The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 19

I feel like I could… Like I could… Like I could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!

It’s Europa Universalis IV!


Has it been a good year for strategy games? Our Calendar suggests not. Of the entries so far, only XCOM: Enemy Within looks vaguely strategic (there’s a big globe) but it’s a tactical combat game and an expansion to one of 2012’s best. In fact, look at my most played games and you’ll find two recently expanded Firaxis games riding high on the list. But right at the top is the reason that 2013 has been a great year for strategy games. It’s Europa Universalis IV still Crusader Kings II. Closely followed by Europa Universalis IV.

Paradox’ latest two grand strategy titles are my DOTA 2, my Counterstrike and my Starcraft. They’re my Team Fortress 2. I’ve never really had it before, that one game that I can (and do) resort to rain or shine. I’m a buffet rather than a banquet person, picking at the table and trying every dish, but moving on before I empty an entire plate. I’ve never really understood people who fill up on crabsticks when there’s a whole plate full of of canapés right over there.

Until now. I sit on trains in distant cities wondering how to reform my disastrous colonial strategies. I half-listen to conversation in the pub because I’m having a conversation with myself about the possible drawbacks of starting a land war in Scandin-Asia (it’s a long origin story). Europa takes the alternate history simulation of Crusader Kings II and paints it across a wider world. I don’t feel like a mighty leader of men when I play. I feel like a town gossip, hanging up my bloomers on the line while I rabbit on to neighbours over the fence: “Oooooo, you’ll never guess what I saw that Portugal doing yesterday. Only gone and kicked up a fuss in North Africa, haven’t they? I sez to them, if you must cause all this bother, don’t do it on my doorstep, but do they blinkin’ listen? Do they heckers like.”

In this scenario, I am Mrs Vera Trudge, a fine old Lancashire lady who wore Wellington boots and a plastic rain hat to her daughter’s wedding.

Europa Universalis IV, like Crusader Kings II before it, turns me into a busybody. I want to know what’s going on in everyone else’s game. I watch Let’s Plays as if they’re television shows and take great delight in telling people about the goings-on in my own ongoing campaigns. When people attach themselves to a single game there’s most often a competitive or social element – usually both – that is fundamental to the experience. I suppose there is a social aspect to Europa because I do spend a lot of time talking about it, even to people who don’t seem to know exactly what I’m talking about, but I don’t play out of any desire to improve. How to improve in a game that is as much about playing a role as beating a system? And, more than that, a game that is about observing a system.

Like Crusader Kings II, Europa is going to enjoy a long life of expansions. The first, with a randomly generated new world, is a major change from what has come before, deviating from the historical before the in-game history has even begun. I don’t know what else 2014 will bring but the game will almost certainly be even larger and more compelling by this time next year. I very much doubt I’ll have found a new obsession to stake such a large claim on my time.


As much as Crusader Kings 2 is a wonderful strategy game, it’s also an RPG. The choices you make shape your family, crafting medieval melodramas as you play. It was only when I started thinking about Europa Universalis in the same way that I could overcome its mass of numbers and menus. In Europa Universalis IV, you’re roleplaying a country.

It was a simple revelation, but it changed everything for me. Freed from the mental burden of thinking I needed to win, EUIV opened up, welcomed me inside, and kept me locked in its machinery of politics, trade and war for dozens of hours. I still don’t fully understand all its systems, but that doesn’t matter. I’m the noble nation of Austria. I’ve embraced Protestantism early. A long-running spat with Venice has led me to form a posse and wipe out much of would-be Italy. I’m now being harried by my neighours, and I’m not sure I’ll ever feel the same way again about Hungary.

These events have begun to blur in my mind with elements of real history, introducing a new anxiety to pub conversations. ‘Did this actually happen, or is it just a thing the Flemish did in my Europa Universalis game?’ I doubt I’ll ever find out the reality. EUIV’s alternate histories are more

Beneath its pretty cartographic surface, EUIV is a robust, cannily balanced strategy game of military tactics, diplomatic maneuvering and numbers. Underneath that surface, it’s a story generator.

