Thinking Strategically on the Campaign Map

By yakcamkir

This is a rough guide to my Campaign doctrine (re-written from the RTW version of this article), detailing how I come up with a long-term strategy for any given scenario. The guide is intended to explain the basis to my version of successful strategic thought on the Campaign Map and both experienced players and newcomers to Total War games who have problems understanding how to think strategically can use this method of thinking to come up with unique strategies for unique situations and adapt the strategy they are planning to new situations that crop up. This guide should be applicable to any faction in any version of M2TW with or without Kingdoms (when it comes out), as it is a general guide to strategy rather than a detailed look at the specific strengths and weaknesses of a particular faction.

There are many different definitions of what Campaign Strategy does and does not involve. I will refer to Campaign Strategy as a series of different sets of objectives over different timeframes utilising variable degrees of flexibility to attain the overall goal.

To begin with, I will briefly outline the different parts that make up this definition of Campaign Strategy:

  • First and foremost, you have the Goal for the Campaign. This is, pretty much what it says on the tin.
  • The next part is your Long-term Objectives. This is where you want to be in 20-30 turns.
  • The next part is the Short-term Objectives. This is where you want to be in the next 10 turns and is the most flexible part of your plan. This may seem entirely logical or it may seem completely counter-intuitive, depending on the way that you think, but just trust me until you read the detailed description.
  • The next part is Logistics. This is the planning ahead for what you want to be doing in the next 2-4 turns. This is a relatively inflexible part of the overall Campaign Strategy.
  • The next part is Strategic Reaction. This is very short-term planning and is the point where a lot of Campaign Strategy goes pear-shaped.
  • The next part is Battle Strategy, this is planning across the timescale of a battle.
  • The final part is Tactics, which is the sudden opportunities that may or may not occur on the battle map.

Goal for the Campaign

The Goal for the Campaign is what you hope to achieve during the course of the campaign. This can be simply to win the Campaign according to the game rules (as shown for your faction). If you want a bit more of a challenge, you can decide on different rules, such as changing the win conditions and the timeframe. You can limit your play (ensure that you take out Egypt while playing the Scots for example), modify descr_strat.txt to give yourself a worse starting position, modify descr_buildings.txt to change the units you can recruit or even modify descr_unit.txt to change the stats of the units you will be fighting with. A slightly easier alternative is just to install a pre-made mod.

The Goal for the campaign is a fixed entity. There are no alterations to this, although the timeframe may vary depending on events during the campaign. If you are making large alterations to the goal for the campaign, then you are showing one of the greatest of all strategic weaknesses - indecisiveness.

Long-term Objectives

Moving on to the Long-term Objectives, successful campaigning involves forward planning and twenty turns is the least you want to be thinking ahead by. What you do not need is a rigid plan - that is the worst thing you can do. As the old saying goes "No plan survives first contact with the enemy". If your plan is inflexible because you have planned out the next 30 turns on a turn-by-turn basis, then you will be rewriting your plan every three or four turns, which will waste you time and probably lead to strategic blunders through over-planning and not taking into account every possible variable. What you need to do is to decide what position you want to be in 20 turns down the line. The two main requirements for this estimate are:

  • The Long-term Objective must be in line with the Goal for the Campaign. If achieving the Long-term Objective means that you are one large step closer to achieving the Goal for the campaign, then is is a good objective. If the long-term objective is unrelated to achieving the Goal for the Campaign, then you are wasting the 20-30 turns that it takes to achieve the objective.
  • The Long-term Objective must be achievable. This is a matter of experience, if you have played the campaign before, then you are more likely to know the challenges that lie ahead. If you have played several campaigns in M2TW before and know how you react to adversity, then you are more likely to make an accurate assessment. It is not absolutely vital that the Long-term Objectives are met precisely on time, as 20-30 turns is a long time in the campaign. Allow some slack in your plan, but if you meet the Long-term Objectives ten turns early or late, then just use that as a learning process to improve your predictions of how quickly you can achieve your objectives.

Don't be afraid to make alterations to your Long-term Strategy if circumstances change. For example, if you are England and you have just finished taking France, Denmark and the northern part of the Holy Roman Empire, when your Scottish allies suddenly besiege York, then your Long-term Strategy will change to reflect the new threat. I personally avoid that situation, as I aim to take out Scotland early on. However, a typical response would be to send a blocking force to hold up the Scots while I ship in a couple of full stacks to take out the Scottish cities and wipe them off the map.

