or, how i became the most hated man in europe

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Europa Universalis III and its somewhat amusing, somewhat insulting, and entirely correct assumption that I was male. I’d planned to follow it up fairly quickly with an epic tale of my bountiful empire, but that plan was scuppered by just how large and daunting the game is. The tutorial tells you how to move men around and conduct a little diplomacy, but then you’re on your own. When I was young, I remember getting lost in a shopping centre. It was nauseatingly scary, but compared to this, it was nothing. Imagine getting lost in the middle of Dehli. Yeah.

The sheer scope of the game is dauntingly huge. In Civ, you open up a dialogue with your neighbours, and you have maybe five or six options: you can give tribute, declare war, offer an alliance, gosspin about your common neighbours, and so on. In EU3, there are a countless number of ways to use your diplomats. Yeah, you can declare war, or team up with another nation, but you can also invite people to your trade league, invite smaller countries to become your vassals, and arrange royal marriages. There’s no indication as to why you might want to do any of this, or why it might be good or bad in the long term. I couldn’ resist the novelty of marrying off all my children, and so in my first game I had. I’m not convinced that it had any effect whatsoever, but it was amusing.

Anyway, I put some time in to reading newbie guides and watching people play the game on YouTube (a grim task) and eventually started to get it, just a little bit. Certainly enough to play my first decent game, that is, the first game where I wasn’t either bankrupt or at war with France in the first ten years.

In fact, 100 years in, it was all going rather well. I was playing as Castille, and I’d set myself the modest goals of unifying Spain and maybe colonising the Americas a little. I’d married off my children to the royal courts of Portugal and France, mostly to curry a little favour with them, and also to Aragón, whose territories I needed to annex in order to unify Spain. You can march into other nations arbitrarily and take them by force, but doing so causes you to gain notoriety, and lots of notoriety is bad, as I was to find out later. Instead, by getting some Castillan blood into the Aragónese royal family, I was laying the groundwork to peacefully integrate them into my kingdom when one of my heirs became King. And if that didn’t work out, I could claim the throne for myself and take Aragón in a war of succession.

You see, while you can’t really attack arbitrary nations without losing stability and annoying the Catholic world, you can attack nations with whom you have a casus belli, or reason for war, without suffering a penalty. This is a really neat mechanic and lots of the game becomes about engineering situations where you can legally – in the eyes of the Catholic world – declare war on other nations. This requires a bit of foresight and long-term planning, which I know now.

Thankfully for my itchy trigger finger, there was a nearby nation with whom I did have a casus belli – Granada! Yes, there were Muslims in my territory, and it was time to finish the reconquista and drive them out. I’d been King for one day and I was already in a holy war! Brilliant.

It didn’t take long; the Granadans were fairly weak and most of their allies were in Africa and couldn’t move their ships past my blockade in the Gulf of Almeria. Once I’d subjugated the few defenders, I annexed the entirety of Granada and made peace with their allies. Annexing a country royally pisses off everyone of the same faith, but I was happy enough annoying the Sunni world when there’s a rather large sea and a Castillan fleet sitting between me and them.

At this point, I could’ve continued the crusade into North Africa, but I decided it was time for a nice spell of peace. Sadly, my neighbours decided differently. Portugal and Aragón rose against me! Fuck this, I thought, and mobilized my forces. A long and bloody war ensued, but I annexed Portugal and most of Aragón, and vassalised what remained of Aragón. That’ll teach them!

Or so I thought. News of the many wars of Iberia was spreading around Europe, and it did not paint a kind picture of Castille. I think they all thought I was a little bit bloodthirsty. Okay, so it was technically Portugal and Aragón who had attacked me, not the other way around, but perhaps once I’d driven the invaders back to their borders I should’ve stopped, or at least led my armies to Barcelona and Lisbon to sign a peace treaty, maybe demand a few hundred ducats in reparations, and then return to the homeland to lick my wounds. That would have accrued me no infamy points, but given my prestige a rather large boost, and importantly given me a casus belli to use against both Aragón and Portugal in the future. Instead, by annexing the enemy provinces, I sent my infamy through the roof. Sure, I got a small prestige boost, but it was soon eaten away by my reputation as a warmonger. Life in Castille was good, and the spoils of war were plenty, but it was not advisable for a Castillian to travel abroad; it was the equivalent of turning up in the Kop end of Anfield wearing a Man United shirt. My merchants were expelled from foreign countries, the subjugated peoples of Portugal and Aragón rose up in continual rebellion, and my legitimacy as King began to erode!

Screw Europe , though. I had my sights elsewhere, for I had researched a new national idea: quest for the new world! This gave me access to explorers, who could lead my ships into uncharted warters, and conquistadors, who could . The Azores were mine, and then the Bahamas, and finally I made my way to the fertile, untouched lands of the Caribbean and the Americas. Well, I say untouched. The Americas were full of these pesky natives, but I got into the spirit of the times and tore my armies through them. Somehow, these stories got back to Europe. My stock fell even further. The Guardia Real rushed between the East and West coasts as they struggled to beat back the nationalist fire. Pirates began to prey on my unguarded American provinces. My own merchants were being assassinated in Andalucia; my own center of trade! Good lord. The game warns you not to exceed your infamy limit, but I had no idea it could get so bad.

But it got worse, of course. Once you pass the infamy limit, every other kingdom in the game gains the “dishonourable scum” casus belli against you. In other words, they get a free pass to smack you down because you’re just so hated. And so it was that somehow I managed to be such a tyrannical leader that I managed to make France and England – and you have to realise that this is at the height of the Hundred Years War – actually ally against me in a punitive war. French armies poured in through Navarra whilst the Royal Navy blockaded my ports. Half my army was in the Americas, and the other half embroiled in a seemingly endless civil war, and it didn’t take long for the Anglo-French coalition to tear through Spain and seize most of my holdings. Oops.

And so ended my short, destructive reign. Of course, I still had my American holdings – small, fragile little colonies – and if I just lay low and slowly expanded in the Americas, by the time any other nation reached there my infamy would probably have dropped to the point where people don’t try to kill Spaniards on sight. I decided that I’d reached a natural point to end my game, however. Better to learn the lessons for next time than continue a meagre existence. I was once the King of Spain, you know! An exile in Virginia was not for me.

So, what did I learn? A lot about the actual mechanics of the game, which I won’t bore you with, but a lot about the philosophy behind it. It’s a slow, patient game; perhaps a bit too slow for me. In Civilisation, I often declare war too quickly and end up shooting myself in the foot. Here this happened on an epic scale. Bear in mind that I only played for eighty years or so, and the game spans four hundred. Whereas in Civ it feels like everything you do is important and constructive, here the implications and consequences of your decisions are often only truly felt decades (and hours of gameplay) down the line. Yes, I’ll marry my daughter off to the King of France, so that four generations down the line I can claim the throne! It’s a post-rock album of a game, where the great gratification only comes after a long period of quiet buildup.

I think I’m more of a Civ person, to be honest, which for all its complexity is a remarkably accessible game. In Civ, at least in the easier difficulties, you can do very well without having to entirely understand the mechanics behind the game. In EU3? Not so much, I think. But like post-rock albums, I feel it’s something that will reward time and repeated attempts at getting into it. But for now, I think I need a long lie down. And a shave.


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