It is often said that we live in an era of uniquely rapid technological change. This is untrue; if you had been born in, say, 1836, the start date of this game and the year of Her Majesty's accession to the British throne, you would over the course of your life have seen the rise of steamships, railroads, and electricity; the mechanization of industry and agriculture; the invention of modern chemistry and physics; a huge rise in population; and a revolution in geopolitical affairs with the emergence of America, Germany, and Japan as Great Powers. In truth, the whole of humanity has been embarked on rapid technological change since then, a fact which makes astonishing the persistence of irrational and antiscientific beliefs in the face of the evidence.
Victoria 2 is another of Paradox's grand strategic games, this one focussing on the Victorian era. Spanning the entire globe, it allows you to play virtually any organized nation of the period, from the mighty British Empire to one of the Indian princely states to, say, Haiti. Though there are diplomatic and certainly military elements to the game, the focus is on economics and politics; whatever nation you play, you spend much of your time attempting to foster industrial development and manage the political aspirations of your people. Among the elements nicely simulated are emigration from Europe and to the Americas and elsewhere, and the possibilities of German and Italian unification.
The original Victoria had major balance problems; I played as Uruguay once (Uruguay!) and became the world's most powerful nation; 2 is much more polished and balanced.
One reason for that, though, is a design choice which strikes me as remarkable -- interesting, but one I don't think I'd ever have made. In common with games of this type, Victoria 2 gives you many, many knobs to twiddle, many ways to micromanage. You can choose what factories to build where, what technologies to develop in what order, what social policies to adopt, and so on and so on. Except that actually you can't; the game shows you the knobs, and then for the most part says "but you can't use them." For example, if your governing party is "liberal" (in the 19th-century sense, meaning pro-market), then you may NOT build factories. That would be a violation of your laissez-faire principles. Instead, you can see what factories your country's capitalists are trying to build, but have to wait until they raise the funds to do so -- and can't really affect their priorities, even though the game's capitalists seem fairly obtuse about their own potential for profit. And their priorities may not be your own ("We need armaments! Not wine, for god's sake!").
Contrariwise, if you are a conservative presidential dictatorship, it is virtually impossible to impose any kind of social reforms, because the game won't let you twiddle those knobs -- freedom of speech? Madness!
Consequently, for much of the game you are sitting back, your only real choices which technology to develop next and where to send your diplomats, while hoping that some game event will occur that lets you do something else useful.
Still, it's interesting, strategically deep, and a decent simulation of the era; the one system that strikes me as notably odd is that for colonization. Essentialy, you must establish a "national priority" luring colonists to an area you want to take over; while this might be a reasonable description of, say, the settlement of the Great Plains or the Argentinean Pampas, it's certainly not a reasonable description of the colonial scramble for Africa. Except in parts of East Africa and Algeria, there was little European settlement, colonies were taken for reasons of prestige or geopolitics (preventing others from threatening communications with India), and were acquired merely by sending a handful of well-armed soldiers to primitive areas that lacked either the ability or the inclination to resist.
As with all games of this sort, there is a high degree of complexity, and yes, you will have to RTFM. But it is excellent of its kind.