automation, HOI3‘s central (and most unique) concept, will return in hopefully improved form. I’d guess HOI4 will improve over 3 Crusader Kings 2 and EU4 marked a clear upturn in the quality of Paradox games — but for now, it’s too early to tell.

 

Meanwhile, Runemaster will be Paradox’s first in-house RPG. (This surprised me, incidentally — I was expecting a strategy game in that setting, along the lines of Holistic Design’s Hammer of the Gods.) Paradox describes it as follows:

 

Runemaster is an RPG set in a fantasy realm based in the rich, majestic traditions of Norse mythology, casting each player in the role of a unique champion in a time of chaotic upheaval. Procedural maps and quests will ensure that no two playthroughs are identical, allowing players to tell a saga that is uniquely their own. Explore vast vistas through the six worlds of Norse myth, command troops in tactical combat, and define your champion through the choices they make.

 

It’ll be interesting to see how Paradox, a strategy developer, adapts to the new genre. Perhaps as a newcomer, it’ll be more innovative — compare Dragon Commander, a genre-blending strategy game from a RPG studio. Like HOI4, I can see this going either way, but it may be one to watch regardless.

Games of the Year: 2013

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

1st Place Award RibbonAs promised, here is my list! As with last year, I’ve highlighted noteworthy achievements, as opposed to trying to single out favourites (so you will see some that I thought were more interesting than fun). I’ll kick off with what I thought were the year’s overarching themes:

 

Theme of the year I: march of the small games. Every year has its notable short and/or cheap indie games, such as FTL in 2012, and in 2013 these included Skulls of the Shogun, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papers: Please, and Gone Home. However, the year also saw a large publisher, Ubisoft, throw its hat into the ring with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Ubisoft is set to continue this trend with Child of Light, and it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other publishers follow – especially after Tomb Raider missed Square Enix’s expectations, sparking the latest bout of soul-searching about the future of AAA games.

 

Theme of the year II: iteration. In 2012, my favourite games (XCOM, Wargame: European Escalation, Analogue: A Hate Story), as well as other notable titles (FTL, Journey) were all quite novel. Even XCOM, while thematically faithful to the 1994 original, was mechanically unique. 2013, though, was more like 2011 in its preponderance of evolutionary rather than revolutionary games, from the big end of town (Assassin’s Creed IV) to the little guys (Dominions 4), plus expansion packs (Civilization V: Brave New World, XCOM: Enemy Within). That said, we’ll see exceptions below.

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Europa Universalis IV: The Verdict

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

Paradox Development Studio’s Europa Universalis IV is a game about trade-offs, and it is all the better for it.

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The World That May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play – Part 5 (FINAL): Bend with the Wind

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

If you walk around London today, you will still find monuments to the war heroes of the 18th century, and cross streets named after the ministers who led Britain to victory over France and Portugal and the Dutch. But from a modern perspective, what stands out is how much blood was shed for so little effect. When the century opened, Britain, France, Portugal and Spain were the foremost powers of western Europe; and a hundred years later that had not changed. The true change of the period occurred inside borders, not between them.

 

EU4_pt5_1_revolutionaries

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The World That May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play – Part 4: The Death and Rebirth of the British Empire

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

EU4_Pt4_01_FranceoccupiesGB

 

In 1665, Great Britain lay in ruins, her navy and trade fleets sunk, her cities occupied by French soldiers. It was the culmination of a series of unsuccessful wars waged throughout the 17th century, and as His Britannic Majesty’s hangdog envoys filed into the negotiating room, it was in doubt whether Britain would even survive. Previous wars had seen Wales, Cornwall, Northumberland lost, albeit temporarily. Could her victorious enemies even force her to give up Scotland?

 

The troubles had begun in the year 1600, when Great Britain had barely found its feet after the last century’s Wars of Religion. Decades earlier, Catholic rebels had not just wrested Ireland from the British crown; they had pledged their fealty to France. For Britain’s king, Octavius I, this was intolerable. His plan seemed foolproof: the British fleet would keep the French bottled up in harbour, Britain’s Austrian and Spanish allies would keep the French army busy on the European mainland, and Britain’s own modest army could seize an undefended Ireland. What could go wrong?

 

As it turned out, plenty. Distracted by rivals closer to home, the Austrians soon signed peace with France. The French demolished the Spanish army, and occupied Spain. Britain in turn occupied Ireland, but compared to the victories the French had racked up on the continent, that mattered little. The war settled into stalemate – the French fleet unable to match the British, the British army unable to match the French – and it could have dragged on forever.

 

(If this were a normal war Spain would have separately capitulated, but Spain and I were in a coalition war, in which individual coalition members can’t sign separate peace treaties. This rule seems a little odd – after all, if Napoleon could pick off coalition members, why can’t we?)

