The Newbie Guide to Empires
"In future chapters, I'll cover the strategy choices you need to make with regard to land vs. water maps, medieval and gunpowder rushing, booming, and so on. Each of these strategy choices will profoundly change your strategy beyond the first five minutes, but the first two minutes should almost always follow the same script."
This is the first of a series of guides to help players new to Empires to get over the initial road blocks, to the point of being an advanced intermediate player. These articles are not written for experts; they're designed to get you to the point where you can win at least as many games as you lose when playing multi, or to constantly beat the PC on higher levels.
The focus will be on simple, general strategies, rather than highly sophisticated strategies that are easy to mess up. For example an Mrush is a very advanced version of the rush which I have invented and used it countless times to defeat computer and human players alike. It is an excellent expert strategy, but will assuredly be a disaster if you, a newbie, were to attempt it. I will though share this magnificent strategy in my expert guides. In expert strategies there are too many "holes".
Expert strategies are NEVER concrete. That’s why you must learn the most concrete strategies first: Newbie Strategies. Since Empires was released, I've helped clan mates and friends get over some of the road blocks. Sometimes I'll play as an ally, sometimes as an enemy, and often I'll review a replay file and email comments and suggestions. Through this experience, I've noticed quite a few things that newer players tend to do that keep them from being competitive with players of my caliber. This guide is aimed at addressing some of these mistakes.
Seven Things Not To Do
1) Too few villagers
The first order of business is to keep the villies pumping. This is not RoN, where you can have only 50 vils. No. Here you must aim at a constant vil production. EDMW's huge pop cap gives you excuse to hesitate. This is a concept former AoK, players find hard to grasp, especially with the fortresses.
You have to strive in food. If you have more food then the opponent, it’s like you have more fuel, then a competing race car. So, first off is to put all of your vils, except two on a forage patch. Now put the next two on wood. While they gather food, keep producing vils. A constant vil production is mandatory.
3) Doing things that aren't needed yet
Okay. Make a battle plan do you want to Doom, or to Boom. Dooming is when you focus more on military, and Booming is when you focus solely on economy. If you are booming, there is no need for military units in the first 5-10 minute mark, though you should be gathering stone and building towers as a defense. If it is no necessary to build an army yet don't do it. Establish good economy and then build an army. If you are dooming, then don't swarm vils up yet. Keep queuing three at one TC and put them to various resources as when building an army in the first 5 minutes, you will always be close to zero resources. Once your army is ready, you should already know where the enemy is. Send them there to disrupt his econ, so you can catch up [remember, this is very basic, for newbs playing the easier settings, and other noobs].
When Dooming, remember that a villie swarm is a big no-no since that will kill you. This was just an example. Do not try to doom yet. It sounds like a rush (and is) but needs a specific build order. I will cover this in my expert guide. But the basic thing is, if you are England, don't build a mining camp on the first goldmine you see. Put vils first. Don't concentrate more on food than on wood, because England is very wood dependent then on food (kind of). When China, don't waste resources on houses until you get at least twenty vils out. And things of the sort. Avoiding these mistakes will give you breathing space later in the game.
4) Scouting deep before scouting near
Unless you're planning an early surprise attack, it’s usually a mistake to send your scout deep before the eight-minute mark. Again, some good players will disagree, but I find that it takes about eight minutes to thoroughly map your home area, and to find all your resources before going on offense. If you miss some hunting grounds, or don't find your second gold mine, you could be in a world of pain later on. Until you've mastered the game, keep the scout local until you've covered your whole "zone", then go exploring.
5) Using the wrong food
This is a fairly deep topic and deserves its own chapter, so let me just summarize with a few "rules" that are really more like guidelines. They are:
* Game first, if you possibly can. Period.
* Apples next until you've mastered the game. Reliable, easy, and low management.
* Nearby hunting and shore fish next. Bear luring once you're good at it. Do not run more that a screen or two across the map for hunting, the wasted walk time isn’t worth it.
* Fish boats are usually a good idea, after you have a food baseline established with game and berries (Requires a map with significant water, of course). Go for deep-sea fishing.
* Farms next. I used to advise people to never, ever farm in the early Middle Ages, because of the huge up-front wood costs for farming. After testing repeatedly, however, there are some civs (Franks) that can do quite well with farming in the early mid ages, for supplemental food above the initial baseline provided by game and/or berries. Although the granaries require a lot of wood and don't produce food at a terribly fast rate, they do have the advantage of requiring no initial walk time, and don't expire like in AoK.
As a result, the net production is competitive with the other food sources. Chinese and Franks can make especially good use of farms. Farms should never be your first food source. On water maps, though, I still don't recommend farming until you've really fished out the local seas.
As with everything, some experts will argue each of these points, especially when it comes to hunting vs. farms vs. fish boats. Stick with these rules until you've mastered the game, then selectively throw them out as you see fit. They may not always be optimal, but they'll never be too far from the mark.
6) Failing to record and review games
Unless you have an opponent who absolutely refuses, record all your games. For the first few games, go back and review no matter what you'll be surprised what you see the second time round. Turn fog off to reveal what your scouting patterns missed. After that, if you lose badly, or your opponent surprises you, view the replay to understand what happened.
7) Failing to learn the hotkeys
I'm guilty here, too. I haven't memorized the hotkeys for military and economic purposes yet. (Maybe I should do that today; it would only take a few minutes!) It's dull, it takes an effort, but it makes a huge difference in how much time you have available to think. Seriously. If you can cut down the time it takes to micromanage your economy by half, and it was taking 80% of your time, you'll now have three times as much thinking time as before (60% vs. 20%). And that makes a huge difference in how likely you are to make silly mistakes under pressure.
