National Focuses and their Future in Hoi5 and other Paradox Games

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I think this critique gets at the same problem of abstraction as above, but also another one of diversity. National focuses do abstract out various complex problems. The cause of and solutions to the Great Depression remain hotly debated to this day, but in HOI4 you simply take three focuses and it's resolved. These focuses are an abstraction of the complex political economy of 1930s America. It wouldn't necessarily be more fun or interesting for HOI4 players to have to end the Great Depression by grappling with a Keynesian counter-cyclical spending mechanic. Complex mechanics are not necessarily better than abstracted mechanics.

Nor are complex mechanics necessarily better for diversity. It's true that the "obsolete army" modifier could be modeled with mechanics that aren't specific to any one nation. Norway's obsolete army could use the same mechanic as, say, Greece and China. But that runs the risk of every nation playing exactly the same. To overcome Norway's obsolete army, you build some factories, research better tech, exercise your divisions and design new templates. To overcome Greece' obsolete army, you build some factories, research better tech, exercise your divisions and design new templates. To overcome China's obsolete army, you build some factories, research better tech, exercise your divisions and design new templates. There's no reason to play different nations because there is no diversity of experience.

You could combat this sameness by deepening the mechanics such that every nation's unique situation is modeled. There should be a deeper political mechanic to reflect its roles in Norway's obsolete army. There should be a deeper industry mechanic to reflect industry's role in Greece' obsolete army. There should be literacy and corruptions mechanics to reflect their role in China's obsolete army. But once those are in-place as base mechanics, rather than 'easy solutions' done through modifiers, you'll need to fill them out for every existing nation in the game. The UK now needs a new political, industry, literacy and corruption mechanic. The USA also needs a new political, industry, literacy and corruption mechanic. The USSR will need these as well, and so on.

You could do all that. Or, you could just abstract the problem and craft a unique experience for that nation that's done in large part through its decisions and focus tree.
I understand the wish for diversity, and I dont think any of the criticisms of the national focus/spirit approach should be read as opposition to that. It also seems we might be talking a bit past each other, as improving upon existing mechanisms and not including less logical new ones is not an argument in favor of increasing complexity. If anything, I would argue that it is and argument for keeping the game intuitive and interactive, while only adding where it makes sense and improves the experience.

I do however believe that "different for differences sake" is a bad approach, and when there are already better mechanisms in place in the game to model what one intends to model, adding a "the military is bad" spirit with a number of focuses to remove said spirit just seems like the wrong approach. For one I think it degrades the experience as it simply is a less interactive and player involving approach, but it also increases complexity by adding another (less logical) mechanism without really adding much to the experience.

Also, if you want diversity and difference between the countries, there are so many interesting ways of achieving just that, both with and without the spirits and focuses, but adding more or less nonsensical spirits and focuses that duplicates existing game mechanics seems like the least interesting and fun ones. If there is a degree of "sameness" between a number of countries, the better approach would seem to be improving on the mechanics that all these countries benefit from, while adding spirits and focuses that plays upon the uniqueness of each country rather than creating less good solutions to what they have in common. The latter also seems like a symptom of lacking creativity or interest in the subject matter, and an easy way of filling a focus tree, and perhaps also a lack of confidence and/or familiarity with the core game mechanics.

Last, I think a good principle could be that spirits and focuses should have a larger impact early in the "value chain" than late. For instance, simulating a policy of disarmament with spirits that makes weapon production more expensive and manpower less available seems like a much better approach than adding a "the military is bad"-modifier to model lack of equipment and manpower. It makes more sense logically, and I would argue it removes some of the "uninspieringness" of having a modifier tell you that the military is bad regardless of its actual state. It would also reduce the awkwardness of having "winter warfare" nations (such as Norway) being less effective at fighting in their homeland than "dessert/jungle"-nations. Please note that none of this nescesarily is an argument for increased complexity. Not duplicating mechanisms would in my oppinion decrease complexity, or at least make the game more intuitive.
I don´t think about Hoi 5 about the Fact, that it will take about 10 to 12 Years from the first Planing-Stadium to the final Ground-Game.

Hoi 4 have big potential left. The Focus Trees are an must have, otherwise it will be 08/15. I only know from Paradox Stellaris as an similar Game, which an Promotion-Tree that you choose make the Game interessting. Esp. for the Mods (like the big one Star Trek: New Horizons).

Similar it´s in Hoi 4 with the Focus Trees, that makes the different Countrys different playable. And you have the Options not only play historical but also play Communist, Democratic, Facist and in some Cases (good thanks not all) Monarchist. The last 4 are what If-Scennarios and give for the Players and Historians the Chance to play such differnt Scenarios with differnt Outcomes.

Interessting for Hoi 5 it will be with the Focus Trees when 7 new important Points come in:

1. an very long Playtime (Pre WW1, 1st WW, Pre-WW 2, 2nd WW and Cold War) [to give more the Game more Fire]

2. an difference in the Countrys like Hoi 4 is doing (like it´s now) [Focus-Trees and Decissions]

3. an historical limitation of War-Material (like Tanks, Planes, Ships) [which makes Hoi 4 with that Mods very interessting and the AI makes the correct Upgrades / Refits]

4. the improvements Hoi 4 get in with an seperate Agency, Designers & similar [in the Main-Game already]

5. Decissions either to play historical or Communism, Democratic etc. like in Hoi 4 [like it´s now]

6. Specials, which influence the Country-Developments (like the Money-Crash from 1928 and similar) [to give the Game more Fire]

7. like Hoi 4 Modding-Ability [an big Indicator and Teamwork between Devs and Modders to hold Hoi 4 Up-to-Date]

That´s the 7 big Points Hoi 5 have to bring in, when it get planed in the far Future.
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A better question to ask is - does this mechanic adopt the right level of abstraction to give players meaningful and interesting choices. Focus trees give players interesting choices in the build up because they force the player to make meaningful trade-offs against which bonuses they need in what order. I'm not sure how a secondary game-play loop based on a timed build order is inherently bad?
it isn't bad inherently. however, it's pretty awful in practice because designers have a propensity to use this timed build order tool for other things, such as taking territory w/o war directly, stealing puppets, or causing events that bypass established gameplay rules w/o warning.

at its best, it adds tradeoffs specific to a nation w/o breaking anything. at its worst, it screws over player nation, harming their nation significantly through focuses (often in non-player tree) that disregard the present game state. in a historical ww2 game, there's no reason to expect bulgaria to fully control china before 1942. however, it is easily possible for player bulgaria to control all of china before 1942, or hundreds of other similar pants on head examples. despite that reality, devs (both vanilla paid dlc devs and most mod devs) repeatedly make the mistake of creating focus trees that make assumptions about other nations on the game board to function. it's mis-using the tool, sets them up for failure, and frequently does fail.

anbennar in eu4 is a cool mod, but its use of mission trees mirror some of the mistakes with focus trees...once again making assumptions about the game state that might not be true. a nation getting locked out of its tree because another nation that doesn't border them got annexed is very reminiscent of rt56 ethiopia getting locked out of its tree because non-historical focuses caused france to yeet italy out of existence by '38...and many of those focuses required ethiopia to still be fighting italy. despite the implications that ethiopia winning by then + holding italian territory near them in africa would reasonably meet the requirements...nope. succeeding too quickly broke the tree. this doesn't mean the tool is inherently bad, but it does suggest that using the tool this particular way is inherently bad.

it's possible to learn lessons from this and not use the tool poorly. so far, the only developers i've seen that actually learned this lesson are working on the old world blues and equestria at war mods.
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