God of our Fathers, the first part of Recessional, is at an end; 240 years of crusade, dynastic dynamics, and backstabbing are at an end. Poland, France, and Hungary have been ground to dust. Persia has suffered the far worse fate of being corrupted from within, and is now a puppet in the hands – say rather, the manipulative organs – of the thing that rules Egypt, the heart of darkness. Now we enter the age of exploration and colonies, pike and musket, sail and broadside; we are done with wars to please our gods, and will now openly struggle only for Dominion over Palm and Pine.
Venice enters this new era in an un-enviable (perhaps even un-viable) strategic position. I was constantly at war for the last fifteen years of CK, and consequently convert with no money and practically no army. Moreover, I’m surrounded by much bigger empires: To my east is Byzantium, south is the African Republic (which just kicked me out of Libya), north is my ally Germany, and west is, of course, the Wicked Warden of the West, the English Empire – occupier of the Mediterranean islands, largest naval power, enforcer of embargos, and all-around bully. My chances of winning a war with any of these powers are, to put it mildly, not good. My one major strategic asset is control of the Venice end-node and most of its provinces. It is fortunate, then, that I am playing a dynasty long noted for its lust for gold, rather than land or soldiers or glory. Wealth that cannot be quickly packed into a getaway bag and stashed on the back of a fast horse is not true wealth; land and cattle and even ships are merely a means to the end of acquiring gold, lovely bright gold coins that glitter and gleam and chime sweetly when flung up in the air to rain down over your head… ahem. As I was saying, although my main strength is economic, it is clear that to become a significant power in Victoria, I’ll need to parley that gold into soldiers, while sitting in the middle of major empires with a lot of soldiers out looking for gold. Not a happy situation. Some diplomacy may be called for.
So what are my diplomatic options? As mentioned, Germany has been my ally for some time; and as he has no navy to speak of, but can muster a large army, our strengths complement while our ambitions do not clash; the Alps are a Schelling point for a border. Germany is, however, embroiled in a lengthy conflict with Denmark over the Baltic coastline, which to be fair was Danish before it was German. Denmark has for a considerable time been an English vassal/ally; if England comes in, I doubt Germany can hold the line. (Indeed England tried that quite a few times in CK, but was only able to get CBs involving claims by minor countlets, who all unaccountably died a few months after the DOWs were delivered.) Allying with Germany is not, at any rate, a short-term play.
East is Byzantium; that border has been peaceful for three centuries, but this does not translate into adventurism in the Western Med. Byzantium is skirmishing with Russia over the Balkans and with Persia over eastern Anatolia; the last thing they need is another front. Which does suggest that a teamup with Persia might be a viable strategy, traditional enemy and puppets of the Jackal though they are. But I can’t say I’m too excited about acquiring a lot of wrong-culture, wrong-religion, not-too-developed, inland Balkan provinces. A similar objection applies to expanding into Russian Hungary (perhaps with Byzantine aid since they’re already in that fight), though I did try this in CK. (And it would have worked, too, if not for the damn lag that made me five days late to that decisive battle.) Additionally, Russia has a long tradition of squealing for English help whenever the going gets rough, and getting it too.
The African Republic has been an enemy of Venice since it was the Castilian Kingdom; but as they have finally acquired my Libyan colony that they spent two hundred years drooling for, perhaps they have no further territorial ambitions in the Med? At any rate I’m prepared to let poor provinces full of dark-skinned people be bygones; Libya is an expendable out-march for an Italian power. (Which is why I spent exactly zero CK ducats building it up, though I can’t speak for my vassals.) With the core reason for our traditional hostility gone, an alliance here might be possible. As with Germany, there’s a natural border, the Med; unlike Germany, though, our strengths match instead of complementing – we’re both naval-ish powers. A possibility, at any rate.
What of Persia? Admittedly it would be a deal with the devil, but eh, after all I play Crusader Kings. An alliance pact with an alien entity intent on the enslavement of mankind and the return of the old gods that demanded human sacrifice won’t break into the top ten questionable things I’ve done. The question is what commonality of interest we can find; I’ve already noted the problems with attacking Byzantium, and as for Africa, who is going to get the resulting provinces?
And then there’s England. Much of CK’s diplomacy revolved around various people’s attempts to form a coalition against England; it would be just my luck to throw in my lot with Baron just as somebody finally succeeds. And, of course, he has those Mediterranean islands, and the end-node in Genoa is obviously mine by right. On the other side, England is much the most powerful nation around, which works to its allies’ advantage in two ways: One, when he hits your enemies they stay down, two, everyone’s keeping a careful eye out to see he doesn’t grow any bigger. So a large amount of the spoils of war can go to small-but-useful vassal-allies.
Many options, none obviously excellent, all mutually exclusive, and picking the wrong one means death. Still, the Aiello have survived the back streets of Venice, where men are occasionally murdered for the clothes they’re wearing. The truly poor know what it means to make alliances, to pick the best among bad options, to choose the strategic moment to change sides. The stakes have been raised, from ragged shirts to rich provinces; but the game remains the same. How hard can it be?
Custom ideas of Venice. I am disappointed that EU4 doesn’t show flavor text for the traditions and ambition; here they are:
- Azure Three Bezants (Trade Steering +10%): The founder of the Aiello family had a legendary nose for a good deal, and the talent has not deserted his descendants.
- Crossroads of the World (-5% Tech Cost): All the world comes to Venice, and all its best ideas, too.
- The Rods and the Axe (+7.5% Discipline): Behind every Venetian soldier stands the shadow of a Roman Legionnaire, reminding him that to run is death.
Europe, 1444. Note that apart from vassals, we have several large personal unions, so the map is less fractured than it looks: Milan is in a union with Venice, Saxony with Germany, Novgorod with Lithuania (better known as Russia), Sweden with Denmark, and Burgundy with England.