The designers have masterfully crafted a true sandbox experience without letting the game descend into chaos. Sometimes, publishers set out to create massive sandbox games, but more often than not, they end up being unbalanced or overly complex. However, in Europa Universalis, everything is meticulously thought out. Even with the freedom for players to chart their course, the game’s engine runs smoothly, harmonizing its components and creating a cohesive, ever-evolving tableau of historical Europe.
For those who find the vast sandbox a bit bewildering, private and common goals offer guidance on how to expand your nation.
So Many Things to Do, It’s Almost a Simulator
Europa Universalis offers an astonishing array of gameplay options that can make it feel like a grand simulator of governing Europe’s great nations through the Ages of Discovery, Reformation, Absolutism, and Revolutions. Develop technologies, engage in trade, declare wars, exert influence, form alliances, arrange political marriages, combat rebels, colonize distant lands, vassalize provinces, collect taxes, and build formidable armadas. And that’s just scratching the surface. Need more? Convert others to your religion or change your own, oversee the Empire or the Papal State, alter monarchs, hire historical advisors and generals, participate in pivotal historical events like the War of Roses or plagues, expand your cities, and even fabricate reasons to wage war. It’s one of the most extensive board games we’ve ever encountered, and the possibilities are mind-boggling. Your monarchs even age and eventually pass away, necessitating the appointment of a new ruler.
It’s very close to the original
There’s no doubt that if you’re a fan of the PC version, you’ll adore the board game adaptation of Europa Universalis. It hews so closely to the original that it flirts with the idea of being a simulator. We wondered if the designers had been too meticulous in creating such a complex board game, but in the end, we believe it’s one of the greatest strengths of Price of Power. Designing such a comprehensive game in an era when most publishers opt for streamlined experiences is a heartfelt tribute to gaming veterans. Europa Universalis caters to a specific niche of board gamers, and the final product is well worth their attention.
Several Scenarios with Different Playtimes
The game offers several scenarios, each with a different setup that covers various points in history. Each scenario presents a unique level of complexity and, more importantly, varying playtimes. This diversity is a smart move because while the simplest game can wrap up in under 3 hours, the lengthiest scenario can easily stretch to 8 hours or more. In fact, a four-player game in the most complex scenario can take even longer than a six-player game of Twilight Imperium. However, this is the price one pays for such an epic and grand experience. If you’re short on time, you can always opt for the simplest scenario, which still provides a challenge and captures the essence of the entire Europa Universalis experience.
Immersive Events Make Europa Universalis Stand Out
One mechanic that truly sets this game apart is the array of events available to all players. At the beginning of each era, you draw event cards equal to the number of players plus one. During the action phase, in addition to numerous other actions, each player must select and resolve one of these events.
The event deck consists of neutral events, where typically all players suffer the consequences, such as a plague. Then there are events tied to specific nations participating in the session, like the Iberian Wedding. What’s innovative here is who activates the card and which option they choose. If the Castile player grabs the Iberian Wedding card first, they’ll likely opt to marry Isabel to strengthen their influence on the Iberian Peninsula. However, seeing the benefits for Castile, the player going next can activate the event and choose a different option, forcing Castile to marry locally, which grants weaker effects. Moreover, the player activating this event not only receives benefits as described on the card but also changes their active ruler to Isabel I, gaining significant Monarch Power. This is just one example, and there are numerous historical events that impact the game board in various ways.
This mechanic not only adds another layer of strategy and player interaction but also enhances immersion, making for an epic experience.
In my opinion, the trade action introduces unnecessary randomness. Money is in short supply in this game, and you have to pay for almost everything. The easiest way to obtain cash is by taking a loan, which reduces your income until you repay it. The other option is trade. To execute a trade action, you spend diplomatic power to draw three merchant cards, each depicting several areas. Among these areas, you usually try to locate the one where your merchants are present and where you possess the most wooden components to maximize your earnings. The issue is that the game offers numerous trade areas, making it fairly common to draw cards that don’t correspond to your merchant locations. This can result in losing a turn for a mere two ducats, with no control to prevent it. Meanwhile, another player could.
Map is… Too Small?
If you’re as historically geography-challenged as we are, you might encounter the same issue during your initial session as we did. While the overall size of the game board is enormous, examining specific regions, provinces, and symbols can be bewildering for newcomers. Some regions are densely packed with names and icons, and when you add wooden components to the mix, it takes a while to pinpoint everything.
I understand this is a compromise between staying faithful to the original and not having an even larger board, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Rulebook and Entry-Level
The game’s high complexity doesn’t necessarily pose a problem, especially if the rulebook is well-crafted and supported by additional resources to ease players into the game. Have you ever attempted to decipher the initial rulebook for Star Trek Ascendancy before fans produced an extensive revision? Or tried to learn the War of the Ring Board Game without the assistance of a YouTube tutorial or a BoardGameGeek summary provided by the Esoteric Order? Europa Universalis is even more challenging, dare I say significantly more so.
As mentioned earlier, many of the game’s actions and scenarios are mind-boggling. Some come with their own micro-rules, which become intuitive after several playthroughs but still demand effort to grasp initially. While the rulebook covers all these intricacies, it relies on numerous shortcuts and acronyms like NPR (Non-player Realm). Consequently, some sentences and paragraphs become tough to decipher, especially when illustrating certain actions. When coupled with not-so-intuitive and occasionally small icons, it presents a formidable challenge. It’s clear the designers recognized this, which is why they supplied each player with an extensive reference sheet and charts for resolving peace and war. However, even these resources may not suffice during the first playthrough.
Should Europa Universalis be streamlined? Absolutely not, as doing so would sacrifice its epicness. Nevertheless, the designers should consider preparing or enlisting someone to create comprehensive video tutorials or even a series of videos explaining each aspect of the game. Do you recall the old YouTube video for the War of the Ring board game, with its dated animations but flawless explanations? Something similar would be ideal for Europa Universalis. Additionally, a rulebook summary similar to the one crafted by the Esoteric Order, the same folks responsible for the invaluable rule summary for the War of the Ring, would be a boon. Alternatively, they could explore using the Dized app to create a single, comprehensive interactive tutorial.
Europa Universalis is one of those games that can either be the greatest gaming experience of your life or a daunting struggle that you may not even reach the point of mastering. It’s arguably the most epic and comprehensive strategic board game with a historical theme we’ve ever encountered. However, the learning curve can be steep, even for seasoned players. Scoring this game is a challenge, but in an attempt to find common ground, we award Europa Universalis 8 scratches out of a possible 10. If you’re not daunted by the steep learning curve, you can easily add at least 1 scratch to the rating. – David