Russia: Opening Moves and Strategy Guide

By Andalus

Russia is a faction separated in many ways from the rest of the world in Medieval II: Total War. You begin with a single settlement in the wilderness of the north, and it will be several turns before you even make contact with any other factions. You are also one of only two Orthodox Christian nations in the game, making the religious struggle that much harder. In order to establish yourself as a great power in Europe, you are going to have to expand and consolidate rapidly and bring your unique and superior cavalry roster to bear on your foes. In this guide you will be taken through the details of making the most of your first few turns, and the general aims of your strategy as a Russian general.


Grand Strategy

Your initial aims are to expand as quickly as possible into the unclaimed rebel territory around you. Taking these settlements should not be difficult, as the majority are only Motte and Bailey castles, which are taken fairly easily by controlled use of Archer Militia, the staple of your small armies for the first few turns. However, there is a snag. To the south-west lie Poland and Hungary, who are just as eager to snap up the steppe lands.

Act decisively, and leave no time to waste as you move on from settlement to settlement. Besiege for only one or two turns, and move your army on after a turn's rest, if not the very same turn you take the settlement. Think strategically, taking those settlements nearest to your rivals first, so they are blocked off from those further east, such as Moscow and Kiev. Use your armies sparingly, focusing the battle on concentrated missile fire so as to avoid heavy casualties, which would slow your advance and cost you cash in retraining. Follow these simple principles, and you should be able to control the entire east from Vilnius and Iasi to Sarkel and Bulgar, with little trouble.

Next on the Russian shopping list should be the Polish and Hungarian lands. No matter where you are headed, these lands are in your way, and taking one without the other means that your border will be insecure. I prefer to blitzkrieg Poland before they can expand further than Thorn, and get them out of my way. Once you have defeated Poland, you may wish to slow down and consolidate, or you may wish to press straight onwards. The castles of Thorn and Haylch can make a useful twinned defence on that front should you choose to entrench yourself for a while.

You should head south to Hungary as soon as the opportunity presents itself. This will probably not be long - Hungary has a habit of leaving Bran defended by nothing but Prince Kalman. Position a spy or other agent there to keep on eye on things. It can be worth waiting until Hungary has upgraded Bran to a Fortress for you. This is one of the most advanced castles in the map at the beginning, and will probably be your first source of your best cavalry - Cossacks, Dvor and Tsar's Guard.

From then onwards, the choice is yours. You can expand across the north to Denmark and the Holy Roman Empire. You can head south into Byzantine lands, which will almost certainly lead you into conflict with Venice and the Turks. Remember that the long campaign objectives require you to take Constantinople and Jerusalem, both of which are in this direction. You might even choose to ignore the west and head around the shores of the Black Sea to take out the Turks, and then the Egyptians. My own personal preference is simply to expand in all directions at once heedlessly. It is really all down to the player's choice and your playing style.

Note that I mentioned Sarkel and Bulgar as part of your early rebel grab. It can be easy to forget these far-off settlements, but it is wise to take them sooner than later. They are certainly more worthwhile than Caffa, and may even be worth bypassing Kiev and Moscow to get to quickly (though the income from these towns is not to be underrated). There is a simple reason for this - Mongols. There is a chance that in the early 1200s, you will receive a large force of Mongols descending upon your back doorstep, and in such a case, you will want Sarkel to be consolidated, well-defended, and built-up as possible. If you can get it to fortress level then you have local access to Dismounted Dvor - excellent archers and heavy infantry well capable of withstanding a missile exchange with Mongols.

In regards to the Mongols, as Russia you are blessed with multiple options as to bringing about their demise. You can take an archer heavy force with reliable spearmen to protect them. You can take an army of horse archers to duel with their Mongol counterparts from horseback. You could take an army of heavy cavalry to simply charge the Mongols face on. There are probably more options that I have not considered. Each has their pros and cons. Again, this is all down to the way you play, and what you feel comfortable with. I find the following force to be most effective:

  • 1 General
  • 2 Dvor Cavalry
  • 2 Boyar Sons
  • 5 Cossack Cavalry
  • 5 Spearmen
  • 5 Dismounted Dvor

It needs hardly be said that these should all have every armour upgrade available. If the top level cavalry are not available, replace them with Kazaks or Boyar Sons.

However, for the most part, you will not be facing Mongols, but Western armies, which are mostly full of spearmen, archers and crossbows, with usually only a few cavalry units, although it can vary. These are best countered by as many missile cavalry units as you can afford to field. And, what do you know; Russia has a fair few of those available. There is simply not enough space here to go into the details of to fight effectively with a force of horse archers, but the key is practise. Try setting up a few custom battles against a variety of enemies, and ascertaining for yourself the various nuances and knacks of horse archer battles.

It is foolish not to take advantage of your excellent cavalry roster as a Russian commander. Therefore, I tend to send all cavalry armies out into enemy lands, which will be supported by slower moving armies coming behind of infantry and artillery, for the distinct purpose of taking cities, while the cavalry do their job in destroying the field armies. Fighting without infantry as a hindrance actually improves the effectiveness of a cavalry force, and they can take on and defeat armies much more powerful than themselves, if used correctly. With practise and experience you will know the capabilities of what your cavalry can and cannot do, and there is no better faction than Russia to teach you this!


