Everybody wants to rule the world. With Europa Universalis, you can do that. Starting as one of the major, or not so major powers, in the year 1492 (or other various starting points of the many scenarios that come with the game) you vie with either computer or live opponents (via the Internet options) all trying for the same thing – World Domination. Or at least you want to be the biggest and most successful country by the end of the game period (which is 1792 for the grand campaign and varies with the other scenarios).
You can even choose up sides in a fantasy scenario with the terrain of the real world, but none of the real world countries. Truly this a good place to start with everyone on an even footing.
This game has it all! Great gameplay, great replayability, a totally immersive nature, a working – and intriguing – diplomatic subgame are all part of the deal. It also has a realistic, if annoying, attrition system (took me a little while to get the hang of not loosing all my land and naval forces while exploring in my first run through – those folks can be expensive to replace). A very nice technology tree with easy to use slide bars to adjust the rate of investment is a feature in several key areas. An adjustable time scale for the passage of time also helps. And everything is packaged in one fairly easy to learn game package.
Before I get to far into this I want to say a word about the graphics. I have read many a review of this marvelous game and seen many a reference to the lackluster graphics. To this I say BUNK! The graphics are perfectly suited for the scope of the game being presented. This is not a tactical game where your armies run through and fight in lush fields and hills. It is an area movement game (the areas being the various provinces found in the old world). You are NOT going to see a lot of flashy graphics in an area movement type game. However, there are plenty of neat little things the designers have done to ‘spiff up’ the looks of the game, like the little wagon trains that go to the provinces when you decide to start a colony, increase an existing colony or start a trading post. The changing of the seasons is seen by the changing colorations of the various provinces over time. In short, the graphics are just what they need to be for a game of this scope. Those that berate the graphics of this game are just those looking for the latest and greatest in graphic rendering techniques and forgetting that graphics enhance a game and do not define it.
That being said, there are a few shortcomings of Europa Universalis. One being the lack of a table of contents or even an index in the rules book. While the book is wonderful at explaining the various functions of the game, there is no easy way to jump to the section you need help on. This is made worse by the barely adequate tutorial that is included with the game. By this I mean it is adequate for getting the basics of the game down, but VERY annoying in the way it does it. You are given tasks to accomplish and just the bare essentials of how to go about doing it. This will have you delving back into the game manual to see more information on just how to do what you are now being asked to do, which gets you into the lack of Table of Contents or Index to guide you quickly to the proper section. And the book is quite large too, so expect to spend a lot of time reading over it.
You are not encouraged to experiment during the tutorial either. My first time through was a disaster as I spent the vast majority of my starting cash on colonizing all the nearby provinces early in the game, as it was so much fun to do. By the time I needed the cash to purchase new armies or colonize provinces that would actually help me achieve my objectives, and to replace the atrocious attrition losses, I was flat broke.
The other annoyance I found were the pop up messages that told of fights in progress. When your forces enter a new province with hostile forces in it, a battle ensues. A pop up comes up telling you of this and closing this will bring up a nice display of the troops involved on both sides and their unit strengths and moral ratings, among other information. When the initial skirmish is over (you very seldom take a province on the first try), you are left with a window depicting your army that was involved, and the ability to attack again. Attacking again will cause another pop up to come up telling you of the battle in progress that you just started. Since it sometimes takes 10 or more battles to wipe out the opposition in a province; you find yourself closing out 10 or more pop up messages telling you that battles are taking place.
Enough of the shortcomings, as even with them this game is one that I highly recommend for anyone that enjoys this era of world history or who just likes a game where you build and expand your holdings.
The basic units of the game are the land units, Infantry, Cavalry and Cannon, and the naval units, Warships, Galleys and Transport Vessels. When starting the 1492 campaign you will only have Infantry available and will have to research the technologies that will enable you to build Cavalry, Cannon and naval vessels. But you will REALLY notice a difference in the battles when a combined force of Infantry, Cavalry and Cannon invade a province! For the naval side transports are your basic workhorse. Warships serve the dual role of protecting your other ships and attacking enemy shipping. Galleys are used for quicker transport in sheltered areas like the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Seas (they are useless in the open sea and will sink quickly there.)
You have two choices when expanding your sphere of influence, Colonies or trading posts. Colonies have a greater difficulty of getting started, but when they grow to a size of 700 people can serve as supply points for further exploration with reduced attrition. Colonies can be left to grow on their own, which takes many years to get them to a population of 700, or can be added to by sending additional colonists to boost their populations. Trading posts are much less expensive to start, usually have a higher percentage chance of being established and return a fairly decent return on investment. It is imperative to get control of a seaside colony as that is the only way to launch ships to further explore the vast new world and to plant your flag on new provinces found.
The computer controlled provinces and countries will respond to your advances based on the political, diplomatic and religious bearing of your country. So do not expect to be welcomed in the provinces of Northern Africa with opened arms.
Adjusting diplomatic relations is easier the closer the targeted province is to yours in religion. In some cases you just have to muster the troops and take a province by brute force, my personal favorite technique. But be careful as diplomatic change takes time and will not happen as quickly as may be expected.
In one of my games I was given the task of securing a certain province that was under control of a neighboring country. Ok, I search the manual and find that the common way of ending wars was the annexation of a province, so I get myself a nice army and declare war on the neighboring nation. I successfully take over the necessary province but have no way to force an annexation of it. Not a big deal, and I proceed to move forces into all the provinces of this nation including its capitol. Still, they made no offer of peace. Several game months later a pop-up message box appears declaring that this nation is willing to make peace and gives me the option of stating the terms. I ask for the desired province, and one other for good measure, and they agree. Mission accomplished.
I could go on for quite awhile but will end this here and gladly bestow four and a half GiN Gems on this very nice, very complex game of exploration, diplomacy and combat. It is heartily recommended for anyone interested in this era historically or those just in search of a realistic in-depth game to get fully involved with.