A Let's Play of Paradox's grand strategy games...like, ALL of them, from Imperator to Hearts of Iron 4

Huzzah! Approximately 15,998 inhabited islands to go.

Well, Covid may have kept me home on Thanksgiving, but it also freed up some time to visit Socotra.

At age 77 and in very poor health, King Ameny follows again in his father’s footsteps to spend his final days on campaign. Mustering his troops and an 11k strong mercenary army that his ancestors could only dream of affording, he marches to the border with Oponia. The state of things at the start of the war:

Hoping our allies Berberia and Qataba can push in from the west and squeeze the enemy into submission, he personally leads his troops towards the Oponian capital and its army. Proving they are cowards who truly belong under Socotran rule, the king of Oponia flees west with his army, leaving their capital to its fate.

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Just as this war looked like it would go even more smoothly than we had hoped, internal strife threatens to sabotage Ameny’s crowning victory.

Or maybe it won’t.
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Now, Xenon wasn’t the only pretender making waves right now, but his death may be critical to avoiding any of them gaining enough support to launch a revolt.

And just like that, it seems that succession conquests are becoming a Socotran tradition! We’ve taken a great leap towards uniting our culture and working through our missions.

Our population has ballooned to 407, and it’s a pretty homogenous group. Hopefully that will continue to bode well for our internal security.
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What’s next? That remains to be seen. It appears we’ve gathered nearly all of the Macrobian people into our fold, but our Aksumite culture extends much further up the coast(it’s the dark grey)

But it seems everyone but our Berberian brothers have fallen sway to a false religion.

However, Blemmia looms over the horizon and seems like they could defeat us via pure manpower(1825 pops vs our 407), even if they seem technologically backward(their military tech level is 3, ours is 9) and our navies are nearly an even match.

King Isocrates I seeks your opinion, trusted advisors.

How does the converter work? If you have a huge swath of land in Imperator will you start equally strong in CK3?

Yeah, it’ll try to convert the game state as directly as it can. But, I’ll be open to, uh, modifying the game state at conversion time to make sure things stay interesting. Even trying not to play remotely optimally a world conquest would probably be trivial by EU4 if we didn’t do that. Socotra will not be all rise and no fall, so between eras will be the time we make some adjustments as needed.

I think once we hit the extended timeline of Imperator I’ll start leaning into ruler traits as well as far decision-making goes, and keep that up for the rest of the series.

I am thankful for this thread! I have bounced off Paradox grand strategy titles post-EU2, but I love reading AARs of them so much. Thanks for this!

Cool! I was wondering if it would be wildly unbalanced

I think your strategy of consolidating and waiting for your enemy’s attention to be divided, either by an external war or a large rebellion, should continue to work. Bide your time by snapping up any weak neighbors. :)

Convert or expel all the heathens in our kingdom!

Or maybe promote a pluralist society? I’ve never played imperator, you should probably ignore me.

But I’m really excited to see this!

There isn’t actually a ton of options for dealing with religions in Imperator. Every province will always be slowly converting people to your culture and to your religion. There are buildings and I think some techs that will increase that rate. But you aren’t really setting stances on each religion or anything. You pick a small pantheon of gods and can mox-and-match deities from various religions that are present. Otherwise, you might get some events that give you some options.

Culture has more options for you to integrate or discriminate against them.

But this is a good reminder that Imperator isn’t as well known and I should do a better job of giving a brief explanation of features I’m interacting with as I go.

In EU4 this would be a recipe for mid and late game pain as the ottomans, france, or russia blob to the point they will railroad you. Back when I played imperator i found this also happened with Rome. Playing in greece you are living on borrowed time (as it should be). Perhaps the horn of africa is so remote here its no problem.

It was one of the reasons I ended up choosing Socotra over something like Crete. No real empire was going to be down my way in the first couple hundred years.

Just a quick update today. Saba fell into rebellion again, and the opportunity was just too much for Isocrates to pass up. We could press our claims Saba’s territory in Africa. As an added bonus, Berberia would get pulled in on Saba’s side. We were also allied to Berberia but with us being the aggressor they jump to the defense of an ally over joining an offensive war. And hey, all the territory we’ve absorbed means we can actually field a reasonable 8,500 man strong levy army of our own.

