Subverting The Nazis: Alternative Hearts Of Iron Playstyles

Hearts of Iron [official site] is the one Paradox grand strategy series that I’ve been unable to befriend. Partly that’s because it’s a more guided experience, a game about a specific war rather than a historical sandbox and it’s partly because of the micromanagement involved in production and resource chains. Hearts of Iron IV might change that, with its cleverly streamlined factory operations and improved minor nations. More on that later this week.

First of all, I wanted to discuss the difficulty of playing the bad guys.

You don’t have to play as Hitler, of course. The other major nations offer all kinds of alternate history scenarios. It’s possible to prepare for the fight back unrealistically early as France, or to enter the war early (or not at all) as the good ol’ US of A. You could become the Soviet Union and attempt to engineer an Eastern Front that isn’t delineated with blood, or build an isolationist Britain that continues to appease and equivocate throughout the war.

You could even hop across the water to fiddle with geopolitics from a different angle, watching from a distance as Europe burns. Thanks to a proposed dynamic goal system, minor nations should be entertaining to play with and it won’t take long for some strategic smartarse to conquer the world as Brazil or Australia.

But sooner or later, you’ll play as Germany. You know you will, I know you will, and it’s ok. Granted, everytime you click through to your nation screen to alter government policy or build some Panzers, you’ll see Adolf Hitler’s face looking back at you. He’s the closest thing you have to a player avatar and that can feel uncomfortable. It’s not quite the same as playing as Darth Vader or Sephiroth (is there a spin-off where you play Sephiroth and discover that he’s all angsty and murdery because his girlfriend left him for a botanist? There must be), and to fight against the horror of it all, I’ve formulated a plan. Here’s how it goes.

Five Ways To Subvert Nazi Germany

(note: these are suggestions for play in the game Hearts of Iron and are most likely not feasible possibilities for real life historical rulers of Nazi Germany. If you are a real life historical ruler of Nazi Germany do not attempt to follow these instructions but please do take a good long look in the mirror and think about what you have done/are about to do)

The Iron Tortoise

The game begins as Germany is preparing to remilitarize the Rhineland, a process which is necessary for Eastern expansion and – both historically and via HOI IV’s goal system – leads to Anschluss and the annexation of the Sudetenland. In option one, Germany forgoes any kind of military build-up in the East, choosing to concentrate its forces elsewhere.

In this version of events, you’ll be looking to protect your borders rather than seeking to expand them. You’re not necessarily rejecting the idea of expansion outright, but you recognise that the age of European empires clashing by night has ended. To reaffirm your status in the current political climate, and with the horrific weapons of modern war, would lead to unimaginable carnage.

That said, if anyone starts amassing troops on YOUR border, you’re perfectly entitled to defend yourself. Be power condensed and contained, ready to react but willing to see peace play out.

Probable Result: Invaded by Poland in 1938.

The Trade Empire

Money makes the world go round while tanks just weigh it down. Violence creates too much friction to let the wheels spin, and you’ll look for something other than oil and blood to grease Germany’s fractured machinery. Would it be possible to convert Germany into a capitalist empire, dominating the manufacturing of civilian goods at the heart of Europe?

Maybe people would talk about your glorious Autobahn and the way your chum made the trains run on time, and then they’d go on to talk about that really cool and revolutionary series of Hi-Fi systems that you exported across the world.

Probable Result: Spend several years selling fancy cars to the Soviets only to discover that they’ve all been converted into war machines and Stalin is now in possession of the largest mechanised army in the world. Well done, Germany. Great job.

End Of Empires

There can never be another World War. The losses were appalling and the whole awful mess seemed to serve no end. As the leader of Germany, you understand this better than anyone and so you’ll make it your mission to break the European empires that survived. Think of your military as a force fighting for freedom, liberating colonies and applying political pressure on the imperialist bastards who are still behaving like the world never left the nineteenth century.

Maybe…just maybe…you’ll be able to bring Poland on board as a partner in your mission. Imagine forming an alliance with Vietnam in the forties and fighting a war of liberation on All Of The Fronts.

Probable Result: America conquers Europe in 1946.

The Peacekeepers

You’re going to remilitarize, whatever the rest of the world might say, but you’re not pursuing aggressive expansion. Far from it. German soldiers will be prepared to intervene wherever war erupts, taking the side of the oppressed. The Spanish Civil War could be a good early test case for this policy, although it’s entirely possible that the companies that would sit back while Austria and Poland fell will express outrage if you dare to intervene in affairs that are closer to their hearts.

