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GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Strategy First


At first glance, Europa Universalis may look like the old board game "Risk" on Steroids, that's what I thought.  When I started playing though, I quickly changed my mind.  If you must build EU up from an ideal of Risk, imagine that you're playing it as a final test for your college studies in European History, Religious studies, Economics, Wartime Strategy and Government.  It is by far one of the most complex and historically accurate Strategy games ever made.   

Europa Universalis places you in at the head of a European nation, right in the middle of the Age of Expansion.  The time period that the game covers begins at the discovery of the new world in 1492 and concludes at the beginning of the Napoleonic conquest in 1792.  300 years of European discovery, colonization, war, reform, and invention set the stage for this massive and in depth game.   As monarch of a chosen European Power, you attempt to create a veritable Superpower in your given timeline.  If you're successful and a little bit lucky, you can rule the world.  Otherwise, it's back to the drawing board.  The game contains 7 pre-made scenarios, a tutorial and the ability for up to 8 player LAN (or internet) action.

There are so many aspects to the game, I really don't know where to begin.  I'll start with a brief explanation of the interface and how it's used.  The main window contains a map of the world.  You can move this map around and zoom in and out.   The "fog of war" makes it so you can only see places that you've already explored.  To the left of the map, there is a sidepanel that displays all kinds of information.  This is where you balance your budget, determine your religious preference, build cities, promote government officials, form alliances and start wars.   The lower quarter of the screen is a log of events that have transpired over the past several years.  This is handy to look back and determine where you've sent armies, who's attacked you and why the heck you wanted to start a colony in Tunisia (well, the event log might not help you with the "Why" but it'll sure tell you that you did!)    All of your provinces, cities, colonies, armies and navies are displayed on the map screen.  This is where you can move armies and navies about, and decide which province to focus on. 

The game is full of things to pay attention to, and you can set your own pace.  The "Semi-realtime" environment that is described on the box basically comes down to the fact that you can pause the game and tell 7 of your armies to invade 7 different nations and then hit "un-pause" and watch the Fit hit the Shan.  There are 8 game speed settings, the slowest being  "5 minutes real time = 1 month game time" and the fastest "1 minute RT = 2 years GT", but I think that you've have to be D.A.R.Y.L to be able to play at that speed.  Getting the right speed for you is important because if you make it too slow, you'll be bored and if you make it too fast, you'll drive yourself nutty. 

The first thing that I did when I popped the game in was fire up the Tutorial Scenario.  It seemed like a good straightforward way to learn how to play.  I lost.  Bad.  OK, second time around, I've learned not to spend all of your money on armies and cannons when you live on an Island.  I lost again.  It wasn't so bad this time, but I still ran out of money and had to start over.  What's up!?  I don't take myself to be a moron or anything, but this is the tutorial, it's supposed to teach you how to play, not beat you down and spit in your face.  I took a walk and cooled of and came back for my third try at the tutorial.  They say third times a charm, and this was no different.  This time I had a little experience under my belt and had a pretty good handle on how the game worked, but it still took me several hours to get through it.   So I've made my point, there's a rather healthy learning curve on the game, just don't think you're going to sit down and win like you do with Mrs. Pac Man.

Once I learned how to work my country's finances and be a competent monarch, the game became much more interesting.  There are 5 areas of research that you can put funds towards.  You can apply your hard earned gold toward army and navy advances, trade development, national stability and infrastructure.  The game has the standard ladder of advancement, you can't make cannons before you have gunpowder and you can't promote Governors before you can promote Mayors.  Army and Navy advancement are pretty straight forward, and Trade Development pretty much speaks for itself.  It is Stability and Infrastructure that deserve a little explanation.  Stability is the chance that your people are likely to turn on you.  If you live in a Catholic state and you all of a sudden decide that you're going to be a Pagan nation, your townsfolk are not going to take kindly to that, thus reducing your Stability.  On the other hand, if you create a fine arts museum so your people can fill their minds with meaningful thoughts of peace, art and tranquility, then you've got pretty good chances that they're not going to want to impeach you(which doesn't happen, they'll just form a rebellion and take control of a city.)  Your infrastructure is the makeup level of your government.  When you increase your infrastructure, you gain the ability to turn a bailiff into a tax collector.  This helps to make each of your colonies and cities more productive and profitable.  

Trade is another big part of the game.  Each of your provinces produces various resources, from fish or wool to gold or iron.  In order to make money from these productions, you need to have merchants that are willing to sell these for you.  Each political area has a geographical center of trade that the cities, colonies and traders report to.  Your nation makes money on a monthly basis from the merchants that it has in various centers of trade.  In order to build up money to expand your nation and keep inflation down, you must have a healthy trade market along with your standard tax collections.  In addition to the reacting to the actions of other players (AI and/or Human), there are also historical events that occur at various times during the game.  The Reformation might happen (but no earlier than 1517) and cause a mass of your provinces to turn their backs on Catholicism.  Maintaining a Catholic state could jeopardize your relations with many of your provinces.  Also, changing your state religion to Protestant allows you to confiscate church-state property for government use. 

So after taking a dive into the depths about the EU's complexity and playability, let's take a look at its less impressive side:  graphics and sound..  Given that the bulk of the game is made of a great big map and that 300 years of history went into the game, the graphics are slightly on the poor side.  The cities and colonies are displayed in the sidebar, but all look very similar.   The armies are display "standing" on the map, but that is about the only detail that is on the map.  The sound was also a part of the game that was undercut.  The game rarely makes a noise at all, but when you're least expecting it, a massive clanging and yelling pours from your speakers.   That same clanging and yelling is played every time your armies go to into battle and sometimes loops itself 3 or 4 times depending on the length of the battle.  

All in all, Europa Universalis was an impressive game.  Just the amount of historical research that went into the game is mind-boggling. The politics, economic and wartime strategy are detailed enough to teach a seasoned veteran a thing or two.  It does a great job of simulating the difficulty that 16th century European monarchs went through and the greatness that they had the potential to achieve.  The weaker parts of the game might not affect a hardcore strategy buff, but it did lessen the experience for me. I think that it is definitely a unique and fascinating game that has the potential to lead into a new genre of strategy-simulation games. 

Tim Johnson


Ups: Elegant, complex, and beautiful; a finely balanced game experience.

Downs: Limited Multiplayer; steep learning curve.

System Reqs:P200 or equivalent, 64 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM, SVGA, 2MB VRAM, 180 MB disk space, mouse, sound card, DirectX v7.0


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