Getting started with Paradox Interactive games can be very tricky. The tutorials often teach you little, and there are hundreds of hidden and not-so-hidden modifiers you must be aware of. In this Victoria 3 Beginner’s Guide, I’ll share the basics of country management in this 19th-century grand strategy simulator. You can apply these basics in more specific settings depending on the nations you play and turn them into successes!
Victoria 3 is available on Steam for $50 USD.
Victoria 3: What Is It?
Victoria 3 is a Grand Strategy game that plays during the 19th century. That means it is foremostly a time of industrialization and modernization. Nations everywhere modernize from rural societies into more productive and wealthier industrial ones. Although the specific goals of your country are always up to you, the goal is generally to make your nation wealthier, more prestigious, and more powerful. The game is all about economics.
The main indicator to measure how big your economy is, and thus measure your power is by looking at your GDP, or Gross Domestic Product. This reflects the total sum of goods produced in your country. The more goods your country produces, the bigger its GDP gets, and thus the more wealthy and powerful it gets. Making your economy bigger is one of the main priorities of the game, and one way to do so is through Industrialization.
Welcome to the Industrial Era! If you’ve ever played other grand strategy-building games like Sid Meier’s Civilization VI or even Victoria II, you’ll know that this era tends to be one of snowballing. The more factories you build, the more you produce, the wealthier and bigger your population gets, the more your economy grows, the more factories you can build, and so on.
It makes sense that a nation with advanced paper milling facilities can produce infinitely more paper than one that relies on slow pulp pressing. To build a factory, click the Buildings tab (F3) or use the Production lens (Alt+1). Here you can see which kinds of factories you can build where. It also shows the estimated profit the building will achieve for you. There are a few elements that factor into this:
- Availability of raw materials. If you’re building a paper mill, but you lack wood production (or it’s particularly expensive), your factory won’t be as profitable as it possibly could be.
- Availability of labor. Are there enough people in the state to build it? Do they understand how the machines work? Otherwise, you may have to build some universities.
- Infrastructure. Does the state support the size of the factory?
You’ll have noticed that, of course, a state cannot survive on factories alone. There needs to be something that goes into the factory to have something come out of it! For that reason, you’ll also want to invest in agriculture and resource extraction. Agricultural products like Grain and Sugar, as well as resource products like Wood and Iron, are vital for industrialization. Iron, for instance, is used for Food Industries, Tooling Workshops, Steel Mills, Chemical Plants, and even General Construction. Safe to say, you’re going to need a lot of it.
So access to resources matters! But you can’t always get every resource. Not everything grows everywhere, or sometimes you just can’t produce enough to meet demand. If you cannot get (enough of) a resource that your country needs, the price of that resource will go up – as the laws of supply and demand dictate. That’s where markets and trade come in.
In the Markets tab (F4) you can see exactly see where a product is being produced, where it is being used, and how much its price is. It also shows you if you have a surplus or a deficit of a particular good. If there’s a surplus, the good is cheaper, while with a deficit it becomes more expensive. If a good is in heavy demand, you should consider importing it. The highlights tab shows exactly which goods are in demand, and where you can import them from.
The game even tells you the expected profit by doing so, how much you will import, and how many convoys it will cost you. Take some time to look at this screen! Knowing how your market works are the most important aspect of this game. The key to the modern and industrial society is a healthy market. Trade routes do cost bureaucracy to maintain, so be selective in who you trade with!
Since markets are all about goods, you must be able to move those goods to where they need to be. There are a couple of buildings that you can build to increase your infrastructure capacity.
- Ports are crucial early-game means. They provide infrastructure, which you need to build more buildings efficiently, and convoys, which you need to import goods.
- Railways are unlocked later. Although they are initially pretty expensive, they give you considerable transportation, which is a unique good that increases production, among numerous other benefits. It is also the default option to increase infrastructure in landlocked provinces or states.
Trade is one of the means to get a resource into your market that you can’t produce. Alternatively, you can use your armies to go conquer foreign markets and use them for your benefit. In the Military tab (F5) you can find how strong your army is.
The army consists of regulars (a standing army), conscripts (levies), and the navy. To expand your army, you have to build either barracks or naval bases. You can find both in the Military lens (Alt+4). Be aware that these always cost money, so make sure you have the economic base to afford them!
Warfare in Victoria 3 is a bit different from other Paradox titles, although it is most similar to Crusader Kings III. You have to mobilize generals and assign them to the theaters of the war. I’ll show the example of the United States, which fights a war with Mexico early on to obtain the modern American South-West.
The United States has four Headquarter regions to draw generals from. New England, Dixie, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. In the Military tab, click on “Assign General,” and choose their headquarter region. Levies that you mobilize in a region join generals from that region. If you raise the levies in New York, they will only join a general that you have assigned to the New England HQ (which includes the State of New York). You can increase the size of levies by activating conscription centers.
