Imperial Adventures

Regular readers will know I have a fondness for history, so it’s no surprise that I like computer games that allow the player to take a historical situation and try to reproduce the flow of history, or alter its outcome.

One of my favourite games in this genre was Europa Universalis II, which lets the player select one of two-hundred-odd nations across the globe, and shepherd its military, diplomatic, financial, technological, colonial, religious and philosophical development from 1419 to 1820.  EU2 was a great game, made even better by the addition of user-created mods which added thousands of historical events to the timeline.  Its one great failing was that its AI was relatively restricted; it would follow the events scripted for all of the various computer-controlled nations, but not really adapt to dynamic local conditions.  The AI showed no finesse in diplomacy or waging wars; you could pretty much count on AI-controlled nations not to gang up on you unless you went on a world-conquering spree.  And certain events (i.e. Wars of the Roses) fired solely due to their implacable scripted nature, whether your nation was an oasis of calm and stability, or a revolution-riddled basket-case.

Things were much improved in its successor, Europa Universalis III.  The AI is much more crafty and aggressive, more like a human player.  If you are too powerful an opponent militarily, it will employ subtler methods, like spies or diplomatic persuasion.  Opponent nations will ally with powerful neighbours and wait until get yourself embroiled in a war, cut military funding or reduce the size of your forces before deciding to go for your jugular.  Friendly nations will sucker you into an alliance, and then promptly declare war on their hated enemy whose army is twice as big as yours.  The AI is a much cagier, craftier beast in the latest iteration of the game.

The game is no longer script-driven, and after selecting your historically-derived starting point, the game evolves dynamically.  You won’t always see the same countries experiencing the same revolutions on the same dates; it all depends on what is happening locally in that country (or province).  Monarchs (and their skills) are also dynamic, and do not follow the historical record.  There are also other nice features, like royal advisors, who add bonuses to your nation’s capabilities or research.  And facilities that can be built in each province, which increase trade, tax revenue or population-related stats like manpower and happiness/stability.  There is a military tradition system which improves (or degrades) the quality of generals/conquistadors and and admirals/explorers you can recruit; the more land or naval battles you fight, the greater your land or naval tradition.  But this tradition degrades over time, so if you don’t fight that often, your tradition will remain low (and so will the quality of your leaders!).

The only downside to the game is that the scope is a little smaller; there are still hundreds of nations to play, but you have less time in which to play them.  EU3’s timeframe runs from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Revolutionary Era in 1793 (although I understand an add-on is being developed to extend the timeframe into the early 19th century Napoleonic Wars).

One interesting aspect of the game is that a lot of players like to write after-action reports (or AARs), little mini-histories of their nations as the game progresses.  I’m going to do the same here for my game as England, including some self-generated goals and limitations (to make the game mechanics less “gamey” and more like actual policy decisions
that would be carried out by real live human beings).


  • Annex Scotland and Ireland to form Great Britain.
  • Take and hold Jerusalem and Lebanon.
  • Guarantee the independence of the Papal States and the failed crusader
    state of the Knights of Rhodes (until the Reformation, if there is one).
  • Guarantee the independence of the Duchy of Athens (someone has to buy the Elgin Marbles!).
  • Seek the independence and unification of the Netherlands.
  • Control much of the territory of the historic British Empire, appropriate to its holdings in 1793, by the end date.


  • No province in the British Isles may be gained by military annexation, only by vassalship and diplomatic annexation (hopefully the Scots and Irish won’t be as resentful, then).
  • Never surrender Calais, and strive to retain all Continental French holdings.
  • No native/pagan states (Incas, Mayas, Aztecs, North American First
    Nations) are to be annexed in a war of aggression.  Still undecided if
    I will permit annexation as the result of a native-initiated war, but leaning against it.
  • Do not colonise any province where the primary economic output is slaves.

I’m using a couple of user-created add-ons for extra flavour and visual effects.  The Magna Mundi IV mod adds an lot of historical flavour and gameplay balance to the dynamically-generated events, and the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum mod makes the game’s playing map resemble those old 15th century parchment maps.

So without further adieu, here we go.

eu3_snap001 England’s position in May of 1453 is somewhat lacklustre.  At home, a minor rebellion is underway in Wessex.  On the Continent, Henry VI has managed to lose most of his father’s gains in France; all that remains are Calais and Gascogne.  France and her vassal Brittany are determined to oust the war-weary and vastly outnumbered English garrisons from the Continent.  Henry knows his army of 8,000 soldiers and 4,000 knights will be annihilated if they engage the large French force of 29,000 men marching for Gascogne; their only hope for survival is to stay out of reach.  Henry and his advisors concoct a bold plan to neutralise Brittany and regain England’s ancestral Gascon and Norman holdings.

The English-Armagnac War

eu3_snap003The royal treasury secures a loan from foreign creditors, and on June 1st, 1453, English diplomats buy peace with Brittany for a few hundred ducats.  At the same time the Guyenne Detachment under General John Neville is ordered to avoid contact with the massive French army and move south into the county of Armagnac, another French vassal.  The English crown has maintained a claim on Armagnac since the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to Henry II of England, centuries before.

English diplomats deliver Henry’s declaration of war to Jean V, Count of Armagnac; English ally Portugal also declares war but declines to send troops.  On June 4, 1453, the English and Armagnac armies clash.  England, remarkably, sustains zero casualties, while Jean V and his small army of 1,000 souls are annihilated to the last man. Armagnac forts are besieged and captured in short order; by July 3 the county is formally annexed and added to England’s Gascon possessions.

The War of English Aggression

The Anglo-Gascon force now eyes another French vassal (and former English possession), the county of Foix (Béarn).  On July 7, Henry VI declares war on Foix, and the Guyenne garrison resumes its march.  By August 16th, Neville’s 12,000-strong army corners 2,000 defenders under Gaston IV, Count of Foix.  English losses number 211 souls, while Gaston and his army are completely destroyed.  Neville assaults Béarn’s castles, and on August 29, 1453, the conquered county is united with the English crown.  The whole of ancient Gascony is English once more.

The War of Leinster Aggression

To help keep things quiet closer to home, Henry VI casts about for alliance partners in June of 1453.  Envoys are dispatched to the Irish lords of Ulster, Connaught and Leinster, and soon Donal VIII of Leinster agrees to a military alliance.  But as soon as crafty Donal
has the treaty in hand, he declares war on neighboring Munster.  The English court is aghast;  the alliance was supposed to secure peace and stability, not drag England into another war it can hardly afford!  The bulk of the nation’s territorial armies are devoted to the fighting in France; only a small 4,000-man garrison remains at home, suppressing the Wessex rebellion.

On June 2nd, 1453, Henry reluctantly declares war on Munster—but allocates no ships nor men to the war effort.  The English court keenly waits to see if Leinster’s small 2,000-soldier army will take on the equally-matched 2,000 souls of Munster’s army.  But wily Donal stays put and refuses to budge unless English soldiers are also present for the invasion.  Henry’s sensible advisors would rather throw all available troops at the war in France, but the King rules that England’s treaty obligations—especially unpleasant, unexpected ones—must be met.

Two months later, a fleet of English cogs appear off Cork, unloading 4,000 knights and soldiers.  On August 14th, the 6,000 men of the Anglo-Irish army meet Munster’s 2,000 troops in battle, inflicting serious casualties.  The English lose 326 men, while Munster loses
1,404.  The remaining Munster forces retreat into neighboring Connaught to regroup, but do not see action again.  The province remains under Anglo-Irish occupation until November 2nd, when Munster’s surviving nobles agree to become vassals and swear fealty to the English crown.

The Hundred Years War – Fourth Phase

While Neville’s Guyenne Detchment is busy conquering Armagnac and Béarn, an enormous 29,000-man French force marches out of Toulouse.  It proceeds northwest through Périgord and Saintonge, leaving small 2-3,000 man garrisons behind, before finally sweeping south into English-held Gascogne.  In July, with the bulk of the English forces fighting elsewhere, the 22,000 French defeat a hastily assembled defensive force of 8,000 mercenaries—but at a significant cost.  While 1,244 mercenaries die, they manage to inflict 2302 French casualties during the retreat, and the timid French commander doesn’t seek battle again for nearly five months.

England, meanwhile, seeks more foreign loans and hires another 5,000 mercenaries for the invasion of Normandy.  While crossing the Channel, the English transport fleet of lightly-armed cogs spots a French force of two carracks and two cogs—the entirety of French naval forces in the Channel.  The heavily-loaded English cogs give chase, and—miracle of miracles—send all save one French carrack to the bottom.  The English forces reach Normandy and begin sieging major fortifications in the province; France now has a two-front war on its hands.

In late October, Neville’s combined regular/mercenary force does the impossible and dislodges the 22,000 French from Gascogne.  The English suffer a staggering 4,400 casualties, but French losses number over 8,900.  Several small 2,000-man French garrisons from surrounding provinces attempt to assault Gascogne, and succeed only in obliterating themselves.

eu3_snap004 Back in London, Henry VI passes away on February 2nd, 1454, at the age of thirty-two.  He is succeeded by Mary I, an heir who surpasses all his monarchical abilities—administrative, diplomatic and military.  Queen Mary pursues the war in France with extraordinary vigour; the 4,000-man Anglo-Irish invasion force is landed at Rouen, putting the province of Caux under siege.  Over the following eleven months, the Anglo-Gascon armies in the south of France amass a series of stunning victories.  A half-dozen smaller French armies are completely wiped out, Toulouse is occupied and Saintonge put under siege.  Things are looking bleak for the armies of France.

In 1455, French resistance crumbles completely in the south.  The King of France, Charles VII, is killed (along with two-thirds of his knights and men) in battle against John Neville’s Anglo-Gascon army.  Charles is succeeded by his ineffectual heir, Henri II, who has little interest in affairs of state or the military arts.  English forces occupy Périgord, Rouergue, Languedoc and and Saintonge.  France’s vassals sense the imminent collapse of the state, and move to side themselves with the ascendant English.  One vassal, Auvergne, even permits English armies to pursue and engage retreating French soldiers across its own territory!

