This is the tenth 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
Hearts of Iron II: Return Engagement
Europa Universalis III: A Whole New World
Europa Universalis: Rome: Make a Desert and Call it a Game
Hearts of Iron III: One Plus Two Equals Three
EU III: Heir to the Throne: Not Done Yet

When Paradox Interactive polled their fans around 2008, a sequel to Victoria was the most-wanted new game, which caused some controversy as it was the developer’s least successful game (the implosion of the game’s original publisher, Strategy First, carries some of the blame for this). While some important insiders were sure that it could be successful, CEO Fredrik Wester announced that he’d shave his head if the new game ever saw a profit.

Victoria II was released for PC in August 2010, with a Mac version following in September. Wester had had his head shaved in June, on the strength of the pre-orders. There have been expansions since then, but this review is only about the original game.

Not Like the Others

As a sequel, Victoria II is a typical Paradox empire management game, and follows the lead of the original game’s take on the 19th Century fairly closely. A large number of features are not much changed, and are, at most, polishings of the original’s ideas. At the same time, there are some very important differences between it and its predecessor, and other recent Paradox real-time empire management games.

Early Paradox games had the obligatory intro movies, but these were dropped with the introduction of the Clausewitz engine. Victoria II, however, does feature a small intro movie that plays after the launcher, and before the main load of the game, which feels like a sort of celebration of the return of Paradox’s most troubled title.

The usual ability to start at any point in the time period of the game (1836 to 1936, the same as Victoria: Revolutions) is missing this time. The detailed world market was too much to set up for the timeline definitions the other Clausewitz games use, and so the only option is to start on January 1, 1836.

The interface has a set of seven ‘tickers’ along the top, along with the more usual minimal element that identifies who you’re playing as, and is the normal place to get at the rest of the interface in a Paradox game. This top bar is actually equivalent to the overview that the sidemenu in the original Victoria had, but these go directly to much-needed full-screen displays of information, like was introduced in HoI II.

Fully Operational Economy

Victoria II uses a production economy with world market very similar to the original game’s (with 48 instead of 47 commodities), but with some extras.

Like before, each province produces some form of raw resource, and a fair amount of the population is employed in the RGO (resource gathering operation). Unlike before, these are not upgradeable into larger versions that can hire more people to produce more goods. Instead, they they get more efficient, and, generally, smaller, as technology advances, which reduces the amount of labor needed to get full production.

Factories exist at the state level which can take those products and turn them into finished (or intermediate) goods that are more valuable. But, this is not just a resource/factory economy. The population also includes artisans who can produce all the same things that factories do (including machine parts, which was a choke point in the industrializing economy of the first game). And, at the beginning of the game, they do it more efficiently than the factories can. Factories can employ large numbers of people, and overcome the artisans in bulk, but it will take a number of technologies that make factories more efficient to truly make industrialization pay (it has been noted that China’s large population of artisans can wreck an economy that gets too easy access to them).

Every part of the population has has needs (life, everyday, and luxury), and tries to buy the the items for those needs from its cash reserves in the internal and international markets, and can, over time, change into different social status depending on how their needs are being filled and and how much cash they have accumulated. Most of this is the same system as the original game used, but changing population roles was purely up to the player originally, and now has been taken out of his hands.

All of this adds up to a complicated world market with evolving supply and demand, and slowly changing prices. However, the actual market forces are just as primitive as in the original. Prices vary around a baseline target price, there’s no embargoes, or country-specific import/export controls, which were all large parts of 19th Century economics.

And finally, it needs to be noted that it takes a little bit of time for the AI to figure everything in this system out properly, and the current trading solution doesn’t get saved. So on every reload there is a bit of thrashing around until the economy settles down again, and dedicated players avoid closing the game when possible to avoid artificial disruptions to the economy.

