Victoria 3 is the latest grand strategy game from Paradox Development Studios, parking you on the throne, presidential seat, parliament, or oligarchic junta meeting table of a nation from 1836 to 1936. I recently had a week-long hands on with a development build of Victoria 3, and although aspects like user interface and AI weren’t finished, what I found was a promising new paradigm for Paradox’s niche strategy series.
At its heart, Victoria 3 is like many other grand strategy games: It’s for people who like to watch numbers go up. The trick is that this is a game that focuses on building a society and building an economy—it’s about the last explosive stage of the industrial revolution that brought on modern wonders like streetlights, trains, cars, and globalized trade.
Screens – Victoria 3
That is the real strength I found in Victoria 3: It wasn’t just army sizes and damage stats when you were looking for numbers to improve. No, I was looking at numbers like jobs created, hammers manufactured, universities built, literacy rates, laws passed, political party approval, loyal citizens, and immigration stats.
It’s broadly built around two backbones: Society and economy. Everything else stems from there, and is much more abstract than the manipulation you do around who does what, when, and how well they eat while they’re doing it. To address that you engage with a deep and interesting economic simulation that’s simultaneously less complex and more believable than others like it.
It’s first and foremost an open-ended historical sandbox, and the core is how it simulates population person by person. Everyone on earth needs food, clothing, warmth, and more. All those goods have to be produced somewhere, and contribute to the overall quality of life for a population.
It’s all simple supply and demand principles based around a base price for each item compared to what it’s actually being sold for. Abundance makes the price go down, need makes it go up—that snowballs into profits, how much the people working there are getting paid… which affects how much they can buy. It’s complex, sure, but made approachable by clear, obvious screens that give you a summary of how your market works… or doesn’t work. A shortage of clothing on the market might drive you to invest money in more textile mills. Those mills might have a lucrative side-business in luxury clothing that you’d like to export, but your economy doesn’t produce enough fabric to support the extra input. So you go to your neighbors, or international allies, and set up a trade route that also generates profit for your government via tariffs—or doesn’t, if you have a trade agreement.
Which is easy to get. The AI, however, has its own goals that range from obvious and clever diplomatic alliances to quixotic and seemingly random economic choices. It also didn’t always understand when it should back down from a fight. Paradox’s developers were clear that the AI was very unpolished at the nuances, so that’s something to want improvements in before release. So raw materials don’t always come cheap… and that’s when you start looking overseas, or at less-developed neighbors. Victoria 3 doesn’t make you colonize, or engage in colonialism, but it sure does give you an understanding of why it developed. Your strong economy always comes at someone’s expense.
If it’s not someone else’s, well, it’s probably your own population footing the bill. That’s true in economics and in wars, which are fairly abstract, but which still take real people who could be working in the fields or factories out of your economy. Those populations, or pops, fall into broad categories like lower, middle, and upper, then drill down by occupation and education. People gather into broad interest groups that you have to appease, cajole, or even incorporate into your government.
Who’s in charge determines what laws you can pass. Laws can change fundamental game rules, doing things like abolishing serfdom and slavery, modernizing an economic structure, or establishing functional healthcare systems. In short, all that political maneuvering lets you pass laws to improve or alter your society to fit your vision.
Changing things makes people mad though, especially if you change them quickly. Establish a police force? The lower class won’t like that very much. Force the upper class to pay a proportional share of taxes? They don’t like that either. Make a group too mad in quick succession and you radicalize parts of their base. If enough groups with enough in common become radical you face a revolt—how bad a revolt it is depends on who you pissed off. Overall, revolutions or not, going down in flames or not, I had a killer time with Victoria 3.