This is the fifth in a series of reviews of Paradox’s empire management games. See the earlier reviews here:
Europa Universalis II: A Tale of Two Europas
Hearts of Iron: Europa of Iron
Victoria: Nineteenth Century Essay
Crusader Kings: A Dynastic Adventure

Having explored four different eras in their games, Paradox Interactive returned to WWII with their first sequel game, Hearts of Iron II in 2005 for PC and Mac. (I’m considering EU II to be more of a ‘second edition’ then a ‘sequel’ here because of how similar those two games were.)

The World War II era of 1936-1947 proved itself a popular subject once again, and sales of HoI II were very strong, prompting a stand-alone expansion, Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday (which expanded the timeframe to 1953) in 2006. Hearts of Iron II: Armageddon was released as an expansion to Doomsday in 2007, which extended the timeframe to 1963, and provided a couple of odd alternate history scenarios.

In general, HoI II is the same warfare/empire-management game as the original, but with a reworked interface, and some new concepts. I have mostly played the original and Doomsday, so this review will generally be about them.


Much of HoI II is familiar to someone who has played the first game, but there are numerous areas that are obviously different as well. The first obvious one is the interface; instead of trying to rely entirely on Paradox’s usual map-and-sidebar scheme, a couple of new full-screen ‘folders’ were introduced to manage production and technology in, with yet another folder being added in Doomsday for espionage and intelligence.

Production works largely the same as in the original, but giving it the entire screen makes it much easier to work with the queue and select new things to build. When going through a ‘quiet’ part of the game (before war breaks out), it is quite possible to go for quite some time without looking at the map at all, just managing the details of research and production.

The first game had issues with trying to organize all the units, because the vital statistics of those units were not visible in the dialogs to split units into a second organization, or trade between two of them. This is solved here, with a much more informative display. However, there are still issues with selecting the right two organizations to trade between, and a few other related situations.

An interesting touch is that all nations have their own background image that kind of serves as a ‘wallpaper’ while playing that country. It’s generally nicely understated, and lends a good amount of color, compared to the unrelieved grays of the original.


While almost all play of any Paradox game is the Grand Campaign, which starts at the earliest date possible, and then goes through the end date of the game, there are always a few scenarios that start later. WWII is always good for this, as there’s a number of obvious start dates to cover well-known parts of the war.

However, HoI II also has a good number of very small scenarios that just use part of the map, and have fairly tight win-lose conditions. There’s sixteen of these, ranging from classic subjects like the Battle of the Bulge, and Barbarossa, to lesser known situations, such as the Winter War. Also, there’s a few ‘alternate history’ scenarios like the conquest of Czechoslovakia, the invasion of Japan, and the Planitean War—an Axis-aligned Argentina vs Allied Brazil.

I haven’t gone through most of these, but many, like Fall Grün (Czechoslovakia), don’t seem have much for one side to do, since the defense mostly needs to sit tight, and often can’t counterattack effectively.

The first expansion, as well as extending the time frame into the early Cold War, added an alternate history regular scenario: “Doomsday”. The Soviet Union attacks the western Allies on October 2, 1945, while the Soviet Army is at its greatest strength, and before the United States can build too many atomic bombs.

A fairly odd wrinkle is that while all saved games have a flag displayed next to them showing what country you were playing as, not only can you pick another country to play as when you load the game, but the country you were playing is not even selected by default.

Revised Resources & Production

Mostly, HoI II uses the same resource model as the original, but there are some significant differences. It is both simplified and expanded, with rubber being traded out for ‘rare materials’, and money is added as a sixth resource. Coal was generalized into energy, while oil, steel, and supplies remained the same, including the ability to turn some energy into oil.

Overall, there is no way to increase the total production of raw materials, since unlike the first game, improving infrastructure has no effect on the amount of raw materials produced in a province. Supplies and consumer goods must be produced with some of the nation’s industrial capacity (IC) as before, but now, consumer goods not only are used to keep the population content, but they generate money, which is needed for research and diplomacy.

