The goal of Nobunaga's Ambition is to conquer all of Japan. To do this, you must fight for, and successfully claim, all of the fiefs in play. Doing this will be no easy task, but this page should provide you with a few ideas on how to get started properly, and which strategies to employ while playing the game. By following all of the advice provided here, you should be well on your way to unifying Japan.
Selecting a starting fief
There are two criteria that your starting fief should be chosen upon: the strength of the daimyo in power, and the fief's position and exposure to other fiefs.
The strength of your daimyo and the fief that he controls will not determine whether you'll win or lose, just how challenging it will be to obtain the momentum you need to conquer the other fiefs. A strong daimyo such as Oda (Fief 17 / 25) or Tokugawa (Fief 18 / 24) will need fewer turns to set themselves up so that they are in a position to attack other fiefs. Weaker daimyos like Hatakeya (Feif 1 / 16) and Saito (Feif 9 / 23), on the other hand, will have to spend more time building up their fiefs and fending off attacks from other daimyos, which will only serve to further delay your progress if it doesn't completely end it. The strength of your daimyo is not the only factor that you should pay attention to...
Also of importance, and possibly more important depending on your overall strategy, is the position of the fief that you start out with. Having fewer neighboring fiefs and more natural boundaries surrounding your own fief will make it easier to establish a perimeter around your fief, protecting it from attack. Part of the key to winning Nobunaga's Ambition is building up a safe zone where a number of your fiefs are safe from attack and can work simply to generate gold and rice for other fiefs that are on the front line.
For example, in a 17 fief game, fief 1 has only one neighboring fief. Unfortunately, fief 1's daimyo is a little on the weak side, but fief 15 has only two neighbors, and it's daimyo is pretty good despite being bit older. By contrast, fief 16 has seven neighbors that you must defend it against, making it one of the worst fiefs to start off with.
Building up your fief
During your first few turns, there are several things you will want to consider doing to improve the status and defense of your fief. However, the more turns you take to improve your fief without attacking a neighboring fief, the longer you give your opponents to do the same thing.
At the start of your game, the tax rate for your fief will be around 20%. As much as the peasants may like this, it will not generate nearly enough income to get you through the game. You should raise this amount as high as you possibly can without risking a revolt. Anywhere between 50% and 60% will make the peasants unhappy, but you should be able to redeem yourself easily by giving them rice on the next turn. It's far easier to win loyalty by giving goods to peasants than to lower the tax rate.
You may or may not start off with a lot of men. Regardless, you should start hiring men as soon as you are able to afford it. Soldiers will never be as cheap as they are in the beginning of the game, as their price on the market fluctuate over time. Keep in mind that if you spend all of your money on soldiers, you'll have to wait until fall before you can afford to wage war and send them to a neighboring fief; but at the very least, you'll have a good defense in the event your fief is attacked.
It's important to keep your loyalty and morale as high as possible, and it's absolutely critical to keep them above 50. If either of these attributes are low, you should consider giving to your subjects. While you might think that they would prefer gold to rice, keep in mind that rice is usually more valuable than gold, as it typically sells for more than 1 unit of gold on the market. Gold is more valuable to you as a the daimyo since it's needed to execute many commands.
Giving rice to your soldiers raises morale, while giving it to your peasants raises loyalty and wealth. You should give only as much rice to your soldiers as needed to raise their loyalty to a little over 100; but continuously giving rice to your peasants has the added benefit of raising their wealth, which in turn increases the amount of taxes you can collect. A good rule of thumb is to give roughly half of your rice back to peasants, but don't allow your rice to drop below the number of men you have — and never let it reach 0, or you'll become an easy target for an invading army. With no rice, you can't fight back!
If you have absolutely nothing else to do, you should always train your army until they reach their maximum skill level. Training is free, and it can compensate for lack of arms. You can purchase arms from a merchant, and that will help you in battle, but it costs gold whereas increasing skill costs nothing.