It’s likely that attempting to do the right thing will be risky, particularly considering Germany’s relatively fragile state at the beginning of a campaign. You’ll need allies to ensure you don’t wind up defenceless when you inevitably provoke the wrath of the world’s bullies. Some form of cooperative countries perhaps. You could call them the United Nations.

Probable Result: Somehow find yourself invading the Soviety Union, for what seem like righteous reasons this time around. Freeze to death.

The Michael Young Experience

You have seen the grim future and know that the Nazi Party must be stopped. Play the game with the sole aim of destroying your own nation, with as little loss of life as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to maintain a steady economy so that people aren’t starving to death and avoid war so that people aren’t being shot to death. You’ll be a mild mannered Germany that doesn’t interfere, doesn’t meddle and certainly doesn’t invade anybody.

Forget everything you know about grand strategy and wargaming and try to work out the best way to destroy a government and topple an ideology without causing any bloodshed. Good luck.

Probable Result: Accidentally march on Paris in Autumn of 1937 because of a heavy night on the sauce.

Some pictures taken from Wolfenstein: The New Order, which presents just one of the possible results of timeline meddling.

This article was first published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.

44 Comments

  1. Haplo says:

    I remember trying to do this in HoI2, and the result was that your people would get super ragey until you got back on the War Train. There were ways around that, but yes, the result was often a giant furious Soviet Union kicking down your door sometime around 1943.

    “It’s not quite the same as playing as Darth Vader or Sephiroth (is there a spin-off where you play Sephiroth and discover that he’s all angsty and murdery because his girlfriend left him for a botanist? There must be)”

    There isn’t, but there’s a spin-off for Vincent, whose backstory is almost literally that.

  2. Gap Gen says:

    I’m fascinated by Kaiserreich, which posits a setup in which Germany won WWI with the world map rejigged appropriately. A three-way civil war in the US, Syndicalist Britain at war with Royalist Canada, an obviously inevitable WWII between Communist France and the Kaiser (because as this article suggests with its various outcomes, WWII was less about ideology and more about unresolved questions concerning the power balance in Europe).

    • tormos says:

      Kaiserreich also has a setting that’s been worked out with the tenacity and attention to detail that one used to expect from the Paradox forums before they were overtaken by vicious mobs of awful internet people. Truly monumental in both its scope and in its depth, not to mention the internal consistency and odd plausibility of the world. As a fun result, there are a lot of historical characters who pop up in surprising roles (eg Oswald Mosley is once again a radical outcast with a worrying amount of support Britain, but this time is advocating what is basically Stalinism in a syndicalist state)

    • Ansob says:

      Kaiserreich is absolutely fantastic and probably the number one reason to own HoI2.

      • Shadow says:

        Or, better yet, Darkest Hour, the better improved incarnation of HoI2 which the most recent versions of Kaiserreich call home.

        • Chiron says:

          Arsenal of Democracy is better than Darkest Hour, sadly no WW1 or KR scenarios though

        • Shadow says:

          I don’t know the minutiae as I don’t have AoD, but DH is still being updated and boasts a more vibrant modding community. Here’s some fellows describing the advantages of DH over AoD:
          link to reddit.com

    • acoff001 says:

      There’s a really interesting Let’s Play of Kaiserreich currently on the Something Awful forums which will most likely be uploaded to the LP archive this year. He’s playing as the Combined Syndicates of America which was just victorious in the civil war and will soon probably export revolution to Canada. What I’m really liking about it so far is that there are so many well researched historical events in the game that all of the deviations from history so far have been entirely plausible as they’re based on real historical people and movements taken to their logical extensions (as opposed to mods like Steppewolf where “Serbia and Bulgaria take over everything because they are the best countries, obviously!”)

    • jnik says:

      Do the folks praising Kaiserreich care to provide a current link? I found the Vicky II mod easily, but trying to find the HoI/DH one is a morass of broken links and “can I still download this anywhere?” questions with no answer.

      • jnik says:

        Some more spelunking later, this appears to be the magical place for the DH version of Kaiserreich. (Updated yesterday!)

  3. padger says:

    This makes the game sound a bit more interesting than I’d imagined.

  4. April March says:

    I hope you don’t fix the Soviety Union typo. I like the idea that meddling with the timeline left the USSR only slightly soviet-y.

    An alternate ending for the Trade Empire idea is that you essentially turn into Japan, since you’d essentially doing after your defeat in the Great War what Japan did after theirs in WWII. Germany also has inflexible and effective work ethics as part of their national identy and like super weird porn, so you’re two thirds of the way there.

    • Cinek says:

      That also makes mega-robots more likely to be developed. I concur this scenario.

