HOI4 Guide: Ethiopia Made Easy

Despite its tough start, you can easily turn Ethiopia into an African powerhouse in Hearts of Iron IV. Ethiopia is technologically backward, at war with a great power, and suffering from huge penalties. However, this HOI4 guide can help you set for a great Ethiopia run. Welcome to Ethiopia made easy!

HOI4 Guide Ethiopia Made EasyEthiopia is regularly the first nation to go in any Hearts of Iron IV play-through. And that’s not particularly strange. It’s the only country to start at war, and unfortunately, it’s with a far superior enemy. Italy is an adversary who is miles ahead of you in technology. While it dominates the sky, you are scrambling to organize the little chances you have left. However, Ethiopia has a chance. By perfectly using its phenomenal defensive terrain and manipulating the Italians into stepping away from their limited supply lines, Ethiopia doesn’t just survive, but prosper.

Before I get into that, Ethiopia has a unique focus tree that’s locked behind the DLC By Blood Alone. The guide assumes you have this DLC, and that you play in the most recent patch of the game. It also assumes players know the basics of the game, like assigning units or setting battle orders. Furthermore, the guide uses historical AI and follows the path of The Emperor Stays. This HOI4 guide for Ethiopia starts with how to set up, followed by surviving the war against Italy. It then lays out what you can do after surviving the initial onslaught, as well as some achievements you can get by playing this nation. Let’s get going, and show those invaders what we’re made of!

Hearts of Iron IV: By Blood Alone - Release trailer

Also, check out our review of By Blood Alone!

A Good Beginning…

Let me be the very first to welcome you to Ethiopia! As you can see, there’s a lot to be done. So let’s do this systematically. Starting with research, you’ll want to first research Support Weapons I and Weapons I. Your immediate priority is survival, and that’s pretty difficult to do without modern firearms. You sadly don’t have the luxury to build up an industry first.

Speaking of industry, Ethiopia starts with a single civilian factory. Building anything will take years you may not have left, so instead use it to trade precious steel. I prefer to trade with Turkey, since Ethiopia has a high trade influence with it, and it tends to remain neutral.

Quick buffs like this are crucial to holding the Italians early on!

Quick buffs like this are crucial to holding the Italians early on!

For the national focus, your immediate priority is surviving the Italian attack. The Italians start with offensives, so you will need to withstand those. The Second Italo-Ethiopian War grants you temporary organization regains, as well as a 5% defense boost against major countries (like Italy). This buys you some time to get your affairs in order.

Moving on to the most important part: the army. Get all your Chitet Sefari units and place a fallback line in the hills just east of Gaba. Assign Nasibu Zeamanuel, the Hill Fighter. With his 10% defense boost in the hills, you will be able to hold the Italian line here. You can choose to fight in the desert under a desert commander, but hills provide way better defensive terrain. What’s more, by holding east of Gaba, the Italians are stuck in the desert, while you have the hills. Win-win!

Grab the other units and draw a fallback line in Gondar and the tile directly to the east. This is where we will hold the Italians! Grab two units from this pool and put them on a fallback line in Dessie. These will deal with the problem of Aussa. Assign Ayalew Birru, the Mountaineer, as the commanding general. He can make the best use of the mountainous terrain here. You can already manually move some units back from the frontline. That’s our setup complete! Now unpause, and make sure your units stand ready for a major task.

The most important battles will be fought in the north.

The most important battles will be fought in the north.

The Art of Falling Back: The Initial War and How to Deal with Aussa

After you’ve unpaused the game, the Italians will immediately happily follow you into the mountains. However, they should not be able to break through your fallback lines. If they do manage, don’t be afraid to relocate some units or to use the Desperate Defense command until reinforcements can arrive. The southern front will stabilize first. Set a front line, and just let the Italians smash into it. Here we won’t do anything. Do make sure to consistently check on it. They like to bypass your defenses from the south since they can attack from a suppliable plains province. If you move some units in, there won’t be a problem.