Believe me, I've been there. The most important hotkeys are the ones for selecting buildings (H for Town Center, etc.), the ones for building (vils, soldiers etc.), and the ones for producing common units in the buildings. In addition, learn the grouping commands for making numbered groups, adding units to them, and selecting them.
The First Two Minutes
In future chapters, I'll cover the strategy choices you need to make with regard to land vs. water maps, medieval and gunpowder rushing, booming, and so on. Each of these strategy choices will profoundly change your strategy beyond the first five minutes, but the first two minutes should almost always follow the same script.
Start with the Koreans. I think the Koreans are a good learning civ (and still my favorite) for a number of reasons. They have a good economic bonus, so your medieval age economies get a fast boost. They have excellent infantry, perhaps the easiest type of army to use in battle. They get a powerful firecart/gatling gun support. Their Hworangs can kill units in one hit when below 50%, largely eliminating the need for support archery and siege at the first battle. Their turtle ships can hold their own against almost anything, plus they get excellent support of masses of fire ships. The Koreans are a great learning civ because you can try almost any strategy with them, and you've always got a couple of alternatives on any map. Many civs require a different opening strategy (Chinese in particular), but the Korean opening here will be a good template for most civs (WWI-II civs as well!) and is a good place to start.
The two-minute drill I suggest that, as boring as it sounds, you should play offline random map games up to the two-minute mark, then quit, and repeat until you've really got this down automatically. It may take a few (30) tries before it's really second nature, but it's crucial to mastering the game. Once you have it down, you'll be glad you put an hour or two into it. You start with 200 food and seven villagers. The TC ( Town Center) can produce a new villager every 25 or so seconds, so it takes 100 seconds to use up your initial food supply. That means that the TC will be idle at 1:40 (1:45 or so with multiplayer command lag) unless you're able to get your first 50 food before then.
That's the first challenge: to get 50 food in the first 100 seconds. But with seven vils it doesn't sound hard right? Wrong. Four on food, and three on wood. The immediate goal is to accomplish several things as quickly as possible. First, you need to have a house completed by 1:25, or your 25th villager will be delayed. Second, you've got to find the animals that are always somewhere near your TC. You should also find the nearby berry patch, and it probably won't hurt to build your settlement right away, too.
So, I usually do the following, in this order:
* Type "hcccc", to select the town center and queue up four villagers.
* Double-click on a villager (to select all seven) and have them build a house on the edge of your initial explored area. I do it on the edge so that, if the initial animals are in that direction, the villagers will spot them.
* While you have all seven villagers selected, click on the one that is farthest away from the house you're going to build. Have that one villager start another house on the edge of the explored area, in a slightly different direction from the first house. This causes that villager to also explore another bit of the "game hiding zone".
* As soon as your villagers are moving, select the hawk. Use waypoints to quickly define one loop around the explored area’s perimeter. Try to have the hawk start next to the areas the villagers will explore to avoid overlap. For example, have the villagers build at the north and northwest edges of your explored area, and have the hawk search counter clockwise (that's anti-clockwise for you Brits) from the west, around the south, then up to the northeast. I also assign my scout to hotkey #1.
The next step may vary depending on what you see when. In general, as soon as you spot game, settlement, and have all villagers (except those still building, if any) attack the same game to get the food production started.
* If you haven't found the sheep by the time the first house is built, have those two builders walk in opposite directions to search for the game. (Have them go, at most, 1/2 the width of the screen.)
* If your second house is done, and you've spotted apples but no game, have all your villagers build a settlement next to the forage tree. This is your emergency fallback if you can't find the game in time. If you spot the game, leave the mill half-built, and get the villagers on animals immediately.
* If your second house is done, and you haven't spotted apples or hunting, have that last builder (and the new villager from the TC) join in the exploring for a few seconds, until you find hunting or apples.
* If you still haven't found the game when the settlement is finished, assign all your initial villagers (probably 11 at this point) to gather apples. You can use villagers 12-14 to process the hunting when found, while 1-5 stay on berries ( 6-11 are on wood.). (It's good to minimize unnecessary walks.)
By the one-minute mark, you will have around five to ten vils, and they should all be working on food or at least en route to a food site. This is critical. Because it takes about 10-20 seconds for each villager to gather 10 food, and you need 50 food by 1:40, you must have your 11th villager gathering game or apples before 1:10. To process game efficiently, put four villagers on each animal. Set the TCs gather point on an animal, so new villagers automatically go right to work. (Move the gathering point to a new animal as needed.)
Try to keep the two groups of vils inside the TC area, but well separated from each other. OK, in the real world there will be times when it just isn't possible. The game or apples are behind a forest, you miss one little white patch (FOW) and the berries were in it, etc (Although, to be honest, SSSI has done a fantastic job of getting rid of most of the frustrating things from EE1). Don't panic, 1:40 is a goal, not an absolute. Being 15 seconds behind is a minor disadvantage, don't get flustered and make it a minute behind. Keep searching until you find Apples or Game, and get everyone working on them ASAP. Practice the opening, though, until you find that you can do it at least 2/3 of the time. Also, at the end of each drill, do not hit the "restart" button, because it puts you on the same map with the same resource locations, and you don't learn efficient searching that way. Practice this opening strategy, until I come out with the next n00bie guide.
Best regards and good luck,