This is the second part in a series (I, II, III, IV) that examines the historical assumptions behind Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy computer game set in the early modern period, Europa Universalis IV (EU4). Last time, we took a look at how EU4 was a game fundamentally about states and how the decision to orient the game in this way both expressed a theory of history centered on states, but also served in many cases to obscure the impact that state actions (particularly the emergence of the modern administrative state and the nation) had on actual people.
We also discussed last week the basic structure of EU4, as well as my own experience with it, so if you want to jump back and reread that, the first post is here.
This week, we’re going to turn to war and diplomacy and discuss what I think is one of EU4‘s strongest elements in the depth of its political and military simulator. As we will see, the great strength of EU4 in this regard is that the system shows how a relatively simple set of premises concerning the state’s need to maximize military power in order to survive lead to a host of complex behaviors broadly consist with the political science school of thought known as ‘realism’ (or IR Neorealism (sometimes just ‘realism’), where the IR stands for international relations). I can teach realism as an analytical tool in a classroom, but EU4‘s political simulator effectively allows a student to experience the demands of strategic thought which create realist paradigms of action.
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Paint it Red
Europa Universalis IV has a reputation as a ‘map painter’ – that is a strategy game which encourages the player to ‘paint the map’ their national color by expanding as rapidly as they can, typically through relentless military conquest. And indeed, many players do play the game this way. Although EU4 lacks explicit ‘win’ conditions, the game does have a score, which rates states by their relative strength in three categories (essentially military, economic and diplomatic strength though they are labeled somewhat differently) and large, expansionist imperial powers tend to top these rankings, so the game still does have a mechanic which clearly points players towards that play-style. The score function is probably unnecessary, in the event, because even without any direction, the conventions of the genre will mean that most players will trend towards this style of play (for cultural reasons we’ll discuss at the end of this essay) anyway.
The reputation is somewhat unfair in that map-painting is not the only play-style available in EU4. Attempting to become powerful without expanding (‘playing tall’) is a fairly popular alternative play-style, particularly for very experienced players looking to show off their mastery of the game systems (because, as we’ll see, in most situations expansion is key to survival). Unlike other strategy games in the genre – like the Total War series, for instance – there are things to do in EU4 even if you are not bent on Alexander-esque world-conquest.
But what I find even more interesting is how ‘map-painting’ as a behavior is the consequence of assumptions in EU4‘s systems. In most war and strategy games, players expand because…that’s the point of the game. Expansion is the telos, the end goal which has no other justification besides itself. Instead, the violence in EU4‘s systems are not an end goal but rather the inescapable product of the assumptions of its diplomatic systems, assumptions that – even more interestingly – operate in the real world as well.
The Color of Desire
One way to understand the things that motivate state actors is to think about their objectives. Of course states, not being people, do not have desires or plans, but states are by nature led by people who do. For simplicity’s sake, we are going to adopt the common shorthand of saying that a state may have a given plan, strategy or objective; what you should all understand is that what we are actually saying when we say that, for instance, ‘France wants something’ is rather than the various powerful political actors (who are human and do have plans, emotions and goals) collectively want that thing. So, what do states want and how do their actions follow from this?
(I promise this loops back to EU4 in just a moment!)
One way to think about this (following an IR Neorealism lens) is that the basic goal of all states is to survive. People in power generally want to stay in power; failing that, they want to stay alive. State extinctions – when the state is absorbed or destroyed – pretty much always push the leaders of the old state out of power and frequently kill them. Consequently, regardless of what the common people may want, the leaders of states who make actual decisions will almost always want the state to continue existing (because, after all, that state represents a social order that, by definition, the leaders are at the top of); they will be more attached to this goal than any other collective goal (though they may well prioritize individual advancement over collective security, but that’s a discussion for another time). Consequently, states tend to behave as if survival is their highest priority.
The goal of survival in a dangerous world in turn suggests that maximizing security is the highest external priority of the state (balanced, really, only against the need to prevent the state from collapsing from within). Since historically, the greatest threat to state survival was foreign military action (read: being conquered) is makes sense that the kind of security being maximized is military security (which is also very handy against many sources of internal collapses, like revolution or rebellion). In turn, maximizing military security generally means maximizing revenue and manpower. So a state whose goal is to survive is likely to seek to maximize state power, to draw in as much manpower and revenue as possible (or else seek a patron protector state who will be doing the same).
(Of course, just because survival and thus security maximization is the highest goal doesn’t meant it is the only goal. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, states and their leaders often also have what I term an ‘ideological project’ – a vision of themselves or the world they want to achieve. But of course state extinction prevents the ideological project from being realized too, so most states prioritize survival over the ideological project. Naturally the rejoinder here is to ask about leaders behaving irrationally, which is an issue of real debate in the IR field.)
Of course this model is a touch simplified. Realism, as a theory of international relations has its limitations; it tends to assume that all of the actors in question are rational. It also often underrates the degree to which cultural concerns, social norms or traditions might constrain actors, preventing them from acting in this raw power-maximizing mode. We’ll touch on some of these limitations towards the end. But what I want to stress here is that EU4 has adopted this model of interstate relations and executes it extraordinarily well.
Let’s walk through that.
Burgundy; Red Ones Go Faster
Perhaps the best way to think about these forces is to walk through the early game experience for one country within EU4. For the sake of demonstration (and by no means to continue the chain of color-themed puns) I’ve opted for Burgundy, a mid-sized European power sandwiched between France to the west and the tiny states of the Holy Roman Empire to the east. I may have also chosen Burgundy because Burgundy-into-Netherlands games are some of my favorite.
An experienced EU4 player is going to recognize straight off that Burgundy has problems despite it being a decently large country (and indeed, new EU4 players will discover those problems for themselves). The player, as Burgundy, of course, most of all wants to survive – just like our states above. But just as above, that desire to survive forces choices for the player that guide them towards a specific line of action. Because Burgundy’s problems have a name, and that name is France.
The player running Burgundy can quickly recognize a few things. First, this is 1444, not 1415; eventual French victory in the Hundred Years War is nearly inevitable. Moreover, France is already somewhat stronger than Burgundy. More to the point, France is very likely to begin consolidating the other smaller French states, reasserting the authority of the French crown over them. In short, France is going to widen that margin of security (in part to compete with England and Spain; even France is not without fear). If that process is allowed to continue, the result will be a situation where Burgundy only exists by the sufferance of France, which is to say a situation where Burgundy doesn’t exist very long. Again, an advanced player will recognize this instantly, but part of the learning curve (we’ll come back to this, actually) of EU4 means that a beginner player is going to find this out as they go along (possibly in ways that force them to start over).
So Burgundy is essentially in a race where it starts four feet behind and must sprint to catch up. Burgundy has to assemble power faster than France in order to remain secure. Fortuitous alliances (including ones with France, initially) may buy time (but of course, France can gain allies too and people tend to want to be friends with stronger powers, not weaker ones) but in the end, Burgundy has to catch up and then eclipse France’s power if it is ever to be safe from possible (or in this case, nearly guaranteed) French aggression. So how does one build power?
Military power requires revenue and manpower (along with staying technologically competitive) and both come from the same source: the land. While a player can develop existing provinces, taking land in war is far cheaper and faster. The game represents this through both developing old land and seizing new land requiring similar resources (administrative points to ‘core’ and thus fully exploit new land; administrative, diplomatic and military points to develop, with each increasing a different production category of already held land). But for a single point of development, it costs around 40 of these resources points to develop but only 10 (!) to incorporate newly conquered land. That may seem like the developer has placed their thumb a bit unfairly on the scale, but, as Azar Gat notes in War in Human Civilization (2006) for pre-industrial societies that is a historically correct thumb on the scale. Until the industrial revolution, nearly all of the energy used in production came out of agriculture one way or another; improves in irrigation, tax collection and farming methods might improve yields, but never nearly so much as adding more land. Consequently, as Gat puts it, returns to capital investment (hitting the development button) were always wildly inferior to returns to successful warfare that resulted in conquest. If anything, EU4, for the sake of keeping the ‘tall’ play-style relevant, has narrowed the gap between the profits of conquest and the gains to be made by land improvement in this period.
To get the manpower and money to hold off France, Burgundy is going to need land. That land has to come from somewhere and the obvious candidates are Burgundy’s smaller and weaker neighbors. In order to avoid becoming a victim of France, Burgundy effectively must victimize its own smaller neighbors. Once that conclusion is arrived at, the actual form of that expansion is fairly obvious. Burgundy begins bifurcated. This is an impossible position in a war with France and so the land-route connecting Burgundy’s provinces has to be taken, which means Lorraine and Provence (which has land holdings there) have to go first. France may try to protect them, so player-Burgundy has to wait for the first moment France is distracted (say, by a war with England) to pounce and seize them. From there, absorbing the small states of the Holy Roman Empire make the obvious choice; the emperor will try to protect them so again, moments must be chosen and capitalized on. To survive, Burgundy must become the wolf at the empire’s door, snatching up whatever poor children were foolish enough to be outside after dark.
And here is the rub: everything that Burgundy could possible do to render itself more secure – raising new armies, new revenue, new manpower – renders all of Burgundy’s neighbors less secure. Their necessary response is clear, to try to match Burgundy in order to maintain (or even expand) their own security and thus their own ability to ensure their survival. This situation – where any act one state makes to render itself more secure renders all other states less secure is called the security dilemma. Wealth and power may not be zero-sum, but the security they produce is.
Because this existential competition is zero-sum it creates a situation where states push further and further for security without actually achieving any security gains, because every action they take to improve security is matched by their neighbors. Azar Gat calls this, somewhat colorfully, the ‘Red Queen effect’ (because everyone is running and running and going nowhere), but as a product of the security dilemma we can also understand this as ‘convergence’ – where any behavior that advantages a state’s power is swiftly adopted by all other states in the local system, so that over time states come to resemble each other in their militarism and ruthlessness. For students of history wondering why European militaries of 1400 were very regionalized and unique with lots of local patterns but by 1700, a standard form of linear infantry fighting by professional soldiers was practiced from Moscow to Lisbon, convergence is why. The game represents this well too – falling behind in military technology is catastrophic in EU4 in a way that it is not in games set in earlier periods like Imperator or Crusader Kings (VickyII does even more with this theme and we’ll come back to that in the future).
So Burgundy isn’t the only state in this position, they all are – and no one can escape. No state (with one exception, mighty Ming, and perhaps the Ottomans, but more on that in a moment) in EU4 lives without fear. France isn’t expanding for its own sake (or ‘for the lulz’) but because it is trying to establish security against its peer competitors (like Spain or England). Even states outside of Europe that establish near-total dominance cannot live free from fear because the player knows (in a way that the historical actors didn’t) that Europe is coming, a point we’ll address in more depth next week. If no rules or outside influences restrain this competition, the result of a ruthless dog-eat-dog competition to survive; that competition isn’t driven by the evil in men’s hearts, but by the relentless logic of the security dilemma.
Part of what makes this work is that the AI is making the same decisions you are. Unlike in some war games, the AI of EU4 doesn’t declare war randomly, rather it looks at provinces of ‘strategic interest,’ and then aims to get those provinces, only declaring wars it thinks it will win. EU4 is actually kind of brilliant in how transparent it is; you can actually see which provinces, for instance, your AI allies are aiming to get and how the AI’s attitude influences its behavior. The AI even engages in ‘balancing’ – attempting to bring down too-strong powers. One mechanic for this is ‘coalitions’ – expand too fast and you may find yourself facing a vast coalition of all of your neighbors. But the AI does this even in smaller ways – imagine my surprise in my game as Vijayanagar finding that my ostensible ally Malwa was also balancing against me by using guarantees (a binding promise to protect another state) to block any further expansion or aggression against Gujarat. It’s not perfect, the AI doesn’t engage in as much effective balancing as historical states did, making it more possible to ‘break out’ of the Red Queen’s race and assert regional or global hegemony than it probably should be, but the existence of balancing behaviors itself is really impressive.
EU4 simulates this vision – the Neorealist vision – of historical forces brilliantly, and it also has some interesting comments on the permutations and exceptions.
The Red Queen’s Court
What we have just described – the ruthless competition created by the logic of the security dilemma – is, as an international system, referred to as a system of interstate anarchy, a term coined by Kenneth Waltz in Theory of International Politics (1979) and also his article, “The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History18.4 (1988). Because convergence in such a system leads societies to rival each other in their militarism and the cold logic of power means that pacifists are merely victims in such a system, it creates – as Waltz notes – conditions where “war is normal.”
For a player wondering how these early modern states could so frequently go to war, EU4‘s model provides an answer to the question that is in keeping with at least one line of scholarly thought.
But interstate anarchy is not the only system and what is fascinating about EU4 is that it simulates the other possible systems as well and in so doing delivers some interesting and potentially controversial statements about them. Interstate anarchy is, above and away by far the default system under this neorealist model; the next most common is hegemony where one state so dominates the system that it can replace the anarchy of competition with the logic of its own rules.
And players will note that much of East Asia begins the game not in a state of anarchy, but of hegemony under the world’s leading power, the Ming dynasty (or just Ming for short). The designers have given Ming (or whatever state controls China) the tools to exert hegemony over the region through a set of tributary mechanics tied to the ‘mandate’ system. In short, Ming holds nearly all of its neighbors under a tributary system where they pay tribute and in exchange Ming generally protects them from outside aggression (though they may still fight each other). Consequently, a tributary that keeps Ming happy and plays by the rules of the system (that is, pays tribute) is effectively safe from interstate anarchy at the cost of letting Ming make the rules of the road for the region. At the same time, playing as one of these tributaries you immediately see the problem: Ming is your protector, but also itself a danger and an obstacle to increased long-term safety. Consequently, the tributaries tend to be a band of jackals, preying on each other and outsiders, but just waiting for the Ming to weaken, at which point they’ll all strike at once or in quick succession (what the community calls ‘Mingsplosion’), leading to the rapid reassertion of anarchy in the absence of a strong central power. Hegemony too, then, is an exercise of raw power and in EU4‘s view, a fragile one.
The next most common system is a balance of power, where a set of roughly equal sized powers fight and negotiate. EU4‘s late game transitions quite naturally into this system; as the brutal competition of the early- and mid-game is likely to have removed nearly all of the small players (with the ones remaining being attached somehow to the larger states), conflict centers on a shrinking handful of big powers. This sort of system is more directly handled in Victoria II but as the conclusion-point of periods of aggressive consolidation it works in EU4; the constant small wars of consolidation are replaced by longer periods of peace punctuated by massive and hideously destructive wars between large alliance systems which is, in the event, exactly what was happening in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Finally, Neorealist theory theorizes a system which has never been implemented: one where the actions of states are governed under international law. And EU4 has something to say about that too, in the strange creature that is the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire has unique mechanics; seven states within the empire select one of their number to serve as emperor. All of the states of the empire offer troops for the emperor (expressed in a mechanic whereby the emperor gets a substantial increase in manpower and force limit – army-size-soft-cap – for each member state) and the emperor is charged with defending the empire, returning stolen land to their original holders and generally keeping the peace. Fulfilling this role grants the emperor ‘imperial authority’ which can be used to push through reforms which further strength the emperor. And this looks like a system of consensual rule under international law. Wars of conquest – either by members within the empire or by those outside – are illegal (and the emperor can both intervene defensively to stop them or fight to reverse them after the fact).
But weaken the emperor, either by ‘breaking’ Austria from the outside by defeating it in war (which will, by the by, be a crucial goal for Burgundy to be able to expand east to match France), or by politicking the election of a weak state as emperor and the dozens of small states of the empire devour each other in a desperate race to be the handful of survivors: international law is revealed as just the mask that imperial (Habsburg) power wore. This is intensified by the fact that for the states in the empire – especially the mid-sized ones (Bohemia, Brandenburg and Saxony) – have split incentives; on the one hand, they want the emperor to enforce the law on everyone else, but also not on them and also for the emperor to never become so strong that ending the independence of the imperial princes becomes possible. Thus, much like the band of jackals around Ming, the larger states of the empire are at best frenemies of the emperor and have an incentive to look for the right moment to weaken whatever state is emperor (again, usually Austria). This ferocious explosion of consolidation that results within the empire will happen in most games – it is fairly rare for the empire to hold up in the long term unless the player makes it a goal to make sure it does.
Is Red the Only Color?
This is part of what I meant at the beginning of this series when I noted that I thought EU4 had a detectable theory of history and that made it more interesting than many other games. EU4 embraces – intentionally or not (but I suspect intentionally, given the design) – a realist vision of geopolitics and constructs the simulation around that vision, ensuring that AI nations will behave within the constraints of those concerns. In the process, Paradox has created one of the best interstate anarchy simulators I have ever seen.
But, of course, realism isn’t the only school of thought when it comes to international relations! Against the realist model of international relations we ought to set constructivism. Where realism stresses a model of rational, strategic choice that applies equally to all actors (that is, all states) in the system, a constructivist approach instead focuses on the way that political thinking and decision-making is shaped by norms and cultural assumptions, arguing that on a significant level our political reality is constructed rather than inherent in the strategic conditions of our situation. Of course most actually sophisticated thinkers on international relations draw from both ways of thinking (and these two are by no means the only schools of thought), with ‘realist’ or ‘constructivist’ mostly referring to the balance of concerns. Long time blog readers will see the roots of constructivist analysis in how I argue that norms and customs shaped warfare in the past, though in the end, I am probably more of a realist in my thinking and thus tend to think that the road to peace is about shaping the incentives towards peace rather than banishing evil from the hearts of men (or the norms of society).
Nevertheless, I think that the bent towards realism in EU4 is intentional, precisely because it is not shared by all of Paradox’s products equally. While EU4 presents state strategy and forces as the only restraint to violence, in Victoria II, pacifist movements can block efforts to go to war, as can friendly public relations with other states. In Crusader Kings III, religious considerations shape both the wars that can be waged and the extent of those wars. And in Hearts of Iron, state ideology places very strong constraints on state decision-making, with democracies committed to liberalism and peace generally prevented from waging aggressive war because of their ideologies. All of these – and we’ll talk more about each when we get to those games – are clear ‘constructivist’ influences. Of Paradox’s games, really only EU4 and perhaps Imperator adopt that purely realist political model (Stellaris, their science-fiction game, very much doesn’t; state behavior is mostly determined by ideology there, and only secondarily by strategic considerations, making Stellaris perhaps the most constructivist game in the Paradox library).
(I should also note that the realism of EU4 is tempered a little bit through the ‘mission’ system, which tends to guide certain states to expand in certain ways – to press Portugal, Spain, England and the Netherlands to become colonial states, for instance, or for Brandenburg to form Prussia and try to form a united Germany, or for the Ottomans to absorb Mamluk Egypt and thus reach their historical borders. We might see these mission trees as expressions of ideological or cultural proclivities in each state though mostly they are a tool for the developers to get the system to output results not too wildly different from history on a consistent basis).
At the same time, adopting a realist political model seems particularly appropriate for the early modern period. After all, this is the period when Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes were laying the foundations for much of realist thinking (working off of the even earlier ideas of Thucydides); such realpolitik (a term itself coined in the 1850s, just after this period) was an influential way of thinking about the world (though by no means the only way). More broadly, realism makes a decent fit for the politics of the age, where the historical events of the period, especially in Europe, were often defined by opportunistic wars and alliances quite transparently about gains in land and resources with only the thinnest of ideological justification (though of course the wars of religion mark an important exception to this rule, although even then there was a heavy dose of realpolitik, such as Catholic France supporting the Protestant League to weaken Austria even while suppressing its own protestants at the same time and protestant Denmark managing to be on both sides of the war at various points, mostly for realpolitik reasons).
And as a period, the early modern really does serve as a decent functional example of interstate anarchy at work. Convergence in militarism and institutions is clearly on display – as well as what happens to states which fail to converge fast enough. War in this period, particularly during the first century or two (before the game itself shifts to more of a balance-of-power model as a result of consolidation) was shockingly existential. As a demonstration to that point to my students, I once came up with a list of some 22 ‘state extinctions’ between 1453 and 1569 in Europe alone. Of course the same period saw a brutal wave of state extinctions claim arguably all of the states of Southern and Central America by 1600. The violence of this interstate anarchy was hardly limited to Europe; the Mughals spend the 1500s and 1600s violently consolidating nearly all of modern South Asia, while Ming efforts to consolidate South East Asia and into the Steppe under the bellicose Yongle Emperor largely failed (the myth of a non-aggressive, non-imperialist China is, by the way, just that – a myth). And of course Japan spent the period from 1467 to 1615 first violently fragmenting and then violently consolidating into a single state, the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Consequently, as a model for the politics of this period on a global scale, interstate anarchy grounded in (neo-)realist principles have a lot to recommend themselves. If it feels like we are selling the limits on this sort of model short, or that I haven’t really addressed circumstances where a realist vision of interstate relations leads to less violence rather than more violence, that is because we’re going to look at both of those perspectives when we turn to some of Paradox’s other games (particularly Victoria II, but also Crusader Kings III) which model them more fully.
Here my advice to students and teachers is two-fold.
First, take advantage of EU4‘s excellent simulation of realist political systems (and interstate anarchy) in particular to make the core assumptions of the system explicit. I have to say, EU4 is one of the few games I have ever considered actually teaching not to analyze as I would a text (you can do that with any game) but as an actual simulation of a political theory with real applications in the real world. But of course you need to ground that simulation in something real. I have already noted here that the theory itself can be found in K. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), but I think the more approachable way to interact with the theory is with its application to a set of real circumstances and here I think a good place to turn is A. Eckstein, Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome (2006) which applies these theories very cogently to a different time (the Hellenistic period) but also does a good job of explaining them in perhaps somewhat more approachable form than Waltz (although Waltz is fairly readable too). The other, I think, really obvious foundational text here is W.H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power (1982), which gets into the impacts that the anarchic conditions of the early modern period has on Europe (particularly in contrast to the hegemonic conditions that pervaded in East Asia at the time), but we’ll actually be taking more about McNeill and his book next time, so I don’t want to jump the gun there.
But second and perhaps more importantly, be aware – or as a teacher, develop an awareness – of the real human cost of conditions of interstate anarchy. One weakness of all of this approach in EU4 is that, as with the human impacts of state action, the human impacts of war are abstracted away. Players are presented with the – often staggering – butcher’s bills for their wars only in the form of abstracted numbers. Moreover, the game for the most part assumes away civilian casualties (provinces can be ‘devastated,’ reducing their value temporarily, but this mechanic is so limited it is easy to play the game through without knowing this. One way I have found to dramatize this cost in my teaching is with period images; I’ve included here just a couple of the woodcuts, for instance from Les Grandes Misères de la guerre, a series of 18 etchings by Jacques Callot showing the horrors of the Thirty Years War which I use when teaching warfare in this period.
I would also recommend W. E. Lee, Barbarians and Brothers: Anglo-American Warfare, 1500-1865 (2014), both for clear descriptions of the tremendous violence and human cost warfare in this era could entail, but also a discussion that goes into some of the constructivist concerns that EU4 leaves out – how cultural assumptions could shape the violence that occurred (of particular use, I think, for teachers who want to get up to speed on this topic, especially since the quality of training on military topics – including the ability to speak with confidence on the human costs of war – can be very uneven, even at the graduate level). Finally, those looking for a good comparative perspective on the human costs of war may find it in G. Baker, Spare No One: Mass Violence in Roman Warfare (2021) a very recent and valuable book (due for a fireside recommendation, without a doubt) on the standards of violence that emerged in Rome through its period of interstate anarchy and the varied reasons (some strategic, but many emotional or tied to internal politics) that Roman armies often reached to such intense levels of violence.
Finally, of course, any theory is history is like to in turn recommend specific answers to certain important questions in a given period. EU4 embraces realism as a model for state interaction and embraces the entire world in that model. That has implications for many of the biggest questions that historians ask about the early modern period.
And so next week are are going to turn, at long last, to Europa Universalis‘ odd legacy title for a theoretically global grand strategy game, its geographic focus and what it has to say about that biggest of big questions which looms over this period: ‘why Europe?’ Because EU4 has an answer to that question, but it remains probably one of the weakest parts of the game’s historical approach.
146 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part II: Red Queens”
Bret, your first picture of a plate from Les Grandes Miseres de la Guerre is both mislabeled and incorrectly described. It is plate 3, not plate 4, and, more importantly, it is from the Thirty Years War, not the Hundred Years War.
“(administrative points to core, admin., diplomatic and military points to develop)”
I can’t figure out what that first part means, is there a word missing?
“Moreover, the game for the part part assumes away civilian casualties”
ITYM “for the most part” there.
Perversely, the main message I am getting so far is that I shouldn’t try this game because of all the color information. I have a form of color blindness, which isn’t so much a direct problem as are the consequences that I have never really learned my colors properly, and generally don’t pay attention to fine distinctions between colors, which I don’t know the names of even when I can perceive them,
“Coring” is a game mechanic that requires you to spend administrative points in order to integrate newly-conquered provinces into your realm (turning them into “core provinces”), with various penalties for having any non-core provinces in your realm.
I’m colorblind (red) and i can play the game fine. You can pause the game and zoom in, and click on provinces to deduce to whom they belong.
Long time lurker, first time commenter.
EU4 has always been a game I enjoy the idea of and then come to play and bounce out of hard for most of the reasons you described in the first part of the series.
You refer a decent amount to Azar Gat’s book and I’m curious about your opinion of its handling of hunter-gatherers and the “fundamentals” of warfare. Clearly it’s not without merit since you refer to it and I’ve no reason to doubt his scholarship, but some of his conclusions are discomforting and I’ve always wanted a second opinion on them – one I’ve not been able to find since the reviews I have seen of his have leant more toward it as a work of more modern military history and have largely not covered the way he handles the anthropology, an area I recall he admits isn’t necessarily his field.
You could try looking for anthropological critiques of Gat. Like the following:
“Revisiting hunter-gatherer war with Azar Gat | Dreamflesh” https://dreamflesh.com/post/2017/hunter-gatherer-war-azar-gat/
What are the conclusions and why are they discomforting?
From anthropology, I consider Gat’s arguments in that chapter to be non-serious (and I found them so non-serious that I simply stopped after that chapter, to be clear), largely because Gat’s choices about anthropological sources rendered me unable to trust Azar Gat as a critical thinker. It was mostly his use of Napoleon Chagnon, who Gat seems to consider an accurate source while criticizing his theory. Given what the field has learned about Chagnon over the last 40 years, I cannot imagine somebody taking his empirical statements about the Yanomamö as trustworthy at all. That Gat does paints an unflattering portrait of Gat’s ability to evaluate sources.
There is, as you know, quite ferocious debate about the question of hunter-gatherer warfare among anthropologists; military historians tend to be rather more decided on the matter, given the evidence. That Gat uses one source which remains deeply controversial doesn’t strike me as a particularly compelling point those, given his ‘battery of example’ style; he doesn’t need anyone one of his cited sources to carry much weight, because they are numerous. In any event, if Gat as a non-athropologist is a bad messenger, one might instead look to L.H. Keeley, War Before Civilization (1996) which sorts much the same evidence as the focus for the entire book and comes to the same conclusion.
For my own part, I’ve been pretty profoundly put off by frankly absurd positions advanced in the defense of the ‘peaceful prehistory’ hypothesis – efforts to interpret what I think are fairly clear and consistent evidence that at least neolithic communities were doing quite a lot of war, as being unrelated to warfare, in particular. Where I come down is based on what I’ve been able to see as the totality of the evidence: there are near-human primates that war (but also some that don’t) and human in every period and every culture we can observe seem to war. The exceptions are both vanishingly few and also – as with the Moroiri – tend to end with ‘and then they were (nearly) exterminated by their more bellicose neighbors.’
And, purely as a historian, I cannot help but notice that the philosophical need to believe in peaceful ‘noble savages’ has been with us for quite a long time and has always managed to exist in the absence of even the slightest bit of evidence to support it. But Rousseau (yes, I know he doesn’t use the term, but he does use the concept by other names) was wrong.
Gat also near immediately follows that with praise for Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins, which very strongly suggests that Gat has less respect for data about the past than for particular 21st century politics. Based on my dog-ears that’s where I stopped reading.
In any event, I don’t think that Gat is the sole referendum on excessive optimism about the past. I don’t myself think any of the groups I’ve put time into studying were notable pacifists. Human bodies are fragile, most tools make them moreso, and it’s not hard to create a context where it is to your advantage to exploit that. We have a lot of data for violence across time and space, ranging from a brother murdering a brother to LBK mass graves.
I have not yet read Keeley, and I’ll put that on my backlog. I’m not really much of a ‘war guy,’ when I just let myself wander I tend to spend the most time on food production and ideology, so this blog has been a very disproportionate percentage of my sources on war (aside, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters was an incredible recommendation, A+ I recommend it constantly).
I’ve seen a lot of controversy about Chagnon, but not actual debunkings or proof of fraud.
“Chagnon had some very ugly accusations thrown at him that have overshadowed his work for decades. It’s only recently that they’ve been debunked.”
Talks about some other complexities as well.
/r/AskHistorians seems tightly curated by some historians, so I’d trust a surviving comment there at least as much as any other anonymous comment on the Internet.
It’s important to note that there are *so many* ugly accusations about Chagnon’s work that some have been debunked and others haven’t, for good reason.
Claims that were debunked:
-A claim that Chagnon deliberately waged biological warfare against the Yanomamö
Claims that were not debunked:
-interfered with his subjects to encourage them toward violence
-inappropriate data collection, including falsification
-grooming one of his subjects sexually
The biological warfare claim has been debunked and was pretty wild. The latter ones are very unlikely to ever be debunked, because Chagnon provides the evidence for them. The participant-instigation is fairly clear in his own work, other anthropologists studying the Yanomamö found Chagnon’s declarations to not withstand basic scrutiny, and Chagnon basically spend half the book bragging about that last one. The first one is taken seriously enough that Venezuela banned him from entering the country for life.
Conquered land requires administrative points to “core”, i.e., integrate into your state such that you receive full benefit from it. Developing land can use any of the three resources (administrative, diplomatic, or military) to provide different effects (admin points increase tax revenue directly, diplomatic points improve production of goods [and thus revenue indirectly] and sailors, and military points increase the number of able-bodied men a province contributes toward your manpower total).
Whoops, the above was meant to be a reply to cptbutton.
Though since I’m writing a second comment, I just wanted to mention (on the topic of abstracting away the real human cost) the first time I won a battle in EU4 and the game popped up with its list of casualties on both side. Now, as a long-time gamer I’ve probably given hundreds if not thousands of people dirt naps, but for some reason that pop-up informing me that several thousand (probably conscripted peasants) in my army had lost their lives to bring me this victory actually hit me pretty hard. Despite (or perhaps, weirdly, because of) this abstract representation, EU4 has done an excellent job of teaching me that even victories mean casualties and have a human cost, even if that human cost isn’t directly represented in the game. I got over the shock pretty quickly, and it hasn’t stopped me from fighting wars with hundreds of thousands of casualties (I managed a world conquest as the Ottomans, once), but it definitely left a mark on me.
I’m continuing to love the series, and Vijayanagar holds a special place for me as the country I played for the first time when I FINALLY knew what I was doing, about 40 hours into the game. 🙂
Hmm. Do the causalities ever get high enough to affect other elements of play through population?
When at war, casualties will significantly raise your War Exhaustion. War Exhaustion works as a slider when at war penalizing you in several ways such has unrest, increased construction times. I can’t recall if it also triggers negative events.
I think low manpower does trigger negative events.
In the Victoria series of games it affects it directly – war casualties decreases the population of the region (or even the population of an ethnicity in a region) that those soldiers were recruited from. After a large war, it can very much lead to a Pyrrhic victory.
In Europa Universalis, there isn’t a direct effect (beyond that you have fewer soldiers to use for your next war). However, there are a number of events and various modifiers that result from losing many soldiers, including decreasing the amount you can tax your country or causing an internal revolt.
Yes, we’re going to come back to Victoria’s population model. I am actually going to have quite a lot of surprisingly nice things to say about Victoria II, which I think – for all of its many, many flaws and shortcomings – has some truly inspired emergent design.
Not in EU4. Manpower is separate from economic factors. There’s war exhaustion, but that’s heavily abstracted.
Now in Victoria 2? Absolutely. All army units take from ‘pops’ (basically a family unit) for their manpower. The professional army draws from soldier pops. You can also mobilize the county, which produces large numbers of basic infantry units which draw from farmer, laborer (miners, oil workers, etc.), and craftsman (factory workers) pops. A casualty in battle is a dead person, and must be replaced. You can absolutely wipe out pops through losses in war. Generally this happens only to soldier pops for most of the game, but towards the late game (earlier in places like South America which have lower populations) you can absolutely have the same things happen to the mobilized pops. And yes, those farmers, laborers, etc. are the exact same people working in those farms, mines, and factories. Take high enough losses and the economy will suffer due to lack of workers because millions marched away to the war and came not back again.
And large casualty numbers, especially among mobilized pops rather than solider pops, are a great way to increase militancy and so risk revolution.
I agree to the strong effect of abstract numbers. I noticed something similar recently. I’m watching the documentation by the (great) youtube channel “World War Two”. In one of the episodes of their “War Against Humanity” series the talking head mentioned that they wanted to give a face to as many victims as possible to remind everyone that this were people being senslessly murdered. So we do go numb on the numbers.
I noticed that this just did not had the same effect on me. The simple collection of mass murders cold numbers of people killed in a single day, has a far bigger effect on me. 20,000 people here, and 5,000 people there. So many people that trying to even get to know the names of all of them is an exercise in futility, killed on a single day in a single place. That’s what gets me every time.
There’s a Holocaust memorial in Prague, in a converted synagogue, where all the interior surfaces of the structure (which is fairly large, with a bunch of ornamental architectural features) are covered in the names of all the Jewish people from the city who are known to have perished in the camps. I think it captures very well the enormity of what happened – you could in theory read all the names if you wanted to, but it’s clear that it would take a *long* time. And then the gut punch is that it’s just a small part of the larger monstrosity, as it only covers people from Prague and (IIRC) the immediate surrounding area.
