Withstanding Sieges

By Mebertus.

The siege is a key part of Medieval II: Total War. Apparently, the CA people got something right, for the siege was a key part of real medieval total war as well. First, some brief history on the principle of the siege.

A long time ago, Caveman Bob set up a fence around his cave. Caveman Fred, trying to defeat Caveman Bob, tore down Bob's fence and then raped him. This spurred on a great technological advance: Bob built the first wall, to better defend himself. When Fred returned, he could not get through the wall, and thus sat outside the wall until Bob starved to death. Thus, the siege was born.

Ah, well, enough about the history crap. Let's get on to the real reason anybody is reading this article: because they want to pwn some n00bs in M2TW! Bad news for you people: I hate you, and when I fight my battles, I try to have a sense of decency. There are some ways to practically guarantee victory, but those kinds of things are below the belt (Translation: 1337 haX) and will not be referenced in this expository.

The primary implements in defending against a siege are castles. Hopefully, if you're defending, you'll be inside one, because they are far superior to cities for defense. That is why it is often smart to place your castles on the outside of your empire, and your cities within. This layered approach works well in the early game, when settlements can still be converted. That is one of the cases for an early quick advance.

First, when conducting the defense of a castle or city, it's important to know the strength and depth of your defenses. There are several methods of doing this. I suggest using your eyes, because clairvoyance is hard to learn.

There are several key things to look for when determining the strength of your defenses:

  1. The number of walls
  2. Holes in your wall
  3. The size and complexity of said holes
  4. Possible routes of enemy advance
  5. Number, type, and strength of defenders
  6. Possible idiocy of defenders
  7. Number, type, and strength of attackers
  8. Tips and tricks
  9. Preparation
  10. Types of defense

1. The Number of Walls

The number of walls is fairly key. If you have more walls, you have more chances at destroying the enemy siege equipment. This is especially useful if the enemy has mainly cavalry, because they can't jump over walls like infantry can. Then, if you do manage to stop them at an interior wall, you can laugh at all the horses that are stuck between two sets of towers. Or at least I like to.


2. Holes in your wall

You may have holes in your wall if you have recently engaged another enemy army. You may also have holes in your wall if they enemy attacked you a century ago, but you're like me and too cheap and lazy to fix the stupid thing. Remember that holes in your wall are nasty things, and that they act like a gate, except without the bonus of extra towers. Avoid holes.


3. The size and complexity of said holes

I have noticed that the AI feels a need to put at least 5 holes in my wall before they attack. Normally, this would be normal, but then they only use one hole. Remember that you can take advantage of these holes and attack them from the rear; start thinking about possible avenues of advance as soon as you notice the cavity.


4. Possible routes of enemy advance

Presumably, you have downloaded patch 1.1. If you are in 1.1, you don't have to worry about the enemy not attacking you. If you are still using patch 1.0, you will most likely have noticed that many times the enemy refuses to attack. In this case, wait for the timer to run down. Hopefully, however, you have the patch, and in that case, you can be reasonably sure that the enemy will attack you. Notice the position of enemy siege equipment, and draw invisible lines with your mind displaying the route of enemy advance. Some people also use dry erase markers. Only use a dry erase marker if you are on a CRT, because LCD's are a pain in the ass to clean off, not to mention the fact that it's impossible to dry erase those things, and you'll probably electrocute yourself by using water. Then, once you are inside the wall, if you are in a fortress or citadel, you can trace the route of enemy advance to your second gate, because they can't fit anything else through their walls. (Well, I've never seen them do it ...) Also watch the top of your own wall, because sometimes (though not often) the AI will use the first wall to reach the second wall. If you are in multiplayer, this is relatively obvious, and you might have to work to defend yourself.


5. Number, type, and strength of defenders

Your troops are the most important part of the defense. Unlike in RTW, towers only work if your people are standing next to them. I don't exactly get the logic with that, unless somehow your generals can use telekinesis to fire a cannon, but that's how CA designed it. At any rate, I generally use my crappy troops for one of two things. First, I place them near towers that will obviously be used, but most likely won't come under attack - that way they man them. Second, I place them in the castle square so that when your entire army routs, you don't lose. Archers are good around the gates, where the enemy battering rams are located. Battering rams are the second most deadly siege device, and all the more so because of their relative cheapness. While climbing on walls can be all dandy, battering rams cause irreparable damage to your gates, and thus let all the enemy cavalry inside in addition to their infantry. Placing archers over gates so that they can destroy those pesky rams is an imperative. You can also try to shoot siege towers, but those things suck by definition. I wouldn't bother if you can destroy a ram instead. Also notice your strength. I generally will place my weaker troops on the outside, and stronger troops as the enemy works themselves inside. That way, while they are tired and wavering, they run smack dab into some fresh übermen. When this happens, the shock is such that they rout, and once the rout starts for an attacker it seldom ends. The number of defenders is also important. Unlike in most battles, bigger is not always better when defending, for points I will come to later. Thus, know when to place men in reserve.


