Miscellanea: Victoria III Confirmed! (First Impressions)

This week’s post is coming to you all a bit early, as the folks at Paradox Interactive were kind enough to send me a review code for Victoria III – Paradox Interactive’s long awaited historical grand strategy game set during 19th and early 20th centuries – so I could have something to say about it at launch, so I thought I would move this post up in the week to coincide with the end of the review embargo.

This post is going to proceed then in two parts. First, there’s going to a be a brief section of my own first impressions; this isn’t a review per se, but I suppose as close as I can get to one. Then a long section discussing how the game modifies or builds on the historical perspective taken by its predecessor, Victoria II (which I am henceforth going to call VickyII so that it’s easy to see which game I mean without counting the numerals, so Victoria III but VickyII), which we’ve already discussed.

And of course for the sake of disclosure it seems worth noting that I received an early review code from Paradox and also owned the game already via the PDXCON2022 conference goodies (where I was a paid speaker), so I do have something of an existing relationship with Paradox, though those of you who have read the Teaching Paradox series will know this does not stop me from criticizing their games, sometimes quite stridently. Finally, these are my impressions having put about 80 hours into the game; I’ve played a mix of Colombia (into Gran Colombia), Austria (into Austria-Hungary) and Spain (into more Spain), in each case focused more on political and industrial than military aims, though none of these were by any means ‘pacifist’ runs, so I’ve engaged with most of the game’s systems.

Finally, it is worth remembering that I am singularly responsible for bullying Paradox into announcing Victoria III, so I both accept your accolades but also this game as the war reparations I demanded.

And of course if you want to proactively send me war reparations, you can do so via Patreon. And if you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings.

May the Luigis Cadorna of the world quake with fear, Svetozar Boroević is here, complete with his diacritical mark. Hiring this general made me laugh pretty hard and the list of traits – popular commander, expert defensive strategist – seem about right.

Impressions

Overall, I think Victoria III is a remarkable success at what it sets out to do, albeit one that, like most of Paradox’s games, probably won’t have universal appeal. I’m going to talk about this game as a historical project in the next section, but as a game it presents a really capable mix of the traditional strategy of most Paradox games (the diplomacy, scheming, resource allocation, etc.) married to the sort of joy that comes from a lot of production games like Factorio or Satisfactory, that delightful feeling of creating a machine (in this case, a national industrial economy) and then watching it work. Both of those genres (production games and grand strategy games) have reputations for being really hard on beginners with a high barrier for entry; Paradox has put in a lot of work to make this game beginner friendly and they do as well as anyone could but if you are new to these sorts of games, you should go in expecting to tank your economy or tip your country into revolution at least once.

Fundamentally Victoria III is built around three interlocking pillars: geopolitics (war and peace), economics (industrialization) and politics. Paradox has in the past struggled to make their games as interesting in peacetime as in wartime; Victoria III at last I think succeeds completely at this. The player is at any time likely to be pursuing parallel interlocking goals in all three pillars, with diplomatic activity often focused on securing resources to support economic activity which reshapes society in ways that make desired political changes possible and so on. Those interlocking goals generally means the player is always doing something. While the game runs just from the 1830s to the 1930s, I found myself playing it much more slowly and carefully than other Paradox games (except perhaps for Hearts of Iron), so don’t let the short time frame fool you: this is a full length Paradox game experience.1

A lot of the game in turn is defined by the tension on the one hand between the tremendous, beginner-unfriendly complexity of what the game is trying to simulate and the strenuous, omni-present efforts by the designers to both make that simulation work (it does work, to a degree that VickyII never did) but also to be understandable to the player. The game comes not only with an extensive tutorial (which I must admit I mostly skipped), but also for the first time three sets of objectives (essentially military dominance, economic growth or political liberalization) the player can choose to pursue at game start, each with its own set of suggested countries with which to attempt it, though you can play with any goal as any country or any country with no goal at all. The goals have no direct gameplay impact, but instead give the player a series of intermediate objectives that broadly lead towards a certain outcome. That’s really valuable because a lot of the strategy in Victoria III is about staging, mastering the order in which political and economic moves need to come.

Likewise to this end (and presumably making the economic model work) the economic system has been streamlined a bit. Raw resource production is now built and functions like factories, with the background production of the pre-industrial economy represented by ‘peasant’ pops that work in subsistence agriculture and do household production. All factories are built by the player (avoiding the ‘capitalists are dumb’ problem of VickyII) but capitalist pops flush with cash will ‘pitch in’ for part of the construction cost of non-government buildings via the Investment Pool, making more free-market regimes attractive for being able to shift much of the construction costs off of the government’s balance sheet (but beware the political power of the industrialists!). Meanwhile, the old World Market of VickyII is gone, replaced by a system of national markets that directly trade between each other, with the ‘customs union’ treaty allowing one country to join the national market of another (much the way ‘sphereing’ worked in VickyII). Production buildings build up a cash reserve when they make a profit, which depletes when they run negative, meaning that a factory that runs into the red doesn’t immediately begin laying off workers, leading to a lot less economic shuddering than in the previous game.

The result of all of these little changes is to make the economic game a lot more manageable and intelligible to the player. It is fairly easy to grasp the cycles of expanding raw material production to push down the prices of those raw resources to support larger factories producing finished goods at a profit, all of it employing larger and larger numbers of pops at a higher standard of living than the subsistence economy (which in turn has positive political ramifications). At the same time, this has to be balanced: push down prices too much and factories will lose money and lay off employees until prices stabilize; drive prices too far up (by exporting goods) and your factories will be extremely profitable moments before they are burned down by your revolutionary citizens responding to the declining Standard of Living (SoL) as a consequence of high prices. This isn’t quite a no compromises change; the lack of a world market makes the industrial ‘start up’ sequence a bit tricky, especially for small economies, where having no factories producing a good means you have none, but one factory is way too much for your small economy; exporting the excess can be difficult making it really valuable (but also tricky) to be in the customs union of a greater power. At the same time, this isn’t ‘dumbed down’ either – as your economy grows, the juggling act of continuing expansion to maintain upward standard of living changes becomes increasingly tricky as you’re now building dozens of factories, mines, farms and railroads simultaneously.

The biggest change to the Paradox formula though comes with war and diplomacy. Rather than declaring wars, countries now embark on ‘diplomatic plays,’ essentially making a demand that triggers an international crisis. Other countries can either intervene or declare neutrality as the crisis counts down to war; either side can back down, ceding the other side’s primary demand (but not the secondary ones) if it looks like a war would be unwinnable. It’s a good system for simulating the diplomatic push-and-pull of a globalizing world where Great Powers might meddle in the political disputes of far away regions.

Meanwhile, the war system is quite different. Gone are moving individual armies through provinces, replaced by ‘fronts’ to which armies are assigned to either defend or push forward. I think some players are going to be quite unhappy with the level of abstraction here, but I really like this system. It puts the player in the actual shoes of political leadership: set the goals, assign the resources, hire the general, hope for the best. If it limits the player’s ability to solve every problem by pulling off a flawless sequence of Alexander-the-Great-esque unlikely victories (usually by abusing the AI), so much the better. I will admit the system is a bit better formed to reflect war in the early 1900s than the mid-1800s, though with sufficient military mismatch in combat capabilities, lightning campaigns like those of the Franco-Prussian War are very possible. The system also very strongly favors army quality over army quantity, but that seems era appropriate. I suspect this system is probably one of the most likely to get a post-launch overhaul, but as a foundation I think it’s actually quite good.

The politics screen for Spain in the late-game (1896). This is a political configuration – industrialists, unions and the intelligentsia dominate, while the landholders are marginalized – that take quite a bit of work to achieve, but is roughly the configuration you want if the goal is a liberal democracy or social democracy. For most of the game though I should note you will not have this many ‘happy’ interest groups – that was a product of my sky-high standard of living creating lots of loyalists (an effect which fades over time as folks get used to the new high living standards).

The last major pillar is internal politics, which is mostly about reshaping a country to fit the player’s aims without breaking it in one devastating revolution after another. The country’s political system is broken up into a series of interest groups defined broadly by attitude and social class (aristocrats/landowners, industrialists, intellectuals, trade unions, etc.) whose power (‘clout’) is determined both by the raw numbers and wealth but also by the structure of the country itself. The player’s path to reform then is a careful one – some reforms may be desirable because of their economic or social impacts, while others are useful because of how they change the political balance of power. In most cases, countries begin dominated by a landholder elite broadly averse to change, backed by military and religious interests; that coalition has to be carefully dismantled first before the player can make major moves to embrace liberalism, socialism or both. And the combination of laws and institutions do provide a real range of end-states, pairing governing systems with economic and social systems. This whole system is much more interactive and intuitive than it was in VickyII and much more engaging; it’s a remarkable design success.

I will say some quirk I did notice is that certain major historical events in this period seemed rather less likely to happen on their own than I’d expect. AI Prussia seems to generally be pretty weak and as such struggles to unify Germany, the American Civil War doesn’t seem to always occur or doesn’t occur quite right and I have not yet seen Italy unify (although to be fair, in my longest game I was Austria and thus actively working to prevent both Italian and German unification). Unification events can fire – I’ve seen a Scandinavian Union in one of my games – but less often, it seems than in VickyII. I don’t think the player will find it impossible to produce these outcomes, but the AI right now seems to find it difficult. On the other hand a certain vocal segment of the player-base ought to rejoice: Victoria III has railroads, but it has very little railroading.

I did spend some time with a New Granada -> Colombia -> Gran Colombia revived run, which was fun and I might go back to it. Industrializing from scratch, especially as a low-population country, is quite tricky but it can be done (though Brazil or Mexico would probably be a lot easier than Colombia here).

I’d also say that I found myself outstripping the AI by the end of midgame (which of course compounds as that massive GDP is reinvested back into industrialization). Of course this is a Paradox game; if you want a harder challenge, you can play a harder country and there is almost always a country that is some version of ‘that country, but harder.’ At the same time, I’ve played every Paradox game since Hearts of Iron II (though EU3 was my first, I went back for HoI2) and so I tend to be pretty capable at them.2 Still, I suspect as the player-base grows with experience with the systems there will be calls for difficulty modifiers and for Paradox to sharpen the AI a bit. Here, frankly, I think the key is a game that works; AI fine-tuning can come later and that pattern is one that will already be quite familiar to longtime Paradox fans (e.g. the HoI4 AI is substantially more capable now than when the game launched).

Finally, I think something should be said about presentation. As I hope you can tell from the screenshots, taken on my admittedly now quite old computer, this game is very pretty, for a strategy game. Moreover, the towns and cities on the map grow and expand dynamically in response to what the player is doing; factories, mines and farms appear visually in their respective provinces, while cities expand out with dense urban terrain as the urban population expands. There’s a real joy to watching a country go from a largely undeveloped, rural countryside dotted with small towns to a dense mix of cities and factories, crisscrossed with railroad and roads (that go from having wagons to cars and trucks). Meanwhile the soundtrack may be one of Paradox’s best (I also had the pre-order bonus with the VickyII soundtrack remastered in the track list, which was lovely).

Late game Catalonia from my Spain run, a great example of how development is physically represented on the map. Here, Barcelona has grown to be an absolutely massive industrial city, housing a size-180 textile mill which employs a staggering 567,000 workers and produces 1.7m units of clothing per week (along with some other industries). The total population here is just short of 5 million and the by this point the standard of living – powered by high wages the textile industry can pay with its production – is 29.0, fantastically high by pre-industrial standards.

Overall then my takeaway is largely ‘they did it.’ Naturally there is some Paradox jank; the AI doesn’t always make the right war demands, leading to sometimes strange borders (though not generally to bad) and the system of fronts in war can create oddities where borders between warring alliance blocs are complex. Some opaqueness in the economic simulation remains as well, though mostly these are things where a brief hunt through the menus will reveal the problems.3 But broadly it works, the basic game loops are really satisfying and the different countries provide some really interesting and different starts, with different problems and goals. A game this complex isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you aren’t afraid of complexity and always wanted a game somewhere between EUIV and Factorio…this is it. And it is good.

Before I close this out an obligatory performance note. I ran this game on my (frankly, aging) computer. My setup runs an Intel i7-6700 (3.4GHz came out in 2015) with a GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card (came out in 2016) with 16GB of system RAM, which is hardly a cutting edge system these days but also while older is a purpose-built (by me) gaming rig. The game ran quite well on my machine, with some late-game slowdown when there were major wars on, which seemed to be much more a processor issue than graphics (no shock there); they weren’t too bad and didn’t stop me playing, but presumably would be worse with a lower-end machine. So while on the one hand you don’t need a super-computer to run this game, on the other hand very low end machines (or old machines) may struggle with the late-game CPU load, especially with very large countries.4

On to the analysis!

Mechanics and Gears

I think the best way to structure this is to move through some of my Paradox analysis in order and discuss how Victoria III either changes or builds on the points I made about Victoria II.

And a good place to begin is the generational scheme I set up for Paradox’s offerings; I suggested a typology of three ‘generations’ of Paradox games based on some of their common design sensibilities. All of the pre-Clausewitz Engine games were ‘first generation’ (mostly because I haven’t really played them, except for HoI2). The second generation (EU3, HoI3, VickyII) were typified by their use of hard-coded events to ensure historical outcomes, while the third generation (CKII, EU4, HoI4, Stellaris and Imperator) were defined by their substantially more flexible structure, with fewer events and decisions locked to specific country-tags. I then noted that I couldn’t really say if CKIII represented an evolution of the Gen3 design or if we should understand it as properly marking the start of what we might call Gen4. Playing Victoria III makes me lean towards the latter. I think together with CKIII, Victoria III reflects a design sensibility aiming to reaffirm some of the elements of historical ‘simulation,’ backing away from some of the more obviously artificial ‘currencies’ (so-called ‘mana’) in favor of resources which are more explicitly tied to historical concepts. There’s also a clear visual shift towards making the game itself (and especially the map) itself more engaging and more visually reflective of the player’s actions, something that has always been present in these games but evidently can now be more fully realized.

That generation ‘skip’ makes for a pretty radical change in design sensibilities from VickyII to Victoria III. The example I used for instance about how VickyII hard-codes immigration to go to the Americas? That’s entirely gone in Victoria III, with immigration instead depending on laws (migration controls but also pops don’t want to migrate to places they’ll be discriminated against as far as I can tell) and economics (the standard of living). The United States is still in a really solid position to capitalize on mass immigration, but the player can pull this off anywhere by pushing standard of living up and implementing a liberal and tolerant legal structure; I’ve achieved massive immigration bonazas as Austria and Spain – people move to where there are jobs and favorable laws. That ‘systems over hard-coded events’ shift is broadly indicative of the two-generation jump here. I said in the original post, “my suspicion is that Victoria III will tend to push harder against a deterministic viewpoint.” Check.

Also check on fun achievements! Spain’s unique achievement – Bourbon for Everyone! (which I insist on pronouncing so that it rhymes) was to have a standard of living of 20.0 (fairly high) while retaining the monarchy.

More broadly I noted that VickyII was a game about pops and that design is carried over almost verbatim. Indeed, if anything it is intensified here; the game now simulates women and children as well so it really is now an effort to manage a 1-to-1 simulation of the population (gender and child labor laws determine what percentage, if any, of those women and children can work). Likewise the shift from a pre-industrial household and subsistence economy to an industrial one is maintained. One big change here that I really quite like is that the shift from traditional subsistence farming to larger scale industrial farming (‘enclosure‘) is more directly represented. Each province has an amount of arable land; if left undeveloped, it will fill with unemployed pops eking out a meager living as subsistence farmers (‘peasants’); developing that land by building big market-oriented farms will increase production, but it also reduces the last available for those peasants, kicking them into unemployment if no other options are available. Consequently reorganizing the agricultural sector can be a key route towards greater wealth and prosperity for everyone, but it can also lead to the misery of peasants who are left with no land to farm and no jobs to find; left for a length of time they’ll leave your country for some place with work (which, of course, is bad because you want to keep your pops!).

On the flipside, the change in how you build factories fixes a major problem with VickyII, which was that the economic engine never worked right. Here the solution is letting the player plan all factory construction (there is, mercifully, an ‘auto-expand-this-factory’ button which will keep enlarging a factory every time its cash reserves fill) and making the economic system balance the degree to which the player can intervene to subsidize or government-run factories against the amount of building assistance capitalists will offer via the investment pool. Combined with the shift away from the world market, this produces an economic simulation that, at last, works.

An example of how the map changes in response to industrial development. On the left is Madrid in 1859 (already built some railroads and factories) and on the right is Madrid from the same game in 1899, with a skyscraper, numerous factories, government buildings and so on. It isn’t historically essential, but it really adds to the enjoyment of the game to see that kind of development reflected like this.

The basic sequence of industrial development is present in the game. It is a bit less teleological in that there are somewhat different paths available to countries based on the raw resources they have access to; countries without access to lots of oil, rubber, silk or dye are going to end up with economies that look somewhat different from countries with those things. But broadly the sequence of industrial innovation is represented pretty well here, as it was in VickyII, with an interwoven set of tech-trees performing the same task as VickyII‘s innovations, demonstrating interlocking technologies interacting with each other. That said some of those interactions are lost, I assume in an effort to simplify a fairly formidable tech tree: techs are split into three categories (industrial, military, social) and cannot have cross dependencies between categories. That means it’s possible to have steamships without steam engines (though good luck building any due to the building dependencies) but really unlikely.

But more importantly I think the game works even harder to focus the player on thinking about the changes they are making in terms of how they would be experienced by people. Central to this is ‘standard of living,’ a new stat which compresses VickyII‘s ‘needs’ into a single number. In short, pops get money from their jobs, which they use to buy goods to survive (food, fuel, clothes, etc.); the more of these goods they can get with their money, the higher their standard of living is. For poorer pops (who, being much more numerous, have a stronger overall impact), the key goods are basic staples: wheat, simple clothes, wood (for home heating) and so on; these make up the largest components of household spending. So standard of living can go up because prices of goods fall (because you are producing or importing more of them) or because wages went up (which happens as profitable employers compete for scarce workers); the reverse lowers standard of living.

Standard of living in turn has a very strong impact on ‘radicalism,’ which now replaces militancy. High radicalism both makes politics harder and revolution more likely (and makes it harder to hit key support thresholds to get bonuses from your political factions), but it also can create ‘turmoil’ in specific states, which lowers tax income and negative impacts migration. Radicalism is thus very fundamentally bad for the player and it is caused both by falling standard of living or by stable standard of living below pop expectations. One very common midgame interaction you will see for incompletely industrialized countries is that as new factory workers bid up the price of basic staples with their higher salaries, radicalism among the remaining peasantry – rapidly being priced out of living due to their very limited economic resources – can become very radical, which can lead to a lot of instability. Which is, of course, a really common thing in industrializing economies!

On the flipside, rising standard of living is very good for the player. It creates ‘loyalists’ – folks happy with the regime – who do the opposite things as radicals and are quite potent as a stabilizing factor in your political makeup. Moreover, the average standard of living in a state sets the baseline migration attraction factor (which is then modified by temporary effects). That’s hugely beneficial to the player because you are going to need a lot of pops to fill your mines, factories and new, industrial farms and unless you are playing a country like China, your basic population growth will still leave you pop-hungry (especially if you are playing the colonialism game to get resources your home country lacks to feed those factories). And you’d think that all that immigration would bid down the SoL in your country, but because your factories can become quite labor efficient, assuming capital investment can keep up (and the flow of raw materials can be maintained) it can have the opposite effect: massive factories employing hundreds of thousands of workers with enormous through-put bonuses can stay profitable while crashing goods prices through the floor even at high wages. And you, the state, on the top of all of this, also reap the advantages in terms of military and economic power (read: soldiers and taxes). Consequently, the player is really encouraged to care about the standard of living effects of their actions, even more than in VickyII.

From my Spain run, my standard of living in 1897. As you can see, this is really quite high although France, Britain and Belgium are also fairly industrialized and have pretty high standard of living too. Laws can impact standard of living too, especially minimum wage and income support laws, which can redirect government funds to propping up the standard of living of the lowest classes.

Overall then, Victoria III doubles down in VickyII‘s focus on pops as the center of the story, while at the same time trying to make that story a bit more intelligible to the player.

The Ruin of War

Moving to diplomacy and war, VickyII had this wonderful hidden interaction where gains to warfare were slowly eclipsed by its destructiveness. My own sense of VickyII was that this interaction was an unintentional, emergent property of the game’s systems and thus the game didn’t highlight or harness it fully but that nevertheless this was the crowning achievement of the design. Well, I don’t know if the Victoria III team just reads this blog (actually, I do know they read this blog, but I don’t know if they decided on the following design elements before I wrote about them) or if they just made the same realization I did, but Victoria III takes that ‘hidden’ interaction and draws it out much more clearly.

Armies in Victoria III consist of regiments, each of which is created by a building – either a barracks for permanent, professional forces or conscription centers for mobilized conscripts. New technologies unlock new ways of fighting which can be chosen from the buildings; the main statistics are ‘offense’ (the army’s power when attacking) and ‘defense’ (the same when defending). Early in the game, technologies tend to improve these two statistics more or less evenly, with defense having perhaps a slight edge; relatively small gaps in technology can produce a military ‘overmatch’ that can result in being able to rapidly overrun an enemy country on the offensive, whereas wars against peers tend to be more grinding things.

That situation begins to shift fairly quickly for the cutting edge countries in three key ways. First, technological advancements begin around the middle of the tech tree to favor defense, making it easier to defend territory than to take it; that tendency becomes stronger and stronger until some very late game technologies reverse it. At the same time, several technologies increase ‘kill rate’ (the rate at which a unit inflicts casualties as compared to the morale damage it inflicts), making battles bloodier (once again, asymmetry in these technologies can produce brutally one-sided fights). Finally, upgrading to these new ways of fighting demands more materiel, especially the ‘munitions’ good (in addition to ‘small arms’ and ‘artillery’), which can get expensive fast. Consequently, both the human and financial cost of military activity increases as a factor of time, while rising defense is designed to produce brutal, high-casualty deadlocks if both participants have them.

Which is much the interaction in VickyII, albeit with some of the jank (like the inevitable crushing global mid-century liquor shortage and no, I am not kidding, ask any VickyII player and they will tell you about this) removed. But now the presentation is crucially different: Victoria III shows total casualties and financial cost for both sides on the war screen. And these can be staggering. As I write this, I just observed AI Russia involved in a war to try to seize Moldavia in 1890-1; the war pulled in Austria, Egypt and the Ottomans. The end result was a white peace, but not before Russia lost 1.7 million men killed or wounded, spending more than £40 million in the fighting; I didn’t get a total for the other side (a number of them had ‘peaced out’ and so their costs weren’t listed on the screen), but when I viewed the war mid-progress, they weren’t doing any better.

The final stages of Russia’s war against Moldavia here, with 545,000 dead and 1,100,000 wounded Russian soldiers and a staggering £41.7 million cost on just the Russian side. As noted, by this point Moldavia’s allies had all peaced out, but their losses were just as high. The cost of the war thus substantially already exceeded the population of the territory to be gained and this is only in 1891.

Meanwhile, the new ‘front’ system is almost certainly going to get some polishing, but is actually a good match for simulating the WWI deadlock. And it avoids one of the problems in this bit of history that I found when I discussed this interaction in VickyII. When I noted that the best way to win WWI in VickyII was to not fight WWI, several readers noted that actually they actually found they could trounce their way through the First World War just fine, both by being comically ahead of time on tech but also by abusing the AI by drawing it into foolish fights (forts being a big contender here). And here I think the ‘front’ system – and this take is going to upset some people – is an improvement because it guides the player away from making micro-managing army decisions which political leaders wouldn’t make in any event.

It also allows the game to be a bit more deliberate about how war impacts people and economics. Occupied territory accrues ‘devastation’ from the fighting on it, which wears off slowly once the war is done but until it does provides economic penalties. A long, grinding late-game war can thus ruin territories that aren’t lost. At the same time, the economic disruption creates radicals (especially in occupied territories) which as noted above – having radicals is a very bad thing the player is going to want to avoid. Devastation and the turmoil caused by the massive local increase in radicalism are both clearly marked on the map, so once again an interaction that was easy to miss in VickyII is now explicit so the player can see, “oh man, that long war I won but where my key province was occupied for a few months is going to have long-lasting negative implications to my political stability.”

