Megacampaigns work at least partly because the player consciously work for a balance of power; nobody dares take too much land in a victorious war, and a player on the verge of elimination can usually find allies to help him. Further, as in Diplomacy, a backstab is most effective if it is really devastating, so that the victim has no chance to retaliate and the gains make up for the lost reputation. (Who will ally with a notorious backstabber?)
The analogy to the Prisoner’s Dilemma should be clear, though: The one who defects, if he can manage to avoid the retaliation, wins. So when we reach the endgame, and there is not much time left to retaliate – out come the daggers. And one by one, the weakest nations are eliminated. A thousand years of limited wars, small gains, and treaties upheld; but in the end, there can be only one!
(Music: 101st Airborne March)
The guns roared, mind-numbingly. After a while the ear adjusted, and the month-long bombardment became mere background noise, noticeable only when a shell or bomb hit particularly close. By now, five months into the siege, most of the guns’ fury wasted itself uselessly on rubble and bones; a miasma of dust and rotting flesh hung over the city, and only the endlessly smoking corpse-fires kept disease at bay. The people dug themselves into cellars, made shelters in the rubble, ate the plump rats that in turn fed on what it was better not to contemplate, and endured; the factories, fed by a thin trickle of ore and coal from outside, somehow kept the gears of war turning; and the thin-faced troops in their concrete emplacements, fighting on beyond all hope of relief, held – improbably, miraculously – every assault at bay.
Constantinople had faced siege before.
The underground bunker that sheltered what remained of the Senate – such of it as was not fighting in the front lines; Rome, after all, had a military tradition older even than Norway’s – screened out most of the noise, but the occasional dull crump and shake of a bomb hitting nearby provided a memento mori for these rulers of the dying empire. Two of the men in the room had held Triumphs, in the old Roman custom, after the Italian and Ukrainian campaigns; Harald briefly wondered whether they had foreseen this outcome in the slave’s whisper of “Remember that you are mortal“, then shook the thought aside as he came before the Augustus.
The man was now Emperor of one lonely city, being ground to dust under Burgundian artillery; but the weight of two thousand years of history was in his voice as he spoke to the Yngling envoy. “Rome greets you, Herr Sigurdsson. You will appreciate that we have much to do here; do you bring news of your country’s entry into the war?”
“No, Augustus, I do not.”
The Emperor’s shoulders slumped, ever so slightly, but his voice showed no sign of the death of his hopes. “Then what do you want?”
“The Storting and the Folk have sent me to discuss the postwar settlement of the Balkans.”
The Emperor snorted. “What postwar settlement? The Burgundians will annex us, or perhaps install a puppet government to dance to their strings, as they’ve done in Madagascar. They might even call it the “Senate of Rome”, although they’re not known for their sense of humour. But the true Empire will be gone.”
“Indeed, Augustus; the Roman Empire is dead. But the Roman people may yet survive, and even prosper.”
“You, an Yngling, offer prosperity to strils?”
“Ah, well, there are strils and strils. You are perhaps thinking of the niggers who work our African plantations, and it’s true, their lives are not enviable. But then there are the Estonians and Balts who toil in our factories, and it’s true that they can neither vote nor duel, but still, they do eat regularly. You or I should not care for that life, but some of your peasants might not think it so bad. And last, there are our sovereign vassal-allies, the polaks, whose army is almost the size of the Ynglinga Hird, and whose opinions are, shall we say, given a careful hearing.”
The Emperor blinked. “You would offer us vassal-ally status?”
“By no means, Augustus; I am merely listing the possibilities. But still, you must understand, there are simply not enough Ynglings to outright conquer the world, no matter what the Radical faction may think. It is not physically possible for fifty million Ynglings to keep the lid on two billion rebellious subjects – not when those subjects are all literate, and remember having been free. So – divide et impera, as your ancestors put it, eh? A balancing state on Poland’s southern border could be very useful to us, for however long it takes to pacify the industrial areas of Germany.”
