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Dracula’s Revenge: conquering Europa Universalis IV as Romania

The children of the night impale Ottomans

Impaling the Ottoman Sultan was not part of the plan. When the Ottoman Empire declared war on tiny Moldavia, my objective was to survive, not to murder the most powerful king in the region. Moldavia, which in 1444 begins the game with a handful of provinces and neighbours eager to conquer them, defeated the last of the Ottoman Empire’s armies on the European side of the Aegean Sea in 1474. A few months later Constantinople fell to a Moldavian siege.

I could, and perhaps should, have stopped then, having made modest gains and secured the province I needed to form Romania. Instead 6 February 1474 will be infamous in the Ottoman annals as the day the two most important individuals in the realm were murdered in a bizarre and grotesque way by marauders from across the Danube. I captured the province I wanted, but the Ottoman Empire hated me with the maximum possible intensity forever.

Impaling the most powerful early modern ruler in the world is made possible by the latest update to Europa Universalis IV. The Poland Update adds greater detail to Eastern European map regions, increases the volume of events for Poland, Lithuania and others, and adds unique mission trees for Poland, Lithuania, and Tartar and Romanian nations. Critically, the update to Eastern Europe and new path to forming Romania arrives in time for Halloween. To better know some of its changes, and to celebrate the spooky season without the horror of leaving the strategy section of my steam library, I chose to play as Moldavia and attempt the Dracula’s Revenge achievement.

To get Dracula's Revenge the player must begin as Moldavia or Wallachia, form Romania and conquer the Balkans. It's extremely difficult, principally because the Balkans will almost always become part of the Ottoman Empire. However, if the Ottomans are Moldavia’s principal threat to success, the most immediate threat to its survival in 1444 are nearby Hungary and Poland, each expecting to vassalise it.

Moldavia begins with a disputed succession. Roman, the son of a banished co-monarch, demands to be recognised as king in 1445. Much as a King Roman forming Romania would fit, I reject him because accepting Roman as king also means accepting Polish vassalisation. Roman marshals a small force of pretender rebels that I easily defeat, and he’s never heard from again.

The battle against the Pretender Rebels is also the first outing for Moise Voda, a young noble elevated to a generalship. Voda will lead Moldavian troops for thirty years as a national hero, and his next assignment to Unite the Voivodes puts him on the path to greatness. Uniting the Voivodes is the first step towards forming Romania, and requires I conquer Wallachia, my southern rival. General Voda defeats their small army at a place called Basarabia, and Wallachia is wholly absorbed into Moldavia.

Forming new nations in Europa Universalis IV is uncomplicated. Certain states have decisions to switch identities and traditions unlocked by conquering a specified list of provinces and reaching a particular level of administrative technology. Conquering Wallachia gets me more than half the required provinces, but they’re also the easiest on the list. I also need two provinces from Hungary, which is much larger than me, and one from the Ottomans, which seems impossible.

I would lose a war to either, so cultivate an anti-Ottoman alliance network of small states in the area and attack Crimea. I don’t need Crimea’s provinces; I attack for the sake of expanding my trade power and diminishing the Ottomans’. Trade in EU IV is as competitive as war: in addition to the political division of the world into various states, provinces are assigned to trade zones. There is a finite amount of wealth in each zone, divided between countries according to their presence in the zone. Moldavia has a small share in the Crimea zone, but most of the trade is siphoned off by Ottoman merchants who transfer the wealth downstream to Constantinople, where it is collected as income. Conquering Crimea increases my share of the trade power in the Crimea zone, which means collecting more wealth and denying more to the Ottomans.

The Ottomans declare war on me. This is not in response to my trade shenanigans, but rather because they've just finished a war in the east against other Muslim powers and so they balance it by attacking me, a weak Christian. In EU IV, taking provinces from other countries generates aggressive expansion. The exact value is determined by the strength or weakness of the attacker’s claim on a province and how many provinces the attacker takes. Christians and Muslims only care about provinces taken from their co-religionists. The Ottomans, located between Muslim and Christian nations, deploy a ping-pong conquest strategy which relies on each group's failure to cooperate or care about events in the other’s sphere. It’s extremely effective, and is how the Ottomans expand so quickly.

As the first paragraph would suggest, however, the Ottomans seriously misjudged Moldavia. It’s true that I cannot win alone: my army is composed of 11,000 men to the Ottoman’s 33,000. And as much as Moise Voda is a competent commander, the Ottoman generals are far superior. Luckily, in the decades since the game began I secured alliances with Poland, Albania, Georgia and Imereti.

Georgia and Imereti are important because they're on the other side of the Ottomans, bordering their east rather than west, so the enemy must divide their forces to fight on two fronts. Poland provide the bulk of the troops, but Albania are the secret star of the alliance. They have one province, making it the smallest member of our alliance, but it's home to a beastly general. Albania's small army can defeat larger Ottoman armies, and I spend most of the war chasing around the Albanians so I can battle the Ottomans under the leadership of a genius general.

