AI in Paradox games

Any thoughts on this subject?

I gave Europa Universalis II the old college try when it came out, but was overwhelmed by all of the fiddly bits. A couple of days ago I picked up EUII, EUII: Asian Chapters, Victoria, Hearts of Iron, Two Thrones, and Crown of the North for $30 because I could’t resist “all that gaming” for that price.

The package appealed to me also because Two Thrones and Crown of the North are smaller, regional conflicts that I figured would help ease me into the basic Paradox game design. So far I’ve played Crown of the North (Scandinavia from 1275 to 1340) about halfway through the main campaign, with the AI aggression level set to “Normal,” and it’s been a complete cakewalk. As far as I can tell, the AI is doing close to nothing to defend itself or expand its holdings, and I’m several thousand points ahead of my closest rival.

So then I opened up Victoria to check it out. Too… much… information! Brain… melting…!

I guess my question his, how much gaming is really in that $30 I spent? Does the AI in Paradox games actually pose a reasonable challenge, or is does the statistical complexity and historical fidelity just obfuscate the fact that there’s really not much of a game to be played underneath it all?

Enlighten me!

Two Thrones and Crown of the North are terrible. In both it is easy to steamroll over the AI with little effort. A lot of this is rooted in the recruitment mechanism, which is one unit at a time per territory, so you just have to park an army where it is building and it will never amass a sizeable force again.

Victoria is a mess in many ways, mostly because of the economy. It’s best left aside as a noble experiment that requires a lot of familiarity with the other Paradox games and then lots of late nights of practice. It’s not bad, but is incomplete and has been almost cast aside by Paradox.

Paradox AI isn’t terrible, but not great. It can’t fight wars very well and has trouble limiting its war goals, especially in Crusader Kings. It will sometimes “fall asleep” and can only be restarted by saving and reloading.

Still, I think EU2 is great because the historical flavor and variety of tasks overrides the lacklustre AI. EU2 is, in fact, not that difficult (especially compared to Victoria) if you keep in mind that actions have predictable outcomes. Random events aside, whatever you think would happen is likely to be a result. Religious tolerance keeps revolts down, only start wars with a plan in mind, colonize historically profitable areas, etc.

Troy

I bought EU1, then EU2. I have not bothered with anything else, because as far as I know, their games have either been re-hashes of antiquated engines, or insanely complex management puzzles. The only one I’ve considered is Crusader Kings, but when I heard the AI wasn’t very good at actually crusading, I passed on it.

That said, the EU games were marvelous, if a little buggy, and I’m still looking forward to their upcoming rendition of Diplomacy.

EU 2 and Victoria are great games. While they require patience at first, they amply reward those who persist. My time investment was rewarded far beyond my expectations.

The AI is fair. It can’t compete with a human player but it’s good enough.
Both games are good for MP.

RightWrong, I’d give CK another look. The new beta patches have helped the whole Crusade thing by giving you and the AI goals in the Crusade (capture Jerusalem, free Rome, take Alexandria, etc.). It has also added new events and loyalty effects that make the game even more complete. It should be an official patch by the end of September.

It is my second favorite Paradox game after EU2 mostly because it is so different. It is best approached as a Medieval version of General Hospital, a grand soap opera where you try to keep your family and kingdom together as you climb the slippery road to power. It’s best played, I think, as a minor Duke. It gives you something to aspire to (a bigger duchy or a crown of your own).

The AI isn’t aces, and big kingdoms in your own hands become terrifying and all powerful forces if managed properly. But if your king goes nuts and starts chopping off the heads of random court members, the collapse is as much fun as the rise.

Troy

I might do that TSG, thanks. But can you tell me if the AI establishes any Levantine kingdoms themselves, or is it all up to yourself?

It will. There are events that allow counties or duchies in the area (even ones that are your vassals) to declare independence, set up Crusader kingdoms and, if strong enough, will try to expand their power. It doesn’t always happen, of course, and they are fine tuning it. But the Levantine kingdoms are more common.

Troy

Hey, thanks for your comments, guys. I looks like Crusader Kings might have been the better way to invest my money, by TSG’s description.

I think the thing that sticks in my craw is the large number of games Paradox has put out using iterations of the same engine (9 by my count), without (apparently) improving the core AI. Also, I really don’t see a good reason for the engine to be real-time. In the end I can respect what they’re doing, but I guess I prefer strategy games where each decision has clear and significant impact, as opposed to what feels like incremental numerical fiddling.

[quote=“Jason Lutes”]I think the thing that sticks in my craw is the large number of games Paradox has put out using iterations of the same engine (9 by my count), without (apparently) improving the core AI.

This was my major knock against HoI2 in my review of it. All the improvements to the interface and core rules did little to make the AI a better opponent. And it’s the same problem over and over again - not new issues. The sameness of the engines doesn’t bother me much since the games all play differently enough for me. The refusal to make a better AI opponent is a more serious oversight since the problem is known in advance.

Also, I really don’t see a good reason for the engine to be real-time. In the end I can respect what they’re doing, but I guess I prefer strategy games where each decision has clear and significant impact, as opposed to what feels like incremental numerical fiddling.

The real time is what makes it work for me. You couldn’t have a world this big and make it convincing in RT, I think, and there is really only a lot of numeric fiddling in Victoria (tax rates, tarriffs, factories, railway bonuses, laws, technology…it goes on and on).