I’ll Bid One State

Like almost all Paradox games, Victoria II has a large number of options in diplomacy and warfare. Like with the casus belli system from EU III: Heir to the Throne, a particular goal must be chosen before going to war, but many details are different here. Most notably, you can only receive things in a peace that you have specifically made a goal; in EU III: HttT, you could declare a war over a province you have a claim to, but then take everything but that; here you must have made those other territories goals too.

There are, of course, valid reasons for going to war, such as reclaiming an area that can be seen as rightfully yours, or forcing repayments of debts after a country has declared bankruptcy. Using a legitimate reason is easy, other reasons (say, pure land grab) cost infamy to set as a goal (whereas in other Paradox games, infamy comes when you take it).

The only way to get anything out of a war is to have set it as a goal. This might be ‘cut down to size’, which limits the other country’s military for a while, or indemnities, or becoming a satellite. Each state is a separate war goal, and must be added separately, possibly incurring an infamy cost each time (there are some exceptions that allow taking an entire country at once). The defender of course starts with no war goals, and all he can demand is a return to the status quo. However, he, as well as the aggressor can add war goals as the war grinds on.

Great powers can also intervene in a war, and demand a return to the status quo, which then becomes a war goal.

In addition to the infamy costs of declaring a war goal, failing to get that goal in the peace costs prestige. Of course, getting that goal gains prestige. This means that wars turn into bets, where you spend infamy to bet prestige on the war; loosing an aggressive war can cost you infamy (which makes you unpopular), and prestige (which affects your international standing and trade), and can hurt even if you technically ‘lose’ nothing from it.

Great Power Politics

Like in the first game, the eight highest-ranked countries are ‘Great Powers’, who enjoy extra prestige (one of the things that lets you become a Great Power…). Also, there are eight ‘Secondary Powers’ below them who, like the Great Powers, can colonize the less developed parts of the world.

The Great Powers each have a sphere of influence. A simple version of that concept was actually in EU III: HttT, but it worked very differently there. There a sphere of influence just marked an interest in a country, and provided a casus belli whenever a third country tried interfering with it (wars, annexation…).

Great Powers get to influence other non-great Powers. This turns into a feed of influence points spread across all the countries that it is trying to influence, and those can be spent on a number of unique diplomatic actions. This includes destroying the influence of other Great Powers, but is focused on increasing relations with that country until it is within the Great Power’s sphere of influence. This is separate from the actual diplomatic rating that says how much or little the countries like each other, as it is more to mark that the rest of the world considers the area under your protection (to do with as you will…), but the in-game language confuses the issue.

Once in the sphere of influence, the country’s internal market acts as a part of the Great Power’s internal market, giving the Great Power easy access to its raw materials, and an expanded market for its own goods (…and vice versa, if the sphered country has meaningful production outside of its RGOs). This can also become a bone of contention, as competition between two Great Powers for influence in a country can lower relations, and ‘de-sphering’ a country is a possible war-goal.

Internal Stresses

As with the previous game, Victoria II’s complex population demographics include what ideologies the population follow, what policies matter to them, and just how upset they are over it. It’s a bit finer-grained this time, but there’s still the two basic ideologies of Conservatism and Liberalism at the beginning of the game, with Socialism being introduced later, with Reactionaries, Anarcho-Liberals and Communists and Fascists as the extreme forms of these views.

Politically, this feeds into an ‘upper house’ system using those same ideologies that reflect the overall mood of the country, and is what allows political and social reforms to be enacted or repealed. Liberals want to pass political but not social reforms, Socialists want social but not political reforms, and Conservatives want neither, but will give some limited support to quiet unrest. The various extremists specifically want to repeal all reforms they don’t approve of (i.e., Socialists try to repeal political reforms, and Anarcho-Liberals try to repeal social reforms).

There are a number of political parties shown in the game, with at least one of each ideology for each nation. An authoritarian government can appoint the party it wants to be in charge of the upper house, but democratic ones go through an electoral process every few years. A lingering problem with the system is that while parties come and go during the game, they can only do so in a set schedule, not in response to events. Each party has its own set of policies (trade, economic, religious, citizenship, war) that set limits on what you can do, and modifies how the country acts. The population has desires towards particular policies and reforms, which partially determine what party they back.

