Noobie Guide – The First 3 Minutes

By HG_Democritus

“Recently, I have turned on several people to Empires, even providing them with a couple of copies. I think this is a real testament to the quality of this game.”

Article 1 – The First 3 Minutes

Recently, I have turned on several people to Empires, even providing them with a couple of copies. I think this is a real testament to the quality of this game. Starcraft players in particular immediately appreciate the fast paced and aggressive play of action mode. Still, looking through the recordings of the games I have played recently, there are some fundamental mistakes that new players make that can be easily remedied and make the game infinitely more enjoyable for these players. I decided to put this guide together to help new players. I will be writing a series of articles for the fan site so stay tuned to the Strategy Central area for updates.

When you read through these series of articles, you will notice that I leave a lot of details out, or that I just plain don’ t cover certain aspects of the game. Let me explain really what the purpose of this series is. This not intended to replace a game manual; there are plenty of other resources if you need to learn very specific aspects of this game. This series is mostly conceptual, although I will go into some of the details of game play. I’ m trying to address things that the newbie will not find immediately apparent, and therefore give you a leg up on the competition. I think a lot of what I am going to cover here will become relevant to you the more you play. Some of these concepts I am writing about took me years to realize.

Game Modes
Empires can be played three different ways. ‘Action‘ mode is the most competitive of the three. The other two are ‘Empire Builder‘ mode (slower paced), and ‘Scenario‘ mode.

I’m not going to be writing about ‘Empire Builder’ or Scenario mode. The true power of Empires in this author’s opinion is found when playing multi-player action mode. This is where the ‘experts’ gravitate to, and this is what interests me as a player.

Empires is divided into 5 distinct ages; Medieval, Gunpowder, Imperial, WWI, and WWII. The transition between Imperial and WWI is very important and very unique to any RTS currently on the market. The game shifts dramatically, and the transition from Imperial to WWI requires the player to chose a new civilization. This can be a bit intimidating at first, especially to the player who likes to specialize on one civ. Many players prefer to start in WWI and end in WWII. To be a good empires player, you really should concentrate at some point on the dynamic of these two ages, as most players like to occasionally ‘mix it up’ and play WWI to WWII games in addition to games that start in medieval

Basic RTS Game Play
Another thing that is out-of-scope for this article; is to go into the minute details of how an ‘Age of’ RTS’ is played. If you are new to this genre of game, it is probably worthwhile to spend the $10.00 or so, on an old copy of the original Age of Empires published by Microsoft. Learn the dynamics of that game and you will have a great foundation for Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. Keep in mind that Empires is a well evolved version of the basic concepts in Age of Empires, more so than even Age of Mythology. If you are new to this class of games, you will be overwhelmed at first with all the things you need to learn. Just be aware or this. This game is not really something you can pick up and understand in a day. Investing the time to become a decent player however will really pay off.

Remember these basic RTS rules:

  • The first 3 minutes of the game are vital, mistakes made during this period are more often then not disastrous
  • You MUST have constant villager production, and idle Town Center is certain death
  • You MUST manage both your economy and your military effectively to be competitive (an extremely hard concept for players of real-time shooters to grasp)
  • If you do not have an army at any time you are generally in trouble and you need to RUN if you are attacked
  • The aggressor usually has the advantage
  • Turtle-ing (digging in and building only defenses) rarely, if ever works
  • It is ALWAYS possible to make a comeback when you lose a battle, never, ever give up until defeated

The Start
OK, so I claim the first 3 minutes are the most vital part of the game. You may wonder why that is the case. The primary reason; and this is true no matter what age the game starts in; the beginning stages of empires a race to the first military unit. Plain and simple. If you can’ t grasp this concept, sad to say, you will never be a good empires player. You must focus on this first and foremost, and remember that your opponent is focusing on the exact same thing. Good empires players know exactly how much time it takes each civ to get out its first military unit with a perfect start. That might be a bit intimidating to think about, but all effective and commonly used strategies are designed around this basic fact. Once you accept this concept, the fun (and the true power of the game) is revealed.

Another fact about the start that is difficult for some players to grasp, particularly Starcraft players, is this concept of always dropping a settlement first whenever you task a villager on gathering food, wood, or gold. It’ s a basic necessity, without adjacent settlements your villagers have to walk distances to drop off resources at your Town Center, and you fall quickly behind your opponent’ s economy. This is one of those facts that you can’ t get around; 99% of all players use nearby settlements when gathering resources. Keep in mind however, that wood is the most important early resource, so ALWAYS try to put a single settlement strategically located between gold and wood and use it to for collecting both. Later in the game you can add better placed settlements.

Simply stated, hotkeys are keyboard shortcuts to tasks that take more time to achieve simply using the mouse alone. I’ m an intermediate level player who can hold his own in most expert games. I use about 7 hot keys! This will make most of my friends at Heaven Games cringe. The point is; you can actually be somewhat competitive without memorizing every single hot key. Still, there is no way you can compete if you don’ t use mostly hotkeys in the first three minutes. Please accept this concept; it will greatly improve your chances. For more detailed information of hot key use, I recommend giving Mokon’s hot key guide a read.