I’ve been there, and the most horrifying bits is when you scan the monument and find a the name of a child (they list birth/presumed death dates)
“I may have also chosen Burgundy because Burgundy-into-Netherlands games are some of my favorite.”
I like to set before myself an end-game goal, like “unite India as a native-ruled state as Vijayanagar”. In Crusader Kings I tend to play as the uniter of Ireland or restorer of the Eastern Roman Empire. This goal usually happens in mid-to-late game instead, so at this point I either lose interest or resort to one or another kind of stupid sh…tuff done mostly for fun.
Which brings me to something slightly more relevant. I, as a player, can plan for centuries of in-game time because for me it’s a mere bunch of hours. But, can such long-term plans exist in the real world? Even dynasties, which technically could maintain a constant vision due to it being passed from parent to child, don’t really do that. Organized religions (as in the Catholic Church) sometimes appear like they do, because they are by definition sustained by an underlying ideology which also sets such a vision for them, but you may as well claim this is actually an illusion stemming from the fact that this ideology also drives them to present themselves this way: as if they had an unchanging vision, whether or not it is unchanging or even exists at all.
I believe, this is what the so-called “geopolitics” are about: a concept that states or societies might have long-term, shall we say, orientations towards certain goals, that stem out of more general conditions and are often realized by people who never cared to philosophize on them. (Do I get it right? Or did I just re-state the main point of the realist school in slightly looser terms?)
So – were there any real cases of such long-term planning? Short-term, sure, like when the ruling circles of Piedmont united Italy one city-state at a time, but that was in the span of, like, two generations? Enough to maintain consistent vision within a consistent set of ruling elites. Perhaps Muscovy’s imperial-Orthodox program to unite “all of Russia”?
The Islamic world spending almost a full millennium bashing its head against Constantinople until finally taking it comes to mind.
I’m not sure if it counts. Like, if it was some sort of reborn Caliphate that did the conquering, then perhaps it would. But this was more like, a few attempts by one power (the Caliphate), then a period of nobody quite caring, then another power arising (Ottoman Turks) and finishing the project for themselves. For comparison: imagine a company halfway-developing some product, then dropping the idea and getting into a different market, then another unrelated company stepping in with an unrelated idea that ends up with a product very much like that never-finished first one.
I was thinking about the Reconquista, but I don’t know enough about Medieval Spain to say for sure. If reconquering and uniting Spain was ever seen as a goal to meet in the Castilian court, then perhaps I have another case.
Also (in regards to Finnish reader’s post below), it’s funny how much it looks like it’s ever only Russia.
Re: the Reconquista. I’m not a historian, but as far as I know the term itself was created by 19th-century nationalists and integrated as a core element of the national-catholic ideology of Franco’s regime. There is considerable debate among historians whether the concept itself is just a nationalist retcon or there was in fact an ideological goal of unifying the entire Iberian peninsula (the existence of Spain and Portugal as separate states is kinda accidental).
During the first several centuries, the small Christian states in the north often banded together to fend off the Córdoba Emirate’s expansion, while also being subject to frequent internal strife, partition and re-unification. After the collapse of the Calipahte, a more complex system emerged, with a complex system of vassalage and opportunistic alliances between its multiple Muslim successor states and the slowly-consolidating Christian states.
It was at this time, I think, that ending Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula emerged as a consistent long-term goal, with the Christian rulers presenting themselves as the legitimate restorers of the Visigoths’ kingdom and protectors of the Mozarabs. But despite the more or less uninterrupted advance to the south, unification of the peninsula was not a total priority — both Castile and Aragón went on overseas imperialist adventures well before it happened (e.g. in southern Italy and the Canary Islands), and both the (Muslim) kingdom of Granada and the (Christian) kingdom of Navarre were allowed to exist for centuries before they were finally crushed and incorporated into Castile in 1492 and 1512, respectively. Portugal was already too big to conquer by force, and the treaty of Tordesillas prevented further conflict by partitioning the Indies into a Portuguese East and a Castilian West.
Is that long term planning, or just lots of different rulers aiming for the big prize because it’s a big prize? (And getting beaten to it by the Fourth Crusade, hardly part of the Islamic world.)
“The Islamic world spending almost a full millennium bashing its head against Constantinople until finally taking it comes to mind.”
That’s literally the worst example to be taken. The Umayyads tried to take Constantinople two times, in 674 and in 717, failed and then no one tried again for literally 700 years until the Ottomans with Bayezid Ist.
The Russians have had, as a well-published political goal, the target of getting unimpeded access to the Mediterranean since Catherine the Great. For example, all Constantines of the Romanov family were younger sons, dubbed in birth as eventual Byzantine emperors, should the grand project succeed. The Crimean War was about Western powers stopping this expansion, which was renewed in 1878, after a Russian victory against the Turks.
This goal was pursued also by Stalin during and after WWII (annexation of Bessarabia, Greek Civil War), and played a major role in the war planning of all parties in the Cold War. The current Russian adventures in Ukraine and Syria are also part of this long-term project. And because this Russian long-term geopolitical objective is well-known in Russia, framing foreign political actions in this light gives the ruler legitimacy. “Raising a cross on Hagia Sophia” is, for an average Russian, a dream worth pursuing. If you doubt me, just read Boris Akunin’s “The Turkish Gambit” from 1998. The man was definitely not a Putinist, and is in fact rather liberal in his outlook, but even he is very symphatetic to the goal of conquering Istanbul.
I think that “objective with blatant advantage for your country” is bait, and likely to tempt without cross-generational planning. (The elements of doing what your predecessor failed in, out of either filial piety or desire to outdo him are also not strategy.)
I mean, that is setting the goal posts very far away, if you require that any strategizing cannot have any kind of aspiration for gain behind it.
I don’t think “That would be nice, I want it” qualifies as a strategy.
I think that a large part of this discussion here comes from the fact that English-speakers have been part of dominant powers for centuries. When USA was an ascendant power, the “manifest destiny” was part of the national ideology. The individual actions were naturally about utilising the moment and conditions on the ground, but the overall theme of American foreign policy was from 1820’s until 1910’s the idea that USA would expand to rule Northern America. When this was fulfilled, the expansionist midnset continued with taking over the Pacific and the Caribbean.
Similarly, the British imperialism was always about “pacifying” the neighbouring natives, but it was done with the consciousness that the Romans ended with an empire the same way. And the imperialists were OK with it. They truly believed that in the end, the British Empire (or America) would bring great benefits to the mankind as a whole. Ensuring the security and growth of the empire was an unalloyed good.
Nowadays, these ideologies of expansionism are so well buried that you don’t remember them, except perhaps with revulsion. This makes it difficult to you to see how other countries may still have such guiding geopolitical ideologies. It is not just grabbing things that are loose. It is about having a long-standing ideology, taught at school, enforced in media, held by the ruling classes, that these things need to be grabbed when the time is ripe.
The Byzantine Empire tried really hard to re-conquer Italy, North Africa and whatever could be restored from the former West Roman Empire. The Byzantines were ready to sacrifice the Balkan provinces if Italy could be kept.
The second drive was to re-conquer Anatolia and the Middle East after surviving the Caliphate on-slaught. Again, the Balkan provinces were sacrificed and even Italy was let go.
Long -term planning is usually done by state culture / propaganda used to legitimize the elite and it remains effective for several generations
Goals are often created by the circumstance a country finds itself in, like its geography and neighbors. Like Japan having a large army even though they are only allowed to use it defensively, because they fear china. Russia wants to control eastern Europe since Moscow has little natural barriers to defend it. So their best bet is employing scorched earth tactics, and the more land they have to scorch, the more they can stretch a supply train thin. That is why they allowed the unification of Germany with the assumption Germany wasn’t allowed in NATO, and why they do not want the baltics to be part of NATO. And they also want a warmwater port and will defend Crimea till the death. No sane government would give up such a strategic port. And it also explains why they are maintaining diplomatic relations with Turkey, Istanbul is guarding the Bosporus. England always tried to unite the British Isles to make sure the only border they have is the sea. And then they made sure they maintained a large navy. Their interest in the continent was only that to maintain the balance of power.
Because of the political, historical and geographical situation nations will tend to do the same thing over a long time, since that is simply the best course of action.
I think the bit about “Russian desire for strategic depth around Moscow” is moot in the modern era. No one’s going to mass a gigantic land army and march on Moscow. And if they do then the Russians can look at the idea of scorched earth tactics, look at their nuclear arsenal, sneer, and mutter “if you’re leaving scorch marks you need a bigger gun.”
I think there’s a distinction to be made between a state repeatedly choosing the best medium-term course of action that, in retrospect, looks like a long term strategy and a state deliberately putting themselves at a disadvantage over the short/medium term in order to gain an advantage in the long term.
Was the Reconquista a long term strategy or was it just easier for the Christian kingdoms to annex land from Al Andalus than from the Angevin Empire, France or each other?
Did Muscovy explicitly aim for a warm-water port or was a politically divided Pontic-Caspian steppe an opportune target?
There are underlying ideological bases which drive political ambitions in a consistent direction. As an example, both the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire were widely conceived of as unitary states – there could not be two Roman or Chinese Emperors, any more than there can be two presidents of the US. So partitions, even if long-lasting, were never stable, as neither side could recognise the legitimacy of the other without conceding its own legitimacy. The reconquista is mentioned below – the centrality of the religious justification to rule put limits on Christian recognition of Muslim rulers (Islam had less of a problem, so long as Christians were subordinate). As you say, Muscovy’s conception of itself as the Third Rome and inheritor of the mantle of Kievan pushed in the same direction – all Russians belonged under it, Constantinople was its by inheritance, and it was the rightful protector of the Slavs and the Orthodox.
The Romans had co-emperors on many occasions, and for a long period of time after Diocletian…
Not quite – there was always, AFAIK, a senior emperor and a junior (and, under the tetrarchy, senior and junior vice-emperors). But my point is that Rome was conceived of as a unity – and, for several centuries, the legitimate sole ruler of the civilised world. This made lasting partition difficult, as it did in China. The attitude carried over to the papacy.
A correction: the level of destruction those armies could increase went up as well
Interesting that you talk about realism in IR without naming what I – coming from a political science background – would see as a foundational text, ie Hedley Bull’s “The Anarchical Society”.
RE: Score. The devs run weekly MP games (and sometimes they stream them, which can be a great fun to watchprecisley for the kind of realpolitic considerations when you put human players against each other) and they have pretty much stated that the score system (and the “Victory Cards” subsystem) is largely there for the multiplayer games.
One interesting thing about post-Carolingian Europe was that state power was heavily circumscribed by widespread ideas about legitimacy – that it should be grounded in a varying mix of descent, consent and conformity to custom. Trying to take over some province to which you had no hereditary claim was a fraught affair, more so if you introduced administrative innovations or slighted the local gentry. In Burgundy’s case, one glaring weakness was that ducal Burgundy was at all times an acknowledged part of France (the same problem bedevilled the Plantagenet claims to Gascony and other parts of France). Richard Pipes pointed out the way this is reflected in titularies: Louis is King of France, Navarre, Naples, Jerusalem – all territories to which he has some claim, and likewise George is King of England, Scotland and Ireland. By contrast an Ottoman emperor is ‘Lord of the Horizons’ and ‘Commander of the Faithful’, with no implied limit, the Shah is ‘King of Kings of the Iranians and the non-Iranians’, the Moghul emperor is ‘Lord of the Soil’ and so on.
