This is the eighteenth 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
V II: Heart of Darkness: Darkest Victoria

With the new level of presentation (and success) of Crusader Kings II, as well as a new development model, it became obvious that Paradox’s two most successful empire-management games were in need of a refresh. Europa Universalis IV was announced in August 2012, along with a ‘spread the word’ campaign to get fans talking about it and drive the news outward.

Europa Universalis IV was released for Steam with PC, Mac, and Linux versions in August 2013. Unlike CK II before it, it only existed in a Steam version (with Steam keys available through other stores), which allowed a couple new features, like achievements, and ironman mode, which forces you to keep one save file which updates itself. There were some problems with excessive saving slowing down the game (alleviated later), but it forces a very different play style as you cannot ‘save scum’ and reload if, say, a war you started turns out to be much tougher than you thought. Like with my CK II review, this about the game as it was early in its release life, namely as of patch 1.5.1. At this point, there had been one expansion, Conquest of Paradise, which will also be discussed.

Game vs Simulation

Parallel to my discussion in my EU III review, a new game in the series saw a new philosophy. It’s still largely the same grand strategy empire-management game running from 1444 to 1820, but there was a redesign at a fundamental level. In this case, Paradox seems to have tried to apply solid game design principles to the series.

Systems were pared back to reduce complexity, and with an eye towards interesting decisions instead of having a pure simulation feel to them. EU IV is still a complex game, and probably no easier for a new player to get into, but it does have a somewhat reduced set of things going on, that more tightly integrate with other systems.

As such, the entire ‘domestic policies’ system was gotten rid of, trade was scrapped for an all-new system, all the ‘envoys’ (merchants, diplomats, colonists, etc.) were simplified to a completely new system, and magistrates were gotten rid of entirely. Government types were simplified, technologies were simplified, and the entire budgetary sliders system scrapped.

In fact, the budget was nicely simplified. It used to be that you got one big lump sum of taxes at the beginning of the year, and then each month there was a budget for investing into technology and stability, which would generally run a small negative (to pay for army maintenance, among other things), leading to a cycle of a lot of money at the start of the year, and having to keep an eye on things so as not to run out before the end of the year, and be forced to take loans.

Now, the entire budget is done purely on a monthly basis. If you’re spending too much on a wrecked army, or expensive advisers, you’ll lose money, otherwise you gain it. No having to say, ‘I need this much for the next three months, so can’t actually afford that new cavalry unit.’

Monarch Points

At the same time, while money is still needed, it’s no longer the central currency of the game. That is now monarch points. Like in previous titles, each ruler is rated for administration, diplomacy, and military, and these are now the categories of development for the nation. In each, you get three points, plus the monarch’s rating, plus the ability of the your advisor for that category every month.

These points get used almost everywhere, but the main thing is for purchasing technology levels. Technology has been simplified from the five fields of earlier games to three (matching the categories of monarch points), and they now all have the same number of levels (33) instead of the military techs being more finely sliced than the others. Military only covers land military, while administration unlocks new government types, many different province improvement buildings, and most importantly, ideas. Diplomacy feels more like a ‘catch all’ from a lack of better ideas, and most notably is where naval military advancements are found, along with improvements to trade and colonies.

Advisors are about the same as in previous games, with seven different types available in each category (for 21 types compared to the old 36 as of EU III: HttT). But before, you could get a higher-quality advisor for an increase in their bonus while all bonuses are flat in EU IV. They still have a ranking, up to 3 (instead of 6), but the bonus for a higher-quality advisor is purely getting more monarch points each month.

Worker Placement

As mentioned before, the entire envoy system was changed. In earlier games, you would receive one of these, should it be a diplomat, colonist, merchant, or whatever, once every so many months, with a maximum limit on how many you could ‘store’ without doing anything with them.

Now, you have a set number. For instance, you generally always have one or two missionaries (depending on religion; various things can also increase this number). If you send him out to convert a province, you still have him, he’s just occupied, and you can recall him before his job is done so you can do something else with him instead.

