France: Opening Moves

By Aftermath.

In this installment of our 'Opening Moves' guides we deal with France and their conquering of Western Europe. Again it was tricky to write because France is surrounded by enemies, and each time I tested a different enemy attacked me on a different front. The guide below is a sort of composite of the best opening moves which I found helped secure all borders of the Kingdom as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Please note that this guide was written for the Very Hard/Very Hard difficulty settings to ensure it covers every aspect of France's early campaign possible. It is not guaranteed steps for success but it should help you set up for a good campaign following turn 13, but feel free to deviate from some of the steps shown above if you feel necessary, not every run of the grand campaign will play the same. Some of the screen shots were taken using a mod which changes the appearance of some units such as castles. However, other benefits of the mod were not applied during the testing and writing of this guide, so it is still relevant to vanilla copies of the original Medieval II Total War.

OVERVIEW

France's starting position.

France is potentially what I like to call a 'fortress nation'. That is - secure homelands making a decent economic advantage whilst being easy to militarily defend. However, much like Portugal your starting provinces are divided in two. Luckily though, all that stand between united these settlements are some pesky rebels.

Your neighboring factions are England, Portugal, Spain (potentially), HRE, Milan and Denmark (potentially). Not all of these factions will present a great threat to you however, England are fairly easily overcome once you have them backed up in Great Britain. Denmark is usually not too strong on your borders because to get there it needs to wrestle with the Holy Roman Empire and take the fearsomely defended Bruges. Spain has the potential to push up into southern France but this is more likely to be the Portuguese as the Spanish are usually busy with the Moors. Milan and the HRE are undoubtedly your biggest threats with the Holy Roman Empire launching strikes from their numerous castles on your border and the Milanese moving more often than not to conquer Marseilles then up towards Dijon.

Strategically, your first priority will be uniting France. That is, snatching up all the nearby rebel provinces. Meanwhile you need to be mindful of the English encroaching from the north. Removing their castle in Caen is a priority. By doing this you are securing your northern border, and have provided yourself an entry to the British Isles, which will also be an early priority target. Once you have conquered the Isles you face little threat from the North and are free to expand into either Germany/Northern Italy or Spain. The map of France's starting location above has been edited to illustrate the various threats that you will be facing, from which factions and where these incursions typically come from - as you can see, as France you're pretty much surrounded.

France's position in the North.

France's position in the South.

Here are some screenshots of your starting position. In the south, you have a castle at Toulouse and another town at Marseilles. Whilst in the north you possess a wooden castle at Angers, a large town at Paris and a regular town at Rheims. You also start off fairly well militarily. Each settlement you own has a combination of Spear Militia and Peasant Archers with your family members dotted around them. Also you have two modest field armies. One is located by Bordeaux, the other by Dijon. These two stacks contain a combination of spear militia, peasant archer and mailed knights. These two armies are poised here ready to take the two nearby rebel settlements straight away. Agent-wise you begin with a Cardinal by Bordeaux, a Princess by Paris and a Spy watching over the rebel held settlement Dijon to the east.

THE STARTING TURN

Moving to besiege Dijon.

Firstly, move your army near to Dijon to siege the settlement, queue up a ram to bust through the gate next turn. Also, move your general and a unit or of spear militia out of Rheims to bolster your besieging force. It should take them more than one turn to reach the siege, but because you laid siege with the army before you combined the two the ram will be ready and waiting the next turn.

Do the same over at Bordeaux. Move the general out of Toulouse along with a few units to meet up with the army stationed by the nearby river. Now they are ready to lay siege to Bordeaux the following turn. The reason for this is because the garrison is notably better than the rebel force holed up in Dijon so you'll need a stronger force to take it from them, not to mention it's a castle and not a Town.

Keep moving your Princess towards her destination grabbing up whatever trade rights you can on your way. On the other hand, on several play-throughs while testing this guide I was offered a marriage proposal by a general significantly better than Puccio Rossi who comes of age a few turns down the line. Don't be afraid to take up such an offer.

Construct the following buildings:

Angers - Convert to town: You don't really need a wooden castle, with Caen just north and relatively unguarded this undeveloped castle is not much use.

