Summary: Want some hints and tips with one of the more complex strategy games to come out lately? Confused about how to 'romanize' a population or what a good counter to the mighty Urban Cohort is? Check our very light beginner's guide out.
For starters, we’ll cover the campaigns. Initially the player can only choose from among the three Roman factions, the Julii, the Brutii and the Scipii. After the completion of a successful long campaign, all playable factions are unlocked. Factions can also be unlocked individually if the player beats them during a campaign.
Much of the international diplomacy AI is hard-coded. Perhaps hard-coded is too strong a term, but factions are clearly guided towards war with specific nations. We’ve provided a list of the factions and their typical enemies below. Note that this includes both nations that attack them and that they attack. Often, one nation’s AI is not looking for war with another, but the other side is. Such is typically the case with Greece and Pontus – the Greeks don’t want war but the Pontics do. We’ll provide a comprehensive list later in the faction starting tips, but are warning you now so you’re aware of this during your diplomacy options and planning stages.
Something to be aware of during campaigns is that the “hard-coded” AI is very, very stubborn. Once war is started, it is difficult to stop. While obviously not as competent as a decent player, the AI is highly aggressive and effective at mobilizing forces for the immediate war. Often its long-term planning strategies suffer from the population depletion and poor state of finances, but in the opening stages of a conflict the AI is remarkably capable of prosecuting war, especially if it started it. This is especially true when unit sizes are set to large or huge (under graphics options -> advanced). Since the player is unwilling to gut his future by depopulating cities and the AI is unable to recognize that armies are twice as large as what it’s used to dealing with, the player plays even more timidly while the AI comes on with reckless abandon. In such a case, do not be afraid to mortgage your future in order to ensure survival now.
Other cases where the AI is stubborn include deals for territory, maps and in becoming protectorate. As always, it’s best to negotiate from a position of strength. It does not suffice to simply have huge armies “somewhere” and a vast fortune as well as territories. Hostile negotiations are best done with a show of force. Several large armies near the cities of your target are a must if suggesting a Protectorate or demanding maps or tribute.
Alliances are more effective than they were in Medieval or Shogun, but are still best treated as more stable peace treaties. It’s not unheard of to have an alliance last a whole game, but this does not occur often and certainly not when either of the partners is a particular enemy of the other. The advantages of an alliance include a more peaceful border and, should an allied army be directly next to an enemy you’re attacking, the allies will help. Otherwise, your allies are not likely to actively help in battle, and are always hesitant about giving military access.
A one-sided alliance with military access basically describes a Protectorate. This over-rated state of diplomatic affairs acts as a very stable alliance, where the weaker partner permits his protector’s armies to march through his land. However, the protected state is hardly any more helpful in war, and as often as not, by the time you pound them to the point where they would submit to a Protectorate treaty, you might as well conquer them. This is the most difficult of all treaties to obtain and requires an overwhelming display of force. Incidentally, the Senate will break any Protectorates a Roman player tries to establish on other Roman factions, even if the Senate faction has no more provinces left.
For starters, until a faction gains enough popularity with the people of Rome, the alliances between the four factions cannot be broken. Secondly, the Senate is always encouraging expansion for each faction in a different direction. The Julii expand North and West, the Brutii strike out East, the Scipii take the South.
The Senate also has a “Policies” submenu which suggests courses of action. There is little in the way of consequences for defying the Senate, but some do exist. Should you say… negotiate a city away from a different Roman faction, the Senate will confiscate a great deal of money in retribution. Furthermore, the Senate gets quite unhappy if you encroach on the territories of long-term allies, or start wars where it doesn’t want a war. This unhappiness translates into fewer rewards and Senate offices. Weigh the benefits of defying the Senate carefully, especially early in the game where there is little need to defy it. Finally, be careful about who you ally with as the Romans. The Julii AI often makes the mistake of allying with Spain, an alliance the Senate covets. This leaves Spanish territory out of Julii reach and forces them into less lucrative lands to the North.
