Six Excellent Games to Play While We Wait for Victoria 313 Feb 2020 2
Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun and its sequel Victoria II have always felt like the black sheep of the Paradox family. Despite a dedicated fanbase, Victoria fans have been waiting almost seven years for a sequel. The topic popped up on the Strategy Gamer Discord channel recently in response to a Tweet by Paradox Interactive.
This got me thinking, what other Victorian-era games can we play whilst we wait for Victoria III?
As I sat down to write this list, it became clear that there is a distinct lack of strategy games set during this period. The era is dominated by action/adventure games and RPGs such as Assassins Creed Syndicate, Red Dead Redemption 2 or This Land is Mine. Will, we managed to find some gems that are worth checking out. It's worth noting that we haven't mentioned Victoria II - it's a valid option but if you're like us, you've probably played it a lot already by now.
Pride of Nations
Released in 2011, this game was originally published by Paradox but is now published by Matrix Games/Slitherine after developer AGEOD left the Paradox fold and joined the latter companies. It site on my personal shortlist of greatest games. It plays like any other AGEOD game in their long line of titles; at least in terms of military mechanics. Pride of Nations goes a step further by expanding its scope over previous titles by adding deep economics, diplomatic and colonial layers into the game. Despite its age, it remains both original and fun to play. From a card driven colonial system that is a game within a game, to clever mechanics that seek to differentiate state finances from that of private equity, PoN is a masterclass in game design.
Unfortunately, the game also stretches the limits of the client it was built on. It takes minutes to process a single turn. This was game breaking when one turn simulated 15-days and the grand campaign stretched from 1850 to 1920. Turn times have been improved over the years through patching, but it remains problematic. Framerate issues when scrolling around the map also remain. Yet for all its imperfections, this game’s ability to capture the Victorian-era and the colonial machinations between imperial powers, gave it an unmatched charm and historical depth; one surpassing its Paradox rivals.
Imperialism II: The Age of Exploration
Imperialism II was released in 1999 and despite its age, continues to ‘hold up’ as a solid turn-based strategy game. Whilst Imperialism II technically starts in the 16th century, its end game is set firmly in the Victorian era of iron and blood. What makes Imperialism so engrossing is the way in which it reduces the economic, diplomatic and military concepts of the Age of Imperialism into dispassionate Realpolitik. In some ways its gameplay cycle is a simplistic social commentary on the History of Europe from the 16th through 19th centuries. You colonise the New World, exploit its resources and develop an economic engine. You then take that wealth and squander it fighting the other major powers with a single-minded end goal; conquer 50% of the ‘Old World’.
Yet, despite its single military victory condition, the game is more nuanced than it may seem. This is an engine building game focused on resource management and logistics more so than military tactics. Without a strong economy you can’t dominate the late military game.
Side Note: Imperialism I is also worth a look, though it does feel dated. This prequel forgoes the Age of Exploration and starts squarely in the 19th century. Gameplay and end goals are essentially the same. Both games are available over at GOG and run on Windows 10.
The 7th iteration of the Anno franchise takes place in the 19th Century, or to be more precise, a pseudo 19th century-esque world. Anno has always abstracted the geographical and political realities of the periods it represents by painting in stereotypical broad strokes rather than historically accurate detail. This is not attempting to portray Victorian geopolitics; maps consist of small islands the likes of which might be found in a Pacific archipelago as opposed to the European continent.
What this game does so well however, is capture the aesthetic of the Industrial Age in a way the other games do not. Zoom in close and you get the feeling you are watching a bustling Victorian diorama. The gas street lamps, the Parisian styled terraced housing, the smokestacks and revolutionary mobs; these small details draw you into the aesthetic spirit of the age.
If you have played an Anno game, you know what to expect. This is a city builder layered on top of a resource management game. It’s about production lines, trade routes and city planning. But Anno games are more than just a ‘pretty face’. The series has always had a compelling gameplay loop and Anno 1800 is no different.
Nantucket is a whaling sim set in the 19th century. Its story begins a few years after Herman Melville’s literary classic, Moby Dick. You assume the role of the sole survivor of the Pequod, go about whaling for profit and maybe even continue the hunt for the infamous White Whale. The game incorporates elements of Strategy, Tycoon, Adventure and Role-Playing games. The mechanics are engaging, if unoriginal. But the game’s main appeal is its unusual theme.
Its stylised art draws you in, making Nantucket feel like a period piece; one that immerses you in its subject matter. If Victoria and PoN represent a top-down approach to experiencing a time period, then Nantucket is a bottom-up approach; a grassroots experience of the bloody, Victorian-era Yankee whaler.
Matt Thrower gave the game a solid 4 out of 5 stars, finding the combat mechanics a bit dull, but forgiving its shortcomings because of the theme and the 'force' with which the game presents it. It’s a unique game about a unique topic and something a bit different from other titles on the list.
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai.
Total War Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai is a standalone expansion within the venerable Total War series. Originally released to mark the 'end' for Total War Shogun 2, it was re-branded last year as a Total War Saga game and removed to its own personal eco-system. Confused? So were many Total War fans. Still, it was an excellent send-off to one of Creative Assembly's best Total War experiences.
Fall of the Samurai covers the 1868 Boshin War in Japan. You play as one of the larger clans from the period and either support the Shogunate and its western backed modernisation efforts or stay true to the traditions of the Samurai and support the Emperor. If you've seen the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai, it's set during the same events (more or less).
Shogun 2 is narrow in its geographical scope compared to some of the other games on this list. However, it does a good job of representing (in semi-historical fashion) the social upheaval that came with Industrialisation, society’s transition into modernity and the passing of the old ways.
Special Mention: Victoria Improvement Project mod for Victoria I
Okay, I will level with you. I was never a big fan of Victoria II. I think it's a generational thing; I didn’t like Europa Universalis III or Hearts of Iron III either. During this era, Paradox was moving away from the historical events system it utilised in earlier titles and replacing them with the sandbox styled systems we have today.
As someone who loved the old event system, I absolutely adored Victoria: An Empire under the Sun when paired with the Victoria Improvement Project mod. This overhaul tweaked the AI, added economy changes, new nations and most importantly, a host of new historical events. The VIP mod added events large and small. Everything from the publication of a seminal literary work through to complex event chains leading to wars and the formation of nations. Each country had their own unique set of problems to overcome and the events system gave the game a branching narrative that is missing from the more modern iterations of Paradox titles. Playing Victoria with the VIP mod makes the player feel like they are actively influencing the unfolding of history, one event at a time. So why not return to where it all began?
The mod is still available from the Paradox forums (version 0.4 Hotfix 1) and requires the Victoria Revolutions expansion patched to version 2.01.
So, there you go. A list of games to try out whilst we all wait for a Vicky III announcement. If one of your favourite Victorian era games didn’t make the list, please feel free to share your recommendation in the comments section below.