That said, it is still possible at present to get sufficiently technologically and economically ahead of the AI by the late-game (especially if you start as a major European power) to obviate this whole thing. I think I understand the instinct here: the developers want countries that aren’t Prussia, France or Britain to be able to ‘catch up’ by the late game, but I think some systems to hold back a player blazing too far ahead might be a good idea. I hesitate to suggest it, but they made need an ‘ahead of time’ penalty on technology research, for instance.

Overall, then, the big advance here is taking the interaction that already existed and informing the player about it. While I fear for what this sort of design philosophy will do for my job security as a History Game Explainer, for the player it makes the ‘theory of history’ much easier to discover, which is good.

World’s Fair

Finally we come to the world beyond the great powers, which was where I had my heaviest criticism for VickyII‘s design. And while in this case I know many of these design decisions were made well before I wrote my essay, if I didn’t know that I’d be tempted to assume it was used as a checklist of things to fix.

I opened by critiquing VickyII’s division of people into ‘civilized nations’ ‘uncivilized nations’ and ‘uncolonized lands.’ The first two have now been replaced by recognized and unrecognized powers; the former are members of the European state system, the latter are not. Importantly, these conditions are now completely independent of economic development and government form (they were all tied up together in ‘westernization’ in VickyII); recognition is purely a diplomatic question and a power can become recognized by forcing an already recognized power to do so via a diplomatic play (so Japan could achieve recognition as part of the Russo-Japanese War, for instance). That’s much better as a way of expressing the slanted international system European imperialism created.

Meanwhile, ‘uncolonized lands’ are now ‘decentralized powers’ and I just love the this change so much, even though decentralized powers are not playable (you play as a central state, a thing which these folks are defined by not having). Decentralized powers still have pops and clearly defined territories (shown in outline whereas the other powers’ color shades their whole country) but as the game notes lack a single centralized government strong enough to force other powers to interact with it. Consequently, the other powers can encroach on their territory – the colonization mechanic – without triggering a diplomatic incident with the other centralized powers. But that doesn’t mean these decentralized powers are passive; pushing into their territory creates tension with all of the decentralized powers in the area, who may then rise up and attempt to throw the invader out. Those efforts at fighting back mostly fail, as they mostly failed historically, but it gives these decentralized powers a real sense of agency they totally lacked in VickyII. Moreover it now makes very clear that these parts of the world (primarily the Great Plains in North America and large sections of Africa) were not empty. Instead states expanding into those regions are very clearly taking that land from someone. I want to see this system used in place of the old colonization mechanics in every future Paradox game (which mostly means EU5 if and when it is greenlit).

And the technological sequence which both makes the scramble for Africa possible and then motivates it to happen is now much clearer. Instead of the nebulous ‘life rating’ system, Victoria III presents a fairly explicit ‘malaria wall’ as it were, with some states having ‘malaria’ or ‘severe malaria’ as modifiers; if your country isn’t already from such a region, either the quinine or more advanced malaria prevention techs are necessary to effectively push into these regions. Meanwhile, railroads and steamships are crucial for producing the infrastructure necessary for a colonizing power to actually get any resources out of these regions; the fit with D.R. Headrick’s argument in Tools of Empire (1981) – guns, quinine, steam engines – is much closer.

Meanwhile European imperialism in Africa is far more clearly tethered to the desire of European states to get key resources. For the player in Victoria III playing as a non-equatorial country, coffee (from cocoa), tea and rubber are all goods that simply won’t be available domestically. While the former two are consumer goods, the latter is a key industrial product that is likely to send the player scrambling for supply in the mid-to-late game. One resource that is missing here that was very important for expansion especially in West Africa is palm oil, which was a key industrial lubricant prior to the development of more ubiquitous petroleum based products (whale oil as an alternative to petroleum does exist in game, so it seems like adding palm oil here would be a fairly easy change, albeit with some balance implications, but then again the ramp towards an oil-based economy frankly needs smoothing anyway from a balance perspective).

There is one new problem with how Victoria III handles imperialism though and that is the existence of several ‘dominions’ and the way they behave, particularly the East India companies of the British and the Dutch. Both function as satellites that the player playing as the suzerain has relatively little control over. I assume this was in part for balance and in part to reduce the complexity of running the whole British Empire but frankly it suggests a greater degree of distance in terms of how these places were ruled, since historically speaking imperial control over these areas was often quite direct. ‘Company rule’ in the Dutch East Indies, for instance, ended in 1800, well before the game starts. The continuation of the British East India Company makes more sense (it was dissolved in 1874), but in practice the line between these two systems could be thin. It also creates gameplay balance issues, wherein the overlord cannot, for instance, direct their colonial dominions to develop specific resources (a problem that does not exist for later colonies in Africa) which is wild given that for most of this period the Dutch policy in their colonies in Indonesia was the enforced planting of specific cash crops and until 1901 official Dutch policy was that the whole region was a wingewest, ‘profit region.’ I think to better match this history the Dutch colonies in Indonesia should start already as part of the Netherlands as ‘unincorporated states’ (see below), while colonial overlords should be able to set building priorities in their subjects (which may be as simple as letting the overlord build buildings in subject territory).

On the other hand one thing I had wished for was for the design to revisit the ‘state-ification’ process and indeed, it has. In particular, I thought that players ought to be at least offered the counter-factual of attempting to integrate existing colonial territories fully, encouraging indigenous development, declaring local cultures tolerated and valued and extending political participation and rights to the people who lived there. That is, to be clear, a fairly clear counter-factual in all but a handful of typically very small cases, but it seemed like it ought to be something the player could do and in Victoria III it is, through a mix of incorporating states and passing laws removing discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion. There are challenges to it, since extending public services over more people costs money and bureaucracy (which also costs money) and will cause wages in those regions to rise which can reduce profits, and moreover reactionary elements will fight bitterly to stop those law changes (and consequently doing all of this is much easier if the country in question is already an immigrant-driven multi-cultural state which given that by far the largest examples of such permanent overseas ‘state-ification’ are Hawaii and Alaska makes a good deal of sense).

Finally, I had groused a bit that while VickyII did well for making slavery a major part of the experience of playing the United States and some other countries, it did not really reflect slavery as a global institution, nor the degree to which stamping that institution out was at times achieved by ‘gunboat diplomacy.’ Both are now addressed. Non-free workers are now represented by both ‘serfs’ and ‘slaves.’ In countries that have the ‘serfdom’ law, all of the subsistence farmers (‘peasants’) are serfs, which reduces their standard of living while the institution is both fiercely defended by and politically empowers the landholder class. Slavery is divided into three categories: ‘debt slavery,’ an active ‘slave trade’ and ‘legacy slavery’ where the institution is permitted to exist as long as it doesn’t expand and the large-scale import of new enslaved persons is banned. A lot of countries have one of these laws at game start, reflecting global institutions of non-free labor of varying kinds (though the percentage of enslaved persons varies widely and a player even casually glancing at the demographic makeup of the Caribbean or the American South will immediately realize something is quite different in these places).

As in VickyII, the player is motivated to want to get rid of slavery for a number of reasons. For one, free workers are better, economically, than enslaved workers as they’re able to more flexibly transition between jobs, earn wages (enslaved pops get ‘upkeep’ instead of wages and thus are stuck with very low standard of living), obtain a higher standard of living and generate less radicalism. Also, slavery is bad. Moreover, chances are the player intends to implement at least some government changes, but both slavery and serfdom massively empower the landholder interest group who are for sure going to oppose basically anything the player tries to do politically. Consequently in running a country with slavery – now a much wider range of countries – the game pretty much invites the player to ‘think like an abolitionist’ as it were, looking for ways to lever out the country’s landholder fueled enslaver’s caucus in order to open up new economic and political paths. And that, I think, is a good frame to put the player into.

I will say that as I played it right now the American Civil War can happen but it tends to be an odd creature and I suspect this is something that will get more treatment later. Historically speaking, by the 1830s, a lot of the ‘cake’ was ‘baked’ for the American Civil War to eventually happen, but in the game as it is now the United States often gets quite late, chronologically before this bomb goes off when AI controlled. I haven’t yet played as the USA, so I haven’t seen this tension ‘from the inside’ but from the outside it still looks a bit wonky. Still, this is exactly the sort of thing ‘flavor packs’ are made for.

Conclusions

All told, I think Victoria III retains the elements that most drew me to VickyII but they are built now on a much stronger foundation. And of course given the way that Paradox development goes, that is always how one has to view a fresh new release: as a foundation for future work. And I can certainly see where some of that work can go, but the foundation seems solid to me. As I write this, Paradox has committed themselves to at least an Expansion, an immersion pack, a radio pack and an art pack post-launch, so it is clear they intend to build on the foundation.

Understandably, a lot of the development work in crafting that foundation has gone into the major European powers. What I find most promising here, however, is that the groundwork for non-European states and peoples is much better and so I hope that subsequent work really capitalizes on that groundwork, both in terms of playing those non-European states but also in feedback to a player running a European state with global reach. There are already a few events that speak to the kind of experiences that European imperialism could create, but that’s a part of this era that I think needs to be expanded upon and I hope will be.

Meanwhile, I think the political system, now that it is a lot more transparent and responsive, creates the opportunity to really show interconnections between the politics of various states as ideas crossed borders. It is, after all, not an accident that historically the Springtime of Nations in 1848 seemed to be contagious as both liberal and nationalist ideas spilled over borders with sudden and unpredictable effects. With the player able to better tell what is going on with their politics, I think it’d be easier to have events where, for instance, a liberal shift or imperial crack-up might in turn trigger major political shifts in neighboring countries (both positive and negative, since just as you have the liberalizing wave of the 1840s – and the crackdown that followed – you also have the totalitarian wave of the 1920s and 30s). Certainly the post-Conference of Vienna world was one in which the monarchs of Europe (and eventually the rest of the world) recognized that the contagiousness of revolution represented a threat to all of them.

But I don’t want these ‘areas for further development’ to misrepresent my tone here. Victoria III is a big step forward from VickyII and has some ideas – especially decentralized powers – that I now really want to see in every subsequent Paradox game and hopefully picked up more broadly by the historical strategy genre.

Final Verdict: I am 80 hours in and my ‘countries to play’ list isn’t getting any shorter.5

And as a final note, there will be a short Fireside on Friday before the start of November. ACOUP will then be on a one-month hiatus for November while I work on some research writing. Patrons will be getting a few snippets of that work as a treat to make up for the lack of regular content. So, Fireside on Friday (10/28), then a break and we’ll be back in December (12/2)!

  1. If anything it’s a bit longer, because the changes that technology and politics create for the game means that Victoria III makes more complete use of its late game than other Paradox games – the 1910s are very different from the 1860s, unlike how in, say, CKIII, 1200 is not very different from 1000.
  2. To benchmark that, I suppose, I haven’t played HoI4 on anything less than elite difficulty in quite a long time and I play Stellaris on scaling difficulty to Grand Admiral. So I’m not the Viking God of Paradox Games, but I think I can claim to have gotten fairly good at them.
  3. A hint: if you suddenly go from modestly budget-positive to massively budget-negative for no apparent reason, check to see if you’ve depleted the investment pool. Over-heating your building sector – for which you are the primary customer – is a major trap, since it can lock you in a position where if you keep building you will run out of money, but if you stop building, all of the industries you built that sell to the building sector (iron, timber, steel, glass, etc) will crash. That’s not a design failure, but rather a very real trap in economic development. Always be thinking about balance between industries where you, the government, are the main customer (arms, munitions, construction, ships and also paper) and industries where your people or foreign countries are the main customer (food, clothes, furniture, services and also any export goods). You need much more of the latter to support the former.
  4. And to be clear, the map is beautiful, but the performance bottleneck will probably be CPU load, which is no shock when you consider the staggering ambition of a game attempting a 1-to-1 economic simulation of the 1800s.
  5. At minimum, I want to do runs with the USA, Mexico, the Ottomans, Prussia, Egypt and the Qing. Maybe also a form-Scandinavia run, since the new immigration mechanics make small-pop countries a lot more viable than they were in VickyII.

133 thoughts on “Miscellanea: Victoria III Confirmed! (First Impressions)

  1. As someome who got burned on the Paradox DLC factory (and the complete waste that is HoI4), I’m now torn between the fairly positive opinion of the esteemed prof, and between the very negative (though very MP-tainted) opinion of hardcore MP players like Spudgun.

    Time will tell, I guess, though I now have a “wait 6 months” policy with any Paradox release.

