Beginner's guide

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Games produced by Paradox Interactive invariably have many versions. There are essentially two types of versions:

  • Expansions: The game has three expansions called Semper Fi, For the Motherland, and Their Finest Hour (TFH). These expansions, especially the last one, are considered important for high quality gameplay. The first two are included in the Hearts of Iron Collection and you have to install them before you install TFH.
  • Patches: Each release of Hearts of Iron 3 has patches specific to that release, with the last patch for the "vanilla" game being 1.4, the latest patch for Semper Fi being 2.04 and for For the Motherland being 3.05 (note: the original "Hearts of Iron 3" game is referred to as the "vanilla" version). As of this edit, the most recent patch for Their Finest Hour is 4.02. Patches to the game improve stability, gameplay, and add new features to the game based on user input from the forums. As a result, it is absolutely essential to apply patches—these represent a more complete and "finished" version of the game. Exception: If you buy the Hearts of Iron Collection and then Their Finest Hour, no patches have to be applied.

This wiki uses a versioning system to ensure that content on a page is correct for only the most current game versions: pages that are marked as obsolete should be updated as needed by readers.

Choosing a nation

Proper selection of a nation to play is essential to learning the game. For players who have never played a previous Hearts of Iron game, selecting a nation that was (more or less) at peace during WW2 is a good starting point.

  • Brazil is an interesting choice. It is a regional power in South America: having a relatively strong industry and a reasonable military capacity. Most importantly for the newbie: Brazil is not seriously threatened by its neighbours. It is possible to wage regional, low intensity warfare with some South American neighbours when the player is ready by raising the threat of those nations with spies, but bear in mind that the USA guarantees most Latin American countries' independence, and will, in all likelihood, intervene on their behalf. These small scale battles will introduce the player to the basic concepts of military warfare (headquarters, logistics, frontage, etc.).
  • Australia offers a little more excitement. The player will have years to build up to the war in the Pacific, and defending the home land is relatively easy. Australia is an excellent way to learn the navy in a simplistic setting, and also provides some insight into resource management and overseas logistics.
  • Germany can be a good choice in the 1939 scenario to learn how to control your military. For that case set politics, diplomacy, espionage and technology to AI control and focus on your units. The German army is poised to strike at Poland and it is an excellent opportunity to learn how best to employ your units.

Choosing a scenario start time

The 1936 scenario is designed to allow the game to likely follow a very different course from history. The player is provided plenty of time in helping shape what that new history may become. Actions the player does or does not do will likely have an impact on how history unfolds. This mode is favoured by experienced players who have a high level of mastery and ability to influence the game.

The 1938 scenario is designed for multiplayer games, but also offers a balance between the 1936 and 1939 scenarios: the buildup period is shorter, the game is a little less open ended than in 1936, and war isn't too far away. For newbies who would like to experience some build up before war begins, yet would still like an approximate historical experience, 1938 is a good option.

The 1939 scenario begins the game with Germany at war with Poland. It is an excellent way to dive directly into combat, and will offer a setup that is closer to history for those interested.

Custom Game Mode (TFH)

Custom Game mode, or CGM, allows you to customise your country of choice before you begin playing. Once you begin a CGM game you will be taken to the customisation screen, which consists of three phases. Ensure you are happy with you choices in each phase before moving onto the next one, as you are not able to return without starting a new game. In each phase you have a certain number of point to spend, and you can normally gain more of these points by giving up resources you nation possesses in order to buy other things. The number of points given in either phase, either globally or for specific nations, can be customised via a simple text file, an example of which can be found in the CGM folder.

for more information, see: Custom Game Mode


The interface for HOI3 can be overwhelming. If you mouse over various aspects there will usually be a tool tip that will pop-up and give you more information. The main ribbon along the top provides some of the most important information on the current state of your country. The lower right has the mini-map, with the tiny icons above that allowing you to select one of many map modes that will provide key information. Next to the mini-map is a screen with text that will provide notifications of what is happening to your country and throughout the world.

Do not ignore the little plus icon in the upper right of the screen below the main ribbon. This is called the outliner and it is a convenient way to keep track of all your units and what battles are currently underway.