Initially, generals can only maintain some 20 regular units and 40 conscript levies. By upgrading to a higher ranking, they can command even more. Once you have the general in command of an army, they have three options. They can stand by – in which case they do nothing – advance a front, or defend a front. There is some nuance to how exactly you should approach this that goes beyond this guide. Lastly, make sure to designate a Strategic Objective, so your generals know where to head. This can be a state you want to conquer or the capital of the nation you’re attacking to enforce a quick capitulation. You can do so by going to the Military lens, selecting the Military tab, and choosing the designate strategic objective option.
Navies are fortunately simpler. There are no conscript levies there, so that’s a breather. Getting your navies out works much the same as assigning generals. Get a commander on a Naval Headquarters, promote them so they can command more ships if need be, and give them an order.
Fighting wars is fine and all, but how do you even declare one? In the Diplomatic Lens (Alt+3) there are both Diplomatic Plays and Diplomatic Actions. Actions are generally more routine, like improving or deteriorating relations, while plays are more aggressive. These involve conquering states, forcing nations to become puppets or dominions, or ceding a treaty port to you. If you choose one of these actions, it will start a diplomatic play.
A diplomatic play is a small time window for you and the country you’re targeting to mobilize, court allies, and lay out the demand. If you’re dominant and intimidating enough, the nation may decide not to fight and surrender immediately – but that doesn’t always happen. So be ready if a fight breaks out!
Politics and Laws
Construction, Markets, Warfare, and Diplomacy are the key to Victoria 3. There are a few more aspects that are worth looking into, which are politics and laws, finance, and standard of living.
Since you control a country, you’ll have to contend with politics. Every country is comprised of a series of interest groups, who all want different directions for the nation. Some like to industrialize and democratize, while others prefer a more conservative, elitist standard of living. By passing laws, you can get the right framework to make your country more powerful, wealthier, and happier. You can see exactly which interest group supports which law by going into the Politics tab (F1).
Some laws are incredibly hurtful to your industrialization and modernization efforts. Laws like serfdom restrict your access to labor, while traditionalist economics limit your industrialization potential. Still, in some nations, factions that want these laws preserved are dominant. You can use Authority to bolster or suppress factions if the situation is particularly troublesome.
Laws are also important to keep your population happy and prosperous. Access to education can make your people more skilled and more productive, while healthcare lowers the mortality rate (which is always good). When you enact these laws, they spawn institutions. Institutions give you major bonuses, for example in education, and healthcare, but also in unrest. These cost bureaucracy to maintain.
This is an easy one. Money is possibly the most important modifier in this game. With more money, you can build more factories, farms, mines, and railroads, maintain a bigger army, and so on. To have a healthy economy, you are going to have to need some degree of taxation.
In the Budget tab (F2) you can see exactly where your money comes from – and where it goes. If you run out of money, you can try higher taxation, but your people will be upset about that. Consumption taxes, for example on Grain or Services, will be a major revenue source, but they will also make that good more expensive.
Standard of Living and Radicals
Lastly, the Standard of Living reflects how well-off people in your country are. In the Population tab (F9) you can see exactly how much money different groups of people earn, how much they spend on their needs, and how much they have left. As a general rule, if the population experiences an excess, their standard of living increases, and if they experience a deficit, it will decrease.
There are a few things you can do to increase your standard of living.
- Make goods cheaper. If a group is spending a lot on a particular good, try to produce more of it or import it to lower its market price.
- Lower taxation. If people have to spend less on taxation, they can spend more on themselves.
- Increase their income. Build profitable factories or set higher wages through laws, for instance.
If your population lives comfortably, they are more likely to be loyal. Alternatively, if they experience a decrease in the standard of living, they will become radical. The more radicalized your population is, the more likely they will cause turmoil, and eventually turn to revolution. This can be extremely harmful to your nation, so especially if you’re just starting, it’s best to avoid it.
Best Starter Nations
With these tips, you’re ready to face some common obstacles or questions you may experience in your run! Here are some great countries to start familiarizing yourself with the game.
- Chile is a nicely secluded experience. There are few natural enemies and it has plenty of access to natural resources, making it perfect to learn resource management.
- Brazil is perfect if you want to engage with the rest of the world a bit more while still enjoying the safety of South America. It has a lot of potentials to grow, and some fairly simple early wars to get a hang of how the army works.
- Sweden is just right to start in Europe and build a wealthy nation without the need to fight off foreign predators.
- Prussia is a great experience if you’re ready for the next level. With an extensive diplomatic and military game and a strong economy from the start, there’s plenty to do and learn.
- The United States reigns supreme in building a powerful economy. There is endless land for you to play and build your economy on, and a hemisphere for you to dominate.
I hope this guide has been useful to you! There is a lot to unpack in Victoria 3, so if you like this beginner’s guide, found it insightful, or continue to have questions, please leave a comment!