The Emperor’s eyes narrowed in anger. “Have you seen the soldiers out there? You Ynglings fight for power and dominance and greed. But my army are the legions of Rome, and they fight for an idea, for the glory of the nation where any man can become a citizen, and any citizen, Emperor. Yesterday I saw a boy of twelve run under the tracks of a tank, carrying a satchel charge. Do you think men will fight with that kind of devotion, merely for the chance of being slightly more privileged slaves? No. Nor will I ask it of them. Bring the Ynglinga Hird into the war, and Rome will fight by your side. Don’t, and Rome will go under shouting defiance to the last. But don’t come here with your mealy mouthings of a temporarily useful postwar settlement. This is Rome. We may at last be conquered by the barbarians, but it won’t be said that we sullied the honour of the Eagle!”
Harald shrugged. “As you wish. It would be convenient to have a Senate-in-Exile giving legitimacy to our guerrilla campaign, but it’s hardly necessary. We can always find someone of senatorial rank and declare him legitimate emperor. I assume you still want the ammunition we’re sending you?”
There was a stir in the ranks of the Senate, but the Augustus had no ears for that; he merely stared, death in his eyes. “Does courage mean nothing to an Yngling? Have you not seen how the city fights?”
“Yes, Augustus, I have. I salute your courage. But courage is the most democratic of virtues. Do you think there are no heroes on the other side? You spoke of a boy running under the treads of a tank; well, what of its crew, who drove their vehicle into such opposition as that? Anyway, you were apparently not so impressed with polak courage when you attack the Ukraine. If it was gratitude you wanted, you might have stayed out of a war we were clearly losing.”
Now the Emperor’s slump was noticeable even at a distance, and there was defeat in his voice. “Well… and what did you have in mind, then, for this Rome of slaves?”
“Nothing too complicated, Augustus. We supply weapons, you supply guerrillas to tie down Burgundian armies; after the war, we restore locals to rule of Constantinople and most of the Balkans, under Norwegian guidance. And, since the Ynglings do have a sense of humour, unlike the rather stodgy Burgundians, we will indeed call it the Senate of Rome.”
“And how long will it take before you annex us outright?”
“Oh, a generation, maybe two. It’s a better deal than the Burgundians will give you; they do have the numbers to keep Europe, at least, under their thumb, and anyway they have a real grudge against you after the way you switched sides back in ’42. Besides, who knows? Maybe the Christian Liberals will come to power in the Storting, or you can build some sort of super-weapons in secret, or Norway will fall apart in civil wars once it looks like we’re top dogs. It’s at least a chance.”
“Or maybe the Burgundians will beat you.”
“Indeed so, but in that case I’ll be dead, so what do I care? At any rate, let’s consider practical arrangements. We’ll have a Senate in exile, and we can evacuate some fighting men to Poland, maybe a division’s worth, and some women and older children if they’ll fight. And we can let you have some Chinese field guns, if you want ’em; they aren’t very accurate, but then again the Burgundian army is a bit of a sitting duck at the moment. Next, propaganda: Would you like to escape in the nick of time, or to die fighting, or maybe to surrender the city and become a prisoner?”
“How generous of you, to give me the choice.”
“You know your own people best; what will inspire them the most?”
“I think a living Imperator with at least some semblance of an army.”
“As you say. I would like to have contact with some men of equestrian rank, to organise them for stay-behind cadre; also we’ll be shipping in some rifles and grenades to be hidden for a future rising. We found that very useful in Malmø.”
The discussions went far into the night, while outside, the Roman Empire died.
Skar, you asked whether you are out. Now, Greece is dead, but I think we still have a place for you. Firstly, there’s Turkey, which could be a moderately significant Ally, or Persia, similarly significant in the Comintern, or in principle Kazakhstan, though I think they’re too industry-poor to be even a minor Axis power – they’re basically there to give Poland resources without draining TC. Second, Carb doesn’t know if he can make it Saturday, so you could sub Poland. Third, some of us have lots of fronts and would welcome some help in commanding them. Fourth, as you’ll note, there exists a Senate in Exile. 🙂
Touching the screenies, here you go:
Norway, from sea to shining sea! (Now also in Eurasia!)
New countries grow like mushrooms in the Middle East, as the warring nations seek to mobilise local support for their causes.
Still, it is Europe that remains the decisive theater, the heartland of the world’s industry; and that heartland is now dominated by a single nation, the vast Kingdom of Burgundy.