Long-term Objectives are not the be all and end all of your campaign and whether you hit them, fail them, exceed them or go in completely the opposite direction because the Poles had the cheek to attempt to make you a protectorate, it doesn't matter. They are merely a pointer to help you plan your more rigid shorter-term strategy and keep it pointing in the right direction. Shorter-term planning is only a little way forward, whereas the Long-term Objective takes you a noticeable step towards your Campaign Goals. An example of Long-term Objectives is in the initial part of the English campaign, where I aim to take British Isles and have a decent foothold in northern France (normally three or four castles) in the first 20-30 turns (it usually takes 15-20, but I allow 20-30). This gains me a powerful economic centre on the British Isles which is relatively easy to defend with naval superiority in the seas in the surrounding area. I would also have two or three fair-sized armies which have some fairly experienced troops and a leavening of the crack troops that in another 30 turns will make up the bulk of my armies.

Short-term Objectives

Short-term Objectives are generally the most flexible part of Campaign Strategy. Over the course of a Campaign, you will not get a huge number of strategic upheavals requiring alterations to your Long-term Objectives, because like a sensible General you gave yourself enough flexibility in your Long-term Objectives to allow you to still achieve them if things go slightly wrong (hopefully). You can now set your Short-term Objectives such that achieving them sets you on your way to achieving your Long-term Objectives. This is the most critical part of the whole strategic thought process and it is this process of planning for the present and near future whilst not losing sight of where you want to be in the more distant future that has been the hallmark of successful businesses the world over. Each level of planning must be oriented to the same end in order for the Goal for the Campaign to be met with the greatest efficiency. If one of the short-term goals is not met, then major changes may have to be made to the long-term plans due to the unavailability of a certain part - look at the wiring problems on the A380 for example.

Playing M2TW is just a matter of applying the same thought processes to conquering thousands of square miles of land and slaughtering your enemies' armies - a much more fun use in my opinion! The reason that Short-term Objectives are the most flexible part of your Campaign Strategy is that you can make huge alterations to them with minimal alterations to your Long-term Objectives. This allows you to capture enemy cities in a different order because of Plague or the presence of an enemy army or to deal with a rebellion or enemy defenders being better than you expected for example. Using the example of the Danish campaign from the very beginning, I would aim to take Hamburg, Magdeburg and Stettin and be on the way to taking Scandinavia in the first ten turns. This allows for a defensible economic sector on Denmark and Scandinavia and a military sector defending that a little further to the south. The economic strength is then there to raise an army to cross the Baltic by sea and take on the Russians in order to gain territory without having to crusade or come into conflict with other catholic factions. There is also the possibility of making a play for Bruges and Antwerp or invading either Poland or the Holy Roman Empire to make a major nation in eastern Europe or invading England or Scotland to use the British Isles for a further "safe" economic area in the future. The option that will be preferred has already been chosen in the Long-term Objectives, but allowing for flexibility is a good thing, as targets of opportunity crop up. If for example England are excommunicated, then taking as many English cities as possible will strengthen you, while weakening England - another catholic faction who you are generally discouraged from fighting. Assuming for example that Poland takes Stettin before you do, then the strategy needs re-evaluating. Is it necessary to push for an early crusade to gain some terretory away from the rest of catholicism for example? The example of the English campaign where I take the British Isles in 20-30 turns doesn't have that flexibility, because it relies on taking out Scotland early to gain the boost to the economy that is inherent in taking the whole of the British Isles and developing it economically. In a similar way, Denmark must get to Hamburg before the Holy Roman Empire and they must take it without losing vast numbers of troops if they are to make a decent fist of the campaign, since Hamburg provides a vital defensive function early on in the campaign which cannot be overlooked. If the Holy Roman Empire take it, then it provides an offensive function and if they have a few siege weapons and a decent-size army, they can wipe you off the map without losing significant favour with the Pope.

The Short-term Objectives are commonly used by most players, but it is easy to get sidetracked. If you have spare troops that you don't need to either provide a covering force somewhere or to achieve the Long-term Objectives that you have set, then it is a good idea to send them on a speculative mission, that is a short-term mission with no long-term strategy in place. This should only be attempted if you have excess troops though, sending off lots of speculative missions with no real idea of what you are achieving from them is likely to lead to a campaign where you are bumbling about with no clear idea of where you are going for the whole time. You are likely to spend a long time getting troops to where they are needed and consequently suffer unnecessary defeats and setbacks. Also, if you put too much effort into your speculative mission and neglect your Long-term Objectives, then you again risk losing your way in the campaign. Speculative missions should therefore be treated with caution although when used well, they can pay off big time. Be aware that they can also fail big time if things go against you. Don't be afraid to pull your men out and let an enemy take some territory that you gain little advantage by holding and cannot defend properly than throw away good general and a load of difficult to replace elite troops defending it.

