Steal This Game

If you’re into strategy gaming, and you haven’t played Europa Universalis 2 yet, you’re missing out.

EU2 is one of the deepest, richest, most brainy strategy games I’ve ever encountered. In it, you take a country — any country in the world, it’s your pick — and steer it through the years 1419-1820. In the process, you can either hew to the way things played out in history, or try to blaze your own trail; but the game makes it hard to do things that should be hard. Want, for example, to turn Imperial Russia into a liberal democracy? You’re welcome to try, but you’ll find it tough going, as that country starts out oriented strictly towards Serfdom and will require centuries of pushing to turn into a land of free citizens.

Sometimes your decisions can have impacts you never anticipated, too. One example I saw came in a game I played as Portugal. I decided early on to avoid the historic Portuguese strategy of dominating the trade route from Europe to India via Africa, and instead focus on attempting to find and colonize North America before the Spanish or English could get to it. I succeeded, and ended up splitting the Americas 50/50 with Spain, with the demarcation line falling inside present-day Mexico.

The unintended result came because my colonization of America blocked the English from having anywhere to send their religious dissidents (people like the Puritans, who the English historically dealt with by exiling to the New World). This meant that, while I was putting Portuguese cities up and down the East Coast, religious tension was reaching the boiling point in England. Finally, it boiled over and resulted in a 20-year new English Civil War, which ended with “England” as we know it today ceasing to exist, replaced instead by three factions warily sharing the island — Scots in the north, Royalists in the south, and Puritans with their own theocratic mini-state based in Wales! This removed England as a power factor for the rest of the game (the three factions spent the next 200 years trying vainly to win advantage over each other) and demonstrated elegantly how changes in one part of the world could have repercussions thousands of miles away. It’s a fascinating game, especially for history geeks like me.

And now, if you’re one of those folks who hasn’t played it, you no longer have any excuse — Micro Center has EU2 in its clearance bin for the low, low price of $9.95! I mean, come on, that’s less than the price of a CD for Pete’s sake, and this will give you many, many hours of great gameplay. Don’t be a cheapskate! Pick it up and see what you’ve been missing.