As well as two official updated version/add-ons: Arsenal of Democracy, and Iron Cross
Another update which includes World War One has been released: Darkest Hour
Hearts of Iron III (2009)
Has received four download-only expansions: Semper Fi, Dies Irae: Gotterdammerung (a Germany-focused mod for Semper Fi), For the Motherland (which breaks compatibility with DI:G), and Their Finest Hour.
Alternate History: A major marketing point of the series, the game allows for things as big as the USA having a revolution in response to the Great Depression (you can choose whether to become Socialist, Fascist, Communist, or something else), to events as small as a historically-neutral country joining a certain side (Spain/Turkey/Argentina/Portugal joining the Axis, Brazil joining the Communists, the USA joining the Allies before Pearl Harbor, etc).
The second expansion for HoI2, Armageddon, features a full-on alternate history as one of it's campaigns. Nations include the United States of North America (US/Canada), the Confederates being independent and owning Mexico, a communist Britain that controls the low countries and Denmark, a communist Japanese republic, Russia still being a monarchy, Prussia still being an independent nation, and many others.
Also avoided with the popular Alternate History mod Kaiserreich, which depicts a Germany that won WWI, but not immediately and totally, only after a long drawn out war. The standing German Empire has many internal problems by 1936. Other major factions that oppose them do exist: Communist France and Communist Britain, the loyalist remains of the Commonwealth (Canada, Australasia, Delhi), and the Japanese, Russians, and USA are wild cards.
As Long As It Looks Foreign: Comintern nations in the third installment will have their names written in faux-Cyrillic on the map. This led to a fair amount of complaining from Cyrillic reading fans. As usual, there's a Game Mod to change this.
Attack! Attack! Attack!: With III'sTheir Finest Hour expansion, you can set a general's aggression level. At maximum, he's likely to pick extremely aggressive tactics, including "Reckless Assault" which gives the attacker a 50% bonus to damage, at the cost of taking 25% more damage from the defender. This aggression can backfire, though, if a skilled defending general picks the ideal counter-tactic, effectively blunting the entire assault and killing huge numbers of attackers.
Awesome but Impractical: Super-heavy armor, strategic rockets, and super-battleships tend to be like this. However, when deployed properly, they can be QUITE effective.
Balkanize Me: China is represented as an alliance of several warlord factions (the Nationalists and Communists are just two among many) essentially functioning as an Enemy Mine to defend against Japan.
Banned in China: Because it has Tibet as an independent country with its own flag, which the PRC has banned since 1959, and so is Manchukuo, as well as having China divided among the various warlords.
Though Chinese modders made the most mods, and none of them have a selectable unified China.
Politics away, unified China is simply a game-breaker country. As well you know, the level of industry each country has bears little relation to the country's actual level of industrialisation - this is done for balance issues. China therefore has 'far' more modern industry than it did in real life, which is absolutely devastating when a unified China makes use of this with its seemingly-bottomless manpower pool. The Nationalists or Communists always have a huge glut of leaders to head up such massive game-breaking armies, and in HoI2 both actually have reasonable tech-teams to boot (when they have enough industry to make use of them, as they inevitably do when they unify the country).
Bonus Boss / Easter Egg: Open up the console and type "Alienattack [province number]". Watch the slaughter begin.
Arguably the soviet union is a bonus boss for the allies and vice versa, America can also be consider one for the axis especially if you can take out the allies before America joins the war.
With Their Finest Hour, infantry are actually required for any Combined Arms bonus. You can have all the tanks, artillery, and other specialized brigades you want, but without infantry, motorized infantry, or mechanized infantry, they get no bonus at all. Furthermore, militia do not count as infantry for Combined Arms.
But while we're on the subject of militia: While they aren't exactly stellar combat troops, they are quite handy as a cheap garrison unit to keep dissent down behind the lines, freeing up more of your better troops to fight elsewhere.
Generally happens after World War II to some degree, and frequently degenerates into World War Three. There are some mods in the official forums that add the Cold War as a whole up till the early 1960s into the mod.
East Vs. West is set during the Cold War itself, and the threat of World War Three, either conventional or nuclear, is commonplace.
Command And Conquer Economy: Pretty much a Justified Trope, especially for countries like Germany or the USSR. You can mandate new industrial development and allocate amounts of industrial capacity points to the areas of consumer goods, production, supplies, reinforcements and upgrades, with boosts or penalties to said industrial economy with certain minister types in your cabinet, whether you are at war and what choices you make in some events.