Also, the nature of how envoys work was largely changed. For example, Missionaries would be sent out, and have a small chance of successfully converting a province each year, and that chance would be checked periodically until it worked or the missionary was recalled for whatever reason (like the province being conquered by someone else). In EU IV, it just takes a certain amount of time. Various factors can speed up or slow down progress (including making it impossible to convert the province at all), but the percentage progress will tick up in the sidebar outliner until it is done, and then the missionary will then automatically return to being available (possibly after some delay for travel time).


In the essentials, diplomacy works as it did in EU III, with a robust range of options that can be taken. With the new system, came some changes though. First, separate opinion ratings for each direction in a relationship (A thinks B is -100 does not automatically mean B thinks that of A, and may have a -10 opinion, or even better) was taken from CK II.

Before, you could offer a gift to another country, and that was about the only way to directly raise their opinion of you. Now, you can assign a diplomat to improve relations with another country, and he’ll stay there constantly driving up the opinion of that country, to a maximum of a +100 bonus. Once that’s been done, there is an automatic message telling you that you might want to bring the diplomat home, but it can be done at any time. Once the diplomat leaves, this bonus will slowly go away, but you can always send the diplomat back to push it back up later.

This makes getting good alliances easier, since you can drive up the opinion of a few possible countries to try and get them to accept. On the other hand, there is now an imposed limit on how many countries you can have ties to at one time. Alliances, royal marriages, having a vassal, and a few other things all count for this (once for each country, no matter how many types of relations you have with them), and relations over the limit cost one diplomatic power per month (effectively slowing your generation of diplomatic power).

An interesting extra wrinkle to AI negotiations, is that along with the -100 to +100 relationship score, countries have attitudes towards each other now. This can be neutral (for a country far from its borders), to friendly (for countries nearby with good relations, and possibly a hidden historical friend modifier making this attitude more likely), to threatened (for a larger country next door), or hostile or rivalry (for obvious reasons). These attitudes can change with circumstances (allying and improving relations can shift a country from threatened to friendly), and modify AI behavior. For instance, a friendly country will probably not join in a war against you, even if they like the country requesting they join in more than they like you.


National ideas also return from the third game, but get a thorough overhaul into a very different system. As before, there are idea slots that are opened up with advancing administration technology. Idea groups are chosen for those slots as they become available, with six different ones for each monarch point category (for a total of 19, as there’s an extra in military with two being mutually exclusive based on government type; there are eight possible slots).

The reason that the idea groups are separated by type, is that taking the group does not confer a bonus, but instead comes with a group of seven ideas that are then purchased sequentially with the appropriate type of monarch points. This is related to how ideas worked in March of the Eagles, crossed with the choose-your-own nature of ideas of EU III, with the addition of purchasing all seven in the group also grants an extra bonus for the group as a whole. Ideas are the second most expensive power purchase in the game (after technology), so figuring out what category of group you can afford to take is an important consideration.

In addition to that, all countries have traditions. These come in three parts: First, there are two bonuses that the country gets at the beginning of the game. Then there is a set of seven bonuses that are unlocked during the game, similar to the ideas from the groups; however these are unlocked for free (in sequence) for every three ideas purchased in the normal groups (so buying every idea in three groups would unlock everything). Finally, there is another automatic bonus that kicks in when the full group of seven is active.

This means all countries are encouraged to play something like their historical counterpart, as the bonuses generally reward, or make easier, such behavior (e.g., Russia gets a colonist from its traditions so it can colonize Siberia without being forced to take a colonization idea). Also, the two step process and expense causes lots of long-term planning and angst with lots of room for different strategies.

Naturally, not every country in the game has a unique set of traditions, but it comes close. As of patch 1.5, there were 71 separate ones for particular counties (including formable countries such as Spain and Russia), another 18 for various ‘groups’ of countries, like the minor German states, another 8 for use with the Crusader Kings II save converter, and a default one.

Limits of Growth

Another major new system is overextension. This acts as a brake on expanding powers, as any territory outside its acknowledged area (not ‘core’ territory) generates overextention as a percentage of its wealth compared to the main area of the country. Being overextended increases revolt risk, stability costs (in administration points), reduces trade and diplomatic power, and some other effects. At low values, this is not too noticeable, but it can add up, and adding one or two prosperous provinces to your empire can have a surprisingly big impact on overextension. Worst of all, at over 100%, some extremely nasty events are likely to go off, ensuring that the country will get the percentage down… or pay the price for growing too fast.

