One of the key characteristics of the 19th century, and of its last 30 years in particular, is the colonial race that took place around the globe. Early on, we felt that the game should offer very specific mechanics and environment for such a crucial aspect of the era.
For the colonial game, we decided to focus on two key concepts: colonial penetration and spheres of influence. As we worked on the world map, we carved out quite a few areas that we shall call, for the sake of simplifying explanation, "colonies." These areas are present almost everywhere on the world, save for those regions where civilized, stable nations are present. Each active major nation has a Sphere of Influence (SOI) for each colony, as well as a Colonial Penetration rating.
The main reason for the presence of SOI is for helping players (and the AI) to 'invest' in colonies of interest. Colonies are rated between -5 and +5 in terms of SOI, and this is the amount of prestige that the nation will gain (or lose) each turn while holding control of the colony. In game terms, this will lead to a scramble in order to get the juiciest colonies before someone else grabs them. Of course, the various colonies' SOI are not equivalent between nations; for instance, Britain will have a high SOI in Canada while most others will have negative ones. In Africa, the Congo will probably end up with high-level SOI for most nations. This is an arbitrary representation of the interest a given region had for the various nations. Nations that did not go after colonies will have negative SOI almost everywhere; thus, they can partake in the colonial game if they wish, but this would just end up costing them prestige and their efforts would probably be best used elsewhere…but it’s still possible to get colonies if you just want one. Also, for people who would prefer a more open game, there is always the possibility to check the 'No SOI penalty' option. This is our way to please both types of players.
The nice thing about SOI is that it can be traded, reduced, or modified by events and diplomacy (regular or crisis), so it’s never set in stone as it takes into account the game’s dynamics. For instance, strong economic activity in a given area may well lead to a change in your colonies' SOI values in the same region.
The second concept is Colonial Penetration (CP), measured by a rating between 0 and 100. This is the basic element by which your colonial situation or status is judged in a given 'colony' area. Pride of Nations offers a lot of options that can be undertaken in the colonial mode. Each action will grant the player's nation some CP points. Of course, the CP increase does not come for free: you’ll need to pay for it in money and assets - sometimes even in prestige or blood!
Among the more than 30 actions available will be the options to form exploration parties to discover the land and military parties to 'negotiate' with local chiefs, exploit economic resources (and even native artifacts or treasures), establish military outposts, as well as engage in gunboat diplomacy, missionary or sanitary activity, infrastructure or trade development, construct coaling stations, etc. Some decisions may lead the natives to revolt, while others will reduce an opponent's CP in the same colony. In addition, actions will have a cap in terms of numbers or CP gained (on the spot or over long-term periods), so a carefully balanced plan of action is a must.
The trick of the game is to always keep ahead in CP in colonies of interest, as well as to try and reach critical levels before other countries. When your CP reaches or exceeds 50, you can go after claiming protectorate (or higher status) on the colony.
A crucial activity will be to keep track of your competitors’ actions in critical territories, especially those with high SOI values (or growing potential, such as future British Dominions). The game will give you alerts to warn about regions with potential risks. You may even play tricks on rivals, such as sending brutal military expeditions to colonies with high CP of your opponents with the hope that they will cause local revolts and destroy the assets of ALL colonial powers present, hopefully crippling your 'enemies' more than yourself. This is a game that all nations can play, and it is what R. Kipling called 'The Great Game,' as with the jockeying between Russia and Britain in Central Asia.
Higher Colonial Status is quite valuable. For example, protectorate status grants you a good level of control on a colony and prevents others from investing beyond limited levels, with new specific buildings and actions. At the higher levels (Formal Colony, Dominion, Statehood), you gain more benefits and may even 'expel' competitors – reducing or eliminating their CP - as well as obtain exclusivity, especially on the local resources and markets, which is a very clear bonus for your power. But depending on how much CP your action 'costs' to the other nations present, or if their SOI is greater than yours, this can lead to Casus Belli, or sometimes an unexpected colonial crisis which may lead to war if the quarrel degenerates.
We also planned for colonial status to be an item that may make a valid diplomatic agenda, so nothing can be considered as permanent, with protectorates able to be removed and colonies traded or freed.
In addition, if the colonial action is combined with the growth of your ethnical population in the colony, then you are allowed to reach more interesting levels of colonial status, such as Dominion or Statehood. Once this happens, the colony may become almost like your national territory.
And this is how we can also make an interesting colonial game in the U.S. 'Far West' or Russian Siberia, or change the status of overseas possessions of Britain that will ultimately create the key Dominions of the Commonwealth. Therefore, every nation, even if not 'colonial' stricto censu, can play that part of the game.