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Rob Zacny

Episode 291: Europa Universalis IV in 2015

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Sean Sands from Gamers With Jobs joins Rob to talk about Europa Universalis IV. EUIV has seen several expansions and updates since its launch, and what used to be the unidisputed flagship of the studio is fighting for top dog with Crusader Kings II. Sean has played just a few hours of EUIV and offers his insights into what the game has grown to be and why he keeps coming back.

 

Alternate title: Europa Universalis More

 

Music by Andreas Waldetoft

 


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Yeah both of those guys are pretty cool fellows I enjoy following on SM and watching contents they produce.  Too bad about Arumba wrecking NL though XD

 

Anyone else fan of DDRJake BTW?  I feel like he could also get bit more 'coverage' because he is one hell of game tester.

 

On the podcast, interesting points from both Sean and Rob about shortcomings of trade, and perhaps they are both right and both static elements combined with issues with money in-game.

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I think that the representation of culture is an issue. There should really be more problems that arise as your country's diversity grows. Technically, some of that is there, but it's largely in the form of easily crushed uprisings. That it's a problem that easily goes away with the press of the magical culture-conversion-button is weird.

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I think that the representation of culture is an issue. There should really be more problems that arise as your country's diversity grows. Technically, some of that is there, but it's largely in the form of easily crushed uprisings. That it's a problem that easily goes away with the press of the magical culture-conversion-button is weird.

 

That's one of the main mechanics in Victoria II; your expanding empire has to deal with the fact that it is made up of smaller subcultures, each with their own beliefs/wants/needs.

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I think that the representation of culture is an issue. There should really be more problems that arise as your country's diversity grows. Technically, some of that is there, but it's largely in the form of easily crushed uprisings. That it's a problem that easily goes away with the press of the magical culture-conversion-button is weird.

 

Even though it's what got it a lot of attention early on, I think the "magical button-push" approach to problem-solving has led to a lot of the more unthematic and tedious parts of optimal play in Europa Universalis IV.

 

Anyone else fan of DDRJake BTW?  I feel like he could also get bit more 'coverage' because he is one hell of game tester.

 

I love DDRJake and he's a wonderfully gracious guy, as well as an extraordinarily talented gamer, but the tendency of Paradox to see his exploit-hunting as testing for them has led to several bone-headed decisions in patches. It needs to be acknowledged that DDRJake will always find a way to break your game and that designing said game to be difficult for DDRJake to break means designing a game that's less fun for everyone.

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Very good episode!

 

My favorite thing about Paradox games is exactly what you guys said, how by not having any winning states, it let you play as you wish but more important, let you lose and continue playing and even recover and this is crucial for the emergent gameplay. Because, in other games with clear winning states, if you suffer any setback you have to restart because it would be very difficult to catch. I had a game as Venice, where in point I suffered a huge defeat to the Otomans, I mean the kind where you give everthing in a peace treat. But I still able to continue, so instead I could focus in something else, like colonization.

 

One thing that I am enjoying (and starting to fear it but in a positive way) is the disaster system introduced in the last patch, because before that, uprisings aren´t really a issue. But now I found out, more than once, that things can scalate very fast. In one game, as Muscovy I had a initial war with Novgorod that cost me too much manpower and that start the trigger for the Peasant Revolt Disaster, begin exhausted form the war, there was this very tense moment, with the revolt power rising while I try using military power to try things at bay, while hoping to recover my manpower, in the end I had even to lose lots of autonomy to keep things in order. In another game, as Timurids, I had a nice start, after I release Persia I did start invading India, but very quickly I found myself in danger not only of Peasant Revolts, but lots of religions ones. I found that I had to be way more careful with my conquests and my loses.

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After listening to this episode, I'd love to hear an episode interviewing some Youtubers or streamers like Arumba, Shenryyr or Northernlion to talk about the role of let's plays in strategy games.  Strategy games are one of those genres that encourage streamers to continue playing them for long periods of time and also bring people into the genre by teaching them how to play.  Particularly one involving Paradox games would be fantastic.

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That's one of the main mechanics in Victoria II; your expanding empire has to deal with the fact that it is made up of smaller subcultures, each with their own beliefs/wants/needs.

I loved that element of Victoria II. I wouldn't mind something along those lines, as well as the crisis mechanic making its way into EUIV. The culture mechanics would be incredible during the Reformation.

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EU4 is a great game and fills me with hope for Victoria 2 that works properly allows player to understand what the hell is happening in the world. Vocal fans joke about next Victoria having 3 types of mana but I'm sure there will be more refined market system and electrified EU4 diplomacy.
 
