Friday, December 23, 2011

All That Is

"That Is All" is an excellent book, but really hard to write about. It's a funny book, but many of the most memorable parts come from a very dark and disturbing Cthulhu-inflected mythos. It doesn't really have a plot, except that it does. It includes long lists that tend to be amusing as snippets, and hilarious in aggregate.

The book follows the same general form as John Hodgman's two earlier compendiums of knowledge, "Areas of My Expertise" and "More Information than You Require." They tend to read a bit like almanacs, with a collection of short pieces offering advice, or relaying anecdotes, or categorizing certain items, or whatever. Where the first two books summarized all existing world knowledge, That Is All completes all world knowledge, by explaining everything that happens between now and the end of the world, which will happen on December 21st, 2012. (Arguably, it's actually over on the 20th, but technically Ragnorak itself happens on the 21st after the human race and most of the planet has been extinguished.) A lot of the book deals with the end times. Every single page has a section from "TODAY IN RAGNAROK", an Almanac-ish prediction of what will happen on that day. These are often short, just a sentence of two (Jonathan Franzen delivering a mysterious manilla envelope to a Hollywood celebrity, for example), but they often accumulate over multiple days and weeks into fairly epic stories; and, all the stories together create the horrifying, tragic picture of the world rushing towards annihilation.

The body of the book covers much more ground, including hilarious bits on foreign etiquette, ocean cruises, types of wine, and so on. However, it also includes an astonishing number of pages listed to enumerating the names of the Ancient and Unspeakable Ones. (This part is very reminiscent of the Hobo-focused lists of Areas of My Expertise, but way more disturbing, which remaining mostly funny.)

There's also a strong autobiographical slant to the book. As usual, much of what Hodgman writes about himself is fiction, but particularly at the beginning and the end, he reflects a great deal about the success that he's found in life (through the earlier books, his role on the Apple commercials, and stints as a character actor on TV shows), what parts of it have changed him, in what ways it's been transient or fleeting, etc.

This is a strange book, in keeping with the previous two, but definitely worth reading. You have a little under a year until the world ends, so if you'd like to give it a shot, now's the time!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


This is more of a mini-rant / unhelpful lecture than anything. I recently read an article in The New Yorker that was ultimately about the Eragon series of young-adult fantasy novels, but touched on fantasy in general and some of my favorite authors in particular. I'm always pleased when fantasy is taken seriously by the press, especially a publication like The New Yorker, but reading the article made me reflect on a few things. (The article is already several weeks old, so it will probably be disappearing behind a paywall soon.)

I'll jump to the good part first: I think that Adam Gopnik absolutely nails the appeal and value of fantasy to its most devoted fans. He comes to this realization organically: he initially notes that the writing in these books is often quite poor, and wonders why fans are so passionate about them. The answer, he explains, is that fantasy doesn't primarily offer a story: it primarily offers a world. Tolkien was the master at this, but almost all modern fantasy pays a great deal of attention to sketching out the details of its own private fictional world: the species, the cultures, the rules for magic, the history of kingdoms, wars, famines and booms. As I've repeatedly noted, this is one of my favorite thing in the world: when someone does such a good job at this, and manages to make a fully-realized world that feels believable and livable, which operates by its own internally coherent set of principles, where I can imagine hundreds of stories taking place in addition to the one I'm currently reading. I do find this in good fantasy books, but I can also find it in certain video games (currently thinking of Fallout, the GTA series, Grim Fandango), some science fiction novels and series, a few serialized TV dramas, and occasionally literary fiction.

Gopnik also presents an interesting theory for why certain people become fantasy fans. It's a bit of a stereotype, but imagine a teenage boy, who has known almost nothing but going to school, and has to prepare for a college career. Most of this boy's path to success will depend on him being able to absorb, memorize, and synthesize vast amounts of information: math, science, history, writing, etc. Gopnik's theory is that reading a fantasy novel is kind of a primer for this sort of education. People who are reading these books are exercising their brains: sure, the specific facts they're memorizing are completely useless, and knowing whether Cirion was a King or a Steward of Gondor won't get you anything, but by learning this stuff, people can gain confidence in their abilities and strive to do more. It becomes a virtuous circle: smart kids read fantasy books, and so get better at learning stuff, and so get smarter, and read more fantasy books.

It's a cool idea, and much more generous than I had thought Gopnik would be. I got to wondering how one would test the theory, and decided that a good check would be adult fantasy readers. My initial thought was, "Well, I've been out of school for almost a decade, and I still read and enjoy fantasy (if not as much as I used to), so that doesn't seem to explain why I like it." On the other hand, though, the way I came to fantasy could arguably be explained under Gopnik's theory, and once I developed a pleasure for it, it's natural that I would continue to carry it with me, even after the original "reason" had lost its purpose. (Perhaps in the same way that someone who started running to lose weight might continue running after they reached their ideal weight, not because they need to but because they've discovered a love for it.) Anyways, that got me to wondering, are almost ALL adult fantasy readers people who were once teenage fantasy readers? Or do some people get turned on to it later in life? I don't know the answer, but it would tell us a lot about Gopnik's idea.

Now, on to nitpicking:

Gopnik does a phenomenal job at laying out the evolution of English fantasy books, and particularly Tolkien's rightful place in its center. He avoids the blunder of thinking that Tolkien "invented" fantasy, pointing out his predecessors and inspiration; he correctly identifies the extremely derivative books that have filled the market since The Lord of the Rings appeared, including the particularly egregious Terry Brooks series The Sword of Shannara. (It's kind of amusing that one thing most authors copy is Tolkien's sense of decline, where the rich culture and proud accomplishments of the past have faded to an inferior remnant in the present. It's hard to think of a better metaphor for MOST of the fantasy of the 20th and 21st century.) However, I think Gopnik overstates the case: yes, a majority of fantasy simply copies Tolkien, but the most beloved series strike their own path. Gopnik mentions, but doesn't really examine, A Song of Ice and Fire, which has been representing on the best-seller lists even before the HBO adaption arrived; this series practically inverts Tolkien's formula, with a basis in history instead of legend and a strong sense that evil can, and often does, prevail. A comparison that I think would have been even more interesting for Gopnik's angle would be the Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson, which is unquestionably fantasy, unquestionably adult, and has some incredibly intense and un-Tolkien struggles with morality.

Speaking of morality - I keep flogging this horse, but I get so frustrated when people repeat the assertion that Tolkien's Middle-earth was a black-and-white world. It was even more frustrating in the Gopnik article, because he even bothers to call out and summarize The Simlarillion. I'm guessing that he hasn't actually read it, though, because it would be impossible to maintain that Tolkien was a moral absolutist after reading that book. Was Feanor a good guy or a bad guy? How could Aule be good if he disobeyed Eru? The Simarillion is filled with a range of characters that include the nearly-perfect (Beren is practically spotless), the purely evil (Ungoliant), and quite a few in the middle (prideful kings, vengeful warriors, jealous suitors). Heck, even if you only know The Lord of the Rings - and I'm sure it has several orders of magnitude more readers than any of Tolkien's histories - you still have some great examples of men trying, and occasionally failing, to be good. Boromir sought power for himself, and broke the Fellowship, yet died to save the others and is, in my mind, a hero, if a flawed one. Denethor has devoted his life to the struggle against Mordor, yet his well-intentioned actions have played into the hands of the enemy.

I think what confuses people is that Tolkien does include SOME moral absolutes in his book. Sauron is pure evil, without any hope for redemption inside him. Sauruman is not pure evil; he could have made different choices, and emerged as an admirable guardian instead of a threat. Eru, Elbereth, and Manwe are pure good. Gandalf is good, but not perfect; he makes mistakes and can be tempted. And men, of course, sit in the middle: some are better than others.

Okay, that aside, one other small thing that I feel like writing about:

Gopnik often uses the term "sword and sorcery" throughout the article. I can understand why he would want a synonym for "fantasy", just to make the article scan better and punch it up a little. Unfortunately, the use of this term isn't just wrong; it actually runs counter to the point he's trying to make. Within the genre of modern fantasy, almost all novels can be placed into one of two sub-genres: "High Fantasy" and "Sword & Sorcery." Pretty much everything that Gopnik describes in his article, particularly the centrality of world-creation over storytelling, belongs to the province of high fantasy. This is the sub-genre that directly descends from Tolkien; it always includes an original fictional world, and usually contains a subset of other qualities of The Lord of the Rings: a multi-character party of adventurers, a conflict between good and evil, a low-magic world, invented languages, non-human species, objects with magical properties. In contrast, sword & sorcery books are descended from Robert E. Howard, the American author who created Conan the Barbarian. Sword & sorcery books are sometimes set in original worlds, or sometimes in Earth's past, but the world itself is always purely scenery; it really only exists in order to provide a setting for the story. These books are all plot; Gopnik might still not care much for the writing, but they're totally focused on advancing the story, and almost never include the interludes you get in High Fantasy when a speaker pauses to expound on local history, flora, or the nearby ruins of an ancient fallen civilization. Most sword & sorcery books will include a subset of other qualities from Conan the Barbarian: strong focus on a single, heroic protagonist; personal quests (of revenge, conquest, or exploration) rather than the world-risking quests of high fantasy; love interests (which can appear in both, but are often omitted from high fantasy). Perhaps the most interesting contrast is the way each sub-genre views entropy and civilization. High fantasy often is set in a declining civilization; there's often a sense of melancholy, a belief that dissolution is inevitable but regrettable. In sword & sorcery books, though, civilization generally exists alongside barbarism (wastelands, jungles, or other regions with no kingdom established); not only that, civilization is often portrayed as decadent, corrupt, and sinister. Here, there's an active struggle between civilization and the uncivilized world, and you're often rooting against civilization.

Aaanyways... that doesn't have a single thing to do with Gopnik's article, but if he ever wants to expand it into a book or a later treatment (and despite my gripes, I do think that he may be on to something here, and could have valuable insight as an outsider examining this insular literary universe), he may want to just ditch the phrase "sword and sorcery" altogether, to keep nerds like me from getting in a lather.