An annoying part of the original was having to send units back into the production queue to be upgraded. Instead, there is now a production slider for upgrades, and when there are units capable of being upgraded, it will tell you how much IC is needed for maximum effort, and when units receive their needed IC investment they get upgraded in the field. Also, there is now a similar production slider for the reinforcements needed across all units, instead of having to select individual ones and spend supplies to reinforce. This spreads things out across all your armed forces, but you can mark particular units to be first in line.

Movement is Combat

Usually, in any area-based game, units move from one area to another, and when they arrive, they engage in combat with any defenders present. Paradox’s games have followed this same pattern.

But in HoI II, this was reversed. Moving into a province with enemy defenders starts a combat immediately (you can still set a particular time, as in the first game), and if the attack succeeds the units start moving in, and the enemy starts retreating out of the province.

This makes coordination of forces easier to accomplish than in the original game, and introduces a number of other wrinkles, most of which are good. For instance, if you have a second province that borders one where an enemy attack is coming from you can attack it from there, causing the enemy forces to take losses from two battles at once, nicely emulating a counter-attack into the flank of the advancing forces.

Also, one of the listings the side bars can be switched to is a list of current battles. This makes it easy to see what’s going on, and how well battles are going at a glance. Any air support against troops you’re attacking is a separate entry, so the list can get cluttered. However, there’s a separate icon for each type of battle that makes that easy to sort out.

However, when an attack succeeds it takes time to move in and take it. Often, there are a few enemy units that were already moving towards the province, and they will end up arriving in the province piecemeal before your troops arrive, who then have to be defeated. It’s not a major problem, but you end up with a bunch of extra battle notices as things get ‘cleaned up’.


In HoI II, units can be issued any number of orders. These may be ‘move’ or ‘attack’, or even ‘support attack’, but there’s a number of different specialized options as well. Naval units can patrol an area, bombers can be sent on strategic or tactical bombing missions, transports set to transport units (which automatically returns them to their home base after dropping off the transported units).

Many of these missions (like strategic bombing) are not targeted at a specific province, but rather a zone, which is a group of 4-5 provinces. This allows things like air cover and naval patrols to be set up in a general sense, without having to constantly retarget strategic bombing, or try to react to enemy air strikes individually, or go through the process of hand-creating a patrol pattern every time. Generally, you can also set how long the mission will last, and how much damage can be sustained before breaking it off and going home for R&R.

In general, the idea is sound, and it handles naval patrols, air superiority and strategic bombing fairly well. But managing air power in the close attack role can still be quite a chore, and the ‘zoning’ of those missions may mean they never hit the particular target you had in mind.


Instead of a tri-polar space representing government ideology, HoI II borrows the political sliders from EU II. This is more flexible than the system in the first game, but how they interact with the three main alliances (Axis, Allies, Commintern) of the game is not always as obvious. There’s seven sliders, each of which moves between two opposing ideologies, with it being possible to move one slider one step every six month. Like in the first game, it is possible to try and influence another nation’s policies diplomatically, and that takes the form (with a lot of effort) of moving policy sliders for that country.

Two of the sliders determine the main ideology of the government: democratic/authoritarian and political left/right. The minister system from the first game is pretty much entirely intact here, but certain ministers can only be used with appropriate government types, which is again determined by those two sliders.

The next four mostly generate bonus or penalties in production, and things like partisan movements (which are mostly handled abstractly), and unit effectiveness. The last slider is interventionism/isolationism, and determines how hard it is to go to war. In the first game, democratic countries start out unwilling to go to war, and effectively had a timer on them that counted down to war, which could be influenced by how nice or badly the Axis and Commintern powers were behaving. In this game, countries gain beligerency for going to war, or annexing another country. Countries that are isolationist can only declare war on countries that have built up a certain amount of beligerency, and will have a certain amount of internal dissent when they do. The more extreme positions have increased costs for diplomacy, and even the inability to do some diplomatic functions, in exchange for generally improved relations with everyone.