In addition we use our 2k Arabian levy and hire a mercenary company as well. This will be a multi-front war so we need everyone we can afford. The plan is to ignore Maka as much as possible and commit all of our forces to the Saba and Berberian fronts.

The fighting is a mess. The terrain of the Horn makes it hard to pin down the Berberian armies to fully eliminate them and Maka moves fast to occupy our territory on the Arabian peninsula. Sadly, my in-progress screenshot was lost here.

The pop system has been touched on in various ways so far in this playthrough, but we haven’t talked about the extra wrinkle it adds to warfighting. This was an era where taking slaves in war was just a matter of course, and that’s represented here with every province you capture possibly removing pops to your territory as slaves. And of course, the reverse can happen too, meaning letting territory get temporarily occupied has a greater cost than in most PDX games. Cities being more populous tend to provide more slaves as well depending on the size.

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We were able to fully occupy the African territories and slow Maka down enough to make a peace for all of those territories.

Ah yes, these borders are looking much nicer.

If you notice some of the light grey areas on the edge of our territory, those are a combination of colonizable desert and some small areas of desert that are passable for troops but uninhabitable. The darker grey areas are fully non-traversable and non-inhabitable. But they can spawn barbarian raiders which are pretty annoying.

Anyway, colonization can be a bit tough to pull off in this game. You need 8(?) pops in a neighboring province that are of an integrated culture in order to colonize. That’s tough in Arabia because we only integrated one of several cultures, and 8 pops in a desert territory is already a lot. In the south we can probably make it happen pretty easily by paying to move Macrobian slaves into the border territories to fulfill the pop requirements. That’s probably something we’ll work on doing to better consolidate our territory.

Next time I think we’ll do a little tour of some features we’ve never really touched on and then also take a look at what is happening outside of our little corner of the world.

On a tangent, why is the garrison in Paradox games always allowed to march out? I get the impression that historical garrisons wouldn’t have survived the fall of their fortification unless they negotiated a surrender relatively early in proceedings.

In this case I think that text was just for flavor. Paradox games don’t let your armies get trapped in a besieged province. If you go to attack a province that has a fort and a defending army you will fight that army in the field before laying siege to the fort in the province. The garrison of the fort only contributes to how long the siege takes and how hard it is to do an assault during the siege.

Alright, on to taking a look around some pieces of Socotra we haven’t really discussed but nonetheless are important to the actual running of the game.

First, we should probably cover the basic resources of the game. Most of these will be familiar to anyone who has played EU4, but Imperator has its own twist on this. Note, this is very different from all of the different kinds of “mana” that existed at launch. Think the monarch points from EU4 but there were more types and they were even more limited in how you could spend them.


From left to right we have:

  1. Money - We spend this on buildings, upkeep, wages to government officials, mercenaries and many other things.
  2. Manpower - The number of people available to replenish our domestic armies. Our manpower being relatively low is another good reason for us to keep using mercs regularly.
  3. Political Influence - This is primarily used for various situation “powers” that are scattered about the different screens. It’s also critical to changing laws, improving infrastructure, and constructing new cities.
  4. Military Tradition - This provides a boost to army morale, but mostly you want to spend it on a new military tradition as soon as you hit the threshold for one of those. Military tradition trees are based on culture(we have access to the Arabian and Nubian traditions right now) and provide a lot of really nice bonuses. Mostly military related, but also can spawn new pops, give free infrastructure investments, or unlock new mechanics(like slave raids in the Arabian tree). They are a neat bit of flavor that helps differentiate how different peoples fight.
  5. Stability - Unlike in EU, here stability is on a 100 point scale and is always growing or shrinking, with an equilibrium somewhere in the middle range. As such, it tends to be easier/safer to ignore than in EU unless it’s gotten dangerously low for some reason.
  6. Aggressive Expansion - I appreciate how front and center this number is in this game. But it works pretty much like it does in all PDX games. Get too much aggressive expansion and it hurts you diplomatically and might make other countries come after you.
  7. War Exhaustion - Ours is still coming down from our last war. Makes people less happy and our ruler less popular.
  8. Tyranny - Honestly, there are so many modifiers that you really have to work to make your tyranny high. Having a high tyranny actually gives you a big bonus to being a dick to everyone, but comes with big loyalty penalties. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually gone the high tyranny route.
  9. Legitimacy - A measure of if the people of your realm see you as the rightful ruler. A high number keeps loyalty up and decreases the chances of a succession crisis.