I wish you had uploaded this a week ago! At the time, I was heavily into an argument over on a six ages subreddit over what effectively was a debate about the model of realism vs constructivism, and this article really crystallized some of the concepts I was trying to say which instead came out rather muddled.
Once again, I actually would implore you to take a look at Six Ages, in part because it does involve a kind of constructivism vs realism debate at the end, even if the majority of the game is heavily constructivist. You play a semi-nomadic clan of people who effectively became steppe nomads after their home city was buried under a glacier and they had to flee. And your behavior is HEAVILY circumscribed by the dictates of your culture: Warfare is a matter of riding up to a nearby clan, maybe fighting a battle (but ideally not) and then running off with as much wealth as you can grab. And because you’re very much thinking like nomadic people, “wealth” is usually defined in terms of cows, goats, sheep, and horses. If a faraway clan does something nasty, say capture one of your people and blind him in one of their religious rituals, you can launch a reprisal raid right away in revenge, but once the moment passes and tempers cool, if it’s out of regular raiding range, you can’t fight them, no matter how much you the player might want to. And right near the beginning, when you’re clearing away pastures and planting some crops, the person who is leading the effort (and you have to pick a leader) is very likely best served by a religious leader, not someone with a more practical skill-set: these sorts of things are viewed almost as much as religious ceremonies as anything else.
Now some of that is the fantasy setting you’re in. This is a world where if you have your ancestral enemy be the forces of water, if you are EVER nice to those people who live on the banks of the river nearby, you can expect your ancestral spirits to be very unhappy and do very nasty things to you until you mend your ways. The Gods are very real, and a lot of surviving effectively involves doing the right rituals to get their favor for things you need. But for the sort of dialog this blog is going for, I think the most interesting aspect is how the game revolves around a culture in crisis. Your culture is in many ways not equal to the challenges and problems facing it, and your clan leaders recognize this, and bemoan how you’re being supplanted by the “Rams” another ethnic group moving in who have institutions (and religious rituals) much better suited to a cooling climate. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t played it, but the game’s answer seems to be along the lines of yes, cultures will change in the face of existential threats, but as little and as late as possible.
I know it’s not really history in the usual sense, but I really do think it would be a neat thing to check out for this blog.
King of Dragon Pass and Six Ages are undoubtedly the best anthropological video games to date, really monumental achievements.
I had not heard of the Six Ages follow up to King of Dragon Pass. I am downloading it as I type. Thanks!
Since everybody else is mentioning Byzantium here, and the game starts in 1444: is it possible to play as the tiny parcel of impoverished land known in 1444 as “The Roman Empire,” and if so, has anybody ever turned that rump state into something long-term secure again?
This is a game where people conquer the world as the frickin’ Iroquis for a challenge, so very much yes.
don’t forget Ulm, a one province state in the middle of the HRE. there’s ways to wage and win a war against the ottomans in the first 10 years. EU4 is shaped and inspired by history, but there plenty of latitude to go outside if one desires and is skilled enough
Yes, Roman border Byzantium is the challenge of many players. Most already try it at least once, many have successed.
The goal of restoring the Roman Empire starting as the “Byzantine Empire” is one of the most popular “challenge runs” in the community. There are a lot of guides on how to do so, and a lot of mechanics-abusing involved, but it also (in my experience) has been a really great simulation of realist theories. To actually *win* against the Ottomans requires conquering a lot of smaller states that are you’d start out more friendly toward along with hoping for some useful alliances, and you are almost always going to be stuck needing to have an opportunistic alliance that you drop the moment the Ottoman threat is contained.
I think the date was picked precisely because Byzantium was still around, it’s of course playable. It takes a little luck but it’s not very hard to turn the tide.
It’s basically impossible if you’re not a skilled player. But yes, that’s almost certainly why the start date is as early as it is.
The start date is based on the failed Crusade of Varna (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusade_of_Varna), specifically the day after the decisive Battle of Varna (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Varna).
A problem with starting earlier than the battle of Varna is the game doesn’t naturally produce the rise of the Ottoman Empire, as the mechanics have them loosing at Varna.
Well, yes, there’s that. But they decided to set it right after the Battle of Varna and not the day after Constantinople fell (like EU3 did) was almost certainly because people want to play the Byzantines and bring them back to glory.
It’s a pretty perfect challenge run; it involves one of the biggest names in the region, everyone grasps why it would be difficult at that start date, and being able to restore the Roman Empire is pretty much the most viscerally rewarding tag change you can get. Oh, and it’s hard because you start with four vassals and the scariest empire on the continent* wants to eat you.
*Assuming we count the Ottomans as either European or African and not Asian, but it’s located right at the point where divisions between continents become obviously stupid so whatever
“*Assuming we count the Ottomans as either European or African and not Asian, but it’s located right at the point where divisions between continents become obviously stupid so whatever”
Byzantium is exactly at the place where the division between Europe and Asia makes the most sense: the place where they’re separated by water.
Oh yes, although it’s extremely difficult. But I have fond memories, and if I can find it, a picture of a game from my wife’s where she started as the rump Byzantine state and re-emerged in glory. Although there was a fair bit of luck involved, mostly involving stabbing the Ottomans in the back early when they got into a big nasty war with Hungary and tearing away some vital provinces. But she was eventually able to turn it into something that encompassed all of Trajan’s empire, and a bit more besides by 1735, when she eventually decided that it was easy and over and we were bored.
I imagine this was meant as a reply to me? In any case, it’s hard to visualize that working, given that ‘the Empire’ was one city and a patch of land in the Peloponnese, and the one city was reduced to growing food on a fair share of its old lots, from what I’ve read.
Yes, it was meant as a reply to you and my apologies for flubbing that. And the reason it “works” is the AI is consistently a worse player than all but the feeblest efforts from a human player. Given the complexities of the game, it is amazing that it does as well as it does, but really, when I play I’m not worried about survival, because I know I can tap-dance around any and all AI controlled possible rivals. Beating a bigger and stronger enemy is less “amazing feat” and more par for the course, and it’s only the colossal disparity between the Ottomans and the Byzantines that makes this challenging at all.
Gotcha. I guess it’s similar to most non-real-time strategy games in that regard. Only the last example of the genre I played was Civ4, and I was never very good at it.
So, it is important to keep in mind when assessing Eu4 and indeed all of Paradox’s titles that there is a HUGE gap between advanced players and most of the player base in terms of the ability to manage and abuse the system (I realized this talking on their forums a while back about playing France in HOI4 and the pointers some folks needed were, um, pretty basic stuff?) – so the average player is still going to feel the bite of interstate anarchy, at least in their first few games.
First of all the developers admitted to making constantinople more wealthy in development than is realistic. So you start a bit stronger than you should. Second, the fastest way you beat the ottomans early is by taking on massive amounts of debt, hiring as many mercenaries as you can, then declare war on them before they know what hits them (ottomans are the strongest nation in the game, but very early on they are still a little bit vulnerable). What helps is that the AI often mothballs forts, which makes them less costly to maintain, but that also means that if you get to the fort before they can unmothball it you can capture it instantly. Another trick you have is that if you have naval superiority in the bosporus strait you can frustrate their ability to move troops across. This can allow you to occupy anatolia without getting picked off by ottoman forces. So a lot of this strategy is AI abuse.
A less abusive strategy is allying with albania, they have skanderbeg as a general, who is godlike. Albania is also guaranteed by venice, meaning that rich venice will assist them in case of war. If you can ally albania while they are at war with the ottomans, they will call you in as an ally to assist them, which means you can suddenly attack the ottomans from the back, and with luck use your united forces (albania, you, venice) led by skanderbeg to break the ottoman army.
What also helps is that you have cores on the ottomans, cores are a “this land is seen to be part of my state and the people living there accept that”. This means you can fight a reconquest war instead of a war of conquest. reconquest wars are far more efficient since you dont get rebels, you can take more land for the same “warscore”, and incur less aggressive expansion. Once you succeed in the first war the ottomans lose a bunch of rich land, while you just gained a lot. Again, IR realism shows up here, breaking the ottomans makes you more secure, and the weakened ottomans then get attacked by the mamluks that want land in anatolia.
Also byzantium isn’t really *the* rump state. You have trebizond and theodoro as well.
This brings to mind the board game Diplomacy, which is probably the game that best models realism in its most pure and brutal form. While in a lot of ways similar to the EU games, Diplomacy tends to be a lot more vicious. It’s not only famous for constant back-stabbing but in that game you’re pretty much constantly at war, except for early game maneuvering I can only think of a single turn in which I was not at war with SOMEONE across the many games that I’ve played. It’s interesting how Diplomacy’s reputation for backstabbing and aggression comes from such a simple set of rules. For example:
-In Diplomacy it’s utterly impossible to build tall in any way whatsoever. Any growth in power comes solely from taking it from others (after the early game carving up of neutrals is done).
-The tactical rules really favor the defender (very much in keeping with the trench warfare of the era Diplomacy is emulating). Especially with the right position it can be very difficult to beat a smaller player into submission with raw power and even if you can do it it’ll take a while if the defender is smart and leave your other flanks horribly vulnerable. This makes treachery, attacking someone who’s busy elsewhere, or huge coalitions ganging up against a single player even more attractive than they are in EU.
-The tactical rules make it so that knowing what the enemy is planning gives you a huge advantage while at the same time it’s utterly necessary to coordinate your moves in detail with your allies in order to be effective. This means that wheedling information and leaking it to the right parties is very useful which really feeds into the paranoia that Diplomacy is famous for.
-It’s really hard to move your units from one front to another in a timely fashion which exacerbates all of the above.
-A treacherous strike at your home territories IMMMEDIATELY hamstrings your military power.
Overall anyone who wants to dunk their heads into the anarchy of the realist model should really give Diplomacy a try.
Ply Diplomacy only with *extremely* good friends or complete strangers. The treachery necessary to thrive will put a tremendous strain on relationships in the middle
Has reportedly destroyed at least one betrothal, if not marriages or friendships.
‘Diplomacy’ – the only winning move is not to play in the first place.
(I tried it in company once a couple of decades ago; I quit in disgust several turns in, and have not touched it again since.)
Ended up having to quit playing it online as being in different time zone than everyone else the results always came out first thing in the morning and it was actually messing with my sleep. Insane game, nothing else makes you wake up at 4 AM worried about Silesia. Find it a lot more fun face to face, a lot more freewheeling and not as paranoia-inducing as online.
Still I’ll always treasure the memory of betrayed a good friend twice in a single in-game year.
Hmm, Boshko, a name I haven’t heard in a very long time… good times playing Diplomacy on the Apolyton boards. More relevantly for the topic, though, as far as “is this a remotely realistic simulation”, Diplomacy is out of step with the time it purports to model – it does a terrible job at representing the actual way power was built in the 1900 / 1914 era. Maybe in 1500 occupying Belgium or Greece might allow you to raise an additional army, but occupying territory and waging war became a power *drain* by the 20th century, at least in the short term. The start of WWI essentially sent Russia into an immediate recession due to rallying all the manpower right before the harvest, when manpower was at its most precious. And it’s not like the British immediately rallied regiments from their conquests in Syria, or the Ottomans lost much of anything from no longer having control there. (Maybe, maybe it helped the Central Powers to defeat Romania for easier access to its oil? That’s about it.) In retrospect, I definitely think that the Diplomacy “system” makes more sense for being a Thirty Years War simulator or the like, with lots of real-life backstabbing and when looting conquered territories could actually help your treasury rather than hurt it.
