How to break into grand strategy games with Paradox

(Image via Paradox) Europa Universalis IV lets players play as any nation that existed in 1444
(Image via Paradox) Europa Universalis IV lets players play as any nation that existed in 1444

Grand strategy games are perhaps one of the most niche and complex genres for new players to break into, but despite that, there is a good variety to choose from for a beginning player.

It’s important to note that grand strategy games are not complex merely for complexity’s sake, but rather they are often built to allow a level of strategic depth that most strategy games never bother with. While this makes grand strategy games very rewarding to play, this high barrier of entry means that players can often require dozens of hours before they understand them, and can still find new strategies after hundreds of hours.

What is a grand strategy game?

A grand strategy game is different from a normal strategy game (either real-time or turn-based) in part due to the level of control players expect to have over their games. In a grand strategy game, players have the ability to adjust minor stats with effects which trickle throughout the game. They are often characterized by having numerous complex systems which interact with one another and create organic gameplay.

For example, when playing Europa Universalis IV (EUIV) players can train an army, plan which techs to research, juggle shifting alliances and rivalries, develop provinces that produce high value goods, establish a global trade network, colonize new lands, fund rebels in a foreign country, adjust taxation, declare war, and sign a peace treaty where instead of land being transferred. the loser simply agrees to become the winner’s vassal state.

At the same time, players will need to be careful not to allow too much unrest to boil, carefully watch for rebels organizing, enact policies to change local religions or cultures in order to pacify local people, and be careful of any rival nation that might be sympathetic to a recently conquered population.

All this, and EUIV is often considered one of the more accessible grand strategy games currently available. Other strategy games may have some of these mechanics, but grand strategy games are all about how they all interact together.

How to get started with a grand strategy game

While it’s kind of frustrating, the best way to get started with one of these games is to simply start playing and refuse to give up. It’s difficult for new players to get into grand strategy games precisely because it might take 50 hours just to find out whether or not they find it fun.

Despite this challenge, Hearts of Iron IV (HoIIV) frequently makes it in the top 30 most played games on Steam, currently sporting more than 30,000 concurrent players. HoIIV is the latest entry in the WWII grand strategy franchise from Paradox, and features very detailed military mechanics that allow players to tune their forces down to individual units, equipment, and training.

But for a player with almost no experience, it would be better to begin with something like Crusader Kings III (CKIII), or even its free predecessor, CKII. CKIII takes the setting to medieval Europe and keeps players focused on playing a single character in a feudal society. As such, its emphasis is more on RPG mechanics and character based relationships and interactions.

This takes the challenge and makes it more about maintaining stability in a time when instability was normal. With its emphasis on characters rather than high-concept politics or industrialization, players can focus more on just a single type of interaction, rather than having to keep track of a dozen small things.

Additionally, CKIII’s mechanics pull double duty by being the way players interact both with characters within their kingdoms and with characters in foreign kingdoms. By sharing these mechanics, players will naturally get better at both aspects while focusing on just one.

But the world of grand strategy games is deep and varied

While it’s strongly recommended that players start with an easier grand strategy game like EUIV or CKIII, there are five main Paradox titles that are worth considering. In order of current popularity on Steam, they are:

Hearts of Iron IV (31,262 current players)

  • Set during WWII, players choose a nation to play as and micromanage its military, politics, and diplomacy. This game offers the strongest multiplayer experience, but the starting nations tend to be as unbalanced as they were in real life.

Europa Universalis IV (21,523 current players)

  • Set from 1444-1821, players guide their nation through the Enlightenment and colonialism. This game emphasizes trade and colonization, with a more simplified system for handling warfare. Diplomacy is also important, and the right friends can make or break a game.

Crusader Kings III (13,545 current players) or II (4,293 current players)

  • Set in Medieval Europe, players play as a single individual landowner somewhere between Spain and India. This game is all about juggling personal relationships, with character deaths playing a major part in creating chaotic situations. Players aren’t always in charge of the kingdom, so fights for the crown are to be expected.

Stellaris (13,333 current players)

  • Set in the future, players play as a unified planet as they begin exploring the galaxy. This grand strategy game features a wide variety of playstyles as alien species can have totally different values and ideas. Despite this variety, this game is on the simpler end, and it emphasizes exploration and resource exploitation more than the others.

Victoria II (1,365 current players)

  • Set during the Age of Industrialization, this grand strategy game is the oldest title on this list, and by far the most complex. Victoria II features a very detailed market simulation where products are bought and sold by individual population units around the world. These population units each have their own culture, religion, and political ideology, and drive how countries develop during the 110 year period.

One final note is that each of these games sport many fan mods that can almost entirely change how they are played, ranging from small feature additions to total conversion mods like the Game of Thrones mod for CKII.

While these games are complex, it’s common to see fans with anywhere from 200 to 2,000 hours of total playtime. Anyone eager to find a new type of game that has the potential to offer hundreds to thousands of hours of playtime should definitely look into what grand strategy games have to offer.

Edited by Nikhil Vinod
Be the first one to comment