Paradox Teaches History: EU4 vs CK2

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry begins a deep-dive into Paradox Interactive grand strategy games, a subject after my own heart. He begins discussing Europa Universalis IV, a game I enjoy very much less than Crusader Kings 2 (I haven’t made the switch to Crusader Kings 3 yet, as I don’t think my graphics card can handle it, and I’ve better things to spend my money on than an updated graphics card just to play one game). My steam stats give the game away on this: I have like 500 hours, maybe, on EU4, over 2,000 on CK2. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I have always been a fan of the lives of Kings. Antonia Fraser and the Duc de Castries will never not have a place on my bookshelf.
  2. EU4 is a much more difficult game. Lots of requirements for actions, lots of things to manage, lots of economic agita. In other words, a lot of time spent staring at numbers and managing bells. It can feel like playing a spreadsheet. CK2 is relatively streamlined: gold, prestige, and troops are the only numbers you really need to worry about, and it’s relatively simple to get any or all of them going in the right direction.
  3. I hate hate hate the way EU4 does War. Fighting a war is agony. You HAVE to take fortresses, You HAVE to fight naval battles, and you can never never never be certain how a battle turns out. I’ve had fights where I outnumbered the enemy 2-to-1 and had my rear end handed to me. Not once or twice, but regularly. Certain countries (France, Prussia) are OP when it comes to “military culture” and can win battles standing on their head. There’s a mechanics of battle that I find deeply obtuse, so I’ve never figured out how to make England, for example, able to win a land battle (I’ve had people try to explain it to me, and it sounds nerdy as hell and a lot of work. I don’t play games to work).

Whereas, winning battles and wars in CK2 can be got down to a science. I have a pretty solid strategy:

  1. Make sure you’ve got at least half-again as many troops as the guy you’re attacking. 2-to-1 would be better, but I can win reliably with 150%.
  2. When you declare, collect all your troops in 1 spot. Make sure your army is balanced, and your commanders are competent.
  3. March on the province/realm you’re trying to conquer.
  4. Watch the attrition. If you need to divide your forces into smaller stacks to avoid attrition, do it. March carefully.
  5. If the enemy army is around, attack with your superior forces. If you avoid major mistakes and cowardly commanders, you will win 90% of the time.
  6. If an enemy army is not around, start sieging provinces down.
  7. After a siege is complete, attack the enemy army again. You’ll find that he likes to attempt to siege your territories while you’re sieging his. Marching back and forth a lot can be a pain, but it keeps your warscore ticking up.
  8. Repeat Steps 5-7 until warscore is 100%

Occasionally this won’t work, because somebody else will jump into your war suddenly, or a revolt breaks out, or your enemy has a crazy good commander who knocks your guys around like tenpins. It happens, but it’s rare. CK2 is really a Sun Tzu type of game: the goal is to arrange victory before a single soldier marches.

But this is all gameplay, and ACOUP is writing about how well this recreates history. Unsurprisingly given EU4’s complexity, he concludes it does a pretty good job at recreating what ruling a state in the early modern period felt like. If history games and the philsophy behind them interests you, I invite you to read it: