Europa Universalis II
Europa Universalis II is a grand strategy game in the grandest sense. You make all the highest-level decisions a monarch or chancellor would make, including doctrinaire and religious ones, leaving the details to the computer chips. This is less a game than an interactive, animated historical document, extensively researched and beautifully rendered. At times, though, the gameplay is somewhat the computerized equivalent of watching paint dry. You're not making moves from moment to moment; you bide your time and await opportunity, monitor your stability and the strength of your realm, poke and prod your enemies and watch for an opening, maneuver for favorable diplomatic position and deal with historical and random events.
The period covered stretches from 1419 to 1820, widening the scope from the game's predecessor by about 100 years. Though its unabashed Eurocentricity is welcome and a celebration of the era's Euro-robustness, it is possible to play many of the Asian, African and New World powers of the times. Though differences from the previous Europa entry are not spelled out in the manual, a file or on the company web site, you can count on improved graphics; a built-in facility to access Valkyrienet, an internet server for facilitating game match-ups; and not least of all, the ability to play any of the 60 available countries in any scenario.
When you start a scenario you are presented with the eight countries that may be considered its primary actors, the countries that would make for a most balanced multiplayer human game, say, or are most likely to do well in the situation. But right-click on a listed country's shield and it can be replaced from the entire list of playable national entities -- Aden to Zimbabwe. You can direct the Teutonic Order, the Golden Horde or the Iroquois, the Ashanti, Cherokee or Cambodians. These smaller entities, though, will start the game in their historically accurate situations. Many of them may not be that well developed.
Like many games that have no turns, Europa is mislabeled as "real time." A flight simulator is real time, where a second equals a second. If this game were truly real time, it would take 400 years to play the Grand Campaign. Few of us have that much leisure time. Rather, this and other non-turn-based games might more accurately be called continuous action. Admittedly this term does not trip off the tongue marketing-wise, but it's nonetheless more descriptive for our purposes. You have a lot of control over the time scale, which can range between "5 minutes = 1 month" (you might as well pause it) to "1 minute = 2 years." You can set the time to march at whatever pace makes you comfortable or that the action of the game situation deserves. You can also pause the game at any time to give orders.
There's an extensive and complex economic model encompassing trade, taxes and inflation -- explicit description of which would be beyond the scope of this review. Let's just say that for the players out there who are interested in this facet of computer games (you know who you are) nothing much more intricate has been encountered hereabouts. There are missions that can earn additional victory points. These missions can range from the apparently simple -- like keeping control over one of your own core starting provinces for 20 years -- or the seemingly impossible -- like discovering a province halfway around the world. Though it may not be possible at the moment, it would be something to look forward to.
Scenarios include the Grand Campaign, The Age of Exploration (50 victory points for discovering the New World!) and the American War for Independence, among others. But with the ability to play any of 60 countries in any scenario, variety is extensive.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The game is controlled through a quite attractive color world map, drawn in the style of Renaissance cartography and zoomable to a number of levels. On the left side is a navigator panel with shields and symbols that give game information, your rank among all nations in the game and victory points. Clickable icons lead to other screens for controlling the economy, for switching map modes -- from the normal map to the political or trade maps -- and that lead to reports about the progress of the game. The map is divided, Risk-like (irregular shapes), into the 700-plus provinces representing authentic geopolitics of the time. Your country -- any country -- is a grouping of the provinces that belong to the country at the moment. Each of the provinces has its own apparent strategic value, in addition to a basic resource that gives it its trade/economic value and the manpower on which you can draw for your army (navies do not draw on manpower).
You have extensive control -- in the Menu, under Options -- over which messages are displayed to you and how they are displayed -- whether they should just scroll by in the history report or come up in a box that either stops or does not stop the game. Thus, it's possible on a machine that multitasks well for you to set the messages to stop at certain times. You can then run the game in the background while you do other work (like writing game reviews) and then check back in to make the next decision, do some housekeeping and arrange a royal marriage or two. Basically, in this game you spend most of your time checking around your various settings, watching your borders, striving for colonies and trying to determine which of your neighbors might be vulnerable enough for you to snatch a province or two without too much in the way of consequences.
The stability of your nation is measured on a scale of +3 to -3. Many outside events and many of your own actions can move that rating either way. At +3 you're sitting pretty; at -3 you're likely to have provinces rise up.
The diplomacy model is quite well conceived. Briefly, it all works on the assumption that the status quo situation (who has what at the moment) constitutes the proper balance. Wars arise and one or the other side manages an advantage. Send a diplomat (or rather, spend one, as they are a consumable resource) and in your negotiations with the enemy you see a percentage representing your advantage. If it's a positive percentage then you've won the right to make demands. If it's negative, you may have to give up something. The results can just be peace or the gain or loss of provinces, among other possibilities. The key is that you can never acquire a new province from an enemy -- territory never officially changes hands -- unless a peace settlement is made. No peace, and even though your armies occupy the enemy territory, they are merely occupiers, with all the penalties -- mostly higher attrition rates -- that occupation entails. Once peace is achieved, the new balance is established and your relations with all countries are adjusted accordingly.