  5. Premium User Badge

    JimmyJamNYC says:

    “Probable Result: Accidentally march on Paris in Autumn of 1937 because of a heavy night on the sauce.”

    Which is why I play Wolfenstein instead of HOI after a heavy night on the sauce.

    • Premium User Badge

      heretic says:

      Fighting that bigass robot in the hangar was awesome

    • BooleanBob says:

      “Probable Result: Accidentally march on Paris in Autumn of 1937 because of a heavy night on the sauce.”

      Also known as Pissedallnacht?

  6. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Another scenario – create the European Union together with France to forcefully lead the other benighted countries of Europe into a glorious Franco-German future of trains that always run on time except on holidays and mandatory 2 hour lunch breaks. Because you know what’s best for them, especially those pig-headed Anglos.

  7. Golden Pantaloons says:

    I like how this articles attempts to be inclusive towards possible time-travelling nazis. It’s a rare sight in games journalism these days.

  8. Kylind says:

    This is always a problem in WW2 games.
    Nazi Germany is the nation best suited to a great gaming experience. Which is kind of bad if you don’t enjoy playing the bad guys.

    You start with a lot of potential in the middle of Europe. You can build up your military forces almost from the ground up.
    You start with an easy campaign against Poland, then go on to an intermediate difficulty in France. Finally you take on the Soviet Union in a really difficult fight. Perfect gaming experience.

    Great Britain? You have to manage a world-wide empire with a lot of multi-tasking.
    France? You have to manage a big empire and then have an extremely difficult battle which you could well lose in a few months and it’s game over.
    US? You build up your forces for 5 years and then just steamroll everyone else. Boring.
    Soviet Union? Either frustrating because AI Germany gets massive bonuses or really easy because you knew they were coming for years and have the larger army.
    Japan can be fun, but they’re also bad guys.

    • P.Funk says:

      Oh god, streamlining. I hate that word. Don’t ruin HOI please.

      Look what accessibility did to the X series.

    • Shadow says:

      You don’t really commit any more atrocities than any other nation in Hearts of Iron II, so you can at least pretend your WW2 Germany is a lot more similar to WW1 Germany than it was in real history. There’s little making the Axis “evil” in HoI aside from the fact they’re the aggressors and that’s rude.

      But if we’re really going by history, I would hardly categorize the Soviet Union as a “good guy” merely because they fought the designated “bad guys”.

      • P.Funk says:

        By the same token I would hardly call Britain or France good guys given their colonial holdings, nor America given its governance of central American dictators.

        Germany are only bad guys based on moral relativism.

        • Chiron says:

          And y’know, all the Evil Shit

          • P.Funk says:

            But the point is that everyone does evil shit, seriously evil shit. The Nazis just took it to such an extreme that it allowed us to, by relative comparison, forgive all our own evils.

            Its so easy to dismiss what the deaths of a few hundred thousand here, a quarter million there, mean next to a tally of millions burned into our minds by the Holocaust. Nobody seems to care though about the millions who starved in British controlled India. In fact more people died under British rule due to preventable famine than Stalin and Hitler killed combined.

            Great powers commit great evils. Some evils are greatest of all, but the point is that you never hear anybody hand wringing about the moral issues of playing as Britain in a Victoria 2 campaign.

  9. dsch says:

    Pretending to feel bad about playing as Germany is kind of silly.

  10. Syt says:

    I once played a peaceful Germany in HoI2:Armageddon (I think). I spent all my effort in diplomacy/politics and research. I managed to build an alliance of most of Europe, with the goal of destroying the USSR. When a pan-European force knocked on Stalin’s door with nukes in 1949 things devolved quickly, though, and the war effort petered out in the steppes.

    Mostly because I suck at the actual war part of these games (I’m better at war in CK, Vicky and EU, but they give you more non-violent means of playing in those games, fortunately).

  11. Stevostin says:

    This may be an opportunity to remind some raw figures that to much have forgotten:
    German Military Casualties = roughly 5-6 millions
    USSR Military Casualties = roughly 12 millions
    UK Military Casualties = 0.4 millions
    USA Military Casualties = 0.4 Millions
    For one dead US soldier on European land, there have been 60 dead USSR soldiers.
    K/D ratio of US and USSR soldiers vs German is roughly the same, 2 for one (although arguably considering USSR did fight the main force it should be seen as a better performance).

    Raw figures are what they are: USSR defeated Nazis. Not USSR and allies. US & UK mattered has much to the fight vs Nazism than Italy as an ally to Nazis. Now thinking about it, US & UK mainly handled Italy indeed. Operation Overlord is always shown has something huge while actually there are dozens of (way) bigger fights that occurred on the eastern front.

