Victoria 3’s diplomacy-first grand strategy is exactly what fans have been clamouring for

Paradox Interactive fans are going to have to find a new meme; Victoria 3 has finally been announced, and while you could still shout “VICKY 3 WHEN?!” across the internet, we now know that the answer is “soon-ish”.

For those not in the know, the better question might be “Vicky 3, what?!” I wouldn’t blame you, considering that the last game released in 2009, predating Paradox’s more recent and dramatically more successful titles. Victoria 3 is a sequel to the decade-old Victorian-era grand strategy title with a real focus on diplomacy, economies and social change, as opposed to waging gruelling world-changing wars.

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Time has very clearly marched on for Victoria 3, boasting a world map and game engine with much in common with Crusader Kings 3. There’s a 3D world map and 3D character models, and all of the UI elements and UI have been completely reconsidered. I also noticed CK3’s excellent sticky tooltips make an appearance here, to help explain game elements as you play.

Yet the game is still laser focussed on the same specific period of time, starting in 1836 and running through to 1936, just a few short years before World War II. This was a period of dramatic social change, especially in the early 20th Century, as some of the longest-standing social structures were passionately fought over and changed, as great powers rubbed shoulders, as countries sought independence from imperial rule, as slavery was more and more widely abolished, and grand ideas like socialism came to the fore.

That’s a lot to try and represent in a game, but Vicky 3 is going to try.

Immediately there’s some significant changes to the pillars on which Victoria 3 is built. You play as a country, just as in Europa Universalis and many other historical grand strategy game, guiding the nation’s political and economic machinations. Where Victoria 2 had a single global marketplace for the trade of materials and goods – everything from furniture and fabrics, to meat, sulphur and beyond –Victoria 3 splits that down to a national level. Each country can have its own market. You can determine your own needs in this way, but you can also join or create common markets that align multiple nations together and (for the Great Powers of the era), allows you to exert influence over lesser nations.

Diving down into the economy, you find the buildings that make up the various industries in your country – tooling workshops, for example – and how they employ your country’s pops (a Part of Population that has been a building block of the series’ mechanics). How well an industry is doing affects how well they pay their workers, which in turn affects how much tax you collect, which feed the rolling economy of your country.

Dig into those Pops and you discover more about the people of your country and how they can impact the political machinations available to you. People of different backgrounds support different Interest Groups (IGs), which would make up the political groups of your country. Intriguingly, these aren’t the actual political parties that would have been found in the era, but something broader and transferrable across the hundreds of countries you can play as, adaptable to the many different countries of the world. Multiple IGs might, in reality, be combined to create Social Democrats, but here you have certain IGs in power and the others able to exert their influence, the ones that appear being relevant to the demographics of your nation.

The Junkers, for example, will look out for a country’s landowners, the Devout for the country’s religion, the Rural Folk IG for the farmers and workers in the countryside, and so on. Each IG will have a stance on the state’s Welfare system, Health system and Education, though each one also has a leader whose personal opinions feed into the things they support. The Industrialists led by August von der Heydt, for example, support the monarchy in Prussia thanks to his personal opinion, as opposed to an Industrialists’ traditional desire for more control of their own and a different government type that suits that desire.

The people in power, the IGs that have the most support and their opinions help to define some of what you can do with your country. How you can build up the institutions of your country, whether you can prioritise education which will eventually start to introduce newer social ideas to a wider portion of the populace, fuelling the social change, and more. You have to build up your institutions over time, but might find that, if you find yourself in the middle of a war, you have to deprioritise education in favour of boosting your military through a Conscription Office.

War is, obviously, still going to be an important factor in Victoria 3, but it’s not what Paradox really want you to consider the first or only option to getting what you want – in fact, it’s not being shown at this point in time. Instead of declaring war or making basic stat-counting diplomatic transactions, Victoria 3 features Diplomatic Plays for the more conflict-prone demands you might make.

Based of the Crisis system from Heart of Darkness in Vicky 2, it throws unknowable factors into the mix. Prussia could demand territory from the Netherlands, which the Netherlands is never going to agree to, demanding that you free a territory and pay reparations for the diplomatic insult. So, during the preparation phase, you can rally other nations to your side, looking for favourable countries that could tip the balance, whether they’re closely aligned or need a little convincing, such as whispering in the UK’s ear that if they back you in this, they could demand some territory as well. The problem is when Denmark gets the Austrian empire involved. Do you really want a war with Austria as well? You can back down and accept the penalties, the lost territory and economic cost of that if not (because the UK probably won’t go to war for you on this escapade).

It’s a fascinating system, bringing more variables and more unpredictability into play, where so many diplomacy systems in video games boil down to simple sums and stats. The challenge for the game’s designers it to never let it feel like it’s unfair or overly random. There needs to be an understandable sequence of events through the diplomatic conflict, even if you can’t see the specific inner workings of the system.

You could also play as any of the world’s smaller nations, focussing on building up its local economy to the point that it could become a major power and have some colonial interests. Then there’s the major powers like Belgium that would already have those interests and get to spend more time on diplomacy as their economy ticks over, building up to the Great Powers making broad decisions on their economy, getting stuck in with international diplomacy and being able to shape the world’s future. Through that all, there’s the march of time, of societal change, of rapidly evolving technology and industry.

It all adds up to a particularly fascinating attempt at simulating the Victorian-era world. There’s still a potentially daunting depth to it, but Paradox has made great strides in recent years, and I hope they can still make it accessible for novices to learn.

The only question now is: what’s the next PDS meme game going to be?

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