England: Opening Moves Guide

By Gaius Colinius.

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Part of the Bayeux Tapestry.

England has an enviable starting position in that it can very easily have 7 secure & safe provinces very early in the game with a "beachhead" province in Caen. Common sense alone dictates that eradicating the Scots is the key to the opening moves.

It is very likely that missions at the start will lead towards you taking York & Caernarfon. Gather together all available troops, leaving only small garrisons in London & Nottingham. Caen should be armed with a few extra bowmen for a defensive garrison until later. Our mini-army should take York first if possible because the Scots will also be looking to take it. You can then take Caernarfon. You want all your British Isles towns to be cities. This slightly hamstrings you for troop selection against the Scots but use mercenaries if necessary.

If you're going to use mercenaries, you'll need to have money so start building up your economy in your four British towns. You should also look to take the town to the west of Caen, Rennes. It is a rebel held town and can be quite easily defended with a small garrison at that town and a bigger garrison at Caen. It is critical that Caen is held. Lose that and you lose your foothold in France. Caen should be built up into a formidable castle. Towards the middle of the game, it will be your primary troop factory.

You may get a mission or be tempted otherwise to take Bruges until you have secured the British Isles. Avoid this temptation but I do stress that this is my personal preference. While Rennes has the Atlantic to its rear. Bruges has French to the south and the Holy Roman Empire to the east once they take Antwerp. Towards the middle of the game, the Danes will probably take Antwerp. You really don't want to be in a war with these three factions when the home countries are not yet secure. You'll be getting warnings from the Pope and all that so stick with Caen & Rennes until you are ready to move all troops to France. If you don't already have a family member in Caen, move a young one across.

Meanwhile, back home you have York and Caernarfon and are ready to attack Edinburgh. Be warned that the Scots are no pushover and that your troops are quite weak at this stage, especially in infantry. Use archers and knights for your army. Infantry are really just cannon fodder to bog the Scots down with your knights providing the flanking coup de grace. It is possible to hire mercenaries to flesh out your army a bit more but they can be expensive. Consider it if your economy is strong. Play cautious in your battles. Don't be afraid to move right to the back of the map and make the Scots march towards you. This gives you more room to manoeuvre your knights, tires the Scots out and also maximises the use of your archers. You should put your archers onto flaming arrows and switch off fire at will. I also prefer to switch off skirmish mode as archers can be handy for slowing the Scots down giving your knights more time.

Your knights are the key. Don't waste them on attacking spear units front on. In fact, keep enemy spear units till last. Concentrate on neutralising enemy cavalry and missile troops in that order. Spear units can't hurt anybody unless you are up close & personal and if you strip away their supporting troops, they haven't got a chance.

Send replacement militia troops from your English cities if you can. Make sure to move them from city to city because they might rebel if they don't have a general with them.

Once you have taken Edinburgh, you may also have to take Inverness from the Scots. It starts as a rebel province but the Scots usually take it quite quickly. This is a castle town and is a useful place to replenish depleted units. Once I have done this, I convert it into a town. My reasoning is that a castle on the edge of the map is little or no use and you want a strong economy. Fixing up your army and keeping them in the town until the initial civil disorder dies down will be of great benefit later on.

You should look to take Dublin next across the land bridge. In my game, the Scots had already taken it so I went to war with them. You can get some handy mercenaries here so consider it if you need troops and have cash to spare.

If you get any "cease & desist" orders from the Pope at any stage, just call off sieges and wait out the order. If they attack while the order is in place, defend yourself. Once the order expires, siege again and finish the job if possible. Trying to get the Scots excommunicated would take too long so don't bother trying.

With the British Isles secure, you can now afford to move excess troops to Caen and start thinking further ahead. You will need multiple armies to make reasonable gains against the French because they have a tendency to siege your own towns if you take theirs one by one. What I usually do is look at the French troops disposition. They usually leave one or two towns/castles very lightly defended. Send only a small army to that place while big armies go to heavily defended towns. I went for a three-pronged approach sieging Paris, Angiers and Rheims in one turn. Hopefully you will be able to take these before the Pope intervenes. By producing a lot of archer units in Caen, you should get a woodsman's guild. This will give you Sherwood archer units. I'm not a major fan of them as they are hard to re-train but they are excellent for use in France with the guild in Caen available for retraining.

A word on spies. Send spies into all the French cities. If a city has a small garrison, send a load of spies in. This will cause public order to drop and if the city rebels which can happen, you can take it without getting into trouble with the Pope. I managed to take Zarazoga from the French by this method. It won't work all the time but every province helps.


Crusades

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A medieval illustration.