The technology system is both very similar, and yet completely redone from the original game. There are a large number of advancements, in the same eight fields (plus ‘secret projects’) as before. However, these are almost all concrete things in and of themselves, and do not have the complex interrelationships of HoI.

Instead, each technology is split into five components, which each have a difficulty rating and field of study. You choose a research team, or company, to develop the technology, and they all have specialties in various fields of study (each team will have one to five specialties, and there is a large number of different specialties in the game), and then you pay them to develop it; running short of cash will halt progress.

Originally, technology was researched purely by IC investment, and you could undertake as many projects as you wished to devote capacity to. Now, there is a hard limit of how many teams can be assigned at once, and that limit can be from one to five, depending on the current IC of the country.

Even aside from the rework of research, there’s some further differences of note. Tank development was poorly handled in the first game, moving from light tanks, to mediums, to heavies in a logical, and completely ahistorical, progression. Now, early heavies come first, accompanied by light tanks, and they move on to medium tanks, along with more advanced versions of all three. Better yet, heavy tanks are actually brigades, sub-units that can be attached to the normal divisions. This represents early-war infantry tanks attached to infantry divisions well (something the first game completely failed at), and the fact that late-war heavy tanks also almost never appeared in divisional strength as well.

In fact, the brigade system is taken advantage of to good effect in HoI II. Later light tanks move from being divisions to being brigades, making them replacements for armored cars, and representing their use as recon units. Instead of trying to manage air units being loaded onto an aircraft carrier, there are Carrier Air Group ‘brigades’ that are attached to the carrier directly, and each new carrier technology allows the construction/upgrade of newer CAGs as well as a new class of carrier. In Doomsday, escort fighters go from being separate units to being brigades for attaching to bombers.

Overall, the system is a bit better, and the units that result are a better thought out, however, not seeing the interrelationships between fields is a bit disappointing.


HoI II: Doomsday added the all-new mechanic of intelligence gathering and espionage. Generally speaking, you can attempt to place spies in other countries (or defensively in your own), who will then start informing you of the ‘highlights’ of that country’s actions. Most notably, you’ll start getting an idea of what that country is researching, and (with enough spies) how their progress is going. You can also get an assessment of what the country is concentrating on (paying attention to naval power, developing an air force, etc.), which I assume only works right with AI nations (though it might be peeking at the production queue).

With a number of spies available in a country, you can try more active tasks, such as trying to steal the blueprints of a technology you don’t have, assassinating a particular minister (and his bonus), raising dissent, and a number of others.

The typical problems of espionage in strategy games are present here: The odds of success for the simpler tasks are low enough to be frustrating to try and perform, and have a decent chance of alerting the target. Building up to the point where it’s possible to try the more active tasks takes time, and generally has an even lower chance of success. Also, while this is the period where espionage came into its own (with the creation of the OSS, and similar organizations, and of course the Cold War), none of this in is shown in the game. In the end, between the low odds, and the need to manage it all in detail, it ends up feeling easier to ignore than try to gain much real benefit out of.


Hearts of Iron was in many ways the most problematic and most successful of Paradox’s early games, so the desire to revisit it made a lot of sense. HoI II still has the problems of being a game on a period I know well, and a game that can demand attention in a horde of places at once in a real-time format, but many of the problems of the original are improved on here, if not always solved.

Certainly, the changes in interface and production were needed and very welcome. I consider the changes to how technology works to be a mixed bag. Assigning teams to work on a technology project should lead to some interesting tradeoffs, but generally doesn’t. The little sub-projects feel like there should be some in common, so finishing one of them would grant a bonus elsewhere, but don’t.

However, the revised unit line up, with the ‘brigades’ handling more functions (especially in Doomsday) is a big improvement. Armor development and deployment acts more like it should, carriers are much easier to work with, and the integrated escort fighters start simplifying the over-fiddly air system.

For me, this game still isn’t as good as Europa Universalis II, or Victoria, or Crusader Kings, but it is nearly as good as they are, instead of being too clunky to truly enjoy, which was true of the original.