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Europa Universalis II & Victoria

A Plug by Nixon

Europa Universalis II (from here on in, EU II) and Victoria: Empire Under the Sun (from here on in, Victoria) are two exceptionally great strategy games that seem unheard of both off and online. There is a large online community for said games, but on the average general video game forum, nothing. Similarly, in the real world the chances of ever running into these games are slim to none, at best, they're going to be dusty boxes lodged at the bottom of Gamestop's ever shrinking PC game bin. Which is a damn shame. I reviewed Hearts of Iron 2, a game of different timeframe but similar scope made by the same game designers, Paradox Interactive, about a year ago, and mentioned that their were other great titles by said game designer. Since then I've intended to write an article encouraging the playing of both games, but, well, I haven't, until now. Mostly because I end up wasting too much time playing them. They both fall under the category of "grand strategy" but to be fair, there's nothing else to really compare them too. The map of the world both games play out on may look a little bit like Risk, but comparing the two is insulting (and I don't mean towards Risk, either). Basically, pick a time period of human existence, and expect to be able to play any nation in existence during it. For Europa Universalis II the time period is 1419-1819 and for Victoria it's 1836-1920. The best feature of these games isn't just what they were upon release, but that there is a dedicated community and developer that continually improves both titles. But I'll divide up before going into further depth.

Europa Universalis II


Europa Univeralis II centers around a very large time period, so depending on who and when the player starts, the goals can differ greatly. For some it's a game of heavy conquest, leading the Ottoman Turks from Central Anatolia in 1419 to the Middle East spanning empire of 100 years later, for example. At other points it can be a game of preserving empires, like trying to hold on to the claim of the French Throne as England during the Hundred Years War. There's also those whose primarily goal is to colonize as much as possible, like Portugal. The game supports all this through it's at face value simplistic, ultimately deep, content. There's no easy three tiers to break the game's goals into (unlike Victoria, see below) but simply to make the player's nation more powerful by whatever means seem most effective. The game's current state is also surprisingly non-Euro centric (unlike the name) so there are plenty of fun games to be had trying to unite India or form Persia.


EU II is on its eight major patch since release, most recent ones improving gameplay and helping modders [the bugs got beat down a while ago]. While most likely the last patch it will receive in the foreseeable future, EU II has greatly changed over the last year thanks to the efforts of gamers who have updated the map (adding some 400 provinces) which, in conjunction with a major effort to include far, far more events for each nation (to simulate historical happenings) has greatly improved the outcome and enjoyment of any game. The updating of the map and the changes surrounding it are sure to keep the game alive and constantly improving for years to come.


Few. The only real one is that the game rarely ends anywhere near historical, but considering there is 400 years for deviation, it's entirely reasonable. Also while the detail of the game could certainly be improved with the lessons learned by later Paradox releases, through a sequel, considering it's five years old now, it's doing damn good.

With both the map improvement and game improvement mods, this is a pretty accurate view of the world circa 1419. The game does cover the entire globe, but this is all that Austria knows of. Austria being the two tiny white squares about dead center of the screen. Fun fact: in 1419, Poland was the rising power of the east, instead of it's punchline.



Victoria's focus is primarily economic; the 19th century was the Industrial Revolution after all. As such the player would be wise to concentrate his time on trying to foster as big of an industrial base as the country can support. This involves a technology race to acquire the means to produce more "machine parts" (key to industrial development) early in the game, and trying to construct the most up to date factories and railroads later in the game. The concept of maximizing exports and minimizing imports to get the most profit might not sound like the most entertaining game in the world, but it's worth noting that while industry is key to winning the game, war is never far behind.

War takes place on land and sea, specialized to highlight some of the 19th century's quirks. The player builds units on a divisional level, having to both acquire the resources, manpower, and economic means to form them. The player can also employ reserves, allowing for the mobilization races that marked the end of the Victorian era (aka the Big One). Combat is slightly more in depth that EU II, involving multiple factors in the battle for any single territory, aka how dug in the defender is, terrain, the presence of permanent fortifications, etc. After victory an enemy territory has to be "occupied" a process taking days to months, depending on the size of the invading army, creating dangerous delays for those trying breakouts. The naval front involves that never ending arms race for the better ship, the period marking the transition from wooden Man-o-wars all the way to the Dreadnaught. As such the navy is like the space race of the 60's, expensive and constantly demanding newer technology. Except now it's against the British, instead of the USSR.

There's also colonialism at play. The 19th century saw the race for Africa, the last push of the colonial era. The game highlights this well, seeing nations fight over any swatch of "uncivilized" land. The benefit is prestige, one of the three ways the player's success is measured (the others, industrial and military, as the preceding paragraphs may hint). While African colonies might never prove to be useful or even profitable, that's how it was in real life. It's all about the bragging rights of who has the biggest chunk of the worthless, worthless Sahara.

That's hitting only the three major factors almost any nation is bound to encounter, there's also the dozens of revolutionary movements, unifying and dividing wars, and the falling of old and founding of new countries that filled the period. Most nations get plenty of events to emulate the turbulent times, from the Liberal Revolution that rocked Central Europe, to Russia's losing battle surrounding serfdom.


Victoria's still backed by the Paradox, expecting its third major patch in March. There's also a great mod project (the Victoria Improvement Project) which has greatly improved the gameplay of most nations, adding tons of events, and modifying the game so that it plays out more historically (race for Africa doesn't start till 1880's, America expands westward at a realistic pace). The mod team plans to match the new patch with it's own major improvement shortly there after. Overall, the community isn't as vibrant as EU II, but that's mostly because it's a far harder game to master. There's a lot more "in the details" when it comes to being good at Victoria, and that isn't for everyone. But for those that like the idea of a game that forces the player to spend as much, or often more, time on the realities of government (the dolla dolla cent, ya'll) instead of just warfare, it's very fitting.


Like most Paradox games it's hard for the game to stay "on track" in terms of ending somewhat historically, but to be fair the game usually ends somewhat realistically. The interface is clunky, as is the immigration model, which funnels the US with immigrants to the point of unrealistically high industry by the end of the game. The AI has a nasty habit of not replacing old navies, meaning the naval race can be fairly one sided. Finally I personally disliked the scope a bit, I wish the game started a little earlier, to sink up with EU II's end date of 1819, perhaps. Because 90 years blows by before you know it.

One of the game's many civil wars. In this case, battle for the Crown of Spain. A couple years and a lot of dead guys later, the rebel faction won. Note the large amount of options on the side bar. This game has a lot of menus. Fun fact: If I had held onto Barcelona, this war would be over by now.

Considering how both games don't have a lot of competition in today's market, as I mentioned, it's hard to say if you'll enjoy playing either title through the time tested method of "If you like... you'll love...!" But these games aren't going for much nowadays. Drop twenty dollars on EU II, and if you like it, try Victoria. Shit, try any Paradox title.

P.S.: One Last General Note

In case it isn't obvious by saying things like "pick a time period of human existence, and expect to be able to play any nation in existence during it" and "game rarely ends anywhere near historical" there's a lot of replay value to be had in these games. They make the typical time sink that goes into an RPG look like Max Payne. Hundreds of hours of enjoyment is not an exaggeration when you're talking grand strategy.