Adieu, Adieu

I just realized that, what with 100% of my leisure attention being directed towards EU3, I completely neglected to mention my recent return to Susanna Clarke. Her book "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" is one of my favorite books of the past decade, and I've found that my appreciation of it has continued to grow since I finished it. Clarke has such an amazing voice within that book, at once innovative (it sounds unlike any other book published recently), and traditional (it sounds like a book you might have been assigned in an English Literature class). It's wonderfully highly elevated fantasy, and is one of the only books to combine my love of wholly constructed, self-realized worlds with my love of clever, elevated writing.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell stands alone, and I doubt that we'll see another book quite like it. However, Clarke has published another book, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, that should appeal to anyone who enjoyed that first one. It isn't a sequel, and isn't even really a novel; instead, it's a collection of short stories, all set in the same alternate world that she created for Strange & Norrell. Each individual story works quite well on its own, with well-drawn characters (I'm particularly fond of the newly appointed rector who must contend with a faerie relative and a bevy of eligible young ladies) and good plots (some meander, but do so entertainingly). However, I think the collection is absolutely brilliant when seen as a comment on English literature itself. I was originally going to write "satire", but that isn't quite right... Clarke has too much love for the subject matter to mock it. Each story, though, manages to perfectly capture the tone of a particular strain of English writing. One of the later stories is a kind of reinterpretation of Rumpelstiltskin, and is told in the first person in language that perfectly echoes that seen in The Canterbury Tales, down to the use of archaic terms. The aforementioned story about a young minister just perfectly nails Jane Austen, down to the dialog from each of the young ladies and the obsession with incomes and standing. Other stories read like traditional folktales; another is a morality tale; others are histories.

There is a limited bit of overlap with some of the characters from Strange & Norrell in at least one of the stories; what's even cooler, though, is getting to learn more about the incredibly rich backstory that Clarke created for that book. The most dramatic example of this is probably getting a first-hand glimpse at legendary characters like John Uskglass the Raven King, who looms large over the bigger novel; here, we just see a slice, and probably not a very representative one, but it's still thrilling to read. The book is a great treat, reminding me of what I loved about Strange & Norrell while making its world even larger, deeper, and more believable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Don't Meckle in Europe's Affairs

In response to universally absent demand, here's what I've been up to lately in my Europa Universalis game.

When we last left off, I was struggling with the decision of whether to remain focused on my trading empire, or to switch into a colonizing power. I eventually decided to do both: I would primarily rely on my trading supremacy to drive my economy; but since that would generate a lot more money than I could really use, I would invest my gains in building up a colonial empire in East Asia. The other big option would have been going to war, which I'd like to do in some game, but it doesn't sound all that appealing for a first game. My neighbors in Europe are easy to get to, but tend to either be dauntingly powerful (France, England), or else entangled in an elaborate web of alliances that would prove very difficult to extract myself from (the Holy Roman Empire states). I now think that it would have been interesting to wage war against another technologically inferior power, like one of the African states, but that will be a task for another time.

I had established my toehold on Indonesia while pursuing the East India Trading Company, and later I received a mission to conquer the sole remaining province of my opponent, which gave the reward of core control over the province. This is HUGE: it usually takes 50 years of consecutive control of a province before you get core; core ownership doesn't just give significant bonuses to your economy and military, but it also serves as another potential origin for your colonists. Now, instead of dispatching my settlers from Mecklenburg (aka Boondocks, Europe), I could send them out from the heart of the Asian archipelago.

I started sending out settlers to islands, both tiny one-province spots of land (most of which were either totally inhabited or had a mere 500 natives), or one of the larger multi-province islands like the main Philippines island. Over time, I gradually developed a strategy for my colonization. First of all, I decided to focus my expansion within Asia, but also to send colonists to grab islands in defensible positions that could be at risk of colonization from other European powers; for example, one of my first colonies was in Bourbon, an island just east of Madagascar, which was virtually depopulated and would be a tempting target for Portugal, which had recently taken control of Kongo's provinces. I wanted to focus on Asian territories because I was already developing a long-range plan: I would relocate my capital from Lubeck to Bali-Lombok, or another suitable island province. This would mean that, instead of having a tiny set of two European provinces which provide direct tax and production income, and a vast array of island colonies that only provide tariffs, I would instead have a vast Asian empire that gave me tax and production, and could include my European holdings along with other possessions in Africa and Oceania.

Incidentally, I had long since given up on becoming a presence in the Americans. I was actually pushing pretty hard for this for quite a while: I was investing as much into Naval as I was into Government and Trade, and taking the ideas and advisors to maximize my colonial range. Frustratingly, I would finally get within one sea zone of a province I wanted to colonize (Greenland, the Azores, Barbados), only to have Portugal, Castile, or England snatch it up shortly before I could reach it. It isn't all that surprising - Mecklenburg sits at the gateway to the Baltic Sea, and is very poorly positioned in the race for the New World - but it was still a bit of a bummer, given how far ahead of the others I was in naval tech. Anyways, by the time I could finally reach some available Canadian provinces, my western neighbors had already managed to colonize huge swaths of the new world: there was a bit of intermixing, but for the most part England held Canada, Castile controlled the former Indian lands of both North and Central American, and Portugal ran the defunct Incan empire and a few provinces in northeast Brazil. Not too far from what happened historically, really. Anyways, I disliked the idea of a prolonged land-grab against three aggressive neighbors, plus I feared the outcome of a military conflict. There are FAR more uncolonized provinces in the Americas than there are in Asia, but I'd have the Asian ones to myself for a while, plus I liked how defensible they seemed - yeah, they were scattered on multiple islands, but I was building up a good navy anyways to boost my tariffs and stave off pirates, plus I could fight decisive battles on small islands instead of the endless chasing you can get in continental wars. So, Asia it was.

Back to my strategy… running colonies is fairly expensive; each one costs you about 20 ducats a year in maintenance. At first I was only getting 1.1 colonists a year; I'm now receiving 2.2, thanks to eventually taking the Colonial Ventures National Idea and spontaneously receiving a new Center of Trade. Anyways, that isn't a whole lot. I'm totally swimming in dough now, but back when I started colonizing Asia, I actually had to pay attention to how much I was minting. So, it was in my interests to have as few colonies as possible - ideally just one - and send every colonist I received there until it matured into a self-supporting province.

For the small and peaceful islands, this was very straightforward. I soon learned, though, that it could be dangerous when there are aggressive natives around. Periodically they will rise up, and if there aren't any regiments in your province, they will slaughter some or all of your colonists. So, for any province with an aggression level of above 3, I would move regiments in there. At first I would do this prior to sending my first settler; however, you have far lower support limits at this point, so my regiments would suffer painful attrition while they waited for the colony to establish. Now, I will send a colonist in, then have my regiments arrive after they have successfully established the colony. Most times, especially when the natives are at Aggression 9, they will rise up and attack your army. I found that, when it's a small grow of natives (say, 500 or so), I'll usually have to slaughter them all. That's kind of a bummer, but it does mean that the Aggression drops to 0, which in turn results in much higher population growth and better success odds for subsequent colonists dispatched. When there were more natives around, I would often kill, oh, maybe a thousand or so of them. The remaining ones would hang around aggressively, and would OCCASIONALLY rise up again (this seems to sometimes happen in tandem with a failed colonization attempt, though I can't tell for sure whether it's coincidental or not), but still, I'd often be left with a few thousand natives by the time my own settlers reached a population of 1000. This is actually great, as the surviving natives are instantly assimilated into your province: they take your culture and your religion as well, which gives you a big boost out the gate as you build up your tax base. I think that there might be more provinces in the Americas that have fairly high populations and low aggressiveness, but at least in Asian islands, the two variables appear to be strongly correlated.

The colonial planting project was thus moving along at a nice clip - since I was focusing all my colonists on one colony at a time, I was expanding at a clip of a bit under three provinces per decade (depending on my growth rate within each colony). Once I had assembled significant holdings of perhaps a dozen provinces, a few of which were starting to get their own natural core status, I decided it was time to commence Operation Relocate My Capital.

This turned out to be a HUGE pain. I was expecting it to be challenging - moving your capital incurs the serious cost of 1000 ducats and a drop of four (!!!) stability points. Which was rough, but my treasury could support the price, and with time I could make up the stability. But, when I got ready to do the actual move, I was frustrated to see that it wouldn't let me do it. It turns out that there's an obscure rule regarding where you can move your capital. If you wish to move it to another province within the same continent, you can move it anywhere you want. But, if you want to move it to another continent, you have to be moving it FROM a province that isn't adjacent to any other provinces you control. So, for example, if your capital was on Crete you could relocate to Xiamen, but if your capital was in London, you'd be stuck in Europe.

According to online forums, the way some people get around this is to first move their capital to another province in Europe that they control and that isn't adjacent to any other controlled provinces (again, a one-province island, or just a random holding you have that's surrounded by other nations), and then move it again from there to your intended destination. That's CRAZY. You have to pay for all moves, and taking an eight-stability-point penalty just blows my mind. And, in my case, I didn't even have that option: I only owned two European provinces, Mecklenburg and Lubeck, and they're decidedly next to one another. So, what would I do?

I suppose you could make a strong argument that what I did was cheat. I'd argue that I proactively fixed a broken game design feature. I turns out that Europa Universalis save game files are AWESOME. They're all in plain text format, and each one contains everything about the game. EVERYTHING. The complete history of every single province, every single ruler, every single advisor, for all of the hundreds of nations and thousands of territories and hundreds of years of the game. Which explains why each save game file can be 20MB or bigger! I'll seriously need to delete my save game folder at some point now that I know this. But anyways, it's pretty great: all that you do is edit the file (I use vim, but you can use whatever you like), find the section that starts with "human=yes", then look under the "variables=" block for the capital. I switched from the old capital of Lubeck (which, it turns out, has umlauts, which was why I hadn't been able to find it by searching in the file), to the new province of Priangan. (Provinces are identified by number, with Priangan being 625 and Lubeck 45.) Then, it was simply a matter of loading the save game, and poof! I was where I wanted! I donated the money I would have spent to a random collection of Indian principalities. I ignored the stability debt. If I Paradox asked me, I'd say that the proper cost for a relocation would be 1000 ducats, 2 stability, and, say, 25 prestige.

Oh: Why Priangan? I'd initially planned on moving the capital to Mataram or Bali Lombock, which were my two most populous provinces in the region and thus could offer the most manpower, tax, etc. However, both of them were Sulawesi, and both of them were Catholic. By this point (more on religion below), I had converted to Reformed. I didn't necessarily mind the thought of my capital being in a heretical province, but I wasn't (and am not) certain how it would affect my further colonization: would new colonists take my national culture and religion, or would they take that of my capital? Priangan had been one of the oldest of my Asian colonies, and it shares an island with Mataram and another five or so of my first provinces. Because it had been colonized, it had the ideal culture and religion, so I wouldn't have to worry about how it would affect colonization. (Oh, by the way, Sulawesi had already become accepted by this point, so I wasn't worried about potential revolt risk, but I was concerned about sharing appropriate cultural flags with my European neighbors.) Anyways, once I figured out how to switch stuff over, it was very smooth.