Someone said previously in 3MA episode: Paradox games spoil Civilization. They offer you both challenge and worldbuilding and both are somewhat better - world at least tries to preserve some ties to reality and challenge is much more customizable (though it's not as balanced and "fair" as in 4X games). CK2 also beats some roleplaying games. Anyone who praises Shadow of Mordor for relationship system should look into CK2 (I know, I know, the system is great cause you meet those guys in real-time). EU4 is ultimately a better strategy, so Rob, don't be afraid to stand up to Troy, we're with you on it.

 

I think that the representation of culture is an issue. There should really be more problems that arise as your country's diversity grows. Technically, some of that is there, but it's largely in the form of easily crushed uprisings. That it's a problem that easily goes away with the press of the magical culture-conversion-button is weird.

 

Arguable, but it's only important in the end of the period. The game reflects it by creating special cultural casus bellis by the end of the game but there's little sense to have ethnic revolts.

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Arguable, but it's only important in the end of the period. The game reflects it by creating special cultural casus bellis by the end of the game but there's little sense to have ethnic revolts.

 

Well, there's a lot of other stuff, both cultural and not, that Europa Universalis IV glosses over. The most important historical feature of the years 1444-1821 is the growth of the state, just like Crusader Kings is about the growth of the dynasty and Victoria is about the growth of the nation... only EU has virtually no internal politics to reflect the growth of the state, apart from the newly introduced and mostly irrelevant "autonomy" mechanic. I was always taught that the state grew in response to the expanding military needed to conquer more land, but in EU4 it almost happens in reverse. You conquer more land to expand your military, and l'etat c'est toi, so who cares about the state.

 

To be a negative ninny, I've only played EU4 maybe a fifth of the time I've played CK2, because the former feels so darn unhistorical. The systems don't reflect the historical realities of the period very well at all (notably, they're systems within which the decade of post-Varna conquests by the Ottomans and the Fronde of Louis XIV's minority are equally unworkable) and tend to punish the player for historically authentic decision-making. I'd probably enjoy it a lot better without the theming, which is a harrowing thought for me.

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Yeah, to me EU4 never felt like they were trying to reflect history other than some broad flavor/theme stuff.  Through all of its iteration, EU4 was diplo-war game where it's all about coloring the map with your own by using diplomacy to eventually get in wars (although sadly actual wars are modeled really poorly, perhaps it is for the better to focus the scope on diplomacy).  I actually like that about EU4 though.  It scratches that megalomaniac itch of mine very well.

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... only EU has virtually no internal politics to reflect the growth of the state, apart from the newly introduced and mostly irrelevant "autonomy" mechanic. I was always taught that the state grew in response to the expanding military needed to conquer more land, but in EU4 it almost happens in reverse. You conquer more land to expand your military, and l'etat c'est toi, so who cares about the state.

 

I'd say it's more about the growth of a nation. It seems that EU4 thinks most components of the state where already there in most countries in 1444 and they are only upgraded with laws and maybe constitution. Those who don't have this stuff (hordes, tribes) can reform into it through simplified process. Nations, on the other hand, gain cultural values/ideas, live through religious wars and by the end of the game acquire nationalism (which is ultimate Casus Belli). True, it'd be nice to see beuracracy expand, rise of bourgeois and fall of aristocracy (this is sort of reflected in some events and decisions) but EU4 is very extroverted game with everything depending on intercountry interactions.

 

As for reflection of historic theme - yeah, it comes with the scope, but sadly it's necessary with a game so detailed as this one. CK2 is very bad in some places too if you compare it to history, I'd say EU4 is better in this regard than CK2 as it's more personal so you can't pretend ahistoric things are there cause some details are left out of scope. 

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Great show.

 

Every time I hear about EU IV, or CK II, I think about how interesting the converter from CK II to EU IV is.  The converter is really interesting, and I would love to see it discussed in some detail.

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Okay, listening to the episode again, I did have a bit of a problem with Paradox's relationship with fan feedback, especially about visibility of information, being described as quick and responsive. I remember the thread on the Paradox forums where Arumba's video was discussed when it first came out. More than one Paradox employee, along with a host of fans, fought tooth and nail against any acknowledgement that the fixes would be helpful until Wiz, the former modder who now does most of the AI programming, came in and identified eight as easily implementable. They happened so fast because Wiz was willing to take the time to do them himself, I think, but that doesn't tend to reflect the attitude of the development team as a whole, in my experience.

