By Dillon O’Toole
If any of you have read my article from last semester, “Yet Another Brick Wall,” you will know that I find great enjoyment in video games. That article in particular talked about my appreciation for a specific genre of video game most prominently made by the developer FromSoftware. A major takeaway from that article was that you can find enjoyment in a genre that many find frustrating. Don’t worry, this article won’t just be a recap of what I wrote last semester. I’m not that desperate for ideas (yet). Instead, I’m here to talk about another genre of games that at first might not seem as conventionally enjoyable. And, much like last time, the genre in question has a developer that I believe stands above the rest.
So what game genre could I be referring to? Today’s topic is the genre known as Grand Strategy. As you could probably guess from the name, Grand Strategy games are a type of strategy game. They typically focus on some combination of nation building, warfare between states, and resource management. It is most certainly not a new genre, as the board game Risk can be considered an early example of a Grand Strategy game. Risk as we know it today was first released in 1959, the original 1957 version had some different rules and was released under the name La Conquête du Monde. As computer technology developed, Grand Strategy games established themselves as a mainstay of PC gaming. One of the more prominent developers of this genre to emerge was Paradox Interactive.
Paradox Interactive has developed and published some of the most successful Grand Strategy games made (Paradox Interactive is the publishing arm of the company and Paradox Development Studio is the developer, so I will just be referring to the company as Paradox from here on out). For a relatively niche genre, Paradox has managed to create popular games within multiple of their series. Some of their most popular games include Crusader Kings II (CK2), Crusader Kings III (CK3), Europa Universalis IV (EU4), Hearts of Iron IV (HOI4), Stellaris, and Victoria 3.
While Paradox’s games may all be within the same genre, they all manage to have their own identity. This variation comes from a couple of different factors. One, each series has a primary gameplay focus that makes them unique. For example, both CK2 and CK3 utilize more RPG elements, with a focus on individual characters. Victoria 3, on the other hand, is primarily an economic and political simulator, and thus the development of one’s country is the primary concern rather than combat. This variety allows each game to maintain its own active player base, as demonstrated by the Steam charts which frequently features each game mentioned (besides CK2 which hasn’t made as many appearances on the charts since its sequel released).
Well, each game takes place over a set period of time (i.e. the Crusader Kings games are in the Middle Ages), and thus a map is utilized to represent the game world. While this might sound rather boring, the use of a map for the game world can invoke the feeling of playing a board game. A map is also practical for Grand Strategy games, as different map modes can provide the player with necessary information. For example, in EU4 the political map mode shows the various nations that exist in the game, the diplomatic map mode provides information on which countries you have diplomatic relations with as well as the type of relationship, and the trade map mode informs the player that they still don’t know how trade works in the damn game. Much like a board game, Paradox games have you directly move soldiers on the map until they meet opposing armies. Combat then takes place, which mostly consists of the computer rolling dice to see if you win or lose (hope you don’t roll a 1). This is a very basic rundown of how these types of games play, as each game has its own intricacies and systems that may differ greatly from other Paradox games.
Why do people enjoy these games? Well, the variety in historical eras between games can be enticing to those interested in said eras. This is doubly true for those who enjoy Alternate History as a genre, as the games themselves naturally deviate from history based on the players actions, and mods created for the games allow you to play through entire alternate scenarios. In my experience, these games are best played while listening to music, podcasts, or YouTube videos. They don’t cause stress for me so they’re great games to play while I relax.
Paradox games can be very daunting to new players, and not just because they are complex titles. Due to Paradox’s post-release support, many of their games get support for years after release. EU4 was released in 2013 and it still receives updates and DLC to this day. This, however, leads to the problem of cost. While this support is great for those who may have been playing Paradox games since release, those who are looking to jump into the games now may face an enormous price tag just to access all of the available content. Paradox does offer some ways to get around the price tag: only the host of a multiplayer game requires all of the content in order for all the other players to access it, for instance. Recently, Paradox has introduced a DLC subscription, which I think is a good way to let players try content which they don’t own. Finally, Paradox routinely puts their games and DLC on sale, typically once every season as well as when new content is released.
All in all, Paradox Grand Strategy games are an engrossing selection of games. There is plenty of content available to try out: the games mentioned are all for sale on Steam and some are even available on consoles, with a few included on Xbox Game Pass (both PC and console). If this article has piqued your interest and you decide to check out any of these games, don’t be afraid to have a guide handy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.