Now. At long last. It isn't exactly realtime, but it can FEEL like I've spent over four hundred years playing EU3. It's a truly massive game, incredibly involving, and just as complicated and ambiguous as history itself.
As I headed into the endgame, I was increasingly attacked by my neighbors. I fought
almost a half-dozen wars against Aragon and Portugal; I think that
Aragon had finally gotten fed up by my endless espionage against them,
and once they snapped, they didn't let up. Each war followed a predictable path. Aragon would cross the border into my southern portion of Africa and lay siege to a border province. I would raise new regiments, or muster the ones from the previous war, and slowly march them to the front. I would break the siege. Then, I would embark on a long, painstaking march up the western coast, besieging each of the Portuguese and Aragonese provinces that I reached, driving back or destroying their armies. This was always the main encounter; if Aragon had mid-European allies in a war, I would evacuate my two Germanic provinces to avoid battle; in all cases, I would usually destroy Aragon's fleet in Vietnam, and occasionally land troops there as well to occupy their provinces.
This would continue for a few years. Eventually, Portugal would send down a mega-army of 25,000 or so troops. Once I saw them coming, I would sue for peace. I usually had a War Score of around 10-30% by this point, but could rarely get good concessions; I would often ask Aragon to release their Asiatic nations, and could sometimes squeeze a few extra ducats out of Portugal. Aragon would still hate me, though, and would attack again once our truce was up.
I finally got fed up with it after Aragon declared war on me for the fifth or sixth time. It was all so pointless; they could never muster a threat to me in my seat of power in Asia, and I had no interest in chasing them back to their Iberian strongholds. This time I accepted a white peace from them, and afterwards I stopped dispatching spies to Aragonese territory, and embarked on a diligent campaign of bribery. Aragon's opinion of me was always stuck at -200, and Portugal at around -100; by regularly gifting, I could get those up to 100. Annoyingly, once I got much higher they would start issuing insults to me, driving the relationship back down; I partly suspect that they might have been doing it on purpose, to keep the flow of funds coming.
Paying tribute doesn't come easily to me; I don't know that I've ever paid tribute in any game of Civ, since it usually just weakens you financially and at best will slightly delay an inevitable assault. Here, though, I've finally gotten used to it. By this point in the game, it isn't like I need the money for anything else; if anything, it's just the use of a diplomat that I'm losing. I actually had paid tons of bribes in the early stage of the game; back when I was still a monarchy, after I had married all other monarchs and signed open border agreements with everyone, I would pick a one-province ally and spam them with gifts to get our relationship up to 200. I was trying to diplomatically vassalize them; I never succeeded, and eventually stopped bribing, except for when I was trying to open markets or get military access. I was now rediscovering the utility of a well-placed bribe. After that, Aragon never declared war on me again, and eventually their opinion of me improved from "They expect us to break every deal and alliance" to "They trust us to uphold our bargains." They did seem to move towards war a few times - sending insults, canceling military access, and so on - but I kept the cash flowing and kept it under control.
I feel like most of my strategic advancement in this game has been a direct result of me un-learning lessons that I've learned over 20 years of playing Civilization games. One core principle that I've always clung to in the Civ games is to follow the Powell Doctrine: never enter a military conflict unless you bring overwhelming superiority, have well-defined goals, and are sure that they can be swiftly achieved. In the world of Civ, a single long, drawn-out war can kill your hopes of winning the game. The longer that you spend on a war footing, the more of your industrial production you're diverting towards building new units, instead of building structures that can improve your economy, science, and infrastructure. If you're in a war, and your rivals aren't, by the time you emerge from the war they will have advanced ahead of you. The only time a war is worthwhile is if you can capture several of your opponents cities. This will multiply your nation's economy and resources, and that in turn will strengthen you for later in the game. So, in most of my Civ games, I either avoid wars altogether, or else put off wars until I've built up an overwhelming technological superiority, at which point I can hopefully mow down my opponent with a small but highly advanced army, and either annihilate them altogether or take a good number of cities from them.
For the first several hundred years of EU3, I've mostly adhered to that strategy. I've avoided entangling alliances that could force me into a war that I didn't want, and I've previously complained about how the Holy Roman Emperor seat obligated me to fight opponents. If anything, war in EU3 seemed even more pointless than in Civ, because of how hard it is to take provinces from an enemy, and how much trouble they are once you have them. I'm still ambivalent about my conquest of Brunei, because it saddled me with a large cluster of provinces with the "wrong" religion and culture, which have required more care to avoid revolt and which don't contribute as much to my economy.
