When I found out that I'd been accepted to be a beta tester for Heart of Darkness, I was obviously ecstatic; I am even more ecstatic that they've allowed me to write a beta AAR for this wonderful expansion!

For those who haven't read my AARs, I'm Avindian. I've written a number of Vicky 2 AARs (both vanilla and AHD), including two tutorials. This AAR will be a little different, in that it will focus mostly on the new mechanics from HOD. I may do a full tutorial AAR some time after the game is released. (To those reading my current AARs, production of those will continue as well!)

Overall, this AAR will be much shorter than ones I've done in the past, and I'll skim over a lot of what happens. I'm going to be focusing oncolonization, the new naval mechanics, and to a lesser extent diplomacy. Another tester is going to be doing an AAR on the ground combat, and of course there is also Svip's superb beta as well. (Three AARs for one beta... I wonder if that's a record?)

Let's get to it!

This is Spain in 1861. Part of the reason I chose the 1861 scenario is so I can finish more quickly, but there's also been a lot of work done behind the scenes on it as well, from rebalancing literacy to moving provinces around. For our purposes, though, we'll focus on two parts of this screen.

The first area -- at the top right, circled in black -- is the new naval supply system. Your total supply is based on the size of your naval bases, the number of naval bases, and your technology. Each ship, depending on type, takes up a certain amount of supply. We'll see a more direct example a bit later on. The second area of interest -- under the total score -- is the colonial point system. Every part of your country which is not a full-fledged state is a colony, just as it was in AHD and vanilla. But now, if you have a colony, you must pay maintenance in the form of colonial points. Colonial points are also how you get new colonies; your total colonial points are based partly on your technology and the size of your fleet. We will see more of this as well.

Here is the first place we can colonize -- it's got Tropical Wood, a fairly rare RGO, so it's worth looking into.

The large button with the + sign is what begins colonization. You spend a certain amount of your colonial points (let's call them CPs for short) to start the first stage of the process, which is sending an expedition -- if you do that unopposed, you can create a protectorate, which we'll talk about later. For now, I won't click on the button, so we can look at some other things. An important one is the new naval mapmode.

Naval bases have changed a lot since AHD. First, you only get one per state -- if you look closely, under where my 18,000 troops are, you'll see the dark green slashes that indicate a naval base is there. Farther south, where everything is light green slashes, you can tell I have no bases there. I will correct that as soon as I build up some cash. Why bother? Well, you can only build ships at naval bases now, and you can only build capital ships in regions on your home continent. That means no Filipino dreadnoughts, I'm afraid! You also need to upgrade your bases as you go; not only do you get more naval supply, but you can also build more advanced ships there. We'll get into that more as my technology improves.

Speaking of naval supply:

Notice how more advanced ships cost more supply. If you go over the naval supply limit, your entire navy suffers, so it is important to avoid going over! Note, I still haven't unpaused yet. One more screenshot and I will!

Veteran Victoria II players knew that, to colonize the world, you needed Medicine, Nationalism and Imperialism, and Machine Guns. In HOD, Medicine's Prophylaxis against Malaria is still the first step. However, the next two are quite different from AHD. The second invention is Mission to Civilize, which is attached to State and Government. The third invention is attached to Breech-Loaded Rifles, which you see above. Notice the requirements to get Colonial Negotiations -- any one of three techs will get you a 25% chance to pick up the invention, but if any GP has Colonial Negotiations already, or if a neighboring country has Colonial Negotiations, the invention can fire for you! You do still need the base techs (State & Government or Breech-Loaded Rifles). This makes colonizing less predictable, harder to control even with an early lead, and most of all more fun. The next update will have the Scramble for Africa; you'll be pleasantly surprised how much more competition there is.

On August 13, 1861, I begin colonizing the Sunda Islands (I lost track with a few things), and you'll notice the Dutch have chosen to join me.

This means sending an expedition isn't enough; you'll have to compete with the other guy until you reach stage 3 of the colonial process or until one of you blinks and withdraws. There's a cooldown after each step. For now, we'll note our competition and move on. I start justifying a war against Johore, a fairly standard move. Although that hasn't changed in HOD, remember that you can no longer justify war goals after a war starts -- you pay full infamy or just accept your first goal. In an unrelated matter, here's the factory synergy bonus that you can get if the right RGO or accompanying factories are present:

By December, as my war goal chugs blissfully away (I got hit for 7.9 infamy), I decide to start making some friends. I go to France first, and here's what I see:

France is willing to talk -- which is good -- and if I spend enough time and energy, they'll sign an alliance. Trouble is, if another GP beats me to it, there's a -1000 penalty to likelihood! In other words, prior to Great Wars firing, you can only one have A I don't if I can get relations high enough in time; I'll try, but probably won't succeed.

