As a fan of strategy games in general, I also dabble a bit into other strategy games that are not real-time. And by dabble a bit, I meant that I played a couple of playthroughs of Civilization V on difficulty settings not going above Prince. I bought Civ V on a whim, looking for a game where I can delve into geo-politics as I lead my nation to prosperity. Unfortunately, Civ is less about politics and more about exploration and expansion. Despite having fun and getting my money’s worth with Civ V, it wasn’t really what I was looking for.
As I was getting my hype on for Hearts of Iron 4, I decided to play another grand-strategy game in the meantime and bought Paradox Game’s latest release: Europa Universalis 4. I really didn’t know what I was getting into; I had zero idea about what EU4 is all about. I only bought it thinking that it would prepare me for HoI4. I didn’t even know the difference between Paradox’s different games and thought that it’s the same sort of game just set in different time periods. 250 hours later, I’m still enjoying EU4.
What is Europa Universalis?
In a nutshell, I would describe EU4 as a political simulator. It is set during a time where national identities have started to form, the Byzantium empire laid in ruins and the rise of the Ottoman empire seemed inevitable. As with Civ, you play as an invisible, immortal, guiding hand as you build your nation as you see fit. Unlike Civ, the game has no victory condition. It’s a sandbox and you can lead your nation to whatever path you choose. Do you want to play as Portugal and race to the new world to control and dominate the American trade routes? Sure, you can do that. Or do you want to play as France and establish a continental French nation by annexing the entire Europe? You can do that too. You set your goals and you try your best to reach them and the game will provide you enough challenges to keep you engaged while you trudge your chosen path.
Like any good strategy game, warfare is still central in EU4. Even when you don’t plan on playing aggressive, you cannot simply grow to a world-power without encountering enemies along the way. The primary unit in EU4 is the army consisted of a thousand-man regiment of either infantry, cavalry, and later artillery. Armies often need to be well-rounded as there are penalties of only using a single type of regiment however it is up to you to decide what composition you will go for.
Engagements are determined by a lot of things, however they are not represented visually aside from morale which serves as the unit’s HP. Once an army’s morale drops to zero, it will rout and retreat by itself in order to reinforce. Battles are determined through dice rolls in various phases of combat so there is a little bit of RNG involved. However, modifiers such as having a general commanding your troops, to terrain, will have an effect on the rolls as well. This means that a weaker force but defending in the mountains with a very good general can come out ahead against a stronger army with penalties to their rolls.
If you do want to play as a warmongering expansionist, you can’t simply attack your neighbors without incurring heavy penalties. As with in real life, you need a valid causus belli in order to declare war. There are multiple reasons to declare war, including answering an insult thrown your way to making good on fabricated claims on provinces. These are fabricated through spy networks you’ve put up in their countries. Each causus belli has its own effects and limitations as to what you can demand from a peace deal too.
And yes there are peace deals. Warfare in EU4 revolves around a “War Score” system. Every victorious battle, every successful occupation of enemy provinces, as well as every successful siege of enemy forts will increase your war score and vice versa. War score gives a snapshot on how a war is going. It is also the basis of what you can get in peace deals. Demands have a corresponding war score value and if you do not exceed these values, your demands will not be met.
What really engaged me with EU4 though, is the amount of diplomacy you need to do in order to grow your own nation. Unless you’re already the biggest blob in the block, you will need to form alliances in order to secure safety in numbers. These alliances can be called to arms if you get attacked or if you want to attack, however they may refuse if they find the cause unjustified or is pre-occupied.
In order to discourage isolationism, the game also forces you to pick rival countries. They often adopt a hostile attitude towards your nation and are more prone to attacking you. Diplomacy against a country you declare a rival is almost always moot, but you gain power projection and prestige if you insult, humiliate, and defeat them in warfare. Historic real-world rivals also get a negative modifier to their relationships.
The neighbor countries react to your actions too. Some countries like it if you declare war on their rivals and might be more eager to join an alliance with you. If you expand and conquer too fast and too soon, countries, even bitter enemies, may even form coalitions to keep you in check.
Trade is a little more complicated as well. Trade isn’t handled directly from nation to nation. Instead, there are trade routes in which you can assign your merchants to operate. Provinces you own exhibit trade power towards these nodes which influences how much money you generate from them. You can then assign merchants to either collect this income or steer it into another trade node where you have a much larger trade power, thereby amplifying the income you receive. It’s a little bit confusing but I have to admit that it adds to the immersion.
Layers of Strategy
What I love the most about EU4, and maybe all grand strategy games in general, is that there is ton of layers of strategy involved. You have to take everything into account, no longer simply moving armies around. There are a ton of mechanics that affect everything you do and it all adds to the complexity yet at the same time adds to the fun of thinking and planning around these mechanics.
Aside from that, the game also throws random events at you. These are pop-ups with a little flavor text that requires you to make a decision, either for better or for worse. This introduces uncertainty into even the best laid out plan that you have.
Perhaps in the middle of a multi-war rampage you have been planning for a while, your ruler dies. He leaves you with a 1 year old heir and a regency council that prevents you from declaring further wars until your heir comes of age. This throws a wrench into everything you have been working on. It’s a little bit frustrating at times but personally I like the challenge. Or I save scum hehe. There are positive events too, don’t worry!
Perhaps the best part about playing EU4 is the historical flavor the game has. I’ve been reading Wikipedia entries about various nations and events I encounter throughout the game and I love it! I honestly think EU4 can be used as a supplement in learning, although to be fair micromanaging a nation might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
I’ve been playing a lot of EU4 lately. It’s a wonderful introduction to the GSG genre, something I never realized that I am going to love this much. I’m still hyped for Hearts of Iron 4 but I can see myself play EU4 alongside it in the long run. If I’m not playing Starcraft 2 that is.