Europa Universalis 4: Great Game, Zero Stars

Byrne Hobart
7 min readJan 6, 2020

Look at a map of Europe in the mid-15th century, and it’s close-enough but a little funny-looking. Spain is in the right place, though there’s a line down the middle separating Castile and Aragon. France is a bit shrunken, and Germany looks like someone threw up a bowl of Lucky Charms. And right between France and the German blob is, uh, something.

“They’re after me lucky HRRRRNGGGGH”

In this case the “something” is Burgundy, a state that migrated around a bit but ended up comprising the lowlands, Luxembourg, and chunks of modern France in between. The Duchy of Burgundy existed as an independent country in various forms from about the 10th century through the mid-15th, and disappeared when Duke Charles the Bold died without an heir and its territories were absorbed — through a sort of geopolitical Jarndice v. Jarndice featuring lots of bloodshed — by France and the Habsburgs.

This brings up two interesting points. First, history is weirdly contingent; if Charles the Bold had had been less bold and more fecund, there might be a country in between Germany and France. And second, some parts of history are mostly forgotten until they get incorporated into video games.

I would bet that of the people who read this and already knew what happened to Burgundy, the majority learned it from playing Paradox’s Europa Universalis series, where Burgundy’s dissolution and partition are an important early-game event. The rest of you are strange. Europa is on its fourth incarnation, covering world history from 1444 to 1821, and is a great example of video games as an art form: it manages to make the point that history has some randomness, but generally makes sense, and it manages to be fun, too.

Sandboxing and Railroading

Europa Universalis 4 (EU4 from now on) is a historical real-time strategy game. As with other games in the genre, players gather resources, make alliances, and generally try to conquer the world. There are two directions a game like this can go: some games, like the Civilization series, take the “sandbox” approach. They make all countries equivalent but for some almost-cosmetic differences. In Civ, every country starts out at population and technology parity, and resources don’t vary especially much. So a Civ game typically ends with something bizarre, like…

Byrne Hobart

I write about technology (more logos than techne) and economics. Newsletter: