One of the great things I appreciate about Victoria 2 is that the game is more than just militarily painting the world your own colour, as is often the case in Europa Universalis. Whilst military power and aggressive expansion can still be important facets of a nation’s strategy there exist other equally valid methods of ascending to\maintain Great Power status and exerting one’s influence upon the globe. I find the meat of the game revolves around more than just wars and external expansion (“growing wide”) thanks to the deeper portrayal and simulation of facets such as populations, domestic affairs, and internal development.
Take a playthrough as China for example, often it focuses less on external expansion and instead consists of managing your internal affairs and playing the diplomatic game to avoid being torn apart by the Great Powers (e.g. Britain and Russia) whilst you attempt to ‘Westernize’. If you can carefully steer China past the race to ‘Westernization’ then it is like waking a slumbering dragon, because a ‘Westernized’ and industrialized China can be a real behemoth in Victoria II.
Similarly, apart from possibly wanting to participate in the ‘Scramble for Africa’, you can feasibly turn smaller European nations like Belgium into a Great Power without having to be a warmonger thanks to industrialization and the resources at the nation’s disposal. Once you achieve the prestige of being one of the eight Great Powers several options open up to the player that allow for the application of soft power over hard power to advance your nation’s agenda and standing. Having the option to feasibly advance your nation’s “power” via more diplomatic means, such as bringing another nation into your ‘Sphere of Influence’, feels satisfying after playing so many games where the application of hard power via military action is either the optimal or only option.
Different nations have different kinds of approaches to how they can advance themselves in the world and aim to become one of the eight Great Powers and what works for one nation doesn’t necessarily work for another. From memory, Brazil for example, either has to aggressively expand its borders in South America or bide its time before it can effectively leverage industrialization to its benefit due to the RGOs (resources) accessible to it. So there is a subtle, or not so subtle, variety to how each nation seeks to grow its “power” and ascend in the rankings.
Now it can certainly be an obtuse UI\game to understand at times whilst first learning all the gameplay systems, and sometimes it is better to take a more hands-off approach to some matters until you gain a better understanding of how to manipulate certain systems. A certain Tom Chick has certainly had plenty of positive things to say about Victoria II when the game and its expansions featured on past Three Moves Ahead episodes, such as Episode 217 for the Heart of Darkness expansion.