It used to be that failing all else, a province would become part of your ‘core’ territory after fifty years of possession. EU IV makes this much easier, as any province can immediately be assigned to become a core province. However, it still takes around three years for this to be accomplished, and costs administration power to do. If the problem is more immediate, then a vassal state could potentially be broken off, which should automatically have the region as a ‘core’ (or else they can’t form there…), or provinces could even be sold off to neighboring countries.

In all, this system is both more dynamic and more painful (in the good, ‘interesting decision’ way), as absorbing a new area taken in a war may bring things to a halt with a heavy load in administration power. And while you may be glad to have pried it off your rival’s hands, you may find a tech level or idea more important than administering it properly….


EU’s trade system had stayed fairly stable over three games, with EU III adding the ability to create new trade nodes that might out-compete older ones replacing the scheduled shifts of the first game. Here it was scrapped almost down to first principles.

Each province still generates a trade good, and each one belongs to a particular trade node. However, each node now connects to particular other nodes in a one-way trade network, and each province generates trade value and trade power in its node.

Each node gains value from its provinces, and from nodes upstream in the network (as the value gets passed on from one node to another). Each country gets power from its provinces in the node, from light warships protecting trade (a new mission for them), and from nodes downstream from it. That is, power in one node pushes up the stream to affect the previous node(s) in the network. The power of all nations involved in the node is totaled up to figure out how much influence each one has in the node.

The node that the national capital belongs to is the primary trade node for that country, and it will automatically attempt to take value out of that node (and the trade network altogether) based on its power there, to turn into trade income. All countries where that isn’t true will attempt to forward that trade into downstream nodes (so that more trade goes to the primary node to be collected). Merchants are sent out to either collect trade directly in a node (which also reduces power there, but can be handy if you have a bunch of provinces that belong to a node that doesn’t flow into the capital region), or steer trade in a particular direction (instead of going to all downstream nodes equally).

Countries don’t affect nodes they don’t know about, so at the beginning of the game, pretty much all the trade in the southern parts of the East flows into Alexandria, and then into Venice and Genoa (which are end points, so all trade is collected there), but as southern Africa is discovered and settled, trade will start steering around Africa to Seville where Spain and Portugal collect it.

It’s a really interesting system, and gets rid of the insane amount of micromanagement the old one would produce, making it a vast improvement right there. However, I have two problems with it: First, it’s an extremely opaque system, even with all the numbers surfaced in the UI, you generally can’t figure out what’s going on by observing it in game, and it is hard to figure out how much effect your meddling has. Second, it is an extremely static system. While the flow of trade will change over the course of the game, the fact that the nodes never change, and there are fixed origin and end nodes means there is no way to seriously derail the historical flow of trade with the most powerful of empires; you can only exploit it.


On the other hand, plenty of things stayed roughly the same as EU III. Combat itself is the same as before, but the unit types from III are simplified down a bit, and all the little bonuses to combat that have existed since the beginning are vastly simplified (no more tiny changes every tech level) and displayed much more effectively.

Armies were made a bit safer in defeat, as one that retreats with low morale does a shattered retreat, which will force it to try to retreat to a high-value province currently controlled by the owner, which could be some distance away. This should be a relatively safe place, and the army gets a speed bonus during the retreat to get it some distance from pursuing armies. On the other hand, the AI was taught to sometimes create ‘hunter’ armies that chase after these formations to defeat them again before they can recover men and morale.

Sieges are actually the same as before, but the new interface shows all the things that were hidden before, so it feels brand new. Sieges progress every month or so, and exactly when that happens is shown on the siege view, and on the main map where a little meter (near the one that shows the army’s health) shows how long to the next siege roll.

All the modifiers to the roll are clearly displayed, and a hoverover shows the percentage chance of each possible result of the next roll. These are the same statuses that would happen before (‘food shortage’, ‘defenders desert’, etc), and these add to a siege progress modifier that is now displayed.