Next up, characters! Now, we’ve seen that Imperator has characters as our kings have been pretty prominent. But we’ve got something of a Crusader Kings number of characters with the intrigue present but dialed back a bit. The big concern here is making sure you don’t allow a big enough coalition of disloyal powerholders to develop which is how you can get civil wars. There are friendships and rivalries and many character interactions, but in my experience they only rarely matter. As such, I tend to largely ignore them unless they are vital to some other outcome or if I need to get loyalty back up.

Here, for example, is our master of the guard

He’s reasonably loyal, as it’s tough to ever get loyalty above the 70s and 80s. Power Base is a big deal as it’s the primary determinant in when your disloyal characters can revolt. They have to hold a certain percent of the total power base to do so. Loyal Cohorts aren’t really a problem for us presently as we don’t have any permanent legions. But as you do, troops will grow loyal to their generals and this can cause problems if that general decides to turn on you.

On top of being a ruler, general, admiral, or governor, characters can also hold a number of offices that each have an effect on your nation.


You see the little green bar for our Marshal that’s 1/6? That means even though our Marshal has a Martial character stat of 6, he’s not yet very good at the details of his job, so he’s providing the equivalent of a 1 stat effect. That is determined by Statemanship which mostly just builds from being in offices over time, with various modifiers on top that you’d expect from a Paradox game. The effect is that you are discouraged from messing with who is in what office all that often, and that usually means they’ll hold an office until they die(or if they suck at the job and someone much better comes along). While most of those numbers for their effects look small, they really aren’t. The -1% mercenary cost from our Marshal is the only really pathetic one in there. +3% taxes from the Steward too aren’t great, but he’s only 23 so should end up spending much of his adult life as a quality Steward.

On top of that, you also have a head researcher for each of the four brands of technology. The researchers are just a straight modifier based on their skill, no Statesmanship requirement.

Now, maybe you’ve noticed in the last two screens that most of the characters have a 2/2 or 3/2 next to them that is otherwise unexplained. Well, that’s a reference to another rather important feature. Families! Each nation in Imperator has a certain number of prominent families that expect you to provide a certain number of government positions for their members. Here are our 4 prominent families

We started the game with 3 and at some point we had an event to allow another character to head a new family. The green checkmarks means they all have at least as many positions as they expect. If any family wasn’t, they’d feel scorned and all of their members would lose loyalty. The first number over there is the total power base of the family and the last number is the family’s prestige. That prestige builds over time and grants the head of the family a bigger power base. All of this means that you need to take special care to keep the heads of families loyal and you may sometimes want to offer some offices or commands to less capable individuals because they come from a family you are trying to please.

One additional note on loyalty. Generals or Admirals with low loyalty will quit following your commands and just do whatever they want. This can be a huge pain in a war especially when you’re relatively small and can’t afford to have a commander acting autonomously.

Similarly, low loyalty provinces limit your ability to act in them, and ultimately will declare independence if their loyalty drops to 0. We’ve avoided that so far as Socotra but have been dealing with low loyalty in Arabia the whole time(as well as a revolving door of governors in Arabia). A thing to note on governors is that you don’t have one per province, instead it is one per region. Our king governs Punt directly so we really only have to worry about the character we send to govern Arabia Felix. For whatever reason, governors tend to get themselves into a lot of scandals, and leaving them in place through those tends to damage province loyalty in their region. When this is an area that’s already disloyal it means the governor has to go. As I’m sure you can imagine, being a governor comes with a hefty power base so is yet another position where loyalty is a rather critical factor.

