Blog #5: First EU4 campaign completed and moving on to Civilization 5

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So I completed my first full EU4 campaign last weekend.

Played as France and ended as Revolutionary France. I’d played campaigns before but always stopped after around 100 years. I’m still relatively new to the game so I felt it would be good to see an entire campaign through to the end. As France, I had a good time diplo-annexing my starting subjects, then kicking out England from the continent. Burgundy proved a real difficulty at the beginning because I didn’t know how to judge my strength against theirs. One time, I declared war against them when I had reduced my military spending. Goes without saying that that was a lesson I learned through some pain!

Over time I learned to do periodical wars for small gains, and so, Burgundy got smaller and smaller. Austria blobbed pretty bad and really scared me into being an ass-kisser diplomatically. It was good that they were more interested fighting the Ottomans than considering a West European expansion. I certainly wouldn’t have had much to resist them then.

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I learned how to colonize and established colonies in North America pretty much where Canada is. For around 200 years I focused on overseas expansion and built a small colony in West Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Portugal really owned that part of the game though and pretty much had a hold on the entire world. They were up there on the score list, but somehow failed to really do any power plays in Europe.

I kept on good terms with Spain but at some point realized that the Iberian peninsula was the best place for me to expand and eventually possibly become strong enough to oppose Austria and the HRE. England weirdly was a no-show in European politics (maybe not so weird!).

I failed at my first attempt to beat Spain into submission, but as a result, Austria broke my alliance and eyed some of my North Eastern provinces. The war with Spain was costly and my manpower was a 0. Luckily though Austria never did anything. I focused on diplomacy for another ~100 years trying to make good with all the other major powers.

Then towards the end I attacked Spain again, this time crushing them. They became my subjects, their kingdom split into Argaon, Navarre, Leon, etc. Too bad I hit 1821 then.

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EU4 is such an interesting game. I think more than a “game” it feels like a simulation that teaches me about the realities of politics in those times not by passive explanation but by doing. I can try my hand at ruling a country and learn what it means to be a war monger, the balancing act of diplomacy in an environment where everybody is greedy for more power. I think I understand more about the impact of religion (so many countries hated on me for being Catholic) on politics. And I think I “get” why war (I’m a pacifistic soul) is deemed a useful course of action for those in power, because gaining another province, weakening the enemy for generations can actually be worth the loss of life. EU4’s almost cold-eyed abstraction and distancing of the lives of people can be seen as tasteless or cynical, but I think it helps highlighting the focus of the game.

In my next campaign, I’d probably try my hand at the Ottomans. Of all the different facets in this France campaign, I enjoyed the European theater more than say, colonizing or focusing on trading. The fact that I don’t have any of the expansion to flesh out those mechanics probably has something to do with it. The Ottomans “won” this campaign as the country with the highest score. It looks like a great spot to deal with religious strife and the intersection between Europe, Asia and Africa promises a lot of excitement. For now though, I need to take a little break from EU4. This campaign took me some ~70 hours (and mostly on the highest speed!). It was epic.

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Getting into Civilization 5 and wrapping my head around it

It always bothered me how I didn’t “get” the Civilization franchise. I mean, it’s supposed to be the most accessible large-scale strategy game (not quite grand strategy). I threw myself at Civilization 5 a couple of times, and up to the classical era the game is fun enough. The initial exploration excitement and the promise of potential really grant the early game a lot of momentum. As soon as I’ve expanded and settled my immediate surroundings, maybe even defeated my closest neighbor, I couldn’t deal with the explosion of complexity. I get annoyed with the sheer number of different choices I have to make, not having much in the way of intuition about what’s preferable. That should come with experience of repeat playthroughs though.

Having some closure with EU4 for now, I felt ready to really dive in to Civ 5. I am currently playing a small map game on Warlord difficulty as England, currently about half-way in, so I’m in mid-game and….I’m actually enjoying myself! I think I “get” now how to think about the game. I realized that a lot of my problems were in my head.

I’ll be writing more about some of the criticism I have on the general game design later on. It still feels premature to make that kind of judgement, but if the game is really the way I’m perceiving it to be, I’ll have a few things to say.

For now though, I’ll share the steps I took to how to get into Civilization 5.

  1. Get the complete version with all the expansions. At this point, there’s no point playing vanilla. I suppose if you only own the base game though, the most cost-effective upgrade is getting Brave New World, as that also includes the mechanics (though not scenarios and civilizations) of Gods and Kings.
  2. Watch Let’s Player Quill18’s tutorial series (it’s up to date with the latest expansion, so even years from now, it won’t be outdated information): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3x3P8gsCFA&list=PLs3acGYgI1-vlaNn-v504LZ7HjayX9I11
  3. Turn off those advisor pop-ups in the game’s options. In all the campaigns I played until now, I kept them on, but more than anything, they break the flow of the game. They do have helpful information, but the problem is that it leads to a more passive way of playing. I feel it’s best to let the player prod and poke at the game’s UI themselves. Civilization has a very good UI, not just aesthetically, but especially in terms of exposition of relevant information. And if something is unclear, of which there will be a few things of course, it’s important for a new player to get used to look up stuff in the Civilopedia. It’s like an in-game wiki and super-convenient.
  4. Play the game.

Some of my misconceptions were to do with my idea of what kind of game Civilization really is. I’d put it in the same department as Paradox games. But after actually playing the game, it’s quite clear that they’re VERY different games. More than a Paradox grand strategy game, it all feels like some kind of turn-based RTS (an oxymoron of course). If StarCraft was turn-based, it would feel closer to Civilization than Europa Universalis. I’ll have to play some more campaigns to really get a better idea though.

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