Also justified in that during the war the Allied governments also controlled production to a larger extent than normal through rationing and other means.
Additionally, if you try to do this when you're not at war, it can lead to high dissent.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In the second game the AI can see everything; it can carry out amphibious assaults anywhere on the globe; and its organisation regenerates while moving. It can also materialise massive fleets that weren't anywhere on the map or in any port a moment ago when you checked with the nofog cheat to make sure there weren't any nasty surprises waiting for your amphibious assault somewhere.
It kind of needs it though, since the out-of-the-box AI is so poor.
Cool Plane: as if air superiority in the series wasn't deadly enough, you have the option of researching air-to-air missiles, jet engines, radars, radar-guided bombs and missiles, and Rocket Interceptors. (Allperfectlyperiodappropriate, by the way.) Focusing on such advanced techs can give you quite the edge in air battles, especially if you also upgrade your AA defenses to fire surface-to-air missiles.
Cool Ship: "Advanced Super-Heavy Battleship" Need I say more?
Yes, you do. "Nuclear Battleship".
East Vs. West allows you to design your own warships.
Delaying Action: With the correct doctrine, or luck, defenders can activate a "Delay" event, which slows down the attacking sides advance and penalises the attackers chances of causing casualties to the defenders, for a slight reduction to the defenders own chances.
Disc One Nuke: In Hearts of Iron 3, there is a stat which keeps track of what percentage of your army is made up of officers, and this directly affects how well your units perform (training more officers means your men are led better in battle). Keeping it up to at least 100% is necessary to have your troops in good shape, but it can be boosted up to 200%. This means all of your military will be at double their normal organization. And since the highest the AI will raise their officer ratio is about to 120% or 130%, it's fairly easy to steamroll over everyone else just by taking advantage of this stat, at least in the early game. Multiplayer games tend to have a 'house rule' of only raising the officer ratio to 120% or so.
Semper Fi reduced the maximum effectiveness of the officer ratio bonus to 140%. Any further than that and the player receives no bonus, beyond having additional officers in the case of attrition.
More literally, it's perfectly possible to get nuclear weapons by 1940 if you spam nuclear research techs.
Divided States of America: It's quite possible, if the Random Number God is unkind to them in regards to random events or if they handle the aftermath of the Great Depression especially poorly, for regions of the United States to start organizing partisan militias and declaring themselves independent, eventually resulting in either the complete collapse of the country or a Communist revolution.
While the base game and HOI 2 only involves the CSA, Texas and California seceding, one of the expansions, Iron Cross, takes it to a new level and adds Alaska, Hawaii, an Indian nation, Deseret, Chicago, New England, the Intermountain Federation,the African-American nation of New Afrika and Cascadia
Double Standard: Bizarrely, while the Rape of Nanking is an in-game event (though outside of the Japanese player's direct control) things such as The Gulag, terror bombing, or the Holocaust are officially banned.
The USSR does have the choice of enacting the Great Purge though. The game gives a severe penalty if you don't do it.
Dummied Out: Hearts of Iron II has a scripted assassination event, where the US can kill a Japanese leader. Arsenal Of Democracy comments it out and makes it unusable, but it otherwise remains.
Easy Logistics: Averted. All units consume "supplies" that needs to be transported to the front. Getting cut off from supplies is a VERY BAD THING. Also, motorised units require fuel as well as supplies. Running out of fuel? Well, better build something other than tanks...
Semper Fi now gives you a choice. You can use the 'realistic' supply system, which features convoys, air-drops, and is based on an engine that calculates the efficiency of your logistics system by how far from your nation's capital your troops are to simulate the logistics... or you can use 'arcade mode'. In arcade mode, you troops receive supplies no matter where they are, and as long as you don't run out of them you're fine.
Using this system to your advantage is also very possible. One of the best ways to destroy a numerically superior force is to cut their supply line, wait a couple of weeks for the local supply to run out, then engage them. It's possible to destroy a force ten times larger than your own this way, even at equal tech levels. One example would be if a large invasion force were being supplied by one port. Using bombers to destroy the port would cut them off from supply, leaving them extremely vulerable.
Elite Mooks: Mountain, paratrooper, and marine divisions are specialist infantry divisions, and have a slightly stronger offense than their regular infantry counterparts on top of their special abilities. Their Finest Hour adds special elite infantry units for each of the major powers, i.e. Army Rangers for the USA, Guards for the Soviet Union, Gurkhas for the UK, and so on. They are notably more powerful than regular infantry or special forces for each country, and depending on the unit get certain bonuses, i.e. Rangers get an attack and movement bonus in woods.
