Victoria 3 beginner’s guide

Our Victoria 3 beginner's guide will take you through the first steps in leading your nation in Paradox's 19th century strategy game of politics and economics

Victoria 3 Beginner's Guide: A young boy looks up toward the sun breaking through dark clouds in the sky

You’ll need this Victoria 3 beginner’s guide because there’s a lot to learn in the latest grand strategy game from Paradox Development Studios. You’ll be playing as ‘the spirit of a nation,’ making decisions about important policies, industry and trade, and your relationships with other nations around the world. It’s a lot to take in all at once, and our Victoria 3 beginner’s guide will help get you up and running in no time.

While Victoria 3 can seem intimidating at first, you’ll always have the ability to pause time for as long as you need to make decisions, size up the situation, and issue orders. When things feel overwhelming in the strategy game, just hit the spacebar! Running the game at slower speeds can also help keep notifications coming at a reasonable pace, so experiment with those as you play. You won’t get bonus prestige points for blasting through everything at the highest speed. Our guides for Victoria 3 trade and Victoria 3 diplomatic plays can help clear things up, too.

Picking your first nation

Your first decision in Victoria 3 won’t actually be which nation to play – first, you’ll pick a goal. You can choose from creating an egalitarian society, becoming a military superpower, or forging an economic powerhouse. Alternatively, you can choose the goal ‘learn the game.’ This initial decision will shape the journal entries you see as you play, and the ‘learn the game’ option provides a helpful set of tutorial goals and lessons that will help orient you to Victoria 3’s systems and quirks.

Victoria 3 beginner's guide: A map of the world

Each goal has a few recommended starter nations that you can select from, but you can also pick your own. Either way, the goal-specific journal entries will help you focus on near-term objectives at every stage of the game.

If you’re new to grand strategy games and don’t feel much like picking one of the recommended starting nations for some reason, here are some things you’ll want to consider when making your selection:

  • Look for a nation that isn’t too far down in prestige rankings, because starting with a tiny GDP and no development is going to be a tougher road.
  • Look for nations that have a solid handful of component states – four or five is a good number to start out with.
  • Try to avoid nations that are landlocked, because access to oceanic shipping can help make up for many shortages you may have locally.

Victoria 3 beginner's guide: The Panama Canal under construction in a work-in-progress image of Victoria 3.

Your first moves in Victoria 3

When your game starts, it’ll be paused. This is a great opportunity to look around and take in the lay of the land. Start by inspecting each of your states: what buildings are already present? Are there any modifiers due to its terrain or natural resources? What’s the standard of living like there? You can find all of this information by clicking on each state on the map and browsing through the tabs in the menu that appears.

You’ll also want to review your nation’s diplomatic situation – are you involved in any conflicts in 1836? Are you subject to an overlord? Do you have any existing trade agreements or treaties? To find this information, pull up your nation menu by clicking on the flag in the upper left corner of the screen. You’ll also want to look around at each of the nations that border yours. Try to size up potential allies and enemies – and identify any weak nations that might be easy to conquer and annex early on, depending on your ultimate goals.

Next, you’ll want to look at your military situation. You can find the military menu button arranged along the left side of the screen with several others. Here, you’ll want look at your barracks and where your headquarters are, check whether any of your regular battalions need generals to lead them, and review your naval fleets and currently serving admirals. If you’ve got battalions or fleets without a leader, make sure to fill those positions.

Victoria 3 beginner's guide: Union soldiers with bayonets fixed on their rifles charge a Confederate line on a hilltop in artwork created for Victoria 3.

Finally, check out your country’s internal politics. That menu can be found in that row of buttons on the left (where the button for the military panel is). Here, you’ll want to review each menu tab. The overview tab will tell you your current form of government and who is currently serving as monarch, president, or other leader. Under the government tab, you’ll be able to see which interest groups are currently in power and what they think of you. Under laws, you’ll be able to see which laws you currently have on the books for each policy area – who gets to vote, whether slavery is allowed, how much the government controls trade, etc. Finally, the institutions tab will tell you how much you’re investing in things like education, police, and healthcare.

As you go through these menus, keep an eye out for areas you’d like to focus on. It’s likely that as of 1836, your chosen country has laws on the books that would be good to change. You’ll want to identify possible roadblocks to industrialisation and trade, and these are good places to start out when you’re ready to unpause.

Building your nation

Before you set time in motion, however, you should get to work building. Our guide to Victoria 3 construction and building can help get you going with that, but for now, find your most populous states and build a couple construction sectors. These will increase the amount of building work you can get done every week, and you’ll almost always start out with way too few of them.

You’ll also want to start looking for raw materials you can start harvesting. Wood, iron, and coal are all great candidates for early construction in this regard, but your states might contain additional resources you can exploit. In the building tab for each province, hover over the plus button on each industry to check the estimated impact the new building will have on your weekly budget. A good rule of thumb is that if the number is green (meaning, positive), go ahead and build.

Your pops have needs, and food is always going to be in demand. Make sure to build some farms in each state when you start out, and consider adding food industries to any large states with large urban centres. Again, check the estimated budget impact and proceed from there.

Check back with the Journal

No matter which overall goal you picked at the outset, the journal will feed you a steady drip of objectives to follow. If you chose the Learn to Play goal, these entries will often contain not only instructions on how to accomplish each task, but also the rationale behind doing them. This is a super helpful tool for understanding what Victoria 3 is all about.

However, there’s more to the journal than meets the eye. While a couple objectives will automatically activate without your input, these might not always work with your current situation. Don’t worry if this happens, though: by clicking the journal button in that vertical row on the left side of the screen, you’ll be able to see additional journal entries that you can pick and make active yourself. Sometimes pursuing these is more practical than whichever entries the game picks for you.

Victoria 3 Beginner's Guide: A dialogue box describing an encounter with a hippopotamus in Africa

Also make note of the decisions tab in the journal menu. Here you can select from several big undertakings if you feel up to it – these are different for most nations, but they can include ventures like building the Panama Canal, mapping the source of the Niger River, or launching an expedition to the South Pole. You stand to earn lots of prestige (or get a bunch of people killed) with several of these, so keep them in the back of your mind as you play.

Now you’re ready to unpause Victoria 3 and head out into the world. If things still seem unmanageable, or if you simply don’t want to bother with pesky things like budgets and opposition parties, check out our guide to Victoria 3 cheats and console commands – they’ll let you do pretty much whatever you want. Alternatively, check out our list of the best PC games for some recommendations on what to play next when you’re not diving head first into this behemoth of a game.