As I’ve grown a little older, I’ve become more mercenary in my decisions about where to devote my time with games. If EUIV puts you off because it seems like a warren of menus it’ll take you hours to learn, then rest easy. It will take you hours to learn, but you’ll be having fun and forging your own tales of war and betrayal long before that. Furthermore, as Adam notes above, EUIV is going to have a long life of expansions. I’m excited for its future because I gave it a little investment, and it’ll be paying me back for years to come.

Back to the Calendar!


  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    “that one game that I can (and do) resort to rain or shine”

    Transport Tycoon here.

    • Timberwolf says:

      The money I spent on Transport Tycoon way back in 1994 (and subsequently Transport Tycoon Deluxe, with its lure of one-way signals and a world editor) has to represent the best value I’ve ever seen from gaming. People talk of sinking over a hundred hours into a particularly good game; my time spent in Transport Tycoon/Deluxe/TTDPatch/OpenTTD may be just about edging into the thousands of hours…

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        Oh I have no doubt, probably 5000 or more.

        Considering I put around 450 hours in to Skyrim with various chars in the space of a couple of months, TT has that beat to all Hell and back.

    • Lord Byte says:

      TTDLX is one of my favourites. But it’s going to have to be Star Wars: Rebellion… And Master of Orion 2. (With Civ V very close, having recently edged out Civ IV)

    • RaveTurned says:

      Train or shine


  2. petrucio says:

    I feel like I could… Like I could… Like I could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!

    • guygodbois00 says:

      I still like the original and I play it again from time to time.

      • Vandelay says:

        I thought it was a bit odd that they would be including Day of the Tentacle in the 2013 calendar. I was a little disappointed when I clicked on the link.

    • Simon Hawthorne says:

    • Shadowcat says:

      At first I was upset that they teased us with DOTT for a strategy game, but petrucio well and truly redeemed the situation :)

  3. Carra says:

    It somehow managed tot eat 60 hours of my time. Not the 200+ of ck2 but still a large chunk. And I’m sure I’ll go back to and try try the expansions.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      I got about 150 out of it so far, a bit below the 230 in CK2. But I fully intend to go back to it when there’s a lul in the release schedule.

  4. BTAxis says:

    I have never understood, and probably never will understand this concept of a game being a “story generator”. A series of events does not, for me, constitute a story.

    • AndrewC says:

      And yet every story is a series of events.

      How are we going to solve this one! It’s a headscratcher for sure!

      • PopeRatzo says:

        Not every story is a series of events. It could be an internal monologue or epistolary or by Donald Barthelme. I can think of one of my favorite stories by Julian Barnes that is basically one event and another that could be described as zero events.

        There are a lot of stories.

        • SillyWizard says:

          “And yet every worthwhile story is a series of events.”


    • Haplo says:

      Please permit me an attempt to elaborate on the idea. At length.

      The concept of a game as a story generator (that is, one that produces a series of events as opposed to having a designed storyline) is, strictly taken at face value, not one that generates stories in and of itself. What it does, as you suggested, was generate events. The one who creates the stories are the players themselves. In the same way that the four numbers of 1, 4, 0 and 9 might be meaningless by themselves can be arranged to create 1940, which instantly can hold significance for people who associate that with the year of 1940.

      So games like this do not in and of themselves create entire story-lines for you. It’s more applicable to say that they create a framework or inspiration through events, which the player generally sees a pattern within and thus weaves into a story. Consider this example:

      The player is playing Country A is a small regional power located in the heartland of Europe. It has three neighbours- Country B, Country C and Country D. Country B and C are both small regional powers as well, whilst Country C is quite large and powerful.
      For the first 10 years of the game or so, the player seeks to expand his trading income, dispatching merchants, but his success is stymied by B’s merchants. Seeing that B’s military rating is low, he builds up his forces and invades B, intending to weaken their trade for awhile and also make some money out of it.
      Despite the player’s intent, his invasion goes poorly. Although he defeats B’s army in the field, occupying B’s territory takes longer, and winter sets in before he can manage it. Because the game models attrition, winter makes many of his troops die, and B is able to drive his army out and he sues for peace, as both A and B are too weak to persecute a proper war.
      B accepts, but from now on considers A to be generally hostile to it. The player tries to invade again in another 15 years, but winter sets in and his strategy is defeated again. He realises he needs to try new strategies to handle the attrition mechanic. He tries again in another 15 years, and once again winter ruins his planning. Instead he decides to leave B alone for awhile and wonders how he can exploit Country C. But first he observes.
      Country C, to his delight, is warmer than B, and after watching for 5 years believes that he can invade the country and occupy it without much loss. He builds up his military units and invades. His plan goes well, and he defeats C’s armies, but the losses he suffers triggers an AI response from Country B, which still considers him an enemy. Country B invades the player, who must suddenly recall his troops to repel the invasion from Country B. Country C has a breather to build up its forces, and then joins the war, and the player is again forced to sue for peace with negligible gains for either side.
      Around five years later, however, he notices that Country D is building up its military forces on the border and that its AI has become much more aggressive recently. It starts threatening the player and both B and C. Naturally, the player and both B and C’s AIs try to seek allies, and despite having terrible diplomatic opinions of each other, begin warming diplomatic relations and forming alliances.
      When Country D invades the player, B and C both swoop in to assist. D’s armies are huge, and the player knows his alliance can’t fight them, so he comes up with a plan. He tries to harass D’s army and lure it towards his own army- which has been positioned in Country B. The AI takes the bait and D’s huge army marches into Country B, just in time for winter to set in and for large portions of D’s army to weaken due to attrition. The player, B and C all begin counter-invasions, and at the end of it all, Country A gains some territory, is stronger, and his now friends with B and C. Over time, the player begins to leverage his superiority into diplomatic advantages, and after 50-100 years, he peacefully absorbs B and C, becoming a power strong enough to fight D.

      These are all just a series of events that happen mechanically in the game for reasons. No story is inherent in them. But the player will see patterns, and will attach significance to them. He’ll place the events into a new context: the player’s invasions of B are no longer an attempt for mechanical gain, but instead become an ambitious gambit for power which fails, leading to feuding between two nations for decades, with neither able to gain an upper hand on the other. B can be framed in the player’s mind as a type of arch-nemesis to his own nation, the France to his England, constantly frustrating his attempts to gain power and being unable to defeat it properly. When B invades the player as he’s trying to occupy C, that becomes part of the narrative- B invading A because it can’t risk A becoming too strong, but also seeking revenge for previous invasions and taking the chance whilst A is weak. And finally, the invasion of D and its outcome can take on a different significance for the player. It might not just be an invasion but rather the invasion that catapulted his country out of a century of meaningless feuds and into real significance. Seen in that context, the passage is rebuilt from being a series of events into the story of a small country’s rise to greatness.

      • BTAxis says:

        I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m unable to construe a story out of a series of events, because I see said events in terms of game rules and progress (or lack thereof) toward a winning state. So while I can intellectually accept that a narrative can be imposed on the progress of a game, I can’t make the leap myself.

        In the same way, I am unable to project myself on RPG protagonists whose character is left to the player. These avatars seem wooden non-entities to me. “Role-playing” is like some kind of mystic art I don’t have the talent for, perhaps due to an emotional deficiency of some kind on my part.

        • Haplo says:

          Perfectly understandable! Everyone approaches games differently, for whatever reason.

        • tasteful says:

          i feel like the opposite is true for me and a lot of other people. like the exact opposite. story-based games like, say, the last of us will never appeal to me because games are interesting to me as worlds to inhabit, and i can never identify with the lead characters. and even if i could, i wouldn’t feel like i have agency – none of what they are reflects my choice. i don’t think it’s about self-obsession, it’s more that i want to actually live in the world i’m playing, not control someone else.

          games like eu4 and ck2 and dwarf fortress are great for that; even though you play someone in ck2, the fact that that person is only one face of your dynasty – your real character – means that you’re not really supposed to identify them, and that you’re freely encouraged to try to off them, and that who you really are is an invisible entity. i like playing invisible entities.

          which is to say im entirely in agreement with you from the other side of the fence.