If you are having problems with the Pope, send a diplomat to him and give him gifts of map information & small amounts of cash to keep him happy. It is very likely that he will have called a crusade by this stage, probably on Jerusalem. This crusade may even be called before you have secured the British Isles. You can approach crusades in two different ways.

  1. Send a family member and eight cheap units like militia or peasants. Their upkeep will be zero while on crusade. This is a good approach to take if you don't want to keep Jerusalem and are just crusading for the sake of keeping the pope happy.
  2. Send a decent army with good quality troops supplemented by crusading mercenaries. Army upkeep is zero while on crusade so feel free to hire crusading mercenaries and disband them when the crusade is over.

Crusades are important because they keep the pope happy and when successful, give your family members valuable traits, like piety and chivalry.

To be able to make the holy land from England in time, you will have to use boats. Your boats at this time are weak so you need to gang them together. Eight or so in the fleet should be safe. If you lose your fleet, you lose your army. The overland route is just too far for England. At this stage, Jerusalem is usually lightly defended so taking it is not a problem.

Now you are left with the problem of what to do with it. Exterminate the population and you solve the civil unrest problem at the cost of giving your general Dread traits. Occupy the city and it will take ages to quell the civil disorder. Personally, I usually gift the city to the Papal States as holding onto it causes too many problems for too little gain but this can cause unexpected consequences like giving the Papal States a taste for expansion. Try gifting the province to somebody with almost no chance of holding onto it. Do you need a ceasefire with some annoying pest who keeps blockading your ports but is too far away for you to hit them back? Yup. Gift it to them. Before you give the city away produce a few priests. These guys will be important later on.


Building Up & Opening New Fronts Outside of France

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An image of the Battle of
Bannockburn.

Okay so now you have an army with a better general and +1 experience troops. Now is the time to start wrecking havoc. Take Nicosia on Cyprus. This is a Byzantine fortress and is a great place to produce troops. I usually keep it as a fortress until I get a better one on the mainland and then convert it into a city.

Take any other islands you can. They are great bases as the AI rarely seems to invade and the trade will be excellent. If Sicily hasn't already taken them, take Sardinia and Corsica. In fact, you should probably take them anyway as Sicily seem to get excommunicated nearly as much as the Holy Roman Empire in my game. Rhodes is a little trickier. The Venetians are to be found there as they nearly always take it early. You can take it from them but they are aggressive and are bound to try and take it back but it's worth the chance. Likewise Crete. At this stage, you should have the British Isles secure, northern France and as many of the Mediterranean islands as possible. With these provinces, your economy should be at a decent level and you can start looking at new fronts aside from France. I chose to pick on the Moors. Since they are Muslim, you'll have no problems with the Pope and they are not all that tough. Take Tunis first and work west from there. Ignore the province to the east of Tunis as this will give you a buffer when the Mongols arrive.

Now that you are taking Muslim provinces, you need to get your college of cardinals controlling phase into gear. Start churning out priests from a central town until you reach your agent limit. I used Tunis. You should get a theologians guild after a while. Refuse all other guilds until you get this. Keep doing this again until you get the master guild upgrade. It takes quite a while to get the headquarters upgrade but you will get it eventually if you keep producing priests. Send these priests in bulk into the Muslim provinces. They will start converting and gaining piety. The beauty is that all priests in that province will gain piety from conversion so this will give you loads of cardinals in no time. Once you have a province up to about 80% catholic, move to another. It may be possible to keep moving your priests/cardinals between two provinces as the Muslim owners convert them back once your priests are gone. Ship your top cardinals back home to England and France to stamp out heretics. You really don't want the inquisition poking around your provinces and burning your family members at the stake.

The reason I opened a front in North Africa is because the Pope is going to get in the way of your French campaign a lot. He issued at least 4-5 "cease & desist" orders in my English campaign. Unless you are lucky enough to get the French excommunicated, your campaign will be a slow one. This will not help you gain provinces quickly enough. Once North Africa is secure you can look elsewhere. I like to take Corinth when I can. It is an excellent point to churn out troops to expand into the Balkans [turn Nicosia into a city now]. The Byzantines tend to be weak from battling Venice, Hungary, Turks plus the Mongols and are easily knocked off. Mind the Venetians. They are aggressive and will torment you unless you take Durazzo. It is very worth your while to take Constantinople & Sofia. In Sofia, you'll have another castle to replenish your troops.


Back in Western Europe

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Part of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Back in Western Europe you will hopefully have subdued France or most of it. If they are down to a few provinces, try and make them your vassal. You have a reasonable chance of success if you propose a decent tribute as well. Now you are likely to come into conflict with Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire and possibly Milan too. Hopefully your economy will be a power house at this point. Caen, Angiers, Toulouse & Bordeaux should be your troop factories. Consider a two-pronged approach on the Iberian Peninsula from France & North Africa. This could take time depending on the Pope.

