Hearts of Iron 4 – Beginner’s Guide: How to Play the Game

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Hearts of Iron 4 is a relatively complex grand strategy game about the Second World War, where players get to guide one of their chosen countries through this tumultuous period.

As a complete beginner, HOI4 can be extremely confusing, as there are many moving parts to the game, a lot of unknown stats, and a bunch of buttons to press that will likely end up with you in a losing war.

Recommended Read: What Is Combat Width in Hearts of Iron 4?

To avoid losing the war too early, you will need to learn some of the basics of the game while also figuring out how to have fun.

So, in this guide, we will show any beginner how to properly play HOI4 and also how to have fun while roleplaying as one of the major countries of the Second World War.

Table of Contents

Starting HOI4 – 1936 vs. 1939 Start Dates

When starting to play Hearts of Iron 4, beginners will face a lot of choices that they will have no idea if they matter or not. This is why we are going to start this guide from the earliest possible thing, the main menu.

When you first start up HOI4, you will find yourself choosing between Single Player and Multiplayer.

Though you could play with people online, Hearts of Iron 4 is more of a game that you play with people that you know or that you are in contact with.

Since it can be very hard to organize a game with strangers (unless you met online before and not in-game), you will usually play single-player, especially since you get a hang of the game mechanics.

Once you select to start a new game, you will have to choose between the 1936 Scenario and the 1939 one.

Both of them will drop you in real, historical circumstances. However, one of them is usually better, and all players usually choose this one.

The 1936 Scenario drops you a few years before the Second World War, allowing you to build up your factories and armies the way you want while also influencing the circumstances of the upcoming war by changing history.

The ‘39 Scenario will drop you right into the Second World War, a few weeks before Germany attacks Poland.

This is the right start if you want to immediately experience the Second World War, but it’s usually worse if you want to do interesting ahistorical things.

For the sake of simplicity, make sure to choose the 1936 Scenario to learn all the mechanics of HOI4 properly and prepare for the upcoming war however you want.

Selecting a Country – Best Starting Country for a Beginner

After selecting the start date, HOI4 players will need to select which country they want to play as. As opposed to some other games, in HOI4, you can choose any country on Earth that existed at that time in history.

Though this is great for replayability, it can make some beginner players confused since there are too many choices.

One of the things that differentiates countries in HOI4 is their relevance in WW2 and the existence of unique focus trees.

You will now be presented with a large list of countries to choose from. These countries all have unique focus trees, which makes them a decent choice for beginners.

You can always just select a different country from the world map that will appear after you choose a country, but those are a bit risky or boring.

As a beginner, you should avoid choosing a big country such as Germany, the United Kingdom, or the USSR. This is why you should choose either Romania, Hungary, or Mexico.

Romania and Hungary are incredibly good choices since you will be a minor country in WW2, and the war won’t end if you do a bad job. This is why you can learn how to play the game while also taking part in the war.

Mexico is also a really good choice since it allows you to play around with the focus tree, a very important part of HOI4, and learn how to mess up history however you want while also being away from the dangerous war that can end your playthrough every day.

However, sometimes it can just be a good idea to select the country you know most about during that time of history since you will understand the situation better.

Game Settings

After you’ve selected a country, look in the lower right part of the screen to select the final settings. Ironman Mode just makes sure that you only have one save file and that you can’t choose when to save.

HOi4 will automatically save very often when Ironman Mode is enabled, and it will also save when you exit the game, stopping players from gaming the saving system by save scumming.

We recommend that you disable Ironman Mode until you learn how to play properly since saving and loading will be important when taking risks.

Historical AI Focuses will decide if countries will follow their historical path through the years or if they will do bizarre, ahistorical things.

As a beginner, it is a much better idea to just leave Historical AI Focuses enabled since you will otherwise not know what is happening half the time.

Starting the Game – Understanding the Interface

After you start the game, you will be faced with a large interface that you will likely not understand.

We will go through all of the buttons and icons and explain everything to help you play HOI4 properly.

Let’s start from the top left and go to the right:

Political Power

The first icon on the list is Political Power, shown with an agora icon in the top left of the screen.

Political Power is one of the main currencies in HOI4 that you will use to influence the politics of your country, select advisors that will give you various buffs, and interact diplomatically with other countries.


Stability, shown with a scale icon, represents how much your people support the government.

If Stability is low, you will get debuffs and bad events, so make sure to keep it up.

War Support

War Support, shown with a flexing arm icon, shows you how much your people want to go to war.

High War Support will give you bonuses for fighting, while low support will result in bad events and negative modifiers.


Manpower, the icon with three men standing at the ready, shows you how many people you can use for your armies that aren’t part of a fielded division at the moment.