Once you've built up your fief and feel ready to take on some of the other daimyos, you must plan your attack carefully. Here are a few options you may wish to consider:
This is worth doing at the very start of the game before you even develop your own fiefs, as it can be a cheap and incredibly fast way to build up your territory. Hire a single ninja to attack a daimyo in a neighboring fief. While sending more than one ninja is helpful for the other assignments, more than one ninja will not increase your chances of success with assassination. Some daimyos are simply too strong and have too many loyal men to make assassination possible, but many daimyos are particularly weak, and therefore vulnerable to this tactic. If a ninja succeeds in assassinating a daimyo, ownership over the fief is left vacant until the end of the season, at which point you will have an opportunity to bid on the fief. Don't spare any money bidding on fief's since you will inherit the gold that fief contains.
Before you attack a fief, you should always view it first. It costs 10 gold to do so, but the knowledge it provides you with is priceless. It lets you see how many men you will be going up against, and their current skill and arms level. Knowing this information can help you decide which fief is the easiest for you to attack, and where you'll have the greatest chance for success. If it doesn't look like any fief is a good choice yet, at least you'll know how many more men you need to hire before you can attack.
Remember that in the beginning of the game, your army starts off in the default configuration of 20% of your men in each of the five squadrons. If you wish to employ a more strategic arrangement, it will cost you 30 gold, but it could mean the difference between success or failure against a similar sized army. See the Waging war section on unit arrangements for more information about possible configurations.
If you truly feel that you're ready to take on another daimyo, select the War command and gather up your soldiers. If you are attacking from a fief that has more than one neighboring opponent, you will have to be careful not to send all of your men and rice to war, or you will have no ability to defend the fief that you left behind! Make sure you build up the number of soldiers and rice that you have so that you can leave a sizable defense force in waiting. Gaining one fief at the expense of another is no gain at all.
Support your front line
Ultimately, you want to conquer Japan in such a way that it minimizes your exposure to the number of enemy fiefs you share borders with. In addition, you want to establish safe zones for other fiefs so that they are free to focus on production and support fiefs on the front line. For example, if you start out in fief 15 (of a 17 fief game) and you conquer fiefs 10 and 14, fief 15 will no longer have any enemies next to it. You can move all of your soldiers out of that fief and into a fief that needs more support. In fact, if you are attacking the last neighboring enemy fief, you can send all of your soldiers if you are confident that you will win. You should be sending anywhere from 1.25 to 2 times as many soldiers to ensure victory, in this case.
Fiefs that are on your front line should follow all of the advice outlined in the "Building up your fief" section above, while fiefs that are safe from attack should follow a different strategy in order to maximize their benefit to the waring fiefs.
Build and Grow
Every fall, you should get a good amount of gold and rice. You want to increase this amount as much as you can. Half of the gold you get in a safe fief should be spent on building to increase the town value, and the other half should be spent on the Grow command to increase output. Do this each fall and winter respectively. You may also consider spending money on dams to avoid catastrophes from typhoons, but they aren't so common that you should worry too much about them in the first place.
Give to peasants
Once you've spent all the gold you can on improving the gold and rice yield, you should give some rice to the peasants to improve their loyalty and wealth. Give roughly half of the rice you have back to the peasants and watch their loyalty value soar. Do this in the spring.
With what rice you have left after giving some to the peasants, wait until summer to send rice to any of your fiefs on the front line and that are in the most need. Rice can then be used to trade with merchants for more gold, (so you can hire more men) be given to soldiers or peasants to improve morale or loyalty respectively, or be used to feed your soldiers when they go off to war against another fief. By creating a safety zone for fiefs that you control, you create an engine for growth that supports your efforts in fiefs that neighbor your enemies. It is incredibly important to keep loyalty high in these fiefs in order to prevent uprisings. You shouldn't even need to lower taxes, but do so by 1% if you have nothing better to do. If an uprising breaks out in a town that you have no soldiers in, you will lose that fief automatically. You'll never have to worry about revolts since there are no soldiers with low morale.