Diplomacy is very much on the “game” end of the spectrum from game to simulation. Nothing wrong with that, just as there’s nothing wrong with chess as a game even though chess is a horrible representation of ancient/medieval warfare.
Yes it’s completely unrealistic about economic potential and military force, but that’s the point! What Diplomacy is about is right there in the title, the interactions between the players. You can’t minimax your economic resources to win, you can’t be the best general on the battlefield.
I don’t actually like playing Diplomacy myself, but it is a wonderful example of game design.
Like it’s only bad for “ancient/medieval”. . .
Oh, absolutely. I actually had a line in my original comment about “Diplomacy is clearly on the game side of the game-simulation spectrum” but cut it for brevity. I do think that the *way* Diplomacy is out-of-step as a simulation are interesting, at least, because Boshko is right that Diplomacy makes a good “Red Queen” competition model experience; I was just thinking that its merits as a simulation would have improved a tad taking place in an earlier era on a smaller map.
As a side comment, there’s a board game called “Here I Stand: Wars of the Reformation” that attempts to model 1500-1600 or so. And… it’s not good! The problem is precisely that it errs way too far on the “recreate history” angle and not enough on the “this is a game that supports crazy alternate histories” side – the equivalent of if EU4 country “quests” were incredibly important, rigged to recreate history, and the only thing that mattered. France gets nothing for invading Germany but big points for recreating the Italian Wars of the era, for example. It’s okay to play once, and then never again because everybody is stuck doing the same thing every game just with different dice rolls. So definitely give me the “game” over the “simulation” experience if you have to pick one.
Yeah, EU4 is definitely a good Realist School of International Relations simulator. Which explains why it is the Paradox game I am least interested in. I much prefer approaches that try to describe external policy as emerging from internal politics and societal factors, which to me seems much closer to how most of history worked. Realism to me seems to only occasionally get it right. I guess I should read Eckstein’s book, because the Roman Conquest of the Mediterranean was not one of the eras I would have considered suitable for realism.
Speculating as someone who hasn’t played the game: I think the main reason why EU4 is so good at modelling IR Realism is simply the fact that the extinction of a state is an instant game over, while radically changing the institution of the state is not. But as far as I can tell in reality much of the elite within polities could persist through conquests, while internal changes could be just as dangerous to their position as being conquered. For example, after the Ottoman’s conquered the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt 1517, the Mamluks, except for the highest levels, remained the ruling class in Egypt. They remained politically active all the way until 1811, when Muhammad Ali massacred them to secure his rule over Egypt. But if the same events happened in EU4 the Mamluk player would see a “game over” in 1517, not in 1811.
I think all Paradox games on the Clausewitz engine have IR Realism baked into their core mechanics to some extent, though. EU4 has it in its most pure form, but the other games still have it, combined with other elements. I suppose a game that models a societal approach would need different core mechanics. (I wish there was a Historical Open World Sandbox RPG in which every character was playable and all NPCs interact with each other based on how people in that time period would generally interact. States and armies in such a game would be constructed bottom-up. But I am uncertain if such a game would even be feasible with current technology.)
I do think CK II / III does allow for more playing around with a “game over” given that the lose conditions are either become *unlanded* or run out of dynastic heirs. It’s totally possible to simply exist as a minor count with one holding for decades under the protection of a stronger king or emperor. There are obvious dangers, given that subordination can come with religious and cultural changes demanded by the new liege, and you may have to fend off efforts to take your land by other vassals or the liege, but it is a lot easier to play as a subordinate power in the CK series than in any other Paradox game.
I love Crusader Kings 2. It was my first Paradox grand strategy game and so far it remains my only Paradox grand strategy game because I simply couldn’t go back to playing unitary after that. The idea to make rulers of all levels agents gives conflicts inside polities a similar importance as conflicts between polities, and I am here for that.
On the other hand, it is the game that I feel most often runs into the limitations of its core mechanics. A child-ruler during a regency has more control over its realm than the actual regent. The character put in command of an army does not actually command the army, only gives it certain boni. Unlike armies, characters don’t really travel, even though there are sometimes travel time counters. And many other situations like that.
It will be really interesting once this series gets to Crusader Kings. Because I am not sure if that game also has a clear theory of history like EU4 has, or if it is a mix of several different theories of history.
(I have not played CK3 so far. From what I have seen it felt, idk, less innovative than it could have been.)
I think the CK series has a pretty clear theory of history, but it’s kind of jumbled when you add in expansions. At least from the onset, it seems like the theory of history is that states are operated by people and those people make the state power. That also means that personal conflicts and personal whims can make states operate differently than a pure realist view may take. CK3 imo expands on this by adding “Stress” and making it beneficial to play in accordance with the traits of your ruler (it’s really, really bad to give away titles as a greedy ruler, or to mass-revoke as a just one).
Crusader Kings 3 at the moment has less content and replayability than Crusader Kings 2 does, but the core systems of 3 are better designed and way more flexible than in 2. CK3 is also apparently much easier to modify than CK2 ever was (which is really saying something, given how easy modding CK2 is), so between that and Paradox’s ever reliable habit of tinkering with their games, so I suspect that in a year or two CK3 will improve substantially.
It’s also way cleaner, in a whole host of ways. Easier to learn, easier to play, and the core mechanics are simpler and more flexible overall. It’s the first Paradox game with a really good tutorial, for example, because it’s the first one that’s actually fairly simple to teach. I liked it better than CK2 out of the box, and I owned about half of the big CK2 DLCs.
I agree, for slightly different reasons. Any old Civilization clone functions as a Realist School game—way less historically-detailed than EU4 and possibly not even trying to be, but still basically the same. Crusader Kings, for instance, is a fundamentally different kind of game because of how it rejects (or at least alters/adds to) Realist-School politics.
It’s not just a matter of technology. To pick a real-life example from actual games, the cleverest AI in the world will seem like the game spawning enemies in arbitrary corridors if the player doesn’t understand what the AI is doing.
Having NPCs interact and states function as a massive pile of individual interactions would be pointless, because the player can’t have meaningful agency or comprehension of any system complicated enough to pull that off—it just has too many moving parts! Things will just…change, or not, and the player won’t understand why it happened. Either they’ll be frustrated at how their plans keep getting ruined by factors beyond their control or ability to prepare for, or they’ll stop caring. “Oh, Alex isn’t the shopkeep any more? Whatever, the new guy still sells grain, right?”
Not to mention that modeling states that way is, itself, incomplete. If you don’t include systems external to those interactions representing the traditions and cultural context of the NPCs involved, then you’re not going to get anything like the societies we know.
(But it’s also infeasible, unless you have hilariously small states and very simple NPCs. Or take most of the burden off those NPCs through some hardcoded “institutions,” e.g. making sure everyone respects town guards as town guards without checking whether there’s some possible reason for the peasants to rebel against them or whatever…but that’s mostly a way to simplify the NPCs.)
I think Europe was still in a medieval mindset in 1444, so would more likely resemble the Crusader Kings game where it was the personal rule of a king or duke which decided what a state would do. For instance, the collapse of the duchy of Burgundy as a major player was mostly due to Charles theh Bold being a fool with vision of grandure and the french king Louis XI being a scheming genious. This medieval mechanic only ended after the anarchic period when powers of rulers were curtailed by parlements and kingdoms truly became states.
Was Charles the Bold a deluded fool – or was he keenly aware that the precarious position of his little empire was untenable in the long run, and that a risky bet was the best strategy for survival?
The game does in fact have a mechanism of “ruler personality” that governs e.g. how likely the state is to attack its rivals and neighbors, or how long they will keep fighting a losing war (of course, the player is exempt from that). Though some of the more ludicrous acts of rulers (*cough* Peter III *cough*) are left out in favor of mostly-semi-rational actors, a ruler recklessly starting a war, falling in battle and spelling doom for his empire due to lack of an heir is totally modeled within the game mechanics.
The powers of the kings were not curtailed by parliaments of assemblies in the early modern period. In places where you had those, they were on their way out, or coopted. Most assemblies in the Continent were very local, and usually, they lost their importance during the consolidation period. In the few cases where they played a role, it was usually about fomenting a local uprising (e.g. Bohemia in 1618, Sweden in 1519, 1521), and usually, this ended badly for the local assembly. Sweden was an exception: there, the locals won their uprising, and founded a new state where the kings used the assembly as a legitimising factor of their power. The general Diet was a way for Swedish kings to play the lower classes against the aristocracy. Usually, the Diet decided in accordance with the King’s proposals. In about every other country, kings reigned alone, with a coterie of councillors.
The only countries where the parliament actually constrained the royal power were Poland and England. For Poland, it ended badly. England had a very curious development where the parliamentary rebellion resulted in a military dictatorship, and then after a brief resumption of domestic monarchy, in the Dutch ruler conquering England in a very effective strategic strike where the local parliament was bribed to support the foreign invasion. No wonder that the contemporary continental thinkers saw non-absolutism as a way to get a permanently instable state.
That is somewhat putting the cart before the horse: That is largely the state of affairs by 1700, but it’s decidedly not so in 1444. Indeed the movement towards royal “absolutism” is part of the general change of EU4. The co-option or destruction of local assemblies was an ongoing process and something that could (and indeed did) go both ways. The hungarians kept a diet with some interruptions under Habsburg rule, Castille’s local assemblies were crushed in the 1500’s but the aragonese ones kept existing (and largely succeeded in forcing the spanish crowns to rely on taxing castilians, etc.) The english and french had roughly simultaneous civil wars with radically different outcomes, the danish assembly abolished itself, etc. etc.
That is not how most people would describe the Glorious Revolution! If William III had permanently unified the Netherlands and the UK, had ruled the combined state from Holland, and had left the unified state to his children, that might be a fair description, but he did none of those things.
It probably is true that the English polity was not widely admired in Europe as of 1700, but that points to an answer to the question above, about whether states can have centuries-long strategies. Evidently they cannot, since no one knows which of the various national enterprises being attempted at any given moment will bear fruit in the long term. In the event, the English governmental system (i.e., parliamentary democracy, possibly with a constitutional monarch) triumphed globally.
That’s because most people are reading it from the perspective of the people who invited said dutch ruler as king. The very fact that they call it the Glorious Revolution is kind of a dead giveaway. (neatly ignoring that William kept London secured with loyal dutch troops for years)
“the people who invited said dutch ruler”–also known as most of the inhabitants of England.
The discussion regarding states as organization prioritizing military security does bring to mind an ancient local saying that translates to something like “The farmer who doesn’t want to feed his army will feed someone else’s army” – it’s not just about the “interests of the state” without regard to the populace; the interests align as it’s more beneficial to loot than be looted in e.g. Viking age, it’s more beneficial for the burghers to ensure that it’s not your cities whose walls get breached, and it’s more beneficial to colonize than be colonized. Of course, the benefits and costs of the war do get assigned disproportionally and not fairly, but in the presence of violent competition it’s in the people’s best interests to have a strong state – and vice versa – in the absence of that, if your “empire” has “won” the surrounding area, then the interests cease to be aligned and a weaker state would be preferable.
Not to mention that there are very few self-directed goals which aren’t made easier by painting the map. The game does have some mechanics which arguably reward players for building “tall” rather than “wide,” but IIRC most of those can be used to almost as great effect in a wide empire—especially if you feed vassals instead of taking land yourself.
France’s lackey, Burgundian Inheritance Event Chain, is less obvious but quite impactful. Probably impossible to squeeze into a case study for explaining EU4 in general though.