Defeating the Ottomans is slow, but the outcome is not in doubt. Voda actually defeats an army led personally by the Sultan before the war is done. After holding off for a few months on making a decision, I complete the mission to impale the Sultan. While leaders in EU IV have personality traits, the game is not about the interactions between characters. In fact, impaling the Sultan is the only decision I’ve seen in EU IV which affects two individuals - the Sultan and his heir - rather than a state. This rare, if not unique, type of decision has clearly not been fully worked out, because while the event text makes reference to personally cornering the Sultan in a battle and impaling him and his heir alive, at the time he’s leading an army hundreds of kilometres away. When I click the button he vanishes, presumably teleported to the spot where he’s impaled.

These missions are novel, and appear to represent a trend in EU IV towards a greater narrative focus crafted for individual states. While EU IV is primarily a rich simulation which may play out in a number of ways, it is increasingly good at providing a narrative arc for a number of countries. Partially, this is a natural result of more development time leading to a greater number of mission trees, but it’s also reflective of better writing in EU IV. While the event text for impaling the Sultan is fittingly gruesome, it’s also evocative. By contrast, the events added to the game nearer its original release are far more functional, merely adding a contextual veneer to a mechanical decision to choose between bonuses or maluses.

When I defeat the Ottomans, one of the demands I make is a thousand ducats, a colossal sum of money I spend on building a new capital. Like decisions to kill individuals, decisions relating to a particular province are rare, but possibly on the rise. Moldavia has the privilege of one such mission which allows the player to found Bucharest by developing a province on the Ottoman frontier. The most satisfying consequence of victory is that I can spend the Ottoman’s money on the two buildings I need in a place called Giurgiu to transform it into Bucharest. My king enters his new capital constructed from the spoils of a war with his most hated enemy, presumably to some fanfare.

Hungarian self-destruction allows me to swoop in and add the final two provinces necessary to evolve into Romania. Hungary’s misfortune is so catastrophic that most of the country is taken by Poland and the rest becomes an Austrian subject. I am convinced that this marks the permanent ascendency of Romania as a great European power, and that Dracula’s Revenge is easily achievable. In fact, this period is the Romanian golden age. It will never expand again.

When I next fight a war against the Ottoman - as as the aggressor with an even stronger network of alliances - I lose. One contributing factor is EU IV’s uneven AI, which can act in bizarre and irrational ways when you depend on it most. Coaxing the Austrian army into action after they agree to join the war takes months, and piloting them around the map into favourable engagements is impossible. My usual method of steering the AI, directing them to capture strings of provinces in enemy territory like a parent leaving a trail of sweets for a toddler, fails to get them moving fast enough to avoid disastrous battles. The other factor is, of course, that not all states are created equal, and in the sixteenth century the Ottomans are almost always strong, rich and large. The only way I avoid disaster is by giving away many of my allies’ provinces rather than half my own nation. All the same, I lose the province I took from the Ottomans.

Then, almost immediately, I’m at war with them again. Religious wars are of course the Age of Reformation’s major feature, and in the Holy Roman Empire, which my ally Austria leads, war breaks out over the issue of whether Catholics or Protestants can be elected emperor. I joined the Catholic League to keep the office of emperor exclusively Catholic and my ally Austria perpetual emperor. The Ottomans, as Austria's rival, join the Protestant League. Our stakes in this is more political than religious: neither of us are member states of the Holy Roman Empire, and I am Orthodox while the Ottomans are, of course, Sunni.

Joining the Catholic League turned out to be a terrible mistake, because without my knowledge Russia and France - two of the most powerful countries in the game - joined the Protestant League. Needless to say the Catholics are badly beaten, but in the course of the war Austria becomes Protestant due to unrelated rebellions, and since the emperor can only be Catholic until the peace decides otherwise, the Archduke loses the title of emperor. France, as a Catholic power, is elected emperor. The result is a baffling scenario where both Austria and France are fighting to disqualify themselves from holding the title..

The low point is when, during the war, Romania is partially occupied in by Kiev, a tiny state which separately declares war on me while I’m weak. I’m sure I hear a Hungarian laughing in the distance. The only reason I survive at all is because different provinces are occupied in different wars, and neither belligerent can occupy the whole country because they’re not at war with each other. It’s that Simpsons joke where Mr Burns has every disease so none of them kill him.

The history of Romania up to 29 July 1685 is one of slow decline. In 1685 Romania, is actually smaller than Moldavia at the start of the game, and on 29 July it loses its independence. This is not a result of Ottoman conquest, but rather the sudden death of the king without an heir, which puts Romania in a personal union with Russia. The Tsar is our shared monarch, and I am their subject. In the final war against the Ottomans which puts me in this position, I score an unlikely victory in a battle where my enemies are once again led by the Sultan himself.

I imagine my troops at their campfires after the battle, sharing stories of times when there great-great-great grandfathers did likewise. Centuries later, impaling the Sultan no longer seems like an admittedly grotesque statement that Romania was destined for greatness, but rather a time when a small country let victory go to is head and gave in to a megalomaniacal fantasy. Romania is now less a vampire and more a zombie, still partially alive but without ambition or direction. It may rise again, but it will be as the un-dead after the game has ended in 1820.

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