6. Possible idiocy of defenders

Because this is a program that runs using a limited artificial intelligence, the people inside of it will be inherently stupid. I spend the vast majority of my expletives used in the course of this game during battles, particularly sieges. It just seems that my men have the intelligence of a pea: specifically, they know how to get chewed up, digested, and defecated into a little porcelain structure. It seems that these poor mentally challenged souls grow even malicious in cities, almost as if they have been possessed by the spirit of some higher being. I believe this being to be a lemming. At any rate, they will be come especially stupid around walls. Try not to move them on walls, or give them any orders while on walls. It is a good idea to have your wall-men and ground-men separated beforehand, because failure to do so will result in you having to move men around. Then, when half are on the walls and half are on the ground, the poor fools don't know what else to do but commit suicide, which they do admirably. Avoid this if at all possible. I've also noticed that ordering them to attack men on siege towers will force them to run outside and try to use the siege tower themselves. Avoid this as well. If you set up your defense right, you may never have to order your men; avoiding orders is one of the best ways to avoid stupidity; after all, how hard is it to just stand there? Fairly hard, but if they find remaining stationary difficult to accomplish, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to wonder what will happen if you give them a real order, for instance - god forbid - marching.


7. Number, type, and strength of attackers

Your enemy is the prime reason you have to fight this stupid battle in the first place, so it is wise to pay attention to them. Under certain circumstances, one may ignore them - I am actually defending in a siege battle as I write this - and so far I don't seem to be getting screwed. Nevertheless, it is, as a general rule, a good idea to understand your enemy. It can lead hints to their strategy. If they have a ton of cavalry, it can be a sure bet that they are going to use rams or siege weapons to get rid of your walls. Thus, it will be to your advantage to destroy these two things and thus prevent your enemy from doing so. A strategy I often use against enemies based on cavalry, such as the Mongols, is to place the bulk of my men on the wall and make it an all out mission to destroy their rams and rocket launchers and such stuff. I have won several battles simply by routing all enemy infantry, as opposed to the entire enemy outright. The great thing about castles is that sometimes you have a second or third chance, depending on how advanced it is. When defending a city, the enemy will break through, and you'll be screwed. You'll get run over and that's that. But with fortresses and those marvelous, sexy hunks of stone known as citadels, you have more than one chance to get those rams. They also are very slow, so if you have the timer on (which I don't recommend, because it's pansy), you might let the time run waiting for them to come.


8. Tips and tricks

There are also several tricks that one may utilize in order to help defend against assaults when in castles. I have summarized them below.

Reverse Psychology

Sometimes, though not often, I will opt to place artillery inside my walls. Generally, trebuchets and mortars are the only weapons with arcs of fire high enough to get over the wall, but used right, and they can be deadly. They can destroy artillery and siege weapons far easier than towers, and at greater ranges. Cannons, serpentines, ribaults, and basilisks can be used inside the walls, though only for street fighting. Bombards and grand bombards are not recommended.

Regicide

The enemy general is the most valuable enemy unit, especially in siege warfare. Attackers are touchy when assaulting stone in addition to men, and are therefore easy to rout. Concentrating on the general, so much so that you waste far more troops than you kill, can be used as an atom bomb to enemy morale, and will work when all other hope is lost.

Catapult Banzi

Enemy artillery is often the most effective weapon they can use against you, and what's worse, is that they are generally out of range. By sending your cavalry out, you can try to rout their weapons before they can severely damage your walls. Be forewarned: your cavalry are almost certainly screwed, and even so, chances for success are not good. This is not a job for your general.

Suckerpunch

An interesting method I sometimes use can help weaken the strength of enemy battering rams. As the ram nears my gates, I will send men out to attack the unit arming it. The ram will stop, and them men will start fighting, giving my archers time to get rid of the ram. Also, if your men make it back inside, your gates are still serviceable.

Mousetrap

An addition to the suckerpunch method, you can attack and then draw the enemy inside your walls. Then, after a sufficient amount are separated, attack at the end of their column, separating them from the gates. If you do this right, the gates will shut, and then half their army is between your pissed off troops and a hard place.


