(Watching) multiplayer strategy is more fun than I thought

I’ve been a fan of strategy games for a long time now, but I’ve never played them multiplayer. It’s just not my thing. When I’m playing strategy games, I want to do it on my own time–even the “real time” ones I play can be paused or run at different speeds. With multiplayer, you can’t really do that. Yes, you can still (usually) pause or play slower in multiplayer, but if you’re running at a slow speed and constantly slapping the pause button with other people in the game…you’re kind of an ass. Multiplayer Europa Universalis IV, the game in question for this article, does seem to allow pausing at any time according to the wiki, but I’d imagine it’s pretty frowned upon by players.

I’ve watched some multiplayer strategy in the past, and never really had much interest in it. More often than not, it’s all shown from one player’s perspective, in which case…eh. At that point, you may as well be watching them play a single-player match. Sure, stuff is going to be different, let’s not forget that humans are way better than AI, and you can’t use the same strategies against them. But still, you’re seeing the only what that one person is doing, and while that’s going to be different than what they’d normally do, it’s a bit boring to see a single player-focused multiplayer game. I’ve also watched some streams of multiplayer games, shown from the perspective of hosts, but if you start partway through, it can be confusing as heck. Croatia controls England? The Iroquois fought back against the colonizers and vassalized France? The Pope is Sunni? What the hecking hey? Some of those might be…a tad exaggerated (althogh Croatia did control England for quite a while in my current CK3 game), but apparently nothing is impossible in multiplayer.

Which brings us to the multiplayer match in question. From the twenty-first to twenty-second of November, the “Virtual Grandest LAN” happened, a yearly Europa Universalis multiplayer match held by Paradox, the developers and publishers of the game. Obviously no one was actually together this year due to covid, but they managed to set up a twenty-five computer LAN in the office and sixty players playing through a remote desktop app. Cool way around the problem that nowhere near that number of people could play through a web connection. I watched a bit of the game on those days, but it was while I was getting ready for work, and I started partway through. It was interesting to see how weirdly Europe had been divided up, but only half paying attention and not knowing what had happened beforehand quickly took my interest away. I went in and came out thinking that multiplayer just wasn’t for me. Then, on the first of December, just over a week after the livestream of the game, it was released on Youtube. I clicked on the first video, thinking I’d give it a try but probably wouldn’t like it. Boy, was I wrong.

The video starts off with the hosts describing what the world looks like on the 11th November, 1444, the day after the Ottoman kicked the snot out of a Crusade led by Poland, out of fear of the Turks pushing into Europe. More on that in a bit. Everything looks exactly the same as it would at the start of a normal single player game, except for the fact that a number of players in eastern Europe and western Asia have have hatched a plan to slice up the Ottos in a multi-front war. Back to the Ottomans winning and failed Crusades, part of their rise came partly from the Fourth Crusade, where a series of events caused the Crusaders to attack Constantinople instead of Jerusalem, followed by the Byzantine Empire in the Balkans and Anatolia being sliced up by the Crusaders, similar to the lands the Ottomans held in 1444. Byzantium did manage to get a lot of that land back, but they were never again as strong as they once were, allowing the Ottomans to rise up in Anatolia, and eventually become the main power in the region. Anyway, that’s enough history, and feel free to tell me all the mistakes I made in the comments.

ANYWAY, back to the actual game. It starts out with a number of players planning to attack the Ottomans and slice its land up amongst themselves, as had happened two and a half centuries earlier. Fun how history repeats itself. This could not happen in a single player game. You can defeat the Ottomans somewhat easily, but you can’t attack them directly. Your allies won’t help you in offensive wars unless they can get something out of it, which is usually the case no matter who you attack. But if you get a number of medium to large-sized nations on your side, and vassalize the weak-sauce Byzantium in a (usually illegal) war, you can call your allies into a defensive war when the Ottomans attack your purple pal. At that point, the Ottomans will be faced with too many troops coming from too many directions to be able to win, and once they lose, you’ll be able to take enough from them from them that future offensive wars will be successful. But back to the actual multiplayer game, which I keep straying away from. In a multiplayer game, you 100% can win a direct war against the Ottomans, because your human allies will be happy to help attack the most powerful and threatening empire around. And even the nations who your not directly allied to will be willing to form a temporary alliance to defeat a common enemy. Remember when everyone got together to defeat Napoleon because they all hated him so much? Basically that. Oh, sorry…more history.

Before the game even started, a number of nations near the Ottomans had come up with a plan to destroy them and divvy up their land.

When I realized that multiplayer games could have things that would never be possible in single player games, because humans are again smarter than AI and not subject to the rules of what an AI nation can and cannot do, I was intrigued. As I watched more of the video, I became even more so. Watching the game from the perspective of commentators made it way more interesting than watching a multiplayer game from only one person’s perspective. You can see everything that was going on at any time, and don’t have to worry about the fog of war obstructing your viewing. And boy, was there a lot going on. The alliance webs of five dozen humans made it so that wars were happening everywhere, much so that could happen if you were playing with just one real person. Even from the start, the world was being divided up in a way that in an absolutely crazy way. And again, going back to the commentators in god mode, you can listen to the discussion of all this, hear their ideas of what might happen next, and go into the view of any specific nation to see how their politics are going. As the game goes on, they’ll listen to the players themselves about their plans and how things are going, it’s all very interesting.

After after only watching a few minutes of this let’s play, I was hooked. Let’s plays can be a lot of fun, but I’ve never seen (or continued to watch) anything like this. Is it something I’ll want to watch in the future? A huge, commentated one like this, definitely. A single perspective one? Eh, we’ll see. That might bring back some of the issues I had with multiplayer strategy before now, although starting from the beginning might help me. How about playing myself? Honestly, I might like it, and not just for EU4. But I’d probably have to play with a somewhat large number of people to enjoy it, so the plans to work together to create powerful human empires could go forward. I’m guessing at least five or six people, and with scheduling and the slight need for using a LAN to make everything go smoothly, I have some serious doubts it could happen. Still, it’s something that’s possible, and part of me wants to try it. So…I don’t seem to hate multiplayer strategy as much as I thought I did, and, dare I say…I might actually enjoy it. Who knew?

Do you like multiplayer strategy games? Have you ever tried playing, or just watched? Tell us in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter!

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