If you hover over the icon, you can see exactly how your Manpower is distributed among your army, as well as how many new people you will get every month.


The Factories icon will show you how many factories your country has available to use for civilian constructions and arms fabrication.


The Fuel icon, represented by 2 barrels of oil, will show you how much Fuel you have stockpiled for your troops.

If you hover over the icon, you will see how much Fuel you are gaining and losing every day.

Logistics Fulfillment

The Logistics Fulfillment icon will show you if you have enough supply equipment (trains, trucks, and convoys) to fulfill the needs of the army.


The Convoys icon will show you how many Convoys you have available. They will be needed to transport resources and equipment across the water.

Command Power

The Command Power icon will show you exactly how much Command Power you have at the moment. This is a special currency used to deploy special military orders and employ military personnel.


The three Experience icons will show you how much Experience you have in land, naval, and air warfare.

This Experience can be used to edit and improve your military divisions, create your own tank and ship designs, and learn new military doctrines that will give you powerful positive modifiers.

World Tension

On the right side of the screen, you will see the globe with a percentage number.

This is World Tension, a number that will decide if the various countries of the world can join factions and get involved in military conflicts.

Understanding the Game Menus

Alongside the many icons we just described, there are a lot of buttons that will open the important menus of HOI4.

You won’t really have to enter these menus by yourself since the game does a good job of guiding you to the right ones.

Generally, you will see a lot of notifications appear under the Experience icons. Those exist to guide you to the right menus when needed.

If you need to pass a new law, select a new National Focus, or produce new equipment, you will get a notification about it.

As a beginner, you can just try to fulfill the requests that appear there, and you will be good to go. However, it’s still good to know what each menu does. Here is a short explanation to understand them all:

Political Menu

If you click on the flag in the upper left corner, you will open the Political menu. This menu will show you everything there is to know about your internal politics.

From this menu, you can open the Focus Tree, the most important menu in HOI4, choose laws regarding war and exports, appoint advisors, and manage your occupied territories and subjects.

If you open the Focus Tree, you will see a lot of potential focuses you can select to start and complete. Most of them will take from 70 to 35 days to complete.

These will either get you rid of problems in the country, give you various buffs, or allow you to change your government’s ideology.

The three laws you can change are also very important since you can choose how many people are conscripted, allowing you to increase your Manpower, select your Trade Law that will decide how many of your natural resources you get to keep, and Economy Law which gives you buffs to construction and production if you have the right laws.

Decisions Menu

The Decisions menu has a lot of buttons you can press to start events or get some bonuses in an instant, usually in exchange for Political Power.

Generally, you will enter this menu every time you have enough Political Power to start one of these decisions since you will get a notification about it.

However, make sure to read what advantages and disadvantages you get from each decision since some of them will give more problems than solutions.

Since Political Power is a very important resource, make sure not to waste it on insignificant decisions, such as the ones to ban the various ideological parties,

Intelligence Agency Menu

The Intelligence Agency menu will allow you to deal with everything related to spies and secret operations in foreign countries.

This will generally be complicated for a new player, so you can avoid it until you get the hang of the base mechanics of HOI4.

Research Menu

From the Research menu, players can select which technologies they want to research. There are 9 separate tabs inside the research options, which concentrate on different aspects of the game.

Generally, you will just need to concentrate on Industry and Engineering first and research only technologies that are available for your time.

So, don’t research something that is tagged as a 1940 technology if you are in 1936 unless you have some ahead-of-time bonuses.

International Market Menu

The International Market is the place where you can put equipment to sell to other countries and also purchase their equipment. Generally, in Single Player, the AI won’t really buy a lot of equipment from you.

However, the International Market is a great place to obtain equipment that you are missing or that you are producing in a deficit.

Again, as the Intelligence Agency, this is a part of the game you shouldn’t really mind until you become more proficient at HOI4.

Trade Menu

The Trade menu will show you how many resources your country has, how many you need for your various military productions, and the countries that can provide you with what you need.

All you will need to do from this menu is select a country (preferably a neighbor or one that will be your ally in the future) to import resources from since you will likely need Steel or Rubber for your production.

You can only import resources in batches of 8 in exchange for Civilian Factories.

This means that you won’t be able to use some Civilian Factories for your constructions in exchange for the resources you get, while the country you are importing from will get the factories.

This is also relevant for you since you can get Civilian Factories by exporting resources to others. This can only be influenced by your laws, since you can’t select to manually export resources to others.

Construction Menu

From the Construction menu, players can build some of the most useful buildings in HOI4. The two things that you will need to construct are Military and Civilian Factories.

Military Factories are used to produce weapons and equipment for your army. Without them, there is no way you can field an army.

