An Empire Between Sun and Sea: Oman Mini-AAR

Author: hsiwangmu
Published: 2019-04-01, edited: 2019-04-01
Do you ever get tired of all the love Victoria II gets?
Really, you aren't just - saying that to humour me...

Well, whatever, have a Victoria: Revolutions: An Empire Under the Sun: Victoria Improvement Project AAR.

... Please don't try to say that all in one breath...
Well, hello there!

As you well know, all good people hate anything to do with the holiday known as April... Something-or-other. Why joke, when you can work? I know, a brilliant observation on my part.

Somebody close to me, far more fond of humour, playfully suggested I write an AAR. "You like those!"
And that's true, I do. And, surely, some of the troubles that have plagued Puyi's inconsolate ghost couldn't possibly plague an AAR I just started today, now, could they?

hahaHAHahahHAhaHAH HAHAHAHahahAHHAHA

well. here you go.
here's your 'aar.'

Welcome... To Victoria (Revolutions): And Empire Under the Sun.
Victoria is something of an unwanted step-child now, I suppose.

I can't justify being fond of it and FtG while being less and less interested in Darkest Hour (and, by extension, HoII; but really, play Darkest Hour if you're going to play a classic HoI game! It's just not for me so much, anymore)... Not easily, at least.

The game is clunky, an absolute mess of UI that doesn't feel intuitive even for those poor souls who've got it engraved onto their muscle memory. It is, in many ways, poorly designed even for the time, with numerous flaws I won't hesitate to point out.

... All that said...

Full disclaimer, I do love it more than Victoria II. It's a mix of the atmosphere - actual music, rather than the (great!) compositions of Andreas - and strangely beautiful imagery, the clunky and oddly-shaped provinces of the map, and an economy that is marginally more realistic than that of VII...

If giving you a level of state control over everything that would is at as immersion-ruining as it is hilarious.

You'll notice the Very British fellow above us. He is this game's mascot character. I like to think he has a Very British name. Clemence? Let's go with that. And look at that walrus of a mous - oh, it got cut off.

... Well, uh, where I was going with this, is that the game focuses on the larger-and-secondary powers.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; the depth of events for them is one of Victoria: Revolutions' stronger factors, and the content for smaller nations is rectified somewhat by the Victoria Improvement Project, or VIP - use it, if you decide to give this old game a go. It's well worth your time.
Ah, Russia!

Minty green and far too easy a power for its problems, as well as being a nightmare to play in a game that requires you to manually replenish the manpower of your troops... Unit-by-unit.

We won't be playing Russia, then.
The best years of the Qing Dynasty are behind them. Shadows and clouds alike gather at the edge of China, and independence movements both traditional and truly unique will challenge the Qing through periods of stagnation, strengthening, decay, and revolution.

Similarly to Russia, China is an absolute mess to play. I feel the depiction in VIP is significantly better than that of VII, mind; but you'll still have to deal with a lot of arbitary 'you lose this province/get this modifier' events, which... Aren't very fun, even though I prefer them to more generic events.

Even with that in mind, it is entirely powerful to survive and thrive as the Middle Kingdom.

I should really write about it, some time.
What?

Another AAR, you say...

Puyi's dead! He's locked in my basement!
(Don't worry. I'll finish it. In a year or so.)

In short - we're not playing as China.
A remnant of another time, the Senior Juz is actually one of my favourite powers in VIP. You 'only' have a war with Russia to win, which is eminently doable if you wait until Russia is in trouble, then declare on them.

You'll still have to fight the 'event' war, if you haven't timed it right, but again - it's doable, if not a pain. From there, you can listen to Borodin and have yourself a remarkably good time...

But, I (foolishly?) thought - no, that's not a really interesting nation for an AAR. And I always am drawn to the steppes.

Let's try something else.

Well, I did. And I lost almost all of the images I'd taken. Which brings us to our nation of the day...

Sa'id bin Sultan has ruled the nation since 1806; his reign began with a murder, and has walked a fine line between doctrinal fundamentalism, and opposing it. Having just signed a very favourable treaty with the most powerful nation in the world, the United Kingdom, his reign seems to be mostly successful and prosperous.

Goods of all manner flow through the ports of Oman, from preserved fruit to perseverant souls.

The slave trade remains strong in the country, and is the backbone of economic success; but it is just as much a crippling weakness, one that will only become more and more detrimental as the century continues...

In his dreams, Sa'id often wonders if there is some way to secure his lands; to protect them from enemies within and without.

But if God knows the answer to such riddles, the answer is as unsaid as any other time a ruler has asked - leaving Sa'id to his earthly concerns...
Not long after an early war to chastise Khalifa bin Shakhbut Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, an idea comes to Sa'id.

Absolutely enthralled with the natural beauty of the eastern coast, and seeing as how there has been a strong mercantile and scholarly presence on said coast for generations, is it so strange for a nation to relocate the capital and all the organs of state?

When asked aloud, none dare to challenge the Sultan, and there is logic to his actions.

The move allows for a tighter integration of the various annexed peoples of eastern Africa, particularly the Swahili coast - which has seen the most aggressive colonisation and transplanting of Omani nobles, merchants, farmers and adventurers.

Of course, there is some unpleasantness in the old capital of Muscat, but there is no real opposition to the whims of the Sultan...

... though his economic policy, temporarily having temporarily mobilised a great number of soldiers, has lead to increasing discomfort and economic instability.
With increasing trade comes the opportunity to slowly ease back recruitment in the economic heartlands of Oman, while normalising the freedom of slaves in return for a life service in the armed forces or merchant navy.

To say that life is pleasant in Oman is not terribly accurate; although the Sultanate is quite wealthy, the concentration of wealth is almost entirely in the hands of the noble family and several courtly favourites.

But there are many amenities available for the smallfolk; and, as has been the case for hundreds of years, becoming a merchant-adventurer is a way out of poverty and into a petty-wealth that, while not as extravagant as that of the Sultan, comes with many advantages and the luxuries of three continents.

As Oman's prestige increases, her ties with Britain also increase...
... Leading to an embarrassing, if lucrative, trade in Omani handicrafts.

(I love this event. I can practically feel the pride radiating off of my content & happy people. Good work, everyone. It was worth it.)
This could be said to have been the beginning of the end for slavery in Oman. Although tempted to leave the treaty unenforced, it was the uptick in sales of trinkets and baubles that forced the Sultan's hand

Sa'id awoke from a terrible nightmare, one in which his lands had been partitioned upon his death, the British having won the game of trade once more.

And this unpleasant future would see the dissolution of Oman and her gradual decay; much like would have happened to Yemen if not for an early war of protection designed to keep the port of Aden under a watchful custodianship...

(In VIP, there are quite a few punishing 'you lose this province and can't even go to war to keep it events. They're about as fun as removing your eyes from your face, but they're also interesting and give a better feeling of what it is to be a struggling, second-rate power.

To avoid Yemen's treaty ports, subjugate them within the first five years, if possible. That early dragoon event created a regular-quality division and made this possible for me. Similarly, if you can conquer enough of East Africa to make it possible to go after Egypt before they're subjugated by the Ottomans... Alas, I wasn't able to do that in this playthrough, not that it shows.)
It is with a heavy heart that Sa'id sets about destroying the foundation of his nation's economy; morals do not pay their own dividends, after all.

And - as if to spite him for this action - the Sultan clutches his head, curses through grit teeth, and falls dead in his chambers, his last action being the band of slavery - unconditionally.
Despite the shock of the great powers - and the prestige such a decision brings, even though Sa'id had actually planned to water it down and walk it back after a few years - is matched by Britain taking the chance to divide the lands of the Swahili coast and Oman's possessions on the peninsula.

Just as Sa'id dreamt, Oman and Zanzibar are seperated. His third son, Thuwaini, accedes the throne.