    Now it’s clear than US “invasion” (in their own work in the press of the time) did free quite a few country from communism. But Nazism was beaten by USSR nearly entirely, no matter what Hollywood, or sometimes games say (or imply). Maybe USA could have beaten Hitler with the A bomb. But I hardly see USA spending the 10 millions of soldiers that, bottom line, were needed to beat the German war machine.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Using raw casualty numbers would, however, represent a gross simplification; otherwise, how do you account for the aircraft, trucks, tanks (even if inferior), food, clothing etc provided to the Russians by the US and UK? 19% of Russian combat aircraft were supplied in this way, and two thirds of the trucks (along with thousands of trains and carriages that could no longer be produced locally). Try running an army without logistics and see how it easy it is without the latter. Try running a country without food, too. With reference to total logistics support, the Allies supplied 17.5m tonnes of aid, only 6.5 less than was supplied to the US troops in Europe from 1942-45.

      By 1941 Stalin was pleading for a second front to be opened up in France – although that didn’t happen until three years later, Allied forces in both the west and down in Africa would certainly have impacted the Axis distribution of forces.

      Whilst the Soviet Unions impact on WW2 has been historically undervalued, to give one country – any country – credit for winning WW2 on it’s own is nothing more than a means to insult the casualties of the others. It’s certainly not one rooted in fact, and it’s ironic that even Stalin publicly expressed Allied aid support was necessary to win the war.

      • Stevostin says:

        There was some material support for sure. More than how much (overall, way less than 20% on most things) it’s when it came up, and at what coast (surely one of the most heroic mission of WWII had been the conveying of gears & food to Mourmansk between U boats and air attacks). But again, most people know think wrongly that basically US defeated nazis with help from USSR. This is dramatically far from how things really went and especially those days, it’s worth remembering what we owe to those guys ancestor. Because you can put it in any way you want, in no conventional war would have US + UK beaten nazis. Not by a very, very long shot. You simply needed more men than they were ready to give, especially US. No blame here, no mockery, it’s pretty amazing how US have been able to perform militarily so far from their mainland. But the Nazi army was something out of US league at that time.

      • Stevostin says:

        BTW, by your theory each time there is an emphasis on Normandy without mentioning Stalingrad or Koursk’s battle, I assume it’s also insulting the dead there ? Not seeking a fight but once you acknowledge there’s a huge wrong in who-is-thanked-for-what nowadays, it doesn’t go well with “… but still”. It would make more sense to say “yeah, those guys did by far most of it, and it’s not said loud enough those days.” then you can add “still, this is not to say other allies battles counted for nothing”.

    • aldo_14 says:

      NB: dying more does not a better army make.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        Not trolling, but trying open a reasonable line of inquiry.

        Has anyone tried to quantify how many Soviet casualties were “self-inflicted?” By this I mean taking into account the lack of experienced officers after Stalin’s purge of 1938 which led to a tactical naivity, losses after Stalin promulgated order 227, the thousands that died in penal battalions thrown into the meatgrinder (Zhukov was once informed of British advances in mine-clearing tanks. He responded “I just order a penal battalion through the minefield”), and even the order by Stalin in June 1941 to not fire on German troops because it might be considered a provocation.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Everybody who has read a little into the subject knows of the sacrifices made by the Soviets, and how they defeated a major portion of German land forces, but it would be wrong to conclude that this was because of Western Allied indifference.

      Firstly, the Kriegsmarine and their submarines had to be subdued before any major invasion of western Europe could be attempted, hence the smaller scale Mediterranean theatre campaigns.

      Secondly, the Luftwaffe had to be ground down, and this was done at huge cost, by the Allied bomber offensives.

      Thirdly, the US had to build the thousands of landing craft and LSTs necessary to invade the enemy coast and supply it with reinforcements.

    • Eightball says:

      Hey comrade, two things.

      1. It took a lot of dead Ivan to beat the Nazis. But how was Ivan going to get to the front and keep fighting without the ludicrous amount of war aid provided by the US of A? American transports (the biggest contribution though American tanks and planes in the thousands helped too) let Soviet factories stick to making tanks.

      As Patton said, the point of war isn’t to die for your country, but to make the other bastard die for his. Without allied supplies, could the Sovs do much but die for Stalin?

      2. Remember that time Ivan helped the Nazis rape and murder their way through an *actual* allied nation? That the US and UK didn’t free Poland after the war is a black injustice, but you “USSR did all the work” folks seem to forget what the USSR was working *towards* – not just a defeat of the Nazis, but the conquest of Europe. But I’m sure the Hungarians and Czechs can testify to how benevolent Ivan was in freeing them from ze Germans.