Evil Versus Evil: Depending on the course of history, it's entirely possible for the game to end in a final showdown between an alliance of fascist dictatorships and their conquered puppet states and an alliance of equally repressive Stalinist dictatorships and their puppet states. Or a final showdown between Germany, Italy and Japan when they're the only ones standing at the end.
Finns with Fearsome Forests: The Winter War is scripted to happen in III, although in the other games it might happen or it might not depending on the circumstances. Alas, the Finns almost always lose the war in a matter of days or weeks.
Geo Effects: Terrain has a dramatic effect on combat; harsh terrain types like mountains, jungles, deserts, and any arctic environment impose penalties on attackers and defenders (but more severe for attackers) as well as doing attrition damage to the strength of whoever's invading. Rivers also impede progress and impose a penalty to attackers. Armor and artillery suffer the worst, while infantry suffer the least. Special forces divisions like mountain units (for mountain, arctic, and hilly terrain) or marines (for jungles, marshes, and rivers) actually get bonuses when attacking or defending in these areas, and engineer divisions greatly reduce penalties for harsh terrain. Certain technologies can reduce attrition in these areas as well. So if you're sending a tank division into mountains defended by a mountain division backed by engineers, the tanks aren't going to be too happy.
Their Finest Hour allows generals to pick up traits from fighting extensively in a terrain type, such as "Mountaineer" or "Urban Warfare Specialist." So that above point about how terribly tanks would do fighting a mountain division in mountain terrain backed by engineers? Add an experienced Mountaineer general, and the tank division will shatter in hours.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Foreign IC", "foreign manpower" gained from appointing an Efficient Sociopath or Prince of Terror as your minister of security.
Historical Villain Upgrade: Kenneth Althaus, in real life he is a very obscure US tank commander with no ties to Fascist or Nazi groups. In game he is a National Socialist chief of army minister if the US slider slides right/authoritarian enoug.
Hollywood Tactics: Can be used by the player or the AI, though generally not advisable, unless you have a serious numericaladvantage. Surrounding and cutting off the enemy is a good strategy, however, because it cuts them off from supplies; it's also the easiest way to take out a brigade for good, rather than just allowing them to retreat and get reinforcements.
Indians with Iglas: Theoretically available, given it is possible for the vanilla game to extend into the 50's and 60's and India is an available nation. India can also be released as a puppet nation by Britain in Hearts of Iron III. You wil have boatloads of manpower and a decent industrial base, but your main constraint is Britain's AI controlling your resources. If however, the British surrender to the Germans, you will get full independence.
La Résistance: It's possible for partisan groups to form if unrest is high enough, with this generally being significantly more likely in occupied or colonized territory than in your home nation. High partisan activity can positively cripple a country's infrastructure, and eventually may lead to open revolts in which the partisans organize and outright seize territories from their host nation.
The For The Motherland expansion will allow players to build "Underground" commando units to arm and mobilize resistance units in enemy-occupied territory, allowing for anything from subtle partisan resistance to sudden revolts and large-scale assaults by well-equipped rebel formations. This can be used to play merry hell with an enemy's supply infrastructure. In fact, this is one of best weapons a government-in-exile has available to it.
Leitmotif: Each faction, most recognisably the Comintern, gets its own theme in the third instalment. The themes get retooled depending on how each faction is doing; if they're winning it's loud and triumphant, if they're loosing it's quiet and subdued.
The Man Behind the Man: Any Head of Government ministers with good traits are this, especially if the Head of State is a "Insignificant Layman" or "Popular Figurehead".
Nazi Germany: It's possible, through patience or cheating, to turn Germany back into a Monarchy or a democracy. Germany will also be divided into the FRG and DDR (West and East Germany) once it has been conquered, with the sizes depending on what areas were taken by the Allies and Comintern - it is quite possible to have an entirely democratic or communist Germany.
Nazis with Gnarly Weapons: Even to the point of developing nuclear bombs, which the Nazis didn't come close to developing in real life.
New Roman Legions: And it's quite possible to make them far outperform their real-life counterparts.
No Campaign for the Wicked: Averted. You can play any nation that existed or plausibly could have existed at the time of the game's scenarios apart from microstates like the Vatican or Monaco, including more obscure (with respect to WWII) nations such as Nicaragua or Liberia.
No Swastikas: Thankfully averted by some user-made modifications, though discussion of them is generally penalized on the official forums and After Action Report writers often pixelate them if they're using such a mod.