Back to the north. You should be able to hold in Gondar and the province to its east since the Italians have left their supply lines and are now in difficult mountain terrain. As with the southern front, cycle in units and use Desperate Defense units when it seems like the Italians manage to push through. Don’t forget that when you have 10 political power, you can decide to recall Balcho Safo from retirement. Do this! While we’re not using the general, he does come with a free Chitet Sefari unit. And we need all the units we can get at this point.

Deploy about 10 Chitet Sefari units here to stabilize this front.

Deploy about 10 Chitet Sefari units here to stabilize this front.

The more observant readers will have noticed that I’ve mentioned a problem: Aussa. This Sultanate, trapped between Italy and Ethiopia, serves as a stepping stone for the Italian armies. After Italy has captured the entire state of Tigray, they will send an ultimatum to the Sultanate. When you play in the historical game mode, Aussa will always say yes. Fortunately, we’ve prepared for this. You have two units at your disposal in Dessie. Right after they submit, move one unit into the city of Aussa, and one into the tile just north of it. You don’t have to capture that tile, but you have to capture the mountain tile. It makes for great defense, while Italy is stuck fighting in a desert (again). So you can use the unit not heading into the city to stall any Italian who tries to reach it before you can.

After you’ve captured Aussa, assign the two units to your northern front. Set a front line, and give them an attack order for all of the north. This will give the general some very useful experience. Furthermore, take the Support Local Road Development decision for 25 political power to add some much-needed infrastructure to every state. Your front-line situation should now look like this.

That's a stable front right there!

That’s a stable front right there!

And we won’t yield another inch!

From a War of Defense to a War of Attrition

After you take Aussa, you may get a popup that your steel trade has terminated because you lack civilian factories. That sucks, but you can work around it. Once you have 150 political power, hire the Minister of Finance, Yilma Deressa. He frees up some civilian factories, letting you trade again. Moreover, he gives +10% factory output, so that’s great for some more infantry equipment. The military factory you gained from conquering Aussa is great for some more weapons, too. Additionally, if you need more factories, you can decide to switch to War Economy. 

Around this time, your first focus expires. The next focus you should do is Rally Around the Emperor. This gives you some political power, but it also makes Haile Selassie a field marshal. He has some good traits, especially once you assign him the Defensive Doctrine. Put both generals under him, but don’t change their orders.

He's not only a pretty good leader, he makes for a great field marshal!

He’s not only a pretty good leader, he makes for a great field marshal!

Now onto holding out. Your fronts are stable, but the Italians won’t stop trying to break them. Fortunately, they’re on a timer. When you go to your decisions, you’ll find that the longer the war continues, the weaker they get – and the stronger you get. The crucial escalation level here is level eight. It leaves the Italian army in tatters. With mass desertions that join you, they’re no longer any fighting force. By that time, you can go on the offensive and win. But, we’re not there yet. Your national focuses are key to getting there. After doing the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, Rally Around the Emperor, and then do (in succession):

  • The Emperor Stays
  • The Abuna
  • The Lion Stands Firm
  • Learning From the Enemy
  • Volunteers

Whenever your front gets unstable, cycle units to the front line to restabilize them. Use last-stand commands were necessary, and keep a close eye that your units don’t leave any gaps in the front line. The game may mess with you. Your generals can get sick or wounded, meaning that they can’t exercise commands. That can give the Italians an opening. Then, you may have to restart.

Holding out becomes easier and easier. But a single slip up can be fatal.

Holding out becomes easier and easier. But a single slip up can be fatal.

There are a few more elements that can help you tip the scales in your favor. With political power and command power, you can hire a Chief of Army and compose a Military High Command. Your priority should be to hire Kassa Haile Darge as Chief of the Army. He provides +5 division defense, which can be crucial. Don’t hire him as a political advisor, or he won’t be available. Some other good choices for your military staff include:

  • Imru Haile Selassie, who provides +10% Infantry Division attack and +5% defense.
  • Wehib Pasha, who provides +8% entrenchment speed.
  • Seyoum Mengesha, who provides a +4% Division Recovery Rate.

