I’m a Filipino, born and raised in the Pearl of the Orient — the Philippines. Known for its beautiful beaches, tasty food, hardworking people, cheerful smiles, as well as devastating typhoons, crippling poverty, unending corruption, and much more — that’s the Philippines for you. I’m also the titular History Nerd of this new series we have. This first edition features Europa Universalis, one of Paradox Interactive’s flagship franchises in the realm of grand strategy.
I grew up as a fan of “the past” and by that, I mean reading anything that’s not about present-day news and events. My first fond memory as a two-year-old child was memorizing the A-Z of dinosaurs, and dinosaurs are, well, part of the past. From there, I delved more into other notable events and personalities in our history, our shared past. Video games, especially ones based on history, have enriched my life in more ways than I can think of. With that said, let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
Philippine History: Magellan’s Circumnavigation of the Globe
“One plus one, Magellan; two plus two, Lapu-Lapu.” That was a common rhyme we had as kids. It was followed by “three plus three, Christmas Tree; four plus four, bagong bapor” — a new ship. It gets weirder after that. I want to focus on “1+1” and “2+2,” however, as those two personalities have been intertwined in Philippine history for as long as we can remember. Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who sailed for Spain and Lapu-Lapu, the brave chieftain who defeated an invader.
The former was long-maligned as the man who begat the woes of the Philippines as a Spanish colony. He brought the conquistadores to our shores and kickstarted 300 years of brutal occupation. The latter was a celebrated as the nation’s first “bayani” — a hero. The ideal native tribesman who fought against a technologically-superior warmonger. That’s what our history books have always said. Lapu- Lapu’s image adorns our coins. Magellan, meanwhile, was a failed invader, the enemy — the end. He was a mere footnote. Sure, his expedition circumnavigated the globe, but he died on the shores of Mactan to a local chieftain in 1521. The dude did not even make it back to Spain! What a loser!
“1+1 and 2+2” don’t usually add up to their corresponding numbers, much like how perceptions don’t always match up to historical events. I found that out much later, when I discovered Europa Universalis.
How Europa Universalis helped my understanding of history
I was first introduced to the Europa Universalis franchise with the second game in the series. I was in my late teens at the time, busy with college stuff. My cousin owned the game and I gave it a try only to find that it didn’t mesh well with my current tastes at the time. It wasn’t until a few years later, fresh out of college when Europa Universalis III released and became one of the games I played to relax and unwind.
If you haven’t played any of the titles in the franchise, then let me tell you that it’s one of the most ambitious and complicated strategy games around. Developed by Paradox Interactive, Europa Universalis lets you choose from various nations that existed at any given point in a historical period. You then build up that nation’s trade and economy, enforce your rule, and lead your kingdom or republic to glory. There are so many choices and decisions to make, a ton of mechanics to master, and near-infinite replayability. That’s why Europa Universalis II wasn’t to my liking when I was a young student competing in Counter-Strike LAN tournaments. That’s also why, as I got older and needed something to relieve stress, the third game became a great way to pass the time.
I remember choosing powerhouse nations and conquering all of Europe. I recall crafting personal unions and alliances to entrap other countries in my sphere of influence. Sometimes I’d pick France to turn it into a Big Blue Blob (BBB); sometimes I would fight against that blob. France’s color was blue and it expanded rapidly in most games, hence turning into a Big Blue Blob. I would make political power plays to control the Shogunate or the Mandate of Heaven as Japan and China respectively. I’d challenge myself by picking Native American confederations or one-province minors (OPM) and try to resist encroaching rivals.
Most of all, I remember trying to re-enact Magellan’s voyage around the world just so I could reach the Philippines and make it all the way back to Europe. Something that chump never did.
Europa Universalis: Voyaging Around the World with “Magellan”
The Admiral I assigned to my fleet wasn’t named Magellan. It was a random guy with a Spanish-sounding name. But what the hell, he was still “Magellan” to me.
As Castille, I eventually formed Spain thanks to my personal union with Aragon, King of Gondor. I amassed wealth and built up an expedition to chart the unknown. I had to make sure that I had the Quest for the New World National Idea active, as well as others to help my exploration and naval capabilities. With my faux-Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, and others. I made sure that I had footholds in Central and South America already. Then, with my faux-Magellan, I was good to go all the way to the Indies to find the Spice Islands, right? Wrong.