To gain popularity with every day Romans, all the player need do is conquer. At about 30 provinces under your thumb, Romans will be happy enough with you that you can start the Roman Civil War. The Civil War ends when one of the factions has 50 provinces, including that of Rome itself.
Thus, in general the richest lands tend to be those around the Mediterranean, particularly Greece, southern Italy, the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus, and the eastern Mediterranean in general, where provinces are numerous.
Each city is limited in the number of trade fleets by the size of its port. A Port has one fleet (ie, export connection to another city), a Dockyard has 2 and a Shipwright 3.
Affecting the revenue from land is the quality of roads. Roads not only make travel for armies faster, but they increase overland trade. Regular roads are hardly better than no roads, paved roads somewhat of an improvement and highways – which are exclusive to Rome – give the biggest boost.
Finally, all trade benefits from larger markets. A small trader cannot compete with a Market, which in turn upgrades into a Forum and so on. Different factions have different names for these.
The biggest disparity between barbarian and civilized forces is not the quality of troops, but the difference between economies. Barbarian cities cannot have anything but regular roads, and their city improvements are limited to only the third level. This means no fancy markets, no aqueducts to keep the population healthy and growing, and even no stone walls in most cases.
Unlike previous Total War games, trade isn’t only between states. Now, cities within the same empire can deal with each other. This speeds the growth of large nations, since they become less dependent on trade treaties and peace for profit.
Navies are much less important in maintaining economy since trade is independent of where the player has ships. However, ships can blockade ports. Though the AI is haphazard in using its navies and blocking enemy ports, the player should take the opportunity to build up his fleet and starve the enemy into submission. Macedon, Greece, Egypt, Pontus, Carthage and the Seleucids are particularly dependent on trade and thus vulnerable to blockades.
The player has to weigh four issues when managing cities: income, population growth, population happiness and defenses. While it’s possible and often advisable to focus on one of these issues, it’s not healthy to neglect the others for an indefinite period of time.
Income is mostly dependent on trade for the civilized states, while farming is a bigger concern for many of the starting barbarian cities. So keep in mind that a fancy market means little in Campus Scythii, but in Athens it’s a much better choice than a farming upgrade. High taxes increase unrest and slow population growth rate.
Population determines the city’s size. At certain levels of population, the city will upgrade – typically 2000, 6000, 12000, 24000 population. This upgrade will be finalized once the player builds the next-level governor’s palace, warrior’s hold or whatnot. Once that building is complete, the next tier of buildings unlocks. These are usually direct descendents of your previous structures. Thus, a wooden palisade becomes a wooden wall and, for civilized nations, can be upgraded to a stone wall, large stone wall, massive stone wall and finally epic stone wall. Some structures like coliseums appear only in the later tiers. Population growth is dependent mostly on the location of the city (Alexandria will always grow bigger than Palma), but also certain city improvements. Markets and health improvements like sewers and aqueducts, and some temples, increase population growth rate and final population size.
Population happiness is one of the more complex problems. Starting cities are always the same culture as the player’s nationality, but conquered cities need to be converted. Upon winning a city, a player is presented with the options to occupy, enslave or exterminate the local population. Large enemy cities will likely revolt even with a large garrison present. As a general rule, I exterminate populations over 15,000 and enslave those over 8,000. Enslavement takes half the local population and distributes it among your other cities (though only those with a family governor). This rule varies, depending on how large my occupying army will be, and if the general leading it can be a good governor (look at his prestige and management stats). Also, cities of a similar culture to their conqueror – like Britons and Gauls, or Macedonians and Greeks – are less likely to rebel. Many temples in the game provide twice the order benefit than their typical counterparts. Often, this is split into Order due to Law and Order due to Happiness. For all intents and purposes, there is no difference between the two.
Defenses, of course, are your armies and city walls. Border cities should focus on getting at least Stone Walls up and establishing unit-building structures before worrying about the economy, unless you’re secure on that border. Keep in mind that larger cities take a disproportionate burden of army support costs, thus they tend to run profits in the negatives. Don’t wipe these out just to make them run in the positive, because you only press greater stress on the remaining large cities.
New players are often astonished by the power of onagers and their perpetual presence in multiplayer scenarios. It’s not so much the onagers that are the problem, as the explosive flaming ammunition is, but that’s a fact of life each side has to deal with. At least one battery of onagers should be present in your army. Heavy onagers should be avoided since their range is no greater and their extra damage hardly compensates for a slower rate of fire. Other artillery units like ballistae, scorpions and repeating ballistae can be safely discarded as well, they’re nowhere near as damaging or intimidating.
How to deploy also depends on your enemy. An urban cohort should be stretched thin and long when facing phalanxes, in order to flank them better – but it should have thick and deep lines when dealing with chariots or horsemen. Conversely, spread out when facing an elephant charge. Just bare in mind the differences between War Elephants and the regular, smaller kind. War Elephants can charge head-on through a Spartan Phalanx, while regular Elephants will have difficulty with even Armored Hoplites.
Unit match-ups are vitally important. Spearmen are devastating to cavalry but not so effective against swordsmen, especially if they’re in a phalanx formation that has gotten flanked. Urban Cohorts might rule the battleground against most units - but elephants, the heavier chariots and Chosen Axemen are counters to them. Well, Chosen Axemen might not win a battle against the Urban Cohort, but they’ll deplete them and tie them up while costing much less.
If your opponent is one of the nations that has camels or elephants in its armory, expect to deal with them. Flaming pigs and anything capable of throwing fire is the order of the day against elephants, while spears and heavy infantry are best used against camels.
Pay attention to unit stats before selecting them. Many of the special units, like chariots, gladiators, berserkers and Spartan hoplites have multiple hitpoints. This means they can survive multiple hits and are far more durable than one would expect.
Roman players: keep in mind that you have access to both tiers of units – both pre- and post-Marian Reforms. While in most cases the various legion cohorts are clearly superior to hastati and principes, there is one exception: triarii. Triarii are far more capable anti-cavalry troops than Auxilia could ever hope to be, and they’re armed with larger shields. They’re also decent in infantry melee, though not as durable as legionary cohorts.
When facing a phalanx of any kind, remember to spread your line as thin as possible in order to flank them. Cohorts, barbarian units – anything other than another phalanx – if stretched wide enough will wrap itself around the phalanx and cut it to bits. If you’re wielding a phalanx against a non-phalanx unit, same deal – stretch thin and wide. Just make sure that your cavalry can establish battlefield superiority.
Finally, pay attention to the map and weather conditions. Your Armored War Elephants aren’t going to like winter in Scythia any more than Chosen Swordsmen like the Sahara. Many maps have large trees or rocky formations that ruin the effectiveness of phalanx units. Learn these well.
All three Roman factions start the game with Hastati as the best troops they can build. While Hastati are no Urban Cohorts, they are far superior to any other infantry in the game at that point. There’s no need to fear that your battle line will falter.
No, the Roman problem until the Marian Reforms is cavalry. None of the factions is capable of building a horse unit at the start of the game and this should make Stables your first concern. Not that Equites are even in the top 50% of cavalry in the early game, but weak cavalry is better than no cavalry. Use Equites exclusively to chase down breaking troops, to flank the enemy and hit from the side or rear, or to break archer, skirmisher and peltast formations. Try not to force Equites to deal with tougher ranged units, like Chosen Archers – they’ll win, but at more losses than it’s worth.
The other problem the Romans have is that their spear unit – the wonderful Triarii – is unavailable until late, shortly before the Marian Reforms kick in (which happens as soon as the first Imperial Palace is built). This means that cavalry superiority is a must throughout the game, and that means making the most of Equites. Stack your horsemen to one side of your line, destroy half the enemy force and then focus on the other half. Charge one unit of Equites head-on, then flank with the others. Use your general in the flanking attacks against enemy generals.
If your cavalry is desperately outnumbered and out-classed, try to lure the enemy close to your battle line with your horsemen then charge Hastati or Principes into the fray. Hastati and Principes are perfectly capable of dealing with enemy cavalry once the melee has begun, their weakness is their vulnerability to a charge.
All three Roman factions are facing foes with superior cavalry at the start of the game. The Carthaginians, Gauls and Macedonians will make you pay if you’re not prepared to deal with them as such.
The Julii have a tough time throughout the game. The Gauls come with waves of armies early on, and Gaul isn’t a rich land – the trade from it is poor. The Brutii face tougher opponents but see richer rewards – owning the Greek cities and Anatolia (the peninsula that makes up modern-day Turkey) is like having a license to print money. The Scipii can knock out Carthage quick and move on to Egypt before that state is too powerful. They’re also in position to cut the Julii out of Spain.
With the onset of the Marian Reforms, the second tier of Roman units is available – the legions. With this the Romans also, finally, have access to decent cavalry. Roman Cavalry are a decent improvement over Equites, but the real killers are Legionary Cavalry and Praetorian Cavalry. Unfortunately, these units also take two turns to build.
It’s tempting to build up your cities until you can build armies full of Praetorian Cavalry and Praetorian or Urban Cohorts, but we’d recommend against it. In most cases, regular legionary cohorts will do the job. Not only are the cheaper and quicker to build, you won’t have to bring them back to a highly developed city in order to re-train them to bring them back to full health. Depending on your foe, you might also wish to forego legionary cavalry in favor of roman cavalry. This would be a decent choice against Spain, Gaul, Briton and the Numidians, but risky against the Germanic tribes or Egypt.
During the Roman Civil War, the Brutii and Scipii are often both rich enough to simply bribe their way to victory. The Julii don’t see as much trade in Gaul and Spain, so they end up having a more conquest-heavy endgame.
The Gauls have a rough go of it from the start. The Julii will attack very soon in the game and they are difficult to stop. Focus on cavalry as much as possible and expect to be forced to deal with all Roman factions before you can get a day’s rest. Definitely one of the harder campaigns.
Germania is in a very unwelcome spot. Both the Britons and Gauls tend to declare war against you, but fortunately the Romans, even the Julii, are rarely so inclined. The Julii will want all of Gaul and Briton, so don’t make any permanent expansion plans there unless you want a war with Rome. Best to expand East and South, dealing with the Dacians and Thracians. Avoid Greece, Macedon and Illyria as that entails eventual conflict with the Brutii.
Carthage has one of the absolute worst start positions in the game. No less than two Roman factions will engage in war against you. The Julii will take Corsica and Sardinia, and the Scipii will start with Lilybaeum before moving on to conquer you. Only one of your cities, Carthage, is any decent. The rest of your empire is under-developed and facing harassment. Your enemies will be the Julii, SPQR (with its annoying navy), Numidia, Spain and the Scipii. If you survive, however, you’ll eventually get War Elephants, Sacred Band Cavalry and the excellent Sacred Band phalanx infantry. If you survive. Expect to lose Lilybaeum and Caralis, but try to conquer in Spain and North Africa to make up for that. Always face the Romans on the field. Don’t get besieged and don’t try to fight sieges – starve them out. Neither Iberian infantry nor your various phalanx units are about to beat the hard-as-nails Hastati, Principes and Triarii on the walls – never mind actual legionary cohorts!
Egypt is the best non-Roman faction in the game. They have good units, an excellent starting position and only one major enemy at the start, the Seleucids. The Seleucids are undermanned and subject to attack from Parthia, Pontus and also possibly Armenia. Take them over before they feed Parthian or Pontic power. Your units are excellently suited to the hot climates of Africa and the Near East. Try to upgrade your cities to the point you can build Desert Axemen as soon as possible. They’ll offer you the battlefield flexibility you need to deal even with Rome. Chariots are great at dispersing cohorts and Pharaoh’s Bowmen are the best archers in the game. Victory can and will be yours.
