The unexpected pleasure of painting the map

Katelyn Burns
2 min readMay 31, 2022

My favorite solo video game has consumed thousands of hours of my life. Here’s why

Screenshot of EU4 from Katelyn Burns

I often tell people that Europa Universalis IV is the most complicated video game ever made. It’s also my favorite solo game.

Set between the historical years of 1444 and 1820, the game allows you to control a single country through the almost 400 years that bridged the middle and modern ages. Over this time, technology, war, and global connectivity changed in ways never before seen, and EU4 captures it in a very interesting way.

The game has just enough variability that no two campaigns are the same, even if you play as the same starting nation every time. I’m not going to go into details about the game’s mechanics, mostly because it would probably take several thousand words just to put down the basics. Think Sid Meier’s Civ series on ultra detailed steroids.

It’s a game which really requires a time investment to make mistakes and learn from them, but the pay off can be thrilling in a way that few other video games can replicate.

The developer has come up with a wide variety of achievements ranging from the basics (vassalize an enemy) to the near impossible(conquer the entire world starting as the country in Okinawa Japan). Some of these achievements can take years to pull off.

I tried to get the Luck of the Irish achievement, where you start as a one-province Irish minor and conquer the entirety of the British Isles, for near on 8 years of gaming before I finally got it. My Irish heritage was flowing that day.

The game’s player base is notoriously odd. In my experience, most players are either pretty fashy, or committed communists. The game is also kinda problematic, hiding what is effectively ethnic cleansing in more anodyne terms like “culture conversion.”

But there’s is something intensely pleasurable in painstakingly painting the map in your country’s colors, or outwitting a world power as a tiny minor nation in diplomacy or war.

It hits the perfect cross-section in my own interests as a history and gaming nerd.