Barbarossa 4: The Lombard League
This scenario is rated to be brutally hard. Therefore we will approach it with absolute ruthlessness. We will use every trick in the book, and then some. The scenario may not be survivable on the first play-through, so we may need to "cheat".
There are good reasons for building castles. Just because you can do so is not a good reason. As this scenario develops, you will find that you never have a good reason until late in the game.
The most important trick we will use in this scenario is the AoE Pause feature. In all AoE variants except the original one, you can analyze the situation and give orders to your units while the game is paused. There are many intense situations where your units will simply commit suicide unless they are continually micromanaged. But if you play the game in a pure real-time strategy way, you cannot manage more than a few units at a time, and if you do it that way in this scenario, you probably cannot survive unless you know far into the future exactly what the opponents will do. That is definitely cheating, and we will avoid it. We will aim to play the scenario in the best possible way, based only on information available at that point in time.
The biggest modification to our strategic approach for this scenario is that we will not concern ourselves with minimizing our casualties or even aiming for zero casualties. Instead, we will concentrate on the most efficient use of the rare gold and stone resources. Any units or buildings that cost only food or wood are considered expendable. We may even build a lot of such units as cannon fodder. A related consideration is that we will not be reluctant to disband obsolete units if we are population-limited. In this scenario, you get a lot of units that will rapidly become obsolete. We will also be converting enemy units even if we can't possibly maintain them.
Our first objective in this scenario is to defend our initial Town Center as long as possible. This is not possible with the forces available to start. Fortunately, you get a lot of reinforcements almost immediately, and they do arrive in time to save you. Defeating the initial assault is Phase 1 of this scenario.
Start by ringing the town bell. Technically, this is not necessary; it is almost as efficient to select all villagers and manually send them into the Town Center, but you do get to hear the bell sound. Garrison all the archers and foot knights in the Town Center as well. One knight heads west to pick up some sheep; the other one heads south to the shore for now. One ship heads west, not that there's much to see there; the other one heads for the open sea. These are not ideal scouts by any means, but they are the only units available, and a key maxim of AoE is that you must always explore and scout aggressively. You will need to repeat some of the orders several times, especially for the villagers, because some of your units will try to head off in other directions. 13 of your initial units will shortly be inside your Town Center. Keep an eye on the garrison limit, because very soon you will have more units than can actually get in there at the same time.
As soon as you have collected the two sheep just west of your initial position, the knight that went there swings around behind the attacking force and tries to take out the trebuchet. This probably won't work, because he will have to flee before the job is done, but at least he will have done some damage.
When all your villagers and archers are inside the Town Center, you will have a 9-shot volley. Focus fire on the catapults, but when they start moving sideways, choose a different target. Archers are a good choice, because you can kill them with one volley, and they generally don't evade fire. The main point is to focus fire with every volley.
As melee units start to attack your Town Center, lure them away with your unallocated knight. He should only run to the south bank of the river. When the enemy pursuit has just about reached him, he hides inside a Transport Ship.
The foot knights should leap out of the Town Center to deal with what can't be lured away. They can take some punishment because of their high melee armor, but will eventually need to hide in the Town Center again.
The villagers could try to repair the Town Center while it is being attacked, but this is not viable or necessary. Use them to shoot.
Your initial force is sufficient to knock out the catapults, half the trebuchet, and probably all of the enemy melee units. But who will deal with the battering rams and who will finish off the trebuchet? Fortunately, you get a lot of reinforcements almost immediately. In particular, you get
- four War Galleys. Use them for fire support from just south of the Town Center.
- five knights. Use them to wipe out the two battering rams and the trebuchet. Avoid any other melee combat with these units, hiding in the Transport Ships as appropriate.
- three foot knights. Use them for melee point defense near the Town Center. Note that not all your foot units can get into the Town Center at the same time.
- two scouts. Use them immediately to explore.
- five more villagers. Use them to start building Houses immediately. Line the Houses up in the extreme SW corner of the map. Your active population will now be 49, so build enough Houses to enable you to support 50 units. Your 50th unit will be a monk.
- five catapults. Leave them inactive for now.
- two Fire Ships. Use them to explore. They are not ideal scouts by any means, but they are available, so off they go! Head towards the SE corner and your eastern possessions. The scenario map indicates that these are safe areas.
- six fishing ships. Start fishing immediately. Eventually, you will be using these in protected areas near a dock. Building fish farms is probably better than fishing in distant locations. With all the fish and sheep and other food available, you should not be doing any farming in this scenario.
And then you find, somewhat to your surprise, that you have defeated the initial attack without sustaining much damage. One trebuchet, two battering rams, two catapults, six heavy cavalry, two foot knights, and six archers. How much gold is that? Phase 1 of this scenario is complete when the last attacking unit is dead.
As your Houses start coming online, use the villagers in the south to build a Town Center near the big gold pile. Considering that it can pull in all three resource types there and has other important functions as well, it is a bargain.