…which is a gaming dilemma with no real answer, only trade-offs. If the AI is too clever, too capable at sabotaging player strategies, then the player is denied agency and will probably assume the AI is cheating even if they’re actually playing by the same rules. And of course, if the AI is dumb, the game will be too easy (and feel ahistorical, if it’s in a historical setting like this).
Where you want to balance this depends on the kind of game you want to make…and on how good you can make the AI, which is tied to how complicated the game’s systems are, which builds in extra trade-offs. After all, every fun fiddly subsystem for players to tweak and try to optimize (or roleplay through, depending on the player) is another factor the AI has to consider.
I don’t envy game devs. They get a lot of flak for making no-win decisions.
And a ‘fair’ AI can be both pretty stupid, because existing AI is dumb, and diabolically ‘clever’, since it can easily do minmax and resource-tracking calculations that would fatigue most humans playing for fun.
I’d be very interested in seeing that list of European state extinctions.
This is awkward as hell to actually use, and probably overkill, but https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_sovereign_states_in_Europe has a complete timeline/list of every sovereign state in Europe since the year 1000.
You can also look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_former_sovereign_states#Europe for a somewhat simpler one.
I’ve tried to exclude ones that were the core power of a new nation (e.g., Castille becoming Spain), but may have missed a few. I may have also made some errors, tbh(and so might Wikipedia), but this will at least be close.
Principality of Wales (though it had long since stopped being de facto independent)
The (Byzantine) Roman Empire
That’s a list of 35(!), not 22.
Hmm. On that list – Brittany, Burgundy and the Rus states were all never juridically sovereign. Aragon and Croatia were brought under the same crown as Castile and Hungary, but retained their own institutions. The Kalmar Union was again a union of crowns, dissolved by Swedish revolt (so more parallel to Scotland under Edward I’s rule). The Irish domains were, again, never sovereign.
If you leave out the states not part of the European system (Georgia, Circassia, Kazan etc), Poland is really the only one, and its extinction caused sufficient unease that it was resurrected within two decades, first as the Duchy of Warsaw and then as the Kingdom of Poland in union under the Czar. From C11 European states as juridical entities were remarkably durable by the standards of other places and times (who remembers Vijayanagar or Champa?)
One obvious question is if there is such a strong drive to consolidation, then why does the game *start* like it does with all of these tiny states competing with each other? What is the counter-forces that can cause states to break apart and fragment and leave the amusing patchwork that greets at game start? I understand that it probably didn’t rate discussion because it’s not part of Europa Universalis, but it would have been nice to get a mention.
Well, THAT is more properly explained by CK2!
I do note that EU2 (which is when I started playing) was unusual because states breaking down *was* an option, something that didn’t really happen in Civ, or even Total Wars of the time.
One thing Bret left out (probably for brevity) is that states in EU4 *can* fracture and be split up, either externally (as a result of losing a war and being partitioned into multiple smaller states) or from internal rebellion (or a combination of the two). The game tracks states that have been completely conquered for up to 150 years after they’ve disappeared, and they can come back in one of the two ways mentioned above during that time (and some states can even come back permanently). Conquering land isn’t all upside, as the more land you conquer the more unrest you get (though it deceases slowly over time, and when cored), which will lead to uprisings which spawn hostile rebel armies. If those armies conquer enough of your land (and they can be quite dangerous), they can enforce their demands, which can be things like changing the national religion to returning more power to local authorities to the aforementioned splitting away of an independent state from your realm (or returning some land to the country it was conquered from, if it still exists).
In practice, it’s generally mildly uncommon (but not unheard of) for a country to collapse to rebels like this, and splitting a rival power into multiple smaller states which can be vassalized and played off of each other is a time-worn tactic for dividing and conquering.
So the unsatisfying answer is partially “because its a game.” There are mechanics in the game that drive toward national dissolution from a variety of factors, but these are generally less strong and are from a player perspective predictable (and thus counterable) because beyond just being a history thesis it is still a piece of entertainment that is trying to sell to people, people who have come to expect and enjoy painting the map.
The other part is that EU4 is, beyond having a theory of history in general, also a theory of modernity in specific. The devs did not do themselves any favors by trying to make a game that answers “what’s the deal with 1444-1822” in general terms, because a LOT of things happened in that period and one of them was a general reduction in the number of states. If you’re trying to make a game of that period that is a lightly-guided but not entirely off the road simulation, you can either try to replicate that through systems (which again are that the systems for consolidation generally outpace the systems for dissolution), or you can just say ‘what happened historically? we think that was less likely than the alternative’ but that gets you into all sorts of hot water with people who want the history.
And as other comments alluded to, this is part of what CK2 simulates more strongly, mostly in the sense that the obvious answer to “why don’t states just consolidate endlessly” is that localized groups figure out reasons why they’d be better off without their fates tied to the broader group and break off. In EU4 that behavior is basically just kind of abstract modifiers in the ether, in CK2 it’s in the form of characters, and CK2 is a game about characters and their agency.
Even Crusader Kings, the series ostensibly about breaking up realms through character machinations has consolidation, especially on the player’s side. Player realms are predictable enough and the centrifugal forces weak enough(mostly for game reasons) that it’s not hard to maintain 18c style unified states if that’s how you want to roll. Even in CK3 where they try to make it a little harder, it’s still no problem to keep huge realms together.
The way powers don’t break up much is very much a game-mechanic thing. For players, it’s to avoid frustrating mechanics that destroy your ‘progress’, for the AI, it’s there to keep the late game from being a cakewalk- to provide unified, strong opposition to a player.
EU IV has a mechanism for this too, although it’s probably too weak – you can get provincial rebellions, and if you don’t do anything about them, they can break away as independents. This rarely actually happens in the game when you play because you go and beat them up, but the Dutch rebellion is a bit of a nightmare.
In a time with a weak central state, like the medieval period, this would happen more often.
There’s also one of the best Peace demands against a large power that they have to grant independence to ethnic minorities (which you then want to gobble up yourself).
For the historical answer, we’ll actually discuss some theories as to this. In essence, the balance of military offensive and defensive technologies went from favoring fragmentation in the 1300s to favoring consolidation in the mid-1450s, resulting in sudden, rapid consolidation.
The classic 19th century Italian novel The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) contains some pretty harrowing scenes of the ground-level human toll of early modern warfare, in its depiction of armies arriving in a previously unravaged area in northern Italy during the Thirty Years’ War. One of the takeaways is that for a peasant whose lands are in the path of an early modern army on the move, it barely if at all matters which side the army is nominally fighting for, the best-case scenario is that you’ll be left with enough food by the time they’re gone to avoid starving to death, and more likely than not they’ll bring some combination of destruction, plague, rape, starvation, and outright slaughter.
Another takeaway is that for all our stereotypes about the “Dark Ages,” early modern European warfare was often a great deal more destructive and “savage” than the warfare of the preceding centuries, and this shift had more to do with the basic mechanics of early modern statecraft and military logistics than with some notion of turning a big dial that says “Enlightenment” on it or some such.
I don’t think there is much evidence that warfare got more savage as much as simple more extensive: A thousand men looting is a whole lot easier to deal with than thirty thousand men doing so. Soldiers during the Hundred Years War did not behave very differently than they did during the 30-years war: It’s just that by the latter point they were many, many more of them.
I mean, whether or not it counts as “more savage” is a matter of perspective: if you’re an early-modern European peasant whose lands are being ravaged in ways you or your ancestors would have never thought possible (as happened to Germany in particular during the Thirty Years’ War, which left historical traumas in some ways even deeper than those of WWII) then why should it matter to you whether the soldiers or their commanders are any less malicious on an individual level than their medieval predecessors? This is exactly why it’s so important to emphasize the human consequences of even the most coldly rational political decisions, after all.
(Unopened can of worms labeled “colonialism” sits in the corner, glowering menacingly.)
I would point you to Peter Englud’s excellent research on the 17th century warfare in Germany. There is plenty of evidence that the war was fought with a level of brutality that was formerly unknown, at least by the Swedish Army. This is because the Swedish army had an administrative system that was much more competent than anyone else’s. When they came to an area, the war commissariat (i.e. the logistics department) of the army usually confiscated all existing tax rolls, and barring that, actually surveyed the region in a systematic manner. After that, the units were assigned regions were they were allowed to forage, with further instructions about the amount of looting that each house could be expected to yield.
The amount of looting was also systematised. In areas which were allied or that might be of further use, the peasantry was left with food to survive. In areas which the Swedish wished to make inaccessible to the enemy, the looting was systematically done so as to starve everyone. This was also successful. In Bohemia, a single winter of Swedish occupation (1639-40, if I remember correctly), decreased the population by one third. Some Northern German areas that were pillaged by Charles X in 1650’s remained uninhabited 200 years later.
The medieval armies may have attempted something like this, but they lacked the administrative capability to do it systematically.
The above is not meant to say that the Imperials were any better. There is a reason why magdeburgisieren is a German verb. The sack of Magdeburg was an escalation that truly horrified the people. It was not something that had been typical of medieval warfare.
Was Magdeburg typical of Modern warfare, or a standout of its own?
Medieval warfare includes the Crusader Sack of Jerusalem, which killed more people than Magdeburg started with. For equivalents of the Thirty Year’s War overall I would nominate the Anarchy, the Harrowing of the North, and the Albigensian Crusade.
Most estimates I’ve seen for the sack of Jerusalem put it as something like half as destructive as the sack of Magdeburg.
Thing to get in a comment here before: I have many criticisms of EU4, as well as many compliments. One minor irritation in the culture system, though, is that it mostly assumes that *modern* cultural boundaries are the same as late-Medieval ones. Our Illustrious Blog Master tangentially brought this up last post, but the reason this irks me is that those boundaries mostly formed *because* of the state building as much causing it. That is, sure there are some significant language barriers in places, but the people living in, say, Foix weren’t necessarily culturally closer to being (Parisian) French compared to, say, Aragon. Sure, you can always use one of those limited “culture” slots to include them happily into your kingdom, but the game is hard-coded such that any non-“French” state considers them to be foreign in some fundamental way.
This always irritated me and it broadly contributes to, again, treating modern nation-state borders as bring abstractly “correct” in some fundamental way. Now, it’s far and away better than nearly any other in that regard. Just a pet peeve of mine, I suppose.
This is an excellent point. In fact, even huge linguistic differences were conceptually surmountable for early modern states. For example, Finland was an integral part of Sweden in until 1809. The language of the administration was Swedish, but at the local level, court proceedings and church services were in Finnish. Because Finland had been part of Sweden since the 13th century, its culture was very much the same as in Sweden, and most importantly, the religion was the same. The government didn’t feel any need for linguistic unification before the late 18th century, and even then, it was still about actions of a few individuals who demonstrated early forms of nationalist thought.
The importance of these shown in the early 17th century, when Sweden conquered areas with a Finnish-speaking, but Orthodox population. That population was considered utterly problematic, and both sides proved incapable of finding a way of peaceful coexistence. The Orthodox considered themselves and were also officially considered “Russian” and not even assumed to have any loyalty towards the Swedish Crown. After a few uprisings, Swedish government finally expulsed most of the Orthodox population to Russia, and settled the area with Lutheran Finnish-speakers (who were called “Swedes” by everyone involved). It was the culture and religion that mattered to the early modern Sweden, while language was was something much more incidental.
