This feature is part of our special series on History and Games.
For many gamers, Europa Universalis is one of the best simulations of historical nation-building. One can pick any country from the late medieval world, to lead them through history through schematic yet in some ways realistic gameplay. However not every user was satisfied with the portrayal of ‘their’ country. The ensuing debate wasn’t the usual one between developers and users but rather took place mainly between users from different national backgrounds.
Europa Universalis is a series of strategy games developed by Paradox Entertainment. The first title was released in 2000, but the series is ultimately based on a board game from 1993, and takes place on a world map, which is divided into provinces. The main units of the game are the countries. The key elements of the gameplay are diplomacy and war; the goal is to collect the most victory points.
EU2 (2001) has a similar interface to its predecessor, but its gameplay is more sophisticated, and most importantly for our discussion, it has more gamers from Eastern Central European countries. On the Paradox Entertainment forum we can track down interesting cultural clashes regarding the history of this region, as we will see.
War in the game is not chaotic, and this is very important. While human players may follow their own imperial dreams, the AI declares war only based on a casus belli, religion and the status of mutual relations. Each country controls provinces and may also have core provinces. Core provinces represent a legitimate claim which gives a permanent casus belli to the respective country. The status of “core” is based on historical claim, for instance former rule in that province. In controlled core provinces the risk of population revolt is lower, and they also generate more income.
EU2 has had many patches, but the last one was version 1.09 in 2001. While the developers didn’t focus totally on a historically accurate setup of the world, some gamers did, and after years of work their community created the Alternative Grand Campaign Event Exchange Project [AGCEEP], a modification which uses the EU2 1.09 setup. EU3 was released in 2007 and EU4 in 2013.
By not precisely portraying the copy of the world, some players consider EU2 to be a bad simulator. The developers underline that the game wasn’t intended to be a simulator anyway, but the fans didn’t care much about this, because EU2 was frustratingly close to being a decent one. After releasing the game in 2001, the Paradox forum was flooded with comments regarding little changes desired by players. Most of them affected the gameplay, but there were historical debates as well. These threads were not just bitter comments of ‘well educated users’ on the mistakes of the ‘historically unaware’ developers; there were also debates amongst users from different countries regarding the historical realities surrounding the countries portrayed in the game. These are particularly precious and entertaining debates, as they reflect each modern country’s different historical memories and education. In what follows, let’s take a closer look at three typical cases.
In a thread called ‘Croatia core provinces’ the user King of Croatia starts with this line:
Can paradox [Paradox Entertainment] please put Dalmatia, Bosnia and Ragusa as Croatia core provinces in the next patch.1
Obviously we have a hungry person here. In another thread he makes it clear what the restoration of 10th century Croatia should look like really: Croatia, Krain, Istria, Dalmatia, Steiermark, Banat, and Ragusa.
In EU2’s starting setup (in 1419) Croatia owns one province and is a vassal of Hungary. They are at war with Venice, but oddly they are not in alliance with each other. Croatia has one core, namely Krain, which belonged at the time to Hungary.
The historical situation from a Hungarian viewpoint is different: Krain didn’t belong to Hungary, it was part of Croatia. Croatia wasn’t an ally, nor vassal, but simply part of the realm. Croatia didn’t have an autonomous king at that time, didn’t have an army, or own diplomats, etc. The comment of Barkderg testifies how commonly problems such as these arose in threads:
waits for the Hungarians to arrive who will claim that Croatia actually was part of Hungary2
As it turned out, user King of Croatia wanted the changes based on the debated possessions of the Croatian royal dynasty in the 10th century. He argues that king Tomislav ruled the in-game provinces Bosnia, Croatia, Krain, Dalmatia, and Ragusa. From one of the developers, he got the advice to come up with another argument. He then argued that the population was mainly Croatian in Dalmatia, Bosnia and Ragusa. Formulating a claim is based on dynastic history, and the developers used this guideline.
User Derek Pullem added an interesting acerbic contribution to the thread:
Why don’t we release a mod where every single Balkan state has CB’s [casus belli] on every other Balkan state — as that seems to be the case whenever these threads arise. […] The point about CB’s and core provinces is to enable the game to unfold roughly as history happened.3
There was a little Bosnian–Croatian disagreement: user Bosnian stated that Bosnia was mostly Bosnian, so it shouldn’t be a Croatian core province. King of Croatia was basically on his own, but concerning Dalmatia he got support from 2–3 users. They claimed that the coastline belonged to Venice but the inland area to Croatia (thus to Hungary). Even the portrayed war at the beginning of the game against Venice was because of this. Venice took Dalmatia from Croatia/Hungary, so a war begun. In the end, it was a short-lived thread and after three days there were no more comments.
The issue was solved relatively easily. Regarding the core province issue, the developers stuck to the dynastic claim principle, not to the ethnic one. They dropped the “big Croatia” theory, and as core provinces they portrayed only the 11–12th century Croatia. From a Hungarian viewpoint it was still “wrong”, since there was no Croatian royal dynasty in the time range of the game, so giving cores to Croatia, or even include Croatia in the game seemed unfounded. But this separate issue was to be discussed in many other threads, not here.
With the EU2 1.09 patch, Croatia remained a vassal of Hungary but additionally controlled Krain. The country got Dalmatia as core province, but Hungary lost Istria. Ragusa was no longer part of Venice and became an independent state. This was also mentioned in the forum, but no one stated that Ragusa was independent in the 15th century, only earlier. Paradox made the change anyway.
In the AGCEEP mod Croatia doesn’t exist as a faction; The Hungarian forum members were pleased.
As a followup title EU3 wasn’t affected by AGCEEP, and the issue had to be tackled there in its own way. The debated control of Krain was solved by ahistorically summoning the Patriarchate of Aquilea. Historically it existed till 1433, and had a smaller territory than Croatia had. However, in EU3 it has 4 provinces. 4 small provinces, while Croatia makes one big province only. In this release Croatia is integrated into Hungary, not even a vassal. Finally, EU4 used yet another map, but this time it was adequate in shape and size as well. Croatia was not a country anymore, and Aquilea vanished. With that, the issue of the Croatian territories ceased to exist.
Too powerful Habsburgs
A basic concern of designing these games is the question of how to categorize the organizations of the world population and what can be considered as a country and what not. The aboriginal tribes in Australia for example are presented as “unorganized natives”, but the tribes on Celebes are considered a country, just like England. There is no tool for marking the difference other than assigning the status of country or not. Also, the developers had to decide what Austria was. Without question it was organized, but how could it be labeled a dynastic dominion? A dynastic dominion is a realm where different countries belong to the same dynasty through family ties. As the dynasty has its head, the realm has its emperor, but the parts of the realm are not merged, and they have different levels of autonomy. Such a realm would fall apart as the dynasty dies, and every part of the realm would choose a new dynasty on their own. The Habsburgs had this kind of realm for centuries, and it was forged to a more or less unified empire, but was it unified already at the beginning, justifying its portrayal as a country? Well, the users weren’t sure either. In the thread ‘Austria, Burgundy, and Habsburg Lands’ there is a short but sharp discussion about the mentioned problem. User Twoflower dropped the first bomb:
…for the most important dynasty of all, the Hapsburgs, EU2 makes a strange exception. The Hapsburg territories that were IRL [in real life] divided into three branches, Austria, Styria and Tyrol, that were definitely as autonomous as the Wittelsbach branches, are merged into one dynastic country in 1419 [start of the game].4
Mad King James was also annoyed by this:
…Styria passed to Austria in 1439, HOWEVER Tyrol did not pass to Austria permanently until 1665.5
This was corrected later by other users. Styria united with Austria in 1468, but gained its autonomy back the same century. The three duchies (the aforementioned branches) were ruled by various lines of the Habsburg family. The cooperation was not always tight, for example when it became evident that Sigismund of Tyrol (15th century) would die childlessly, he preferred the Bavarian Wittelsbachs as heirs. Of course the Habsburg family intervened. The interesting part comes, when Isaac Brock brought another viewpoint:
Yeah, but the Netherlands were independent under the Archdukes (Albert and Isabella) from 1598 to 1621. If Styria and Tyrol should be independent in 1600, so should the Netherlands.6
Mad King James then changed his mind, and stated that Styria and Tyrol weren’t so autonomous as to warrant independent units in the game. He used the term “Austrian administration” which ruled these territories since the 12th century. In response Twoflowers cited another source to prove the opposite. He even names it: the 1911 Classic Encyclopedia on Habsburgs. He states the Habsburg dominions even had their own separate wars. BarbarossaHRE cites a paper called The House Law of the German Habsburgs. By this, he states Tyrol and Styria weren’t independent enough to consider as independent countries in the game.
The point is, there is no agreement concerning Styria and Tyrol. Some view them as duchies with individual diplomacy (war, peace, even inheritance), some as part of a complicated dynastic realm. This affects the gameplay very much. With so many provinces, playing Austria makes the game straightforward, as it is very easy to rise to higher levels on the technology ladder, and thus step by step conquering everything. Even the Ottomans are no real opponent for Austria in the game, contrary to actual history. But Twoflowers wrote his comment not because of this, but because he didn’t find the overly strong Austria fair in comparison to other German duchies:
…Austria is much stronger than it was at that time and can start conquering Germany very early; in fact it was a territory just like the other HRE [Holy Roman Empire] principalities, and not more powerful than the Palatinate, Brandenburg or Saxony.7
Compared to other nations in the game, this appears inconsistent. For example, Sigismundus of Luxemburg was King of Hungary, Bohemia and Germany at the same time, as well as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Still, in the game these countries (Hungary and Bohemia) are separate entities. It is even possible for them to attack each other, despite the fact that they were ruled by the very same king at the beginning of the game. Why should the possessions of the Habsburgs be merged but the possession of the Luxemburgs not? However, no one really cared about this contradiction.
The developers didn’t change this setup at all with the 1.09 patch. In EU3 Austria became even bigger, except for the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg which became an autonomous entity this time, as it was in real life. The same principle was followed in EU4. All the dominions of the Austrian Habsburgs were gathered in one country called Austria in the 15th century already. So the debate was simply neglected.
Yet the users created an independent Styria and Tyrol in AGCEEP. These entities will later succeed to Austria by a programmed event. This wasn’t exactly impossible to implement in the official game, but most of the gamers were able to get over its absence.
Deadlock at Dracula’s home
From the Romanian point of view the Roman Imperial army retreated from Dacia in 271 CE, and over the next centuries the people remaining behind became the Romanian people. The Hungarians settled in the Pannonian Basin in the 9th and 10th centuries and expanded into adjacent regions in the 11th and 12th centuries, including Transylvania. At the time, Transylvania was divided between a few regional lords who were easily defeated by the Hungarian army. Transylvania remained under Hungarian rule until 1918.
From the Hungarian point of view there is no link between present day Romanians and the Roman legions. Thus the Hungarian warlord Árpád took control over Transylvania not from the Romanians, but from the believed descendants of the Huns. As the tribe-alliance was violently centralized into a Catholic kingdom in the late 10th and early 11th century, Transylvania became part of the realm just like the territories of the other tribes. According to the Hungarian view of history, the Romanians originated from the Balkans and only began to migrate to the Carpathian slopes as shepherds in the 14th century.
The story begins with a surprise: in EU2 Transylvania is an independent state. There was no debate between Hungarians and Romanians over this phenomena, as both knew Transylvania was part of Hungary in that age. The outrage originated concerning the details: the culture of the province is Romanian in the game, while the religion is Catholic, which is a contradiction, since the vast majority of Romanians were Orthodox. With the 1.09 patch this was altered to “Magyar” (Hungarian) culture and Catholic religion, but it wasn’t Hungarian vassal anymore, Hungary had only a core on it.
As part of these concerns, Blaster came up with a bright idea, opening the thread ‘Romania’ and starting a landslide:
What about an event for Wallachia to unite with Moldavia in Romania (or even better… Dacia) if Wallachia isn’t OE’s [Ottoman Empire] vassal and has an alliance with Moldavia? Also the Transylvanian provinces should have the Romanian culture and not Hungarian (magyar) ; some where catholics but never magyar. Wallachia should have all Romanian provinces as national provinces, that’s historically correct.8
Events are part of the gameplay in EU. Usually when an event is happening, the game stops, a panel appears with a short outline of the historical background, and with one or more buttons. Usually the player has a choice to decide, triggering different further events or effects. The mentioned idea is based on the event for instance the one which is triggered when a player gets most of the German principalities and then Germany is founded. The user cannot found Germany or whatever country on its own, it must be programmed as event.
Vandervecken added a peaceful note, which still contained some ‘land mines’:
…the idea of a union of three Romanian culture states should only be really implemented during Michael the Brave’s reign. Any earlier union would mean to misunderstand the mentalities of the time.9
Mentioning three Romanian culture states seems to be a curse word in Hungary if one of the three is meant to be Transylvania. In the 16th century Transylvania emerged as an independent state, and later an Ottoman vassal, as a result of a war of succession in the Kingdom of Hungary. It had little to do with ethnicity or religion, but more with geography and Hungarian politics. Anyway, Transylvania emerged as a colorful entity which can be viewed differently.
Bluster took the effort again:
the center of all Romanian history was to unite all Romanians that’s why i asked for a event for that, just if both Moldavia and Wallachia are free and allied they should form Romania from Hungarian history point of view Transylvania is theres culture but the land was always Romanian, that’s what I’m saying and Wallachia should have them at least marked national provinces.10
galuska reacted quickly:
Transylvania should change to Romanian [culture] during Bethlen Gábor’s reign, not earlier […] Until Bethlen [1620–30’s], the most influential — and most numerous — part of Transylvania was Hungarian or Hungarian székely…11
Culture is another part of the gameplay. If Hungary controls Transylvania, but Transylvania has Romanian culture, then it will be more expensive to maintain stability (which affects revolt risk, revenues and diplomacy amongst others). Of course it stands vice versa: if Wallachia or Moldavia annex Transylvania, they will have troubles with stability, if Transylvania’s culture is Hungarian in the game.
Bluster tried to make things clear:
Transylvania is Romanian territory from the roman times.12
An interesting twist occurred when a Hungarian gamer linked a book in English over Transylvania. Thus begun a discussion over the Romanian presence in Transylvania in the 15–16th centuries. Then the discussion became a bit philosophical, arguing over sources, as the linked book was written by Hungarians and apart from the Hungarians not many users accepted it.
Regarding the issue of ethnic presence user igen777 summed up an important argument:
…as you see it is not even rare to explain the middle ages and the renaissance as a national history which is stupid as there were no nations at that time. […] of course nationalism is definitely NOT the main line of the history till the 19 century.13
It was a very long dispute whether Transylvania should have Hungarian or Romanian culture in the game, but the main divide was clear: Hungarians stated Transylvania had Hungarian majority, Romanians stated the opposite. This nuance affects the tax revenues in the game: a province which hasn’t got the same culture as the state generates 60% less tax in EU2. It also has higher revolt risk. The thread has 302 comments, and the discussion lead to another thread after three months of heavy debate, as the original request was discussed enough.
In the end, a compromise was made. In the game, Transylvania should have Hungarian culture to start with, and then eventually it would change. Wallachia would have Transylvania as core province, and the request for an event of the birth of Romania was dropped. But then a discussion over the province Banat emerged. Wallachia had it as its core, but from a Hungarian point of view the Banat was a main Hungarian agricultural area which never was disputed. However, user Laur wrote:
As far as I know, Banat was originally the name given to the province between the rivers Danube, Olt, and Mures [rivers in today’s Romania] and the Carpathian mountains, ruled by the legendary Glad.14
It turned out to be a mistake:
No. Banat(e) is a general name of a land which was ruled by a bán [like a governor]. there were separate banates…15
The province Banat in the game is not identical with the territory described by Laur. This issue will have later an effect, but not in this thread.
It is worth to mention, as an example, the attitude of the Hungarian comments. Europa Universalis 2 was based on a French board game, developed by a Swedish studio, and released by Canadian publisher Strategy First, whom in this case Hungarians can consider as ‘French villains’ too. During the first part of the 20th century France had close political ties with Romania, while Hungary had only Nazi Germany as its ally. By this, the rest of the western world learned rather the Romano-French narrative of this region, or so Hungarians claimed at least. Hungary casts itself as an isolated orphan, and seemingly in the EU2 debate this attitude remained the same. There are many paranoid ‘you don’t listen to us’, ‘why don’t you read my link?’ or ‘we proved our argument but you just neglect it’ comments. It is interesting how historical accusations in cyberspace can reflect actual political attitudes.
As it seems, the developers weren’t affected by the debate. In the 1.09 patch, Transylvania remained independent, moreover this time it is not a vassal of any country, which is very strange since no one in the discussion claimed that position. The province’s religion remained Catholic but the culture changed to Hungarian, which was indeed a request by Hungarian users.
In AGCEEP all the questions were considered, and they created an acceptable setup for everyone. Transylvania is part of Hungary, not a state, its culture is Hungarian and its religion is Catholic. Culture is changed through later events, when Transylvania emerged to become a country. By this compromise, the debate over who was there earlier and who was the majority faded.
In EU3 there were huge changes. Transylvania starts as vassal state of Hungary, with Hungarian culture and with Catholic religion. Hungary has however the Banat too. This was an odd development, maybe the developers misunderstood the comments in the forum. But hey, it’s just a game. Peace had settled by EU4. In this game the world map was finally adequate, every real-world country got her accurate shape, and ahistorical or anachronistic countries just disappeared. So did the 15th century Transylvania and the whole core/culture debate.
Guideline to judge
There was no official policy published, but similar to bug reporting, Paradox considered some of the comments on the forum when deciding on changes to make in patches. Although administrator State Machine was very clear about this:
Paradox may fix these [reported] bugs — there are no guarantees. Also, this is not a wish list forum. Post enhancements to the game in the General Discussions Forum (if you must :)). Note, there used to be a Wish List forum, but Paradox does not intend to make any significant enhancements to the game.16
To judge a request, they tried to avoid biased narration by sticking to a third-party source. As unmerged(20844) answered Riddermark’s proposition about Bulgaria:
…to make an impression, you need to give the creators impartial info, that is not a Bulgarian history book, better find some authority on the Internet.17
In academic sense this is not a secure way to rule out partial authors, because it can happen that an ‘outsider’ rely on biased ‘insider’ theories. But this policy was useful after all.
Fixing bugs was much easier than fixing false representation, as ‘false’ is a matter of position. Actually the situation was never that bad, and there was no acute deadlock in the disputed region. First of all the time frame of the game covers an era which is already well documented in Europe. In addition, the limits of the game demanded simple yes or no answers. However it also caused some of the debates.
Because of the not so detailed map, the representation of the borders couldn’t be exact. The provinces on the map don’t cover all the political entities of the era. Some of the provinces should be split at least in half. Theoretically this conflict was the hardest to solve, but since the game is also about conquest, they could balance the problem with the institute of core provinces. This was the case with the Croatian requests. The province of Dalmatia could belong to Venice but also to Croatia, since actually it should be split into a coastline (Venice) and a land (Croatia). Similar to that, Krain by name belonged to Styria but by shape that territory should belong to Croatia. That’s how Croatia got core on Dalmatia and Krain itself in the 1.09 patch. But once a better divided map arrived in EU3, the debate over Krain and Dalmatia was off the table.
