Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hearts of Iron II

Yesterday, November 9, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Well, that's what the game tells me, at least. But I had battleships at Pearl Harbor, and I saw no sign of the Japanese - not there and not anywhere else, either.

But at least we're finally at war. After playing this game for three weeks, something has happened! :)

This isn't a new game, but it's new to me. I bought Hearts of Iron II Complete - the original game, plus two expansions - from GamersGate almost three weeks ago (naturally, it's on sale right now), and I've been playing at least a little bit every day. Until yesterday,  pretty much nothing has happened. I'm not kidding, either. It really is pretty funny.

A few years ago, I bought Europa Universalis III, also by Paradox Interactive. That's a very impressive game, it really is. I'm still amazed by it. But I don't think I'm smart enough to play it. Or maybe I'm just not patient enough, I don't know. I really wanted to like it, but I never got very far with it.

But I was watching this playthrough of Hearts of Iron II on YouTube, and that looked like it might be a little different. For one thing, I know a little more about World War II history. And I thought the 1940s might move a little more quickly than the 1400s.

I really like the history in this game. It doesn't just start historically accurate, but historical incidents continue to occur as long as the situation hasn't changed too much.

And yet, differences do occur. In my game, Germany declined to sign the Molotov–Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, although those two nations still haven't gone to war.

Indeed, the Soviet Union hasn't gone to war with anyone. The Winter War never happened, and Nazi Germany took all of Poland this time. (And the Spanish Republic beat the fascists in their civil war, this time.) So there are always differences.

A player can, with patience, do almost anything he wants. But it takes a long time to change a nation dramatically. The United States started out very isolationist (historically accurate), and as a democracy, even the president is very limited in what he can do.

As the power controlling the United States, I couldn't declare war in the early years. I couldn't even join the Allies early. So, from 1936 to 1941, I just built factories, air fields, and naval bases, researched technology, created military units,... and waited for something to happen.

It's not that I didn't expect this. After all, I didn't expect war with Japan until December 7, 1941 - or perhaps a little earlier (America decided to embargo oil to Japan in the summer of 1940, a full year before it happened in real life) - so I knew I'd have a long wait from 1936.

You can play any of these nations. Want to play Haiti? South Africa? Turkey? Go for it. (I wouldn't necessarily recommend those nations, but it is possible.)

But it's been a little frustrating not seeing what's happening in the rest of the world. Oh, I get the notifications - Germany annexes Poland, Germany annexes Norway, etc. - but I can only see the big picture. My naval ships don't even have the range to get to Europe (where I would be able to see the fighting in nearby provinces), and that's not the kind of game this is, anyway.

Even when I have to make a policy decision - which has been a rare occurrence - there's only ever been one rational response. It's not exactly a "decision" when one choice - the historical choice - gives me all sorts of bonuses, while the other just makes America even more isolationist.

Still, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I expected this, and I even applaud it. I like the fact that the game is historical. I can change things very dramatically if I want, but I don't want to do that - not playing as the United States, at least. (And if I wanted to jump right into war, I could have played as Germany.)

Indeed, I even moved most of my battleships to Pearl Harbor, expecting to suffer a real reversal in the inevitable Japanese surprise attack. OK, they were my older battleships. Heh, heh. But still.

Yesterday, almost a month ahead of time, the Japanese declared war. Supposedly, they made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but as I say, I saw no sign of it - or of any other Japanese attack. And I don't seem to have suffered any kind of setback (but maybe I'll see that soon?).

At the same time, they also declared war on Great Britain, so I joined the Allies myself. I assume that means I'm currently at war with Germany and Italy and the rest of the Axis powers, but I must admit that I didn't look. Heck, I haven't even been able to reach Europe with my ships, so Japan has been my major focus, so far.

You can see your troops or an ally's troops anywhere, but other units only where you have eyes.

I wanted to post this before I actually get into the war. So far, I've just been trying to prepare for it. For almost three weeks! (Or five years, however you want to look at it.) Everything takes a long time in this game - building an aircraft carrier takes almost two years - so if I've made any serious mistakes, I won't be able to correct them immediately.