    1. even within the MP community spudgun would be considered extremely competitive and war-focused (its not hard to find him and his friends complaining about hug boxes and players not fighting each other even within the very same game). I would take the opinion with a heavy grain of salt since its definitely not representative of most people who play multiplayer

    2. Yeah, as a Spudgun watcher I’m pretty solidly of the opinion that I’ll probably enjoy Vicky 3, but it won’t replace Viccy 2 for me; I love vic2’s multiplayer war system, and the ways it interacts with the pop mechanics, too much for even the best industrial revolution simulator to ever replace it; I’ll never forget doggedly refusing to surrender and pulling off a miraculous victory against ludicrous odds (A three-player coalition surrounding my on three of four sides) only to watch my country promptly collapse as several million pops emigrated or died in a devastating series of revolts because militancy had exploded during the war.

      1. HoI4 has a lot of railroading under the hood with the foci system. Consider that you could import saves for earlier Pdx titles and play from the Middle Ages into mid-XX century. Consider now if you could import a Vicky3 save into HoI4, and whether all the focus trees there would still make sense.

  2. It would be interesting if making a front is connected to military technology. So you would start with armies being a stack of units in a single province, but eventually they turn into fronts that can influence multiple provinces at the same time, and can grow larger as you have more troops and miltech. And if they meet a country with lower miltech thats still moving his units around as a single blob, it can envelop the enemy and deal a lot of bonus damage. Like the prussians enveloping napoleon III. This way you can also form a WW1 front where armies form long lines, and to avoid being flanked the front will extend from sea to sea.
    But I can imagine that would be difficult for paradox to make. Since it would be CK/EU armies turning into HOI armies.

    1. It probably depends upon what they’re trying to simulate.

      From Dr Deveraux’s post, it reads more like he thinks the designers are trying to separate political and military roles, and put the players square in the political role. If that is the goal, then having “fronts” (or “theaters” or “military districts” or regional armies), should be less about military technology and more about geography. Arguably we have had “fronts” (though we didn’t use that terminology) in early modern and modern war since at least the wars of Louis XIV, given the continental and worldwide span. Even in WWI and II, front really meant “theater of operations,” not “group of forces” (aside from the Russians). Certainly “pick your generals, allocate forces and hope it works” describes most of the wars after the mid 1600s, except for a few soldier kings. That’s probably a more realistic simulation choice (especially if you allow soldier king level battlefield management at the expense of kingdom management), but probably a lot less satisfying for players. Lots of people seem to want to play all the levels from squad/company/battalion to king simultaneously.

      On the flip side, if by “fronts” you mean accurately simulating the empty battlefield and massive expansion of frontage between roughly 1872 and 1900, then it absolutely will depend upon military technology. The thinning was a lot more gradual from the Napoleonic to the American Civil War and the Wars of Unification (except for the Austrians in 1866) but then exploded as predominantly rifle range and rapidity increased and armies rapidly went from closed formations to extended order based on theoretical development and combat experience. That very much should depend on both technology and budget – and, of course, educational systems.

      So, it probably depends upon what they’re trying to simulate.

  3. The one question I have about vicky 3 that is absolutely impossible to get an answer for anywhere is: Do they have same-nation multiplayer, like in EU4 and Vicky2, but unlike Stellaris (where they *had it but removed it*) and CK2/3 (where it admittedly would be weirder)?

    That is pretty close to a dealmaker or dealbreaker for me, since my normal way of playing Paradox games is cooperatively with a friend and they just do not work right if you’re playing as ‘permanent allies’, especially due to the way pacing tends to get messy.

    But nobody seems to be willing to say either way, since all people who talk about MP will say is about competitive, which I just don’t care about.

    1. I don’t believe you can play MP within a single country, but as Bret said colonial administrations are commonly represented as separate entities. You could, therefore, play as either a colonial power and its colony or as, say, upper and lower Canada.

  4. Looks like Bret just sold me another Paradox game, although we’ll have to see how long before I actually get around to buying and playing it. I’m glad they’re giving you some kickbacks because you’ve definitely earned them!

  5. Now I want to buy both Victoria III and Crusader III…

    One month without my ACOUP weekly fix ? I’m already suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

    1. Victoria III: is released

      Bret: “I’m taking a month off to, um, work on research writing, Yeah, that’s it.”

  6. I like the wild British invasion of Brazil in your Grand Colombia game. Reminds me of my Chile-into-South America game in Vicky 2, where I also invaded Brazil via the Amazon. It, uh, didn’t work out great for me.

  7. Fantastic. Already salivating for V3. Intend to start with a USA game, but eventually I want to do Ethiopia and Ottoman runs, both to see what it’s like to play someone outside the Congress of Europe and to see if it’s possible to industrialize and compete militarily while staying highly centralized and imperialist.

  8. Is it possible to build up radicalism to provoke a sudden but massive shift in the political sphere? Revolutions are scary if you want a “normal” conservative-nationalistic or liberal political environment, but in some cases you may want them to quickly get to e.g. communism.

    1. I haven’t played the game yet, so I only know what was in the Dev Diary, but there the answer was “yes”.

      Dev Diary #41 – Revolutions

      “If the prospect of winning against the revolutionaries doesn’t look good, like in all Diplomatic Plays you have the option of giving up. But rather than simply backing down and letting the revolutionaries have their way (which, to be frank, you could and should have done a long time ago if that was your intention), in Revolutionary Plays you only have an option to switch sides and take over the revolutionary part of the country in its fight against the loyalists. A daring player might decide to manufacture a powerful revolution on purpose in order to push some highly contentious laws through, though this strategy definitely straddles the line between brilliance and madness.”

      If you loose a revolutionary war, no matter what side you picked, it is Game Over. So it is a rather risky play. (But in more recent titles there is an option to continue playing as another country after Game Over, so you could use that to still switch to the winning side.)

  9. Never played either VickyII or Victoria III. But the bit about the more abstracted combat system intrigues me. I’ve played a lot of strategy games over the years (decades) from Master of Magic to Lords of the Realm II to the Civ line to Total War games to Paradox games and probably a bunch more I’m not thinking of at the moment.

    One thing that does seem to be a constant is that it’s REALLY hard to design a good combat AI, and the more granular the combat is, the more able skilled players are to run rings around the computer in a war. That in turn means that the more tactical combat is part of your system, the more you have to design AI bonuses (even if they’re just for higher difficulty levels) to compensate for the intense player who can and will consistently pull out battlefield wins that the odds dictate they shouldn’t be able to. Master of Magic was probably the most extreme in that regard (and in some ways more fun), but it does seem emblematic of bad design; especially for a game that wants to be about more than just war, because it means that if you turn the difficulty (and thus AI bonuses) up, the player becomes more and more forced to seek battle early and often because it’s the only way to compensate for the massive production disparities the computer gets because it needs to compete on the battlefield.

    Short of massively upgrading AI capability (which, even to a non-computer guy like me, seems really hard) it does seem that making warfare systems simpler, or at least more abstract, and giving less scope for the human to outmaneuver the machine seems the way to go. But I’ve also discovered that a huge amount of playerbases absolutely HATE that, so it’s interesting to see Paradox head in this direction. I hope it works out and that they can handle the ‘radicalized’ forumites who I am sure will complain about this.

    1. Introducing friction, abstraction and removing player control over tactical maneuvering at lower levels bothers a lot of people, whether it’s a computer/video game or a tabletop miniature one. Lots of people want to play all the officer levels simultaneously, instead of focusing on their tactical/operational level and immediate subordinates.

      I have also found that AI systems also don’t seem to be very good at properly monitoring subordinate units either, so the games almost force a player to micromanage to prevent their subordinates from screwing up. I would personally prefer more abstraction (especially when computer graphics capabilities mean they can still have all of the visual pagentry) because it removes the need for micromanaging and I can run a battle/campaign and not have to go take over all of my individual companies skirmishing to make sure they do it right.

      Multiple players per side is probably the best way to simulate both fog of war and the personality issues of people at war, but large scale games like that seem to be going out of style.

    2. Indeed : Galactic Civilizations 2 is a great example : it’s literally the only turn-based 4X game I know of where the AI can actually compete without cheating with a non-newbie human player, but it managed this impressive feat by reducing tactical combat to its barest minimum. (AI’s competence in its quite a bit more complex diplomacy system is impressive though.)

      But for the same reason, it’s just boring for many people, including me.

  10. So – not having played a Victoria game – what’s a good suggested country (or country size) to start? I know with EU IV it’s easier to start with larger countries (that don’t get gobbled up as easy) and in CK II smaller countries are easier (fewer vassals to manage), so what’s a good place for newbies in Victoria III?

    1. For Vicky2, Brazil was one of the better starter countries. Big fish in a small pond (outside Europe, but larger than everyone else in South America).

  11. The only Paradox game I have played is Stellaris, being mostly a Total War player (waiting for Total War pike and shot) and had a mixed experience with it. I loved the set up in general, but the lack of an ability to tactically command my fleet and lack of an explanation as to why it lost to a much weaker Fleet always frustrated me. I know Stelaris is not a history game but I would love an article comparing it to other Paradox games and what we can learn from it.

    1. It’s funny, as a Stellaris player I have exactly the opposite opinion about its combat. I absolutely hate how micro-focused it is, and I find war utterly unmanageable until I can so overpower my opponents that I can field a fleet at each front of the battle that is stronger than my entire opposition’s strength. That way the computer can’t use it’s superior micro abilities to defeat me in detail, or ignore the fact I am conquering their inner core, and raid my outlying systems. A front-based system like Brett is describing here would probably suit me a lot better.

      1. “or ignore the fact I am conquering their inner core, and raid my outlying systems.”

        I recall this AI issue as well. There was allot of chasing doomed fleets around as they blew up my outer system mining stations. I get that the AI does not want to engage in what it deems to be a hopeless battle, but one would think it would be politically impossible for the fleet to just abandon their core worlds.

        Coming from Total War where if I capture a place it’s now mine the war and peace system required allot of getting used to. I simply could not count on being able to overrun an enemy and immediately incorporate captured systems into my Federation of Benevolence. Instead I have to convince them to agree to a white peace, which is really hard when you’ve got allot fo their important worlds, or simply take their entire for myself.

      2. I think you mean logistics-focused, since you have no control over tactical combat ?

        Stellaris is ridiculously inadequate in terms of logistics by 4X (and even RTS !) interface standards, and its real-time nature makes this even worse.

        I’m guessing that PDS has *still* not added the *so* basic “jump to next idle fleet” keyboard hotkey, even less a “fleet arrived at destination, press key to zoom in” notification + hotkey that pretty much *every* 4X (and even some non-4X) games aside from Stellaris have ?

        1. Not that I’m aware of no. And Stellaris’s notifications have been a disaster for quite a while now. They will breathlessly inform you of a trade agreement between two empires on the other side of the galaxy, but have almost no notifications that tell you when something needs a decision on your part. The exploration-related notifications are fine, but they don’t tell you when a military fleet has run out of orders to execute, or when a planet has no jobs or housing left and they just expect you to constantly scan the outliner (which is, naturally, far too small to hold all the information it needs to).

    2. Stellaris is actually pretty good at explaining why you lost to a fleet, the post-battle report shows you a breakdown of how much damage the enemy dealt with what kind of weapons. Usually it’s down to them having weapons that hard-counter your designs or fielding the bigger ship classes that punch harder.

      1. I do recall this now. Perhaps I did not utilize it as effectively as I could have. I do recall the three? different kinds of damage and two? different kinds of defense ships could have and spending more time than I wanted to with the ship builder trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.

        1. You can find guides online for ship building. The system is generally a pretty simple one. Kinetic weapons beat shields, energy weapons beat armor, missiles ignore shields but can be shot down by point defense, so if the enemy has point defe se either bring lots of missiles and whirlwind missiles or none at all. Strikecraft are very powerful damage dealers that will hit before all but the longest range weapons and ignore shields but are vulnerable to flack guns. Usually, until defenses like shields and armor get to their higher levels, you should just spam your highest tier weapons because hp still makes up the majority of overall durability. It’s typically a good idea to decide early on if you want to go missiles or kinetics and energy so you don’t waste research on something you won’t use. Another thing to keep in mind is that point defense is an energy weapon and flack is a kinetic weapon. So a ship with lasers and flack actually has counters to both shields and armor, for example. I, personally, like using a combo of missiles, whirlwind missiles, point defense (because strikecraft don’t shoot down missiles anymore), strikecraft, and torpedos.

