Daniel Knowles of the Telegraph wrote a great piece on the video game Civilization today, which I used to play constantly before I went to university. The following is an account I wrote of a scenario I played in August 2007 (it was the day before I received my A Level results, so I had nothing better to do…). I think people would enjoy reading it…
I spent a large portion of the day on Civilisation III, as Catherine the Great of Russia. The experience has been a trying one: plunged into wars of attrition against my will, where the phrase “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” did not apply.
My empire consisted of western Russia, Poland, much of the eastern Balkans, the European side of the Sea of Marmara, and the northern Caucuses. England, whose empire was more or less that of Austro-Hungary, and Rome, which controlled Turkey, were my two principle neighbours. After me, the two most powerful European countries were India (in Spain) and Persia (in France). The northern Middle East was mostly made up of inconsequential powers: Babylon (in Lebanon), Egypt (in Syria), and the French on an exaggerated Crete. The other three nations on the map were the Zulus in Italy, the Germans in North Africa, and the Greeks under Alexander the Great in Britain.
How the whole world was plunged into war was inexplicable, unpredictable; something that I couldn’t have envisaged. For no apparent reason whatsoever, Rome declared war on me. This came totally out-of-the-blue, as Rome was my closest ally: we enjoyed close relations, had waged war together on Egypt, and she was protected by my great Black Sea Fleet.
Of course, as soon as she declared war, I mobilised all my resources for a lightning campaign. Dozens of troops were transported from outside of St. Petersburg and western Poland to the Bosphorus and soon had them on mainland Turkey. The Black Sea Fleet was activated and began bombarding Rome (situated where the Asian side of Istanbul would be). I also mobilised the army I had in the Caucuses and quickly took Palmyra on the southern coast of the Black Sea and had them move from city to city along the shoreline until it had reached my main invasion force outside Rome. Through Metternichian diplomacy, I formed a Grand Coalition, not just against the Roman Empire, but also her ally, India. The Persians transported vast numbers of troops to Turkey via the Caucuses and were soon capturing and raising as many cities as I was. Babylonia was expanding at the Romans’ expense, too, and Egypt was taking back the land she’d lost in their recent war with them.
It is not surprising, then, that given the overwhelming might of the Russian and Persian armies, as well as the parasitic activities of the minor Eastern powers, Rome was soon reduced to a rump state on the southwest coast of Turkey. Once this happened, my plan was to set up a city on the isthmus connecting Peloponnese to the Balkans, so I could transport my armies via ship quickly to attack, first, what was left of the Zulus in Sicily (after their disastrous war with Persia, England, and myself), and then the Indians’ empire in Sardinia and Corsica. The plan was worthy of Alcibiades and wasn’t at all disrupted when, again inexplicably, Babylonia declared war on me.
Through shrewd realpolitik, I created another perfect situation from which only I could benefit. I had the Persians declare war on the Babylonians, tying down the forces they still had in Turkey, which would hinder my expansionist interests there. When Egypt then declared war on Persia, I was delighted, as the Middle East would become a slaughter ground: the Persians’ Turkish army bogged down in two wars with two countries themselves at war with one another.
Content with the little hell I had created, I established a transit city on the Isthmus of Corinth and sent off two shiploads of troops to capture a Zulu city on Ithaca. It was as my army made its way across the Aegean Sea that the inexplicable reared its head again and plunged me into another conflict. Without any sign of discord in our friendship, England declared war on me.
I had had my sights set on conquering the entire Balkans for a while now and had begun garrisoning my border cities in Poland in preparation. The plan was to have a string of heavily fortified towns from Danzig to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. This would allow me to invade the western and southern Balkans, as the English army smashed itself against my defensive line. However, when England declared war on me, only the Polish frontier had been fortified. The next thing I know, my empire in Romania and Bulgaria was crumbling as English cavalry took or raised town after town. I had to start moving what was left of my army in northern Turkey to the Balkans, as well as stop the troop ships in the middle of the Aegean and redirect them to the nearest English city. My plan was to simply raise every single one I took and “delete” the captured workers. When I brought Persia and India into the war on my side, I felt the situation had been stabilised and prepared myself for a small war of attrition.
Events soon spiralled out of control, resulting in an almost Hobbesian war of “all against all”. The only neutral country in the East was France and I knew that at some point I would have to bring them into the war against Babylonia. When England declared war on me, I kept pushing it further and further down the agenda. Then my foreign policy advisor told me that France had formed a military alliance with the Babylonians. I dismissed this contemptuously: France had barely any military presence on the continent or upon the seas. Yet becoming their enemy was the biggest mistake I had made, as I soon found myself at war with her principal ally – Persia.
The one country whose military I feared most after India’s was Persia’s. With my Turkish army now in northern Greece, and the remnants of the Caucuses army fighting off the English in the eastern Balkans, I had barely anything to defend the Roman cities I’d captured along the Sea of Marmara. Facing a war on several fronts, I contacted the Indians and persuaded them to side with me against Persia. Whatever Persian forces were left in France would have to deal with the Indians along their southern border and the English on their eastern one; meanwhile, I could squeeze England, as well as hopefully destroy Persia’s army in Turkey.
Who could’ve guessed, then, that I’d soon be at war with India, too? I had had a mutual protection treaty with Germany for some time now, and it was just as I had concluded my alliance with India that Germany decided to attack her possessions in North Africa. The Indians had attacked the Germans in response, and, due to the terms of the mutual protection treaty, I was required to declare war on India!
The world stage had become a farce! Around the town of Tbrisis in Bulgaria, the English and Persian armies fought one another, while I destroyed whichever military units had survived the battle. My treasury began to run low as I hurried production on my own forces, but they often arrived too late to save the situation in the Balkans. It seemed that soon I could lose possession of the European side of the Sea of the Marmara to the English.
Meanwhile, in deepest, darkest, most northern Russia, a Persian army appeared: one made up of those units formerly garrisoning Persian oil and fur colonies in the High North. So, forces had to be scrambled to face them, as well as Persian forces coming up through the defenceless Caucuses. I briefly lost Kiev, as well as a few other Ukrainian cities. They were eventually recaptured, and I managed to pick off English forces in Poland, but these where my only military victories. My future looked bleak: not only could I lose the Sea of Marmara, but most of my empire too. Catherine the Great would become the ruler of some small Polish amalgamation, as inconsequential in world affairs as Egypt or Babylon, or even Rome.
Yet the Hobbesian mess that almost brought about my destruction soon began to work in my favour. India and Persia fought one another in the Alps while they captured or raised English towns. As they did, my army in the southern Balkans began breaking the back of English rule, and was soon in Hungary, not far from the new English capital of Norwich (London having been raised by the Indians…). The situation in the Caucuses had been stabilised, with a defensive line of Cossacks and infantrymen preventing what was left of the Persian army in Turkey from moving anywhere else in my empire. Now that the East had been quelled, I could concentrate on the West, and Tbrisis was the springboard for recapturing those towns in Bulgaria and Romania that the English hadn’t burnt down. These forces soon met up with my main army on the outskirts of Norwich.
Peace was concluded with both Babylon and France and, then, India, who became my ally again in the war against both England and Persia. Eventually, peace was restored between Persia and myself, with only England and Egypt were still at war with me. Across the Russian Empire, towns began celebrating “We love the Czarina” Day.
What was the situation when I left the game? Much of the Middle East and the Balkans are uninhabited, and so, therefore, ripe for colonisation and settlement – Russia is the best placed country to do so. Peace was eventually restored with England, but only when I found myself at war with India when Germany attacked her again! So things have turned full cycle: another Grand Coalition between Russia, Persia, and England has been formed against India. Only this time, the armies of the last three are severely weakened and England is only a loose collection of unconnected cities dotted across southern Germany.
Bismarck once said that the secret of international politics is to “make a good treaty with Russia”. Perhaps not for the inhabitants of my Europe…