With my capital in the right place, my income began seriously snowballing. For the first time in the whole game, sources of income other than trade became non-trivial. I had been used to trade easily accounting for 95% or more of my income; it's still high, but now is often responsible for "only" around 80% or so. Tax, production, and "toll" income all rolled in. With my newfound wealth, I even started to run serious surpluses for the first time in the game; before, it had been inconceivable to reach 1000 ducats without some dangerous minting. This effectively removed money as an obstacle in the game: I could colonize as much as I wanted, I could build whatever buildings tempted me, I could cut way back on my minting and get inflation under control. I also bought a couple of manufactories; these are huge buildings that take 5 years each to finish, but offer significant bonuses: a large annual income, direct investment in a specific technology, and even a boost in the population growth rate. Unfortunately, as I soon learned, the cost of manufactories grows higher the more you build; the first one or two were around 1000 ducats each, but by this point in my game, I'm paying close to 3000 for the ones I want most (Universities and Refineries).

Along the same lines, my acquisition of other Ideas further boosted my economy. The most important one was a Central Bank (I THINK that's what it's called), which provides an annual reduction in inflation of 0.1%. This let my inflation creep back down, and finally eventually reach 0, which has the effect of making everything - research, regiments, buildings, colonies - cheaper.

The biggest downside of running a bigger empire? I now need to actually think about stability. Back in my glory days, when I was the Holy Roman Empire and ran a mere 2 provinces, I would laugh as I embraced instability; it would only take a month or two for each level that I bounced back. In my most recent drops, it can take a decade for me to return from Stability 2 to 3. Granted, that's with 0 investment on my part; sometime I should run the numbers to figure out whether a quicker return to a higher tax income would offset the cost in diverting funds from my research.

I started writing this post around 1600; it's now around 1650, and I've largely accomplished my colonial goals. I've colonized every island in Asia, except for the Indonesian isle to my west which Castile has conquer. I've colonized virtually all of the uninhabited provinces in upper Asia (mainly Siberia); only two are left to colonize, and a few of the westernmost were settled by Persia, of all places. I also have colonized Australia (currently have full provinces on the eastern territories and a half-grown colony on the west), and almost all of the island of Oceania, with only the western part of Papua New Guinea remaining. I also colonized the four provinces in southern Africa, and the minor islands east of Africa, except for Madagascar.

The other Europeans have mostly left my sphere of influence alone. Portugal and Castile did engage in adventures out here; Portugal conquered Ceylon at one point, and Castile ran on ongoing war against Brunei, Makasar, and other southeast Asian powers until it had a full island and two provinces on the mainland, including the trade center Malakkar (sp). I've recently started taking my slider a few points towards Plutocracy, and so I have some Spies to play around with. That's been a lot of fun; they certainly aren't essential to the game, but open up some new play opportunities for people like me who have lots of funds and don't want to get directly involved in war. I funded a nationalist uprising in Ceylon; Portugal lost a province, then got it back, then eventually lost it again. They finally lost their toehold in Ceylon, which was great; at the time, I'd been concerned that once they got Core on the island, they might compete against me for other Asian territories I had my eye on. Now, the grateful Ceylonese are my loyal followers, and I'm happy to let them keep running their island. Castile has proven more difficult to dislodge; I tried the same trick, but they quickly annihilated the patriots who rose up. Since my control over Asia is now secure, I think I'll just live with having them on my doorstep; Castile is large and powerful, but unlike me they're spread quite thin, all over the world, so I don't think I need to be too concerned. I've also used my spies to snip nascent rival colonies in the bud: as I pushed farther west into Siberia, there were two provinces that Persia had awkwardly taken, which would give me a peculiar and hard-to-protect western border. Fortunately, the colonies were still fairly fresh, and for a mere 10 ducats, I convinced the natives to rise up against their overlords. Since there were no soldiers in the colonies, the natives wiped the colony out, leaving it free for me to take for myself. I've also tried the technique with mixed success against Aragon, which has become a late-game colonizer; for most of the game they were content to go on adventures in Italy and Asia Minor, but in the last few decades they're suddenly popping up in North America, the west coast of Africa, and even eastern China. I eliminated one of their African colonies through the native uprising; in another case, though, they had already killed off all the natives themselves, and so short of declaring was I won't be able to stop that colony from growing into a full Aragon province. Instead, I'm fortifying my adjacent provinces so I can buy time if they try and assault me. I'm a bit more concerned about their Chinese holdings, which border my interests in Siberia. I tried the patriot uprising here too, but they have a significant military in the area, and can put down my rebellion quickly. I think I'll hold off for now on taking any other action against Aragon; the nice thing about owning all of Siberia, including many core provinces and all of which is in my home continent now, is that in the even of a war I can follow the Russian strategy of continually falling back and letting them take land until I've gathered enough forces, and they're stretched thin enough, that I can spring back and destroy them.

Wow, that was an extremely long paragraph. Sorry.

Let's talk a little about religion, shall we?

EU3 has a really cool approach towards history. You can start a game at any date, and on the date you begin, the world will be historically accurate for that time period: countries will have their proper territories, the right rulers, historically appropriate advisors, and so on. From that moment on, everything evolves kind of randomly, but also guided appropriately. One of the best examples of this might be the Reformation. If you start a game after the historic Reformation, then it will have happened in the time and place that it did in our world. If you start the game before the Reformation, then it will EVENTUALLY happen, but you can't know exactly when, where, or how. It will occur sometime after 1500; it will happen in a country that employs a theologian (not necessarily Martin Luther); it's more likely to happen in a Germanic or English country, and less likely to happen in an Iberian or Italian country. Once it begins, that province will turn Protestant, and for the next few decades, it will spontaneously spread to other provinces. It's more likely to spread in nations that are Innovative and have Free Subjects, and less likely in places that are Narrowminded. I think that National Ideas can affect it as well - if you're Catholic and follow Unam Sanctum, Protestantism will almost never spread to your territory; meanwhile, I think things like Ecumenalism may help it spread more quickly.

So, is the Reformation good or bad? Well, above anything else, it's highly disruptive. I was expecting this, yet still surprised by the severity of the impact it had on Europe. It causes a great deal of internal strife, as countries must suddenly deal with the heightened revolt risk that comes along with heretical beliefs. In some cases, these boil over into actual rebellious armies, who don't just attack in their host province but can go on rampages throughout multiple countries. The Reformation also greatly harms international relations; the mutual admiration brought on by closeness in the Catholic faith grows weaker, and the various splinters within Christianity sets up increasingly sour relationships.

Over time, these tensions ease; by the 1600s, and especially now in the 1650s, most countries have worked through their issues. Most nations will eventually send missionaries to re-convert any provinces that have strayed from the faith. In my game, Europe settled as a strongly Catholic region; Great Britain and Castile had many colonies in the New World that were Protestant or Reformed, and a couple in mainland Europe also followed those faiths, but only Holland and perhaps two or three Germanic nations actually converted their faith.

As for myself, it ended up being a much more challenging question than I had assumed. As I was reading up on the rules before getting into this game, I had assumed that I would convert to Protestantism or Reformed; partly because they offer some nice efficiency bonuses, but mostly because of my own personal preferences. When the actual time came, though, I found myself as distressed as much of the other leaders. When the Protestant Reformation began, two of my Indonesian holdings, Bali-Lombok and Mataram, converted. However, I still had about eight provinces that were Catholic, including my two mainland European ones. Converting would leave me with a huge conversion chore, for very little benefit: un-accepted faiths would translate to lower producers, potentially offsetting the production bonus for Protestantism. Plus, I'd grown accustomed to the perks of Catholicism. Only Catholics can gain cardinals in the Holy See and become the Curia Controller. The main gameplay benefit of becoming the Controller is being able to excommunicate other rulers, which I never had any use for; however, it also confers a nice annual prestige bonus, which I did appreciate. The more I thought about it, the more I worried about the effect of taking on the change… would all of Europe's faithful turn against me? Would I be forced into war?

I waited a bit longer, and was glad I did. The Reformed movement started next, and quickly spread to Lubeck and Mecklenburg. I was pretty happy with this - as trade accounts for the most vast portion of my income, and I've gotten in the habit of taking every advantage which can boost it, it felt natural to follow that path. As a nice bonus, quite a few of my Indonesian provinces spontaneously converted to the Reformed faith in the next couple of years. I was running short on Missionaries, so that was greatly appreciated; my Innovative slider was killing my missionary allotment, and I was too reluctant to take the Religious Decisions that could have goosed this amount. Best of all, since I had converted before I embarked on my most wide-ranging form of colonization (switching from one-province-at-a-time to as-many-provinces-as-possible), I was able to plant the vast majority of my colonies as Reformed, and so my empire's size skyrocketed with the "correct" culture and religious settings.

The Counter-Reformation started pretty soon after I adopted the Reformed faith, which I think might be part of the reason why this version of history stayed so Catholic. Although some of my provinces converted from Catholic to Reformed on their own, I never had any province switch back to Catholic, and nobody converted to Protestantism after I switched religions. I'm not sure if that's always the case or not, but it SEEMS to be historically accurate… that's not my best period of history, but I have trouble thinking of examples of European countries which saw big swings from Protestantism back to Catholicism in the absence of a ruling elite that encouraged such a move.

Phew… well, I guess that's [more than] enough for this post. I'm still having fun, but it seems like I'm facing the same problem at the end of my previous post: I feel like I'm in a commanding position in the game, but without a way to actually "win", I'm a bit unsure what I should work towards. Previously, I had "won" the game of trading; now, I've "won" my self-declared game of colonizing Asia and Oceania. And where do I go from here? I don't really relish the idea of suddenly becoming a warmonger after 250 years of mostly peace; I don't want to get involved in the polyglot New World; and, other than that, all I really need to do is periodically adjust my sliders and continue raking in the dough. I might continue my recent experiments with Spies to wage cold wars against my rivals; or maybe I'll try to race to the end of the Government and Trade tech trees as early as I can. We'll see where this world takes us!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


"The Counterlife" is an awesome name for a great book. It continues my erratic wandering through Philip Roth's canon. It hasn't exactly been reverse-chronological, though my overall direction has, of necessity, been backwards. I started with "American Pastoral" in college, which remains not only my favorite Roth book but probably one of my favorite books, period. Since then I've gone through "I Married a Communist", "The Plot Against America," and now, The Counterlife.

Oh, yeah, before I get into Counterlife, I should report briefly on the Roth book that I DIDN'T read. At one point I decided to start reading Roth in chronological order. Not exhaustively, but I wanted to pick, say, his Zuckerman books, and actually read them in the order they were published. I decided to start with his first famous book, "Portnoy's Complaint." Well. I lasted for all of, um, maybe twenty pages, before I gave up and returned the book to the library. I tend not to think of myself as much of a prude, but that book really managed to get under my skin. I think it has much more to do with Roth's brilliant/terrifyingly-gripping use of language, and the insistent voice that the first-person narrator uses, which makes it seem much filthier than it actually is. I mean, I read all of Murakami's books, which have WAY more disturbing sex scenes, but those are conveyed in such a detached, dreamlike fashion that it's easy for me to ignore them. It was impossible for me to ignore Portnoy, and I couldn't imagine putting up with that throughout the whole book, so I gave up. I dunno… I may try again at some point, when I'm more worldly-wise and cynical.