    • psepho says:

      There is a philosophical concept called ‘over determination’. It refers to situations where multiple explanatory frameworks can be consistently applied to the same circumstances.

      Generated narrative involves the same kind of double think. There can be a coherent narrative cause and effect that coexists with a mechanical cause and effect.

      My first CK2 king is a good example. He controlled all but one county of Scotland. He hired mercenaries and tried to take it. He ran out of money, his mercenaries turned on him, and he died imprisoned in his own dungeon — a vassal to the mercenary captain he had hired.

      That course of events can be explained in terms of mechanics and dice roles, it can also be explained in terms of my own inexperience and overstretch as a player, it can also be explained as a narrative in terms of the king’s hubris and greed bringing about his downfall.

      All of these explanations are equally valid within their separate explanatory frameworks. In particular, the narrative explanation, and the story of it, is no less coherent or valid as a narrative than if the same series of events had been written down by a playwright, for example.

      The trick to being able to experience generated narrative like this is being able read each explanatory layer separately while still appreciating the whole. Kind of like listening to a fugue.

      • Haplo says:

        The merc captain turned on you and overthrew you?

        Goddamn, I did not know that was a thing.

    • cautet says:

      I’m going to ignore the comments arguing the definition of story and instead tell from my perspective how a series of events generated by CKII can conjure a unique story.

      In many games there are moments where you step outside of the narrative and in those moments it is not just about winning the game or how a given event or set of events relate to the set story.

      In Crusader Kings II events carry their own narrative as well as any you ascribe them.

      For instance, the choice of whether to undermine your son and heir whose commendable but premature lust for power threatens to dethrone you, but whose death could risk everything passing to your inbred club-footed niece with a horribly disfigured face from three failed assassination attempts by you, cannot but help both in creating an interesting story, and in defining your character in a more definitive way than in any other game.

  5. somnolentsurfer says:

    Now I know that I must go… Back… to the mansion!

  6. Gothnak says:

    The mother in law is down for xmas, i do like her, but every now and then i need to get away, go into the spare bedroom and have a couple of hours of grand strategy while they watch Supernatural or re-runs of Merlin or god forbid, Strictly!

  7. Laurentius says:

    I don’t like many changes this game brought to the series. At first i thought the removing of sliders, internal struggles, easy going economics was made to streamline experience for new players but after many, many hours I’d rather think it was made to help braindead AI. I like what Paradox did with diplomacy though, now it’s dynamic, there is always a partner for alliance threatened by common enemy (enemy of my enemy +50 to relations ). Ultimatley i keep on playing, just finished campagin as Eire, will be starting as Timruids now… let’s get busy.

  8. RedViv says:

    The game is at exactly ten dollars right now in the Paradox store. Here: link to

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      I know what I’ll be spending money on this evening, thanks :)

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Does a game have to have been Wot I Thunked in order to make the calendar? Because Wargame Airland Battle was a wonderful little RTS that would keep any strategy buff content for exactly one million years. I love it’s Little Tanks link to

    • Goodtwist says:

      My guess is that WALB isn’t sufficiently hipsteresque and therefore it’ll never make it.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Or, and this is mad, but keep with me, the RPS chaps just aren’t that into ALB.

        I know I prefer Escalation for various reasons. Mostly that the single player campaign of ALB is pretty shite and I have no desire to repeat the experiences of complete tossers I’ve had in my few tries at online play. Just not worth it.

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          Noooo RPS what have you done viz my little tanks?? Ah well. I still love them

          • Stellar Duck says:

            I think both Wargame… games, are great, but I think ALB has little to really make it better than Escalation. The core of the game is still great, but it’s not as good as the original. I may be alone in this, but the removal of the command stars was a problem to me, as well as the campaign that I mentioned. It’s a multi player game at its core and frankly, what little interaction with the community I’ve had has been dire.