Opening Moves

Turn One

You begin with a fairly low income, but plenty of cash in your coffers to keep you going for now. Raise taxes to the maximum in Novgorod, and construct Land Clearance. Queue up one unit of Spear Militia and one of Archer Militia.

Move Grand Duke Ysevelod's army directly south towards Smolensk. They will reach it next turn. Move two units of Spear Militia out of Mikhail's army and head them in the same direction.

Move the rest of Mikhail's army towards Helsinki. This settlement is not particularly important, but taking it now allows you to move forward without looking behind. You may wish to leave Mikhail in the city and instead send Prince Vladimir - he is a better general and has a larger bodyguard. If so, simply switch around the names for the rest of the guide.

Send Princess Antonina roughly southwest, towards Poland.

Send your spy west towards Riga.

Move Bishop Radoslav west to Novgorod's border. You may choose to have him continue to preach in Novgorod, or move into Riga Province and begin converting the populace. He is not too important right now so I shall not mention him again.

Turn Two

Besiege Smolensk and queue up some siege equipment. I suggest 1 ram, 3 ladders, and 2 siege towers. Keep moving the two Spear Militia behind them to catch up.

Take two Archer Militia out of Novgorod to join Mikhail, and send the army onward to Helsinki.

Keep Antonina moving southwest to Poland.

Send your spy into Riga. The practise will do him good. If he doesn't get himself killed, take him out again and send him south towards Vilnius.

Turn Three

Merge the Spear Militia with Ysevelod and keep besieging Smolensk while you finish your siege equipment. Assault now if you feel confident in doing so, but I recommend leaving it another turn. The extra siege equipment should reduce your casualties.

Keep Mikhail moving towards Helsinki, and Antonina towards Poland.

Depending on what route he took before, your spy may make it into Vilnius this turn. If he dies, it is no great loss. If he survives, either leave him there to assist your future assault, or send him on to peek at the Polish territories. He needs no further mention.

Construct Paved Roads in Novgorod. It may be tempting to build a Barracks for those nice Crossbow Militia, but it is an unnecessary waste of time and money right now, and Spear and Archer Militia will serve you fine.

Turn Four

Assault Smolensk. If you play your cards right, you should be able to take it with minimal casualties. The majority should be taken by your general's bodyguard and spear militia.

Population is more useful than instant cash right now, so occupy. Construct roads and queue up a unit of Kazaks. Now move the entire army out, heading roughly Riga-wards, leaving behind one unit of Spear Militia. You may wish to merge the two units of Spear Militia so you can leave the smallest behind.

You may have received a reward from the council of nobles for taking Smolensk. This may be cash - clearly no problem! It may also be a few units of militia. Your economy should still be able to support this, and it will certainly make your coming conquests a little easier.

Besiege Helsinki (finally!). Queue up as many rams as you like.

You guessed it, keep moving Antonina towards the Poles.

Turn Five

Move Ysevelod on towards Riga. Move the new unit of Kazaks after him.

Assault Helsinki. Keep your archers firing a steady barrage of arrows over the walls at the defenders, while your spear militia push the ram to the gate. Send forward your general's bodyguard to soak up some of the fire from the towers and defenders with their double hit points. Again, occupy. Helsinki is in no danger, so convert it to a town immediately.

Move the whole army out of Helsinki except for one militia unit. They are heading round to join up with Ysevelod to take Riga and head south to Vilnius in one combined force.

Keep Antonina heading towards Poland. Construct Land Clearance in Smolensk.


The Future

You should aim to take Riga on the turn it is besieged. The defenders will cluster in the town square, so if you can, try and bait some of them out with your general into range of your missile units. As always, aim for minimal casualties.

Vilnius looks intimidating, with its garrison of Lithuanian Cavalry and Archers, but do not forget it is only a Motte and Bailey, and has only a palisade for defence. Use your Archer Militia to lay a heavy barrage of arrows on the massed defenders, and should they charge you, Spear Militia will sort out the cavalry while your general takes out the Woodsmen and archers.

Your next step should be twofold. Gather a smallish army of militia, possibly supported by a unit of Kazaks or two, and headed by your general from Novgorod, to head east. They should take Moscow, bypass Ryazan and on to Sarkel, before heading up to Volga-Bulgar, if they are not too depleted by then.

Meanwhile, in the west, I suggest you head straight on to Polish-controlled Halych. It is only a matter of time before it comes to blows with your new neighbour, and they are better dealt with sooner than later. From there, move the bulk of your force against Thorn and Krakow, after pausing a few turns to catch your breath and train some more cavalry. If you can afford it, train a small army to take Iasi.

You will notice there is something missing in this advice. Yes, Kiev. By this point, your income should be slightly healthier than it was at the beginning, particularly once you have wrested Krakow from Poland (and that will probably be the last of the Poles). Use this cash leeway to gather a third general-led force which will head to Kiev, then split in two to take Caffa and Ryazan.

From then on, take the general advice given at the beginning of the guide and you should shortly be on your way to victory. May you lead the bold sons of Russia on to glory!