 

For instance, when I think of EU4 development, I think of the changes to the diplomatic system. When the game first came out, they said that they'd removed the chance-based system from EU3 and replaced it with an entirely deterministic system of relationships that were scored with numbers from -200 to 200 and reflected thresholds that could be directly influenced by player actions. It soon became clear that, while the relationship scores were important, they weren't actually the defining value in the diplomatic system. That was the attitude, a black box of modifiers that overrode the relationship score in every instance and more or less recreated the chance-based system of the previous game, only abstracted one level out. When criticized by players for actually introducing complexity to the diplomacy by having two separate systems influencing the success and effect of diplomatic actions, developers from the team said that diplomacy was boring if it was predictable and accessible to player agency, so they had to introduce the attitudes, even though they went against the design philosophy of the relationship scores. Then, six months later, after several great essays and a couple of good arguments between fans and developers, it was decided to expose the package of variables and modifiers represented by the attitudes, which was hailed as a great victory for visibility and accessibility... until it was discovered through this visibility that attitude was largely determined by ruler personality, another black box inside the black box. And then there were the same arguments about visibility and accessibility as important or irrelevant to fun, and when ruler attitude was exposed three months later, it was discovered that it's a randomly determined value, not too different from the ruler's actual stats, that explains a lot of the idiotic and suicidal behavior of the AI. At least that time, there was a different argument, about whether the AI should play rationally or play the metagame...

 

Even after a year, I still have my problems with EU4, and most of them stem from a game that is a jack of all trades but a master of none, seemingly by design. Is it a light and accessible wargame, despite game-ruining events with hidden triggers like the Peasants' War, rulers with completely randomized stats that dictate whether or not the majority of strategies are viable, and a coalition system that can trigger if a one-province minor gets caught fabricating a claim that it then presses through war and annexation? Is it a historical simulation of the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries, despite world wars breaking out in the 1490s over less land than changed hands in the Italian Wars? Is it a sandbox game of nation-building, despite nonexistent internal politics, conquest mechanics that grind to a halt above a certain scale of play unless the player is willing to use exploits, and the restrictions placed only on non-European powerhouses like steppe nomads and China? I don't know, but the fact that it wants to be all three allows for Sean and Rob to go from saying that the best part about EU4 is the breadth of choice, to saying that it requires you not to choose any one thing, to saying that it actually forces you not to do certain things for periods of time. Okay? At least one of those three things cannot be true, at least in a general sense.

 

I'm sympathetic to schizophrenic designs, especially with historical games that have to try to capture the complexity of their sources, but somehow EU4 frustrates me in ways that CK2, for all of its downhill progress since Rajas of India left the game in a perpetually near-unplayable state, does not.

 

Every time I hear about EU IV, or CK II, I think about how interesting the converter from CK II to EU IV is.  The converter is really interesting, and I would love to see it discussed in some detail.

 

As far as I know, the converter has been broken for about three months now. When they added a bunch of new cultures and provinces for the rest of the world with the release of the patch accompanying The Art of War, those weren't added into the converter, which is really just maintained by Groogy in his free time. There's not any ETA for fixing it, although some fan fixes have existed for some time.

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Even after a year, I still have my problems with EU4, and most of them stem from a game that is a jack of all trades but a master of none, seemingly by design. 

 

Because it is. Hearts of Iron is about war, Victoria is about industrialization and internal politics, Crusader Kings is actually about ethics in fratricide. EU is Paradox's Civilization, it's just a big strategy about countries. It's the one you recommend people who just want a strategy to play. 

 

>"forces you not to do certain things for periods of time"

 

You say it as if it's a bad thing. You play with what the game give you. Not a very good mechanic for balance but great for sustaining challenge and keeping everyone from snowballing.

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Because it is. Hearts of Iron is about war, Victoria is about industrialization and internal politics, Crusader Kings is actually about ethics in fratricide. EU is Paradox's Civilization, it's just a big strategy about countries. It's the one you recommend people who just want a strategy to play. 

 

I guess? EU4 is also a game about war, but not war all the time because that's unhistorical, even though there's vanishingly little to do in the game besides fight wars and make money to spend on troops or to spend on buildings that make money to spend on troops. It just doesn't feel entirely honest with itself.

 

You say it as if it's a bad thing. You play with what the game give you. Not a very good mechanic for balance but great for sustaining challenge and keeping everyone from snowballing.

