For the last decade, I’ve been a fan of Paradox Development Studio’s Hearts of Iron grand strategy games. HOI players control all aspects of their chosen nation during World War II: army, navy, and air force; diplomacy, espionage, scientific research, industrial output, and domestic politics. This can be as overwhelming as it sounds, and it’s interesting, and a little instructive, to compare the approaches taken by different games in the series.
The original Hearts of Iron (2002) was an unwieldy monstrosity, its vast scope at odds with its obsessive granularity. To build tanks, you had to separately research a tank chassis, and tank suspension, and tank propulsion, and choose a calibre for the gun, and repeat this for each model of tank… and yet, at the time, I loved it to bits. Hearts of Iron II (2005) was far more polished, with a far keener sense of what was genuine depth and what was just bloat, and I loved it too. Hearts of Iron III (2009) was poorly received at launch, but several expansions left it in much better shape. And lastly, Paradox eventually licensed HOI2 to several fan groups, which produced their own spin-offs; I tried two and enjoyed one, Darkest Hour (2011) (1).