40 people are playing Europa Universalis IV together in a real castle

Castling is a good tactic in chess but perhaps less so in EU4

[Update: the organisers have now set up a Twitch livestream for this, which you can see here]

Hello from Poland, where I am currently living in a castle with forty angry strategy gamers. The castle is Zamek Czocha, a 13th century fortress that has been occupied more times than an airport toilet cubicle. This week its invaders are the Grandest LAN Party, a giant multiplayer match of historical strategy game Europa Universalis IV [official site]. This is normally a game of slow and ponderous decisions on a big map of the world, but in this castle it also involves four days of clambering through secret chambers and crossing high balconies to talk to the representative of Norway about an underhanded alliance with Moldavia.

It’s something between a LAN and a LARP. Approximately forty players are sleeping in the castle’s quarters (normally a swish hotel) and manning computers in various rooms – the library, the knight’s hall, the “French room”. They settle disagreements in the old-fashioned manner of national posturing and war-mongering. There are Indian countries and European ones, Japanese states and Irish ones. It’s not just one person at each computer, though, there’s teamwork involved. Only one person need sit at the computer itself, while others on the same team skulk around passing information and engaging in diplomatic acts such as dropping half-full glasses of beer on the beautiful hardwood floor and apologising profusely. Here’s an advert for the Paradox-sanctioned event.

That’s perhaps a little more dramatic than the real thing, but there is still a lot of power struggling from what I’ve seen so far. And a great humour to it. One team has just seized the region of Westphalia in Germany and renamed it “West Philidelphia”. The benefit of being physically close to your allies is also real. For instance, if the three young men controlling the nation of Brunswick need to cut a quick deal with someone from Milan, they can send one of their boys across the knight’s hall balcony, through the “English room”, down the stoney steps of a secret passageway, and into the cavernous arches of the “Polish room”, where the Milanese representatives might already be talking, somewhat disconcertingly, to the Pomeranian ambassador. They can also, if they wish, wave down a monk (one of the organiser’s “servants”) and send a scroll with a message.

This is actually an image from a "Wizard School" LARP in the same castle, but it is a nice photo

Then there are the idiosyncrasies of the game itself to consider. While writing this, the Reformation has broken out across Europe, meaning that the closeknit formation of German, French and Italian players may soon be tested. Meanwhile, across the globe (two rooms away) three teams share rule in India and they have just discovered the joy of colonising other faraway nations. As a non-player I am privy to a worldwide view. One of the organisers, who is himself playing as Saxony, has just sat down to inform me that the Indians are far ahead in terms of technology while the “backwards European savages” cannot even see India on their maps of the world (although there is also a huge map projected onto the floor in one of the halls, for all to inspect). Europe will soon be swamped, he says, by the colour blue – the spreading influence of Protestantism.

There's a lake too

I’ll have a full report of the conflicts that erupt during the course of the game, but you’ll have to wait until next week for that. The multiplayer match is set to be a centuries-long period stretching from the early 1400s to the 1800s, and will take four days of playing in real time, each day containing 14 hours of skulduggery and army management. I would call it gruelling, if it weren’t for the kitchen that constantly serves beer and buns, and the four tranquil castle cats which roam around offering comfort despite each of them being named after notorious communists. I have come to regard Lenin as my favourite.

Like I say, I’ll bring you a bigger write-up of this ridiculous situation soon. But for now, I must go. Morocco has just entered the game.

32 Comments

  1. Eraysor says:

    Now we just need the crew of the ISS to play Stellaris

  2. mukuste says:

    Brilliant idea. Also reminds me of the single real-life game of Diplomacy I’ve ever played, which was quite something.

  3. Technotica says:

    I wonder in what setting they’d play Hearts of Iron IV…

    • Kollega says:

      Obviously a flak tower or a bunker system of some persuasion?

    • EvilMonkeyPL says:

      Plenty of WWII german bunkers still about in Poland. Soviets couldn’t blow them up from the inside, trying to get at them from the outside proved pointless. One in my city is now a modern art gallery and has a lovely cafe on the roof, provinding a nice view.

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      phuzz says:

      I saw this the other day, well, I actually saw a different one, it turns out there’s more than one mod adding Jeremy Corbyn into Hearts of Iron IV.
      Ah PC gaming.

  4. AutonomyLost says:

    That’s a great story. Also, I love Poland forever because Skervesen.

  5. NaShav says:

    “i have come to regard Lenin as my favourite”

    …And in the game ?!

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    Risingson says:

    One half of my thoughts think that if they can afford it, let people enjoy things.

    The other half is showing a bit of concern on how colonialism, oppresion and just violence from the empires is just now something pop that can be easily enjoyed by people lucky enough that they can see that in the distance as something to laugh at.

    But just let people enjoy things, replies the first half again.

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    Qazinsky says:

    Not gonna lie, I really thought the first picture and even the still of the video was from some game before I read closer.

    Nature sure got some nice vibrant colors in Poland.

    • Umama says:

      Yes it definitely looks a lot like Witcher 3. I guess you could say it has a touch of Polish polish to it.

  8. takfar says:

    Nothing to add. Just came in to say this is awesome.

    Also, “Pomeranian ambassador” makes me think of dogs in high positions of power.

  9. zaldar says:

    Oh man how much did you have to pay to get involved in this??? This would have been great. Can we get someone to do this with civilization but over the in the states where I might be able to afford to join in?

  10. satan says:

    Damn it, this is awesome.

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    Harlander says:

    It’s like a cross between a LAN party and one of those megagames where you’re all a different country in an XCOM scenario. Sounds great

  12. Dogshevik says:

    Quite the idea, but I have my doubts regarding the organization. A whole campaign in 4 days? That is not a pleasant game and it allows only a fraction of the possibilities that would make the format so great. I´d say this needs a week at least and even then the people would come back from the event weary in mind and body. But 4 days seems like sacrifizing the players´ wellbeing for our entertainment.

    Also, I predict there will be tears.

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    Neurotic says:

    Do visit Wrocław whilst you’re there, if you haven’t already. And if you ever make it as far east as Kraków (say, for Digital Dragons), give me a shout and I’ll show you around. :)

  14. morganjah says:

    SO which combination of the 300 DLC’s are they using?

    • ThePuzzler says:

      I’d have expected ‘all of them’. But the claim that India has got ahead in technology puzzles me. In general India has to play catch up, waiting for the Renaissance and Printing Press institutions to spread in their direction (and they’re not exactly well placed for picking up the Colonization institution either, since that usually requires a colony in the Americas). So maybe they’re playing some special modded version?

      • EvilMonkeyPL says:

        If you know what you’re doing you can ‘buy’ an institution in a province through spending monarch points (around 600 if wiki is to be believed) on development.

        • ThePuzzler says:

          Good point. Though the wiki actually says 600 ‘development points’, which you get by spending 1500+ monarch points. You’d think it would still put them behind on technology, but maybe if one country does it the rest will benefit.

  15. geldonyetich says:

    Just so long as they’re not role-playing Crusader Kings 2 in there.

    “I really, really need an heir right now. Anyone? Anyone?”

    “Quiet, you, I’m already next in line for your throne. Do me a favor and lean hard on this railing.”

  16. Gomer_Pyle says:

    Imagine telling someone you know that you were doing this.

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    cairbre says:

    lol it does sound cool if I knew how to do anything other than play the tutorial a few times