  12. I would lying if I said that a Paradox GSG version of Anno 1800 doesn’t sound interesting, but doing it as Vicky 3 and especially in the way they are doing feels dubious. Stuff such as effectively abandoning the POP driven economy in favor of this pseudo-Anno system, or the frankly bizarre decision to completely rework warfare into this semi-autonomous system(which, baffling, the AI seems unable to handle, destroying itself with mobilizations against OPMs and being unable to carry out naval invasions), doesn’t really strike me as something that someone that hoped for Vicky 3 being essentially “2, but better” would like.

  13. I find it fascinating to see EU3 described as “typified by [its] use of hard-coded events to ensure historical outcomes”. EU3 was, very consciously, a huge shift in the direction of more flexibility and less railroading from the perspective of EU2. EU2 was mostly an events-driven game; the actual systemic mechanics were much much less substantial than they would become. For example, cores/claims, province culture, and state culture were all completely unaffected by the standard systems/mechanics of the game. Only scripted events could change these, and I’m sure there are other examples as well. EU3 made huge moves in the opposite directions and, IIRC, actually tried to shy away from events at all, though I believe they ended up compromising a bit on that over the patches and expansions.

    It’s not easy to find good quotes on the design philosophy behind EU3, but these quotes from IGN’s review seem relevant:
    https://www.ign.com/articles/2007/01/24/europa-universalis-iii-review
    “In previous versions of the game, the AI rulers have tended to follow the course of history in terms of their decisions. England and France and Spain all fight for the New World, while a variety of states fight for dominance in Northern Europe. That’s not the case with this third version of the game…. History changes much more drastically (but no less realistically) this time around.

    The range of historical events seems a bit less predictable this time around, particularly with respect to your rulers. Just because a nation suffered a succession crisis at a certain date is no guarantee that it’ll happen at that point during your own game. Instead, these events are triggered by a variety of circumstances that arise out of your decisions.”

    In any case, that was a great read and very useful take on Victoria 3. As one of the few people who had* a proper boxed copy of Victoria 1, I’m.. rather excited, haha.

    1. As with social groupings like, say, Gen X vs Millennials the transition between generations ought to be understood as a gradual continuum where the hard lines are fuzzy especially when you have multiple different franchises going. Certainly EU3 definitely feels like an outlier in the group mentioned being released before Hoi3 and Vicky 2 and I recall EU4 on release drawing some flak for not being different enough from it.

      If anything I’d argue that EU3 belongs in a little box all of its own, with its relatively un-abstracted and un-railroaded design making it substantially different to its peers but also quite different to EU4’s bringing in of the abstract currencies that inform HoI4’s design (with army/air/navy XP, command power and political power) and that then informing Imperator and the backlash to their use in that game.

      I think the generational structure holds but I think EU is just a weird beast among them where it was slightly ahead of its time until it then came to define a new generation itself.

    2. From my understanding, gen 1 Paradox games (EU 1-2, HoI 1-2,… ) are more railroaded, gen 2 (EU 3, HoI 3, Ck2, Vicky 2…) are more sandbox, gen 3 (EU 4, HoI 4, Ck3, Vicky 3…) are conditionally railroaded where historical events can only happen if certain conditions are met.

      1. I’d agree, except I’d put Vicky 2 in Gen 1 rather than 2, at least design-wise: It’s significantly more railroaded than EU3.

  14. The game treats Pops as an extremely valuable long-term resource.

    Countries with Slave Trade laws can import slaves.

    Slave Pops are far less valuable than non-Slave Pops.

    Laws can change.

    Is it then a strong play to open the slave trade, import many slaves, and then abolish slavery to transform the imported pops into valuable freedmen?

    1. The challenge here, I’d guess, is finding a way to push through the slavery abolition law without fighting a civil war over it. Abolishing slavery is going to massively radicalize landowners, for example. (The US is special and can’t abolish slavery the normal way, but there was a bug only a month ago where free-state landowners would also revolt when it happened, which was amusing, if spectacularly ahistorical when Massachusetts was joining the Confederacy.) I’m pretty sure there are revolts in this game for less than completely reworking the economic system.

      And assuming the first stage of the slave import system works, you’re then going to need to work on your cultural tolerance laws or all those pops might start leaving. Anyway, I get the impression that it’s just more efficient to be very quickly welcoming to immigrants and have them flood into the country, instead.

  15. I note that British pops, in reality, did not burn wood for heat.

    They burned coal.

    There’s much that flows from that.

    1. Needs are grouped into approximately substitutable groups. So in the Heating group, wood is the default, but coal, oil, electricity, and fabric (I think this is insulation?) can be used instead. So a pop will use a mix of firewood, coal, heating oil, electric heating, and blankets depending on their price.
      Some things are in multiple groups: Services is its own group, and Meat is the default “Luxury Food”, but services can substitute for train transportation in Communication and Movement (I guess representing pony express, coach drivers, etc) and meat can be eaten as a basic food too.

  16. Nitpicks: “developing that land by building big market-oriented farms will increase production, but it also reduces the last available for those peasants”
    I assume this is “lots” not “last”? Or “last spaces”.

    “but they made need an ‘ahead of time’ penalty on technology research”
    “they made” to “they may”.

    Also, on the subject itself of ahead-of-time Prussia going on a nutso conquering spree… interesting, but from a “game-y” perspective, at least some Paradox players consider conquering the world to be their desired end-game, so making it at least possible-if-counterfactual seems a necessary evil to service those players, even if philosophically out of sync with trying to emphasize how bad real-WWI was.

  17. “here I think the ‘front’ system – and this take is going to upset some people – is an improvement because it guides the player away from making micro-managing army decisions which political leaders wouldn’t make in any event.”
    In the Total War games you are recommended to take control of forces directly as you will likely produce a better outcome. Games should really turn this around with a “meddling politician” penalty when the national leader (aka the Player) chooses to micro manage their forces at war 🙂

    1. This would be a very interesting feature, especially if we flipped it and there was a serious penalty if the player went off to be a general instead of running the state. Napoleon was probably the closest one could get to a modernish leader running the country and the army from his HQ, but even he had problems juggling both.

      1. If you squint, you can see this in Shadow Empire, where a LOT of actions, from raising a formation of units to changing taxes and public worker pay require precious “political points”.

  18. > lightning campaigns like those of the Franco-Prussian War are very possible

    I think that might be the first time that I’ve seen the Franco-Prussian War as a “lighting campaign”, but that might be mostly down how most of the discourse around it (including in schools) here in France is split roughly 30% on the siege of Paris, 40% on the Commune, 15% on its causes and the last 15% on the rest of the war.

    1. The fact that the main emphasis point is the time when the enemy pierced past all your defenses and surrounded your capital, probably speaks for itself on how rapid the war went as a whole.

    2. It’s reasonably lightning compared to the American Civil War or the Crimean War, and certainly the Napoleonic Wars – though much longer than the Seven Weeks War. It’s comparable to 1859 or 1864, or even Radetzky’s wars in Italy in 1848-49.

      On the flip side, Sheridan wasn’t too impressed with the Prussians. The French were pretty bad, and the less said about the Austrians or the Italians in 1866 the better. If anything, the Prussian Wars of German Conquest were a big anomaly, but a lot of military analysts wanted that anomaly to be true.

      1. Sheridan observed that while they kept excellent order, they did so on good roads. He’d like to see how they did in trackless swamps.

        1. To be fair, a military adapts itself to the circumstances it expects to occupy. When von Moltke took over the Prussian general staff in 1857, he could easily predict that the Prussian army of 1870 was quite likely to fight in heavily built-up countryside where the population had long since hit peak sustainable levels for subsistence agriculture, where roads were fairly good and where there would likely be railroads too- if he could build them.

          By contrast, the Prussians were unlikely to be fighting in trackless wilderness or vast, remote deserts.

          He prepared accordingly.

  19. So let me get this straight: You simultaneously advocate for complete player agency when it comes to industry because of ‘dumb capitalist AI’, building up factories, mines, etc, while you denounce player choices and planning in warfare because it’s unrealistic.

    CKIIarbitrary.ico

    1. That is a very dividing opinion on the fandom indeed. My stance is that for warfare, the idea is promising but hearing the implementation isn’t encouraging. But for the laissez faire I’d like to have the option to have the simulation running on itself at least. I mean, you have to make economic AI for 100 other entities in the game anyway, what’s another single one for the player’s capitalists? I want to wrangle and nurse my capitalist pops and then shedding a tear when they finally be able to grow up and not needing my guidance anymore! That’s one of thing I like in Vic 2 and I very dislike when it’s announced in Vic 3 dev diary.

      1. A simple option to have the auto-expand up to the investment pool limit would pretty much fix that issue, I think. They still wouldn’t start new industries, but it would be something.

      2. It also means I am in micro hell even as Belgium. I’ve got like fifty factories and have to pick which ones to expand all the time

    2. If the capitalist factory building AI had been anything close to either smart or realistic in its choices, advocating for it would be valid.

    3. To be fair, not all AI systems are equals to each other. If VickyII’s capitalists followed a basic flowchart that a player with only a big of experience would follow (“Would it benefit from local production? Would it make a profit?), then there would be a lot less complains about them. And if, instead of an entirely automated & abstracted frontline, vic3 warfare involved letting the AI move individual armies around completely at random (in the same fashion that vic2 capitalists invest), then I hope it would get more criticism.

      I’m not personally happy with the current frontline system, but it’s not as detrimental to it’s system as capitalists were in vic2.

      1. After having played this a bit, I want to correct myself:
        Rather than “vicky2 capitalists would be tolerable if they worked as well as vic3 war”, my position is now “vic3 wars would be tolerable if they worked as well as vicky2 capitalists”.

        God damn, encircled armies teleporting away to another front, battles happening one at a time no matter the length of the front or the amount of troops engaged, foreign countries taking the most absurd and ahistorical interest all over the world. The issue isn’t even the idea of abstracting warfare away, it’s the hard-coded implementation that makes no sense.

  20. I remember in your Expeditions Rome review, you were pretty critical of the decision to present moral choices between an ahistorical “good” imperialism, and a more historically-grounded “evil” imperialism. However, here you seem to be in favour of allowing players to play with the counter-factual of a more tolerant form of imperialism/colonialism. When it comes to presenting moral choices in historical settings (particularly when it comes to topics like imperialism), where do you think the line is between allowing for counter-factuals, and whitewashing history?

    1. I will try to deduce Bret’s position on this from quotes in the relevant parts of the posts.

      For Expeditions – Rome:

      The game frequently gives you decisions on how to treat defeated foes and most players are going to pick the ‘nice’ answer. At no point do characters really push back on you for this; no centurion demands the customary looting, murder and rape upon the capture of a fortified city by storm, for instance (there is one centurion who keeps trying to pilfer things off of the locals, but you keep stopping him).

      For Victoria II:

      but it seemed like it ought to be something the player could do and in Victoria III it is, through a mix of incorporating states and passing laws removing discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion. There are challenges to it, since extending public services over more people costs money and bureaucracy (which also costs money) and will cause wages in those regions to rise which can reduce profits, and moreover reactionary elements will fight bitterly to stop those law changes (and consequently doing all of this is much easier if the country in question is already an immigrant-driven multi-cultural state which given that by far the largest examples of such permanent overseas ‘state-ification’ are Hawaii and Alaska makes a good deal of sense).

      That means, I think, that if you can practice “nicer” imperialism in the game than happened in history, the game should make it clear that you are acting against the prevailing cultural norms and it should be more challenging than the conventional imperialism of that time.

  21. Can a player of a non-European country do an imperialism on Europe? Colonize Britain, carve out concessions in France, force Germans to buy opium at gunpoint, that kind of thing? And no, by non-European I don’t mean Latin America or the US, I mean stuff like Japan doing gunboat diplomacy on hexagonal France or something like that.

    1. It’s very difficult, given that European states start with a technological, military, economic, and diplomatic edge over everyone else, but it’s not impossible. You can certainly do at least as well as real-life Japan, and a world conquest starting as an unrecognized state is probably feasible if you’re good enough at the game.

    2. There is an achievement for Qing to have a treaty-port in France, Italy, Iberia, Britain and Germany, so the answer is “Yes”.