A problem arose here along these lines while playing the Cherokee. We took two provinces, including the home province of the Creek, during a war. We sent a diplomat and making peace was not an option. The rollover said that we must wait until September 1424 to offer peace again. It was already March 1425. Eventually we were allowed to offer peace in May of 1425 but we did not have enough advantage to demand the only non-capital province that we took. The "offer peace" option again disappeared and again the rollover said we had to wait until September 1424.
Another major concept in the geopolitical aspect of the game is that of cassus belli (roughly translated as "cause of conflict," or cause for a just war). Simply put, you must have a cassus belli to go to war, or else your relations with all nations will suffer. Insults and other actions may provide a cassus belli. If you have one, then relations with all but the involved parties will remain stable. Some nations begin a scenario with a permanent cassus belli.
Attrition is one of the major concepts of the game, especially if you're of an expansionistic mindset. Build an army and see how difficult and expensive a proposition it was, then and now. March the army around the map without purpose and watch it erode away before your eyes without firing a shot. Supply is a factor. A supply link to a home province must be maintained or attrition is much worse. You have control over the composition of your combat units -- split them and reorganize them at will, decide the ratios of infantry to cavalry to artillery, but their success depends as much on how advanced your tech levels are and on their morale as much as on their numbers. Action-wise, however, all combat is an abstracted slugging match. Your only decision is to retreat if it's not going too well.
A keen characteristic of the slow pace of this game is the screen where you can set "domestic policy" for your country. There are eight settings that cover such philosophical positions as whether you favor plutocracy over aristocracy or free trade over mercantilism. All the areas have various effects on what happens in the game. Each scale has eleven positions, from the neutral to five positions on each side, signifying your culture's relative philosophical position on the subject. You may make only one change to any of the eight settings only once every ten game years. That's not one change per scale every ten years -- it's one change on any of the scales, once per ten years. While you're multitasking you might want to set up some kind of reminder in some other calendaring and scheduling program that these settings are there. The Domestic Policy and Religious Tolerance controls are hard to find. They're under Country and Monarch information. Click the coat of arms at the top of the navigator. The shield on the next screen to the left of the victory points goes to Domestic Policy and the one to the right goes to Religious Tolerance. Religion is another facet of the game, interesting enough to deserve an article or two in itself. The manual does a good job of outlining its effect on play.
In your budget controls you can decide to throw money at various facets of your culture, like land, naval or trade tech, infrastructure or spend on stability itself. Or you can throw money into the treasury for day-to-day spending on paying/promoting officials, building armies, factories, etc. Each of the areas for spending has a series of levels that, once a threshold is reached, give new abilities, new technologies or, more importantly, give your armies/navies higher ratings on the Combat Results Tables. (CRTs are referenced, but retain their mystery. They remain hidden.)
Europa allows multiplayer action through a LAN, through direct Internet connection, or via a built-in connection to a server called Valkyrienet. Four attempts to connect to Valkyrienet were successful and appeared stable. There's a chat area and game rooms. However, no other players were present during any of those brief connections, so I could not judge multiplayer action. A fifth attempt to connect was unsuccessful.
All the maps are beautiful but static. Your army's uniforms are minutely researched and authentic. But as for action your armies will merely march in place, which is somewhat disconcerting unless they're on their way to a different province. The combat slugging matches are not much more interesting. Other animations represent armies or fleets being built, and wagon trains slogging across the map from your provinces to the colonies.
The background music comprises some exquisitely executed selections of period classical music that changes according to the century. As listed in the manual, it ranges from an anonymous piece from Northern France around 1200 AD played in pre-1500 years, through Thomas Morley in the 16th century, up through Bach and his contemporaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Aside from that, there are the usual game sounds -- swords clashing and hooves clopping -- at the appropriate times.
Minimum: PII 233 or equivalent, Windows 95, 64 MB RAM: 64 MB, 380 MB hard drive space, sound board
Recommended: PII 450 or equivalent, 128 MB RAM
Lots of helpful information is available in context via mouse rollover. Pause over a feature and the text expands for more details. The small manual gives generalized concepts rather than commands and details. The discussion of the economic principles suffers a bit for this. An better than adequate tutorial for the practical clicking necessary for playing the game is worth going through for all the basic commands.
At game set-up, the summary of each playable country and suggested strategy is objective, accurate and professionally punctuated.
The originality of this title lies in its almost scholarly treatment of the subject. The overall quality of the research and comprehensiveness of the game makes it approach the status of historical document. This puts the game in a class by itself in this genre.
The patch that brings this game to version 1.01 is located atwww.omnitask.com/Downloads/EU2patch.exe
This review in no way covers the detail or depth of all that is portrayed in Europa Universalis II -- like naval blockades, sieges, pirates, religious movements -- but be sure that most of the major subjects from the time are present. This game receives the highest score in GameFabrique's Worthy category. It is a noble and worthwhile project and worth owning for occasional play by the student of strategic games, history and/or geopolitics. It would be super as a teaching tool. Alas, since there's so much interesting information in the game, some drudgery and a lot of time spent reading statistically-based screens and news about what's happening in other parts of the world, your basic playability is bound to suffer.
Download Europa Universalis II
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP