Grand strategy title Europa Universalis 4 sees its 10th anniversary in 2023, and the game's rabid fanbase is getting an interesting expansion to go along with that.
Domination, releasing on April 18th, is the 15th expansion for EU4. Rather than adding new content to a specific region as with the last few expansions, Domination adds a ton of new content to some of the largest and most played countries in the game - namely Spain, France, Great Britain, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, China, and Japan. The update makes these countries a lot more powerful and flexible but also introduces new challenges that the player will have to overcome. It will also come with a free patch - the 35th - that, among other things, adds three new idea groups with dozens of associated policies.
Let's make this clear: The content to be added in Domination is not for beginners. This DLC is very much designed for committed souls who've been along for the entire decade-long ride. It's for someone who's just finished his thirtieth campaign as Castile and needs something new to try (playing a different game not being an option for the dedicated wargamer).
Yet I know that there are still people out there who are eager - if a bit wary - to jump into the EU4 deep end. For those people, I offer not a year-by-year guide as I've done before, but a series of guiding principles. Most of these assume that you have all of the DLC, so if you're playing on a vanilla release and see me mention a mechanic you don't have, then you can safely ignore it.
- Stability is paramount, especially for monarchies. As a rule, when encountering random events that give a choice, always take the option that increases stability and never take one that will lower it. Toward the end of the game, when monarch power is more abundant, you will have a little more leeway to take stability hits.
- Set your national focus to Administrative as soon as possible. Administrative power is key in the early game and you will never have enough of it. The exception to this is for countries with lots of subjects (e.g. France and the Timurids), who need Diplomatic power more.
- As soon as you can afford it, hire a full set of advisors. Level 1 advisors don't cost much, and the power bonuses they provide really add up.
Economy and Trade
- Once you hit technology level 11, start building manufactories as fast as you can. While they are extremely expensive, they will end up providing most of your income starting around the mid-game. If you have manufactories and workshops in a solid majority of your provinces, then you will have effectively unlimited money by the end of the game.
- Depending on your position, trade will either compose a very large or very small amount of your income. It tends to be most important for merchant republics and/or countries in end nodes (English Channel, Genoa, Venice) or other major nodes such as Sevilla and Lubeck. The basic strategy to maximize the value of your home node is to send merchants to every upstream node, then send any further merchants to nodes upstream of those.
- By default, your home node is the node in which your capital is located, but don't forget that you can choose another for a moderate cost in Diplomatic power. If you are in a low-value node but are gaining a lot of trade value in a high-value node, then you can dramatically increase your income at the cost of maybe a year's worth of power.
- Ahead-of-time bonuses and innovation are nice, but not worth spending vast sums of monarch power. As long as you are staying competitive in your Military technology, it's okay to be a little bit behind in the other two areas in the early game.
- Once you are consistently ahead of time in all three areas, you can maximize monarch power by waiting to unlock the next level until the year that the ahead-of-time cost penalty wears off. This will let you maintain your economic bonuses and innovation gain while keeping some of your power in reserve. Make an exception if there's something you need in the next level (such as a new idea group or a unit upgrade) or if you are running a power surplus.
- It's usually worth unlocking new ideas before upgrading technology. Each idea slightly reduces the cost of technology in the same category, which can add up to a few hundred free monarch points over the course of a full game.
- Unlocking a new idea group will stall your technology in that area in the short term but speed it up in the long term. Keep this in mind before picking a new group, especially in the first half of the game. In most games, you'll want to take Diplomatic ideas as your first group, as Diplomatic technology and power are both less valuable in the early game, particularly for non-colonizers.
- Consider the order in which you unlock idea groups. In general, ideas that increase income or reduce monarch point costs are most valuable when unlocked early in the game and become progressively less important as the game advances. Meanwhile, idea groups with static bonuses can be unlocked later. In particular, Military ideas are often best saved for the latter half of the game, as Military technology is more important at the beginning.
- When considering which idea groups to take, don't forget about policies. Some pairs of idea groups will unlock very powerful bonuses once they are completed, possibly even powerful enough that it's worth unlocking a group that isn't immediately useful.
