333 MHz or faster, 128MB RAM, MacOS 9.0 or later or MacOS X
I remember - it seemed to be a little while ago - waiting for the Mac release of Civilization III to come to fruition. The Macintosh was, and still is, a platform starving for strategically intriguing games that take longer than a round of Risk or a Risk clone to complete. Sid Meier's effort was a beacon of light, for the most part, in a dark sea devoid of further strategy on such a grand scale.
Along comes Europa Universalis II from MacPlay and Virtual Programming, Ltd. to not only make a strong claim as the new king of a thinking person's global conquest software's throne, but also to serve notice to future wannabe's that the bar has now been raised. And by more than a little.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. See, long ago before the advent of this novel thing that all of us take for granted that's right in front of you (yeah, that monitor and CPU, bucko) there was a thing called a board game. Not b-o-r-e-d game, b-o-a-r-d game. Yes. You'd set it up, with literally either hundreds or thousands of tiny squares or hexagonal pieces that would occupy a small space and one's "turn" could last for hours. You'd find yourself constantly praying that your friend's dog, Lucy, wouldn't barge in for food or a scratch behind the ear or that your little brother, Eggbert, wouldn't sneak in and flip the board off the table. See, games like this were serious and they were played for weeks or months at a time. The board would remain out with all of its little pieces (hopefully) staying in the spot where you last left them. Players were known to only exit the room for food or the lavatory on long weekends, and girlfriends were merely folly compared the seriousness of what was at hand in that room. Thank God for technology, I say.
Europa Universalis was actually based on such a game and is deeply rooted in the history of certain parts of the world, including but not limited to Europe, Asia, and North America. "History?" you ask? Yes. And, no, it's not what you think. Even including such a word in the review of software might cause some to turn the virtual page, however, that would be their loss because those that are mesmerized by the thought of conquering the planet from their desk chairs will not be disappointed.
The learning curve for Europa is certainly a steep one and its seventy-seven page manual in 8-point type only touches the surface of what the game truly entails. Expect to get your behind whooped many a time before you're even remotely competitive. Especially if you're like me and tend to dive right into a game and try to learn it on the fly. There are simply too many minute details to possibly describe them all in a short review such as this. Suffice it to say that this title could serve to keep you busy for months and months to the point that your family might just poke their head in the door once in a while to make sure that you're still there and still awake. After a few nights you might notice that the plates and bowls next to you should probably be put away before insects become a problem. Wipe that drool away, this is far from over.
Europa Universalis II is about nations. It's about people and technology as well as the multiple facets of diplomacy and royalty as well as your ability to lead or dictate the direction of one of 200 or so nations that you can lead. There are multiple scenarios that are based on different time periods (we're talking over 400 years here) and different states of civilizations that are trying to outdo one another. Equally, all scenarios are not necessarily based on your ability to roll over your neighbors' borders but are also about your ability to woo your enemies and forge alliances that can be just as important in determining victory. These "Victory Points" are detailed as you progress in the game, and should you find yourself falling behind your competitors you may choose to accept certain missions that have high rewards for completion and stiff penalties for failure.
The game has numerous elements to manage and micromanage. There are seven map modes that each allow you to control specific functions for that mode (Normal, Political, Economic, Religious, Diplomatic, Trade, and Colonization) and there are multiple facets for each mode that can only be managed from that specific map. The Diplomatic Map, for example, allows you to negotiate with nations militarily or through diplomatic missions. You can forge alliances, Royal marriages, trade agreements, and much more only through this specific map.
All of this in real-time? Yes and no. See, the game does travel at a user-controlled pace that, no matter what speed you choose, is too fast to possibly control all of the aspects that need to be attended to. Hence, the Pause mode, which allows you to issue orders, take care of your economy, colonize the uninhabited land, and build that galley that you need to transport your troops - all without losing any "real" time at all. Brilliance, in my estimation, as I feel that a major shortcoming to the RTS genre is the inability to realistically manage all of the affairs that you need to with the proper thought behind them.
Sounds like a handful, doesn't it? Well, it is. There are so many aspects to this title that this review could be longer than that the instruction manual and still not have covered all of the nuances properly. One major point is that attrition plays a major role throughout the game, be it with your naval warships or your troops on the ground. If you over-expand and spread yourself too thin, you'll find that it won't be easy to recover or remain competitive. Troops put a major strain on your treasure chest and are a burden on the fragile economy that you must manage with as much care as the rest of your nation's needs. Similarly, you must be very careful with your actions as they, no matter what they are, will cause reactions from the competing nations. The AI in this title is nothing to belittle and is up to even the most daunting challenges - it's not a lightweight.
The maps and general appearance of the game are beautiful - right down to the historically accurate uniforms that your army wears. There are a few instances where the animations aren't all that impressive (such as armed forces movement and battles), but they really don't need to be. This isn't really about that. The music is a relevant element in the background, however, playing compositions from the time period that are well executed and appropriate.
My only criticisms of the game are these:
When in "normal" map mode, it can be difficult to distinguish differing states and what belongs to whom. Obviously, the game can be paused and you can make the determination. A minor issue, but a nuisance nonetheless.
When I was playing this for review, the game would crash when attempting to load a save file. This is critical, obviously, but the publisher (VP) has released a patch to solve the problem. The easiest place to download it is here and you can check MacPlay or Virtual Programming, Ltd. for further updates.
Bottom Line: Perhaps the best historical strategy game of all time. Certainly the best ever seen on the Macintosh platform. It might be a bit over-the-top for the casual gamer, but once you're into it there's no looking back. And I didn't even get into the fact that it's multiplayer capable.
· · · Haohmaru