The Great Game: Strategic overview

Well, I think I shall follow Bob’s excellent suggestion, since the only thing that really happened this session was the war between Hungary and Poland, with Spain intervening on the Polish side. I sent Hungary considerable money, and also persuaded Burgundy and Italy to do the same, so that Ear was able to hold the Poles to a compromise peace where Sterk just gained Bogutjar. Considering the price of really massive inflation, not to mention the rebels, I do think Sterk might have been better off giving in gracefully a few years before, but whatever. It’s not as though I mind a weakened Poland.

In fact, matters have progressed to the point where I’m not really that worried about the Baltic anymore; it’s the North Sea I look nervously across. England has a navy equal in size to mine and Spain’s (respectively second and third in naval power) combined; the two-Power standard is alive and well, two centuries before its time. And with the utter defeat of Italy’s navy in the last war, there are no other naval powers to speak of. Then there are the nine (yes, nine!) COTs. Control of southern India is just icing on the cake. What’s worse, Bob is a peaceful sort, unlikely to provoke a vast coalition against him by making an obvious bid for hegemony. England’s one weakness is its lack of manpower; but with the largest economy in the world, that can be made up for by mercenaries – indeed, the recent Polish-Hungarian war is a fine example of mercenaries being decisive, though Hungary hired them with subsidies rather than her own monies. With that said, though, England does have a vulnerable point in her French and American colonies, not to mention the scattered COTs; the Royal Navy isn’t that dominant, it would find it difficult to defend the whole Empire simultaneously. The world waits for the first English mis-step; we’ve seen potential hegemons before, and where are they now? Groaning under 30% inflation.

Speaking of Poland, the former Colossus of the Baltic now takes its life in its hands whenever it goes to war. Between the inflation, the relatively low technology, being late into the colonial game, and (with respect to Hungary) the low manpower, Poland doesn’t look very scary anymore, to the point where their partition has been seriously discussed. Alas, both England and Spain want them kept alive as an ankle-biter, and also to prevent Norway and Hungary gaining their COTs. I am considering if it would be possible to, at some point, inflict a really crushing defeat on the Poles and destroy them as a Great Power capable of real warfare; a vast come-down from the days when the Piasts inherited the Kingdom of Rus, and all of Europe mobilised against them!

Then there is Hungary. Vast, but poor and backwards; their strength is their huge manpower reserves, and in Vicky, of course, they’ll have all the resources of Siberia. Sort of like Russia, really. But they desperately need to industrialise. Still, they’ve been taking the occasional bite out of the Mughals for some time now, and none of their neighbours can really stand up to them. When Hungary marches, Kings tremble.

The two minor powers of the eastern Med, Byzantium and Jerusalem, have beaten each other into exhausted impotence. Byzantium nominally ‘won’ the latest round of warfare, annexing Aleppo with its COT; but neither of them is a significant factor when the Great Powers clash, even on the ankle-biting level of Poland. Inflation, no industries, and no colonies to speak of; they will no doubt go on beating on each other until the end of time. Well, what do you expect? It’s the Middle East, after all.

Italy, having just lost no less than two COTs in a war, can, I think, safely be considered a revisionist, not to say revanchist, Power. Their trouble is the loss of their navy; their strength is the small size and high income of Italy proper, allowing them to hypertech considerably. I expect them to spend this session recovering, building up their navy again and investing in military technologies, and then burst out at a well-chosen moment to attack Burgundy or England. Or they may form the core of a balancing coalition against England; certainly they have every reason to be annoyed at the English. With Italy’s income, rebuilding a large fleet would not take so long as all that.

We now come to Burgundy, which by my rough estimate is the third of the Great Powers. (I think there are three real giants, England-Spain-Burgundy, then a bit of a drop down to Italy-Norway, then another step down to Hungary-Poland, and then minors. Everybody down to Poland, or possibly Hungary, can defend themselves reasonably well and force a compromise peace on an attacker; but the three top Powers are the major leagues, capable of fighting on several fronts and projecting force anywhere. I would not care to fight either England, Spain or Burgundy on my own.) Burgundy is the most heavily industrialised country in the world; but its trade and colonies are not of the best, and it has a large Protestant and Catholic population in Europe which is still being converted. Nonetheless, the wealth of the Rhine valley feeds vast armies; not so much of a navy, at this time, but one could be built quite fast. At this moment Burgundy is an ally of England, having used English money (gained by renting out Calais) to finance their factories. Presumably they will remain so at least until the lease on Calais runs out; a COT makes a fine hostage. Even after that, I see no real reason for Burgundy and England to quarrel; they have no clashing colonial or European interests – unless, that is, one of them should decide to attempt French culture. If it hasn’t happened in the first 200 years of the game, though, it presumably won’t. One might expect Burgundy and England to remain allies for a considerable time to come, then, cooperating in holding down the rest of us.

That leaves Spain as the outsider of the three largest powers; and Ego is a fairly aggressive sort, who won’t be happy until Spain is pre-eminent. I have no doubt he will try to put together an anti-British coalition. He should have no difficulty recruiting Italy. Norway has issues with both sides, and can presumably bring in Hungary – our alliance is long-standing – and should therefore be eagerly sought as having the balance of power. Poland is not really sufficiently powerful to add anything to this discussion, except as a biter-of-ankles to distract Norway and Hungary. However, Ego may reasonably feel that he is unable to move until his navy has been considerably expanded; while I doubt he can build something capable of dealing with both Norway and England, if the chips should fall that way, he should certainly be able to put together something to contest one of us in one ocean. I do know that it is an ambition of his to get the three Norwegian colonies that remain in South America; he may decide to knock Norway out of the running first, and turn to deal with England later. (If so, we’d have a nice rerun of the Cuban campaign, now with the Norwegian DP sliders adjusted for battle.) Spain, then, is the wild card, the one Power both dis-satisfied with the status quo and having sufficient power to change it all by itself.

Finally, Norway. I am no longer very worried about my control of the Baltic; between the second-largest navy in the world, and a much larger economy than Poland, I am fairly confident of my ability to sit on the Piasts in a one-on-one war; coalition warfare is something else again, but that cuts both ways. The question is, however, how I can expand. Industrialising is one option; I’ve also got a bunch of pagans that need to be turned into good Scandinavian Protestants; and there are a lot of unfortified provinces about. But somehow, only new provinces Really Satisfy. One option is to partition Poland to the point where I could claim Russian culture; alas, the other powers would probably object. I do intend to continue expanding my trade; in particular, there are a lot of European COTs where I could dominate – not as lucrative as the Asian stuff, but rather less competition! Economic dominance of Poland may the best I’m going to get. Then, I do expect a showdown between Spain and England, with their various allies, at some point; intervention to create a winning side could be highly beneficial, though I’d have to be careful not to antagonise both parties by too openly playing them against each other. (Antagonising one of them is probably unavoidable.) At the moment, I do lean to Spain, what with the English threat to become hegemon; but then again, I also have some long-running quarrels with Spain that England could help me settle. Decisions, decisions… I see several options, but powers not quite of the first water have to tread carefully! Perhaps I should just annex large tracts of China, instead. 😀

I shall give myself an extra point of plutocracy for this.

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