My plan in the Pacific is basically to follow historical precedent. I've fortified America's holdings in the Pacific, except for Guam and the Philippines (the latter a puppet state), which I figured were lost causes anyway.

I know there are some powerful Japanese fleets out there, and there's a lot of ocean to cover. At the same time, I can't afford to spread myself too thin. As soon as possible, I need to take the offensive and start island-hopping, taking vital airfields and naval bases from the Japanese in order to get closer and closer to the Asian mainland.

This probably won't be easy, because Japan will be able to use those airfields to good advantage. Well, that's why they're so critical. And I'll have to protect my supply lines, too. That's absolutely essential in this game.

I have a different plan in the Atlantic. I don't think Germany can reach the American mainland with anything. Indeed, I haven't been able to reach Europe. Now that I have allies there, it's possible, but still not easy.

But I've been building up Puerto Rico for a push into Africa (Liberia is an American puppet state). I think I can reach Ascension Island, a British possession in the South Atlantic, if just barely, with my most modern ships. There's no port there, but if I can drop off troops, I should be able to pick them up from ships based in Liberia.

Alternatively, I might take French Guiana from Vichy France (and their islands in the Caribbean, while I'm at it) and try to build a port there. That might be close enough that I can reach Liberia directly.

But I'm not sure I'll be able to build a port there, since the province will probably revert to the Free French once I take it. (They're allies, but I probably can't build in their provinces.) I just don't know. One way or another, I think I can make this work, but I'll just have to see.

Africa is the soft underbelly of the Axis. Indeed, the Allies have been doing quite well there already. Everything north and east of Liberia is still controlled by Vichy France, but it shouldn't be difficult to advance quickly against them, given the situation. (Some African provinces have already risen up and declared for Free France.)

Of course, there's a real shortage of airfields in the Saharan Desert! And I don't have any tanks. (I couldn't research everything, and my priority has been to defend against Japan.) I still think this will work, but it might be slower than I'd like - thus giving the Axis time to react.

Well, as I say, my priority has been to build ships and planes for war in the Pacific. I expected - and still expect - to use the time it will take me liberating Africa to create a land force which will have some chance against the Germans. (Right now, even Italy would probably kick my butt.)

The real wild card is the Soviet Union. In our history, Germany invaded Russia in June, 1941. So far, that hasn't happened here. The Soviet Union hasn't done anything but build up their military. And they really, really dislike me. :)

I don't know what they think of the rest of the Allies, but it hardly matters. If a nation declares war on one of us, we're all in it. The possibility that the Soviet Union might join the Axis is... troubling. Heh, heh. Well, I lie. The fact is, I could work to improve America's relations with them if I really wanted to.

But I don't. This is just a game, after all. No one really dies in a pretend war. So the more enemies the better, right?


Chimeradave said...

How many hours a day are you playing it? It sounds fun, but it might be too slow for my taste.

WCG said...

Oh, god, I don't know, John. I play when I take a break in the afternoons, and I play some in the evenings - not usually for a long period of time, but every day.

Take a look at that video playthrough I mentioned. That might give you a better idea of the game.

PS. I just discovered I made a mistake. Re. my above plan, it turns out that I'm not at war with Vichy France. I just assumed that they were a German puppet, and so would automatically be at war with me.

And as a democracy, I can't declare war on them (because they don't have any 'belligerence'). So I'm not sure what to do. I'm having a hard time just reaching the European Axis powers.

Bill Garthright said...

It's four years later, and Hearts of Iron IV was just released (on Monday). I haven't bought it, but I've been watching YouTube videos of the gameplay, and I'm tempted.

However, I've been playing the heck out of Europa Universalis IV. It's funny, because I bought the game when it went on sale, but never played it. And as I noted in this post, I never got into Europa Universalis III, either.

After watching a YouTube tutorial, though, I started to figure it out. And I'm just having a blast! There's a lot to learn, but once you figure it out, it's great fun.

I've stopped blogging about games (and books, and many other things), so I thought I'd just add this as a reply here.

Paradox Interactive has been going nuts, as they've just released a grand strategy/4X space game (Stellaris), too. That one really looks appealing to me, since I'm not much of a wargamer.

But for now, Europa Universalis IV is taking all the time I've got.