 

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Musical Monday: “The Stonemasons” (Europa Universalis IV), composed by Andreas Waldetoft

This week’s song, which I’m pretty sure is a remix of the Europa Universalis III theme, is perhaps my favourite from EU4. There is war in the game, and there was war in this period in history – lots of it! – but there was also trade, culture, and splendour, and this song feels like an expression of the latter. Enjoy!

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The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 3: If You Can’t Beat Them…

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

In 1584, under siege by French-backed Catholic rebels, King Augustus I of Great Britain renounced the Protestant faith. It was a last resort; the British treasury was empty, the army shattered, the realm ruined – and the rebels endless. One could almost hear the cackles in Paris as Augustus put his signature to the document reinstating Catholicism as the state religion of Britain; it was the greatest humiliation a British monarch had suffered since the Hundred Years’ War. Well satisfied, the Catholic rebels went home. The British Wars of Religion had come to an end.

 

eu4_pt2_001_endofreligiousturmoil

 

Or had they?

 

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The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 2: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

The Navigator Queen

 

eu4_pt2_001_anne

 

In the summer of 1475, Anne, Queen of England, celebrated the fifth anniversary of her assumption of power from her regency council. They had been five fruitful years; her first act had been to standardise weights and measures throughout the realm. Some of these we still use today. Her second act had been to order the reconquest of Wales and Cornwall, which had broken away after the English defeat in the Hundred Years’ War. These campaigns did not last long: the English army was a pale shadow of what it had been a generation earlier, but it still outnumbered the Welsh and Cornish three to one. Now, as foreign ambassadors filed in to pay their respects, the queen seemed justified in resting on her laurels.

 

(Anne was a competent though uninspired ruler – she had a 3 in all her stats, out of a maximum of 6. Still, after Henry VI’s solid zeroes, this felt like manna from heaven.)

 

Then, as Anne waited for her next audience to begin, a man tumbled out of a rug. A moment later, he began to speak – very quickly, as the queen’s guards and the bolder courtiers were advancing on him. Apologies for the intrusion, but this was the only way he could think of to gain an audience. His name was Albert Gloucester, navigator and sea captain. He planned to sail west through the Atlantic, and that way reach distant Asia. Would the queen sponsor him?

 

eu4_pt2_002_quest_for_the_new_world

 

She would. The next year, in May 1476, Gloucester set sail from the Portuguese-controlled Azores with three ships. He was not heard from until the following January, when his three ships limped back into the Azores, badly damaged, their crews half-dead, starving… and bearing tales of a New World.

Continue reading “The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 2: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times”

The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

The World that May Have Been

 

eu4_map_---_1444_11_11_1

 

 

Introduction

 

November, 1444. Under the Ming Dynasty, China is the greatest empire in the world:

 

Eu4 Ming Start

 

Further west, the rising Ottoman Empire dominates the Middle East and is pushing into eastern Europe:

 

EU4 Ottoman Start

 

Western Europe is a chaotic patchwork of kingdoms and duchies and free cities:

 

EU4 England Start

 

The world system that existed just a century or two ago, which saw Europe and China tenuously connected by the likes of Marco Polo, has fragmented; now Europeans and Asians and Americans carry on in their separate spheres.

 

The world will not stay this way.

 

Welcome to my Let’s Play of Europa Universalis IV, a grand strategy game from Paradox Development Studio set during the early modern era of world history. I am playing as England from the earliest possible start date, 1444; I will continue until either the game ends (in the early 19th century) or I stop having fun. In that time, I’ll explore aspects of the game such as exploration, trade, diplomacy, and war. I am also playing Ironman mode, which means I have just the one save slot and can’t abuse save/reload, and I am not using any mods except for one that enlarges the font (uncomfortably small by default). Lastly, I’ll emphasise narrative rather than gameplay, and if I do interject with an “out of universe” comment, I’ll mark it clearly, (like so). Onward to the game!

 

Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size

1444 to 1469

King Henry VI, Queen Anne I

 

War has many faces, yet one face everywhere: anguish for the victims in the middle of it. – Lauro Martines, Furies: War in Europe 1450-1700

 

The winter of 1444 saw the Hundred Years’ War between England and France enter its twilight. 17,000 English soldiers huddled in continental garrisons, split between northern and western France; confronting them were over 40,000 French soldiers on the northern front alone. Henry V of England had beaten those odds a generation earlier – but his son, the reigning king in 1444, was no Henry V. Continue reading “The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size”

Europa Universalis IV Q&A, with Thomas Johansson

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

EuropaUniversalisIV_Coverart_lowrez_shrunkEuropa Universalis IV is an upcoming grand strategy game by Paradox Development Studio, set during the early modern era of world history (roughly 1450 to 1800). When it was announced last year, it immediately caught my eye: I’m a long-time player of Paradox games (including the previous Europa Universalis titles); and to me, the game’s period is one of the most fascinating in history – its rich mix of global interactions ultimately laid the groundwork for our modern, industrialised world. So with the game due out in August 2013, just a couple of months away, the time seemed ripe for a chat with the developers. Read on for my email Q&A with Thomas Johansson, project lead for Europa Universalis IV.

