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!