Paris - Land Clearance: All important trade and population boost.

Rheims - Grain Exchange: Trade benefits

Marseilles - Wooden Wall: This town is ready to upgrade straight away.

Toulouse - Mustering Hall: So you can build some higher level infantry to help defend the border to Spain.

Recruit the following units:

Angers - Mounted Sergeants: At this point of the game very useful due to the basic infantry you'll be facing and chasing and capturing routers.

Paris - Spear Milita: To bolster your garrison for now, later, to help attack Caen.

Rheims - Town Militia: This will soon be your border with the aggressive Holy Roman Empire, extra garrison units are important until you can focus solely on this front of your Empire.

Marseilles - Town Militia: This settlement is relatively isolated from the rest of your Empire, and lies within grasp of the aggressive Milanese. Expect this settlement to be attacked so bolster the garrison.

Move your agents around as you see fit, but I find that positioning my Spy a little further to the east to watch the nearby Holy Roman Empire settlements is a good idea. Meanwhile seek all the trade rights you can to the east with your princess. Perhaps begin moving her down towards Milan where the excellent young general Puccio Rossi will soon come of age. I also moved my Cardinal north to get line of sight on the rebel settlement Rennes which the English typically try and take.

TURN 2

Press your army on to siege Bordeaux, build a ram and two or three ladders. They should be completed within one turn. Meanwhile, over at Dijon your ram and army are ready to take the town. Promptly siege and sack to gain some quick cash for further building.

Construct the following buildings:

Toulouse - Garrison Quarters: More advanced infantry selection for what is currently your main castle.

Angers - Land Clearance: Once again, good for population and trade boost.

Dijon - Brothel: To recruit spies to watch your borders to the east which are currently at the most risk of invasion.

Recruit the following units:

Paris - 2 units of town militia: To bolster the garrison when you move out the King and the spear militia to attack Caen.

TURN 3

Your army is now ready to assault Bordeaux. The battle can be a little tough here so you might consider buying a unit or two of Mercenary Spearmen. Sack the castle once you have taken control of it.

Construct the following buildings:

Marseilles - Port: Valuable for trade income and later for sea access to Italy and Spain.

Bordeaux - Port: For the same reasons as above. Plus this castle is an excellent point to launch a naval assault on Spain once you have the ability to recruit ships. Also handy for defending this area of your coastline which can be prone to naval invasions from the Portuguese.

Recruit the following units:

Paris - Spear Militia

Marseilles - 2 units of town militia

TURN 4

Portugal takes a look at Bordeaux.

Another quiet turn while you build up a stronger economy and secure your existing provinces. Typically around this turn the Spanish and Portuguese will start sniffing around the fresh conquest of Bordeaux and your main castle Toulouse. They'll either walk up through the mountain passes between you and Iberia but also the Portuguese have a tendency to board a fleet and unload their forces just north of Bordeaux. Their walking armies are typically small and insignificant, the ones which come from the sea are too but during testing there was the odd occasion where I had almost a full Portuguese stack floating around my western borders. Just be weary and make sure you have enough town militia in nearby towns and villages if they move towards them. Do not be afraid to deviate from the guide if it means it'll save a settlement.

Construct the following buildings:

Angers - Grain Exchange

Dijon - Land clearance

Recruit the following units:

Paris - 2 units of Spear Militia

TURN 5

Now move King Philip out of Paris with the units you have been building up. There should be around four units of Spear Militia, two units of town miltia, one peasant crossbow and peasant archer unit. Move this stack towards Rennes.

Construct the following buildings:

Marseilles - Land Clearance: This can be one of your wealthiest cities once it has a decent economy.

Toulouse - Drill Square: Even better infantry for defending this part of your empire and for the inevitable invasion of Spain later in the game.

Recruit the following units:

Paris - Spear Militia

Dijon - Spy

TURN 6

Beating the English to Rennes.

Now move the spy you just created in Dijon to get line of sight on the nearby rebel settlement of Bern. This is a well fortified castle with a respectable garrison. Either the Milanese or HRE will try and conquer it but it can very well be an excellent defensive point for you too...