    • Shadow says:

      Without the Western Allies and the Soviets working together as they did, the war would’ve drawn out years, if victory were possible at all. The dual fronts prevented Germany from focusing its whole strength on a single adversary. It’s highly unlikely the USSR would’ve weathered an entirely dedicated German invasion, and without Western support to boot. The thing might’ve devolved into a guerrilla war, as implied in the movie Fatherland, since Russia is humongous and the Soviets might’ve fought on even after all the valuable territory had been seized and the government toppled.

      But likewise, at the very least it would’ve taken years longer for the Western Allies to overpower a Germany unburdened by the Eastern Front. Britain would’ve been invaded long before the US could manage to organize an amphibious invasion from British soil. At best, this would’ve brought upon a American-German Cold War, as the US wouldn’t be able to penetrate a fully overrun Europe. At worst, the stagnancy would’ve become a race to the atomic bomb, and even if the US managed to develop it first, it would’ve struggled with an intercontinental delivery method. My chips are on Germany as they would’ve been more capable to develop the large bomber required (see Amerika Bomber) or, hell, an ICBM outright.

      • Eightball says:

        The UK would never have been invaded. Operation Sea Lion was a fool’s errand after the Battle of Britain in 1940, already before Barbarossa. If the liberation of Europe stalled out because the USSR lost and the Ostruppen were shifted West, the Allies would’ve just nuked Germany into capitulation (probably starting with Hitler in Berlin). The Germans were way behind on nuclear science because they thought it was a bunch of Jewish nonsense.

        • Shadow says:

          I don’t really see anything preventing Germany from trying again in greater strength at a later date, well before 1944-1945, with more sensible objectives than terror bombing. With the East out of the picture, Germany could’ve easily focused resources to outproduce Britain and have the Luftwaffe better protect its own industrial centers. Eventual German air superiority would’ve seriously threatened the Royal Navy.

          Britain would’ve been able to hold out for a while, I’m sure, but it would be fighting a losing battle against an ever-growing foe.

          • Eightball says:

            That only holds true if the Allies literally do nothing for two years while Germany deals with the USSR. In the mean time the UK continues to produce planes, the US continues to produce planes, the convoy system keeps the UK fed and supplied, US troops are stationed in the UK.

            The Luftwaffe was broken in 1940, before the invasion of the USSR. The kriegsmarine could never challenge the UK surface fleet. Germany would have to rebuild the luftwaffe and build a completely new surface fleet. The former could be done in two years but the latter would take much longer to pose a credible threat. All of which would only be possible if the Allies refused to bomb targets in Germany.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Sorry Shadow, one thing preventing the Germans from trying “Sealion” again in ’44-45 is the lack of oil to fuel everything. Even if Germany had just sat back and rested after the Battle of Britain (not invading Russia), the naval blockade would have continued to bite into national reserves. And we know that the Rumanian oil supply was insufficient for Germany’s military needs since Hitler himself prioritised the oilfields of the Caucasus. How much oil Stalin would have been willing to supply Hitler during those years is a question I cannot answer, but I cannot imagine the UK and US not lobbying Russia hard to constrain the shipments.

            Sorry Eightball, the Luftwaffe was not broken in 1940. Yes, it had taken a hard knock, and lost valuable aircrew fruitlessly, but it’s inconceivable that a “broken” airforce could have remained such a formidable foe for the next 3-4 years. If anything shattered the Luftwaffe, it was the combined effects of the Allied bombing campaign (disrupting oil supplies and aircraft manufacture, plus the stresses of forcing the Luftwaffe to fight 24h a day), and the dislocation of being spread out over quite a large chunk of Europe, forced to engage enemies who could concentrate their forces more efficiently.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            But these are just my opinions, I’m not a published historian:)

    • P.Funk says:

      You know why the Russians died more than the other Allies? Their tactics sucked.

  12. Rorschach617 says:

    Memories of HOI 2 (one of the upgraded versions)

    My Benito Mussolini (not a euphemism) abandoned Ethiopia, ignored Albania, invaded Nationalist Spain territories and handed them to the Republicans and tried to liberate Austria in May 1940, Got Roflstomped.

    My Germany marched into the Rheinland, decided that this was far enough, Hitler resigned, job done! :)

  13. briangw says:

    I really, really, really want to learn the HoI series, but every time I sit and load either DH, HoI2 or 3….I stare at it not wondering what to do. I am excited that a Dev answered my question in one of their Q&A videos where I asked on their forums if it will be more approachable for newbies than the previous games and they said yes.I do know that I should just keep watching Let’s Play videos in the hopes that it will catch on.