As for political advisors, the following are great picks to help you in the war:

  • Yilma Deressa, who provides additional civilian factories, increases factory output and lowers any lack of resources penalty.
  • Getachew Abate, who is especially useful for his major decrease in the lack of resources penalty, and enhances your supply range.
  • Empress Menen Asfaw, who reduces out-of-supply penalties for non-combatting units and reduces the effectiveness of enemy air power.

Your generals can, and will, level up. Here are some of the best traits you can give them.

  • Ambusher, which provides additional entrenchment.
  • Guerilla Fighter, which gives +50% entrenchment speed.
  • For the Officer Corps, you can give them Infantry Leader, which makes any infantry significantly stronger. Of course, you have to hire them first.
Now that's what I call a general!

Now that’s what I call a general!

Your field marshal, Haile Selassie himself, benefits well from the following traits:

  • Defensive Doctrine is critical in the early game. Definitely take it.
  • Charismatic is very useful, since it lets your units have a higher organization, so they can more easily repel assaults.
  • Logistics Wizard is a phenomenal trait in a low-supply War of Attrition. Definitely take it when you have the chance.

And then, there’s army experience. You can buy army spirits with this. The best ones to get are Quick Improvisation and Victory or Death. For your army doctrine, follow Mass Assault

Winning the War of Attrition

As you keep cycling units, upgrading your generals, and taking the right focuses, decisions and bonuses, it will become easier and easier to repel the Italians. They may get close to breaking your lines every so often but keep moving units around, use the desperate defense command regularly, and you’ll be fine. Occasionally, you may even get popups from local lords offering units. Accept these. Especially early in this war, you should take every unit you can get.

Once you reach the focus “Volunteers”, start making some units. Regular Mehal Sefari Infantry will do. You’ll get a bunch of manpower and a lot of guns, with which you can make some extra units that will make managing your fronts so much easier.

After you’ve done this focus, take the focus Ecole Militaire Haile Selassie 1er. This lets you set a focus on attack, defense, or mobility. At this point, we can slowly start dreaming of an East Africa free from Italians. Pick the focus on attack, and take the focus “Scavenging Tactics” after that.

Wait until the Second Italo-Ethiopian War Escalation has reached level 7. Do some research or industry focuses in the meantime, while you keep holding. Do not do Keep the Chitet! You can also hire the military theorist to start getting the perks from the Mass Assault doctrine. Once it reached level 7, wait until it takes 70 days for it to hit level 8. Then, take the focus Renewed Offensive. This costs you some defense, so be prepared. After that, take the focus Northern Thrust. If you don’t yet have an attack order to take back Eritrea, now is the time to set it.

Right now, it’s likely somewhere around May 1938. You’ve done the two aforementioned focuses which gave you massive attack and breakthrough bonuses. And that’s not to mention that the enemy is deserting! Your goal is the port of Massaua. Attack where the Italians just finished attacking, and don’t be afraid to use a Force Attack command here and there. The Italians may offer peace, but it’s far too late for that. Time to finish this!

After you’ve done the Northern Thrust, Mercenaries is a great focus to get some quick units for your next push: the Victory in the Desert, towards Somalia. Your goals are again the ports: Mogadishu and Kismaayo. Wait until your first offensive is finished to not overextend your resources. One victory at a time! Remember to leave some units stationed to prevent a naval invasion. The Italian AI loves doing them, and it can catch you off guard.

After you move all your troops in position, take the focus Lessons of War and take the remaining Italian holdings. They should be no match for the tidal wave you’re unleashing upon them. After you’ve pushed them out, which should be towards the end of 1938, you can take the focus Fait Accompli. The Italians have been thoroughly humiliated, and you get to keep your conquests. Congratulations!

After You’ve Survived: Next Steps

After you’ve survived, there are plenty of options for Ethiopia. For starters, the best focus to immediately take is Recover from the War. This focus lets you repair the damage caused by the Italian armies, including in the states you’ve conquered. Since this will likely be the most immediate damage you’ll face in the entire game, this is a good focus to start. Furthermore, it gives you some construction speed.

