Sunday, April 15, 2012

Europa Universalis 3

My posts here have definitely fallen off the last four months. Part of that has been work at Bloodhound keeping me busy. Things there are going quite well, we're growing as fast as we can and there should be some press releases shortly. However, away from work an almost embarrassing amount of my free time since Thanksgiving has been devoted to playing Europa Universalis 3, specifically the latest expansion, Divine Wind. I can't remember the last time I was this into a game and I can't recommend it highly enough unless you'd like to save a few hundred hours of time.

I have been a fan of both strategy games and alternate history for a very long time, and EU3 is an excellent merger of the two. In many ways it is similar to the Civilization series, but is restricted to occur between the years 1399 and 1820. Due to this it can afford to have more special, specific rules and still not diverge too wildly from reality. For example, it has hard coded rules for Papal politics, the Holy Roman Empire, Scottish resistance to England, the Reformation, etc. You wouldn't be able to write something like that into a game of Civilization, where when a game starts at 4000 BCE the historical divergences would be so great that to include rules written specifically for things that occurred over the last few hundred years would leave me tearing my hair out. Admittedly, I'd love to have a system smart enough that it could automatically generate gameplay options for divergent political/religious/cultural systems, but that is a ways beyond current game design and artificial intelligence. As it is, having these specific rules written in for the setting adds a great feeling of immersion and connection to history.

Perhaps a more significant difference that distinguishes EU3 from Civ is that it has a far greater amount detail. There is enough micromanagement to keep the perfectionist in me endlessly trying to reshape world history. There are 300 plus playable countries and 1700 plus provinces making up the world. You can pick as a starting date any day over the course of the game, and the starting point is modeled with a fair deal of accuracy to match history, with all the attending countries, governments, diplomacy, wars, cultures, religions, royal marriages, and such that existed at that point in time. I still haven't finished a game yet, despite having spent more than a month on a single game. I know at some point I'll snap out of it and get bored of it, but that hasn't happened yet.

If I had to give it a criticism, aside from a few minor gameplay tweaks, it would be that I would like it to go into even more detail. It does a tremendous amount already, but I wish I could go deeper. I would like to have it do things like model demographics and spit out tables and graphs to compare against the actual historical record. Games like EU3 and Civilization never give you an easy readout of your nation's total population, or try to reduce game units to 'tons of grain' or other more tangible measurements, and I find this frustrating. I assume it is because it would be hard to ensure that the game didn't radically diverge from what would be reasonable and break the suspension of disbelief, but EU3 comes so much closer that I think with a bit more effort it could pull it off.

Maybe just because I read Guns, Germs and Steel at a young age, I would prefer if the game would better model agriculture and disease. In the game, New World societies are handicapped with a low tech level as they were in reality, but I would like to see that handicap modeled in more detail with a lack of domestic animals and weakness to Old World diseases being some of the cause of the handicap. Then you could better model the Columbian Exchange, and see things such as how earlier or later colonization could lead to a different rate of introduction of crops, and see how those spread around the world and affect population levels and trading.

Similarly, I would like better economic models, to be able to see where traded items go instead of just having them make you money. In EU3 a province makes a trade good which gets you a certain amount of money, and your traders compete at a center of trade to make you a certain amount of money, and goods can give global bonuses if you have enough market share, but there's not much connection beyond that. I'd love to see supply and demand and see how the goods are flowing around the globe. This would better reflect historical occurrences such as how the breakdown of the Silk Road was an impetus for Europeans to seek overseas routes to the Far East.

Somewhat connected with trading and economics, I would prefer if the modeling of roads, rivers, canals and other transportation were done with more realism, with easy to see maps of how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B by what means. Have rivers reduce transportation time, and canals actually connect rivers, and have that tie in with the trading system.

Beyond that, I'd love to see more detail on the family trees of ruling families... and there if I continue along this path, I'll be down a rabbit hole and I could spend as much time thinking about what to add to the game as I do playing it. As it is, it does a better job of providing a tremendous amount of detail in a simulation/strategy game and still making it addictively playable. It may be the best strategy game I have played.

Though I am looking forward to the engine on the new Sim City game which is apparently doing an agent based simulation of every single human/vehicle in an entire city!

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