Since Paradox no longer includes Quarter to Three in their first round of review copies — they’re one of the many folks unhappy with our ratings system and given how most other sites limit themselves to the usual 7-9 ratings, who can blame them? — I’m only just now getting started with Europa Universalis IV. Which means reading the manual, dinking around with the tutorials, booting up a game as Austria and admiring the map but chickening out and then booting up another game as Venice and then chickening out again and considering some more remote corner of the world like Poland. Wait, no. What was I thinking? The Aztecs. Still too many potentially dangerous neighbors. Maybe the Incas.
One of my favorite things I’ve read in the manual is this: “Iron man mode is the only time when Steam Achievements are active.” Iron man mode means that you can’t save the game, see how your war against Burgundy goes, and then reload the game to take a year to build a bigger army if it goes poorly. Iron man mode means you only get a single save when you exit the game, and it’s saved on the Steam cloud, so you can’t spirit away the file someplace safe and load it later to redo your disastrous attack on Burgundy. Iron man mode means only a monthly autosave, so if you want to kill the game from the task manager and pretend it crashed, you can never go back more than a couple of weeks. It simply means you can’t call do-overs or takebacks. It means your decisions matter in a way they don’t matter when you can freely save and reload.
Iron man mode uniquely fits Paradox’s strategy games, which aren’t about prevailing over everyone else, like most strategy games. A Paradox game is about surfing history, riding waves of data, cresting its peaks and sliding helplessly down into its valleys, taking it in stride when it sucks you underwater and spits you up on the beach sputtering and hobbled. History isn’t a linear progression up a power curve to the number one spot. It’s about ebbs and flows. And if you want to be an achievement whore — you do want to be an achievement whore, don’t you? — Europa Universalis IV expects you to ride those waves, come what may.