In January 1862, my CB is complete against Johore, so I declare war. As I'm not focusing on war in this beta AAR, I won't go through land battles in detail. However, as a teaser, the devs have beefed up uncivs a bit, to the point where I actually lose the first battle (Of course, I don't have a leader either, which is problematic). Look at this cool announcement of my war, which came out in February:

Johore will never be the same again! Moving along, our colonial competition enters a new era in June:

So, broadly speaking, the first phase in colonization is "Establishing Interest", which lasts until two nations have reached stage 3 of the colonial process. You can have more than two countries compete -- I've personally seen four countries compete over one colony -- but you need at least two to reach level three. Each additional step after this point will increase tension in the state, ultimately leading to a crisis (which we'll see later on this update). So, there are five total stages to colonization, and both the Dutch and I have reached 3. By November, the Dutch and I are at stage 5. The last stage -- establishing a guard post -- has infinite possible steps. This process will continue until the other competitors withdraw or it turns into a crisis. I don't feel like fighting the Dutch over some Tropical Wood, and when they won't back down, I withdraw in August of 1863.

Since each step costs an increasing amount of colonial points, if I commit too heavily here, not only might I end up with a war here, but I could miss out on Africa, and we don't want that! So, we let the Dutch have their colony. No worries: there will be plenty more later. Technically, you establish a Protectorate first, then a full fledged Colony, but the Dutch did it one step (it's the AI, so you can't physically see them get the Protectorate).

I annex Johore in March 1864. I decide to expand my fleet; notice again how few places I can build Commerce Raiders. You can build Commerce Raiders at any naval base, thankfully, but more advanced ships require more advanced bases. Even better, with an invention later on in the game, they get torpedoes, which make them extremely dangerous to larger ships!

I decide to pick on Morocco next -- I'm a borderline GP at this point, and the more access I have in Africa, the better. I start justifying in April to demand a concession. (Yes, in hindsight, I ought to wait until I can establish protectorate, but I'm not a patient guy.) I neglected to mention, for those who are curious, that my first tech was Stock Exchange; that finished a couple of months ago, so I started on Breech-Loaded Rifles. I sign an alliance with the Ottoman Empire in December -- the single GP who wants to be my friend. War with Morocco began in October. I finish Breech Loaded Rifles in May of 1865 and move on to Nationalism and Imperialism. By July, Morocco is defeated and I add two new colonies to my empire: Moroccan al Rif and Morocco (which contains Marrakech and the like). My next target is Atjeh -- gotta keep on conquering! In March of 1866 I declare war and a year later have annexed it. I sign the Geneva Convention in July of 1867, and then for a long time nothing relevant happens. I do get Valley of the Kings in March of 1868. I ally with Austria in June. I pass some reforms, build some factories, nothing terribly exciting (from a beta standpoint) until November of 1871. That is when we see the game's first crisis!

This event won't fire every time. If you're at war, the crisis is on another continent, or if you've been cut down to size or disarmed via Great War Capitulation, the event won't show up. If you hit the wrong button on the event, not to worry -- you can still join the crisis later with the "On the Fence Button" (which I'll show you in a later update). In a normal game, I'd probably ignore Poland as Spain. But this is no normal game, so I happily join in the fun! Here's a normal crisis screen.

For a crisis to function properly, you need at least one GP backing each side. Here, as you can see, we have the UK backing Poland and Russia defending. Five of the other GPs are interested enough to declare interest, so they appear under "Still on the Fence." (If the event doesn't fire, there's a button on this screen.) If you don't pick a side, you suffer a prestige penalty that decreases the longer the crisis lasts. I'm going to support the British on this one, just because I'd love to see Poland appear on the map. By February of 1872, only Germany remains unaligned, and here you can see their thinking:

If push comes to shove, they'd probably back the UK, although only because they are allies -- remember, Germany has Polish cores! In the end, Germany doesn't commit, and rather than risk a war, the UK backs down.

Make sure to join me next Wednesday for part 2, in which Africa gets scrambled!