        1. “The Western Protectorate”, so not as clever as the one where you have to subjugate the UK as the Sikh Empire, which is a “An Empire under the Pun”, or the one where you subjugate the USA as the Indian Territory, which is “American Territory”.

  22. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a tool to sort my trade routes by productiveness and convoy usage.

    1. This would be possible if more game developers were willing to open their games, sadly the artistic aspect of it drags it down compared to other kinds of software…

      (I’ll note that DRM-enabling platforms like Steam push in the wrong direction too.)

  23. > Paradox has in the past struggled to make their games as interesting in peacetime as in wartime; Victoria III at last I think succeeds completely at this
    A praise in double-entendre, with a wartime that devolved into 3 buttons (and so far I haven’t used anything but “advance front”, but there may be more subtelty to unveil beyond a couple of hours).

    > Instead states expanding into those regions are very clearly taking that land from someone. I want to see this system used in place of the old colonization mechanics in every future Paradox game (which mostly means EU5 if and when it is greenlit).
    But that’s already the case. VickyII clearly have native population in colonized areas, and EU4 have native uprising ready to ruin your colonies if you don’t guard them (or make conscious choices to reduce the problem, at the opportunity cost of not picking other, more productive options), and then, depending on where you are colonizing, they may well be of indigenous culture & religion, making the provinces less stable and less productive.

    But the real issue with the game seems to be similar to CK3’s, and one you skipped in your CK3 posts as well: all the nice systems and mechanisms in place to model a certain idea of society & history are irrelevants if they’re poorly balanced and the player can just power through like a mad lad. Vassal management in CK3 is rarely an issue because you can stack a ton of opinion modifiers to keep them loyals, or easily frame them to imprison them, warfare in CK3 is irrelevant because you can just siege everything in 3 days with siege engine in all your men-at-arms slots, etc etc. Will the political challenges become irrelevant because your entire country (per your screenshot), even it’s north-african colony, has greater SoL than Paris or London? Will warfare become irrelevant because the AI is too limited to beeline the right tech? This doesn’t bode well, and can’t be solved with DLC’s that can be summed up as “more focus/mission trees” à la EU4/HOI4.

    1. Ah, but what kind of player are you talking about ? Sure, it’s expected that a fan of the game and/or genre will break its systems, but your median player won’t : by definition he’ll stop playing while still a newbie, around 30 hours (which is still ridiculously high by video game standards !)

      1. Well i’m the kind of player who barely got 2 days in, and my fear have been validated again and again: it’s a simulation system which look great on paper (or on a design document), but it’s implemented…about as well as CK3.

        Bret rejoice that the new world no longer have a hard-coded +1000% immigration attraction. Fine. But instead, I’m having migration waves of aboriginals in Brittany, and of Crees in Kenya. What’s better, a railroaded, historical system that works, or a reactive system that’s essentially completely random?

      2. The problem is that if your game is like a Paradox game (designed to provide a rich, complex experience running something big over a vast sweep of time), then if your median player quits around 30 hours… It’s probably because half the people who bought your game and played it decided they didn’t like it. Which bodes poorly for the long-term prospects of your company, y’know?

        1. But you seem to think that this is something bad, while half of your playerbase staying to play a complex game like this as long as ~30 hours seems to be a tremendous success to me ?

          Take Hearts of Iron 4 : it’s a *ridiculously* successful game : it’s *extremely* rare for a game to bounce back from its release peak and then exponential drop : HoI4 did that… but then started growing again 4 months later, to the point where the lows are now *higher* than the release peak ! (In fact, this might be unprecedented ?!)

          Hmm, taking an average of about 25k players compared to the estimated 5M owners, so 1/200 of the owners playing at any given time, with 77 months ~ 55k hours since release… if I got the math right, this still makes for an astounding 281 average hours per owner ?!

          The median is probably going to be much lower however… I took my ~30 median hours from here, consider the discrepancy between mean and median :

          https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/04/introducing-steam-gauge-ars-reveals-steams-most-popular-games/

          Civ5 had 29 median hours, 127 mean.
          EU4 had 27 median hours, 80 mean.

  24. “the largest examples of such permanent overseas ‘state-ification’ are Hawaii and Alaska ”

    Not to be cynical, but those territories are easily dominated militarily by the state-ifying power, and the population of native descent is overwhelmingly outnumbered by the population of settler descent. Siberians have been pretty successfully sucked into the Russian state, but not because it was nice to them. Dominance is dominance.

    1. Yeah, Hawaii and Alaska’s native populations were essentially handled the same way as in the continental US. I’ve read that the US soldiers on the ground thought of the Philippine-American War as an extension of the Indian Wars, which makes sense when you think of the US push westward as imperial wars of conquest.

    2. I didn’t say dominance wasn’t dominance.

      Merely that those colonial possessions were eventually fully integrated into the core of the state as a whole, rather than being either retained as colonies or eventually becoming independent.

      1. Of course, but the fact that they were fully integrated into the US has nothing to do with “encouraging indigenous development, declaring local cultures tolerated and valued”. It’s because the indigenous population was overwhelmed by immigrants loyal to the conquering power.

        Note that Puerto Rico and the Philippines were not so overwhelmed, and were not fully integrated into the US.

        I might add that African-Americans of the time who visited Britain and France seem rarely to have thought the white Americans of the time to have been more respectful and tolerant than the white Britons and French. And yet Africa was not integrated into Britain and France in the way that Mississippi is integrated into the US. And the reasons for that are 1) Africa is further from Britain than Mississippi is from America 2) Black people are a minority in Mississippi, and an overwhelming majority in Africa.

        Try giving examples of a fully integrated province where the indigenous population was not so overwhelmed. It isn’t easy.

        1. Well, democracies have a rather strict requirement here (“is this province voting / represented”), but if you include more autocratic governments, it’s not uncommon. The Ottoman Empire combined both being rather lassiez-faire AND considered its non-Turkish provinces part of the whole. Sure, there were special zones like the Lebanon Mutasarrifate for Christian-dominated sections or carve-outs for Kuwait as a special region, but structurally there wasn’t a huge difference between the vilayets in Libya, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Kurdish areas, or Turkish Anatolia. You can argue that Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires have some similarities as well – the Grand Duchy of Finland’s separation from Russia was essentially nominal, and only the turmoil of WWI + the Russian Revolution allowed it to regain true independence, for example. (Maybe “we are all dominated by the Emperor / Caliph / Czar equally” isn’t that inspiring, of course.)

          1. I notice that the Ottoman Empire used to require its Christian subjects to pay a tax in children, who became the lawful slaves of the ruler. Is this what is meant by “encouraging indigenous development, declaring local cultures tolerated and valued”?

            The very fact that you couldn’t run those empires democratically demonstrates that the peoples within them didn’t have much mutual loyalty. So they could not be integrated in the same way as “Italy” or “France”.

            Italy is perhaps an interesting case, in the sense that it was created as a united kingdom in Victoria’s time. But I don’t think it can be said to have been done by conquering a country and then encouraging indigenous development.

          2. (Reply to ad’s second comment) Sure, let’s ignore the Christian parts of the Ottoman Empire if you want. I’ll stand by the idea that the Muslim parts culture was “tolerated and valued.” Not until the Young Turks immediately prior to WWI were there any major Turkification efforts. Ottoman Levant / Mesopotamia / Arabia / Kurdish areas all had their own distinct culture yet considered themselves loyal Ottoman subjects. This is one of the problems the British had in WWI – they were working with really quite weak anti-Ottoman movements, and it’s amazing that Lawrence got even what he did. Most Syrians / Arabs / Iraqis were quite content with the Ottomans and would have happily rejoined Turkey if the British(/French) had just packed up and left (an option seriously considered by Churchill circa 1920!).

          3. That’s actually something like the *opposite* of how the Ottoman empire worked, in that it was a complex web of overlapping and sometimes contradictory local powerbases and cultures. The same is true of the Russian and Austrian empires. There was no “all are equal”, but rather various groups were explicitly *un*equal, but largely left to their own devices and free to keep their own laws so long as they did not interfere with broader state objectives or the prerogatives of some other group.,

          4. Consider the Nationalist / Imperialist late modern framing : Ottomans are imperialist, while Turks are nationalist.

            We even have a postmodern example today with the imperialist Russia trying to invade Ukraine (and ironically creating a nationalist Ukrainian revival).

            Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, with the (soft-?)imperialist USA and its European client states (NATO) siding with nationalist Ukraine. (And whatever the EU is, I guess a budding empire, considering the heavy requirements that Ukraine would be subjected to if it wanted to join the EU..?)

            It’s not completely clear to me however whether and how Victoria 3 uses this framing ? (There was the mention of Revolutions of 1848 being simulated in the game – what are the pro-nationalist and anti-imperialist game mechanics involved there ?)

          5. To make it even more complicated, Putin is using nationalist rhetoric to justify the invasion. He claims that Ukrainians are really just a type of Russian, and therefore ought to be part of Russia.

            I don’t think a lot of people are imperialist or nationalist in general; instead people are in favor of a particular empire or a particular nation. And I don’t think they contradict, necessarily; one can be both imperialist and nationalist, desiring one’s nation to become or remain the core of an empire.

          6. Not really, this is just your typical *imperialist*, not nationalist rhetoric from Putin : one of the core nationalist values is the liberal “all humans are equal in their rights” translated into “all peoples have the right to self-determination”, which he has clearly violated by invading Ukraine (ironically, even in Crimea, where a referendum not held at gunpoint *would* have resulted in a pro-Russian, and “legitimate”, result. (though the case of the Tatars complicates this, while nationality generally isn’t (treated as) fractal, ethnicity is…)).

            I think I see where you’re coming from : the usual framing of “civic nationalism” (USA, France) – generally considered as “good” vs “ethnic nationalism” (Nazi Germany) – generally considered as “bad” ?

            I recently realized that this framing was just unhelpful, because “ethnic nationalism” is just a wrong term :
            – Nazi Germany cared about “race”, not ethnicity (“But I am an upstanding German Nazi now, my grandmother being Jewish or not doesn’t matter !” didn’t fly with the Nazis.)
            – “nationalism” where some nations inside the country (or not) are considered as “more equal than others” is just imperialism, where one nation will dominate the others, soon only one nation will remain in the country, while the other ethnicities will be stripped of most of their nationhood and end up subjects of the resulting empire.

            We know this happens even in the countries that were supposedly big fans of (inter)nationalism : USSR is an excellent example (though Stalin specifically did a lot of damage by pitting ethnicities against each other for short-term goals).
            See also, more recently Chechnya failing to escape the “prison of the nations” when the USSR collapsed (did Lenin stir in his mausoleum by any chance ?)

        2. As I have pondered this stuff over time I have come to think that all of the nation/empire/ethnicity/race/etc. stuff is just smoke and mirrors for simple selfishness. Maybe sometimes it even fools the individual concerned, but it all seems to me to boil down to wanting “us” to have privilege over “them”, where the “us” (and, by extension, the “them”) are fuzzily and arbitrarily defined around the cardinal fact that the “us” always – by an astounding coincidence – includes “me”. The “us” then just holds those I think I can swing into supporting the cause of privilege for me (ahem – sorry – for “us”). Some will be an easier and more clearly persuasive sell than others – my family, my pals, people of the same gender, religion and/or ethnicity, maybe – but the reality is that it’s all arbitrary. A deception on both the “us” (including, possibly, myself) and the “them”. A sick and destructive but highly pervasive aspect of the human condition built around shared selfishness – selfishness in ourselves and the assumption and leverage of selfishness in others. Combine that with a pinch of expectation that others we don’t know personally will accept our acions without effective reaction and you have Putin. And Trump. And Brexit. And the Ayatollahs. And Kim Jong-un.

          1. Add to that lots and lots of people believing that all life is a zero-sum game, and that therefore anything that makes things better for “them” must make things worse for me (err, “us”).

            Which through sloppy thinking then becomes anything that makes “them” suffer is good.

          2. It started with “my tribe”. Then people started to have individual households, we have “my land”, “my house”, “my propriety”, “my wife/husband”. Then we have “my country”, “my nation”. It became necessary for people to stick with their tribe and family to increase their survivability because you can’t expect other tribes to think you are one of “them”. And indeed that selfish idea actually makes people stronger. Like, can capitalism happen without the existence of nation-states like Great Britain or France?

            Many philosophers tried to advocate for universal, impartial love, but none had success so far. Imagine a world where people can enter others’ houses freely, because they are not “our” or “their” houses anymore. We will not need to spend money to buy door locks.

