Blueprint for a War Machine

Here’s the most important thing to remember about winning in Europa Universalis III: it’s all relative.

By which I mean that the goal is not to amass the absolute largest, wealthiest, or most powerful empire in the world. Instead, the game looks at what you started with and what you managed to do with those resources.

In my game, Austria consumed Greece, the Balkans, and southern Germany. Russia conquered the Eurasian continent. Despite their vast conquests, they were ranked in the top ten nations alongside my minuscule Brandenburg. Even though I was a lightweight, I’d performed well enough with scant resources that Brandenburg became more than the sum of its parts. I was a model of the Enlightenment, and a strong contender to win the game in the final 100 years.

Nevertheless, winning depends on survival. EU3 isn’t going to say, “Well, your cities have been burned to a cinder and your neighbors have carved up your nation like a Christmas turkey, but your education system was the envy of Europe!” Even a pacific and enlightened state needs to watch the balance of power and judiciously apply a thumb to the scales when needed, which usually requires a little fighting.

However, in the same way that performance in EU3 is measured relatively, military success depends on factors beyond numbers and technology. In games like Civilization or Total War, technology trumps numbers and technology combined with numbers trumps everything. In EU3, your military is subject to a wide variety of pressures that undercut the conventional “research, build, conquer” strategy.

For one thing, there are limits to how many men you can put in the field at any one time. Every state draws on a national manpower reserve in order to build new units and replace losses. That manpower reserve represents the total number of men presently available for military service. This is one of the ways that EU3 prevents runaway victories. Unless your nation is exceptionally populous and wealthy, you cannot use giant armies to steamroll the opposition. You will tap out your manpower reserves or break the treasury.

Furthermore, the national manpower reserve is tied to a number of factors beyond population size. For instance, every state has a set of policy sliders that can be adjusted, one at a time, every ten years or so. One of them has “Serfdom” at one extreme and “Free Subjects” at the other. Moving away from serfdom and towards a universal concept of citizenship produces far more potential recruits than a medieval system, but it also introduces a backlash from the nobility and creates a more unruly populace.

There are also “National Ideas” that provide special attributes. These are the concepts and policies that give a state its non-corporeal identity. So while one country might be animated by the ideas of exploration, trade, and colonization, another believes in military service, discipline, and battlefield glory. For my game as Brandenburg, I chose national ideas that increased the manpower pool at a faster rate, and improved my troops.

Two other wrinkles affect the size and strength of your army. First, while the manpower reserve represents the theoretical limit on army size, you start suffering financial penalties if you have a disproportionately large military establishment. Up to a point, you pay the normal cost of running a military. Expand beyond that point, and you start paying cost plus an extra percentage. However, the extra percentage increases disproportionately with each new unit you build. So the first extra regiment might add a 1% charge to your military expenses, but 10 extra regiments might add 25%.

Second, the quality of your troops is influenced by your country’s military tradition. You cannot build a military from scratch an expect it to perform well. Furthermore, a military that never sees action does not make for a proud tradition. On the other hand, neither does a military that gets its ass kicked.

So you must treat your military as a long-term investment, and remember that an army with practice at winning is likely to trump one that has experienced long decades of peace. Depending on your choices and opportunities, you will see your military tradition increase at a greater or lesser rate. The higher your tradition value, the better your units.

(As an aside, I should also mention that armies and navies exist in tension with one another, so everything I’ve said applies to both branches, and improvement to one often comes at the expense of the other.)

All of this determines the institutional quality of your army, but that only goes so far. During times of war, you often need to appoint a general to lead your army in battle. Recruiting a general gives you access to a specific individual that provides bonuses to your army beyond their base values. The greater your military tradition, the better your general is likely to be. The downside is that a general consumes tradition. With less tradition, your troops are less capable. The more generals your appoint, the more tradition you lose.

This might sound arbitrary, but it’s not. Great commanders do not usually leave great militaries behind them. The Prussian army that Frederick the Great inherited from his father was a masterpiece of professionalism and military preparedness. The one that Frederick left to his successor was arrogant, only 50% Prussian, and led by men who had spent their careers following orders.

In the same vein, the Royal Navy looked to Nelson long after the admiral’s death, and long after his axioms and command style were outmoded by technology. The story of the US Army after WWII and commanders like Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and MacArthur is likewise not a happy one.

With a good army army backed by the right kind of society, and led by a good commander, even a small state can occasionally stun larger adversaries. On other hand, decades of preparation and care can be erased with a single disastrous campaign, and there are a sobering number of variables that can lay waste to a sound plan. When you only have enough manpower to field one small army, conflict of any kind is harrowing, no matter how carefully you’ve tended to these factors.

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