I Played As New Zealand In Hearts Of Iron 4, A Grand Strategy Video Game About World War 2. It Was A Disaster

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Paradox's World War II-themed grand strategy title is not for the faint of heart. I guess that's why it's called Hearts of Iron IV. I can personally attest the need for a cardiovascular organ crafted of pure ferrous, or perhaps an alloy if you're the engineering type. I shied away from previous iterations of the franchise, but, after grabbing the latest in a recent Steam sale I decided the time was right. My moment was here. I alone was going to lead 1930s New Zealand to victory against the Axis forces. I'm so, so sorry, my Kiwi brothers and sisters.

Why New Zealand? Firstly, it's my homeland. Secondly, it'd give me a chance to play around with HoI 4's mechanics under virtually no pressure. Lastly, uh... it seemed like a good idea at the time?

With a tutorial's worth of experience under my belt, I dived into the awaiting disaster of 1930s New Zealand bent on all-out war. Starting in 1936, NZ didn't have much industrial capability, let alone an army, so my first point of business was to build civilian factories, which would allow for faster construction of additional factories and dockyards.

Heck, if Saruman could transform Lower Hutt into a massive breeding ground for Uruk-hai, surely I could do the same with the entire country? Except instead of orcs it'd be Spitfires and Mosquito bombers.

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The next phase of what I was now calling Operation Sweet Paeroa was to pump out the industrial upgrades. New Zealand's production capacity dwarfs that of the major combatants, so if I was to contribute in sweeping fashion, we were going to have to go at it with hammer and tongs. Wait, no. Saws and lathes.

Or whatever you build aeroplanes with.

That other small, tiny detail I needed to address was the government. Due to NZ's small population, manpower quickly became a problem. In simple terms, manpower is a percentage of population, with the percentage based on your country's stance on conscription. From the outset, NZ relies on volunteers, which works out to be one per cent.

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As you can imagine, that was massively insufficient. I had no choice -- I had to get the Communist Party of New Zealand into power as quickly as possible.

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Long live The Republic of Aotearoa! The party leader, Elsie Farrelly, doesn't even have a portrait! Instead, I was faced with a Neichzsche-esque void, into which I could stare and contemplate the dark path I was leading my country down.

With communists in power, I was able to enact conscription, bringing the recruitable population to 10 per cent.

Alright. My strategy. The great plan, if you will. Rather than try and send unwieldy land forces via convoys to the various WW2 theatres, I decided to build an aircraft carrier, complemented by a small force of marines. Those familiar with history will be aware of how decisive carriers and aircraft were during the war, so in my mind it made sense.

No big invasions. No tank swarms. Just surgical operations with a carrier or two to help the Allies. Everything would have gone swimmingly, except for one, fatal error.

In preparation for the carrier, NZ's now-respectable industrial concerns had been working night and day on fighters and bombers. As the HMNZS Vengeance neared completion, over 200 planes sat in airbases across the North Island.

Below is a screenshot of HoI 4's aircraft research tree. See that carrier icon in the top-right corner of some of the boxes? That's a separate research task that lets you build the carrier-variant of the aircraft.

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Yes, that's right. The formidable air force NZ had been producing for the last five or so years, the air force that was to play a small, yet crucial role in various aquatic skirmishes, wasn't going to sea. At all.

In fact, it would never leave the boundaries of NZ's waters. This of course, had no bearing on the production of the aircraft carrier.

And so, as the majestic Vengeance was unveiled in Auckland harbour, its empty deck glistening in the morning sunlight, I imagined admirals smiling awkwardly and shaking hands with politicians, while behind their eyes minds worked feverishly to turn this unfathomable strategic error into a positive.

Wait a moment... the marines!

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In parallel with my ill-fated plane production, I'd trained 15 battalions of marines. I scanned the the globe for nearby opportunities and spotted the perfect deployment area -- Japan-controlled Saigon.

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And, although entirely egg whites, a new plan was hatched -- I would send my marines and aircraft carrier to the South China Sea and stage a daring assault on Saigon.


A mighty battle was unfolding in the South China Sea between the steel, gunpowder-stained vessels of the United States and Japan. Naval guns echoed across the waves as fighters duelled for air supremacy in the skies above. The engagement was not going well for the Allied forces; only a miracle would save the besieged US fleet.

A US commander desperately scanned the ocean with binoculars and hope, searching for reinforcements. Surely this wasn't the end? There had to be someone or something out there that could help them in their time of need?

And, just as the last grains of victory flowed down the hourglass, the commander spotted a ship cresting the horizon. A beautiful, gorgeous carrier, flying the New Zealand flag. Behind it, the commander could just see the tips of other ships -- convoys by the looks of them -- almost certainly packed with land forces to aid stricken armies in the region.

As the carrier grew closer, a feeling of... the commander couldn't quite describe it. It was an emotion mixed with confusion and bewilderment. His eyes strained through the binoculars in almost cartoon fashion, trying to comprehend the growing, dreadful spectacle. Only once the New Zealand aircraft carrier was in full view, its flight deck bared to all scrutiny, did the commander let himself describe the situation to the awaiting bridge crew.

"There's no planes on that carrier! Where are all the bloody planes!?"


It's sufficient to say my glorious plan did not go well. My marines, which turned out to be under-equipped, severely green and poorly supplied, lasted less than a week against the much better trained and seasoned Japanese infantry.

My naked carrier, which had provided what could be loosely described as "naval superiority" to allow my conveys to actually reach Saigon did little to sway the Battle of the South China Sea in the Allies' favour.

The whole ordeal was as educational as it was depressing. One day I might come back and give NZ another crack. But for now, I'm taking my chances with British Raj.

Baby steps folks. Baby steps.

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