          3. I point out in the related branch how this is different for nationalism, which extends the liberal value of equality among humans to one of self-determination of peoples – with Vicky’s 19th century being perhaps the central one for the popularization of liberalism and the blooming of nations (not to dismiss the US and French revolutions of course).

            I’d also like to point out a trap that can happen in trying to extend this principle too far : it’s natural that we should care for those closest to us first : that’s how natural selection works – specifically because we are not omniscient and are more likely than not to be mistaken about the right course of actions in locations far away from us – and you can see imperialists (ab)using this over and over again, from Victorian paternalist colonialism (rightfully satirized by contemporary writers) to today’s Putin’s claims that he knows what’s best for Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

          4. Two points in response to what appear to be objections to my first post:
            1) The point I was trying to make was an observation, rather than an advocation of universal love, or whatever. The behaviour is a general trait of humanity, and thus can at best be ‘worked around’; expecting people to give up selfishness is like expecting them to give up eating – the economic advantages for society of doing so might be obvious, but it’s not going to happen.
            2) The ideas that (a) capitalism depends on selfishness/nation states or whatever and (b) the alliances in pursuit of selfishness are genetically determined seem to me to be wrong. Firstly, capitalism is predicated on the idea of comparative advantage and would actually work far worse if a significant proportion of trades were ‘zero-sum’ because such trades are necessarily, from the point of view of the wider economy, a deadweight loss. Capitalism does rely on the idea of personal property, but that fits into a system of mutually beneficial trades well as long as most people value having some private things of their own more than they value taking yours away from you. Compliance enforcement is necessary for such trades, as also with most other trades and contracts – in a huge stretch I can link this to Bret’s current work on Republican Roman mobilisation to show that successful government of many types has ways and means for doing this!
            Finally, the idea that the selfishness alliances are composed along genetic lines founders with discrimination of the grounds of sex and gender (and also with religion and geographic location, but to a slightly more debatable extent). Most families tend to be composed of a mix of sexes and genders for biological and other reasons, but this does not stop such things figuring highly on agendas for selfish alliance making.

          5. Selfishness groups often do not run along genetic lines, or are actively anti-genetic, in the sense that from a Darwinian standpoint they make no sense, even above and beyond any moral evil being committed.

            For instance, in the antebellum South, the male plantation-owner class’s sexual behavior meant that any given member of the plantation aristocracy was quite likely to share a father with one or more enslaved black half-siblings (for instance, Sally Hemings was Martha Jefferson’s half-sister). But it was virtually unheard of for any member of the plantation-owner class to treat those half-siblings as “kin” or in any way to side with those half-siblings in a way that might run against the interests of other ‘white’ members of the class.

            The one-drop model ran very strong and very deep, even though from a Darwinian standpoint you should care much more about your half-siblings (who share 25% of your DNA) than about some rando who owns the plantation across the river (who’s probably like, your fourth cousin at best).

            Likewise, patriarchal-system honor killings make little sense from a Darwinian perspective. It would nearly always seem madness, from an evolutionary standpoint, for a father or grandfather countenance the killing of one of his own direct (and fertile!) descendants for the sake of some abstract concept.

            The explanations for how things like this can happen within a culture exist, but “Darwinian effects” are not the direct reason. We cannot generalize from the “biotruths” of natural selection being a thing, all the way to the origins of systems like racial supremacy and patriarchy, without doing considerable violence to the underlying logic.

          6. When you consider that your honor-killed daughter’s fertility was going to waste because no other family would risk her having another family’s child and foisting it on them. . .

          7. Hmm I guess that *natural selection* was a poor choice of words on my part (but I do not subscribe to the natural = inhuman dichotomy) : in humans natural selection also (dominantly even ?) happens through memetic rather than genetic means, as Simon_Jester gives an example of. (One of the reasons why the “r-word” is now a scientifically discredited concept, with the overwhelmingly culturally-determined “ethnicity” used instead.)

  25. The game is cool, and complicated, and deep, and I’ll play a ton of it, and look forward to future content updates. That said, they haven’t really put their finger on the simulation enough to make big events happen in recognizable ways that would give context to everything, and they definitely haven’t done enough to draw my attention to what’s happening beyond my borders, so it sorta turns into a demographic simulator spreadsheet game that happens to have a map somewhere underneath the spreadsheets. I’ll zoom out and realize that at some point the independent state of Oregon conquered most of Canada and I just… didn’t see. The Heavenly Kingdom has conquered half of China and I didn’t see. And if it affected me, the game never showed me any way it had.
    My basic feeling at this point is, what they’ve really done is pushed the narrative of the simulation – the sense of modernizing and liberalizing your institutions to combat instability and achieve growth, with a side order of great-power balance of power negotiation – so hard that they’ve made it borderline impossible to make the game do anything else, and therefore to do anything that feels that consequential. In Crusader Kings or Stellaris of Hearts of Iron, once you’ve learned the game systems half the fun is figuring out what you can do to mess with the world – what you can do to make the networked game systems produce cool new results – whether it’s building ahistorical factions that make World War II completely different or conquering the galaxy with a hive mind of space insects or converting half of medieval Europe to Judaism. In Victoria 3… you can make your nation somewhat more powerful or somewhat more progressive than it was in real life. I’m not arguing with the simulation as much as I think you basically just do the same thing in every playthrough, only starting from a more or less difficult starting point.
    I also think the implementation of the process of changing laws, which is the major way you’ll advance your nation’s socioeconomic attitudes, kinda… sucks? I don’t mind the implementation as a way of doing a side system, but when you start to realize that changing your laws is the closest thing to a satisfying choice you get to make in most parts of the game, the presentation and the mechanics are both pretty lacking.

    1. But we also have a great example of Dwarf Fortress in how a game being a simulation is in synergy with it being a role-playing game… at the same time as its generally agreed that a good interface is not its strong point ?

      Maybe, in addition to interface issues, also because they are actually trying *too* hard for (historic, but not only) realism I guess ?

  26. So after a few starter games to learn the system, I make a try at the US. And it’s incredibly overwhelming, I just own everything.

    But also, my god, I can just click a button and change *Andrew Jackson*’s ideology to ‘abolitionist’ in an event.

    1. Same. As soon as Old Hickory went abolitionist I got rid of slavery and b-lined multicultural. No civil war and only 2 native uprisings in the colonized areas before it turned on. Easy run, got a huge tech lead and broke France in 3 parts to secure my dominance as the “Free Egalitarian Multicultural Socialist Republic USA” that made 3/4 of the world its dominion by overwhelming force. I may be a pariah but with a stick as big as I had no one was able to do anything.

  27. So currently playing tutorial belgium, I have to say I really don’t like the military system. It’s just too uninteractive at all levels. I haven’t been in a war with more than two fronts, and in all of those one of them was clearly the primary front. There’s not a lot of options on the barracks, and as far as I can tell they’re in strictly ascending order of cost+effectiveness. My military stance is effectively stuck on National Militia for political reasons, which means I can have exactly five levels of barracks in each state, so I did that.

    It’s particularly disappointing because, having skipped Victoria 2 and admittedly not followed the dev diaries, I was expecting something like Victoria 1’s elaborate military system, where I could actually command units independently and do things like muster my tanks to break through the enemy trench lines in two places to surround and cut off the front lines.

    Plus the international nature of the plays system means that, as a smallish military power, my success in wars is basically dictated by who the major European powers pick to back, which wouldn’t be a problem if I had a clearer pre-war image of who they would back, but as it is I basically have to gamble that Britain and North Germany are swayable this time round.

    1. It’s a good thing PDX already has exactly what you seem to want. It’s called Hearts of Iron IV and it has all the military complexity you could want. I don’t get why so many people are acting so betrayed by the decision to deprioirktize warfare in Vic 3 when we have known this was the intent for months now. I get it, you wanted a different game, but because this isn’t the game you want dosnt mean it’s a bad game, just find a game where war is more of a focus.

      1. Except Hearts of Iron IV famously *doesn’t* simulate really anything. It’s a purely military game where making troops move is the entire point, and its also entirely adapted to a rendition of WW2. It’s perfectly reasonable to not like the way Vic3 simulates war. Also warfare isn’t ‘deprioritized’ (that’s how you spell it btw), it’s still a core mechanic of the game, but now it’s dumbed down and made less interesting or fun to experience.

        1. You might want to look into Shadow Empire, where you have to care for all 3 : creating breakthroughs in the frontlines & troop/commander morale, *and* that logistics are working properly so that food/fuel/ammo reaches the front, *and* being careful that your population and governors/directors back home are happy and productive so that you can keep supplying the war :

          https://www.wargamer.com/shadow-empire/review

  28. I’ve got to say, the references to Factorio make me even more excited, but sadly Victoria 3 still ends in the boycott thrash heap of history of games that use a platform-locked social feature like Steam Workshop (or Steam Multiplayer, no idea if that’s the case here).

    This behavior needs to be shamed at every turn, lest it becomes normalized, and non-Steam versions of games become inferior *by default*, and in a not too distant future we lose all of this functionality once the Steam servers shut down.

    ( See also : DRM, but Victoria 3 will probably not use any, so I can only congratulate PDS here : https://www.pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/The_big_list_of_DRM-free_games_on_Steam#Paradox_Development_Studio )

    1. I’m not sure what your issue is here – Steam Workshop is in no way integral to the game. It’s one way mods can be distributed, yes, but Paradox also allows you to put mods on their own site, and from a purely technical perspective you can just put your mods on any distribution site you like and install them manually.

      1. Ah, I had no idea that Paradox had their own mods website now, looks very new considering the interface ?

        https://mods.paradoxplaza.com/

        I’ll have to check it out – since they are a big publisher, they probably will be able to compete with Steam Workshop ! This is good news ! (At least in the short term, in the long term I fear they will be tempted to make their own platform – which is bad by itself, and publisher platforms are typically even *worse* than Steam !)

        My typical experience with mods with games that have a Steam Workshop is that modders don’t even bother to put them on the usual websites like moddb, and then you never know when Steam will change their programming interface *again* and break the third party tools that allowed you to download mods even if you didn’t own the game on Steam !

        And again, the whole social aspect of it, you start to feel like a second-class citizen… does this still happen for Paradox games ?
        BTW, if you do NOT have experience with owning Paradox games outside of Steam, can you see that your guesses as to what this experience might be is likely to be misleading at best ?

        P.S.: Welp, I now *wanted* to buy the game, and the claimed Linux support was very promising… but, despite no mention of Early Access, it’s Steam only for now, so, like for Stellaris’ release, I guess this will have to wait… (took more than two years for Stellaris, and if it’s in any way similar, what do you think this is going to do for community expectations ?)

        P.P.S.: What does “Cross-Platform Multiplayer” even *mean* for a game not released on consoles ??

        1. Pretty sure it just means you can play across Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

          Can confirm it works great on Linux – I’ve played about 3 hours so far and zero issues.

          1. Sigh, it’s yet another sign of the worrying platformization of PCs that this is not something just taken as a given any more… (But maybe I’m the one with a warped view of things here, not having ever used a Mac for games ?)

            Nice !

  29. “an Intel i7-6700 (3.4GHz came out in 2015) with a GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card (came out in 2016) with 16GB of system RAM” definitely *is* a super-computer (it’s not the oughties any more, PCs age much slower these days), consider how many people run laptops with integrated graphic cards !

    You mentioned Factorio, but it totally *can* run on your average PC (say, i3, 6 Go of RAM, integrated graphics), quite fluidly, even up to the end of the game !
    (Also why it’s now being released on the Steam Deck, and even the Nintento Switch !)
    (Another issue is what happens *after* the end of the game, which is completely open in Factorio : you can (and are even encouraged) to build a factory as big as your system can handle – and even further on, as the game is quite playable down to like quarter speed…)

    1. What do you mean by “being released on the Steam Deck”? It’s a PC, you could play it from day one. Perhaps that it’s getting some optimizations for the Deck controls and 800p screen?

      1. Yes, in fact I’m surprised that they have managed something like that (confirmed by the Switch launch), you could have thought that Factorio’s heavily keyboard and mouse interface would have made this a project not worth investing into !

        And yes, the small screen size + low resolution was an issue too : since the in-house graphic engine was released with version 0.17, Factorio had the issue that laptop screens and/or people with poor eyesight were effectively not officially supported any more ! (Because the minimum became 1920×1080 resolution with an interface element size more adapted to desktops.) This has been fixed now, thanks to the work on the Steam Deck version.