View the video tutiorial on the interface here: Hearts of Iron 3 FTM Basic Tutorial - Episode 2 - Interface Overview

General Overview

AI Control

The AI control system in HoI3 allows for a great deal of flexibility in gameplay for new players: every aspect of gameplay can be put under AI control. This flexibility allows players to focus on a set of gameplay aspects, while the AI handles the rest. These changes can be made when starting a new game, but they can also be turned on and off as needed at any time during the game. Here are some possible combinations:

  • Avoid warfare: For players who would like to learn how the game works with the exception of warfare, set Diplomacy, Politics, Technology, and Intelligence to manual control. Meanwhile, put production on AI control. Finally, identify your main Theaters of war (using the HQ map mode) and put those Theaters into AI control.
  • Warfare focus: For players who would like to focus on warfare without worrying about anything else, everything aside from the actual military units could be put on AI control. For additional responsibility, the player could take on controlling the Production screen as well, which allows control over building new units and managing the overall military economy.
  • Command Structure: Take time learning how the new command structure works - don't play this game like a new version of Hearts of Iron 2! The Theatre, Army and Corps HQs are your friends, so learn how to use them.


Diplomacy is used to declare war, make trades for resources and money, and purchase production licenses. Threat and Neutrality are important new concepts in HoI3. If you learn how to use them properly, it will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the game!

Threat is represented between every country in the game. It is a measure of how threatening each country is to every other. Threat is increased from events, declarations of war and via espionage. There is no way to decrease threat. Neighbouring countries are also much more sensitive to threat levels.

Neutrality is a barrier between a country and its ability to go to war. Countries can only declare war if their threat is higher than their neutrality. It is possible to decrease neutrality with the proper minister. A high neutrality also increases your consumer goods need and is a drag on the economy.

View the video tutorial on Diplomacy here: Hearts of Iron 3 FTM - Basic Tutorioal - Episode 3 - Diplomacy


There are several things to keep in mind when building things:

  • Practical knowledge: For every unit you produce, you will gain a particular kind of practical knowledge. That practical knowledge will, in turn, make the next unit of that type that you build cheaper in terms of IC days.
  • IC days: The best way to understand the actual cost of a particular item is to determine the cost in IC days. This is simply the IC cost multiplied by the number of days it takes to build the unit.
  • Serial & Parallel construction: Serial production is the ideal method for creating units: units are produced one at a time, which means the next in the series benefits from practical knowledge increases. Parallel construction is used to meet immediate needs: when you need a bunch of a certain unit type at once. As a result, parallel construction is much less efficient than serial builds.

For more information, see Production strategy or view the video tutorial on Production here: Hearts of Iron 3 FTM - Basic Tutorial - Episode 4 - Production


Annexed Territory

In an annexed nation resources are produced in either core or non core territories:

  • Core territory: Resources are produced with no penalty to production.
  • Non core territory: Resources that are created in a non core territory are produced at a 50% penalty to production. The revolt risk in a non core territory further decreases the amount of resources produced by giving an additional penalty to production (around 10%). For example, if a Nationalist Chinese core territory produces 1 unit of rare materials per day it will still produce 1 unit of rare materials per day if it is conquered by the Communist Chinese Army. If on the other hand this Nationalist Chinese core territory is conquered by the Japanese Army it will produce around 0.4 rare materials per day since they suffer from both non core and revolt risk penalties to production. Revolt Risk also affect supply throughput, the higher the risk the less supply makes it through that region.

Technology improvements in resource related production in addition to providing production bonuses in core territory also help offset the penalties that are applied to non core territory production.

Occupied Territory

When you occupy territory by a nation still at war with you resources are produced with a production penalty that is determined by your occupation policy.

  • Collaborationist government 50% penalty to resource production in occupied territory.
  • Military government 30% penalty to resource production in occupied territory.
  • Full occupation 20% penalty to resource production in occupied territory.
  • Total exploitation 10% penalty to resource production in occupied territory.

Technology improvements in resource related production help offset the penalties that are applied to territory that is subject to occupation policy production penalties.


