My personal tips and secrets for playing Random Map games:
You have the option to choose at which stage you want to start – Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age, Imperial Age, or Post-Imperial Age. Dark Age has the least technology, buildings, and units available, and Post-Imperial has the most. Additionally, you can choose “All Technologies” which makes all unique units and technologies available. For example, some civilizations cannot research “Crop Rotation” from their Mills and can only go up to “Heavy Plow”. With “All Technologies”, any civilization will be able to have Crop Rotation.
Choosing which Age you wish to start out from affects the game you play! In my experience, starting from a later age doesn’t really affect the time spent playing. It does, however, test my patience trying to gather up resources and research the most basic technologies in order to build an army for conquest.
If you start at Feudal Age or higher, one of my first things to do is assess the pragmaticality of walls. In Black Forest, they are obviously very useful and not relatively costly. In Island, they are costly and aren’t very useful. If you’re playing at difficulty Hard or Hardest, I find walls useful and sometimes essential. See, while you’re still struggling to build up your resources for an army, your opponents may be sending out small armies. These can be easily held off with a wall. To defend these walls, you may employ a guard tower. Later in the game, enemies will bring trebuchets or bombard cannons – very annoying tools that are helpful for you, sucky to play against. Your guard towers won’t stand much of a chance. To defend you can also invest in archers or, my personal favorite, Mangonels. They’ll wipe out the rudimentary groups that bother you pretty well. If you have enough resource and time, try building a double wall (one wall right next to each other) if you know a spot in which enemies will try to attack you most.
You’ll start out with four villagers at any age with limited resources. You’ll find that in the early ages, food and lumber are the most important resources to have because 1) you’ll want to get villagers and 2) you’ll want to build buildings! You’ll have to build houses to accommodate more villagers; each house will increase your population capacity by 5 until you reach your maximum.
I like to build houses at the edges of my empire, in rows, so they don’t take up precious space. They have no practical purpose. Talking to some folks while playing online, I got some good tips though: if you’re playing island or similar scenarios, build houses as a buffer zone for attacking ships or players. Enemies will sometimes try to just have their units go around the houses as they are not powerful buildings. I don’t usually employ this method but have seen it work before!
In the Dark Ages, the first buildings that should be built are a lumber camp and a mill. I usually try to advance to the Feudal Age with those two buildings built and only one villager. While Feudal Age is being research, I construct homes. Having a good amount of villagers in the beginning is essential for your economy. Building farms is advantageous and you should try to start building farms in the Feudal Age. Have villagers build farms at the same time. This is SO important because they will all die around the same time, so you won’t have to keep going back to dead farms to rebuild them. Also, build farms as close as possible to a mill or Town Center. This makes the process much more efficient. While villagers are farming, have other villagers hunt down the other sources of food – wild boar, turkeys, bushes, sheep – and harvest those sources. Once the farms are depleted, this generation can add to the farmer population.
Building barracks, archery ranges, and stables aren’t immediately necessary if you have a wall protecting your empire. If you don’t, you should try to make at least a few units in case you’re attacked. If you have an unwalled empire, the worst thing you can do is have it unguarded as well. Town Centers can be useful because if there is someone inside it, it fires arrows. It’s nowhere near as powerful as Castles defensive-wise, and should be used as a last resort! In addition, unless you research Murder Holes through the University, all defensive buildings can’t defend their base (that is, they’ll be able to shoot arrows at archers, but not infantry attacking at its base). Guard Towers are good at halting armies; they’ll attack the Guard Towers and not your villagers so you have time to send out military units.
I usually don’t do much research until the Castle Age, when I have a good amount of resources. Try to build an extra Town Center as soon as possible, preferably near a source of food or mineral stockpile. By now you should have Mining and Lumber Camps and mills so you can do research technology through those. I try to have at least three Town Centers for civilizations of population 125 or higher. You’ll be able to fit around 7-8 farms around the Town Center.
Reaching the Castle Age, prioritize building a Monastery. Taking control of the relics gives you the easiest source of gold. You’ll earn around 1-2 gold per second per relic. Get those monks out and hunt the relics down. If you’re on par with the computers, they won’t prioritize getting the relics so you can. If you have enough wood, try creating two monasteries. Research and unit creation is slow, and you’ll want to strengthen and quicken your monks when sending them out.
One of my favorite units is the bombard cannon. They are incredibly effective in taking out pesky trebuchets. They’re horrible trying to take units out, but occasionally they’ll get lucky. They are very civilization-unique and need to be researched through “Chemistry” in a university. Universities provide extraneous, yet helpful technology and it’s not too expensive.
I’ve already gone over some tips on defending above, since starting out and defending your empire somewhat go hand in hand. Once you can, try building castles strategically. In general, castles, guard towers, and military buildings are usually built at the edges of the empire to defend my economic empire from enemies. I’ll sometimes build castles near walls so enemies attacking the walls will be wiped out by arrows. It’ll be incredibly annoying when those trebuchets and enemy bombard cannons come. As I said, if you have bombard cannons available, use them to take the trebuchets out. Warning: they have less range than a trebuchet and may become vulnerable in order to attack the trebuchets. If not, have a standing group of cavalry to attack the trebuchets and minimize damage.
A somewhat cheap way to pay is if you’re using walls, build a wall with a tiny opening at an edge. This way, your enemies don’t attack the wall or gate; they try to go around through that opening. This slows them down and gives you an opportunity! I build castles near the opening that kills their army well.
In a regular game, I’m the type of player that waits until they have a huge, diverse army to attack the enemy. I’m not the halt-the-growth type that sends out small groups of units to attack villagers!
I never build batting rams and hardly ever build scorpions. I usually use mangonels/onagers as defense ramifications, but if my enemies are already struggling I’ll occasionally send them out. Why? Because they’re slow as shit, can be killed relatively easy, and unless they are siege onagers, cause relatively little damage to buildings. In my big groups, I’ll usually have around 2-6 trebuchets. I get trebuchets to attack defensive buildings, such as town centers, castles, or guard towers so my other units will not take fire from them. I send my armies to initially defend these trebuchets from enemy units. Once the most dangerous defensive buildings (ALWAYS CASTLES) are done — and they’ll be destroyed quickly with 2+ trebuchets) — I send my armies in to kill military units, villagers, and other buildlings.
Try sending two to three monks out with your large armies to heal them! The logic is so simple. They can convert enemies coming at your group as well. This is the best way to conserve units and health. If your units are out on the attack and you notice their HP lowering, just direct them to go to where your monks are, and they’ll take care of it. They can also be useful in converting useful buildings in enemy territory to reinforce your attack. You can also try converting enemy villagers and have them build castles annoying close to your enemies’ empires.