- If possible, start the game by giving your estates enough privileges to give each one a loyalty equilibrium above 50. This allows you to steadily increase crownland without having to rely too much upon the diet. Most privileges don't cause any major penalties other than lowering max absolutism, which isn't even unlocked until halfway into the game. If you can't manage this with privileges alone, then many government reforms increase loyalty or decrease influence, and you can always switch them to other reforms once you no longer need them.
- Your long-term goal is to get your crownland above 70% before the mid-game, as this is the point where your absolutism will increase automatically. However, try to push well over that threshold, as you will lose crownland when you expand your territory.
- If you have a privilege that offers a significant benefit, don't revoke it. The benefits from an extra 5 or 10 points of absolutism are often outweighed by the bonuses from some estate privileges.
- If you are cultivating an institution that is currently giving you the maximum technology penalty, consider spending your monarch power on ideas or development rather than unlocking the next technology.
- Most institutions are biased to start in Europe, but the last four (Global Trade, Manufactories, the Enlightenment, Industrialization) can start anywhere under the right circumstances. For countries outside of Europe, study the requirements and see if you can induce one of them to start in one of your provinces. Even if you can't, constructing trade buildings, manufactories and universities will at least help those institutions to spread faster in your territory.
- Even if an institution originated far away, you can still force it to appear by using monarch power to repeatedly develop the same province. While this exerts a high price, it can actually save monarch power in the long run by keeping technology costs down. This is particularly important for getting the Renaissance to appear in East and South Asia, as that institution will otherwise take centuries to reach those regions.
- You can handle religious disunity through either conversion or tolerance. Some religions will incline the player toward one or the other (e.g. Orthodox Christian countries will want to convert to take advantage of their bonuses in true faith provinces), but most of the time it's a matter of personal choice. For expansionist countries, a combination of the two often works best, as you might not be able to convert your new acquisitions fast enough to avoid problems.
- The colonial game is centered primarily in Europe, particularly Portugal, Castile/Spain, England/Great Britain and France (as well as the Netherlands if it forms and Norway if it becomes independent). However, many other countries can take advantage of colonial mechanics to build power. The East Asian powers can reach the Americas via the Aleutian Islands, potentially spawning the Colonialism institution in Asia. Meanwhile, countries in eastern Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and the Indian subcontinent are well-positioned to beat the Europeans to the Spice Islands and Australia.
- Once you've started building a colony, you can withdraw the colonist and send him to start another colony, slowing down the development of the first one but accelerating overall expansion. This can be very expensive, but if you can afford it then it's a great way to rush the establishment of a colonial subject. This is especially important for Catholic colonizers, as forming a colonial subject will lock other Catholic countries out of that region.
- Colonial subjects have the potential to become very large and very disloyal. Try to keep their opinion of you as high as possible and keep an eye on their liberty desire, especially during the Age of Revolutions when events can make liberty desire rise dramatically.
- Don't forget about trade companies! For European colonizers, establishing a large trade company in the Ivory Coast or Moluccas (Spice Islands) node can greatly increase trade income. Asian colonizers can get a similar benefit by establishing a trade company in the Polynesian Triangle node.
- Leaders in republics have generally inferior stats to their highborn brethren, but they have the ability to increase those stats through reelection. Don't use this ability recklessly, though. Only reelect young leaders (ideally under 40), as it would be a shame to lose a big chunk of republican tradition only to have your president immediately die. Consider leader traits as well - the reelection of a Cruel leader might not be worth the extra monarch points.
- In general, you should always have your diplomats busy. However, it's also wise to keep at least one diplomat idle if possible, especially if the rest of your diplomats are in distant countries. This will allow you to start a war or add a country as an ally or vassal if the opportunity arises.
- An often overlooked benefit of improved relations bonuses is that it also increases the rate at which an opinion malus decays. For example, a malus that normally decays at a rate of 1 point per year will instead decay at 2 points per year with a +100% improve relations bonus. This is useful for mitigating penalties from aggressive expansion or annexing multiple subjects.
- You should constantly fabricate claims about any country that you might invade. While you only need one claim to start a war, each claim slightly reduces coring costs, which will save you some Administrative power if you capture multiple provinces.
- For a wealthy country, supporting rebels can be a powerful tool. In peacetime, it can be used to weaken a rival without having to go to war. However, it can be even more powerful during wartime. A country with ongoing rebellions will be more amenable to a peace deal.
- While you should normally seek to forge alliances with the most powerful countries possible, there are situations in which you might consider making a tactical alliance with a weaker country if it prevents a rival from conquering them. By doing this, it's possible to cut off avenues of expansion for a country that may one day become a threat.
- For weaker countries, it is often worth going over the diplomatic relations cap if it means securing an important ally. The loss of Diplomatic power is more than compensated for by wartime benefits.
- If you have any plans to invade a former ally, be sure to dissolve the alliance well in advance. Aside from the five-year truce, you'll also have to wait out the royal marriage you likely have with them, which can potentially take many years more unless you're willing to absorb the stability penalty (or you've completed Diplomatic ideas, in which case you can break royal ties without consequence).
- Select your rivals carefully, keeping in mind your current and potential alliances. It's much easier to form an alliance with a country if you have a rival in common, and a lot harder if they are allied to your rivals.
- You don't necessarily have to fill all of your rival slots. If your only choice for a rival is an important ally, then it's absolutely worth leaving that slot open for a while. Additionally, if all of the available rivals are far away and/or extremely powerful, you can wait until a more appropriate rival becomes available.
- Vassals can be an important part of your military strategy, especially later in the game when wars become increasingly complex. Even if they are weak in absolute terms, these autonomous states can handle the small details (such as occupying territory and hunting enemy trade fleets) while you focus on the main objectives.
- Annexing a vassal applies a temporary diplomatic reputation penalty, slowing the rate at which you annex other subjects. If you have a lot of subjects, you can avoid this by annexing several subjects at once, potentially as many as you have diplomats. By timing the annexations so that they finish within a few months of each other, the penalty is mitigated since the penalty doesn't stack. Note, however, that this won't do anything about the opinion malus with your other subjects, which does stack and can become extremely high.
War and Peace
- For larger countries, it's usually better to have a large number of small armies than a few very large armies. This makes it easier to manage attrition since you can safely leave your armies in lower development provinces and it allows you to leave a rump force to protect vulnerable areas.
- The best armies for field combat have a fairly standard composition - a large number of infantry and artillery regiments with a much smaller number (no more than six) of cavalry regiments. During the late game when sieges become very difficult, it might be worth designing units specifically to take down forts. These armies should be comprised mostly of artillery with a smaller amount of infantry and no cavalry. Such armies will suffer devastating losses if attacked in the field, but can quickly end sieges.
- Drill your armies constantly when you're not at war. By recruiting generals and drilling, you can easily hit 100% army professionalism by the mid-game, granting extensive bonuses. Since AI-controlled countries seldom have comparable professionalism, this offers a significant edge in both field battles and sieges.
- Early on, you should focus on increasing your maximum manpower. Your goal should be to have at least as many men in reserve as you have in the field. This becomes less important during the late game - once your standing army is well into the six-figure range, it's safe to have a somewhat lower reserve.
- Keep an eye on your sailors as you expand your navy. At the very least, you need enough sailors to replace the ones used by your trade and exploration fleets, plus more to absorb the losses from your combat fleets during war. If you are losing too many sailors, build docks and impressment offices until your monthly sailor gain at least matches your losses.
- Naval combat can be far more complex than land combat, especially in the late game. Using automated fleets can help a great deal, particularly for colonizers and trade-oriented countries. Leave small fleets of heavy ships scattered around your empire and set them to hunt down fleets in the area. This frees you up to use your main fleets for serious combat.
- For a country with a long border, a cheap way to achieve security is to build a line of forts that are spaced two provinces apart. This is a very efficient way to stop attacks, but it is also very fragile as a single lost fort will grant the enemy access to your interior. If you follow this strategy, consider building additional forts in far-flung regions and around your capital to slow the enemy in case of a breach.
- It's always worthwhile to fortify your capital, even if it doesn't seem like it's vulnerable. The free fortification you get in your capital will barely slow the enemy down, and losing control of your capital will greatly harm the war effort.