          • Thurgret says:

            I generally play with people I know, at least for one team. Also, I – or someone I know – usually acts as host for games, and we have a simple rule: if a person who joins in is non-communicative in the pre-game lobby, or doesn’t say anything but ‘go’, or has a name that offends us, or just rubs us the wrong way somehow then we kick them, and wait for someone else. Might up our average wait time for a game by half a minute or so, but that’s not much of a price to pay. Unpleasant games are few and far between.

            The single player in both iterations of the series is pretty rubbish, sadly. I’ve played far more multiplayer.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Yea, I’d play with friends if any of my friends played this. They one guy who does is absolutely tedious to play with as he thinks it’s the best fun in the world to just spawn 2500 cheap attack choppers and zerg rush me. That’s not really how I like to play, though I suppose it’s a valid strategy, if incredibly boring.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            The thing I like about WALB is that spam strategies almost always have an easy counter. If he spams choppers, you can bring in lots of the right anti-air. Give them combined arms support and you can see lots of little fireballs diving out of the sky, or pilots panic-bailing as you advance on his ground units with the tanks a few hundred yards ahead of the AA. That real world strategy works so well is what I love about it.

            EDIT: Though I appreciate if thats his opening move and you don’t have the AA available, thats a major pain….

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Yea, it’s his opening move.

            But yea, I suppose I could counter it, but the thing is, it’s just a tedious way to play. Granted, that is nothing to do with the game and more my friend having a boring way of playing.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Destroy his choppers, then use your own aircraft to spell out “U-SUK” in cluster bombs :)

        • Vinraith says:

          Funny. You think ALB is useless as an SP game and EE is good for that, I feel exactly the opposite. There’s nothing I hate more than a scripted, story-based campaign like EE’s, give me something dynamic like ALB’s brilliant campaigns any day. And as an added bonus, you have to play EE’s awful campaign to unlock units, so you can’t even use it as an SP skirmish game. Everything in ALB is unlocked from the outset. I almost didn’t buy ALB because of how incredibly MP-only EE was, but I’m glad someone pointed out to me that they’d made some new, vastly better (IMO) design decisions with this one.

          ALB’s dynamic map campaigns with real strategic context and skirmish mode that doesn’t punish you for not playing modes you don’t enjoy beat the tar out of EE for SP purposes, if you ask me.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            To each his own, of course.

            I’d have loved the campaign in ALB if not for the bloody timer. Having every bloody match be a race against an arbitrary 20 min limit was too frustrating to me. Unless they expect me to charge blindly ahead with no recce and advance guards at least. And that’s just no fun for me.

          • Vinraith says:

            Now there I’ll agree with you, I’m not a fan of the timer either.

    • Thurgret says:

      I was about to post about Wargame. I’m a little puzzled that nobody at all on the RPS crew seems to have much interest in it. It stands out for me as my favourite strategy game of this year. Obviously not grand strategy like EU here. Certainly head and shoulders above Company of Heroes 2 (which for such a shoddy piece of work, was surprisingly well-received) and Rome 2 (that’s two strikes in a year for Sega). All different takes on ‘strategy’, I guess, but Wargame’s still my favourite of them.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Yup, RPS ignored AirLand Battle for some reason. Scientific Gamer had mostly nice things to say about it, and his (her?) thinking mostly aligns with mine, but RPS is my main source of game reviews, so i was really hoping that they’d WiT it.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Tim did do some “its coming up” and I think some “DLC may be out soon” type articles, but no reviews sadly.

        Check out a thoroughly splendid English Gaming Gentleman by the name of VulcanHDGaming on youtube, he does great gameplay videos as well as tactics and tutorials.

      • Premium User Badge

        Adam Smith says:

        As with every game, if we don’t cover it the reason is general time constraints. I installed it (for the first time) a couple of days ago after seeing all the conversation about it in the comments on a previous calendar post. Still haven’t found time to play!