 

Europa Univeralis IV and other Paradox games

 

Peter Sahui: Paradox Development Studio’s last major release, Crusader Kings II, has also probably been its most successful to date (both critically, and in terms of its ability to break out beyond the traditional PDS niche). What lessons did you learn from CK2’s success, and how are you applying them to EU4?

 

Thomas Johansson, Project Lead of EU4
Thomas Johansson, Project Lead of EU4

Thomas Johansson: Crusader Kings II’s two biggest strengths were that it was well polished and we had worked hard on improving the interface. We worked hard with the tutorial, the hint system and to make it a very polished release. With Europa Universalis IV, we are aiming to do even better! Our goal is our most polished release to date and have the best interfaces we have ever created. The main focus of the whole development team is polishing the game and refining the interfaces.

What I also believe has really helped Crusader Kings II is that it was a breakthrough for gamers to realize that the game creates stories that you want to tell other people about. So the simple answer would be that it is a game that makes people talk about it, because they want to share their dramatic events, the intrigue, backstabbing and romances with their friends. Because it constantly surprises you. Just when you thought you had everything going and an easy road to power, money and conquering new territories – then you get stabbed in the back, your wife gets murdered and your sister steals your throne. Just like life… ;)

So the fact that the storytelling came across strong with Crusader Kings II, we hope that people can see that Europa Universalis IV also allows you yourself to create the stories when playing the game. You attack your neighbours, alliances gets broken, you get an incompetent ruler and need to get creative on how to handle his/hers strength and weaknesses while keeping your territory hungry opponents at bay. Continue reading “Europa Universalis IV Q&A, with Thomas Johansson”

Be part of my Europa Universalis IV / Paradox Dev’t Studio Q&A!

Hi, everyone! I’m very happy to say that the folks at Paradox have agreed to an email interview about the forthcoming Europa Universalis IV, so if there’s anything you’d like to ask them, please chime in.

At this stage, I expect my own questions will be geared towards the big picture — the developers’ vision/ design philosophy, the lessons learned from other games such as CK2, how they plan to pace EU4 through the mid- and late-game (often the weakest part of Paradox games), their approach to history and historical phenomena that don’t appear as lines on a map, such as the diffusion of new crops around the world,  etc.

Trade, trade, glorious trade! First gameplay video of Europa Universalis IV highlights new trade system

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

Hot on the heels of Paradox’s announcement of Europa Universalis IV, studio boss Johan Anderson has presented the first gameplay video! Courtesy of Gamespot:

That video’s highlight, for me, is the new trade system (which starts at 3:54). Placing trade routes on the map (linking the old EU “centres of trade”) appears to been inspired by Empire: Total War‘s excellent but horribly underappreciated system. However, it appears Paradox is adding its own flair. This Destructoid interview explains:

 

“So what we’ve done is added in a system of static trade routes, so the trade flows along from the world into Europe, and your job is to dip money out of them as they go by. The way you do this… firstly you have your trusty merchant that you can send to various points along the routes to convince them to suck more wealth down to you rather than have the locals cream off the profits.

The second part of your trade empire is territory. If you take the Portuguese empire you’ll see strings of bases along their trade routes, so if you do the same thing you’ll be able to suck more trade home to Portugal and make yourself wealthier.

The third part is the fleet which will help you control trade in areas. We’re going to make small ships trade ships and big ships combat ships. So the small ships, you can send them off to, say, the Arabian Sea where the trade will split between going around to Africa and going up to Eastern Europe, and if you increase your power there you can steer the trade to where you want to.”

Trade ceases to be a merchant placement mini-game, and looks set to become far more connected to conquest, colonization, exploration, and diplomacy. No longer do you have to conquer entire countries to get a gold mine in a specific province, you can use your fleet and strategic bases to control the flow of trade on your own terms. Previously the system was very automated “and the moment you start talking about automation, the feature has a problem.”

 

As the above video highlights at 6:18, trade routes will also shift over the course of the game (away from the Mediterranean and towards the Atlantic, once the routes around the Cape of Good Hope and to the Americas open up).

 

The net effect, hopefully, will be to strengthen one of EU3‘s weaker aspects: the naval game. Not only were individual naval battles not very satisfying (they tended to boil down to “who brought the most ships?”), but EU3 only modelled one of the uses of seapower (being able to land troops on the enemy coast), while neglecting the need to protect overseas trade routes. Based on what we know so far, it sounds as though EU4‘s naval game will be much more interesting, which should benefit maritime powers such as Portugal, the Netherlands, and England->Great Britain. I look forward to seeing how this works in the final game — and to seeing what else Paradox has in store for us.