Before I even made it to the southern tip of modern-day Argentina, my fleet suffered attrition. I had to return to a nearby port for repairs. Also, I had to make sure that those provinces were under my control and properly colonized to avoid conflict with the natives. After some repairs, I rounded the tip of South America, and passed today’s Strait of Magellan, before my ships broke down again. That meant that I had to go up the coast to Panama or Peru to find a friendly port.
The rest of the journey was harrowing. I was frantically looking at the hull percentages of my caravels to see if any of them wouldn’t make it. The vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean terrified me since I didn’t know if my fleet would ever reach land again. When I finally landed in the Philippines, I met some natives and baptized them as Christians. I claimed a couple of islands in the Visayas region in the name of Spain and God — sort of.
Magellan: The End of One Journey, the Beginning of Another
My Magellan did not encounter a Lapu-Lapu. He survived and did not randomly die in my Europa Universalis III game. After some repairs, I sailed my fleet with the same captain passed the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa, all the way back to the shores of Espania. While that was going on, I was trying to ensure that all my possessions became “core provinces.”
This voyage, in a video game of all things, inspired me to grab books about Magellan’s journeys. In some strange way, my own travels in Europa Universalis III mirrored the explorer’s own. Before Magellan reached South America, the Portuguese were already after him. His ships took heavy damage. Storms took their toll on the crew. Some even mutinied and he had to quell the uprising. He wintered in a Spanish port before traveling the rest of the way. That’s the stuff Hollywood movies are made of!
The idea of people dreading where their steps would take them is further accentuated by the fact that these people were sailing into the unknown. Although some chumps still thought that the world was flat during Magellan’s lifetime, people still didn’t know how vast the oceans were. Folks at the time had no idea what lies beyond endless sea and water. Hell, even Columbus — just a few decades prior — thought he landed in India when he was still in North America!
The trials and tribulations that my virtual fleet faced in Europa Universalis III made me appreciate just how much effort and grit it took for explorers of the past to accomplish their missions. As a history nerd, I have always been appreciative of the technology we have now that allows me to learn. At the same time, I’ve also been regretful that “I wasn’t there” when these moments happened. I was born too late to explore the world and born too early to explore the universe. I’m simply imagining what those explorers might have felt. Learning more about the man was a new journey for me since, for the longest time, I only knew him as “the bad foreigner.”
Learning more about an “Empire” of the Philippines
Europa Universalis didn’t just inspire me to learn about Magellan’s voyage. One of the most fascinating things in the game is the ability to change the “start date” of your grand campaign. As you combed through years and months, you’d see the world take shape before your very eyes. A vast kingdom may have a lot of territory in 1560 or so, only to see it turn into a rump state a few decades later. Meanwhile, another tiny province would suddenly paint the region in its faction’s colors.
I spent some time doing that looking at how the Philippine sphere of influence gradually changed. I already knew that we had a Sulu Sultanate in our Mindanao region centuries ago. Unfortunately, during my studies, I never learned how far-reaching the Sulu Sultanate was. And yet, with Europa Universalis, I saw the Sulu Sultanate take form. First, it was the island of Sulu and then Zamboanga and western Mindanao. Next, the entirety of Mindanao was in earl grey colors. Then, parts of Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia were under its banner.
A so-called “empire” in the Philippines formed and dissolved before my very eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel saddened. Today, Sulu is known as one of the more dangerous areas in the Philippines. Yes, it does have beautiful beaches, but around the corner are pirates, slave traders, and Abu Sayyaf terrorists. The last time it made major headlines was when its “datu” (chieftain) and self-proclaimed monarch of the Sulu Sultanate tried to invade the Malaysian territory of Sabah. With chieftains and invasions, you might think this happened during medieval times, but the failed attempt was in 2013. Well, he does have a point. The Sulu Sultanate did have Sabah as a core province, and so he might have a valid casus belli. Perhaps the late sultan just didn’t plan his strategy properly and thus incurred some “bad boy” as a result.
The History Nerd: The Final Word
I owe a lot to the Europa Universalis franchise. It helped me learn more about my country’s history. I ended up both loving and hating it — less so because of events and more because of how they were taught when I was younger. Maybe I could have learned more in my History and “Araling Panlipunan” (Social Studies) classes. Maybe there would’ve been opportunities to add more details, more nuance. Not everything has to be black and white, or a footnote.
In a way, in this particular scenario, I learned more about the Philippines from a video game than I did from school.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down various memory lanes — my own, my country’s, and, well, Ferdinand Magellan’s. With that, yours truly, the History Nerd bids you farewell. Until next time — look towards the future, live for the present, but love what is past.