Our governor has a good deal of power from his governorship despite Arabia Felix not being all that populous.

Finally we’ll touch briefly on the actual territories we manage. Governors manage regions, which contain multiple provinces which themselves contain a bunch of individual territories(I’m not sure what the actual correct name for these units are). These territories come in two different flavors: settlements and cities. Most territories will be settlements, which means they are a rural region with a low population. Each territory can contain one building. The good ones(farms or mines) are gated by what resource a territory produces. Each territory produces a single type of resource but with enough slaves each one can potentially produce multiple units of that resource. Here, Kalabeyr produces 1 leather.
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Settlements require very little management, which is good, because our modestly sized Socotra already has 69 total territories. Next come cities. The map starts with a lot of cities(Socotra was one) and you can upgrade a settlement to a city for the cost of gold and political influence. I tend to make each province capital a city if I can. Cities can construct many buildings and are far more likely to produce multiple resources. They’ll support much larger populations too. These are the buildings in our capital. With 80+ people, a city can be upgraded to a metropolis, which is just a slightly better city.
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Territories can also contain the holy site for a deity. That holy site both makes the deities boost more potent and gives a boost to the territory it exists in. On top of that, we can equip a limited number of treasures in that holy site for even more bonuses.
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We actually control quite a few holy sites now
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One last thing to cover quick is trade. Trade is handled at the province level, with each province being able to support a limited number of import routes for resources as well as being able to export any excess resources it produces. These resources can range from strategic resources that unlock and improve specific troop types to food resources that help keep us fed(we’ve actually had a few winters where pops have starved…oops. I blame the desert) to various luxuries that boost happiness and other assorted things. Importantly, have 2 of any resource in your capital province will provide a countrywide benefit, so it’s vital to focus on building up trade routes in your capital province. Which we’ve done here:
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All of those +1 resources are providing the nationwide bonus. The inevitable consequence of this is that managing all of this trade for each province is a pain, so I end up setting every province but the capital to auto-trade and just worry about managing our most worthwhile trade center.

And with that, we reach the end of our tour of Imperator features. If you don’t know the game and do have additional questions about other things I’ve only mentioned in passing or has shown up in screenshots without explanation, please do feel free to ask!

Next time around we’ll get to that glimpse of the world at large and we’ll do something I’ve been forgetting to do: build roads!

First things first, Isocrates went and disgraced himself by dying at home rather than on campaign.

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All hail Kheperkare I and his awful stats!

And he’s only 27 so we may be stuck with him for decades to come. Thankfully, his parents had the foresight to arrange for him a marriage that would make up for some of his shortcomings.

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Here we see that Cleopatra is doing the heavy lifting in the relationship providing her much superior Martial, Finesse, and Charisma to the nation.

Behind the scenes food has become a pretty significant concern ever since we incorporated a whole lot more people in our empire. Our lands are largely desert which limits food production. The big concern is in our capital province, as it’s pretty severely capped how many people can survive on Socotra itself. Our desire is to make it a metropolis and beyond, but right now we can’t keep above 45 pops on the island, let alone the necessary 80. We’ve drastically increased food trade goods in the province and built out buildings that help with food modifiers. Hopefully that solves the issues going forward.

And while our young rulers were trying to make their mark through internal projects, our ally Qataba decided it was time for war with Saba again. At this point they are weakened enough that victory is really just a matter of time even with just our poorly led levies. Very poorly led, to be clear, since the bulk of our troops are led by our 5 Martial king. The other levy is led by the governor(that’s how levies work) who has Martial 5. That’s less pathetic, but still not good. But we choose to go without hiring mercenaries in order to keep the treasury freed up for construction projects.

We also picked up a new military tradition. The Arabian traditions has a naval tree that looks pretty nice for our maritime focus. That starts with the tradition that grants the Slave Raid ability to our fleets. Turns out it generates Aggressive Expansion each time we do it. But hey, our AE has stayed pretty low throughout so we’ve got some room to raid Saba’s northern coasts.

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Alright, scratch that no mercenaries thing. This has turned into chaos as both Saba and Qataba have had revolts start mid-war. We’re now involved in wars against all of them.