- Since the AI prefers sieges to field battles, a fort in an unusual location can be used to bait the enemy army into going in the wrong direction. Add ramparts to cause additional attrition damage, and you can set a trap that can allow you to run roughshod over your opponent without having to deal with their army.
- The naval battery (unlocked at Diplomatic technology level 12) is an underrated defensive building. In addition to some fairly trivial defensive benefits, it also causes significant attrition damage to any hostile fleet in the sea zone it faces, making it impossible to maintain a blockade. Strategically placed batteries can help even the odds against a foe with a superior navy.
Preparing for war
- For the first half of the game, focus on conquering smaller nations rather than large rivals. Before you start gaining administrative efficiency during the Age of Absolutism, wars against large opponents tend to grant small spoils relative to the losses you sustain. You can draw an exception if one of your larger neighbors is vulnerable, such as during a long war or right after they suffer a loss.
- Winning a difficult war is often a matter of opportunism, particularly when your prospective target has powerful allies. In such situations, wait until your target's allies are unwilling to join the fight, then declare war. The target will lose any allies who refuse the call to arms, further weakening them for future campaigns.
- Another way to get around a powerful alliance is to declare war on the target's weaker allies. You won't be able to get much land from your actual target, but if all you want is a key province or two, this can do the trick.
During the war
- Carpet capturing involves splitting up your army to occupy a large number of provinces at once. Doing this can run up the warscore while also increasing the target's war exhaustion and preventing them from hiring reinforcements. It's a somewhat risky tactic as the divided army is very vulnerable, but it can also be highly effective if the goal is to win the war as quickly as possible.
- When fighting a strong opponent, keep your forces close together so that they can support each other. The AI considers potential reinforcements when deciding whether to launch an attack, so keeping forces clustered will dissuade the enemy from fighting and make combat victories more likely.
- Combat bonuses aside, you never want to fight a battle against an opponent with a numerically superior force. If your opponent is moving their forces around in one giant stack, you'll need to form a stack of your own if you want to defeat them. Be warned that you will suffer devastating attrition losses while doing this, so only keep your units together for as long as it takes to disrupt your opponent's formation.
- In some circumstances, it may be wise to hold off sending out a call to arms to your allies until the war has been going on for a while. Weaker allies can be quickly overrun and become a liability if called at the start of the war, but they can have more of an impact on a weakened, distracted opponent.
- Defensive-oriented nations can use attrition as a weapon to defeat a stronger opponent. Build a lot of forts in rough terrain, pick policies that increase attrition, and your enemies will wear themselves out trying to break through your defenses. Once their reserves are empty, you are well-positioned to launch a counterattack. This tends to be most effective in the mid-game, as late-game empires usually have sufficient reserves to maintain their sieges without too much difficulty.
- Regardless of your actual objectives, capturing the enemy's capital is always important. Aside from the fact that the capital will often be your opponent's highest-value province, an opposing country will be innately less likely to go to the peace table if they control their capital.
- If you plan to fight multiple wars against the same opponent, try to take strategically important provinces from them to make future wars easier. This might mean taking fortified provinces to minimize costly sieges or taking coastal provinces to landlock an opponent with a strong navy.
- You can extract money from your opponent one point at a time. Once you've taken all the land and other concessions you want, demand money until the opponent refuses. Early in the game, this can be a great way to get money to build and expand your army.
- You can gain new subjects as a result of war, either by taking land directly and releasing them yourself, or by forcing the enemy to release countries. The latter is risky, as the released country might not accept vassalization. In particular, a country will never accept vassalization if you own any of its core provinces.
After the war
- Unrest is the most immediate problem after any war. Raising local autonomy will usually fix the problem (and may be the only solution in a remote province), but this does mean it will be decades until you can get any real value out of your new territory. If you don't think you can fight off the rebels, then at least hold out until your provinces are cored and assigned to a state, as this will drop the local autonomy.
- If you are low on Administrative power and can't core all of your provinces, consider releasing a vassal or two. You can annex them later, spending Diplomatic power instead.
Europa Universalis 4 is an incredibly deep and complex game, but hopefully, these tips will help take away some of the fear of jumping into an amazing experience.
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