Nuke 'Em: You can do this after some appropriately lengthy research. Using a nuke not only destroys large stacks of units, it also gives the targeted nation a major dissent hit. This causes their army to perform very weakly.
At least in the third installment of the game, nuclear bombs also pretty much level the entire infrastructure of the target province (air bases, roads, factories, rocket test sites, and so on) with the ground.
Old Save Bonus: Paradox have a range of similar titles based on periods throughout history, and it's possible to start a game from 1066 (in Crusader Kings) through several other games (Europa Universalis and Victoria: An Empire Under The Sun) until Hearts of Iron II ends the campaign in 1964. East Vs. West doesn't offer a save-game port (at launch, at least).
The Purge: The Great Purge can be conducted by the Soviets. There's good reasons to do it, though if playing a long game, many Soviet players will avoid it and gain control through less brutal means.
Darkest Hour for Ho I 2 has a generic Purge-like decision. Using it gets rid of "disloyal" generals.
Railroading: In the third installment, the British will always declare war on Germany by 1941, even if they're allied with Poland, have the United States in their sphere, or didn't even annex Austria. If you make use of the "noneutrality" cheat, your threat will shoot through the roof very quickly, so Britain may actually declare war on you specifically for annexing Austria, the Sudetenland, or Czechoslovakia.
Red China: What Communist China wants to, and can, be.
Actually doing this in-game without cheating is next to impossible.
Reds with Rockets: If one develops a Comintern nation's rockets and nuclear weapons research enough, though the Soviet Union is usually the only Comintern country that will be able to pay for it.
"Risk"-Style Map: Hundreds of provinces. The third installement has somewhere in the region of ten thousand regions, achieved by subdividing territories and provinces into smaller areas that must be fought over individually.
RPG Elements: Cabinet ministers and military leaders have different traits which have varying effects on the nation, diplomacy, the military and the troops under their command.
Then there is the experience metter for units and leaders. Experience of units is transmitted directly into their combat effectivness, while leaders can gain new traits (Ho I 2) or grant bigger combat bonuses (Ho I 3)
The third installment introduces "strategic effects", which you can gain or loose depending on certain conditions, such as joining a faction, fighting enough battles, controlling a strait or canal, or holding enough provinces to dominate a body of water like the Baltic or the North Sea.
Their Finest Hour now allows generals to develop combat traits in addition to the ones they already possess, including new terrain traits like "Jungle Rat" or "Hill Fighter".
Self-Imposed Challenge: How long can you last as Ethiopia (which starts the game being invaded by Italy) or Luxembourg (the smallest fully independent country represented, and right in the German line of fire if things go reasonably historically)?
Answers: it depends on what difficulty you are playing (it is virtually impossible to do it on most settings above normal for either difficulty or aggression barring immediate aid from the West) and indefinitely (as long as you spend most of the war cranking out land forts and AA and a token force to actually man them) respectively.
Playing as Uruguay or Tannu Tuva and doing anything besides sitting there watching the rest of the world is also a big challenge. Particularly for Tannu Tuva, as it borders on Guide Dang It. It starts as a Comintern nation surrounded by the USSR (leader of the Comintern) and Mongolia (a Soviet puppet and member of the Comintern) cut off from any access to the sea and with a pint-sized pile of resources. And via event it gets annexed by the Soviets automatically in 1944, forcing you to secede at some point prior to the event and eventually declare war on the Comintern and HOPE you have enough of a military to push out and survive. Not to mention the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese are sitting around waiting for you if you do. Which is all extremly easy if you wisely break out when all Soviet forces are tied in fight with Germans. They rarely left any forces in resources-rich provinces of Siberia (Vladivostok maybe, but that's still far away). Capturing those provinces and annexing Mongolia will then launch domino effect, as USRR will lost flow of resources and place to rebase industry, so Nazi war machine will have much easier time fighting with them, which leads to even more desperate situation of Soviets and in the end it secures your positions and gains after German-Soviet airmstance. Japan and China (no matter which China) are usually too busy with themselves to even care.
Playing a Central American/Caribbean micro-nation isn't too bad, because you can generally conquer your neighbors as long as you don't let the USA intervene, but God help you if they do.
With the recent Darkest Hour 1.03 content patch and a 1945 scenario set towards the end of the war we get another self imposed challenge and perhaps the most notesworthy historical one: try winning as Nazi Germany in early 1945, when the allies and the Soviets are at Germany's Gates. It is heavily implied that given the hopelessness of the situation both historically and gameplay-wise that winning is impossible and the most you can do is only survive for as long as you can.