 

I find it weird to play a game that's nominally a sandbox, but in which you can't do any one thing for too long or for too well. The best design criticism I've read of EU4 is that it largely punishes success in the short- and mid-term, but not in the long-term, and that it does so in ways that fall heaviest on nations of less than thirty provinces, so it's not exactly preventing snowballing, just delaying it with forced waits that you're welcome to fill by fiddling with trade or colonists and watching green numbers go up and red numbers go down. It wasn't always this way, with coalition-chaining, vassal-feeding, and government-flipping, but Paradox has done a good job (in my opinion, too good, although government-flipping was a bit too gamey even for me) of making sure that, after a certain level of base competency, time, rather than knowledge, is the only currency with which to pay off challenge.

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I guess? EU4 is also a game about war, but not war all the time because that's unhistorical, even though there's vanishingly little to do in the game besides fight wars and make money to spend on troops or to spend on buildings that make money to spend on troops. It just doesn't feel entirely honest with itself.

 

I think EU4 is all about getting into wars in specific ways through diplomacy.  The actual war fighting is pretty poor, but how you get into one and what you do prior and after it to make your odds better is where the game primarily excels at.

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Re Gormongous's statement that the converter doesn't work. 

 

I used it yesterday, and it worked.  I'm not sure what anyone else's experience is like, but it was fine for me.

 

That said, the eventual ease in creating a massive empire in CK II becomes a problem in EU IV.  You can fairly craft a significant and large country in CK II which doesn't translate well into EU IV.  Not because of a technical issue, but because starting with a large empire in EU IV takes away a lot of the fun.  At least for me. 

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I think if there was any sweeping change that I'd make, it would be the complete elimination of the ledger. The ledger eliminates most of the FOW and it makes espionage largely pointless.

 

Because it is. Hearts of Iron is about war, Victoria is about industrialization and internal politics, Crusader Kings is actually about ethics in fratricide. EU is Paradox's Civilization, it's just a big strategy about countries. It's the one you recommend people who just want a strategy to play. 

 

>"forces you not to do certain things for periods of time"

 

You say it as if it's a bad thing. You play with what the game give you. Not a very good mechanic for balance but great for sustaining challenge and keeping everyone from snowballing.

If EU is their Civilization, that goes a long way to explain why I lose interest - and any semblance of difficulty - in the midgame.

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Arguable, but it's only important in the end of the period. The game reflects it by creating special cultural casus bellis by the end of the game but there's little sense to have ethnic revolts.

I'm sorry, what's arguable about that?

 

Cultural conflict and integration doesn't always avail itself in the form of 'ethnic revolts', and there isn't a singular, catch-all time period where it should be important. My complaint was that EU treats ethnic revolts as the only outcome, which I find to be a missed opportunity.

 

Cassus Belli becomes trivial in the late-game. I wouldn't applaud that design decision if that really is how they chose to abstract culture.

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Re Gormongous's statement that the converter doesn't work. 

 

I used it yesterday, and it worked.  I'm not sure what anyone else's experience is like, but it was fine for me.

 

That said, the eventual ease in creating a massive empire in CK II becomes a problem in EU IV.  You can fairly craft a significant and large country in CK II which doesn't translate well into EU IV.  Not because of a technical issue, but because starting with a large empire in EU IV takes away a lot of the fun.  At least for me. 

 

It looks like they started patching the converter again with the Way of Life DLC and have kept up with the patch that dropped today. That's great news, I'm glad!

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Your presence on the forums is much appreciated sir Goodfellow, much appreciated <3

 

BTW, question to everyone who regularly plays/played EU4.

 

Does anyone play any of the later starting dates?  I do this thing in all of Paradox games where I only play the earliest starting date possible.  Later dates just feel like I'm missing lot of the game out, even if it's arguably to my detriment.  Heart of Iron 3, for example, becomes much more interesting war-game IMO the later the starting date as you have more developed situations on your hand to deal with.  Yet I only play 1936 start (tried 1944 as Germany once and it was a blast til bug killed the game).

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Your presence on the forums is much appreciated sir Goodfellow, much appreciated <3

 

BTW, question to everyone who regularly plays/played EU4.

 

Does anyone play any of the later starting dates?  I do this thing in all of Paradox games where I only play the earliest starting date possible.  Later dates just feel like I'm missing lot of the game out, even if it's arguably to my detriment.  Heart of Iron 3, for example, becomes much more interesting war-game IMO the later the starting date as you have more developed situations on your hand to deal with.  Yet I only play 1936 start (tried 1944 as Germany once and it was a blast til bug killed the game).

 

Same thing here, I only start at later dates for some Achivements in Crusaders Kings II. Even in Hearts of Iron I start at the early date, but mostly because I haven´t really figure everything there, so start at later date I felt a bit overwhelming for me right now.

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