In the final century of the game, though, I was forced into many wars that I didn't want. After the Aragon/Portugal wars in Africa, I had a few decades of peace, and was delighted to see that those two nations eventually broke their alliance and started attacking one another across the battlefield of Castile. Soon afterwards, though, I was surprised by an attack from Russia. Russia has been the Big Bad Wolf of the second half of this game; they've steadily expanded, and built up quite a terrible reputation in the process. For a while I'd been insulated from them, thanks to Persia's peculiar colonizing of western Siberia; but an earlier war between Persia and Russia had left Russia with a crucial province on my border, and eventually they struck. Now, throughout the whole game I've been de-prioritizing my Land technology in favor of everything else, so Russia was about ten levels above me in tech, and had larger armies to boot. Fortunately for me, their border armies were a bit on the small side, so while they were besieging my provinces I was able to raise about 10,000 troops across Siberia, form them up, and march them up.
Russia's peculiar expansion program had left them with provinces scattered throughout coastal India, and here I had my greatest triumphs. I had a substantial navy, in order to maintain my tariff income, and had recently upgraded to Threedecker ships, the most highly advanced naval units. I fought a series of battles against Russia's fleet in the Indian Ocean, eventually defeating them all. I tried to blockade them, which had worked well in other wars in the pass, but for whatever reason Russia's "Blockade" always showed as 0% in the war progress summary; again, I'm not sure why.
In Siberia, I eventually broke the siege, but had a very scary main war. Russia's armies were HUGE, finally larger than even France's, and I was doomed in a straight fight. I tried to take every advantage that I could: I would goad his main army away from me while a second force attacked his smaller units; or I would choose battlefields where I was confident of gaining defensive terrain bonuses; or I would scorch the earth on my own lands so his armies would suffer huge attrition, then I would jump in to beat them back once they had diminished in size.
I didn't win, but I finally got to the point where I could negotiate a peace in exchange for a few ducats and relinquishing claims on some territories that I didn't even want. And you know what? It felt kind of like a victory. Partly because it was fun; partly because in the process of fighting the war, I'd been winning prestige, building up my tradition, and generally improving my lot. Even though I arguably "lost" the war, I was coming out of it a bit better than when I'd entered.
For the rest of the game, I've been more open about fighting wars, and have been pleased at the experiment. I no longer cancel alliances with newly released nations; instead, I'll keep them around, and if they need my help, I'll send my armies their way. Often I'm big enough to become the leader of our alliance, even though I never start the war. I've learned that, unlike Civ, I don't want these wars to end with me claiming a bunch of new territory; instead, I usually fight until the enemy is totally defeated, and then negotiate punitive terms of surrender, ordering them to release a bunch of nations and give up cores. If they're small enough, I'll vassalize them, but I won't annex them or take territory. (The one exception: after Manchu declared war on me twice, both times without any cores or nations to give up, I ended up demanding a few border provinces from them, then immediately turned around and "sold" them to Ming for 0 ducats. This diminished the border I shared with Manchu, and let Ming deal with the casus belli Manchu had on those provinces.) Besides giving me a lot to do, this has also given me a steady source of prestige, often carrying me up to near 100 by the end of a conflict. I've also been happy to see that I'm no longer getting attacked by my more powerful rivals; I'm not sure what causes this (my higher maintenance, or having a few [weak] allies, or just having been in a war recently), but it's been very appreciated, as I would much rather fight a bunch of small, easy wars than one or two big scary ones like the war with Russia.
It's been interesting throughout the course of the game to see the realistic-but-fictional rise and fall of major empires. At the start of the game in 1399, the Golden Horde controls a mindbogglingly (wow, I can't believe that's a word! Spellcheck says it is!) large share of the world, stretching from Manchuria out to eastern Europe. Only Ming was a similar size, although Ming was content to stay within its borders throughout the game. As Russia and the Ottoman Empire expanded, they cut down the Golden Horde, until eventually they were reduced to a mere four non-contiguous provinces; I vassalized them after they attacked me in the 1700s. As the Golden Horde declined, Persia grew HUGE, expanding from the Middle East to envelop much of western India and Asia Minor; Persia even embarked on a massive colonizing effort, settling much of western Siberia. Persia declined once Russia started attacking them, and after they were weakened, most of their acquired provinces broke away in independence. The Ottoman Empire crested later in this game than they did historically, making their concerted push into central Europe in the eighteenth century; they also controlled all of northern and eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Asia Minor, and swaths of the Middle East. I was forced into a few wars with them; after those were over, their navies had been destroyed, and they lost most of their African holdings, and eventually succumbed to Russia and Austria; Austria blocked their western advance, and Russia swept down and gobbled up their core holdings around the Black Sea.