9. Preparation

Preparing for siege is also important. If I notice that the enemy is about to attack me, I will start preparing as soon as I notice. This often will be when they attack, which is a little late, but if I happen to figure it out beforehand (hint: large enemy stacks hanging around your cities is a good harbinger of doom), I will do some things to prevent my ass from being kicked. This consists of making repairs and retraining and recruiting last minute units. Do not build anything that takes more than one turn, because if you do, it won't be finished in time, and production stops during a siege. There are some good units to have, and there are bad units. Try to keep them straight:

Examples of good units:

  • Heavy infantry
  • Archers
  • More archers
  • Some light infantry
  • High-trajectory artillery (Trebuchets, mortars)

Examples of bad units:

  • Cavalry, for the most part
  • Low-trajectory artillery
  • Lots of light infantry

Now why are some good, and some bad? Heavy infantry can hold key positions far easier than light infantry, which is only really effective when moshed. A mosh pit of infantry can be demoralizing to an enemy, but is particularly dangerous; if your general is not present in the mosh pit, one rout can start a chain reaction that will destroy you, and if your general is in it, and he dies, the battle is pretty much lost. Heavy infantry are also very effective on walls. Gone are the days of RTW when units routed on walls they fought to the death; now, your men will actually rout. This is good for the defenders, because it means that the enemy is far easier to get off the wall, but it also means that stronger units must be placed on the wall. Also, stronger units will outlast the enemy, and sieges, even in battles, are often simply a waiting game. Whoever routs first will lose, and the longer your men can hold out, the better.


10. Types of defense

There are thee main types of defense when holding off an enemy army. These three types are a Static Defense, a Dynamic Defense, and a Composite Defense.

Static Defense

A Static Defense is the most simple of all defense strategies. When one is utilizing a static defense, one simply places his units directly in front of the enemy, and does not give them orders. This works fairly well, most of the time. It also has the advantage of not requiring you to give your men orders, and this is very important, as I have pointed out in my previous section on the stupidity of your soldiers. However, static defenses can have problems, especially when the odds are particularly out of your favor. A static defense cannot react well, and will not have a reserve. While it may have several lines of defense, it is not conducted with a fallback plan in mind. A static defense can basically be termed as a fight to the death, since there is no room for error. They must be meticulously planned, but if done right, can be very effective at crushing enemy troops at minimal losses. The problem, of course, is that you must be there to meet every single enemy attack, and you only have enough men to do that when the odds are not far out of your favor. Even so, they maximize the chance of victory, though they increase the chance of heavy casualties being sustained.

Dynamic Defense

A dynamic defense is a very hard thing to pull off, and relies a lot on luck. The only time you really need to use a dynamic defense is when you have a lot of cavalry units. Cavalry works far better under charge conditions, and so it is better to place your cavalry far from the gates, so that when the enemy breaks through, you can meet them in stride. Placing infantry around your gate in an ambush is another method; a dynamic defense usually relies on a small force at the wall, followed by a large, strong reserve that is brought up where it is needed. This strategy is only very effective when one has a lot of cavalry, and is not recommended otherwise.

Composite Defense

A composite defense combines both elements of a static defense and a dynamic defense. Composite defenses often result in higher enemy casualties than static defenses, but are far riskier. Composite defenses are most effective in citadels and fortresses, where your men can fall back to a second line of defense. A composite defense will have a moderately sized reserve, with static defense positions interwoven. When utilizing a composite defense, one is at liberty to do more things - however, if you make a mistake, you are often far more screwed than you would under a static defense. The advantage of a composite defense lies in its ability to accept odds. When the odds are far out of your favor, and you do not have many mounted units, a composite defense can be utilized to help secure victory.

Sallying forth

Sometimes, it is best to sally forth. This sort of defeats the purpose of the siege, so I do not do it often. However, sometimes it is a good idea, under specific purposes. The obvious time for this to happen is when you are about to surrender, and it is your only hope. A good tool there is the mousetrap method, which I described earlier, though this does not always work. However, another important time to sally forth is when two armies besiege you, and your general can conduct a night attack. Attacking at night will remove half the enemy reinforcements, and you can therefore greatly increase your chances of victory. When sallying forth, send your cavalry out first. Then, send out your infantry, and get them in formation before assaulting. Sometimes, it is a good idea to place your units in column formation. That is a good idea if you are planning on fighting within the indent that forms in your wall around the gate. However, if you are not planning on doing this, move your men into a standard formation, and fight it as if the walls were not there.


A final note

CA, for some reason, made the ballista towers sound like cannons and shoot huge rocks, and made the cannon towers sound like ballistae and shoot arrows. Not only that, but ballista towers tend to be more effective at killing than cannon towers. Until they fix this, don't upgrade your buildings, because it will be an effective downgrade.

At any rate, if anybody actually read this, here's hoping you don't die tomorrow,

Freddy (the recently turned strategy critic Mebertus)