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Yikes, this is why you don’t let your allies lead war negotiations.
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We’ve had our primary levy busy building roads to connect our empire. So far the emphasis has been on connecting Africa but we should probably do the same in Arabia in a hurry, especially with the frequent fighting up there. In Imperator roads mostly improve army movement speed but they also give some small bonuses to a bunch of other things in the territory. Not enough to justify roads on their own, but the benefits aren’t purely military.
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Qataba just started another fight with Saba, so I think we’ll end before getting into that and do the long promised look at the rest of the world here in 151BC.

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In the east we can see that the Mauryan Empire is now the Magadha Empire. I assume this is due to a change in ruling dynasty. Regardless, they haven’t made any effort to take the southern areas of the subcontinent, settling for some expansion north and west. The Seleukid’s are far from their former glory but still hold a lot of prime territory in Mesopotamia. While smaller, they still control most of their richest regions. Parthia hanging in there but lots of other steppe tribes making their presence known in this region. You can also see that our acceptance of Aadite culture led to colonization options to unite our holdings in Arabia. This happened without manual slave moving, unlike what it’s taking in the south. Kind of opposite of what I was expecting.

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Closer to home, the Ptolemies have pretty constant revolts but have managed to keep their territory intact. Hopefully they keep pressure on Blemmia to our north.

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Rome has expanded east quite a bit, but seems hesitant to complete consolidating Greece for some reason. In the meantime, other powers have coalesced all around them. Armenia looks like the real monster counter to them. By my count, they have the third largest population after Rome and Magadha. Bigger than Carthage and the Ptolemies.

Next time we’ll see if Qataba has a purpose to this war with Saba and see if we can push through to the final century BC.

Qataba learning better negotiating skills this time.

And then they decided they didn’t like us anymore. We lost both of our largest allies within a few years for unclear reasons. That leaves us pretty vulnerable to Blemmia. We quick allied some of the smaller tribes of the Arabian interior while we re-evaluate our diplomatic options.

Unfortunately, our diplomatic situation falling apart may be Kheperkare’s lasting legacy.

Hail Isocrates II, may he keep the kingdom together through this difficult time.

Qataba doesn’t seem to have a plan for dealing with us, so Isocrates II jumps into action and declares war on them. We have more manpower to draw from and can easily afford to bring in multiple mercenary armies to a war now. And boy do we crush them, gobbling up a huge chunk of Qataba and making their interior ally Kindah a vassal for a huge 51 Aggressive Expansion hit. Big roll of the dice short term while AE is high to try to to get us into a safer position long term.

And the new look of our region. Our victory must have made Maka regret their decision to abandon us as they asked for an alliance again. We have no real choice but to accept. Our focus is in the Red Sea right now anyway.

But Blemmia looks a lot less scary as we start to close the population gap.
Here they are
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And us
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We’ll get to work spending money on construction projects in our new territories to try to boost conversion and assimilation and keep a stable base.

Look what else we captured, the Ma’rib Dam!


Historically, very important to feeding the region, the global food modifier will be a nice bonus for us.

But that Aggressive Expansion really hurts. We’re not above bribing Blemmia to try to limit the damage.
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Congratulations on the promotion! Way to strike while the iron was hot. :)

Nice, a Paradox AAR! I love those.

Glad people are enjoying this, and I’m especially glad I get to highlight Imperator for awhile. Takes me a bit to get over the hump when I start a new game of Imperator but I also really enjoy it once I do. And in this case with the extended timeline mod I can keep it going longer without feeling like I need to jump to a CK3 game early. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the CK3 the least in this playthrough, especially since I know it’s a loooong time period. But I’m also hopeful the roleplaying aspect of the AAR will help me enjoy CK3’s character focused gameplay more.

What speed are you running on? (I assume Imperator has the same speed settings as the other paradox games.) For CK3, with the long time period, are you going to try to keep it at a higher speed?

Pretty much running at speed 5 all of the time. Pausing as necessary and dropping to speed 4 at times during wars. The nice thing about not trying to play optimally really at all is that I can let things run a little more than usual.