What if the UK was communist, I wondered as I munched on a gruesome burger from McDonalds while browsing for a new pair of Converses on my oversized smartphone. Would I finally have the confidence to pull off a bushy, Stalinesque moustache? Would those red trousers which I bought on a day I lost all sense, but never wore, suddenly look good on me?
To give direction to my aimless pondering I fired up Paradox’s grand strategy-wargame hybrid, Hearts of Iron IV [official site]. Not just a World War II simulator, it’s a What If scenario generator, answering the big questions like: how can Germany win the war? Can Argentina take over South America? And, of course, what if the UK was communist? Let’s find out.
Before we get started – I know! Ugh! More preamble – let’s talk about the setup. I’m picking the 1936 start because beginning the game in ‘39 means there’s almost no time to prepare before the war kicks off, which also means fewer ahistorical communist shenanigans. 1936 - 1939 is where Hearts of Iron IV is most like a grand strategy game, before it transforms into a wargame.
I’m keeping historical AI on, too. This is just a personal preference. The rest of the world will act largely like it should, though some surprises are bound to occur, especially when I attempt to do something silly like stage a communist coup of the USA. Spoilers!
Okay, okay, we’re done with the scene-setting. Let's make history.
Inheriting the keys to the UK in 1936 is just a little bit intimidating. And by a little bit, I mean I want to run for the hills. Unlike, say, Germany, which has very clear paths and goals with a focus on Europe, the UK’s influence spreads across the globe. Not only do I have to worry about this pokey – but still somehow very important – set of islands, I’ve got holdings in Africa, Asia and North America to distract me as well. There’s a manpower problem, too. The UK still hasn’t recovered from the Great War, which decimated a whole generation. It’s all quite grim.
The political situation has me concerned, as well. Right now, the Conservative Party – the party of Mr. Neville “Peace in our time” Chamberlain – is in power, and the Brits are staunchly democratic. The next election isn’t until 1939, so a democratically elected communist government is a long way off, if I want to go down that route instead of tearing the nation apart with a bloody revolt.
On the plus side, I find myself blessed with options. I can research four different technologies all at once since we’re just so darn smart in Blighty, and the national focus tree is heaving with potential avenues for me to saunter down. Ah yes, national focus – what’s that all about then? Essentially, these focuses are bonuses and event triggers that allow players to fine-tune both their country and its ambitions.
Strictly speaking, there are multiple trees, though some are connected at their roots, while others are wholly separate. New options open and close depending on international and domestic events, so it’s quite dynamic, shifting as the world descends into glorious chaos. The UK starts with three choices: Limited Rearmament, Home Defence and Reinforce the Empire. I choose the first, as it means I get a couple of new building slots and civilian factories, which will in turn let me construct more helpful things like dockyards and military factories, and then more equipment for my forces. It’s all a big, lovely chain.
So I’m playing it safe at the moment (Booo!) by researching tech that will assist in construction and future research, building up my infrastructure on the side. There’s not much more that can be done at this point becau– Oh dear, the King is dead. Yes, George has popped his clogs and now Edward is on the throne. This matters because Georgie Boy gave the UK a boost in national unity – an intangible measurement of a nation’s strength, important when enemies are invading – while his son is now reducing unity by 0.10% a week. Well, bugger.
I was saying, before a dead monarch so rudely interrupted me, that my hands are somewhat tied. Dabbling in the murky world of politics, as well as bringing in military specialists and changing conscription laws, costs political power, a resource that can best be described as extremely bloody limited. Right now, it’s ticking away at one point every day, but I can increase this by hiring some minions eventually, though there are even more ways to reduce it. Ultimately, this means that my dream of spreading communism throughout the isles will have to wait just a wee while longer.
This gives me a lot of time to plan and to look over the map of the world, salivating at the prospect of conquering it all. I’m most interested in France right now. My chums across the Channel might be democratic, like the UK, but there’s a significant number of communist sympathisers. Usually, France eventually outlaws communism, because it’s just too bad ass to be allowed to continue, but if I can have my own revolution before that, I can start increasing their popularity or stage a coup.
