Posted by: maroonmaurader | April 4, 2011

The most confusing game ever

I’ve mentioned For The Glory here on The Lure before, by Paradox Interactive – in very favorable terms. Simply put, it’s an excellent game for those who like empire-building strategy/simulation games. With that in mind, I was excited about the possibility of similar quality in Victoria 2 (also by Paradox Interactive). And as it turns out, Victoria 2 also has it’s own unique charm. Very unique charm. I had never in my life conceived of the possibility of a game this complex and confusing.

After going through the opening menus, and selecting your starting country (out of just over 200 initial countries to choose from, with perhaps another hundred that may come into existence during the course of the game – India may break off from Great Britain; the Confederate States of America may win the Civil War; Germany may be successfully unified…), you are presented with your opening screen.

I guarantee you that every little box you see there has a necessary function. However, it’s not until you dig into the nested menus that things start getting disturbing. For example, here is what happens if you select the big “Production” button on the top-left:

You enter the strange world of the production screen, in which you can build and upgrade factories in your various states (which are distinct from provinces, of course – the borders you see on the map above demarcate provinces, which are grouped into regions consisting of typically 3-4 provinces; regions in which you have sufficient bureaucrats and accepted culture you can promote into states, which in turn are the only place you can build factories, seen above). The “Production” tab within the “Production” screen, of course, shows you your empires total production of each of the various trade goods, while the “Projects” tab shows you what construction your nation’s capitalists have invested in on their own initiative.

As you might also note, off to the right of each row the picture of a factory with a “+” (the build-new-factory button) is grayed out. This is because the country’s current ruling party follows an Interventionist economic policy, which permits the state (i.e., you the player) to subsidize and upgrade existing factories, but not to build new ones. Depending on ruling party, you could also be in Laissez Faire (in which case you can do basically bat shit to the economy, and have to just hope your capitalists are smart enough to manage on their own… generally they aren’t), or State Capitalism or Planned Economy (in which case you can manage just about everything yourself, but suffer added overhead and less active capitalists). Depending on your system of government, you might be able to directly appoint your nation’s ruling party. More likely you’ll have to deal with elections, which you can keep track of with the Politics tab from the main screen…

Generally you have a two-house system of government, with an upper house responsible for reforms and a lower house which determines your ruling party (which, in turn, determines your government’s policies, such as an economic Interventionist policy). Elections are actually conducted, including election events in which you can choose to take a stand in favor of or against issues… leading to a small change in the local opinion regarding a given issue. The parties all have platforms which hold their stances on each issue (such as religious policy – e.g., Moralism, Pluralism, Atheism…). Voters will then vote for the party which matches their stances. However, each voter has a consciousness level which is effected by a wide array of game events and decisions which determines how closely their opinions will hold to the “natural” opinions for someone in their situation – so a highly conscious, primarily poor and lower-class nation might have a strong Socialist party, but with lower consciousness and diligent guiding of public opinion via events and decisions a human player might guide the same country to a Liberal or Conservative party).

Of course, you also could try to change the relative proportion of lower-class and upper-class workers, using (amongst other tricks) the Budget screen.

By adjusting the tax rate for the three main classes of society (lower, middle, upper), you can change how prosperous those groups are. This in turn effects how likely they are to promote to a higher class (or a better job in the same class) or be demoted to a lower class. A low tax on the upper-class, for example, will lead to more and wealthier capitalists, who will in turn be more ready to invest in factories which will help boost your economic productivity. A high tax on the lower class will decrease how readily they meet their daily needs. If your factory workers are highly taxed, then less of the profit from the factory makes it to their pockets from which they buy necessities; this in turn increases militancy and consciousness, which raises the chance of a rebellion. It’s even worse, of course, if your factory has many capitalists overseeing it, as then the capitalists will take a large share of the profits and the workers earn even less. Additionally, you can adjust your state spending – spending heavily on administration makes bureaucratic jobs more attractive to the plebs, causing your bureaucrats to gradually fill a larger portion of your population.

This is all driven by the individual population units (the “POPs” as the game calls them) – groups of people in the same province, with the same religion, culture, and employment.

You are free to examine every single POP – which, as you are likely to have dozens in every province, many provinces per state, and potentially dozens or even hundreds of states, is a Herculean task. However, it’s only by doing this you can begin to figure out why (for example) you have almost no bureaucrats and your Jewish artisans are all on the verge of rebelling.

Further, these POPs become very important when you wish to raise an army… as an army is composed of a general (who are naturally created by your officer POPs over time; officers are promoted soldiers, which you can encourage by paying high military wages), as well as a number of brigades; each brigade consists of 3000 soldiers and is tied to a specific POP. When the brigade takes casualties, it will draw reinforcements naturally over time from that POP – although if you take too many casualties, you may depopulate your province of soldiers, at which point that brigade will eventually die off because it can no longer replace losses. In addition to combat losses, your brigades will suffer heavily from attrition in any serious campaign, due to exceeding the supply limit of the province they are occupying.

The whole game goes on like this; this barely brushes the surface of the game. While they have 25 tutorial lessons designed to guide you into the game, those really only suffice to let you understand enough to realize that you don’t know what you’re doing the first time you play. On the other hand, the information is all there – nothing is hidden (except by being buried under other information), and almost every statistic or number in the game has useful information displayed as a mouse-over tool-tip. I have no idea what compelled the designers to make such a game (calling it a “game” is a misnomer; it’s an interactive Victorian-era political/diplomatic/military/social/economic simulator). As I said initially, I actually enjoyed messing around with it for a while – mostly in figuring out what the hell was going on. It’s extraordinarily difficult to make any rapid changes in the game – typically any significant non-military change takes decades of game-years of work, or several hours of real-time. I did play one game all the way through. But mostly I’m simply flabbergasted that a game like this exists at all. I’m told Victoria 1 was actually more complex and unapproachable, and V2 is the newbie-friendly version; the mind recoils at the thought.

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