        But anyway, you seem to have missed my main point : while the Steam Deck is perhaps surprisingly powerful, it just cannot compete with a full blown desktop gaming PC (even a 2015 one) – can’t get around the issue of heat transfer !

  30. While i think the review is largely meritorious to the historical assumptions that Vic3 improves from Vic2, as far as the actual playing goes, it’s an okay game at best. Not great, not horrible. It *looks* complex, but its actually fairly shallow as far as gameplay goes because it’s really the barebones of a game.

    The combat/war system is *very bad* in my opinion. The get the argument that well “as the spirit of the ‘political-state leader’ you shouldn’t really be able to just micro your armies around for everything”, but i mean, neither should you be able to reform your government at will? Nor simply go around your country building all the meta stuff you want. Quickly the sensible argument comes down to restricting ‘player agency’ in an area but not in others because otherwise the most accurate simulator would be one where you can’t do that much by yourself at all.

    That said, i *could* understand if player agency in regards to warfare was *limited*. Maybe you can plan some stuff and have a ‘command points’ resource that would limit your interference to punctual actions and stuff. But of course the way Vic3 chose to do it was actually the *worst* possible option among those. Player agency is all but removed, and now we don’t even have troops, fronts just *exist* and you see red number and blue number teleport across the map, then a mobile game UI bar appears and pushes one side or other, you see numbers going up and down and tadam you win or lose. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, “It just works” Tod Howard style. And it’s a pain because combat in a front happens ONE battle at the time, regardless of how many armies you stack there, which is just absurd and boring. Imagining fighting the US Civil War where either Grant is attacking the west, or McClellan is attacking in the east. Multiple battle-per-fronts are a *must have*, so is splitting up fronts because so far they occupy any entire border.

    That’s far from being the *only* problem in the game. Like Dr. Deveraux said, the economic simulation that was wonky from Vic2 has been improved, and now it actually works. However, it’s “a simulation”, not really a good one (altho better than before). Because now pops are entirely passive beings, which is something i’d expect to be commented about since acoup is often about reasserting agency. In Vic3 pops have been robbed of their agency even more than before. You decide everything that happens in your country: you build everything, you decide trade, you decide policy.

    Sure now you don’t have ‘dumb capitalist AI’, you have a system where every government works like the Soviet Union, with the capitalists just investing on what you do, even if it’s a bad idea. Which is famously quite the reverse of how economic has worked in the last 200 years or so, with government often funding capitalist investment in many of the countries you play. Not to mention how being communist is literally the easiest way to become an instant superpower, because you just earn everything your industry produce since you *own the means of production*. So being communist is the most capitalist you can do in Vic3, now that’s a wild take.

    Besides the problems in the economic simulation, Dr. Deveroux also mentions abolishing slavery as the US, which is a weirdly easy thing to do as the player, i’ve run some 3 US runs of the first 20 years and i’ve managed to abolish slavery easily in the start of all of them. The hardest thing to do as the US is conquering lands from Mexico, which you only end up doing by the 1850s or 60s, so it’s quite funny, now the Mexican-American War and the end of slavery have swapped dates.

    Diplomacy wise i think it’s okay, the system didn’t suffer much like the rest, but still needs polishing. First the fact that you can’t just *force* a war is kind of absurd. As the US it was aids to Manifest Destiny because every time i tried a diplomatic play against Mexico they simply backed down at the last hour and i took one single state every 5 years of truce. So i really wish for an option to *force* war to exist, or even better have that on top of the ability to make so that you wont accept an enemy ‘backing down’ unless your additional war goals are accepted too (that way you can take all your claims at once as the US, instead of a painfully long experience).

    1. I’ve now read quite a lot of reviews, and as is often the case with sequels, a lot of reviewers seem annoyed that the sequel doesn’t have the full features of the previous iteration of the game, despite the fact that the previous iteration might have had a decade of updates and expansion packs, completely forgetting that (even in the cases where the sequel has a much larger funding) there are limits in how much development time can be compressed – and complex projects have steep diminishing returns in terms of manpower thrown at them.

      So, to me it makes sense that a non-central feature like war would be bare-bones at launch, and the question I’d like to see answered : How likely it is that this bare-bones system can be improved after launch ?

      Though this itself is a very hard question, I might be overestimating the ability of even the best reviewers to be able to accurately make such a prediction..

    2. The Mexican-American War relied on internal Mexican conflicts and civil wars, including not just the separation of and wars with independent Texas but also a coup with its consequent constitutional crisis, the Yucatán separation, an armed revolt in California, and de facto native control over much of the northern territory that Mexico signed away.

      If your game has a counter-factually united Mexico, united enough for example to head off a Texas Revolution, it makes sense that it would be able to resist US territorial demands, and that your available casi belli would be much narrower than the actual one.

    3. >Sure now you don’t have ‘dumb capitalist
      >AI’, you have a system where every govern-
      >ment works like the Soviet Union, with the
      >capitalists just investing on what you do,
      >even if it’s a bad idea.

      Unfortunately, this was probably a lot easier than figuring out how to have the game’s capitalist POPs build what made sense. Because while it may be a saddening gameplay experience if your capitalists never take the initiative and build the steel mill you didn’t know you needed, it’s a maddening gameplay experience if the capitalists take all their seed money and build luxury furniture factories and can’t make any money off it and your economy collapses like a house of moth-eaten cards.

      Averting maddening experiences for the player is often worth a saddening and slightly “dumbed down” game mechanism. Which seems to be precisely the point people are complaining was lost in the switch over to military “fronts,” because the loss of player control leads to maddening experiences.

      >Which is famously quite the reverse of how
      >economic has worked in the last 200 years or
      >so, with government often funding capitalist
      >investment in many of the countries you play.

      Huh? Mechanically speaking, how is “the government clicks the ‘build factory’ button and capitalists put up a lot of the money, making the cost to the government lower” different from “the government invests in the X industry and capitalists put up the rest of the capital and reap most of the profits?” Those don’t sound like reverse versions of each other at all.

      >Not to mention how being communist is
      >literally the easiest way to become an instant
      >superpower, because you just earn everything
      >your industry produce since you *own the
      >means of production*. So being communist
      >is the most capitalist you can do in Vic3, now
      >that’s a wild take.

      Many modern-days socialists criticize the USSR (the kind of avowedly socialist state being modeled by a ‘communist’ country in a game like Victoria III. One of the grounds of such criticism is that they see the USSR’s government as having been ‘state capitalists.’ That is to say, instead of transferring control of the means of production to the workers as a whole, as they theoretically should have done according to Marx, the USSR kept control of those means of production itself. In effect, they did set up a system with the state and its ruling elite as one big “capitalist” privately owning the whole economy.

      So believe it or not, many socialists would agree that “being like the USSR” is still a form of capitalism, just with the private owners swapped out for government bureaucrats. They tend to advocate other forms of control of industrial base and the means of production in general, instead.

      1. Those people are not socialist, regardless of what they are calling themselves. Socialism is clearly defined as state ownership of the means of production, and the USSR is indeed the prototypical example, but also was *supposed* to be only a step to a communist USCR where there would be no need for that any more. (IMHO communism, with its lack of private property, is just non-viable at country level.)

        State capitalism is a contradiction in terms since capitalism is defined as privately owned means of production (which is also assumed to create a free market).

        Of course there are some in-between possibilities, for instance even in supposedly capitalist countries some of the critical means of production are often more or less state-owned. And in USSR owning a cow was more or less possible depending on the era. (IIRC Lenin kind of softened on this before he died, and then it got forbidden again ?)

        (No, I’m not interested in discussing WTF current China is, as I don’t know enough about it anyway.)

        1. “Socialism is clearly defined as state ownership of the means of production”

          No. Socialism is defined as proletariat ownership of the means of production. Of course the Soviets consider their state is a proletariat state so state ownership is considered proletariat ownership anyway. But in the Soviet Union, for example, aside from state owned farms, there were cooperative farms (profits were divided between farmers) and household farms (small, but they existed).

          1. The definition “socialism is state ownership of all property” is back-derived from “socialism is what the USSR does, and I don’t actually know everything about what the USSR does, but I know it’s bad for a reason that fits on a fortune cookie, which is state ownership of all property.”

            People get very lazy when they can say anything they like about a subject so long as it is bad, confident that the combination of the very real bad things about the subject and official disapproval of the subject will mean they don’t get called out on making a mistake. In the English-speaking world, this has been the case regarding socialism for a long time.

            And the things that people will say, in the confidence that they won’t be called out on the subject if they make a mistake, tend to propagate and motivate future generations to repeat the lazy mistakes with great confidence, as received wisdom.

            Socialism is a broad set of different political movements, many of which disagree with each other about important details; it if was a religion we’d say it was divided into dozens of ‘sects’ or something like that. “The state should control all property” or even “the state should control all economically productive property” is not something all socialists agree on.

            What socialists do agree on is that no single private individual be allowed to control economically productive property on a large enough scale that this individual is in a good position to hire others to use that property and then keep a share of the profits. That is to say, any big enough piece of productive property has to be jointly owned by a group. That group may, or may not, be the state, depending on which socialist you ask.

            Someone who wants all the millionaires to lose control of what they now own, and for all the privately owned factories to be redistributed to workers’ co-ops, but not to give over control of those co-ops to the state, is a socialist. They’re not a Marxist-Leninist like the people who ran the USSR, but they’re a socialist.

      2. Huh? Mechanically speaking, how is “the government clicks the ‘build factory’ button and capitalists put up a lot of the money, making the cost to the government lower” different from “the government invests in the X industry and capitalists put up the rest of the capital and reap most of the profits?” Those don’t sound like reverse versions of each other at all.

        The differences are:
        1) In the former case, the player decides which industry gets built, and in the latter case the game (usually) decides;
        2) In the latter case, the industry can be built up without player intervention whatsoever. Ctrl+clicking to fund all the build orders in Vicky 2 was usually more optimal than just waiting for the capis to fund the projects themselves, but it wasn’t mandatory.

        If I want to expand my logging camp because it’s bringing in fat profits, I usually don’t have to write a document pending approval from the President / Parliament to be given the go-ahead to do so.

  31. To your point about incorporating colonies into the home country, Third Republic France did a bit of this (eg St Louis in Senegal). It seems like a mechanic you’d want to allow.

    1. Yes, French Algeria enjoyed full administrative statification, with their own MP once the republic set place, since 1848, at least for it’s costal part.

      A whole century before Hawai or Alaska stathood !

      But also kept some pretty harsh official discrimination against locals, “arabs”, peoples.

      And all of this would in the end blow in the french face. But in Victoria 3 timeframe it should probably be a full example of oversea integration.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Algeria#Initial_settling_of_Algeria_(1830%E2%80%9348)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indig%C3%A9nat

  32. I am a big Paradox fan, but the latest generation of games (HOI4, CK3, and now Vicky3) have left me a bit cold. I think HOI4 is now finally “playable” as a historical WWII game, but CK3 still hasn’t gotten around to fixing some of the weird issues that come with simplification of gameplay (the Byzantines have not been refined to show the difference between an imperial system and western feudalism, which was done decently by the end of CK2).

    I will admit that I have a rifleshot-like focus, but the absence of the Second Empire in France (it can’t be formed at all; all monarchies will be Orleanist and Louis Napoleon, even if becomes a monarch, is not an emperor) is a glaring omission. In fact, the lack of any historical flavor makes Vicky3 feel like a generic sandboxy game, not nearly as much of a historical strategy game as Vicky2 or EU4. I am sure someday the Second Empire will be added in (one of the devs mentioned it on the Paradox forums), but I don’t know how you release a game with so little historical polish.

    The war system is the one coming under the most attack at release, but I’m not sure I disagree with Paradox’s attempt here. I’m much more bothered by the fact that I feel less like a real 19th century monarch/leader in Vicky3 and more like someone playing an incredibly complex Euro-style boardgame.

    1. To be somewhat fair, vanilla Vicky 2 also didn’t have the Second French Empire. There was no distinction between the monarchies, which were almost impossible to form because they would require a country to (deliberately) lose to reactionary rebels, and France never had an event/decision to re-assert Napoleon’s control as a monarch.

      1. Vicky 2 at least had the vague distinction in that the Orleanists and Bonapartists were different parties with slightly different policies.

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