Anyways, the reason I think of this now is that The Counterlife is one of the Zuckerman novels, and it feels much more like a "real" Zuckerman novel to me than the others I've read have. Nathaniel Zuckerman is Roth's alter-ego, a Jewish-American novelist from New Jersey who narrates and appears in many of his books. American Pastoral was technically a Zuckerman novel, but Nathan was hardly in it; he appears in the early pages, describing his childhood with the Swede, and then simply narrates the remainder of the story, disappearing from the action entirely. The Counterlife, in comparison, is almost entirely about Zuckerman. Usually he's on the page, and when he isn't the characters are usually thinking about him. Roth has a great sense of humor about this situation, and he plays around a lot with the author-as-character idea, and much of the book is about writing fiction and fiction's relationship to real life. The in-book equivalent of Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" is Zuckerman's fictional novel "Carnovsky", which does a great job of evoking the same feel as the real book's title. As far as I can tell, Carnovsky's role in Zuckerman's universe is very similar to Portnoy's in ours: it's a shocking, filthy, widely respected book that catapulted its author into literary stardom, and secured him a position as a professional writer. Given this equivalent, it's also tempting and easy to imagine that the other effects of Carnovsky also occurred for Portnoy's Complaint. Zuckerman wrote Carnovsky roughly based on his own childhood; the family in that book is recognizable as his own real-life family, and many (but not all) incidents in that book "really happened." This causes a large rift between Nathan and the other Zuckermans: his parents feel betrayed, and die afterwards of illness without ever having been reconciled. Zuckerman's brother, Henry, also becomes estranged, and they go for many years without speaking to one another. Henry is upset at the way Nathan has betrayed their family's privacy, but he's almost equally as upset that Nathan didn't even faithfully betray it. Nathan uses his family as characters, twisting their actions, putting words in their mouths, in order to serve his literary purposes. This makes people assume that the fictional Carnovsky family's traits are shared by the "real" Zuckerman family, making them seem grotesque.

Anyways… that's almost just background for this book. The plot itself is pretty intriguing, but I should address that under the heading of


The plot of the story: Two grown brothers, who have spent years without speaking to one another, re-enter a fraught relationship. One of the brothers has developed a heart ailment; this is easily treatable by drugs, but a side-effect of the drug leaves him impotent and unable to please his lover. He becomes obsessed with the idea of undergoing a slightly risky surgical procedure to fix his heart; everyone, including his lover, opposes this idea, but he decides to go through with it, and something drastic happens after the surgery.

That's the plot. What's cool, though, is that the details are changed and repeated throughout the story. At first, Henry is the brother with the heart problem, and he dies after the operation. Then, he survives the operation, but becomes extremely depressed, and leaves his wife and lover behind when he travels to Israel to join a militant Jewish settlement. In some of these stories, Nathan lives nearby in New York; in others, he lives in England with an English wife. Then, in the later stories, Nathan is the one suffering from impotence and contemplating surgery. Nathan dies, but leaves behind stories in which he survives, and which imagine his future life with his new wife.

It took a while for me to get what was happening. There are only… I think five named chapters in the whole book, and they often go for a long time between section breaks. Sometimes a section break continues the story, sometimes it switches to a parallel track, and sometimes it takes you into another universe. Anyways, I was a bit confused after the part that ended with Henry's funeral and Nathan's conversation with Carol, when the next part began with Henry having fled to Israel. I had initially thought that Roth was opening up the chronology of the story: where we, as readers, had assumed that the funeral took place very shortly after the surgery, we were now reading about a long coda within Henry's life, between his choice and his death. That would have been a cool approach, and I think it sort of works - it's harder to buy Nathan's changes in situation, but you can imagine the people at the funeral being upset about Henry's operation, not because (as we assume) he dies on the table, but because it snaps something in his mind that makes him go on a years-long jag that ends in his death.

Anyways… that's not what happens, which I eventually figured out. We keep getting multiple perspectives and multiple realities; in one really nice bit, there's a long and surprisingly intense account of Nathan's flight from Tel Aviv airport back to London, where a would-be hijacker tries to enlist him in his plot and they both are roughly interrogated; later, we learn that the flight back to London was uneventful, and Nathan had kept busy by writing the story we just read.

I love the title "The Counterlife," and I love how Roth uses that as his operating framework for the novel. A counterlife is still your life, but a fundamentally differently imagined one: a life where you married someone else, where you made a different crucial decision, where you switched roles with someone else. Each individual life is very richly explored and detailed, and whenever we switch to a new counterlife, we come into the new life with an accumulated understanding of the person and their situation which makes the story even richer.

The book gets extremely "meta" towards the end. After Nathan dies, Henry goes through his papers, where he discovers drafts of the book Nathan has been working on. That book is the one we've been reading: it starts with Basel, which is about Henry's affairs with Wendy (his dental assistant) and other women, and his relationship with Carol and his drive to have the surgery. Within "The Counterlife," Henry is incensed; Nathan has taken HIS problem of impotence and projected it onto Henry, reversing their positions. Henry's greatest complaint, though, is fundamental to Nathan's provision: he's an author. Henry's interior monologue seethes and rages at the way Nathan always had to be on top, and wasn't just content with being the best, but felt the need to control others, putting words into their mouths and thoughts in their head inside his books. It's a view of author-as-tyrannical-God that's pretty fascinating.

Once this perspective gets opened up, Roth continues running with this theme through the remainder of the book. In the next section, which picks up the previous storyline by having Nathan return from Israel and reunite with his (fourth) wife, Maria, we learn that Nathan has died, and Maria describes her own experience of going through Nathan's papers; it's yet another counterlife, Maria and Henry, who never "met" in any of these worlds but whose roles reflect one another. Maria also comments on the various stories that we've already read; intriguingly, she also reacts to a story that we haven't yet read, entitled "Christendom," describing which parts of this story were accurate, which were embellished, and how reading that story makes her feel about her relationship with Nathan. "Christendom" ends up being the final chapter in "The Counterlife," and it's a cool shift to now be reading a story after hearing an outsider's gloss, rather than matching a gloss against a story we've already read. "Christendom" ends up being the trickiest and most meta of the stories. In "The Counterlife," none of the stories are finally "real", but form a sort of Ouroboros, each springing from some other story, each writing another story. Characters throughout this book have worried about BEING characters within Nathan's stories, and it seems as though Maria may have suffered this fate. She ultimately rebels against it (and Roth has a nice hat-tip to the literary tradition of characters turning against authors - I thought of Muriel Spark here, though I'm sure there are other examples), leaving Nathan the final task of arguing with a woman who may be his creation, may be his salvation, may be more real than him.

A few other thoughts:

Wow, Roth (and I suppose Nathan) is a master of honoring individuals' perspectives. There aren't straw men anywhere in his book, which is filled with passionate debate between opinionated individuals. He lets a character go on for pages and pages, building a highly persuasive argument, to the point where you're convinced that this is what Roth intends us to believe; then he lets Nathan or someone else respond, just as eloquently and as long. The authorial weight ends up supporting Nathan's perspectives, but by the end of the book I felt like this was Nathan's authorial weight, not Roth's. The book seems to support the idea that Nathan is kind of a bully, who gets to give himself the final word, even if along the way he tries to craft his opponents as carefully and widely as possible.

To give one specific example: during Nathan's trip to Israel, Mordecai Lippman comes across as a villain, and one of the biggest examples of this is his sneering disdain for Western niceties such as treaties and human rights. To Lippman, all that matters is strength, force, the ability of one group to exert their desires over another group. To Nathan, this is anathema, and one of the most morally dangerous aspects of Henry's association with the group. Much later on, the last few pages of the book deal with the future of Nathan's and Maria's potential, presumed son. Nathan has an interior, and then an exterior, diatribe against the christening of his son; he's horrified at the thought of doing it, and calls out and then browbeats Maria into acknowledging that this superstitious, religious ritual has no place on their son. Then, in the next stage, Maria responds with her own nascent fear: that Nathan will insist on circumcision for their son. Now, from a purely humanistic, secular, disinterested standpoint, there is almost no difference between christening and circumcision. If anything, as Maria gently notes, circumcision is the worse of the two: it's a traumatic pain inflicted on a young child. Nathan isn't religious, so will he be satisfied to spare his child this ritual? The book's last page has Nathan's response: no, absolutely not; as much as he wants Maria back, he will insist on their child being circumcised. He can't even muster a very persuasive argument, arguing that the pain is itself important, a crucial waking-up of the child to the cruelties of the world and the necessity of retreating into your own people-group. Nathan the author is explicitly giving himself the last word in the novel; however, I think that Roth the author expects us to draw the parallel between Nathan and Lippman. Nathan, for all his sophistication, intelligence, and charm, is as much of a bully as Lippman is, and has no more moral justification for what he does. He wants his family's traditions to continue, and not those of his wife's family, because… well, because he's more powerful (richer, older, smarter), and can get away with it.

As with… well, pretty much all Roth books that I've read, Jewishness in general and the American-Jewish identity in particular are important themes to the book. I think it's more central here than anything else I've read; not necessarily throughout the whole book, but certainly the middle chapters in Israel are almost entirely preoccupied with these questions of race, culture, identity, and politics; and even the sections that aren't explicitly about Jewish identity are still mostly about Nathan, and as we learn throughout the book, Nathan has been certainly shaped by his experiences. Most of the book paints a positive picture of American assimilation and the opportunities for Jewish people in this country, which has largely escaped the deeply ingrained anti-semitism of Europe. As Nathan points out towards the end, though, he tends to be in a contrary position no matter where he goes: in Israel, surrounded by Jews, he defends the goyim and downplays the importance of Jewish identity; in England, surrounded by bigots, he passionately argues for a visible and strong Jewish identity. I'm not sure exactly what Roth's main point is, if he has one, but it's a very powerful one. Not for the first time, I find myself kind of wishing that I knew what it felt like to grow up Jewish in a majority-Christian culture; I'm guessing that someone with that background would have a more deeply emotional connection with the themes that Roth likes to use in his books.


