Why Do I Suck at Total War?
June 5, 2009 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Help me to be awesome at the Total War series of games...

So I have Medieival II and Rome: Total War.

They're amazing games and exactly what been looking for for a long time.

But I suck at them. Even when I win I feel like I'm mostly getting lucky.

Can't seem to find a lot of worthwhile strategy information on the internet, and I'm not sure it's worth spending money on a strategy guide (unless someone here highly recommends one).

I'm mostly interested in the battle tactics and general gameplay strategy -- not so much interested in the Civilization-style kingdom building aspect (although I could be convinced).

I am mostly interested in playing 1-player battles against the computer AI -- not really an online play kind of guy.

Any advice? Or directions/links to a good resource?
posted by Alabaster to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought of reading up on real battles? Supposedly the game's big selling point is the realism [sic] of being modeled after real armies and units. They should react like the armies would have. Supposedly, real tactics should work with/against them.

But your reality may vary.

For what it's worth, I really enjoy those games and am about to get into Empire: TW.

My basica tactic was to always try hitting them with ranged first, letting them run into infantry, then flanking using cavalry. That works reasonably well much of the time.

The best thing to do is remember what each unit is weak against and try to send that to attack it.
posted by krisak at 1:09 PM on June 5, 2009

Have you tried gamefaqs.com?

I've played both of these games, and the general intuition is that it's a glorified rock-paper-scissors game at heart: archers beat infantry, infantry beat cavalry, and cavalry beat archers.

There are a few other important dimensions though, such as flanking, terrain, etc. Hitting units from the side always gets a bonus over hitting them from the front, which is important if you are fighting infantry with cavalry, and elevated units always have an advantage over lower altitude opponents.

Practice makes perfect, and yes, do read up on actual military strategy.
posted by gushn at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2009


More resources than you can stick your sword at.
They also have excellent mods that will make the vanilla games rather...arcade like.

A strategy that never failed me is the hammer and anvil strategy. Engage their troops with your infantry and hit them behind with your cavalry. Pull your cavalry back and charge again. Rinse and repeat.
posted by 7life at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2009

My son checked out a book from the library on Roman Legion infantry tactics. Seriously.
posted by COD at 1:47 PM on June 5, 2009

Flank, flank, flank!

The basic idea is to engage the enemy army along a line with your footsoldiers, matching squad for squad so there aren't any gaps. Any leftover units and cavalry should be used to flank (attack an engaged force from their vulnerable side, usually the back). As you get farther in a campaign, you have to make sure that you're matching heavy infantry against heavy infantry, or that you have two or three light infantry engaging each enemy heavy infantry squad. Otherwise, your own line may rout. If they've got crappy troops (peasants, city guards) you can spread your own superior units out to engage two of their units. Spread them out by making them wide but not deep, not by increasing the space between them (as you do when you close under arrow-fire). You want to put a solid minimum line together that will hold against the enemy infantry until you can flank, any extra units you should pair and keep mobile at the wings (sides) of the formation. Those will run around the edges of the line and engage from behind. It's important, so I'll repeat it, you don't win battles by attrition, you win by shocking the enemy and demoralizing them into fleeing.

If you have 2-6 units of cavalry (and you should) those are what you'll be flanking the general line with. Before your lines meet, and among the first movement orders you should issue, you should move your cavalry in small groups to the enemy's rear. Constantly try and keep them as close to the enemy army as your main line approaches and engages the infantry. You don't want to engage infantry directly with your cav, at most you can just lure a unit away and keep it busy chasing you. When your main line engages theirs, flank. Just run your cav at their flank and get a few of their units to rout. Ususally this will cause their line to flee en masse and you just chase down anything still standing firm. Once they're running, the enemy general is a good target. Chase him down with whatever cav group is closest and use the others to slaughter whatever units are fleeing. At this point your infantry is just running after the enemy units and breaking any units that are still fighting (like archers). Once they start to flee, just micromanage your cavalry to seal the deal. Dog the enemy general to the border, thin their numbers, and keep them scared.

Other things: high ground counts, don't run your infantry unless necessary, don't run your cav into unengaged infantry (especially spearmen) , flank on sieges by opening up multiple breaches and running down side streets, maybe keep a spare unit with your archers, spread out when approaching under fire and tighten up at the last moment, and don't let them flank!

On preview: yes, once you see a few diagrams of a historic battle you'll know what to do. It really works!
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:55 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try watching Time Commanders. It's a BBC show which used a modified Rome: TW to explore ancient battles. Might give you some ideas.
posted by permafrost at 2:40 PM on June 5, 2009

The biggest advantage that I found (I have only played Medieval) was in learning the advantages of the rank depths that units should be deployed in to maximise their potential. Swordsmen should be deployed only two ranks deep, this gives them a huge wraparound potential, as only the first rank fights the second fills in any fallen gaps. With spearmen I think 4 ranks is good, with the meatgrinder units like the halberds or pikemen 5 or 6 ranks is what you need, as they need the depth as the front 3 or 4 ranks can engage.

The other tips about hammer and anvil, rock paper scissors approach is very useful.

I always had a lot of archers and used to harry the enemy brutally with them taking advantage of high ground (especially if defending). Once the army is advancing onto you then you take the brunt of their charge with your swordsmen against their spears, halberds against their swords. Cavalry are for shock troops with a charge and withdraw, or to mop up the routers. Don't let the cavalry get bogged down in the middle of an enemy unit - so much of their advantage is in that first strike from the charge.

Also I used to try and keep and sizeable tactical reserve of strong units, halberds or pikes mainly - these would not be called into the initial engagement but could wheel to one of the flanks and attack a unit which was causing difficulty.
posted by multivalent at 2:48 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

So my strategy (Medieval and Medieval II) was economic superiority so that I can have the best equipped and largest army on the map, then hit targets that I can easily crush and with a high reward.

But that is strategy.

Another strategy (as much as you hate those) is always to have best of class heavy cavalry and also some light cavalry (one unit is sufficient).

I always have a strong cavalry component, and I use them mercilessly (as I can always buy more, and I'd rather inflict 95% losses on the enemy in one engagement and take moderate cavalry losses than inflict 50% losses on the enemy many times with light cavalry losses - it wastes time)

To inflict such high losses I employ adequate infantry in the center (must know what what enemy is likely to throw at you, but basically you want something that will be able to shock them and inflict massive damage, or if that's not possible, at least hold its own) with a reserve of spear men or equivalent.

I also keep at least one cavalry unit in reserve (usually the light cavalry or general) to chase down routers, the rest I deploy as far to the flanks as possible as quickly as possible (generally cavalry can run fast for quite a while before tiring) but maintaining distance so if the enemy decides to rapidly engage the cavalry my main infantry still has time to quickly engage so the cavalry can pull away.

With that setup in place the tactic is simple... Get the cavalry a clear space to charge, do massive damage to soft targets: any archer, non spear infantry, Speare infantry already engaged (so charge from behind) and cavalry I outclass. Always micromanage the Cavalry so that they are engaging a unit that is flanked and engaged (or at the very least will be engaged soon) by adequate infantry. This way you can disengage your cavalry to other juicy targets or get them some distance and charge the same target again.

Usually if I engage my shock infantry and charge one or two times with all my cavalry an army will crumble, but if not, keep repeating or just surround them, keep everything engaged and wait (usually more casualties that way).

On the battle map, if you are unfortunate enough to be evenly matched or without cavalry you should ask yourself why you have let this happen and then consider more economic and logistical foresight in the future.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 3:42 PM on June 5, 2009

The simplest way to win in Rome: Total War is to play as Carthage, and make as many War Elephants as possible. War Elephants are pretty much the perfect unit. Let me count the ways I love them:

1) They have heavy armor, and unlike virtually every other unit they take many, many hits to kill. So long as the damage they take in battle doesn't rise above a certain (high) threshold, you will not lose any units, and will not have go back to a city and pay for re-enforcements, and will continue gaining ever higher levels of experience and effectiveness.

2) They are the best ranged units in the game. Their arrows have high range and damage, allowing them to kill heavily armored infantry and calvary at a safe distance. Also, due to point 1), they will absolutely destroy enemy archers in ranged duels.

3) The Elephants are fast, and can quickly run out of tight spots or into the thick of the action. Combine this with point 2), and you can use them as missile calvary and have them just trot along ahead of the enemy infantry while picking off their pursuers until it is time to turn and ...

4) completely devastate massed infantry. A herd of elephants charging into a Roman formation is one of the funniest things in Total War; entire legions are sent spraying into the air like charged particles. Combine this with the fear effect that Elephants bring and a charge by your own infantry, and you will immediately route the enemy except on the highest difficultly levels. Of course, trampling is even more effective when you combine it with ...

5) Storming an enemy town, where the defenders are tightly packed in the city streets. One or two units of elephants can make paste out of 8 crowded legions in about 30 seconds. Oh, and the same elephants can also break through the enemy gates, while laying down a withering missile fire on anyone to trying to defend the walls.

Can anything be done about these elephants? Well, they can be killed my siege weapons, so watch out for those. They can also be killed (eventually) by massive calvary charges, so don't let your elephants stray too far from a supporting line of heavy infantry. Finally, they can be killed by overwhelming numbers of light infantry & spearmen, so don't charge into these enemies without first emptying your quivers into them.
posted by Balna Watya at 5:44 PM on June 5, 2009

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