This is the seventeenth 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
Victoria II: Same But Different
EU III: Divine Wind: Winds of Change
Sengoku: Shogun: Only War
V II: A House Divided: Limited Expansion
Crusader Kings II: The Second Crusade
HoI III: Their Finest Hour: A Final Polish
March of the Eagles: A Minor EU

Just about a year after A House Divided came out, the second expansion for Victoria II was announced. The primary goal for Heart of Darkness was to re-work colonial ventures, and concentrate on the Scramble for Africa. It was released on April 16th for PC, with a Mac version that appeared slightly later.

Note that this review is just on this expansion, and you may wish to go back over my review of the main game and AHD, listed above, for a refresher on the full game.

Source of the Nile

As the central focus of the expansion, colonization was completely reworked. The ideas of colonial range, and ‘life rating’ to restrict things remained, but just about everything else is different.

Once an area is open to colonization, you send an expedition to the region. If, after 270 days, no one else has sent an expedition to the region, you can establish a protectorate, and it will develop normally. Otherwise, you can send colonists, and then establish an outpost, a settlement, and guard posts, all in a race with the other power(s)s.

If you don’t keep pushing more development in the region, it will eventually go to the other power. If you both continually reinforce your holdings, a confrontation will eventually result as a crisis erupts over the disputed area (see below).

All of this takes colonial power. You get a flat amount of points for the early naval technology “Post-Nelsonian Thought”, and then more for every naval base and combat ship in your navy (with more advanced ones generating more). These points are invested in each step of colonizing, so a long fight with another Power over a region will sap both country’s power (and attention). Transforming a region into a true colony also takes more colonial power. Only releasing it as a dominion or transforming it into an actual state releases the colonial power for re-use.

In general, the new system works well, though there’s still no actual ‘exploration’ of Africa beyond the abstracted events that have been in the game all along. I’m a bit disappointed that there’s nothing around sending the expeditions specifically, that could tie into tracing the course of the Nile, or other bits of European uncertainty.

War at Sea

Naval combat got a complete rework, becoming a bit more like HoI III’s naval combat than a clone of EU III’s. Ships entering combat now spend time time getting into visual range, and then pick a target to go after. Ships will often be going after a ship that’s going after a different enemy ship, and so forth….

Ships have proper speed, evasion, and gunnery ranges, so light ships dart in and engage the enemy screen, while the longer-ranged capital ship guns open up on their counterparts. The damage and morale parts of combat work largely the same as before, so ships may go into a ‘retreat’ mode, where they try to get away from the enemy before being sunk. Of course, if the ships targeted on it are faster, it may not work out very well.

In some ways, it feels like it might be a little too detailed for such a high-level game as Victoria II, but it does make naval combat flow much more like actual battles, and it certainly captures the feel of a battle like Jutland very well.

Also, a new ship class, battleship, was added to represent the pre-dreadnoughts, and show more of the evolution of capital ships after early ironclads. Finally, ships now require certain minimum levels of naval bases to construct, representing the large shipyards needed to build the large warships of the early 20th Century. Since these also take a fair amount of effort to build, there is now quite a delay on getting the largest ships, which need two technologies (one for the ship class, one for the port facilities), and constructing at least one high-level port before even starting on the ships.

Origins of WWI

The feature that has the biggest impact on the entire game is the new crisis system. Every once in a while, a problem will emerge with two countries in a region, who will then start looking for Great Powers to back their resolution to the problem.

Once each side has a backer (which doesn’t always happen), any Great Power on the same continent has to get involved or lose prestige. Once involved, the Powers can align themselves one one side or the other, and the leaders of each side can offer concessions to attract support. And the two leaders can try to hammer out a solution, or one leader, finding itself politically isolated may concede.

There is only a limited amount of time for this to happen however. If a crisis goes unresolved long enough, it will turn into a war over the primary goals of the crisis, with all the involved Great Powers as belligerents.

Crises can arise anywhere there are two countries with an interest in the same state, either from one having cores (a valid/traditional claim) on another country’s territory, or two Powers trying to colonize the same state, or from liberation movements within a country.

The Balkans are a common source of crises, because Greece is already independent at the start of the game, and holds cores on most of the territory around it. In this situation, a minor nation is allowed to put a national focus on one of its cores, which will start increasing the flashpoint tension until a crisis erupts. If the Ottomans are still a Great Power, they automatically back themselves, but if Greece can get support from other Great Powers, they can get the Ottomans to back down and hand a province over, or fight them for it on Greece’s behalf.

Its a clever way to give minor countries a bit more control, and of course is a nice way to show the increasing tensions of the late 19th/early 20th centuries as the rising militarism of the population will cause crises to become more common late in the game.

Rail Baron

Railroads got a graphical overhaul so that they appear in all map modes now (a complaint of mine originally). Also, they don’t sprawl to all possible destinations, but generally (graphically) connect to one other province that already has a railroad. This makes them look a bit more natural, but as separate regions develop railroads that grow together, their rails never connect, which make projects like the Trans-Continental Railroad look wrong. It’s a nice boost to the looks of the game, but I think they should have had more connections appear as the level of rail in the province go up, which would solve the trouble.


This is a much easier recommendation than the previous expansion. Every major feature helps Victoria II feel more like the 19th Century. Some of the ideas work out better than others, but they do all work. They add a bit more complication to the game, but since they don’t complicate the main parts of the game, the expansion does not make the game any more difficult to learn. I recommend getting this expansion in general, and if when initially getting Victoria II, you can get it as a complete package with both expansions, I definitely recommend going straight to that.