I have absolutely no regrets about reading American Pastoral, and think it's still my favorite, but I do think that The Counterlife is at LEAST as tempting of a book to use in a college-level English Lit class. There are just so many directions you can go with it, it's such a great (and un-annoying) example of post-modernist literature, so many various themes (political, cultural, personal, relational, familial) that could be plumbed for paper topics… not to mention that it's a fairly easy read (not too light, but not needlessly ornate either), sectioned well to fit into a syllabus. It isn't something like Ulsysses, which I don't think I could have read outside of a class, but I think this good book could get even better with the guidance and discussion of a focused class.

Hmmm, that's a fun experiment… in the unbelievably tiny chance that I ever do teach a college English lit class, what would I want to teach in it? That might be a good topic for a future blog post!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mecklenburger with Extra Cheese

There are many things to fear in the world today. Nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue states. Encountering a serious medical illness without any insurance. The collapse of the global financial system. Personally, though, I'm terrified of what will happen to my life now that I've discovered that I can install games on my laptop and play it in bed.

Due to reasons too complex to get into at the moment, I've had to temporarily box up my PC, which used to be a combination dual-boot Linux/Windows box for Programming/Gaming respectively, but since moving over to a MacBook Pro for my development, it's pretty much just been a dedicated PC gaming system. I'm really bummed to have put it away, because I'd finally gotten started on the Mass Effect trilogy - yes, I decided to extend my incredibly fun play-through of Baldur's Gate into my first experience with Bioware's other phenomenal RPG series, and am vaguely hoping to finish the second game at the exact same time that the third entry arrives in 2012.

Be that as it may: I'm a geek, I need games. Fortunately, I have an old black MacBook that isn't getting used, so I decided to repurpose it as my stopgap gaming solution. I installed Steam on it, and started clicking around. I had vaguely thought that I might finally get around to checking out those fun Sam & Max games, but good lord, they're still expensive! Well, I guess not too expensive compared to shrink-wrapped AAA titles, but still, I'm pretty sure they cost as much as they did when I played the demo four years ago. I kept looking. The Steam offerings for Mac are much more limited than for PC, but a few titles are available cross-platform. I was briefly tempted by Civ V, which has seen a pretty nice price cut, but eventually decided that a price cut for a sub-par game still isn't that great a deal. I'll be sticking with my original plan for Civ V, and wait for the inevitable "Ultimate" version, which will include all the DLC stuff and hopefully fix all the things that apparently make it not fun. (And, if we're really lucky, maybe even have an ending of some sort!)

My browsing eventually led me to Europa Universalis III, which triggered some dim recognition. It's one of those things where I've heard about the series for a while, without ever being too clear about exactly what it is. I read a few brief summaries, saw some positive reviews, double-checked the cost, and bought it. I got the "Complete" version, which, amusingly enough, includes only two of the four expansions: it has Napoleon's Ambition and In Nomine, but not Heir to the Throne or Divine Wind. Which is totally fine by me - as a complete neophyte to the series, I was happy approaching a (slightly) smaller body of work.

EU3 belongs to a tradition of computer strategy games that... I guess I might call them something like "Historic simulation strategy games". The first game of this sort that I remember playing was Castles 2 for DOS. Interestingly enough, the original Castles does not belong to this sub-genre; it was more like Sim Castle combined with a primitive tower defense game and extremely enjoyable choose-your-own-adventure plotlines. Castles 2, though, was played in western Europe, specifically France and the northeastern portions of Spain. The map was divided into provinces, each of which was owned by a particular faction. Most of these factions were competing against one another for supremacy over France, but there was also a separate (non-playable) faction for the Church, who everyone had to be nice to. Anyways, in the game you would start off with a single province, and over time you would discover your neighbors; make friends with some and allies with others; attack and try to capture other provinces; build castles to defend your own against enemies; raise armies; and kiss up to the Pope so he will crown you the King. I think it also had some stuff with money and taxes and things.

Well, EU3 is basically that same style of gameplay, but much more refined, with much better graphics (though still chunky by today's standards), and applied to a broader span of history and geography. In between Castles 2 and EU3, I would place the "Total War" series of games as well; I haven't played those as much, but they seem to fit into the same general mold of historically-flavored games that let you lead a country's military and diplomacy in a quest for sovereignty.

Now, if you're like me, you're thinking, "Wait, so isn't this like Civilization?" I'd say that Civ is the most abstracted manifestation of this type. Civ games are incredibly broad and incredibly generic: you can play them on any map, not necessarily Earth; they contain the entire span of human existence, from the Stone Age through the nuclear age; and they cover an incredible range of inner gameplay components, not just armies and spies but also scientific research, spacecraft construction, etc. Historical simulation games trade in some of that generic quality in order to get more detail: instead of the world being a map of squares (or hexes), it's a, well, map, with different countries of different sizes, with realistic borders drawn between them. The games don't need to include spearmen or mechanized infantry; instead, they can accurately portray the progressive improvements offered by halberds, longbows, muskets, and rifles. A game like Civ will either omit religion altogether or treat it fairly generically; here, there's a specific game just around Catholicism, which includes influencing cardinals to gain control of the Curia, excommunicating rivals, calling crusades, and counter-reforming Protestantism. So, they're different beasts, and while in the past I've tended to prefer Civ's endless variability, in this game I found myself deeply enjoying the detailed world offered.

That said, EU3 has much more in common with Civ than other historical simulation games I've played. Specifically, it includes a technology investment and advancement path. Unlike Civ, you don't research specific discoveries like "The Wheel" and "Metallurgy". Instead, you divide your investment into multiple general areas: Trade, Government, Production, Naval, and Land. Unlike Civ, where at any given time you're researching one technology to the exclusion of everything else, in EU3 you are generally advancing at about the same pace around each of these lines; although you can certainly adjust your priorities to focus more on a subset of technologies, which means you'll advance in them relatively more quickly, but it's nearly impossible to actually cease research in one field. So usually, you'll be operating at a certain tech level, then will advance in a bunch of different fields around the same time, then operate at that new level for a while level.

The benefits of advancement are a mixture of specific additions, as in Civ, and incremental improvements. The specific additions might be unlocking a new form of government; gaining the ability to recruit a new type of regiment or build a new type of ship; being able to form monopolies in centers of trade; etc. These big additions are usually spaced several levels apart, so you'll need to research a technology multiple times before you start seeing significant differences. In the meantime, though, almost every level you advance gives you an incremental improvement, which seems minor at each level but becomes very significant cumulatively. For example, every level of Trade you learn boosts your trade efficiency/income; new levels of Naval will often increase your colonization range and boost your navies' morale, and so on. Sometimes, as with Government, you might need to take a level that doesn't provide any direct benefit, but is still a necessary step to reach the more important benefits at higher levels.

Man... I could spend hours writing about the mechanics of the game, which are fascinating and complex. I'll try to hold off. There's definitely a pretty steep learning curve. I started out by playing the tutorials, which was kind of a mixed bag. The first set of tutorials are more like an on-screen manual, with nice long expository descriptions of the various interfaces, but not a lot of interactivity.

Next come the tutorial missions. One tutorial has you play as Portugal, and has a good set of well-described progressive goals you need to undertake: basically you need to colonize the Azores, then recruit an Explorer, then send a ship westward to discover Cuba, then build colonies on Cuba. Now, the exploration/colonization game is just one small and largely optional sub-game within EU3, but the tutorial did a really good job of giving you hands-on experience with this task. The other tutorial, though, was just totally flubbed. You're playing one of the minor landlocked Germanic kingdoms, and your very first task is to move an army into an adjacent province. However, it's impossible to select the army to move. After spending several embarrassing minutes wondering what I was doing wrong, I finally started googling, and learned that Paradox had accidentally broken the tutorial when they updated the European map for the expansion - basically, they had created a new independent kingdom, but the tutorial was still set up to use the old kingdom, which now no longer controls the territory with the unit you're supposed to move. I know, it's silly - they should have just removed the tutorial altogether.

After this, I cracked open the PDF copy of the manual. It's a nice, old-fashioned strategy game manual, about 150 pages long and including detailed explanations of the game mechanics, nice big charts filled with data, and some good strategy tips. The manual was actually more helpful to me than the tutorials had been, and also gave some good advice on the overall philosophy and attitude I should take towards the game: there really isn't a way to "beat" EU3, like there are victory conditions in Civ, so they say that most players will set personal goals for themselves for each game. I totally get, and love, this approach. One of my (many, many) favorite Civ experiences was playing the Civ 2 WW2 scenario as Francisco Franco's Spain. It's totally impossible for Spain to "win" this scenario, but it's really fun to play around in that historical period as a minor power and try to come out of it more strongly than they actually did. I also learned while reading the manual that, unlike Civ and most other strategy games, it's nearly impossible to conquer or annihilate an opponent. As with history, there are plenty of wars, and often winners and losers, but very rarely does a loser get swallowed up by a winner; instead, losers generally need to pay some sort of reparations, and perhaps surrender some territories, but will continue to exist in a diminished form. It's basically impossible, therefore, to "conquer the world," so you need to come up with your own yardstick for success: perhaps to become the world's wealthiest nation, or the first to colonize America, or to completely control the East Indies, or whatever. (Personally, I think I'd like to someday play a game as Byzantium in 1399, and simply try to survive into the 16th century.)

While I did generally love the manual, I was disappointed later to learn that Steam was being stingy with the manuals. The two expansions in the Complete game don't just add content, but actually revamp many of the game's rules, as well as significantly rework the technology tree. This actually caused significant problems in my main game (which I'll get to in a bit), specifically because the way they handle the Holy Roman Empire changed quite a bit, and I wasted a lot of time pursuing the emperorship when it actually was a very poor match for the type of game I was planning on playing. I was able to find a PDF manual for In Nomine later online, but it only describes the changes specific to that expansion, and I still haven't been able to find a manual for Napoleon's Addition. It's perplexing that Steam doesn't just have all three manuals in the store.

So, on to the game!

As is generally the case when I'm playing a brand-new strategy game, I tried a couple of games first, going as far as I could and learning the ropes and then stopping once I'd played myself into a corner. I had an idea that I wanted to play as a small trading-focused nation. This is actually an excellent suggestion from the manual directed at new players; they recommend your first game to avoid combat as much as possible, even if it means paying tribute to larger and meaner countries, and to focus on the game's economic systems at first; after getting comfortable with those, they recommend trying out one or two minor wars against weaker countries, and waiting until future games to get involved in major wars. So, based on my vague recollections of European history, I figured that the Netherlands would be a good country to play as.