Spanish Civil War: Will occur in-game if you begin playing in 1936. It is usually random as to which side wins. If Republican Spain is played by a human, it is even possible to avert the entire war via a glitch.
Tactical Withdrawal: Both on the strategic and tactical levels. Players may well choose to pull back from a section of their line in order to withdraw from an obviously lost fight towards better terrain/reinforcements or they may be pulling the attacker into an encirclement trap assisted by the rest of the front line and reserves. Defending generals with the right doctrine or who are just lucky can also get it; it shortens the front, leaving attacking and defending units who take up more room than the front allows Locked Out of the Fight, and gives the defender a net advantage (both sides are penalised in their attack chances.)
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: FAR too many examples to list here, but for instance, if Germany attacks Poland and then makes it into a puppet state, the USSR will automatically invade the eastern part, and Poland will receive the same provinces it did in reality◊.
Urban Warfare: Urban terrain types cause your units to suffer penalties in combat, with armor and artillery suffering the worst and infantry suffering the least, especially with engineers attached. Since urban provinces are also almost always victory point provinces or capitals, this also means plenty of hard-fought battles to take these cities.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Industrial capacity. It's allocated purely for balance issues and is in no way an accurate depiction of world industrial capacity at the time. If it was, the USA would have one-third-to-half, the Soviet union with maybe 1/7, Germany and Britain and France with less than 1/10 each, and Japan and Italy and all of China with less than 1/20. Hearts of Iron 2's logistics system is also extremely unrealistic in that it is completely perfect - there are no supply problems, ever, apart from the underproduction or isolation. Hearts of Iron 3 makes some improvement on this, but logistics problems are still severely under-estimated.
Even with the USA's vastly reduced overall industrial capacity, their IC is still so immense that they're practically a game-breaker who can fight entire faction alliances by themselves. Also, the IC issue is partially corrected in the For the Motherland expansion, which gives the USA access to several "strategic resources" including expansive dockyards, automotive facilities, aluminum, and helium, which allow for reduced build times for ships, armor, planes, and rocket research, respectively.
Late-game USA in any version, however, comes very close to its real-life version. It isn't uncommon for a late-game USA player have upwards of 1,000+ IC, and that's with only a modest expansion to their industrial base. Intensive industrial expansion leading up to the war can end with IC in the 1,500 to 2,000 range. It gets to to the point where you have to leave a huge of IC idle because you don't have the manpower to keep building units.
War Is Hell: Much of the game has a bleak, depressing atmosphere. While many strategy games represent huge armies as single units with nondescript "hit points", Hearts of Iron represents units as divisions of thousands of troops, who tend to die in large numbers when armies clash. Fighting a war and receiving reports of tens of thousands of soldiers losing their lives in a single battle can be very sobering.
A lot of the historical quotes seen in the loading screens of Darkest Hour exemplifies this.
Heck, even the map is darker and more subdued than other Paradox titles. This, combined with a very utilitarian interface, this makes for a very different game experience than, say Europa Universalis or Victoria.
If you've activated popups that report the effectiveness of bombing missions, it can get even more sobering, especially once you start teching up your tactical bombers. Seeing regular reports of a wing of bombers killing three hundred enemy soldiers in every strike, with six or so airstrikes a day, for weeks on end, can really put a perspective on things.
East Vs. West tracks population numbers in each province, and naturally, the population's numbers will decrease based on how intense the fighting is going on in said province. If you nuke it, well, the results to those numbers will be both obvious and probably very disturbing. It even tracks age brackets, so you can tell just how many children died in that last strike you ordered....
World War One: Previously done via Mods, now put into the game canon itself with Darkest Hour.
World War II: Pretty much the point of the game, though it is possible to avert in very rare circumstances.
In Hearts of Iron 3, the UK is scripted to declare war by 1940 even if Germany hasn't done anything threatening yet.
In Hearts of Iron 2, if Germany declines to declare war on Poland or Poland gives in to Germany demands, either a war will start in the Balkans (Hungary attacking Romania or vice-versa usually) which will bring all of the super-powers to declare war on each other (just like World War One), or the USSR will just declare war on Germany, with the UK and France following up soon after.
World War Three: Happens 8 times out of 10, given the fact that the victors (for instance, the Allies and the Comintern) tend to fall out over the spoils in a pretty dramatic fashion.