As for the major European powers: France grew big and powerful early on, swallowing up Burgundy, the Rhineland, Westfalia, and a good chunk of Spain; however, they seemed to reach stasis around 1600, and never became the juggernaut I feared. They came to colonizing very late in the game, but made up for lost time, settling much of western North America and the southernmost part of South America. Great Britain was a good, if distant, friend throughout the game, and probably the most major power who I never worried about fighting. They colonized Canada, and after a war with Castile conquered most of the eastern part of North America as well. Castile was the earliest power in the Americas; as in history, they conquered the Aztecs and Mayans, taking military control of central America before investing the time and effort of colonizing. Even though they lost most of North America, they held on to their central American territory. Castile also held on to the island of Aceh throughout most of the game. Portugal was another early American power, although they seemed to strictly colonize rather than conquer, and as a result controlled much of south America. Portugal also had significant colonies in western Africa, along with some territory on the northern coast that it took from Morocco. Finally, Aragon came late to the colonizing game; they tried for some in the Americas, but seem to have lost them; they were another major player in western Africa, and as previously noted, they were fairly active in Vietnam.
Late in the game, some North American colonies start rebelling against their European masters. While the names are historic, the locations seem flexible; "Venezuela" was actually located on St. Martin, for example. Haiti did break away from France, which seemed appropriate. "Guatemala" was another Caribbean island, in this case declaring independence from Portugal. By the time the game ended in 1820, Great Britain was fighting against Canadian and American patriots, who had captured some territories but didn't seem to yet have their own nation. I never had to deal with this, although I think it may have more to do with my choices than with my choice of territory; I would occasionally get some events about a "founding father" or a "corrupt governor," and always made the peaceful choice that would keep my colonists happy; I'm guessing that if I had gone the other way, I might have had to deal with my own revolution. (Though it may help that none of my territories had alternate cores, like Canada or America do.)
I kind of doubt that I'll play another EU3 game - it's utterly terrifying to think of how long I've spent on just this one - but I'm already thinking a little about what I WOULD like to do if I decide to play again. I'm currently thinking that it would be really fun, and really challenging, to try and play a game to unify Germany. This is possible in EU3, but extremely difficult (and rightfully so, since historically Germany wasn't unified until almost 60 years after the end of EU3). Most of the provinces that make up Germany are member-states of the Holy Roman Empire, so if you attack any of them, you'll likely face the Emperor and his huge armies; not only that, but because there are so many of them, and because you need to actually take ownership of the provinces, you'll rapidly build up a horrible reputation.
That said, I am already thinking about how to do it. I think the key would be to become the Emperor. In this game, I hated the way it was constantly plunging me into war, but with the goal of unification, I think it would actually be a benefit; instead of pursuing my own self-directed strategy to pick off opponents, I would wait until one member attacked another, then accept the call and join the war. I think I'd still get some bad reputation from annexing the aggressor, but at least I'd avoid the stability penalties, and so long as I waited a few years between wars the reputation shouldn't hurt too much. (Becoming the Papal Controller would help here, too.) I'm not sure yet which province it would make the most sense to play as. Mecklenburg would actually be pretty tempting again; they have a really excellent economy, and are fairly defensible. On the other hand, I'd be a bit interested to try playing as a landlocked minor province; that way I could eschew naval research altogether, and focus on building up my Land tech and economy.
One other game I'd like to play is a "race to the new world" type of game. I've had a lot of fun colonizing Asia and Oceania (other than the International Date Line bug), and it's been much easier thanks to having the land to myself, but I'd like to try colonizing America proper sometime. As I'm currently imagining it, I might try playing as Norway; they start with a settlement on Iceland, and from here it would be possible to explore, settle Greenland, and from there make landfall in Canada. If I can do this quickly enough, and pick the right National Ideas, I think I might have a shot at colonizing the Eastern seaboard prior to the other European powers coming within colonizing range, at which point I could expand inland at my leisure (perhaps leaving them the Caribbean to play with, depending on whether I have spare colonists).
I've also been interested to figure out other strategies that don't match what I'm doing, but would be successful in other circumstances. The best example of this may be the Free Trade / Mercantilism slider. As previously noted, I maxed out my Free Trade early on, and was kind of baffled as to why someone would want to pick Mercantilism. After all, even though it does help you dominate trade in your own CoTs, there will be far more other CoTs that you don't own, and it didn't seem worth trading in the money you would get from placing 5 merchants at every CoT in the world. Or so I thought, until I started competing in Muskogee. Great Britain had founded this CoT in North American after their colonies there had started to mature. It became the wealthiest CoT in the world; close behind was my own Ambon, which was the center for all my Asian and Pacific provinces. Now, in Ambon, I had just as much competitiveness as anywhere else; I could occasionally run a monopoly there, but for the most part I was content with just holding on to one quarter of the available wealth. In Muskogee, though, Britain fought fiercely to maintain their monopoly. They weren't content to just be in the monopoly position; they would keep dispatching additional merchants there.