In one of the many differences from Civ, EU3 does not start with all the nations at the beginning of the game. The first thing you need to do is choose a starting year to play, and then to pick a country that existed at that time. This means that you can't play as the Netherlands in 1399, and you can't play as Byzantium in 1650. Now, the Netherlands came into existence during the Eighty Years' War, which started in 1568, when the Dutch tried to become independent from Spain. I was reluctant to play as the Netherlands during this time, since I didn't want to fight a war right off the bat. Instead, I decided to start in 1650, shortly after the end of that war. However, I soon learned that, while the Netherlands were no longer at war with Spain, they were now at war with Portugal. Furthermore, I realized that the Netherlands had already established significant colonial interests in the New World (including Manhattan!), extending all the way down to the northern coast of South America. Portugal, of course, had significant interests in the same region, particularly massive holdings in Brazil. It looked like I'd have to defend a disparate empire across northern and southern hemispheres, and both in Europe and the New World. Ugh. That might be fun, but not for a beginner.

I decided that I wanted to start in a simpler era, before the New World was found, with a nation at peace with everyone. I went to the earliest possible year, 1399, and started checking my options. The game gives a nice high-level overview of each nation you select, which doesn't just include the nations they're allied with and at war with, but also a summary of their relative military, economic, and diplomatic might, and a representation of how easy or hard it should be to play as that country. The pre-set "bookmarks" on the left side of the screen give you the interesting dates to start playing, and also a set of the interesting nations during that period. After looking through that list, I settled on England, who was bigger than I had planned on playing but who was at peace with everyone and seemed to be fairly well off.

I played as England for several decades, and had a great time - I learned a lot, though I certainly didn't do very well. One of the interesting things that EU3 added to the game was the idea of a national goal. At any given time, your country might have a general goal, like "Improve our army" or "Increase our wealth." However, they can also assign historical goals that are appropriate for your nation and time. The goals are optional, and there's no penalty to ignoring them, but the game gives you extra bonuses if you achieve the goal: for example, building your treasury up to 100 ducats might give a bonus of another 10 ducats, and becoming the controller of the Curia might give you 5 prestige points. Anyways, as England, my goal was to conquer Ireland.

Now, militarily, this didn't seem too hard. I had a nice big navy to move around my troops, and certainly outnumbered the few Irish armies on the island. However, in practice, this proved to be extremely difficult. In EU3, unlike Civ, declaring war is surprisingly hard. The game strongly encourages you to declare a "Casus Belli", a justification for your war, before you start fighting. Valid casus belli can include things like attacks on your allies, or reclaiming a province that your nation previously owned. In the case of Ireland, though, I didn't really have a good excuse for starting a war. The Irish were independent, they were at peace with me and the rest of the world, and we didn't really have alliances that would draw us into conflict. I technically still could have unilaterally declared war; but between the lack of a casus belli, and the fact that we were both Catholic, and that I was the aggressor, would have destroyed Henry IV's reputation, and plunged England into a period of deep instability. To make matters worse, I had to conquer ALL of Ireland, which I think was something like four other provinces besides the one I already controlled, and they were controlled by three or four separate clans (Munster, Ulster, etc.), which meant that eventually I'd need to declare war on all three or four of them, taking an enormous diplomatic hit for each. Yikes.

I decided to focus on Ulster, and spent years sending diplomats there specifically to insult them. This lowered our relationship down, eventually hitting the minimum of -200. It also gave Ulster a casus belli against ME, meaning that they could declare war on me even though I couldn't declare war against them, but they refused to take the bait. Which makes sense - they could probably see the regiments I had massed in Belfast, staring hungrily at their lone defender. So, they gritted their teeth, and smiled, and kept the peace.

While I was busy pulling faces at Ireland, Charles VI of France was on a rampage. He rapidly gained control of the Papacy, began excommunicating his rivals, and sending his armies on the march. Before too long, I found myself at war with him. This was another entanglement thing: I had ownership of a few provinces in France, not just the Normandy that I expected, but also one or two provinces on the southern Atlantic coast. A minor kingdom had a claim to one of those provinces, so it declared war on me; and, since he was allied to France and Scotland, I soon found myself at war with both of them.

I decided to write off those two southern provinces, which I actually hadn't realized I owned until they were already under siege. Instead, I moved to take Brittany, then consolidated my forces for a massive assault on Scotland. I wanted to create a united island, a Great Britain if you will, and after seeing how hard it was to declare war on Ireland, I decided I needed to take advantage of this opportunity to defeat Scotland.

So, that's how I got exposed to the combat of EU3. It's really interesting, quite different from fighting in Civ or other strategy games I've played. For starters, combat takes a long and variable amount of time. Occasionally a battle might be over in a few days, if a powerful army is pummeling a demoralized opponent, but it isn't at all unusual for a major battle to stretch over multiple months. Each side of the fight is composed of multiple regiments of infantry and cavalry (and, in the future, artillery), and each can be led by a general or conquistador. Leadership can confer some extremely critical advantages to the battle, and oftentimes a small, disciplined fighting force will win a battle against a much larger but poorly led enemy.

Fighting itself happens automatically; you can watch a window that visualizes the progress of the battle, but unlike games such as Total War, you don't take any direct control of the battlefield. There are two main variables to keep track of during the fight. The one you would think is most important is the size of each army. As the battle goes on, the two sides whittle down the opposing forces, as each count gradually shrinks towards zero. However, it almost never actually reaches that. The second factor, morale, is actually the most important factor. Each side can gain a little morale when it's successful in an attack; each loses more morale when it loses a round. There are a ton of behind-the-scenes factors that play into morale, such as the morale of the underlying units, their leadership, how much support you've been providing, and any losses they suffered shortly before the start of this battle. Because the battle continues across multiple days (or weeks or months), each side can elect to move reinforcing armies into the province, where their numbers and morale will shore up support on their side. Once one side's morale reaches zero, then it breaks and flees into an adjacent province. The victorious army takes the field. At this point, if the enemy owns the province, the winner can settle down and lay siege to the capital, hoping to eventually gain control of the province; otherwise, it may elect to pursue the enemy to continue the fight.

So, much like territorial exchanges are much less absolute in EU3 than in Civ, so are military conflicts much less absolute. Suppose that you have an army that consists of five infantry regiments led by a general. This army is defeated. In Civ, depending on which version you were playing and whether you were defending a fortress, either all five units would be wiped out or one unit would be permanently eliminated. In EU3, though, a likely outcome is that your 5000-man force has been diminished to only 2000 survivors, perhaps (for the sake of simplicity) 400 survivors in each regiment. The general might die after losing, but usually he'll survive. If your army moves back into friendly territory, then over time it will automatically, albeit slowly, repair itself: it will recruit new soldiers from the local populace, its morale will gradually recover from the punishment it took, and finally it will be back at full strength.

Therefore, unlike Civ wars, which are almost always wars of attrition, where you try to eliminate an enemy's units and capture their cities, wars in EU3 are more about gaining strategic position: figuring out which battles to fight, spending the time to subdue local populaces, keeping forces in reserve so you can respond to the shifting demands of the battlefield. Depending on the nature of the conflict, sometimes it will be more important that you chase the King of Scotland all the way across the highlands so you can definitively eliminate his army; or it might be more important to lay siege to Brittany to secure your claim to that province while the King of France retreats home to lick his wounds. I do like this kind of decision-making challenge.

 In my case: I fought a LONG and epic battle with King Robert III (who was both the ruler and the general of the Scots), which stretched over multiple months and actually gave me time to recruit entirely fresh regiments and add them to the battle before it was over. He finally fled, and I settled into a pattern where I would leave a few of my troops behind to lay siege to the province, while the remainder of my forces would chase Robert as he fell back to another province. We finally won a decisive victory over him after six or so battles, and then settled in for the long and painstaking task of capturing his castles. He kept sending me emissaries with increasingly frantic terms for his surrender. I held out until I'd captured every last one of his provinces, even the dinky island in the northwest, and then finally sent a diplomat to finalize the war's outcome.

That's yet another interesting factor within EU3: it draws a distinction between "controlling" a province and "owning" it. During a war, you can gain "control" of the province after a successful siege; this means that the enemy will no longer be able to reinforce there or issue build orders, but it isn't actually part of your realm yet. Ownership can't change hands during a war, it can only happen as part of the negotiated end to a conflict. And, even though I had CRUSHED Scotland, defeating all of their armies and taking all of their provinces (well, at least the ones in Britain; I think they still had some in France), I couldn't just take all their territory. It turned out that I could take everything except for two provinces: they couldn't surrender their capital, and I decided to also give them that dinky little island. We signed the peace deal. Next I negotiated with France, who was leading the alliance against me. Even though I had done rather poorly on the Continent, I think some of my victory in Britain added to their overall perception of me, so I was able to negotiate for a "white peace", which basically meant that everything went back to how it was before - I got back my southwestern French provinces, and nobody owed anybody anything.

That was all pretty fun, but I felt like I'd gone about as far as I could in that game and still have fun. I still wasn't making any progress on Ireland, I was close to broke, and had neglected everything else while I learned the ropes about combat. England is pretty huge, and I found myself longing for the simplicity of learning on a minor power. So, I started a new game.

This time I also started in 1399, but skipped the list of suggested/interesting nations, all of which were too big and/or too poor for my tastes. Instead I manually clicked around on the map, paying particular attention to each country's economic rating. I finally found something that sounded pretty perfect - a tiny little northern Germanic country called Mecklenburg, with virtually no military, some minor diplomacy, and a pretty substantial economy. I realized that Mecklenburg was the country that controlled Lubeck, one of the major Centers of Trade in Europe. I haven't written yet about CoTs; they're pretty important, though there isn't a huge advantage to directly owning them, at least I wouldn't need to worry about anyone banning my merchants from there, which had happened a few times when I was playing as England. It looked like Mecklenburg would give me a solid start on my goal of becoming a strong economic power, without making me micromanage a bunch of wars or a large territory.

I could tell after playing for just a short while that EU3 was delivering the goods: it could actually be fun to play as a tiny little country. This is something that was impossible in Civ up until Civ IV, and even then, you still needed to hit a certain size in order to be competitive. (Apologies for the constant references to Civ, by the way - it's by far the game I've played most often, and so it's my closest frame of reference to EU3.) Part of this comes down to the economy - without getting into too much detail, part of your economy comes from production, which measures how much stuff your country actually produces. Large countries, like England and France, will have a large production; similarly, medium-sized countries that produce very valuable resources will also make a lot of money from production. However, there's also a parallel economic system, one based on trade. Trade is conducted in major financial cities, known as Centers of Trade, each of which is the locus for economic activity in a geographic region. The Center of Trade produces income from all the buying and selling of resources that happen within that center's region. Your country can capture some of that income by dispatching merchants to set up shop there. If your nation's values prioritize cut-throat market competition, then you'll be able to capture a portion of the trade for your merchants, and your country will tax some of their income.

