Let me start off by saying that I haaven’t played the first Europa Universalis game so you won’t find any comparisons with it from me. Instead, I’m going to give you a straight up review of this Paradox Entertainment strategy title. With that said, let’s jump right into the game.In EU, you control a country during the time period of 1419 to 1820 with the objective of expanding your empire through various means such as military action, diplomacy, or trade relations. The depth of gameplay for these components is immense and that’s why the tutorial is so welcomed, especially if you’re new to the series. The tutorial is a step-by-step walkthrough of the gameplay mechanics and without a doubt, it has to be one of the best tutorials I have ever used in any type of game. The game still takes some time to learn since there are so many elements to interact with, but at least it moves you in the right direction by giving you a basic introduction to all of the key points. The manual also does a good job of covering things but I only wish they had gone with a larger version since this pocketbook version uses a small font that tends to be difficult to reference.Once you’re comfortable with the mechanics of the game, then it’s time to start conquering or at least trying to. You get to choose one country out of eight that span from Europe through Asia. It’s interesting to see the inclusion of the U.S.A. with the North American scenarios that have you duking it out with jolly olde England and its allies. The method of expanding your domain is up to you as EUII offers an exhaustive combination of ways to wield your influence. You can favor military action, diplomacy, and trade, or try to balance a combination of these elements. The key is to be able to evaluate your relationship with other provinces and then take action to capitalize on this standing. All of the necessary country and province information is easily accessible through the game’s information panel. This is where you’ll spend most of your time since it gives you information and options for controlling the infrastructure of provinces.There are four different game scenarios – standard, power struggle, conquest, and mission. None of these change the fundamental gameplay but only the criteria for winning. The country with the most total points wins on standard mode. Power struggle emphasizes speed since the winner is the one who reaches a pre-determined number of points first. Conquest is similar to power struggle but uses “provinces taken” as the criteria for winning. The fourth mode is mission-based with the first player that accomplishes the mission objective deemed the winner. My preference is on the standard or conquest mode since the gameplay flow seems to be more natural than the ones that require you to race through a scenario in order to win. Even in standard mode, you can’t take too much time since opposing countries will make their moves without hesitation. One of the fun parts of EUII is that while you’re trying to work your dynasty, you can see what the opposing countries are doing via the characters that pop up on the map. The characters are a bit on the small side but the map zoom is a nice feature that lets you get close to the action. It’s nothing special but it does serve as a nice visual feature. I should mention the in-game pause feature that allows you to stop the game and survey things before you make your next move. It does change the pace of the game but proves to be extremely useful, especially if you find yourself being attacked on multiple fronts. The game updates that are provided through pop-up windows can be fast and furious at times so pausing the game to evaluate the total picture only makes sense.Speaking of action, the majority of it centers on analyzing territories and situations, and then making your moves. There is far too much detail to cover in a review of the game but let’s just say if you’re the type of gamer whose into micro-management then EUII will not disappoint. From shipbuilding to religious conversion, it’s hard to find elements that aren’t included in this game. The cool part is the ability to take different approaches to the relationships with other countries. This flexibility adds longevity and replay value to the game, which is ironic since you can already spend a ton of time micromanaging practically anything in the game. Besides dealing with the action of other countries, you have to make sure the citizens of your own territories are happy campers. You can’t ignore the fact that civil unrest is only a tax hike away. Like any good monarch, you control the taxes of your provinces to fuel your country’s expansion but if you get greedy, your citizens will revolt and then you’re faced with civil unrest. This unrest decreases stability, which can adversely affect a province’s population and thus reduce its potential production income. Other elements such as trade, diplomatic abilities and interest of loans can also be affected by a decrease in stability. It’s interesting stuff once you get a handle on the changing dynamics of the game and that’s the challenge.When you get tired of playing against computer opponents, there are various methods of playing multiplayer games. Up to eight players can play via a LAN, over the Internet or Paradox’s own multiplayer service, Valkyrienet. There wasn’t any activity on Valkyrienet when I logged in so I’m not sure how much of a community there is for open online play. This is the type of game that will keep you busy enough with just the single player game and it does take some dedicated time to play through a whole scenario against someone online.Europa Universalis II is a quality and finely tuned game that should satisfy the most avid strategy gamers. The excellent tutorial and manual help to make the experience more palatable for those new to the series. It still might not be everybody’s cup of tea since the strategy elements are deep but there’s no denying that Paradox’s has delivered a strike with Europa Universalis II.