Logistics

Logistics are generally inflexible. If you decide you want to besiege Hamburg on Turn 40 from England for example, then you have to have the troops loaded onto ships near London or Nottingham by Turn 38 at the latest in order for them to arrive on time. Therefore, they must be in training by Turn 35 or 36 in order for them to be ready to embark. M2TW is a little more complicated than RTW in this respect - there might not be enough troops in the recruitment pool. As well as commanding your armies, you must take the recruitment pools into account in order to get the troops you need to where you need them.

Another old military saying goes "An army marches on its stomach". Now although M2TW doesn't include feeding your armies, it does involve putting the right mix of troops in the right place at the right time. If you want to fight the power of the French knights, then lots of light melee infantry and archers is generally a poor combination. Lots of spearmen to counter the heavy cavalry and longbowmen to provide some long-range firepower while utilising the power of the stakes with some heavy cavalry of your own for flanking purposes is a much better combination. If you are besieging a settlement though, cavalry are generally of little use so having half your army made up of cavalry will reduce your siege capability. That is not all; you need the troops in the right place as well. Having four full stack Spanish armies invading England is all well and good, but if they are all around London, then the enemy have time to regroup and counterattack. If you take a little more time with the way you approach the enemy territory though, you can besiege four cities at once, vastly reducing the enemy's ability to cope with the invasion. You can also finish a faction off within two turns of declaring war on them if they have only a few settlements that are close to you. The ability to wipe a faction off the map is vital to success in M2TW, as it makes diplomacy far less complicated. If there are only 10 factions left, then you only have 45 variables rather than 210 for the starting 21 factions. You also have less hostile armies coming your way, which is always a bonus. For catholic factions, this is even more important, as there is great competition for land in the predominantly catholic western Europe. Removing a faction or three eases up this competition a little, although it does lead to greater powers being in competition with each other. The advantage is that you end up with a larger amount of territory, which is usually in a form that you can defend.

Logistical reasons cause most armies to stop conquering every so often. In the Gulf War of 1990/1991, the Iraqi Army couldn't go much further than Kuwait because the tracks on the tanks needed replacing, along with various other mechanical jobs. One great mistake that Saddam Hussein made was not going on the offensive after this maintenance was carried out. In M2TW, the reason for halting every so often is to retrain troops. Unlike RTW, a full stack of heavily depleted units cannot be retrained in a single turn. This means that logistical replenishment of troops is vital to strategic success. It is no use having three full stacks en-route if the battered remnants of an army on the front line is wiped out by the enemy half-stack. Rotating troops back to upgrade their armour and weapons (assuming you have built the correct buildings) is a good idea, particularly in conjunction with replenishing their numbers. If it is possible to defend Caen without that depleted unit of English Knights, then ship them back to Nottingham to be retrained and have their weapons and armour upgraded for example. They can then return in time to defend against the big enemy attack and do a lot more towards defending the settlement than they would be able to before. As England, I generally take over the British isles with whatever armies I can cobble together from the available recruitment pools. When I have a reasonable empire that has a reasonable economic power and is relatively defensible, then I swap round the troops in my armies. I put the Spear Militia on garrison duty in my cities to get the free upkeep and use the Dismounted Feudal Knights to storm the walls of an enemy settlement (not the other way round). This ensures that my armies are utilising my best troops in the best way possible (ie. putting them on the front line to kill more enemy soldiers than my other troops).

The basic idea of Logistics in M2TW is to get the right troops to the right place at the right time. What the particular troops are, where the place is and what the time is depends entirely on your current situation, but that is up to you to analyse and play the game the way you want to play it.

Strategic Reaction

Strategic Reaction is impossible to plan for, it is basically reacting to something unexpected which compromises your planning. This is generally not for huge strategic upheavals; it is more for things like having to send a fleet that you had just built for the purpose of carrying an invasion force to chase off pirates instead. Suddenly finding an enemy army next to one of your cities is something you need to react strategically to, but it will not often affect your Long-term Objectives significantly. They may slip a few turns, but the presence of one enemy army should not completely compromise them. It is usually Strategic Reactions that force you to alter your Short-term Objectives so expect them in the Campaign and plan your strategy loosely enough that it can take up the slack of a Strategic Reaction or three. Once you have had a to make a few Strategic Reactions, you will probably have to examine your plan all the way up to the Long-term Objectives and consider whether or not it is now too tight and needs some more slack to avoid falling apart completely. While you are merely reacting to the unexpected, having garrison forces that can take care of themselves until a real army can arrive to pick up the pieces is advisable. That way, you can get away with utilising your troops more for actively taking territory and less for providing a garrison so that nothing can go wrong if a rebel army appears.