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          OK cheers Adam. I’ve personally found it to have a steep learning curve, and is a bit of a time sink and to play well I feel I really need to learn the units and their properties (though many maintain this isn’t necessary). To say this game mildly terrifies me is an understatement, and defeat in it triggers off a sense of shell shock that only good RTS games seem to provide (I should add I haven’t tried the MP yet)

          However its one of those titles where I get my bottom kicked that many times its an incredible air-punching rush when I suddenly figure out the right approach for the map and fielded enemy units. Its had me reading up for some hours on armies and strategy, to the point where I even felt brave enough to try (and fail miserably at) Tim’s Flare Path Foxers :)

  10. Hunam says:

    I picked up EU4 a month or so ago and I think it’s such a brilliant game. I enjoyed CK2 for what it was, which was an ambition simulator. I loved wrangling my way through my countries politics and just pissing people off. I always loved played a duke or some other title that was subservient and just causing mischief for my Liege. With EU you are just the country. No politics internally outside of happiness would suggest it’s lighter on the personality, but it’s not. I am the English people, an embodiment of the masses. Yet I still cause trouble! Europe has to put up with me, my squabbles with Denmark with nearly erupted into a (known) World War in the late 1400’s was brilliant, my constant manipulation of the french trade routes a cause for financial concern to all around and the Holy Roman Empire being a belligerent entity that I have to placate as much as possible for my own survival. Nations are people and they cause the same, if not more mischief that I could as a duke.

    But seriously, after all is said and done… fuck you comets.

    • Haplo says:

      Comets mock you. Comets look down on you and judge you for what you are, which is what they are not- a comet. Oh, you little non-comets, they say, sighting across the sky. They flaunt it, across the stars, that they can do what you cannot, for comets can into space.

  11. MrThingy says:

    I really enjoy EU4 (as someone who entered the Paradox arena via the awesome EU2). However, I think CK2 has just spoiled me a little bit.

    Coming back to EU4, it just seems to lack a certain kind of ‘soul’. Whether that’s because the character-based CK2 was more like an RPG-meets-Strategy and your character is in fact the ‘soul’ of the game.

    Somehow, I just can’t seem to care about countries or whether they survive at all…

  12. WinTurkey says:

    Better than EUIII I take it?

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      EU3 is great, but I would not go back to it after playing EU4.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    The most important thing to know about this game is that it is essential to declare war on France as soon and as often as possible.

    EU4 doesn’t beat CK2 for me, but it’s close. I’m pretty sure I’ll go back to it for every major expansion that will come out, and in the end I’ll have hundreds of hours of playtime with it (in fact, I already have most of the first hundred). I love it, because it combines a complex strategy game with a lot of roleplaying – I always play to win, to reach some goal that is at least semi-ambitious, but I also play to be some specific country, and to fight against French, because they are jerks.

  14. Vinraith says:

    Historically I’ve bought Pdox games on release at full price, because I enjoyed the company’s products and wanted to actively support them. I have to admit that between the race-to-the-bottom pricing and the switch to Steam-only games, my good will is rapidly drying up. I’m sure I’ll pick up EU4, but I see no reason to be in any hurry about it. The complete edition will be $5 a few years from now, and I might even have time to play it at that point.

    • killias2 says:

      While I understand (but disagree with) the Steam stuff, why does the fact that Paradox engages in (typical, in this day and age) price drops destroy your good will?

      In any case, you can get EUIV for 10 bucks today, if you wish it. It’s the last day of Paradox’s Christmas sale.

      • Vinraith says:

        $10 + cost of future DLC = $lots.

        Again, what’s the rush? A little patience and I can rent the game and all future DLC from Steam for a pittance. Assuming I even care by that point, that is.

        The industry’s been trying to tell me that games are worthless and ephemeral for years now, it’s about time I started listening.

  15. daphne says:

    I don’t think PoE is on this list.

    I am saddened.

    But also grateful for KRZ’s high finish…right?