The culture system is one of those thingas that tends to cause problems (and flamewars, to the point that at one point during EU2’s cycle “Culture of Transylvania” was a banned topic since it caused too many flamewars)
I tend to come at it from the other way around: The culture system is not meant as a representative mechanism but as a railroading mechanism: It’s a somewhat ahistorical kludge (and there are many similar ones) to steer players into playing in a certain direction, prioritizing certain areas, etc.
The fact that there is an entire culture group that is basically “Ottoman” and the various slavic cultural breakdowns is kind of part of that point.
I’ve seen this come up a few times and I’ve seen some suggest a “softer” cultural barrier system. So instead of germanic and western slavic culture groups, you would have more culture groups that flowed into eachother. So if you play bohemia (part of the HRE but has west slavic culture), you could “orient” yourself towards germanic cultures as you consolidate land in the HRE. While an austrian player could orient himself towards the czech and hungarian cultures to better accommodate his bohemian and hungarian subjects (possibly alienating himself to the other germanic cultures of the HRE)
How easy is it to get into one of these games? Does one have to spend 5 hours reading a manual? (For comparison, I’m familiar with Civilization II or Colonization levels of detail.)
What’s a best single game to start with, one of Paradox, or King of Dragon Pass?
Also, how long is a satisfying gameplay? (At this point it takes me an hour or two to get Civ or Colonization to a “yep, I’m snowballing toward victory, it’s just moving pieces around now” point.)
It’s very difficult to get into the games. They are extremely complicated, have lots of moving parts, and understanding how the systems inter-relate can take a lot of time. Players “joke” that you’ve completed the tutorial once you’re 1,000 hours in. That said, you can learn to play reasonably well by checking out guides on Youtube. Any information provided in-game tends to be disastrously out-of-date.
A satisfying chunk of gameplay can be tricky to estimate, because a five-hour session could cover twenty years or two hundred. It might even cover an intense war lasting a few years and many armies clashing. A full fame from start date to end date could easily take 100 hours. Players can easily spend twice that.
(Note: I straight refuse to ever play it ever again.)
So, my personal experience is that I was about 40 hours into EU4 (coming from a Civilization 3/5 and Age of Empires 2 background) before I “really” felt like I had a grasp on all the systems involved, and even then I continued to learn new strategies for dozens of hours after that. If Civilization is like driving a car, Paradox grand strategy games are like learning to fly the Space Shuttle. Only you can ultimately make the decision as to whether the increased power and flexibility is worth the increased time investment.
If you want to play a full game of EU4 (from 1444 to the end date of 1820), I’d say it’s probably several dozen hours, give or take depending on what you’re doing exactly. At the extreme end of micromanagement and precision I once managed a world conquest that took me around a hundred hours, over a real-world month, but a more typical game of limited expansion can be played a lot faster.
I would just want to point out that the sort of gameplay experiences between any given Paradox game and something like King of Dragon Pass are HUGELY different, and directly comparing them on game aspects is not a great idea.
It’s interesting to note the parallel naming convention with the [red queen hypothesis](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Queen_hypothesis) for a similar biological “change or lose your niche” dynamic driving evolution, with exactly the same inspiration. I’m curious to see if this is where Gat derived the name, and this further cements my desire to get around to reading Turchin’s cliodynamical work, which attempts to bring the tools of population biology into a historical context.
Also, absolutely *love* this series, EUIV is one of the video games that I consistently come back to. Will probably branch out into other paradox games (unfortunately for my wallet) as a result of the series. As a side note, being rather far behind in number of expansions, I was surprised to see how broken France was at the start. That looks new.
Weirdly, it’s actually *old* – early on in the game’s life France was like this with a bunch of vassals in 1444. Shortly after I started playing (so maybe late 2014 or early 2015?) it became the monolithic country it was for several more years, before just recently going back to its vassal-swarm roots.
Yes. One of the stranger quirks of EUIV’s systems is, or was, that you got more military oomph from having a bunch of vassal states than you did by holding their territory directly. There are a bunch of minimums for income, manpower, forcelimit etc. that are very significant for the smallest states, such that dividing a large state into a bunch of statelets pushes the number of soldiers the region can field way up.
Hence, the original, naive, set up had France highly fragmented, to model the relatively weak authority of the French crown in the period, and Burgundy holding its Low Country territories directly, to model the strength of the duchy. But it was pointed out that this actually had the opposite effect; France’s vassal swarm made it extremely strong. So they flipped it: France was consolidated, and Burgundy broken into a bunch of vassals and personal unions.
Now we appear to have gone to France and Burgundy bother being late feudal messes.
(There’s a point to be made, and I think a good one, that states can extract resources from their core much more effectively than they can from their periphery, and that there are plenty of scenarios where it’s generally more to a state’s advantage to keep some peripheral region an autonomous tributary than try to incorporate it directly, but…
At the very least you’d expect the periphery’s greater autonomy to cause *other* problems for the core, but it just… doesn’t.)
Whew! Bret, this discussion is pretty much over my head, but here are some typos and problems I think I identified in the text:
to survive lead to a host -> leads
broadly consist with -> consistent
game which encourages the player -> game that
something’ is rather than the -> rather that
conquered) is makes sense -> it makes sense
second map: Jaunpur’s stead expansion -> steady
improves in irrigation -> improvements
Burgundy could possible do -> possibly
the result of a ruthless -> result is a
further strength the emperor -> strengthen
fact that for the states -> that the [i.e., delete for]
final map: into competition into -> competition with
actually be taking more -> be talking more
destruction those armies could increase -> could inflict? wreak? could what?
theory is history -> theory of history
is like to in turn -> is likely to
In your screenshots, I can’t help but notice that you are not playing in ironman mode. Doesn’t this remove some core concepts of Realism / Realpolitik (from the point of view of the player, not for the AI)? And, as a historian, would that reduce the value of the simulation?
In a non-ironman game, the threath of extinction for the player is significantly lowered. Instead of losing your entire game, a mistake would only cost you a few hours. And because mistakes in judgement are less fatal, it would be less dangerous to have trust in other (stronger) nations, removing some of the need for backstabbing your allies or overlords and maybe allowing for a more peacefull game.
As a result non-ironman player might play a more risky game. Eg. investing more in economy and less in military, meanwhile hoping that your rivals will not attack you. Instead of assuming that they eventually will.
Also, i found this blog through the eu4 reddit and i’ve been reading some of the older posts since. This blog is truly eye-opening and offers so many insights, thank you for your writing!
Unless I can go back to being a bored HS student in the summer or single grad student avoiding writing, I don’t find being adult really allows the focus needed to play iron man mode too many real life distractions – even in say your end of the day relaxation time. I typically try and make up some rules however and write them down. Cat on keyboard for example is always a free re set but say just missing some critical thing or picking a loosing war I try and set a limit a small finite limit on if I can jump back. Seems to work and to be fair the AI has its cheats and never misses a notification etc.
‘… This week, we’re going to turn to war and diplomacy and discuss what I think is one of EU4‘s strongest elements in the depth of its political and military simulator…’
Last week, you seemed to me to make a number of cogent and very powerful arguments as to why Europa Universalis IV was most definitely not a simulator and why it was dangerous to regard it as such, not least in terms of the way that the assimilation of regions was handled in-game.
At this point I’m confused… 🙁
Not really. Last week’s post’s opening made it very clear, that the point of these posts is that EUIV is worth taking seriously as an *imperfect, but serious* attempt at simulating history, unlike other games that might be just using a mindless historical coat of paint:
“Paradox games are interesting because they are built with what I think is a detectable theory of history. Unlike other games which blunder through historical eras thoughtlessly, Paradox games, intentionally or not (in the event, I think it is clear from speaking with a couple of their developers, there is quite a lot that is intentional) have something to say about history. As we’ll see, some of that I’ll agree with and some of it I will disagree with, but the great value of Paradox’s games is that there is an ample theory of history to agree or disagree with.”
There was a game over on Armor Games called ‘Warlight’ which seems to have stopped working unfortunately, since the great Adobe Flash turnoff, but might be available elsewhere on the web or might be rebooted on Armor Games at some point. It was (the Armor Games version) here: https://armorgames.com/play/12396/warlight
But if you loaded up the ‘Africa’ map, set up whatever the maximum number of ‘players’ was with all being AI controlled and each with one starting state, and set it running it, it could absolutely fascinating to watch what happened in terms of expansion of the different states and their rise and fall as they took territory off one another, and I seriously doubt (I may be in error) that the game designers and programmers were in any way trying to produce anything based on any particular historical model or theory, They were just making a game where computer controlled AI’s tried to expand and present a threat/challenge to any human player who was playing it.
They are called Warzone now, and they are on a seperate site
Looks like they’re having trouble with a mega-corporation law suit in the real world. Oh well. Thanks anyway. They have a LOT more maps than they did with the ‘Warlight’ armor games version, and they changed the in-game rules so you don’t need to leave 1 army minimum in each region controlled any more. I should have a poke around and see if it broadly runs as the Warlight version did though, some time, when it’s a case of AI vs AI vas AI.
Great post. A worthwhile and highly relevant book on the social consequences of early modern warfare is Lauro Martines, Furies.
While I’m no expert on the details of the GR, I note that Mary, the nominal holder of the Crown, was James II’s eldest child, and thus the natural heir if you cross out James and his newborn son on grounds of Catholicism. As a bonus, William was James’s nephew, son of a sister of Charles II and James II. AFAICT Mary *chose* to defer to William when he was home, but it was her choice, and she wielded power when he was abroad. And then they were succeeded by Mary’s sister, so as alleged Dutch coups go it’s not very persistently Dutch.
I just want to answer to your tweet, wherein you express surprise that people are interested in your CV and say it’s the most boring document in existence. I must disagree. It is always interesting to read how someone describes their own career. It is the closest to writing history thing most people do. Also, most CVs are succinct and the most boring document must be long and repetitive.
When it comes to your CV, one thing in particular struck me: it seems you have received your PhD first and then wrote your first publication which is now in review. All your work before PhD is listed as “papers presented”. Does it mean the papers were not published but presented verbally? I understand that in sciences one has to publish several papers in order to be considered for a PhD. Why the difference? Is it because someone without PhD is not expected or allowed to publish in the field of history? Or is it because there are fever venues for publishing?
I find this honestly interesting, I would appreciate any information.
One thing I find striking about this blog post is that it made me realise what it exactly is that I find fun about the game. I’ve found that after a while of playing as a country I stop finding it interesting and I just change to a new country from 1444 again. Turns out, that’s usually because I’ve left the period of interstate anarchy and become hegemonic, and thus I no longer experience any real pressure to expand. That’s probably also the reason why I never could get into playing Ming.
As a first time reader, I thought this was super interesting, thank you for making this post and I look forward to reading more in the future.
I just wanted to praise the Warhammer 40k reference, very good.
>Finally, of course, any theory is history is like to in turn recommend specific answers to certain important questions in a given period
I can’t make sense of this sentence.
“any theory of history is likely to, in turn, recommend . . .”
One thing that I think is relevant, and you didn’t mention, is that a sort of ultra-local hegemony can exist when a state has expanded or contracted to some naturally defensible borders. In that situation, it is not necessary to spend on a military for what your mountains, or giant swamp, or storm-wracked channel can do for you. And that in turn makes it possible to let those resources stay in the economy and grow it, or invest them in public infrastructure through the state and thereby grow the economy even more. After that’s gone on a little while your economic advantages further enhance your security, allowing you to become a nation known for wealthy bankers, the crown jewel of the Mediterranean, and a “nation of shopkeepers”, respectively.
EU4 doesn’t do this well either: fabricating claims and taking land unrelated to your original claims are both too easy.