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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 400 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 680 MB    Graphics: 640x480

November 29, 2005 | Stu Willis

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Born in the ashes of the Napoleonic Wars and ending with the machine-gun fire of the Great War, the 19th century was a watershed era in human history. Humans numbered in the billions for the first time. Imperialism fueled the economic powerhouses of Europe. Industrialization revolutionized trade, science, politics, economics and, ultimately, society itself. Democracy began to claw its way through the established order of slavery and serfdom. The Congress of Vienna laid the foundations for international law, while the British Empire fought unending wars. The 19th century was an era dominated by constant conflict, and is a a rich scenario for Paradox Interactive's Victoria, a strategy game of imperial scope.

Victoria is a continuation of Paradox's Europa Universalis-based games and draws heavily on their experience with Europa Universalis (EUI and EUII), set in the 17th and 18th century, and Hearts of Iron (HOI), set amidst WW2. Whereas EUII's strategic emphasis was on colonization and HOI's was on warfare, Victoria's strategy focuses on managing the affects of industrialization, imperialism, and the minutiae of internationalism. Victoria's goal is to capture the zeitgeist of the Victorian era in all its enormity and breadth. The result is that Victoria is perhaps better described as a statecraft simulator than a strategy game.

Like in most strategy titles, the player doesn't take the role of any leader or the government, rather they are the state itself. However, unlike other strategy games, in Victoria the player cannot directly choose the government. Instead, the government is elected, chosen or enthroned by population units (POPs) that serve a similar purpose to Sims in SimCity. POPs affect players' decisions while also being subject to them. The government will impose restrictions on the player, such as restricting defense spending or increasing your minimum spend on social issues.

Officially, victory in Victoria is ultimately determined by accumulation of victory points (funny that). Victory points are earned through expansion, economic development, social reforms, technological research, military size and quality, industrial might, and political power. Points can also be earned through typically Victorian endeavors such as building capital ships. However, this tends to favor the large European nations such as Britain, France, Russia, or the USA. Unofficially, like in the Sim games, players often set their own goals, such as conquering a particular nation, like Mexico or Switzerland.

You can choose to begin the game in 1836, 1861, 1881 or 1914, but the game will always end on December 30, 1920: the close of the Victorian Era. Each of these start points has a different focus. 1861 was the start of the American Civil War and Prussia's consolidation, 1881 was the advanced development of the colonial economies, and 1914 is the beginning of the First World War. This flexibility brings depth and variety to a game that lacks neither.

Victoria is a "running-time" game, a variation of the real-time strategy genre that allows the player to modify the speed of the clock dynamically, including pausing. Rather cleverly in multiplayer games, any one individual can pause the game, yet after 30 seconds anyone can unpause it. This is a fair compromise that reflects the real need for nations to triage their policy decisions during moments of crisis.

Victoria draws upon its historical setting to confront players with historically influenced "events." Some events are random while others are nation-specific. These events are often situations in which players must make policy choices, each with different consequences that are shown via Paradox's standard tooltips systems. As is fitting for policy, the choices are often between the lesser of two evils, and the enjoyment comes from trying to make the right decision in a difficult situation.

Despite its name, Victoria allows the player to take the role of any nation during the Victorian Era, from the vast empire of Britain to then fledging nations like Canada or Mexico. Players view a beautifully rendered world map, where they micromanage all their regions and provinces. Contrary to conventional wisdom from other games and Victoria's own victory point system, playing the larger countries, like Britain, is paralyzingly difficult for new players: you become bogged down in micromanaging an already existing empire, rather than spending time rapidly developing your little plot of land. Playing smaller nations allows you to get a better feel for the game and gain satisfaction from seeing the results of your efforts, rather than spending your time putting down revolt after revolt.


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