Industrialization is key to getting the most out of Ethiopia. You start with almost nothing, but Ethiopia has plenty of options. It’s also crucial to build a spy agency and eventually go to war again if you so choose. Do the focus Develop Shewa if you haven’t yet, and go down the rightmost path to invest in the north, west, and south of the country. This gives an enormous amount of civilian factories, as long as you’ve invested in every state. To industrialize faster, head for a political equilibrium between the Mesafint and the Mekwanint, to get the best of both worlds – or rather, avoid the worst of both worlds. Furthermore, the focus Develop the Horn of Africa lets you unite the entirety of East Africa, as long as you control two more areas – French and British Somaliland.

Neutrality avoids some nasty debuffs!

Neutrality avoids some nasty debuffs!

Before we think of more conquests, an army is always useful. You can expand and modernize your army by choosing the focus Expand the Mehal Sefari. This is why you didn’t pick the focus Expand the Chitet earlier, as the two focuses are mutually exclusive. Expanding the Chitet permanently locks you in traditional warfare, giving you barely any chance to build an army that can rival western powers. For the late game, you’ll want the Mehal Sefari. 

So let’s talk territorial expansion. The immediate targets are French and British Somalilands. Taking these states lets you form the Horn of Africa, which cores all the states you’ve conquered – and a few more. For French Somaliland, war isn’t necessary. Simply take the focus Unite the Afar. France will likely sell it to you, but to increase your odds, improve your relations with them and hire a spy to put diplomatic pressure on Paris. For British Somaliland, you can fortunately also avoid war with the United Kingdom. By taking the focus Support Anti-Colonial Resistance, you can stir revolts from African countries against the allies. Simply get them to revolt, justify a casus belli before the British can take it back, and done. Alternatively, after taking the focus Towards African Unity, you can pressure the colonial nations to recognize the revolting African nation, and make peace. After that, you can conquer it at your own pace! They may say no, so it’s best to justify in any case. 

Of course, there are some more things you can do. Jah focuses on the Rastafari movement and gives you claims on loads of places in the Caribbean. If you want to do this, you’re going to need a decent navy. With the focus Purchase Obsolete Ships, you can buy aged ships from Great Powers, which is still better than no ships at all. Both this focus and The One True Heir of Salomon might make you want to pick the Axis. It lets you pick a fight with the British to conquer towards Palestine, and create the Empire of Salomon. Finally, Pan-Africanism also focuses more on war. It gives you liberation casus bellis on the colonial powers and gets them into one big, happy, African Union.

Some Alternative Paths

Like all nations in HOI4, Ethiopia has alternative destinies to explore. This guide follows the Emperor Stays, but you can also choose the focus Boarding the Train. This lets you wage war from abroad, and is generally a little easier. You can also form a deal with the Italians to make peace with them and become their puppet. From there on, you can continue to collaborate and integrate with the Italians, or you can undermine their domination from inside the Axis.

The communist path is probably the most insane one. You can form the African Union and even integrate some of its most powerful members, Simply uniting Africa. You will have to fight Italy, but you get some enormous bonuses while you’re doing so.

Achievements You Can Get

Ethiopia can get a few nation-specific achievements.

  • The Lion that Roared: Don’t join a faction and force the Italians to make peace. You can get this achievement by following this guide.
  • The Lion King: Have Haile Selassie declare himself King of Kings, and conquer all of Kenya and Tanzania. You can get this achievement by following this guide.
  • This Time for Africa: Found the African Union and have it encompass 13 countries with their capitals in Africa. You can get this achievement with this guide.
  • Crusader Kings IV: Take Jerusalem as Ethiopia and move the capital there. You can (theoretically) get this achievement with this guide.
  • The Red Sea: Go communist and take all the states that border the Red Sea. You can’t get this achievement with this guide, since you have to take the “Military Communism” path.

I hope you enjoyed this Ethiopia guide for HOI4, and that it helped you to play this cool nation. Where did you take Ethiopia in your game? Let me know in the comments!