Somewhere in Africa, an ancient thing stirs.
The plots of centuries are coming together. There is as yet no sign of effective opposition; but old things are cautious. It sticks its head out of the cave in which it has rested these five millennia, and snuffles the air, warily. The stars are not yet quite right… but they are moving into position; and a hundred years is nothing. Decision comes; and in Sennar and London, in Venice and Berlin, men write words on paper and regiments leave their garrisons to gather into armies.
It is a subtle effect, as yet; the papers bear words that might have fallen the other way, had there been no interference… or they might not. Men are notoriously belligerent, when they are sure that others will do the dying. Perhaps war would have come in any case; there have always been wars, and rumours of wars, and the end is not yet. But, most likely, it would have been a different war, fought for more direct aims. Control of the Suez, perhaps; or the gold – yellow and black – of the Transvaal. These are the goals a human strategist would pick, were he untouched by outside influence. The humid jungles of Cameroon are not in the running. Human strategists, of course, plan for two decades ahead, at most.
An ancient thing stirs, and an old nation responds; for the first time in centuries, Egypt engages in aggressive war, not against minor tribes of the African interior but against a Great Power – as humans count such things. It is a sea change, the still point where the tide stops, and changes its direction; but it is not yet visible as such, to merely human eyes. “Africa for Africans”, the desire of a rising nation to break into the ranks of acknowledged Great Powers – these are sufficient, surely, to explain Egypt’s strategy. Countries rise and fall, that is the nature of geopolitics. For one country to gain the formal privileges extended to Great Powers – embassies instead of consulates, a seat at every conference table, additional guns fired in salutes to its flag – and another to lose them, this is not such an unusual event, in human affairs. It is not difficult, for a human statesman, to explain a war that accomplishes these things in terms of human motivations and actions.
Humans, on the whole, aren’t very bright.
I seized another smidgen of land from Byzantium; but this minor skirmish was the least of the session’s events. Russia attacked North Korea; Russia is weak as Korea is weak, and it would have been an even match if their Great Power patrons had stayed out. However, Germany supported Russia, which would likely have been sufficient to overcome Japanese protection even had it been forthcoming; Japan, perhaps because he was at war with England at the time, stayed out. The middle half of Korea, with its rich coalfields, is now Russian; Korea is no longer a player nation unless someone desires a real challenge; the Pan-Asian alliance that was to keep Europe at bay while the minor powers built their industries and armies looks increasingly like a paper tiger.
However, the main play of the week was the African War, Egypt’s English-backed bid to throw Fox out of its possessions in Cameroon and back across the Atlantic. Egypt’s regular army is actually smaller than Venice’s; but England and Fox are the two largest Great Powers, so their clash was the first large-scale war of Victoria, and arguably the first breath of the endgame. In addition to Africa, there was fighting in the Balkans, where Fox attempted to occupy the recent English loot from Byzantium; in North America, where English naval landings clashed with the inevitable invasion of Danish Vinland; and in Italy. This last occurred because I had granted military access to the Red Empire; the English player, harassed, demanded that I cease and desist. I passive-aggressively pointed out that he was well over the infamy limit; last week he had attacked me because I went over the limit, so some mil-access for an enemy was well within the realm of reason. Oddly, he didn’t see it that way, and declared war. Since I hadn’t expected to fight just then, my units were wherever they had last fought a rebel stack, not concentrated in, for example, North Italy where they might at least have shot at the ten 30k stacks that flooded across the border. My ally Germany launched an offensive across the Rhine and got as far as Paris; we therefore compromised on “Venice exits the war, doesn’t give mil-access to Fox anymore, and now has a smaller army and navy than it used to.” Somewhere in this, my colony Macau rebelled, and English domination of the oceans meant I couldn’t crush them; naturally they were promptly annexed to Japan. Additionally, my economy went briefly chaotic as I tried to buy artillery for my troops while my industrial heartland was occupied; it took the rest of the session to pay off the resulting debt.
Mediterranean theatre of the African War, shortly after the Venetian entry. Although defeated, I opine that this is a pretty creditable showing by my troops: Outnumbered five to two, with no artillery, they still inflicted equal casualties on the aggressors. I have no doubt that this bloody nose, inflicted by the third category of my army (I organise it into Strike, Line, Guard; this is a Guard stack, intended to occupy territory and extend defensive lines, not for withstanding a Great-Power invasion), was a powerful factor in the lenient terms agreed to.
At some point the English navy tracked down the Red one and sank it; no ironclads were involved so far as I know, making this presumably the last battle of wooden men-of-war in the game. Fox, unable to move troops around anymore, sued for terms, losing most of its African colonies. Egypt rose to become the sixth Great Power, edging out Venice; probably inevitable in light of the respective populations, but annoying. Fox announced his intention to go isolationist. India pointed out that England was well above the infamy limit, and hadn’t there been talk of a coalition, last week, if that should happen? In TeamSpeak there was the sound of crickets.
In spite of their recent war, Fox and England have managed to agree to create a new player slot from their South American colonies, which is a just and generous act that I’m sure is in no way caused by any mental infiltration by nonhuman entities. The new power (played by Blayne, fresh from the disasters of Korea and Byzantium) will have a non-aggression pact with its former masters until 1936.
World map, 1875. All the world is colonised; the Tortured Man is gone. Note the Russian breakthrough to the Pacific, destroying Korea as a viable power.