If these desires are not met, then the population can get more militant, and if that goes on long enough there will be a revolt. Various revolters have their own goals, and generally, if they can take control of the capital for a while, they will then enforce their demands (which may be a government change). The problem with this is it doesn’t really work. You can’t negotiate with the rebels, and promise reforms, and try to convince them to go back home. Well, you can kind of; if you satisfy the things that are making them militant, the population will lose militancy, and the revolt can actually lose people that way. Worse though, is the fact that there’s very little incentive to not send in the military and crush the revolt. It will reduce the population, but there’s no public opinion to be scandalized by the brutality of your country. While it is possible for a military unit to join a revolt, they will not hesitate to fight against one they are not actually a part of. No hesitation, no units refusing to fire on civilians, just crush them.


Victoria II uses the same general combat model originally introduced in EU III. One different feature here is that as technology progresses, the maximum combat width goes down, allowing the number of troops needed to effectively fight a battle to decrease. Cavalry can attack from the flanks, so a lower-tech army could take advantage of a superiority in numbers if it can field large numbers of hussars (the most mobile type). Each unit has an offense and defense rating, and the appropriate one is used in combat (i.e., the defense rating does not mitigate the opponent’s damage, but is the combat rating used when defending).

Past the general combat system almost everything else is much as it was in the first game: Generals and admirals use a combination of traits that produce a wide range of good to poor leaders with different strengths and weaknesses, but even the worst leader is better than the wide-ranging penalties of not having any leader at all.

Nearly any land military improvement also increases supply consumption, making armies more and more expensive to maintain as their effectiveness goes up. Taking over an enemy-held province is a matter of waiting a set amount of time while occupied only by your troops. More men take it faster, but the supply situation can cause large amounts of attrition. Fortresses can be built which both aid in a defensive battle, and make a province harder to take.

Land combat features the usual three arms: infantry, cavalry, artillery. There are four types of infantry: irregulars, regular/infantry, guards and engineers. Irregulars are cheap, but not as effective, while guards are expensive, and better on the offense, but not as defensively capable as regular infantry. Engineers lessen the effects of fortresses in combat and capturing provinces. Cavalry comes in four types: cavalry, dragoon, cuirassier and hussar. Each is generally more expensive and overall more effective through each type, though cuirassier are the only type without a reconnaissance bonus, which helps with the time to take over a province and against the initial fortified defense bonus. Artillery only comes in one type of unit, but gets much more effective over the course of the game compared to other unit types.

Military manpower and the population are directly tied together, with each land unit being supported by a particular province’s soldier population. As a unit takes losses, the population reduces, and if the segment gets too small, it starts taking extra amounts of time for that unit to receive reinforcements. Creating new units requires having enough soldiers to tie a fully-functional unit to (this is complicated by the game’s demographic segregation of different ethnicities and religions), creating some hard limits on army size.

Naval units are comparatively simple, with only nine types of units, including two different types of transports. They aren’t tied to manpower, but all of them do require either clipper or steamer convoys to build (types of commodities; this seems meant to represent the availability of sails, rigging, and engines to build a new capital ship). The units are general types (‘ironclads’), with specific stats resting more on the various advances available, but unlike land units, do not have any strong tendency to become more expensive to maintain as time goes on.


I find that like the original, Victoria II is a game that is supremely fascinating, not for what it is, but for what provides a glimpse of. The first game was a bundle of interesting ideas that didn’t quite make a well-realized design, and Victoria II is an interesting design that doesn’t quite make a well-realized game. There is a good game there, but it lurks around the corners, and behind a model that doesn’t quite work right.

I enjoy the game. I enjoy the little clockwork model world it provides. But it is a bit hard to recommend because it doesn’t quite do any one thing really well. And one final annoyance: many of the events and other descriptive text in the game are full of typos in English (I don’t understand how most of these have not been fixed along the way with all the patches).