Civ Attributes
Each civ in empires is very unique. When it comes right down to it, they all play completely differently. Take if from me; as a beginner, it is best to start by learning the first age, Medieval, and by playing one of the more vanilla civs in the game, namely, the Franks or Korea. England and China are more advanced civs, and while many people will recommend England as a starting point for noobs, I really don’ t. Unless you are a seasoned ‘Age of’ player, you should learn how to manage more then 1 starting villie at first. This article assumes are you playing either Franks or Korea in medieval. The WWI start is similar, but that is a topic for another article to be honest.

Detailed Explanation of the Start
OK, so the game is starting and you want to know what to do.

Here it is simply:

  • Focus your eyes on your Town Center
  • Type HCCCC
  • Look for a food source while pressing F2 on your keyboard (usually an apple tree)
  • Send all your villagers to the food source

So what does this do? H is the hotkey for selecting your Town Center, C is the hotkey for creating villagers, F2 is the hotkey for selecting all idle villagers…

So why send all your villagers to the food source?

Here is why. The number one priority right now is to gather enough food to keep villagers constantly queued and coming out of your TC, without any interruption. But wait you might be saying, I thought the most important thing was getting our a military unit?

It is. But what you are not aware of is that RTS strats have evolved over the years, and a long time ago, competitive players discovered that nothing can really stop a well oiled economy. The concept of constant villie production is just a rule of thumb that you are going to have to accept. You can’ t win without it.

So the question is; how many villies do I need gathering apples to achieve this state of constant production? It varies per civ. Probably a minimum number is 4, but 5 or 6 is more commonly used.

Worth mentioning here is a unique attribute to the Franks. Franks can build free farms, and villagers can drop off food at a granary. You will have to learn how to build a granary next to apples then task the villagers onto the apples (as opposed to building the farms around the granary, which is what they *will* do of you leave them unattended). This saves you vital wood. It’ s a unique attribute to the Franks, one of many per civ in this game. Don’ t worry about all the different slants to each civ, they will become apparent as you learn and play the game. For now, be aware that Frank farms are free, and that dropping a settlement as Franks next to food is a waste of wood, and a terrible idea.

So let’ s go ever the start again in concept.

  • You need to start creating villagers (HCCC),
  • find food (look on the map),
  • select all your villagers (F2),
  • and send them to food.

So what is next?

DROP A SETTLEMENT or a FREE FARM (if you are franks). Don’ t mess around, just do it. You can use the hotkey or the mouse to do this, just make sure you get the foundation down before the villagers arrive at the apples.

Food Types
One other important thing before we move onto the next step. This is another accepted rule of thumb in the ‘Age of’ RTS series. Food gathering rates differ per food type. It is important to know what the fastest sources are:

  • Fishing is the fastest source of food
  • then hunting
  • then apples
  • then farming

So why does everyone go strait to apples? Mainly, because most of the time it’ s the closest and only visible food source. Hunting and fishing is a player independent preference. What I can tell you; for me, I prefer to hunt and fish before I farm, and my economy has always been my primary strength (with all due respect to Yobbo, king of the villie spammers). So draw your own conclusions. Your mileage may vary.

OK, so you are gathering food, what next?

Well if you’ re Korea you need to build a house, then

Collect WOOD, followed closely by gold.

So this means you are going to build settlement number TWO. Don’ t mess around, just DO IT, and do it RIGHT NOW.

Now, this is where placement of your next settlement is vital. You want to find a place that is directly between some wood and some gold and use the settlement for both. Unfortunately, sometimes this isn’ t possible, and spending the time searching for a spot like that would be worse then simply building 2 additional settlements, one next to gold and one next to wood. We call this a 3 settlement start (one for food, one for wood, and one for gold). It happens. It sux. My advice is to take your lumps, and build the three settlements. If you lose early it’ s just one of those things. You were unlucky. I have not had many 3 settlement starts in literally hundreds of games. For me, the golden rule is; never make your villagers walk more then a few pixels to drop off a resource.

So, why is wood so important? Because you are going to need to build at least one house (unless you are Franks), and a barracks, and guess what, all buildings cost wood and so do some military units (along with gold). A barracks cost 175 wood, and you need to gather wood for a while to get enough to build it. Once you have enough wood and start building the barracks, it’ s time to put a few villies on gold. Some players use as many villies as possible to build the barracks, simply because getting up your first barracks ASAP is so important.

And that’ s it. The 3 minute start.

That’ s it?

Yep. We all do it the same pretty much and you better too if you want to compete.

It’ s important to understand now that from this point Empires game play is a pretty complex dance. You need to scout your enemy, keep your economy going, balance food, wood, and gold collection, prepare for battle, and really pay attention to these and other details that you aren’ t even aware of yet. This takes a lot of skill to pull off. When you do it well and win, it is extremely rewarding. Far too many new players in my opinion do not take the time to perfect the 3 minute start and therefore never advance to the intermediate level of play, missing out on lots of fun. Whenever I get on a losing streak on the ladder, I study my recordings. It is truly amazing how many of my losses in this game can be attributed to a mistake I made at the start of the game. Even more amazing is the occasional idle villager you will see in expert level games at the start! To this day I still practice my start and you should too!

Next article: Going to war