With the Total War series doing so well, I thought I’d start playing Empire again. It really is wonderful. There’s something for everyone too: I personally prefer the campaigns and find everything else quite boring, so that’s what I’ll be (very briefly) reviewing.
The campaign is a quest to take over the world, essentially. But, being set in the 1700s, there are some brilliant ‘subplots’, for want of a better word. The player should soon realise that there are several things which a state must take into account if it wishes to survive: taxes; trade; systems of government; religion; the universities; and lots of other political and economic stuff.
In the policy section of the game, the player can adjust the tax sliders. There are just two classes of people, perhaps this is oversimplified or perhaps it is accurate for 1700: the rich and the poor. Now, depending on what system of government is in place, they will have different labels, but essentially there will be two bands of tax, one for the rich and one for the poor.
If a player wishes to increase tax, then he will encounter a few problems. Firstly, tax, funnily enough, winds people up and it will make them unhappy. The more unhappy people are, the more likely there’ll be a revolution.
Increasing taxes on the different classes has different effects. If you tax the rich more highly, then economic growth will be affected negatively. If you tax the poor more highly, then less people will be able to survive and the population will either stagnate or fall – again, not a good thing for a tax collector. So, these two basic principles will lead to the level of taxation a player will set to be rather low.
Very little to say here except that trade is a brilliant source of income for a country. However, if you want this income, you’d better not start lots of wars: other players will either cancel their trade agreements with you, or even block your ports. So, the simple message which Empire gives you here is that free trade and a nonaggressive foreign policy are essential.
Systems of Government
There are three systems of government which a player can have in Empire: an absolute monarchy, a constitutional monarchy, or a republic.
In an absolute monarchy, the player gets to pick their cabinet and encounters little resistance from the nobility. The plebs, on the other hand, don’t like this arrangement if their taxes start to increase and they’ll quickly mobilise and start a revolution. Under this system, then, the taxes on the poor have to be fairly low, or, better still, taxation in many regions will have to be abolished in order to stave off riots.
In a republic, there is no King and there are regular elections. This means that the player has little control over his ministers and if a particularly skilled minister comes along, he won’t be there for long. The two tax bands in a republic are levied on ‘the middle class’ and ‘the lower class’ and it is rather difficult to annoy either group under this system. Both the middle and lower classes, even if particularly highly taxed, still don’t rebel against the Lord Protector or President.
A constitutional monarchy is, as you’d expect, somewhere in the middle. There are elections AND a King, and so both the upper and lower classes are satisfied with this arrangement. However, whereas under a President, both groups become equally passive, under a constitutionally limited King, both groups are equally active. Neither group has too much privilege, yet they are not deluded by the ideal of mob rule into thinking that they are in some way ‘free’. Taxes must be lower on the upper classes and yet the lower classes are not as violent under this arrangement as they were under the absolute monarch.
The message here is that the state must strike some sort of balance between dictatorship and mob rule in order to allow itself and its subjects to prosper.
In Empire, the different religions of Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Islam and more play important roles in limiting the size of an empire. For instance, something I usually do when playing is send a Protestant missionary over to a region to convert the population before I send my troops in to take over. If you are playing as Great Britain, for instance, and you try to rule Morocco when it is predominantly Islamic, you’ll have a lot of trouble. If a ruler and the ruled believe in the same God, they’ll get along like a house on fire. If not, the masses will rebel.
The university towns of Oxford and Cambridge caused me a lot of trouble by the late 18th century. The effect of ‘too much’ knowledge and free thinking in a rich and powerful state is to weaken its legitimacy. The message which Empire gives out here is crystal clear: the state relies on a legitimising ideology, be it Divine Right, or Democracy, or the Constitution. Once the ruled, however, become rather more intelligent than the rulers then the state has no chance.
This game is a must for libertarians. It helps one understand just how states developed during the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution and how the modern state came into being. Specifically, it points out the sad fact that states which were the most capitalist and libertarian also became imperialistic and soon enough they became socialistic.
Without money, a state can’t do anything, and the states of yesteryear realised this. And economic growth led to higher rates of capital accumulation and population growth and this all lead to a bigger national wallet from which the state could steal. Soon enough, states became rich and used this money, not to preserve law and order, but to colonise different parts of the globe and engage in an ever more aggressive foreign policy. We’ve now, it seems, come full circle and our modern day states don’t seem to understand the fact that a state only exists parasitically and needs to allow its subjects to produce, buy and sell, and save – otherwise we’re all doomed.
(In terms of wolves and sheep, a monarchy is a system in which the population of wolves is limited to one small noble family. The rest of the population are sheep. A population of 5 wolves and 250 sheep, assuming the population of sheep is increasing, will probably be sustainable. Democracy is 125 wolves and 125 sheep.)