Your eastern border needs to be defended. If the HRE is excommunicated, attack them but be wary of extending your borders too far. The Danes tend to be aggressive and will take towns if you leave them unguarded. Milan could do the same to your southern border. Expand slowly & cautiously, leaving no gaps for the Danes or Milanese to exploit. The bulk of your expansion can be done in the near/middle east.


Expand in the East

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A medieval illustration.

If you have a secure position in the Balkans, now is the time to push into Asia Minor [Turkey]. I prefer this route as the provinces to the north tend to be large & poorly developed. It would also require a huge amount of troops to campaign effectively and the travel distance required is very large. Asia Minor is far more compact and sets you up for taking Jerusalem which you need to win. If you hold the British Isles, France, North Africa, Balkans, Asia Minor & the holy land, you will have the 45 provinces required to win as well as Jerusalem.

When expanding this way, remember that the Mongols will be here if they have not arrived already. They tend to be very expansionist but by keeping battles to sieges, I negate the effect of their horse archers somewhat. Use peasants as arrow fodder if you are concerned about your better quality troops being depleted by arrow fire.

 


The New World

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An old map of the Americas.

Once you have the "world is round" event, you can build carracks and sail into the west. It's a land of opportunity this New World. Firstly, you get new towns without bothering your European neighbours. Secondly, the Pope doesn't mind you slaughtering them. Thirdly, since they are 100% pagan, it's a great place to train cardinals.

The natives have almost zero armour so send in the heavy infantry to sort them out. They do have spearmen so mind your family members, it'll take a long time to send a fresh batch over.

The Aztecs are not a complete walkover. They have many units with high attack and seem to maintain full-stacks with huge unit numbers. They will very easily swarm your foot troops so make sure you use your cavalry properly. They also move fast so use artillery to soften them up a bit first. In some ways, they are similar to Germania in RTW with low armour, high attack & huge numbers. Missiles & mobility are your best friend.


Units Available to the English

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Three knights in their
armour.

A word on units. England doesn't have access to decent quality spear units so you'll be relying on armoured swordsmen & dismounted English knights a lot for your infantry backbone. They will take casualties from cavalry charges but there's not a whole lot you can do about that. Use armoured swordsmen instead of dismounted feudal knights. They have a slightly higher defence and much cheaper maintenance. Dismounted English knights have excellent attack but lower defence than swordsmen. Use them as your primary attack troops. The swordsmen will take the brunt of the enemy attacks. I usually go with five of each.

Archers are very important and since the English have such good archer units to select from, it would be rude not to make use of them. Retinue longbowmen are excellent but can be hard to retrain on campaign. Use their stakes before a battle. Every bit helps against cavalry heavy factions.

Billmen have great attack but poor defence. They also get no bonus against cavalry. You could use them as flanking troops but dismounted nobles do that as well and have better defence. I don't use billmen personally as they are not as flexible & multi-purpose as the other infantry available.

I always try to have two family members with each full stack army. There's nothing worse than having one die and then losing the army as they rebel. Try to ensure that the second general is young, in case the older guy dies. There's nothing more frustrating than having to wait ten turns while you ship a family member all the way from Western Europe to Asia Minor.

English knights are great troops [as well as looking great] but they can be hard to retrain on campaign. Feudal knights don't really hack it in the late game though.

Lancers are very far up the technology tree so I wouldn't use them for that reason but they are not all that good either for the investment required.

I usually go for:

  • 2 generals
  • 3 knights
  • 5 dismounted English knights
  • 5 armoured swordsmen
  • 5 longbowmen

It would be entirely feasible to reduce the infantry component and go for more cavalry instead. Try to fight on open battlefields and avoid forests because they hamper your archers and the movement of your troops.

Alternatives are:

  • 2 generals
  • 5 knights
  • 4 dismounted English knights
  • 4 armoured swordsmen
  • 5 longbowmen

Or:

  • 2 generals
  • 3 knights
  • 4 dismounted English knights
  • 4 armoured swordsmen
  • 5 longbowmen
  • 2 artillery


Alternatives & Conclusions

So you disagree with this guide? Sure, no problem. They are just suggestions. You could very easily land an invasion force in Denmark but that would bring you into conflict with another catholic faction and they never seem to get excommunicated in my games.

Expanding further into Europe will also bring you into conflict with other catholic factions.

The strategy suggested here will see you build a safe & solid base in Europe with the possibility of real expansion in the middle/near east.