Heretics are a major source of strategic reaction. They can cause you all sorts of problems, not least the possibility of having an inquisitor sent to deal with them (who will then stand around, killing your characters for many turns afterwards). For that reason, it is sensible to have Priests about the place, and a few that you are training up as Heretic-killers. This means that they get a load of positive traits that means they can do it again and again. Of course, the greater the percentage of the population that support your religion, the greater the advantage to you so this provides a further reason for having plenty of Priests.

Battle Strategy

Battle Strategy is a huge subject and covers every piece of planning that goes on on the Battle Map before battle commences. I am not going to go into great detail as we have a whole section for articles on the subject, but you should know what troops you have and what troops the enemy has (you are a fool not to look at the enemy army's composition before a battle). Basically, you need to play to the strengths of your army and the weaknesses of the enemy. Utilise everything on the battlefield to your advantage and try to guess what the AI's strategy will be. The most important part is to decide what your objectives for the battle are. Victory may not be enough; you may want to kill the enemy down to the last man. The battle may be unwinnable, so you may decide that your objective is to kill the enemy general and as many of his best troops as possible. Although you lose the battle, killing an 8-star general and a couple of units of difficult to replace elite troops will at least give the enemy a Pyrrhic victory and will give your next army in the area a far easier battle to defeat them.

If you can make the AI charge uphill onto your spear points while under heavy archer and musket fire then release your cavalry into the enemy flanks to rout those enemy units that don't rout quickly, then chase down the surviving routers when you have stopped your missile units firing to reduce friendly fire casualties, having had the whole battle go to plan all along, then you are well on the way to becoming a great battlefield general (or lying :-P). From a strategic perspective, you must remember that all the battles in the world won't win you the war if you are fighting the wrong battle in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tactics

Finally, Tactics is the most unplanned part of the game. Basically, it is taking advantage of any targets of opportunity that arise during a battle and changing the way you are fighting to suit the ever-changing situation. If you see a way through to an undefended siege weapon which you can charge your cavalry through, if you can make an engaged enemy infantry unit turn just a little more to expose the flank to the Teutonic Knights charging into it then you are getting the hang of Tactics in M2TW. The best players (and I certainly don't rate myself as one) are master tacticians and will jump on the tiniest mistakes that you make. These tiny mistakes are the keys to a difficult battle, where you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (or defeat from the jaws of victory if you are the one making the key errors).

Conclusion

Having read this guide, you should hopefully have an idea of the thought process for how to work out a successful strategy for your campaigning in M2TW. This is the thought process I worked out after my first campaign in RTW, where I was going round in circles with no real strategic sense of direction. If you break the strategic problem down into steps and apply a strategy to each step, then it should work. If all else fails, make a separate save and continue the campaign four or five different times using different strategies until you find one that works. If you are working on a campaign strategy, then saving every turn to allow you to play on from any point if something goes wrong can help you to develop your strategy more effectively than restarting the campaign every time something happens.

If you really want to know where I got this information from, then I lurked in the RTWH forums for a while, before registering. Having looked in the newbie FAQ and read through most of the threads that were up at the time, I was able to avoid asking the obvious questions and learn a lot about the game. I also found the Smackus Maximus guide very useful, you can read it here. This guide was invaluable to my learning how to play RTW effectively, and I recommend it to all players, although you do have to take some points with a pinch of salt. Destroying the enemies' economies won't work on the harder difficulty levels for example, because they have infinite money. The basic theory still works though and understanding it takes you well on the way to becoming a competent player. Even for M2TW, I recommend that everyone should read Smackus Maximus, the two games are very similar and even taking the differences into account, it is an extremely well-written guide that is freely available.

Some of the strategies that I have come up with using this though process were taken from the ideas of others on the forums, some were adapted from the ideas of others, some were completely of my own invention. The important thing is not where the strategy comes from, the important thing whether or not it works.

Well, that's pretty much it. I hope you found this useful. If you are a relative newbie at M2TW then good luck, may your campaigns be successful and most of all enjoy playing the game. If you are an experienced player, then hopefully this is a new way to consider your strategic play and I hope I have helped you. If you have any burning questions about strategic thinking, then post it in the forums or feel free to e-mail me. I can't guarantee an immediate and highly-detailed response, but I'll do my best.

May your swords always remain sharp, your arrows always fly true and your subterfuge always be successful!