That's all pretty complex, and it took me a while to really grok how it worked, but once I did, I loved it. As with all good strategy games, you need to choose between multiple good options: is it better to send your new merchant to the wealthiest CoT like Lubeck, where he'll need to compete against a crowded market? Or should you send him to a quieter and relatively poorer CoT like Lisboa, where he'll certainly be able to get a seat at the table but will produce less income for you?

I started focusing on optimizing my trade income. Part of this was a patient and steady process of sending out merchants to the best centers of trade. There are quite a few in Europe at the start of the game: Lisboa, Andalucia, Ile-de-France, Antwerpen (which, amazingly, includes all of the modern UK in its region), Lubeck, Venetia, Genoa, Alexandria. I had a slight advantage in Lubeck, which was also the richest CoT, so I soon had maximized my presence there, and was climbing up the ranks in the other cities. At the same time, I was adjusting my national policy. Part of this had to do with adopting the proper "National Idea" - these are powerful bonuses that you can choose from; early in the game you can only select one of about 20 options, but as your Government level advances you can start picking more. Anyways, I found one that boost my Trade Efficiency by 10% - that doesn't sound like much, but that's 10 basis points, which in the early part of the game effectively doubled the income I was receiving from my merchants. That allowed me to pour much more funding into my research, which in turn helped me improve my Trade level, further boosting my efficiency and income still more.

You can also adjust a series of sliders, each of which offers choices along a continuum between two extremes. These are pretty fascinating options, for the most part; they include stuff like Aristocracy/Plutocracy, Serfdom/Free Subjects, Land/Sea, Quality/Quantity, and Mercantilism/Free Trade. That last one actually ended up being an interesting choice for me to mull over - Free Trade boost your trade efficiency, and helps you compete for trade abroad, while Mercantilism gives you an advantage in CoTs that you own. Now, since I did control Lubeck, I would actually gain some benefit from Mercantilism; but it was already quite clear that Lubeck alone wasn't nearly enough, and I would be competing in a dozen or so CoTs by the end of the game, so I started moving my nation towards unfettered Free Trade. The game prevents you from moving too hastily towards new policies, so there's a cooling-off period of about a decade after each time you adjust one of your sliders a notch.

Oh, yeah! I knew I wasn't going to talk about game mechanics, but... there's also this thing called a "National Decision". These represent historic choices made by your country or similar countries. You need to meet certain requirements, and then, if you opt for the decision, it has a set of impacts, which may include both good and bad elements. Fairly early on, I was able to make the decision to join something called the, uh, Hanseatic League (that's probably misspelled). This did some nice things, like improve my relations with Denmark and improve our trade efficiency, but it also made further adjustments to my sliders, pushing me even further towards Free Trade. Hooray! I took some time to look through all the National Decisions - even though most of these aren't available early on, and I doubt I'll ever meet the requirements for some of them (like one to unify Germany), I wanted to pick out the ones that I'd eventually want to make, and factor those effects in when I made my choices for the policy sliders, national ideas, and other game choices.

Because I'd been avoiding combat, I'd been able to focus entirely on trade, with the effect that after playing for a while, I was reaching my maximum possible position in the various centers of trade. This was a problem on a couple of levels. First of all, I worried that I'd become stagnant; my economic growth had been rapid, but I was reaching a ceiling for the income I could bring in from trade alone; meanwhile, my more conventional rivals could continue to grow by taking territory from one another or increasing their already substantial populations. Secondly, the game places a limit on the number of un-dispatched merchants you can keep around, so after I had 5 of them in my pool, I wouldn't gain any more. This meant that I'd just be wasting that resource, similarly to how I was already wasting my Colonist and Missionary specialists, neither of whom I could really use.

And so, I was delighted to see that I was very organically being pulled by forces that absolutely mirrored those affecting 15th-century Europeans, with exactly the same results. Namely, I needed to find new trade routes, and expand into new markets. Just to emphasize: the game does NOT force you to do this, and I could certainly have contented myself with fooling around inside Europe for the next hundred years or so. But, my trading-centric game had picked up a serious momentum, and I felt like the invisible hand of the free market was pulling me out to explore the unknown.

Now: Mecklenburg is in northern Germany, and at the start of the game your map includes all of central and western Europe, the north coast of Africa, the Mediterranean, and Scandinavia. By clicking on each province, you can find the Center of Trade that it trades in. For most provinces, these were well-known locations like Antwerpen and Venetia. Provinces at the edge of Europe, though, traded in cities that I had not yet discovered: Novogrod for central and eastern European countries, and Samarkand for Asia Minor. Those seemed like worthy goals for me: they were likely close to my known map, and once I found the cities, I'd be able to start sending my merchants there. And so, unlike the westward-driven expansion of Christopher Columbus and his ilk, I initially pressed eastward, drawn by the riches of the Orient, much like Marco Polo had a century before.

Like Civ, each area of the map can be in one of three states. Provinces that you own or have units stationed in will be visible to you: you can see details about the land and adjacent armies. Provinces that you have previously visited will be covered by the fog of war; you can see details about the territory, such as who it belongs to and how wealthy it is, but not see what units it holds. Provinces that you've never visited are invisible to you; in EU3, they're labeled as "Terra Incognita". Unlike in Civ, discovering these provinces isn't as simple as just moving a unit inside them. Instead, you'll need to recruit a special type of leader: a Conquistador for land-based armies, or an Explorer for navies. Once you recruit them, you'll assign them to an army or navy (basically a stack of units), and then you can issue orders for them to enter the new lands. The initial discovery takes quite a while, but once it's on your map, you'll be able to move regular armies in there as well at a quicker rate. Of course, discovering a new province will then reveal further terra incognita beyond its borders, so your exploration tends to get drawn progressively farther.

I recruited a Conquistador and attached him to a small army of Latin Knights and Men-at-Arms. Some earlier national goals had directed me to build up an army and a navy, so I was happy to have some units available to do something other than sit at home. I'd previously negotiated Military Access agreements with all of my immediate neighbors in the Holy Roman Empire, and as I moved east I signed new agreements with farther powers like Hungary and the Ottomans. In many cases, particularly where we practiced different religion (typically Orthodox for eastern Europeans and Islam for everyone else), I would first improve our relations by making several generous monetary gifts; again, with my enormous treasury, I could easily afford to do so.

My conquistador wandered for a bit, eventually discovering Novogrod and then pushing south towards Astrakhan, the economic heart of the Ottoman empire. By now I had started seeing some references to Samarkand, and so I started looking for that, only to soon be startled by the discovery that it was already on my map. All the provinces around it were still Terra Incognita, but Samarkand itself was visible; not only that, but some of my European rivals had already sent merchants there. Interesting. As far as I can tell, when one nation in your geographic region has discovered a new province, it will automatically be made visible to other nations after an interval; I must have just gotten lucky to have seen this.

My conquistador continued to press farther into Asia. Aided by my modern sense of geography, I could usually intuit roughly where each named Center of Trade was likely to be found; for example, I looked for Tehran at the south of the Caspian Sea. At each new center of trade, I quickly dispatched all of my available merchants, and instructed the game to keep on sending more traders until I had reached my maximum penetration. Few of these new centers of trade were anywhere near as wealthy as Lubeck, but each had a total trade value of at least a hundred or so ducats, and since competition was much less frenzied than in Europe I knew I'd be able to make back my investment over time. My coup de grace came near the end of my decades-long march eastward, when I finally discovered the economic center of the Ming dynasty: this was the richest CoT in the entire world, bigger even than Lubeck, and I was the only European with a seat at the table. Within a few months I had dominated that, too, and thus had tapped the wealth of the largest and richest empire in the entire world.

Around this same time, I decided that it would be good to start exploring overseas as well. I was discovering new CoTs rapidly enough to keep my merchants busy, but sooner or later I'd dominate all of them, and then be back to my old risk of stagnation, albeit at a higher level. So, I recruited a couple of explorers, made some small navies, and sent them off. One of them consisted only of Galleys, and was sent westward across the Atlantic. A larger one had both Galleys and Cogs, and I sent this one down the coast of West Africa, with the goal of eventually circling the Cape of Good Hope and reuniting with my conquistador army. This larger navy also carried a small army of its own, led by a new Conquistador, with whom I planned to explore the interior of Africa.

Exploring water areas follows the same mechanics as exploring land provinces, but the strategy is quite different. When your armies are marching across peaceful, civilized lands, they can keep on going forever without stopping. Ships, though, are constantly at risk: they're less likely to encounter combat, but every month that they spend at sea they will take damage and weaken. Once it weakens enough, a ship is destroyed, and any land units on board will perish. So, where my land explorations are a steady progressive march, my sea explorations are a steadily lengthening yo-yo. A ship will venture into uncharted waters slowly, expanding my visibility into the sea lanes; once it starts taking too much damage, I'll order it to quickly return to the nearest safe port. (Fortunately, you can repair in any water-bordering province with which you have Military Access; it would have been unacceptably slow if I'd needed to return to Mecklenburg after each expedition.) The ship will spend several months repairing damage, then head out again. This time, it will be able to move more quickly through the previously-explored territory, spend a bit more time driving farther into the void, before returning back again. After a couple of iterations of this, my ships got to the point where it made more sense for them to keep pushing across the Atlantic than to return home. Fortunately, we had entered the Caribbean, then found provinces controlled by the Mayans. I gifted them some ducats, then a month later desperately asked for access. They acquiesced. My ship gratefully docked, and spent nearly a year repairing its hulls, but I was satisfied to have opened a passage to the New World.

Meanwhile, my other navy had sailed past some uncivilized provinces in the west of Africa, but then encountered Mali, which was fairly friendly. We came to an agreement, and I sent out my conquistador to start exploring while my ships prepared for the next push down the coast. Mali and its neighbors actually had two Centers of Trade, including one in Gobir and neither of which was worth much at all. Still, I went ahead and started dispatching additional merchants there. I had decided that a worthwhile goal would be to dominate every center of trade in the world, no matter how puny.

Most of Africa is uncivilized, and actually available for colonization once your range is large enough. Not only that, but the vast center of Africa - Darkest Africa in turn-of-the-century parlance - is Permanent Terra Incognita, which you can never explore during the game. Once I had mapped out all of the provinces actually occupied by African nations and found my CoTs, I re-boarded my conquistador on the ship and kept sailing. Coming up the east side of Africa, we found a port in Somalia, where I rested before continuing into the Indian Ocean and meeting up with the people previously encountered by my Asian Conquistador.

Out of all the National Decisions available to Mecklenburg, there are actually only three or so that seemed appealing to me. One of those, though, was VERY appealing: founding the Indian Trading Company. This would provide some massive benefits to my trading-centric country, like increasing my trade efficiency, improving my chance at competing for new trade, and giving me a permanent boost to my Trade Research, along with some other goodies. In order to make the decision, though, I needed to own an East Asian trade port province. Now, if you're like me, when you hear "East Asian", you probably assume that means "Oriental", right? As in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc. Well, it turns out that the game thinks that "East Asian" means south Asian - the "East Asian Trade Ports" region consists of India and the islands to its south.