You can influence some of the political policies and ministers of your country. Each minister has associated bonuses that can be used to advance your strategy in many areas of the game. Your internal policies can be adjusted to increase IC, manpower, officers, unit experience and more. Most of these policy choices have a clear best setting, but you are often constrained in achieving this option depending on your neutrality, government and whether you are at war among other factors. If you are occupying foreign territory you have the choice to treat them lightly for more manpower and officers but reduced IC, or massively exploit them for maximum IC, but reduced manpower and officers, or for some balance between the two. For more information, see Political strategy or view the video tutorial on Politics here: Hearts of Iron 3 FTM - Basic Tutorial - Episode 6 - Politics


Technology is a key component of gameplay, and essential in fielding a modern army. Technology will invariably be where the bulk of your leadership points are allocated. The tech tree is very detailed and extensive: to avoid constant micromanagement, it may be helpful to queue up research (e.g. queue up 50-70 technologies at any given time) and let the system run hands-off for a year or so. See Research strategy for a more in-depth overview. View the video tutorial on Technology here: Hearts of Iron 3 FTM - Basic Tutorial - Episode 5 - Technology


The espionage system allows you to perform many actions. Internally you can eliminate enemy spies on your home turf, reduce your neutrality, support your ruling party or increase your national unity. Externally you can perform the same actions as on your home turf, plus inhibit enemy research, steal technology, perform Covert Operations, and increase your knowledge of enemy units and ships.


Start an Intel action against an enemy by giving them a high priority. After you get 10 spies in another country, use the counterespionage mission. After getting rid of their spies, pick another mission to perform. If you later on have too many spies affecting your research, switch the mission in your high priority enemies back to counterespionage for a while.


One of the best Intel missions is to get your neighbours to view another country as a threat to them. That will help a lot in keeping them from entering a faction or joining an alliance. As Germany, for example, keep threat missions going against France, the UK, and the USSR so that other countries become less inclined to join the Allies or the Cominterm.

For more information, see Intelligence strategy or you can see the video tutorial on Intelligence here: Hearts of Iron 3 FTM - Basic Tutorial - Episode 7 - Intelligence

Military Basics

Unit Command Hierarchy

All of your units, whether land, naval or air, are part of a combined Command structure centered on the headquarters (HQ) units. It is possible to leave units outside of the hierarchy but they will then fail to gain the bonuses for being within it (see Leader traits for a description of the bonuses). The organization of the command hierarchy is centered on land units, although air and naval units can be attached at any level.

  • Division - composed of 1-5 brigades and commanded by a Major General (note that divisions of one brigade cannot have a general and to have 5 brigades requires researching a technology).
  • Corps - composed of 1-5 divisions and commanded by a Lieutenant General
  • Army - composed of 1-5 corps and commanded by a General
  • Army Group - composed of 1-5 armies and commanded by a Field Marshal
  • Theater - composed of any number of army groups and commanded by a Field Marshal

Land Combat

Land combat is an extensive subject, but a few important points:

  1. Slow down the game! To truly keep track, manage, and enjoy your battles the game needs to be at a medium or slower speed.
  2. To perform better in a given battle, attack one province from multiple sources. Use aircraft on ground attack during the land battle.
  3. As a general rule, the best way to destroy enemy divisions is through encirclement.
  4. Use units particular to their role: tanks in an amphibious assault or attacking an urban area will perform badly, for example.
  5. Always target victory points—taking these lowers the enemy's national unity, and will eventually cause surrender
  6. Consider opening new fronts to create an advantage, either on land or via amphibious assault. Flanking maneuvers are important!
  7. Limit or remove fronts that are stagnating—dedicate forces to where a decisive advantage can be made

For further reading:

Naval Combat

Use the Naval map to better track naval engagements. Due to the stacking penalties, optimal fleet sizes are typically fairly small. Also note that naval units take a very long time to build and cannot upgrade critical components. Therefore, to field a modern navy it is important to begin research and then construction early in the game. Further reading:

Air Combat

Video Tutorial

New players should view the excellent tutorials at Hearts of Iron III FTM

Further Reading

HOI III Quickstart Guide

HOI III Strategy Guide

HOI III Strategy Guide Supplement

HOI III Manual

Hearts of Iron III Their Finest Hour manual

Germany Tutorial Take 2 - a very detailed guide, although it does not include TFH.