Civilian Factories are used to construct buildings. If you set up orders to construct buildings, you can only use a maximum of 15 Civilian Factories per building.

Since Civilian Factories are also used to import resources, expand the Intelligence Agency, and import weapons from the International Market, you will need quite a few of them.

Both factories are considered Shared Buildings, which means they occupy limited slots in the states where you can build them.

This means that you have to be careful when building them since there is a limit on how many Shared Buildings you can have in a province.

The other buildings are also useful, but you will learn more about their importance by playing.

As long as you are building Civilian Factories at the start of the game and then later Military Factories, you have officially learned how to use the Construction menu.

Production Menu

From the Production menu, players can select which types of equipment they want to produce for their armies. This part of the game can get a bit complicated, so we are going to give you the easy way to handle this part.

Set up production lines for Infantry Equipment, Support Equipment, and Artillery.

These are usually the most important ones, and you won’t need more than that until you learn more about the game. Split the Military Factories between them equally.

For Naval production, if you are not an important naval country, you won’t really need to produce any ships. Just set up a production line for Convoys and put all potential Naval Dockyards there.

Recruit & Deployment Menu

From the Recruit & Deployment menu, players can select to recruit some of the division templates they have and choose where to deploy them.

This menu can also be relatively useful for finding out what resources (Manpower or equipment) your army needs.

Logistics Menu

The Logistics menu is a nice place where you can see exactly how many pieces of equipment you are missing or how many you have a surplus.

This helps you figure out how you need to split your Military Factories in the Production menu.

Officer Corps Menu

The Officer Corps menu will allow you to employ specialized military personnel that will give you various combat bonuses, using both Command Power and Experience.

From this menu, you can also select doctrines that will give you flat bonuses for your armies.

Diplomacy Menu

If you right-click on a country, you will open the Diplomacy menu, where you can see the various interactions you can have with foreign powers.

You usually won’t use many of these as a beginner, as you can often declare war using the Focus Tree for more interesting countries.

Warfare Beginner’s Guide

Warfare in HOI4 can be very complicated for a beginner, so we will do our best to give you the tools to win most wars without a lot of experience:

Land Warfare

To automate the land warfare process and make it relatively easy for a beginner, you will need to form armies and give them orders to allow them to win wars by themselves.

When you start the game, you will get a notification that you have unassigned divisions. Shift + click the notification to select all of your country’s military divisions. Then, press the green + button at the bottom of the screen to form an army.

Select a commander for the army by pressing the “Click to assign.” button in the upper left side of the screen. Just look at the traits and level and choose who seems to be most capable.

Then, press the green + button to the right of the image of the commander you selected in the lower part of the screen to create an army group.

Since you can only have 24 divisions per commander, you will need to create a large army group and then create separate armies, each with a maximum of 24 divisions.

Once you’ve set up your armies, click on the main army general, the leftmost commander at the bottom of the screen, and look through the Battle Plans that are hanging over their head.

Press the Frontline button and press on the border with one of the countries you think you will likely fight in the future. Then, next to the Frontline button, press the Offensive line button and drag a line over the territories of the enemy country.

Now, when war starts, you can just press the green checkmark button over the head of the general to give the order to invade to your troops, and they will do most of the job themselves.

Of course, there are many more mechanics to land warfare, but this is all you need to know to start playing HOI4 and learn all the tiny details you might need to win WW2.

Naval Warfare is relatively complicated, even for veteran players. Generally, if you don’t know what you are doing, it might be a good idea to just avoid navies altogether.

But, if you want to give it a go, a decent idea would be to bring all your boats in one port and unite them into one large navy.

Then, separate one or two destroyers and give them the order to Patrol around the naval area you want to defend.

Then, select the large army and give it the order to Strike Force in the same areas. This means that the small navy will find enemy boats, and the large navy will join the fight when that happens.

If you put too much of your navy into patrol at the same time, you will lose all your Fuel in a week.

Air Warfare

When it comes to Air Warfare as a beginner, all you need are Fighters. Produce a lot of Fighters and set them up to fight for Air Supremacy in the regions your land troops are fighting.

You just need to select the Air Wings and move them to the Air Bases closest to the frontlines. Then, select an order for them, the same way you did for the land armies or the navies, and send them to fight above the skies of the armies.

That’s everything you need to know about how to play the game as a beginner in Hearts of Iron 4!

Have any input or suggestions for this guide? Let us know in the comment section below.

Adrian Oprea

Based in London, United Kingdom, Adrian Oprea is a Guides Writer. As a professional single-player RPG player, Adrian has often been stigmatized. He has decided to pour his frustration into writing guides!

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