Eventually, I figured it out. When you have a monopoly, and send a new merchant, it will compete out one of the other merchants; in other words, if you're in a monopoly, and there are 4 empty seats, and 10 nations with 1 merchant each, then your new merchant will compete against one of those 10. If you're playing as a full Mercantilist country with decent trading technology and bonuses, you'll probably outcompete him. Now, there will be 5 empty seats. So what? Well, instead of owning 50% of the trade, you now own 55%. And, if you're doing this in the wealthiest CoT in the world, and have high trade efficiency, that can be EXTREMELY lucrative.
To put it another way: if you could somehow get every seat in one CoT, that would be equivalent to getting 5 seats in 4 other CoTs of the same wealth. And, since Mercantilism gives a 40% compete bonus in your own CoT, versus the 20% from Free Trade in foreign CoTs, you may end up with a better chance at competing and keeping your position. Over the long run, then, you could end up with a lot more money, with less expense involved.
This strategy does have its risks, though. As I inadvertently discovered, all it takes is one country outcompeting you to seriously crimp this strategy. If you owned all the seats, and then lose your monopoly, your share of income is instantly cut in one quarter, from 100% to 25%. What's worse, though, is that until you reclaim your monopoly, there are now suddenly 14 free seats available for anyone to claim. Since your CoT is so wealthy, everyone will dispatch them, and may snatch them up before your own rescuing merchant can arrive. Then, it won't just be a matter of reclaiming the monopoly and driving out the usurper, but dispatching another 15 merchants to get rid of everyone else.
So, it's a high-stakes gambit, but one that would be fun to try for myself sometime.
Random thought: I really like the national missions, which give a nice focus to playing the game and offer some good but not balance-breaking rewards. However, every once in a while you'll get a mission which you just don't want to do - like to vassalize a friendly neighbor or to build an enormous and expensive army. The game does let you cancel a mission, but the price (5 prestige) feels too high, plus you can't cancel another mission for several years after. I think that the game should let you cancel a mission without penalty if you've already gone for, say, 50 years without accomplishing it.
Another random thought: the very last Idea I took was "Humanist Tolerance", and boy, what a stinker of an idea! I chose it almost at random, since I already had all the Ideas I actually wanted; my thinking was that, since Brunei was still Muslim, I could hopefully squeeze some extra happiness and revenue out of them. Well, the effect on that half-dozen provinces was marginal, but what was worse, after I picked the Idea I had to suffer a frequent parade of provinces abandoning the Reformed faith. Some became Protestant, some back to Catholic, and some Orthodox (!). That far outweighed whatever marginal benefits I might have received on Brunei; I'm never picking that Idea again.
Incidentally, this game's politics are really fascinating. Again, I'm used to a Civ-ish strategy game perspective, which tends to reflect the casually liberal view most often subscribed to here in America: multiculturalism is good, variety is good, plurality is good. That's good as a personal philosophy, but it's death in Europa Universalis 3. In Civ IV, for example, encouraging multiple religions in your city can let you build more cathedrals, expand your Cultural influence, etc. In EU3, there's no benefit to allowing any dissent from your official state religion. It only brings lower tax revenue, higher revolt risk, and more headaches. I'm very tempted to wonder if this reflects the different perspectives we get in polyglot America versus monocultural Sweden, home of Paradox Interactive.
Oh, yeah: the endgame. I was riding high after my last war against Russia, coasting on about 80 Prestige. Sadly, it didn't last; I entered a long period of peace, and without any warfare or Philosopher advisor, my prestige slumped, finally reaching a stasis of around 50 (thanks to Patron of the Arts and the Anti-Piracy Act). I was ranked #4 by the end of the game. The top two spots were occupied, bizarrely, by Corsica and Sardinia. I was never able to figure out just how they got all the prestige; they were never involved in any wars that I could see, they didn't have a Philosopher, and they only had one or two Royal Marriages. I guess they might have gotten some Prestige from cardinals (I couldn't see who was in the See after I left the church), but neither was ever the controller, so I kind of doubt it, and in any case that wouldn't explain how they got up to 80+. I suppose that they must have been fortunate with their missions. The third spot was held by France, which was more reasonable; in the last decade of the game, they had finally gone to war against Russia, thus pitting the world's two largest armies against one another, and doubtless providing ample opportunities for valorous combat. I like to convince myself that, since I was #1 for most of the game, I can still count myself as the winner, even if I lost the crown in the game's last few decades.
And with that, with little regret, it's time for me to clean out most of the 13GB of saved game files on my disk, and clear my mental space for the next round of gaming. Star Wars: The Old Republic beckons, and should I ever grow bored of that, I have the entire world of Deus Ex to tempt me. Not to mention the return to Fall from Heaven 2 that I've been dreaming of for years. The world of wonderful gaming need never end.