Use your villagers in the north to repair the Town Center, to build a monastery, and to seal three of the four holes in your wall. Leave one opening, according to Maze Complex doctrine. After that, most of these villagers should start collecting resources or building infrastructure, while some should build walls. The eastern ford needs to be walled off ASAP, and walling off the western ford is a good idea as well. As in any scenario where you have allies, you build a Market, only to find that Cartography is unavailable. What a rip-off!
As Phase 2 of the scenario commences, you should have discovered some enemy static and mobile artillery in the SE map area. Immediately put together a force consisting of one scout, all the unwounded knights, and all the War Galleys and try to sanitize, or at least scout, this area. The remaining scout explores the western landmass, and all the wounded units need to be healed ASAP. It turns out that the island forts in the SE part of the map are too tough for the forces you have available at this time. Instead, send the ground troops you allocated to that mission to the eastern landmass. Also send a couple of villagers and monks there as soon as you can afford to. Of course, that is not enough to hold the area against a determined assault, but you only have to deal with scouts and such. Be prepared to withdraw this force. Wall off the southern part of this area, and hide the sheep you find there on your side of the wall.
You will have noticed that the scout cavalry you have at this time have poor sight range. Buy better scouts ASAP. You will be doing things ASAP a lot in this phase. In AoE, it pays to be super-aggressive. Thus, as soon as you have your first real scout, send him out immediately, and you will get a benefit immediately. He is useless if he just stands around. You should be thinking like the Americans in the Pacific Theater in the year after Pearl Harbor. Every available unit should be doing something useful. Of course, the slow, powerful units need to guard your home areas. But all the light troops need to be in the face of the enemy at all times, subject to how many you can actually control. Harass, harass, harass.
Aim to build Cannon Galleons ASAP, plus any required supporting units. We want to have absolute control of the seas, and all the associated benefits. Phase 3 of this scenario commences when the first Cannon Galleon is built.
As Phase 2 progresses, you will find lots of stone. By the time that you are ready to start your first offensive actions, you should have found at least 27 stone mines, every pebble of which you can expect to get. Added to your initial 800 stone, that's over 10,000 stone!! You can easily build 10 castles with this, with a lot still available for other purposes. 10 castles!! Think about that for a minute. The bottom line is, you do not lack for stone in this scenario.
At the same time, you will have two large gold piles available. Many technologies are already known, although you will need to build a lot of troops. Accordingly, you will only need about half this gold to reach your maximum size, as long as you conserve your troops appropriately.
As is normal in AoE, you have an effectively infinite amount of wood and food. If there is even a hint that you will ever run out, you are doing something very wrong.
As soon as you get your first Cannon Galleon, send it to attack the big island fort in the SE. You should already have significant screening forces available. Build several more Cannon Galleons and raze that island. You will bag two Towers, one castle, one dock, some artillery, and a bunch of fishing boats. Ignore the small island fort for now.
In the meantime, start raiding in the NW. Both Venice and Verona have villagers working outside their walls. Do as much damage as you can.
As soon as you have monks, use them to start converting enemy units. Just about anything the enemy sends your way is better than any comparable unit you have until much later. Monks are perhaps the most powerful units in AoE.
Phase 3 ends when the big island fort has been reduced. At this point, you should have explored about 80% of the map. You should control the entire southern half of the map. You should have walled off the entire eastern landmass south of the River Piave, not that you can expect to actually hold it against a serious attack. You should have located Venice and Verona. You should have scouted Henry the Lion. There is no evidence that Henry is doing anything at all to support The Cause. Indeed, he seems to be embedded (in bed with) at least Padua. You should be at population 75, and you should have started to disband obsolete units.
So far, you should not have seen any serious enemy attack (except the initial one), and very soon, the enemy will be crippled and perhaps unable to ever attack effectively. But you cannot say for sure. One major benefit to having your scouts out well in front of your wall line is that you will see the siege weapons coming well before they actually can hurt you, and keep in mind that if you catch an army on the march, it generally does not fight back. One major benefit to having complete control of the seas is that any attack must arrive by walking.
You are now ready to control the seas. All of your Cannon Galleons, plus appropriate screening forces, sail over to Venice and nuke it. Venice is the only enemy city that builds ships in this scenario, and it is easily accessible by water. Venice will try to resist, but your early raids, in conjunction with your fast offensive, mean that that resistance will be futile. Build up your bombardment force to 5 Cannon Galleons. Venice has huge buildings, so they don't go down as fast as other buildings.
In the meantime, the other two enemy cities will be trying to do you. Their attacks include siege weapons and monks. Their attacks bite on your Maze Complex and fail.
