Sunday, January 18, 2015

Victoria 2: The Crisis system

I've always thought it was kind of strange that I have a thousand hours poured into various Paradox 'Grand Strategy' games, and not a single post on any of them. Part of it is that I have one in mind that might be a little too ambitious that I might want to pitch somewhere professionally if I feel I have a decent handle on it, and part of it is that I have a tendency of playing them the most when I'm feeling down and thus less likely to feel like writing, but strange nonetheless.

Anyhow, that changes today. I'll be discussing a very specific mechanic in one of their less popular games, so this will require more than a bit of background information.

Victoria 2 is a strategy game where you control a country through the 'Victorian' era, specifically 1836-1936. (I believe an expansion was required to take it through the interwar period, but I got into it after all of them were released) Likely the most unique aspect of the game is the complex production and industrial system, but that's for another post. This one is discussing the 'crisis' system, which is the game's main way of forcing conflict between major powers. (

Basically, how the crisis system works is that areas of high tension (colonial races or separatist movements, usually) a meter ticks up based on various factors, and when it hits 100%, a 'crisis' breaks out, and the involved parties (typically the nation wanting independence and the ruling nation) look for 'Great Power' (top 8 scoring countries) backers to support their side (unless they are a great power themselves, in which case they head up their own side and only need an opponent). After each side has a GP power involved, other GPs on the same continent (I think) (basically 'not the US' until Japan and China westernize) are asked to take sides, with a harsh penalty if they try to stay neutral. If no decision is reached (white peace or concessions), war breaks out, people die, etc. etc.

Critically, if no one backs both sides, the crisis peters out and nothing happens. We'll get to that later.

Anyway, the system works... okay, most of the time. I certainly understand the need to force some kind of conflict between the great powers, who usually need a *very* compelling reason to fight, and it does that fairly often. It does, however, feel very forced and arbitrary. Aesthetically it almost feels like the GPs backing one side or the other are doing it just as an excuse to fight the other GPs - very rarely is it actually a critical issue (sometimes it is, mostly in the case of Poland or Hungary - neither are sovereign realms at game start). Of course that would sometimes be the case, but it still feels awkward.

One thing Victoria 2 is bad about is throwing numbers at you that describe what is happening but not why. One example is how crises are generated - you can see the progress on a dedicated map mode, and a breakdown of how it's changing, but those numbers are very obtuse. (greek unification movement, +.12 per month! ... why?) I've played quite a bit, and I still have no idea how pops (populations) decide to back nationalist movements, although I assume the crisis progress is based on the strength of the internal movement. It just kind of happens and you respond.

My biggest issue, however, is that unresolved crises have a tendency of repeating themselves. Many of the games I've played have had one crisis repeat half a dozen times in a row over a couple of decades. (one in particular, usually - a greek reunification movement in.. Macedonia? Thessalia?). One side or the other almost always fails to garner a backer, and nothing happens, which seems... odd. Particularly if someone backs greece and no one backs the Ottomans. Logically, if someone backs the nationalists and no one backs the status quo, either the rebels should win or at the very least war should break out between the GP and the ruling nation (90% of the time with the same result, or worse), and if that was the case, crises wouldn't get nearly so stale, forcing a resolution much more often and thus allowing other crisis areas to develop.

Another idea that actually just came to mind was an idea for a new type of crisis - but this requires more background gameplay information. Sorry, it's an.. involved game. Each GP has a 'sphere of influence' - basically the countries they dominate politically and economically. (Ex: Indian minors with Great Britain, and german minors with Prussia or Austria) Anyway, you add new countries to yours by generating 'influence' with them, and oftentimes this evolves into a kind of 'bidding' war between two powers as each competes to gain dominance - a cold, soft war that seems like the perfect situation to evolve into a hot, hard one, and not a hard one to implement into the current design, although I won't get into the specifics more than I already have.

Despite all these issues I have with what is definitely one of the most important individual mechanics in the game, I do enjoy Vicky 2 quite a bit, and the crisis system's basics are a very interesting way of reflecting geopolitics in the period where the concept really began to take center stage. These ideas are just me nitpicking something that's irritated me while playing and trying to come up with fixes.

P.S. If you're interested in reading a bit more about how Vicky 2 works, I recommend this Let's Play on the Something Awful LP Archives. It's how I learned to play, and it should be reasonably easy to follow even if you don't have the game itself.