Bern under rebel control.

Also around this point Rheims was typically ready to be upgraded to a wooden wall. Do this if the town is ready but save the florins for when it is if not. Also, if it is not yet ready for an upgrade it shall be soon so it's recommended that you set taxes there, and in Angers to normal. Continue marching King Philip to lay siege to Rennes the next turn.

Construct the following buildings:

Dijon - Grain Exchange

Rheims - Wooden Wall (If needed this turn)

TURN 7

King Philip and his accompanying army should be in position to siege Rennes. Do it. Also, around this turn I took the opportunity to move the second spy we created down to watch the Milanese on the borders of Marseilles and moved the first spy a little further south to pick up the slack watching the HRE.

Construct the following buildings:

Marseilles - Grain Exchange.

Recruit the following units:

Toulouse - Sergeant Spearmen.

TURN 8

King Philip should assault and sack Rennes this turn, and typically, Angers and Rheims are ready for an upgrade to wooden walls.

Construct the following buildings:

Rennes - Land Clearance.

TURN 9

Take a second to look at your kingdom. You have almost fortified your position too. All that needs doing is a few more constructions and troop movements to put you in the best possible place to fortify the borders and prepare for expansion or turtling, whichever you want.

Construct the following buildings:

Marseilles - Town guard: To enable recruitment of more advanced militia troops if you hope to stand up to those fearsome Italian Militia.

Dijon - Wooden Wall

Recruit the following units:

Toulouse - Armoured Sergeants: Your king's primary muscle is being built here, so as not to rely on spear militia any longer.

TURN 10

This turn move King Philip back out of the recently conquered Rennes, leaving behind those two town militia units you took with you as the garrison. Move this stack back towards Paris.

Construct the following buildings:

Rennes - Grain Exchange: To enable recruitment of more advanced militia troops if you hope to stand up to those fearsome Italian Militia.

Recruit the following units:

Paris - 2 units of Spear militia

Toulouse - 1 unit of Armoured Sergeants and 1 unit of Sergeant Spearmen: Your king's primary muscle is being built here, so as not to rely on spear militia any longer.

TURN 11

King Philip should be back within walking distance of Angers and Paris now, so take all those spare units that are currently sitting in them and merge with his stack. You should leave only two militia units in either Paris or Angers to maintain public order.

Also, move the garrisoned units out of Toulouse and Bordeaux, again leaving behind one unit for public order maintenance. Merge these two to form a single stack and press them north towards Paris.

TURN 12

This turn you are preparing to soften the pope, who is probably not your best friend. On my test runs of this guide I normally sat at around 4 favour, never any more than 5 or any less than 3. But the issue is that England was always a good bit more popular than me with the pope. Also, this turn I lowered the taxes in Rennes back to normal as it was nearing the point of being upgraded. Continue moving your formidable army from Bordeaux/Toulouse up towards Paris.

Construct the following buildings:

Rennes - Dirt roads.

Build Small Churches in Angers, Rheims, Dijon and Marseilles.

TURN 13 AND BEYOND

This is effectively the end of the turn by turn breakdown of the opening moves in the French grand campaign. You have successfully brought yourself to the point where you are poised to attack in whatever direction you please. I would recommend that you recruit some priests this turn to continue buttering up the pope because whichever direction you go in there is a fellow Catholic faction.

Attacking Caen.

The most appropriate route to go down now would be to attack the English at Caen. Beware though, they typically have a formidable full stack of armoured sergeants, archers, sergeant spearmen and mailed knights and also tend to keep a decent garrison to protect the castle itself. I would recommend that you attack using both of your armies. The lesser to lay siege to the castle itself whilst the one containing your best units goes to fight the English stack on the open field. Mercenary Spearmen, Frankish Swordsmen and Mercenary Spearmen were invaluable here to bolster my ranks. Once you have control of Caen, take a few turns to regroup and reform your armies. Then begin the invasion of the British Isles. Once you have control of them, you are free to persue one of the options below, backed up by the very safe economic base you now control in Great Britain.

Bruges is an option.

