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.
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.
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