Near the end of the year, messengers present England’s demands to the French court: the return of Normandy and Caux, and the renunciation of French claims on Calais, Gascogne, Armagnac and Béarn.  They are rebuffed brusquely.  In retaliation, Mary orders the destruction of two more French armies in Lyonnais and Dauphiné, and the siege of those provinces.  Orders are dispatched to the English commanders sieging Normandy and Caux: when those provinces fall, march on Île-de-France and seize its crown jewel, Paris.

eu3_snap005 On February 19th, 1456, Mary’s final messenger arrives at the French court.  The demands remain the same: surrender Normandy and Caux to England, and renounce France’s claims on Calais, Gascogne, Armagnac and Béarn.  His armies and subjects exhausted, Henri sees little choice but to accept; better to lose two provinces than the whole of France.

England may have won the war, but now it faces massive war debt and rising inflation.

To see all installments of this Europa Universalis 3 AAR (after-action report), visit these posts:

1453-1456 Imperial Adventures
1453-1465 Imperatrix Romanorum Electus
1465-1479 Non Semper Erit Aestas
1479-1489 Graecia Capta Ferum Victorem Cepit

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8 Responses
  1. Good luck keeping this up. If you manage to finish the game, you’ll have enough text to fill a couple of large books.
    I played EU I and II and was impressed by the design, but never was able to finish a game. Too long. Too frustrating. I’ve looked longingly at EU III but know it is not to be.
    I actually had the plan to do just as you are doing and blog an entire game when I was up in Iqaluit. Playing England too! But after getting my butt handed to me too many times by the Scots (and having them bring the French in to make it worse) I eventually gave it up. But good luck to you. I don’t think I had Mary as a Queen though, so maybe you’ll make it.

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    I have played EU2 out to a point very near the ending, but not the actual end. I’m hoping to get to the end of an EU3 game before the expansion is released. =)
    And may I say I am shocked and pleased to find another EU player amongst the blogorati! I figured games of this ilk were a bit to obscure, I guess. Good to know there are others out there.

  3. I liked EU because it is very derivative of an old Avalon Hill board game I played in my nerdy youth. Empires in Arms recreated the Napoleonic Wars in a way similar to EU.
    Six friends and I actually finished a game — part of a very small club, I can assure you — and I won playing England. For six months the game sat on the kitchen table of my seedy apartment in Winnipeg. My worst moment was when Wellington met Napoleon in Southern France around 1810. I chose to outflank, and he chose to defend — an extremely advantageous result for me. But then I rolled three ones — THREE! — and the French player rolled two fives and a six — And Napoleon escaped to fight another day. I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier.
    But the best was when I used my superior navy to deliver and supply Turkish Janisarries to the coasts of France to wreck the French economy. Good times…

  4. Chris Taylor says:

    Looking over the Empires in Arms screenshots and description, it does seem like a sort of proto-EU strategy game. Looks like a lot of fun.
    But then I rolled three ones — THREE! — and the French player rolled two fives and a six — And Napoleon escaped to fight another day. I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier.
    Yeah that’s kind of crazy-making. Kind of funny how those experiences stay with us over the years. =) Used to love to play games like NATO: The Next War in Europe with a bunch of pals. As I recall I was the only NATO commander amongst the group to get rolled up to the French border and then have to resort to nukes.

  5. Colin says:

    I have the tabletop Empires in Arms game. Extremely intimidating manual.
    And I remember steamrolling you to the French border. That was fun!

  6. EU3: Imperatrix Romanorum Electus, 1456-1465

    An exhausted England rejoices at the Treaty of Toulouse and the end of the Hundred Years War. Church bells exult the great victory, and John Neville earns the sobriquet “Hammer of the French”. Finally, England’s Norman rights are confirmed.

  7. EU3: Non Semper Erit Aestas, 1465-1479

    Constantinople—the once-grand Nova Roma of the Eastern Roman Empire—is now home to Adam Dundas’ small, beleaguered occupation army. Every few months an Ottoman force appears outside the Theodosian Walls, intent on sieging the city. The English garrison dutifully marches out and repels the attackers, but attrition, desertion and disease are taking a heavy toll. In November of 1464, 4,400 English knights and infantry occupied the city; by January of 1465, only 3,300 remain.

  8. EU3: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, 1479-1489

    Queen Mary has done a matchless job navigating her realm to the height of international prestige. England is well-regarded in most European courts, due in no small part to Mary’s considerable influence with the Roman Curia and Imperial courts of the Holy Roman Empire. England is also blessed with a reasonably stable economy, and the victorious wars in France, Greece and Turkey have helped spread her fame around the known world. The English court is guided by knowledgeable peers, and the Queen’s subjects are protected by the Magna Carta Libertatum, in force since 1215 A.D. and reissued several times since.