In another time, Thuwaini might well have been content to let the British take their dues from trade, as his brother Majid grew wealthy from the riches of Africa.

Refusing the partition and upholding the dying declaration of his father with a force that none had predicted, Thuwaini marched troops into the Swahili coast from inland, while the small merchant navy blockaded and then invaded Zanzibar proper.

Opposing him in this effort was the British Raj; a lucky stroke, for if the full might of Britain had willed it, there was little Oman might have done to stop it.

But war raged, and Britain watched, and determined that a strong Oman might counterbalance Ottoman and Russian efforts in the region; and so was the foundation of a modern Oman cast on shifting sand.
Thuwaini was not a modern man, but he was something of an idealist. The values of courtesy and courtly manner should be extended to - at least! - the high nobility and foreign diplomats, and if that spread in some part to the peasantry, to newly-freed slaves, and to all the citizens of Oman...

Well, it was nothing so awful as to dream about.

Oman's political modernisation begin with the increasing franchisement of political parties, and the allowing of these fractions to lobby the Sultan for influence directly.

More obtuse then the modern parliaments of many nations, this nevertheless was a drastic step for Oman, and saw the nation change almost overnight. As for Thuwaini, he juggled the influence of liberal and socialist factions to achieve his own goals, never quite giving either party what they wanted - but managing to keep Wahnabi and reactionary influences from dominating.

The death of slavery, frequently critcised as the end of Oman by the small-but-vocal upper class, quickly became an incredible blessing.

Not only were the 'pillars' of eastern africa and southern arabia being joined into a new society, industrial experiments and the trade from horn to cape meant that, for the first time in recent memory, every segment of Omani society was wealthier than those that had come before.

Cultural optimism spread throughout the peninsula, and there were rumours that, having united all the free feuds of the land, Thuwaini might well seek to unite those lands under foreign occupation.
Ottoman forces put an end to that notion, and the Omani dominion found itself at war for a decade and a half, the mid-eighties seeing numerous cultural revolutions and innovations even in the desperate struggle of a seemingly endless bloodbath.

It was in this time that the Omani state could said to be fully modern and civilised, leading to a condemnation of Ottoman interference by western powers.

Long-lasting attritional warfare prevented the Ottomans from maintaining a strong foothold from which to base their attacks, especially after a mysterious effort in which some ten-thousand men marched, as if hypnotised, into the Empty Quarter - of which only a handful returned.

Ripped apart by exhaustion and the loss of perhaps two-hundred-thousand sons, weeping parents found that, whatever coast they had been born on, they were united in grief...

And rage at the ruling family.

Thuwaini's death shortly before the war ended in a white peace, seeing no side gain anything for such monstrous bloodshed, was the final straw.

In one night of terror, the ancient monarchy was destroyed; and in several days of deliberation, a parliament composed of regional merchant families was formed.

With only a decade to go before the century turned, the golden age of Omani democracy had began.
A land most ancient and modern, Oman straddles between two continents and two coasts. Despite many differences in culture, ceremony, language, and manner, its peoples are united in love of faith and fierce national determination.

The new era sees a growth of that unity with the development of new technologies that bridge the sea more quickly even than the mighty ironclads of ages past.

But with the development of these miracles comes atrociously high costs, most notable among them the development of a substance to replace the old slavery of days past; oil.

Dependency on the wealth created by this increasingly vital substance, and a revanchist desire for war have made for unity, but the force of popular anger is a frightening thing.

And without some force to reign it in, the question must be asked - will the next great war be started as Oman seeks to expand beyond the traditional pillars of its coastal condominium, or against her own people - as radical religious forces strike out from their fortified mountain towns and citadels?..

For now, however, the future of Oman seems bright; and, having avoided a collapse into nightmares and ill fortune, perhaps it is just as important to celebrate and cherish those good moments, whether brief or long-lasting, as to prepare for stormclouds gathering across the stillness of the sea...

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Images: 27, author: TheMusicArchivist, published: 2018-03-02