And what is our friend Henry the Lion doing? You have already seen that he is not helping you in any way. Keep watching, and you will see his troops wander through the enemy cities freely. What does this tell you? You may even see his troops try to get into your home areas. Not so fast, friend Henry! That gate just happens to be locked. Maybe try the other gate over there. It is a general rule for any scenario where you have allies that you should carefully control who passes your gates. Only let them through if you are certain they won't backstab you, and even then, think about ALL of the potential consequences.
It turns out that Henry is not long for this world. Empirically, there are certain points in time where, if certain conditions are met, Henry will resign. One of them is 8.5 min into the scenario; another is at 41.5 min. If Venice's Town Center has been destroyed by the check time, Henry resigns. There may or may not be other check times, and other conditions. You have just destroyed Venice's Town Center. If you managed it early enough, definitely kiss Henry good-bye.
Should Henry resign if he has never attacked you? Perhaps more thought could have gone into the scenario triggers, but realistically, if you have managed to defeat Venice and never even needed a castle, it is clear that the scenario is essentially over and that you are invincible. Whether Henry resigns, or runs around aimlessly until you are ready to crush him, is moot.
Let's revisit the question of how reasonable it is to not build a castle. First of all, having control of the seas is a major theme in this scenario. We have definitely focused on that. Second, the strength of our land defenses is in the Wall Maze Complex. We have definitely focused on that. Putting a castle in there is almost a liability. Furthermore, a castle is very expensive, and if you don't need a lot of villagers collecting stone, you can have more troops. There are a number of good reasons for building a castle, but none of them was yet applicable in this scenario. For example, if you want Teutonic Knights, you can just take them away from Padua.
It is worth considering what is the dominant unit in the various ages. In the Dark Age, there is no reasonable way of defeating a Town Center. In the Feudal Age, there is no reasonable way of defeating a stone wall, especially if it is supported by Towers. In the Castle Age, there is no reasonable way of defeating a castle behind a stone wall supported by a mobile force or catapults. But in the Imperial Age, there is no static defense that can reasonably stand up against long-range artillery supported by a mobile force. Naval heavy artillery is the greatest threat, because of its high mobility. The only viable response is to have naval superiority, perhaps to keep your buildings away from the shore, and to use a Maze Complex defense.
The push inland
It is relatively easy to wipe out Venice. Padua is well inland and not accessible to your navy. Verona has a river passing through it (the Adige), so it should be the next target. There will be at least two difficulties. The primary one is that they use monks, so they have an effective counter to your ships. The second one is that the river restricts your mobility, so you will not be able to maneuver much. You will need to be very careful.
It turns out that only about half of Verona is accessible to your navy. So you nuke half of Verona. Unfortunately, you can't get all of their production buildings, and you can't get all of their villagers. So they just rebuild inland. From then on, no matter how many times you raid them, you can't seem to put a dent in the flood of units they put out. However, they don't rebuild completely. In particular, they are reduced to heavy cavalry, light artillery, and villagers.
Possess as many of Verona's Paladins as you think you will need. Being Franks, they have the best heavy cavalry. Possess as many of Padua's Teutonic Knights as you think you will need, especially after they are fully upgraded. But you can't really go over the population limit, because eventually you will need to produce your own heavy artillery. About 5 each Bombard Cannons and trebuchets should do the trick. After that, and once you are sure that you have all the other units that you will need, go hog-wild with your monks.
Push your Wall Maze as far up the left side as you reasonably can. Eradicate Padua's small outpost there. Eventually, you reach a large open area that's just too hard to deal with. At this point, it makes sense to go after Padua, because it's relatively easy to advance your wall in that area.
Against Padua, you probably want trebuchets because of their long-range Town Centers. So you will need a castle, finally. Pick a spot for it that's not exposed to long-range artillery. You could even put it on one of the small islands in the SE, but that's probably being too paranoid. As soon as your castle is finished, Henry the Lion attacks you. They can't really do much, because they no longer have central control, and their economy is dead.
It is worth mentioning that your enemies are finally putting a lot of troops in the field, albeit not much heavy artillery.
By the time that you are knocking on Padua's gates, they are probably economically exhausted, unable to build any more units that need gold, and unwilling to produce any others. So tear their city down. It is not obvious how to get them to surrender; the trigger might be loss of their Market.
With Padua eliminated, turn back against Verona. Since they are producing with resources that would normally have been used by Henry the Lion, they are not going to run out of units any time soon. In a situation like this, the only realistic way to make progress is to build a castle in a place where they like to hang out. Do so. This breaks them. Then try to hunt down all their villagers, which isn't easy, because they keep rebuilding everywhere. Even after all their units are dead, they don't surrender. The trigger for that appears to be destruction of their Market.
The scenario ends when all enemies are defeated, or if you were inclined that way, after you build a Wonder per scenario instructions.
Historical Note: Henry the Lion did break fealty with Barbarossa around this time, but not in the way indicated. In fact, he did not show up at all.
Geographical Note: Padua is actually directly west of Venice, and Verona directly west of Padua. The triangle arrangement in the game is incorrect.