There were some uncolonized islands out here, but they were on the opposite side of the planet from my capital, and I knew it would take ages, if ever, before I'd be able to colonize them. Hmm... how about a war, then? My entire army was now in Asia, and some of them had proven themselves well when fighting against African natives. I wouldn't need to carve out a large empire, only a single province, in order to take this Decision. I saved the game, and started looking for targets.

As we all learned from The Princess Bride, the most-known classic blunder is: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Fortunately, many of the eligible "East Asian" provinces were located on islands. I initially considered Ceylon, which was a nice single-province island that would be easy to defend; unfortunately, Ceylon had alliances with several Indian states, and I didn't want to get involved in a major war. I kept looking and exploring, trying to find an island-based country that was diplomatically isolated. I finally found a target: one of the islands of modern-day Indonesia. It consisted of about six provinces, two of which were uncolonized, three led by another nation, and a small island hanging off the far east. I unloaded my army into the uncolonized area, canceled our military access (to avoid a blow to my reputation), then declared war and marched in.

My opponent had a substantial navy, which led to some interesting and difficult fighting. I had an explorer with mediocre combat bonuses, leading a fleet of 7 galleys and 5 cogs. Cogs, of course, are useless in a fight, and galleys get a substantial combat penalty when fighting on the ocean like we were doing. He had a decent admiral and a fleet of four carracks, which are larger and more powerful ships. So, his navy was made of more powerful ships, but mine was larger. I eventually decided to cash in some of the substantial Naval Tradition I'd been accumulating as I mapped the ocean, and get an Admiral. This guy had AWESOME combat bonuses. I split my fleet, sent the explorer to keep mapping the area around Malaysia, and assigned the Admiral to lead my galleys in combat. In the very first battle, we managed to capture one of his Carracks. I hadn't lost any ships, but they were all pretty weakened, so we retreated to Brunei to repair. By the time I had recovered, he was also at full strength. I didn't manage to capture any more of his ships, but we kept winning each skirmish we had. Each time he would retreat farther, and in our subsequent fights, his low morale would cause him to quickly flee. At last, we were finally able to sink all his ships. With the naval threat out of the picture, I reinforced my explorer's fleet, finally giving him a Carrack appropriate for what he was doing; my admiral took a smaller fleet and hunkered down in Indonesia to observe the main conflict.

The land fight wasn't particularly tough, but the war did last longer than I had expected. Both of our armies were of roughly equal size, and led by generals of roughly equal skill. I beat him soundly at first, then settled in for a siege, and captured his capital. After this, though, the war got trickier. I could chase him and beat him, but if I ever started besieging one of his other provinces, his army would circle around and lay siege to reclaim the capital. I could keep chasing him, but he was able to draw on more reinforcements than me, so he would grow progressively stronger as I weakened. It was a quandary.

I ended up resolving it by following another one of the classic blunders: dividing my forces in the face of a superior foe. Half of my army stayed in the captured capital, where they could reinforce. The other half started conducting the siege. He struck at the weaker half that was sieging his province. As soon as I saw his armies starting to march in, I directed my main force to rush in and join us. Because he was attacking us, we got a defensive bonus from the jungle cover. Once my army reunited, that terrain bonus gave just enough of an edge for us to beat him. His army still survived, but it was too weak to siege, so he ran off to recoup. We were also weakened, but had enough to siege, so we took that province, and then the third one on the island. We were gradually reinforcing while we sieged, so by the time we'd taken the island, we were back almost to full force. He started another attack on the capital, but now we could come in and strike him without worrying about the other provinces. After a defeat here, we chased him around the island for a while until we won a total victory. Finally, our fleet of cogs that had been waiting in a nearby port swung around so we could invade and capture the final tiny island.

We opened up peace talks. I had a War Score of 100%, which one would think would mean I could get everything I wanted, but that wasn't quite true; the capital province didn't even show up in the list of items available for negotiation. However, I was able to take his other three provinces, as well as all the ducats he had. And so it was that a tiny northern Germanic kingdom became the first European power in the Indian Ocean. I proudly declared the founding of the Indian Trade Company, and my already-significant economic prowess was now unmatched. It was around this time that I noticed that the game had started ranking me as the #1 country in the world; I'm not sure exactly when that happened, but even if it came before the founding, I'm sure that helped secure my position.

Since that time, I've been steadily progressing in the game, mostly building on my existing strengths, continuing to explore, investing in new CoTs in the New World (which unfortunately are so poor that they keep disappearing), and marrying everyone in sight. For a long time I was both the Curia Controller and the Holy Roman Emperor. I was actually a bit miffed by the HRE election - I had initially thought that it would be awesome, based on the description in the manual, but it turns out that In Nomine added the "feature" that the HRE automatically guarantees every member state. This means that if anyone is attacked, they'll ask you to come to their aid; you can refuse, but this destroys your relationship. What's truly idiotic, though, is that you're expected to make a choice even if both sides of the conflict are HRE member-states. So, that was all annoying, and required that I ruin some relationships I'd spent time cultivating. However, that experience did prompt me to invest some time in tracking down and fully reading the In Nomine manual, and also discovering the phenomenal EU3 Wiki, with the ultimate effect of making me far more knowledgeable about the game's mechanics and strategy.

Since Mecklenburg is located in the northern heart of Europe, it's been impossible to colonize anything yet, even though I've discovered plenty of promising-looking territories. It seems like just before I get enough range to colonize a province I want, like the Azores or the Canary Islands, Castile will swoop in and claim it. The next one that will open up for me is the western coast of Greenland, and I need to decide whether it makes any sense for me to colonize that. I am pretty excited, though, to see what happens once my Indonesian provinces become cores of my realm; I'm not too clear on whether colonization range is calculated from the nation's capital or from its nearest core, but if it's based on the cores, than I have a good shot at colonizing all of Asia long before any other Europeans will gain the ability to do so. More generally, I need to decide whether I want to pursue a colonization strategy or not. Part of me really wants to do it, both because it seems like a good way to continue growing my economy now that I've taken over all the centers of trade, and also because it just seems like a fun game mechanic. However, I'm also a bit reluctant to do so, because it seems like it will require fundamentally changing my strategy: I'll need to start emphasizing production over trade in order to derive the most benefits from a larger land-based empire, and I'd need to pay to maintain larger standing armies to defend against uprisings and larger navies to protect my sea-lanes against pirates. That flies in the face of my lean-and-mean strategy that's served me so well up until now, and I'm not sure whether the extra cost will pay off with sufficient additional revenue.

Oh, yeah: I've also been experimenting with government types. It took me a little while to figure out why I couldn't switch to a Noble Republic after I had discovered it: for some reason, you can't directly convert from a Feudal Monarchy into a Noble Republic. Instead, you need to first convert to a Despotic Monarchy (at a -1 stability penalty), and from there convert to Noble Republic (at a -4 stability penalty!). I was a bit nervous at first about making the switch - my monarch had been serving me well - but I'm glad I made the change. For starters, since your king apparently dies when switching governments (I'm not sure if it's any switch, or just between a monarchy and a republic), I was finally freed from the mantle of Holy Roman Empire leadership. (The one downside to losing the crown: I could have really used the HRE's stability bonus in digging myself out from the -2 stability hole.) And on the whole, a Noble Republic just seems like a perfect government, with all the advantages of both republics and monarchies. Like a monarchy, and unlike every other form of republic, you can still form Royal Marriages with other nations, which can really help boost your relations in Europe - I've married everyone in sight for the whole game, and have yet to get involved in a single European war other than the ones the HRE dragged me into. And under a Republic, you get to choose your leader - you won't see his exact stats, but you can pick between three candidates, each of whom will be focused in one area, so there's a Military Candidate, Diplomatic Candidate, and Administrative Candidate. I went with the Administrative one, nacht, for the economic boost, and was delighted to get my best leader of the game so far - I think he has something like an Economic rating of 9, Diplomacy of 8, and a Military of 6. As a final bonus, the Noble Republic also gives a boost to your Tolerance, which makes it easier for me to stay friendly with the Eastern religions that dominate Asian trade, and the Muslim religion that rules trade in Asia Minor and Africa. I found a really good chart that shows the forms of government, how you can move between them, and what benefits each offers. I'm really not sure if I'll ever want to use another form of government... I suppose I might eventually go with an Administrative Republic, for the nice trade efficiency modifier, but it would be tough to give up the benefits of increased tolerance.

Phew... well, that's where I'm at now in the game. I'm having a blast, still not totally sure exactly what I'm doing, but loving every moment of it. It's got those deeply addictive hooks into me, which I remember so well from a lifetime of playing Civ, although the mechanics of the game make it manifest in new and terrible ways. With "Civ", the mantra was always "Just one more turn..." where I would promise myself that, after I moved my units, and pressed Enter to advance to the next year, I was going to save and stop playing for the night. Of course, something cool would always happen then: I would discover a new technology, or a neighbor would declare war on me, or I'd learn that an opponent was close to finishing construction of a Wonder I was building. I'd need to take take of that problem, "While I'm still in the zone," and play for "Just one more turn..." until it's three o'clock in the morning and I can barely keep my eyes open. Well, in EU3, there are no turns! The game keeps steadily progressing, and stuff is always happening everywhere. You can adjust the speed so time moves more quickly or slowly, but without "turns" as such, it's even harder than before to tear myself away from the game. I'll think "Oh, I'll stop playing once this ship returns to port safely..." but then I'll learn that a Cardinal has died, and then I'll start bribing the new Cardinal - who is from FRANCE, so I have a 48% chance of winning him over, so of COURSE I'll risk it - and then I'll realize that I have 5 diplomats, and then I'll hunt down people who need to marry members of my royal family, and by the time I've done that one of my Conquistadors has found a new province, but also been attacked by natives, so I need to check and see if he's okay, and then monitor the fight so I can send him back to civilization to reinforce but only if he needs it, and then I suddenly remember about that ship I was waiting for, well it turns out that it's back in port and already repaired, so of course I'll send it out to explore some more sea lanes...

Ahem. Like I said, pretty addictive stuff. Steam has this AWFUL feature where they show how many hours total you've played a game; I won't even tell you how long I've spent playing this so far. And I'm only up to 1465! Columbus wouldn't even discover America for another 30 years in our timeline! The game goes all the way up to frickin' 1822, for crying out loud! I badly need to find an excuse to end this game before it completely envelopes the remainder of my life. But, when something is this addictive and fun, that's awfully hard to do.