EU2 is a simple game that takes only a little bit of study. Check out the official forum FAQs, if you like, but I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. Email, PM, whatever. I really love this game.

Troy

I agree with TSG that the real-time engine adds value (I disagree about Victoria which I rate higher than CK).

Paradox has an interesting, not to say unique, relationship with its users. The patches for CK are being developed by Paradox forum members. User feedback is rolled into beta patches (open beta) then released as official patches. This works pretty well.

Which leads me to my problem with CK: it needs the patches. The game was initially developed by a third party (based on Paradox’s design) that screwed it up. Paradox took over the project late in the day and many of the rough edges are evident.

Paradox changed the event model for CK. Instead of historically based events (Victoria’s Crimean War, for example) the events are generic and meant to add flavor: deaths, births, madness, infidelity, heresy, sainthood, crusades–you get the picture.

CK promises to become a tremendous game. What other game allows you to play any one of a gazallion minor duchies over a 400 year span?

And don’t forget that you can port the saved CK game into EU2 for even more adventures with the same realm. c. 1100 to c. 1800? Though I seem to recall reading that the exported games can have odd startup positions. I hadn’t tried that myself yet though.

CK’s my favorite Paradox game. EU2’s very impressive but there’s something about the roleplaying and personalities of CK that make it a very unique experience. If you employ the beta patches (which incorporate the improvements to Crusade AI as noted above) there are a host of additional events and very detailed trees of possible subevents and consequences. In one game another lord had an affair with my queen so I had the option of gaing a claim on his lands if I executed her for infidelity and gained a cruel trait or I could forgive them and gain a merciful trait.

Another character had an exiled heir of a Muslim land he was at war with show up in his court and offer to support him. I decided against turning his realm over, once it was conquered, because I didn’t want to take the chance of the land reverting to him or getting conquered by a strong Christian neighbor (hostile to me). But he was an amazing military leader so I made him my Marshal to keep him around and loyal. Word of a Muslim in my court eventually got back to The Pope and he threatened excommunication if I didn’t kill or exile the man (each option had different possible consequences). I told him to stuff himself but never did get excommunicated, though my reputation with the Church dropped very low. One more straw and it would be all over. Much later on this Marshal was instrumental, because of his skill, in keeping a widespread revolt at bay.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg there and events do seem to vary a bit depending on locale and time period. A game in Serbia in the later middle ages is alot more grim with rampant madness, disease, and the threat of Mongol invasions, than, say, England during Henry II where a king’s at the top of his game and he’s got many promising heirs. (Okay, maybe too many - but you see for yourself).

CK is almost like solitaire, you fiddle around with your noble and courtiers, try to find good matches for you heir and outmaneuver the occasional inbred, so I don’t think the game is hurt that much part by the performance of the AI. The parts of the game where you are in direct opposition to other powers are the parts of the game that are least satisfying anyway.

As someone else said the game is probably best as a small duke, that gives you enough to do and play around with while still leaving readily apparent goals.

Where can I find the beta patches for CK?

They’re in the CK forums on Paradox Plaza. You have to download them from the bottom of the Beta forum.

I remember CK for two things.

The first was trying to breed the Kwisatz Haderach. Someone with perfect stats. Then, once you get that, you start trying to keep the stats high through succeeding generations. There is/was a bug where once stats got maxed, if the child inherited that and then rolled an improvement, the stat would roll over from maximum to minimum. That really sucked.

The other thing, sort of related to the first, was the race to make yourself Mongol. See, every nation is limited by having to split its realm up among various dukes and counts to make it manageable. Trying to run the whole thing yourself is not going to work. The only exception to this is/was the Mongols, who didn’t have to divide the spoils and had a maximum limit of like 1000 provinces they could keep in line. Since it’s possible, though difficult, to marry Mongols, it’s possible to have a child with the Mongol trait. If it’s a male, you quickly make him your heir by knocking off everyone else in his way. After that, the world is yours.

Of course, the Mongol trait can be achieved by anyone. Once, right after the Mongols invaded, some Byzantine prince got the trait and quickly proceeded to knock the shit out of the Muslim nations, the Balkans and Italy. Christ that sucked. The Mongols are weakened through events and AI, IIRC. No such luck with Mr. Byzantine.

It’s a really flawed game in many ways - you get patchwork countries, with England owning land in Poland and Italy and Russia, but missing most of England which is Muslim. Also, the Muslim nations tend to be really strong and, for some reason, if you are at war with them (and say you’re some land-locked independent duchy in the middle of Germany), Christian nations will permit their armies to cross their land to get to you. So you’ll often see Islamic states - which usually expand at a significant rate - in the middle of Europe. Muslim Czechs? You betcha.

Jakub is right about the system being very open to gaming. There is a lot going on, there are a lot of different characteristics and you can work the system. There’s even a “bridefinder” tool that you can download to find the ideal mate.

I’ve never played it that way because it seemed like cheating. The beta patches tame the eugenics a little bit, though there are reports of SuperBastards running around. I’ve never had one, but I’m not a beta tester playing this thing nonstop.

Where Victoria seemed to just be a failed effort to make EU more complex, CK feels like a new game.

Troy

I found CK very boring after playing EU2. EU2 to me is a classic game however. I should probably give CK another go sometime, but it seemed much weaker game overall. I wasn’t interested in micromanaging tons of people through a horrid interface which it seemed I spent way too much time doing.