Saturday, January 15, 2005

Here's one for you Cataloonies. In my free time I play this psychotic computer game called Europa Universalis II, which is sort of a combination of Risk, Diplomacy, Civilization, and Simcity, but historically based. You start in 1419. I am playing the Crown of Aragon, so I started out with Catalonia, Rousillon, Valencia, Aragón itself, the Balearics, Sardinia, and Sicily. What I did was simply not have Ferdinand of Aragon marry Isabella of Castile, but rather marry someone from the House of Savoy. Aragon was thus never absorbed into Castile, but rather grew connections with Southern France and Italy. In three wars with the French, we took over all of Southern France south of about Dijon, and all of Italy south of Bologna except Florence, which is not going to be independent for much longer, and Rome, where the Pope is our slave, effectively--we took over when we had the chance under the Borgias. We also hold Turin and French Switzerland around Geneva. We established a foreign empire first in what is today Quebec, New England, and the mid-Atlantic states, then Hispaniola, where we are growing sugar out the wazoo with slave labor, then what is today South Africa, and then the southern tip of India. Right now it's 1741 and the game ends in 1819. Next stop is the conquest of Florence and then Genoa, and then we're going to take a whack at the Ottoman Empire and grab their islands in the Mediterranean (Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Corfu) and their trading posts along the coasts of India and East Africa--and the Greek-speaking parts along the Turkish coast, like Smyrna and Aleppo. Then, after that, we'll take a whack at the Hapsburgs and run them out of Milan and Venice. By then that ought to be the end of the game.

So we're running a multinational Mediterranean empire with the capital at Barcelona and tentacles sticking out all over the world. (We've built a couple of spectacular cathedrals and a great university at Barcelona, too, along with an armaments factory in Zaragoza and a distillery at Valencia, from where we traffic in brandy all over Europe.) By the way, we haven't had to fight Castile or Portugal at all; we've had a military alliance since the beginning of the game which none of us has ever broken. Castile did take over Navarra but we let them have it. Visca el Imperi Català!

My favorite Europa Universalis comment on the bulletin board the company runs is this one 17-year-old kid somewhere in the States who commented that since he got into the game, they put him in AP European History in his high school because he'd learned so much about 16th century European warfare and economy.

(AP, Advanced Placement, are high-school courses that allow you to take a test and get college credit for what you studied in high school assuming you pass. They're pretty elitist--only about 10% or so of the students in a good high school qualify. It's something like the old A-levels in England--the tests are pretty goddamn hard, they're run by the people who run the SAT, and they're graded on a 200-800 scale like the SAT. I scored 800 on the AP European history exam in 1984, along with scores over 700 in English literature and American history. I'm so cool. One of the choices for the essay question that year was a compare-and-contrast of Goya's Los fusilados and Picasso's Guernica, which I belted out of the park. I got lucky on the English lit essay, too, where one of the choices was Siegfried Sassoon's war poetry, another one for the bleacher seats.)

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