Alternative options include securing Bruges first, a large town which generates a good income. However it is very well protected and you will probably leave the battle with a very bloody stack of soldiers so at this point of the game it may not be worthwhile unless you think the English are currently too strong and need more time and florins to build up a better force to tackle them.

Another option is taking Bern, the rebel castle in excellent position which sits between you, the Holy Roman Empire and Milan. A great defensive position to have. A good defensive plan of the eastern part of your Kingdom could be to take Bern and also the HRE controlled Staufen and rebel settlement Metz and you'd have a great barrier to dissuade attacks on your economic powerhouse beyond the wall of castles.

Finally, you could spend your time expanding south into Spain. You could even call a Crusade on one of the Moorish settlements like Cordoba, Crusade down there with a decent stack of troops and expand from there once you have captured it. If you do it this way the Spanish and Portuguese should be easy pickings once you roll some reinforcements down through the mountains in northern Spain from your military powerhouses in Toulouse and Bordeaux - able to create a respectable standing army within a turn or two.

ON DEALING WITH THE POPE

As a Catholic faction, France have to deal with the potential pain in the backside Pope. However, if turned into an ally a good relationship with the Pope can be very beneficial indeed. Particularly for a nation surrounded by other Catholic factions which will inevitably become your enemies. You begin the campaign with a modest 5 favour with the Pope. It is worth noting that England begins with a higher favour value than France.

You can stay in good favour with the pope by doing several things. Firstly, try not to aggravate any of the other Catholic nations, for example when I went to take Rennes from the rebels my king and his stack marched straight across England's territory in Caen, resulting in a loss of favour with the pope for stirring up 'abysmal' relations with England. Also, try to use your Cardinal to get rid of any rebel priests you see wandering around. I usually got a couple by turn 6 or 7 because a lot of your settlements don't even start with small churches. Even better than just playing nice is getting your princess down to Rome to get an early alliance with the Papal States, gift them some spare florins and map information. The more you do to get the pope on your side the better, it is invaluable to have him take your side when you come to push the English back to the British Isles. They may even get excommunicated if you give them the opportunity to counter-attack you which provides the excellent opportunity to call a Crusade on Nottingham. Allowing you to swarm all over them in a turn or two, knocking out their main troop production. Of all your immediate neighbours though, the HRE are most likely to be Excommunicated, which you should take as the opportunity to take Staufen from them and secure your borders there with the presence of a fairly well developed castle. Milan is also a favourite to be excommunicated but I wouldn't recommend crusading down there because Northern Italy is a warzone, not to mention you'll probably be over stretching yourself if you still haven't taken Caen/Eliminated England/Taken Bern or Staufen.

ON DEALING WITH NAVAL INVASIONS

Portugal lands on my coast.

On the majority of my test runs for this article the Spanish and Portuguese trespassed around Bordeaux. The Portuguese repeatedly sailed ships around turn 6, 7 and 8; dropping off half stacks of mailed knights most of the time. They would loiter around for a turn or so before plodding back down into Northern Spain. Only on two of the test runs did I have a problem with either of them, the first involved the Portuguese taking Rennes just before I got there, forcing me to attack them instead as I couldn't let them sit there unchallenged. The second instance was when I moved my forces out of Toulouse and Bordeaux to move them north, the following turn Spain popped out of the fog of war with almost a full stack of mercenaries and besieged Bordeaux. I tested their true intentions by disbanding almost all my military units in the regions which they frequented and more often than not they lay siege to an undefended settlement - mostly Bordeaux and Rennes but once it was Angers and also once Toulouse. If this opening moves guide is followed however I made sure that Bordeaux and Toulouse were more than protected against attack from the Spanish or Portuguese and once you have Rennes they seem to leave it well alone. Beware however, Portugal is known for performing naval invasions of Britain so if you plan on conquering it be mindful of a possible threat coming from the seas. Your port at Bordeaux is in prime position to defend your coasts from this threat, simply build a few ships and have them patrol the sea west of Bordeaux and just north of Spain.

And that brings us to the end of this opening moves guide. The future of France lies in your palms!

Good Luck!