Stay 'Three Moves Ahead' with Hearts of Iron III

I'm apparently late to the party, but if you're as intrigued by the kinds of things strategy game developers like Paradox are up to as I am, you'll want to have a listen to the latest "Three Moves Ahead" podcast. That would be the Flash of Steel series strategy games enthusiast Troy Goodfellow launched a few months ago. Haven't heard of it? For shame (and shame on me too, since I literally just stumbled on it). If you have iTunes, by all means please remedy.

Episode 25 (you mean there's 24 more?) tours Hearts of Iron III and various other World War II games by way of Troy himself, Fidgit blogger Tom Chick, and Gamers with Jobs' Julian Murdoch. Troy apparently hearts Hearts of Iron III, while Tom's not so sure about the game's modus operandi, and Julian seems mostly fascinated by the debate. By the way, whoever was digging on Advanced Squad Leader (I think that was Julian?) my shelved MMP rules binder and game boards desperately wish you were here.

There's a lot to respond to, e.g. surprise technology you have to riff on vs. technology you know about in advance and have to riff towards, the pros and cons of miniscule tech advances, "spreadsheet" gameplay--dreadful or delightful?, and constructive debate around Troy's query: "How fine can you take the detail before you've lost the grand strategy?"

I've not yet delved into Hearts of Iron III, so I'm firing blanks in any discussion about it specifically. That in mind, what's elegant about Paradox's Europa Universalis-derived games by my measure is that they're like gaining access to some futuristic clockworks engine propping up a rough and ready "theoretical history" simulator you can either dip or drill deeply into from nearly any vantage. If you'd rather focus on the high-level stuff and leave the low-level minutia to AI delegates, you can. If you'd rather pore over every last brigade and division, you can do that too.

Sometimes the engine feels amazingly well-balanced. Others, slightly to as much as dramatically off kilter. Whatever the case, Paradox always steps up quickly with patches that fiddle rather than "fix" the engine into a state that's incrementally more compatible with a majority of community feedback.

At one point, after establishing that HoI3 allows you to abstract certain things, Tom asks "Why aren't I just playing Clash of Steel?" To which one response might be "It's a matter of different-depth rabbit holes and rabbit phenotypes." Where you'd find a copy of Clash of Steel (rest its soul) notwithstanding, even if it popped up with a sexed up visual overlay designed by the AGEOD guys, CoS will only ever be that very same abstract grand-level game. If you get the itch to dig deeper and throw yourself into the minutia (the play rewards scaling proportionate to your measurable success) you can't scratch it in CoS.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. Chess needs only ever be chess. But it's nice to know that not everything has to be chess, and that on occasion, an ostensible Rube Goldberg machine can turn out to be not so Rube-Goldbergian after all.

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