The Seleucids are in competition with Carthage for the worst starting position in the game. They face Egypt (which will break any alliances you make with them), Parthia (its generals are the super-heavy Cataphract horsemen, almost impossible to stop early in the game) and likely Pontus. Try to establish a firm alliance with Pontus, avoid angering Parthia if at all possible and deal with Egypt early before its economy becomes overwhelmingly dominant. Grab the nearby rebel provinces and don’t be afraid to cheap shot the Greeks once the Brutii engage in war with them. In the long-run, the Seleucids have potentially the best armies in the game – and that includes Rome. Armed with both Cataphracts and Companion Cavalry, as well as all three kinds of Elephant and the best Chariots in the game, the Seleucids can be extremely mobile. Plus, they have the best pike unit (Silver Shield Pikemen, who can defeat even Spartan Hoplites thanks to their longer spears), and a perfect clone of the Legionary Cohort. If you can knock out Egypt early, even Rome will tremble.
Parthia has the unfortunate distinction of having the worst infantry in the game. This means the campaign is extremely difficult for this nation, as cities must be starved into submission rather than fought for in most cases. Their horses range from either the extremely heavy, like cataphracts, to the very light. There’s no in-between and this creates a significant problem on the battlefield. Parthia should expect trouble from the Seleucids, Scythia, Armenia and later on Egypt. Don’t be afraid to sweep across northern Europe and Asia, rather than trying to deal with Egypt in the long run.
The Greek Cities are the antithesis of Parthia. Whereas the Parthians have the worst infantry in the game, the Greeks have the worst cavalry. This is supposed to be mitigated somewhat by the powerful phalanx infantry accessible to the Greeks, the Phalanxes are so slow and poor at maneuvering, infantry battles aren’t easy for Greece either. To make matters worse, the Greeks are very spread out. Their Greek holdings are cornered by Macedon, they have one city on Sicily – Syracuse – which is all but certain to fall to the Scipii, and they have another city in modern-day Turkey, which is threatened by Pontus and the Seleucids. Like the Seleucids and Carthaginians, the Greeks are in the running for worst starting location. Unlike the Seleucids and Carthaginians, the Greeks have little in the way of future prospects due to their poor cavalry. Their infantry, while great on the open field, is terrible at sieges and is always at risk of being out-flanked since Greek cavalry is unable to screen the flanks properly. Oh, and their only decent ranged units are mercenaries.
Don’t bother with rams and ladders when facing stone walls or better. Use onagers to knock the gate down if you must, and use siege engines to scale the walls. Anything else is likely to lead to disaster.
With the exception of cataphracts, chariots and elephants, cavalry units should avoid head-long charges into enemy infantry formations. Even cataphracts, chariots and non-war elephants should avoid frontal attacks on phalanxes.
Remember, in general, barbarians get their money from farming, civilized states from trade.
A city’s culture becomes more like your own as you replace enemy structures with upgrades to your own style. However, some structures, like temples, don’t upgrade – they must be destroyed. Also, if a structure is at a level too high for you to upgrade (as is common with barbarians taking civilized cities), you’ll have to demolish it. This is why barbarians end up wiping out populations and destroying cities in the game.
Don’t forget the Wonders of the World. They provide tangible benefits and most are along the way for the intrepid Scipii or Brutii player. Both the Seleucids and Egyptians are in position to capture all of them as well.
Upgrade your border towns to Stone Walls as soon as possible. This makes a huge difference in the way sieges are fought. Enemy armies without onagers are sure to regret starting a battle.
Remember to move your capital from time to time. Always try to pick the most central position in your empire, in order to minimize those “distance from capital” penalties.
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