It turns out the monthly roll is a d14(!?), and it takes a modified 20 or better to force a fort to surrender. One thing not shown is very high rolls (a 14 by default) cause a breach, which adds a +3 modifier apart from the progress modifier (which maxes out at +12, so with a breach the maximum modifier is +15). A modified 4 or less does nothing, and the level of the fort is a negative modifier, so that’s why sieges don’t do much at the beginning and pick up steam as they go along; early rolls tend to do nothing, but as progress is made, the odds of further progress becomes greater.

Same Stuff, Different Game

Past the subjects already gone through, there are a lot of other things that still operate about the same as in EU III. Most notably, the new building system from EU III: Divine Wind was retained (without the magistrates), though a new interface was added where you could see all the places where a particular building was eligible to be built, and what its effect on the province would be.

Governmental forms were simplified down a bit to go with the streamlined technology system, but still operate the same, with administration tech opening up new forms with different bonuses. The heir system, legitimacy, and regencies from EU III: Heir to the Throne were retained, along with the reform system for the Holy Roman Empire. At the same time, republican governments got republican tradition as a replacement for legitimacy to measure just how robust their institutions are.

Decisions retained their large place in the game, along with events. As part of the re-focus towards a game, events shifted slightly back towards the EU II model. Many countries got dynamic historical events, which allow situations similar to history to cause events from history. This includes things like the Italian Wars, Muscovy Trade Company, the Dacke Feud, and many others. They’re generally less specific than the ‘acting out history’ events from EU II, but an interesting attempt to bridge the biggest gap between the previous two games, and a lot more options were built in than EU II ever had.

Conquest of Paradise

The first expansion for EU IV came out in January 2014, and focused on the New World, with the headline feature being a ‘random New World’ setting, so that an exploring player doesn’t know where everything is. This is more than sufficient reason for explorers to get it, but it took a while to get the rough edges off.

The system changed later, but at this point, it procedurally generates a New World, and reuses all the old province and nation names in a blender. All of them, including things like Lake Superior in the middle of the ocean. It also adds a bit of a delay to loading a game, as the altered world must be loaded after you pick the save game (understandable, but not the best marked thing in the interface).

The expansion also tries to make the Native American tribes more interesting to play (with or without a random New World). They are still largely in an impossible situation, with minimal technology, and high advancement costs. But they get a number of small buildings that can help out, and access to a set of 15 ideas (5 in each category) separate from the normal ideas that help overcome major problems, and if all of them are taken, the tribe can reform, losing all the buildings and ideas they’ve built up in return for gaining most of the current technology of a neighboring European country, changing to a monarchy and getting the ability to ‘westernize’, changing the technology progression to something less onerous. Finally, the one-province nations can migrate, abandoning their province for a neighboring one, either farther from or closer to something else.

The free patch that came with it introduced a new feature: colonial nations. The New World was split up into a bunch of regions, and any time you have five or more adjacent colonies in a region, they automatically convert into this new type of vassal state (that doesn’t take up a diplomatic slot). This does make colonization easier to manage, as a lot of them will start managing their own affairs, and colonizing further on their own, and of course, if they start getting unhappy with the parent country (and there’s some mechanics around that) they’ll revolt in a block, instead of an army in one province that would be simpler to crush.

Overall, they’re a big plus for the game, but you can’t see where the regions are, so it can be hard to know what you need to get a split off to happen, especially on the random New World.


Europa Universalis has always been my favorite series from Paradox, and IV is definitely the best of the lot (though Stellaris has since given it a run for its money as my favorite game from them; it has an unfair advantage of a genre that I’ve been enjoying for decades). Once again, it doesn’t entirely replace the previous games, as it does have its own philosophy, and I like simulation-style games enough to still really enjoy III on its own merits.

However, Paradox really paid attention to the overall mechanics of the central parts of the game, and it really shows that they sat down and thought hard about what the game was doing, and how it should work. At the same time, presentation was polished even further than in CK II, with even more numbers and modifiers surfaced in the tool-tips (including how fast temporary modifiers are decaying). And it didn’t stop here, Paradox has completely re-done a number of systems in the game since patch 1.5.1.