Once a political entity was able to be more or less well determined on the map, there was only a binary option for representing it: state or rebel. A duchy, a republic, a monarchy, a horde, a tribal alliance are equally represented as states with a monarch. If the entity hadn’t a monarch-like leader, it could be only represented as ‘rebel province’. A province (or more provinces) with its culture and religion, and a high revolt risk. The vassal/independent status is useful to represent real vassal state relations, but is a bad way to represent state in state situations. Some duchies in a bigger realm were only a practicing field of the heir to the throne, some were more individual, but the game cannot distinguish by default. This happened with Croatia. In EU2 it was portrayed as a vassal of Hungary while she was a bit less than that, and it ended as a province in EU3 while she was a bit more than just a province. Or this was the problem with Syria and Tyrol too. Both were part of the Habsburg realm, yet not always without individual ways. The historical struggle of Austria was to funnel the potential of the different Habsburg possessions to defeat the Ottomans, in contrary to the situation in the game where Austria can easily grow relying on her already forged provinces. But at least both in Austria’s and Croatia’s cases we can name the truth, and we can reveal there is no real deadlock in the debate.
Most of the debates are over ‘cores’ and the settings of culture and religion of provinces, and Paradox cannot possibly solve all these issues. The proposal of giving Croatia core on Bosnia was not successful, because Bosnians stated Bosnia was never part of Croatia, and the debated era (8–10th century) is the least documented, so none of the claims could be confirmed. In this case Paradox sticked to the facts: there was a Kingdom of Bosnia in the early 15th century, period.
The issue of Transylvania had also its layers. First of all it was false represented as a vassal of Hungary. In EU3 it became not just independent but also bigger. Regardless of this issue, there was an other layer, namely the core province debate. Should Wallachia have core on Transylvania and Moldavia as they might belonged together before the romans, did the lords of the late-medieval Wallachia claimed those territories, or did they not? This question was instantly mixed with a third debate, whether the culture of Transylvania was orthodox-Romanian or mainly catholic with Hungarian dominance? While the first two issue were easy to solve, the third couldn’t be solved unless the users in the forum made a compromise.
Gamers gonna game
So what were the guidelines in the end? The developers seemingly didn’t always rely on research, and the debates on the forum had a great impact on further changes. But they also followed the game logic regarding casus belli issues or simply neglected the not so heavy disputes. While patch 1.09 was a huge effort to make the initial map-setup more proper, EU3 had more focus on accurate dynamics of the world. EU4 merged these two angles, and implemented a lot of changes of the AGCEEP project. AGCEEP was a wiki project, so it can be regarded as a benchmark of the widest compromise. And since the game was fun after all and can be modded easily, Paradox wasn’t likely to lose any players over it.
- https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/croatia-core-provinces.77887/ [↩]
- https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/croatia-core-provinces.77887/#post-1413797 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/croatia-core-provinces.77887/#post-1416116 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/austria-burgundy-and-habsburg-lands.76177/#post-1381422 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/austria-burgundy-and-habsburg-lands.76177/#post-1381523 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/austria-burgundy-and-habsburg-lands.76177/#post-1382139 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/austria-burgundy-and-habsburg-lands.76177/#post-1381422 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/ [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/#post-7833737 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/#post-7836938 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/#post-7832613 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/#post-7833212 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/page‑2#post-7837395 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/romania.334233/page‑4#post-7851562 [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/bug-reporting-forum-rules.21306/ [↩]
- http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/bug-reporting-forum-rules.21306/ [↩]
- https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/the-bulgarian-question-important.121118/ [↩]