Strategy games have been around almost as long as the game industry itself. It is one of the largest selling genres on the market, and in my opinion, it is the most difficult in which to be original. Enter Europa Universalis, the Grand Strategy series from Paradox Interactive. The entire series is focused on choosing one nation out of hundreds that have thrived throughout history. It is then your task to lead that nation to glory through military, diplomacy, colonization, religion, and mercantilism and technology in general. It would sound as if this were nothing but a Sid Meier’s knock-off, but Europe Universalis is surprisingly on a completely different level.
Most strategy games these days focus around achieving victory by a complete domination of the world through military, science, or diplomacy, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for the EU series. Instead, you are encouraged to use all of these to further your nation’s power, and to earn “victory points”, which at the end of the game will be totaled together and see where you place in the world.
This means, that while you might not always win, you will always have a challenge. You are being pitted against 300 other nations and to even place in the top ten is to be one of the greatest nations in the world.
Also, not only are you rated and ranked on your victory points, but on how far you advanced your country is in terms of Land and Naval military technology, your colonies, how well you managed your purse, and several other factors in the game. It’s all so much that it’s almost unbelievable that Paradox develops the games in such a quick time as well as making others.
Europa, while considered a Grand Strategy game, is also considered to be a Real-Time Strategy, but still manages to differ from others such as Command and Conquer or Age of Empires. That being said, the main differences are that the game takes place on a typical map of the world, and that the military units are moved on a grand scale, instead of individual units. The map, depending on which campaign you choose, shows your country, the known world (which is covered in a fog of war) and Terra Incognita (unknown
parts of the world to your country).
Your country, as well as the others, are divided into provinces, which all have different stats such as their population, main trade product, and important structures you’ve built. Warfare is based on a mass scale of moving soldiers into enemy territories and defeating their town or city garrisons, while also defending your provinces. It seems simple enough, but is more difficult than it sounds. If you declare war on another nation without Casus Belli (cause for war), then you will end up sending your nation into instability and may cause revolts.
Diplomacy in Europa is also a very important feature, which is often overlooked in other strategy games. Some have very few diplomacy options that don’t really make a difference, while others don’t have any choices at all. In Europa, you receive four different types of units that can be sent to other countries. Diplomats can be sent to effect relations between two nations on a scale of +300 to -300. The many different choices you have to effect are things such as having a royal marriage, sending a gift, insulting the monarch or country, claiming their throne, or something as simple as declaring war.
Merchants can be sent into trade areas to try to capitalize on the trade in a certain area, gaining money for your country. Missionaries are sent to countries that have different religions than that of your nations, attempting to convert them. A successful conversion could result in not only improved relations between your nation and theirs, but even nations of the same religion. Last, but definitely not least, is the colonists. Obviously, you send the colonists to provinces that haven’t been yet claimed by another nation, and try to set up a colony. Eventually, if your colony is successful enough, and has a high enough population, it will become a city and will receive all of the bonuses of being a regular province.
Finally, the greatest difference of Europa from most strategy games, is that it is the most historically accurate that you will find on the market. Granted, you can’t count futuristic strategy games or what-if strategies, but you get the idea. Not only is it historically accurate, but it also doesn’t bind you to history. Historically, the Portuguese and Spanish were the first to find the New World, but you can play as China and be the first to discover it, and you will get the rewards that come with it. It’s amazing to see what happens when you change what we know as history and see what would happen if something happened differently. It gives you freedom to play as you like without being bound by history, while also giving you the choice to stay the path. This promotes the player to play the game differently every time, which is ultimately what a strategy game should do.
It is in my opinion that Europa Universalis is changing the way we look at strategy games in general. In fact, it is also in my opinion that, while it may not be the first, it is certainly the father of Grand Strategy games. I would recommend this series to any true strategy player who wants to test their skills to the max, and even history buffs who like to imagine the world in a different way. Will we see more games take this path in the strategy genre? Only time will tell, but I can only hope that they will.