I’m currently celebrating with potato-based booze because I have finally collected enough political power to hire a charming communist orator, an event most libation-worthy. He’s now merrily preaching the benefits of going red. When you start shifting a country’s ideology, you get two options: political coup or popular uprising. The former means that, once the nation’s communist influence goes over 50%, that party will win the next election and take over, although it can sometimes happen sooner. A bloodless coup sounds great and all, but I don’t have the patience to wait until 1939 – the year the election will be held. Uprising it is. Civil war is coming.
Speaking of civil war, the Spanish are the middle of their own. The Nationalists, Franco’s fascist faction, are winning. I’d love to help the Republicans, but while the UK is still a democracy I’m unable to send volunteer troops to lend a hand until Global Tension increases. It’s a peculiar system that restricts nations from making bold moves until the world is close to a global war, and mainly affects countries like the UK. Germany, Italy and the like are more free to act, and are largely the cause of rising tension.
Thankfully, things will soon become a lot more exciting for us Brits. Communism has proved to be exactly what the people needed. Even the armed forces are getting a taste, with soldiers flocking to communist groups – though this has reduced our manpower again. A small price to pay for the glorious revolution that we’re working toward. Dasvidaniya, democracy!
Oh boy. So we’ve got a new king, now that Eddie Baby has eloped with his beau, Mrs Simpson, but that’s barely even front page news because we’re also at war. With ourselves. Yes, it’s civil war time and it’s not looking good for the UK. Things are definitely looking up for the Union of Britain, however.
Most of England and all of Wales and Northern Ireland are in the Union, while south east England and the majority of Scotland is fighting for democracy. Abroad, communism has prevailed and the British Raj is supporting the revolution as well. Unfortunately, our pals in the Commonwealth have declared war, but with the real conflict taking place in the UK, they aren’t a threat.
When war kicks off, Hearts of Iron IV becomes a very different game. The grand strategy elements hop over to the backseat, putting the wargamey systems behind the steering wheel. I’m sort of prepared for this. Low manpower means that I’ve not been investing much into my army, though I do have a strong navy and air force, and I still have enough divisions of infantry and light tanks to deal with the remnants of the UK.
My divisions are already combined into one army under a general, allowing me to command lots of men with the touch of a button, rather than faffing around with micromanagement. I’m still able to control each division individually, though; particularly handy when the fighting becomes more intense and chaotic. I quickly surround the last pocket of resistance in England with my army, drawing a front line across the border. From there, I’m able to create my battle plan.
It’s all very tactile, Hearts of Iron’s military system; like you’re painting new nations and dominions with battle lines and warmachines and heavily-armed men. I’m confident and impatient so I don’t even create a fallback line, instead drawing an offensive one along the coast, preparing my forces to push our enemies into the sea. Above, the sky is blanketed by my air support. Fighters and bombers buzz around England, casting their shadow over the battlefield.
Air wings can be given specific orders, like supporting ground troops or bombing areas of strategic significance. I forgo the latter because I’d rather not destroy the very factories that I’ll be using after the war. Civil wars are messy enough without demolishing my own infrastructure.
The resistance in England doesn’t hold out for very long, but the stalwart Scots manage to completely take over the North. Unfortunately for them, they’re merely postponing the inevitable. My divisions rush up and drive the Scots beyond Glasgow and Edinburgh. And we push, and keep pushing, painting Scotland red, until the UK finally capitulates. It is no more.
The government surrenders and then promptly flees abroad with the king, leaving the Empire in the hands of the communists. Elections are cancelled. Why would we need them now, anyway? The rest of the Commonwealth acquiesces, ending the war entirely. Yay, but also… am I the bad guy now? No time to worry about that, as this was merely phase one of my horrific plan.
Phase two actually began before the civil war was even over. I had plenty of political power, and since I was in control of a communist nation – even if it was still fighting itself – I was finally able to start boosting the popularity of communism abroad, specifically in the US and France. I’m on a timer, however. It’s 1938, and with historical AI I’ve never seen WWII start later than 1939.
I'd better get ready. I'm also trying to figure out what our new national anthem should be. And our new national animal. I'm leaning toward Zarya. Give me suggestions!
The tale continues on Wednesday. Hearts of Iron IV is available now on Windows, Mac and Linux.