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5:30pm on Monday, 26th September, 2011:



I've been playing Europa Universalis III recently. I got it a couple of years ago, but it took me that long to get round to reading the (large) manual. As is usual with the series, the first release is rubbish and you have to buy expansions to make it playable, which tend to invalidate large parts of the manual you just read, but hey, it's a fun game.

I got the first two expansions, installed them, and started to play. I got quite far into it — as England, I'd colonised much of the USA and the southern part of Africa, plus the Incas in South America, and I was starting on Australia. I was making inroads in India, too. Then, my save files wouldn't load. I checked the web site to see what to do, and it came up with the inevitable "uninstall then reinstall" approach. That didn't work either. However, it also recommend I download a program to do a thorough clean up. I ran this and it succeeded: it succeeded in tracking down my save files and eradicating those, too. I then had to download another program to recover them. It managed to recover one autosave, the contents of which began part-way through then suddenly switched to being some fragments of Javascript that must have come from a web page cache or something.

So, I reinstalled and added the next expansion (which was a mistake, I preferred it with just the first two, but if it runs...). I restarted again as England and set to it.

OK, so this a game about European history beginning (with expansion #2) in 1399, from the creation of nation states to the age of colonisation and the dawn of the industrial revolution, ending (with expansion #1) in 1821. It's very complicated, but it has some key numbers you need to know about, in particular stability and reputation. High stability (+3) is good; low stability (-3) is bad. It takes ages — several years of game time — to raise stability, and it regularly falls because of random events; it's a bit of a pain, but there you go.

Reputation starts off at zero (good). When you conquer other countries or take provinces from them, it rises (bad). It goes down over time, but only gradually — 0.1 a year or so, although you can increase it marginally if the right government advisors show up. In the new game I started, I was given an objective (like a quest) to conquer Ireland. Ireland starts with three states, so that means conquering three of them. You can try to do this peacefully (which takes at least 30 years because of a 10-year enforced gap between vassilisations) or you can do it militarily. Your reputation suffers in either case. For a military conquest, which is what I did, it got me 8 bad reputation points. That's 8 points per state. I had the requisite casus beli and went to war with conquest as my stated aim, but I still wound up with 24 bad reputation points. So that's going to take like 240 years to get down to zero. Except, because Brittany joined in on the side of one of the Irish states and I conquered that too, I wound up with 32 points.

Next, I was attacked by France (which was trying to get its own quest done). Scotland was an ally of France so came in on its side. My own ally, Portugal, stayed out of it. Nevertheless, I conquered Scotland and gave France a beating. Now my infamy was higher still. Then, along came Burgundy. I clobbered that, took one province off it, and still got a pile of bad reputation points. Castille attacked next; I let it off, and saved my bad reputation from rising, however my infamy didn't fall any from my generosity. Things were getting irritating.

I was now being threatened for having a bad reputation, which only got worse when I won. I was getting revolts in my territories, and my stability was stuck at -3 (mainly because one of the events that happens when you have a bad reputation keeps dropping your stability). On the other hand, I could raise and pay for vast armies, and even with a low stability I wasn't falling behind in technology. I then realised that bad reputation is actually capped: you may have a reputation of 120, but if it's capped at 50 then it may as well be 50. Given that it would take longer than the length of the game to get my reputation down to sane levels, I decided to embrace it. I concentrated on colonisation and putting down revolts. Occasionally, countries would attack me because of my bad reputation, whereupon I would conquer them, take their territory, and carry on. So it continues: I get warnings from weak and puny German states that have only one or two provinces; a revolt occurs near their border; they take this as their chance to attack me; I swiftly grind them into mush and take their lands. My bad reputation hit 360 at one point, but I got some lucky events that means it's now around 340.

It's probably not how the game was intended to be played, and I'd certainly prefer to play it "properly", but hey, I'm having a blast!

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).