The Art of the Assault

The Art of the Assault is a treatise to familiarize new warlords with ways about how to overcome defensive fortifications to enter and conquer a hostile city. It concerns only getting your forces inside relatively intact- how you fight the urban battle itself is up to your skills as a general. Some warlords prefer to mount their cowardly archers across the battlements and have them fire upon the fleeing fools of the defenders, while still others prefer to use the hammer-and-anvil of old Alexander to destroy entrenched defenders. To each his own, but each must first get into the city. That is where this treatise shall help thee.


Towns and cities with walls around them will not let you assault immediately. You must first get into the city. Luckily, every general has up to six options available to effect entry into the city. One is to infiltrate a spy into the city before besieging it. The spy has a percent chance of spiking the gates open for you, with each eye of skill granting a higher chance. A second option is to bring along some artillery with the assaulting army- onagers and heavy onagers work quite well in opening gaps in city walls of any sort, while elephants can bash down gates and open holes in wooden walls. Elephants have the speed of cavalry on the strategic map, which makes them good city-bashers for an all-cavalry army la the Parthians.

The other four options are given to you by the game itself. These are queued up before the assault, with varying siege point costs. As only infantry can use siege equipment, the number of infantrymen in the assaulting army determines how many siege points are available. This number may be modified by generals with the correct traits and retainers. The siege points are renewed every turn, so it is possible (but not recommended) to equip every infantry unit with some sort of entrance-gaining item. These are:

Ram- this is a bronze-headed covered battering ram. It can be used to bash down gates, and also against wooden walls. It can be used against reinforced iron gates, but is incredibly slow. Rams cannot be used against stone walls. Rams are also among the oldest of siege equipment, notably being in the Greek Wars well before the rise of Rome.

Ladders- When Ladders are selected as siege equipment, each unit equipped with them will be shown carrying four ladders. less if the unit is depleted. The general selects the ladder-carrying unit and clicks upon a section of wall, sending the soldiers there. Once in place, the ladders are raised and the unit climbs onto the wall above. Ladders cannot be used against wooden walls.

Towers- Towers are like covered ladders with ballistas on top. A single tower is manned by an entire unit, which when selected and a section of wall clicked upon, pushes the tower to that section of wall. Once in place, the unit forms up, marches in, climbs the tower, opens the bridge, and storms across onto the city walls.

Towers have been recorded as being used by the Batavians on their assault against the Roman castrum of Vetera during the Revolt of 60 A.D.

Siege Towers were known since the days of the Assyrians, but came into prominence with the Greeks, who were masters of creating many and varied mechanical means to enter a city. Their sambuca was a portable tower / covered ladder that could be used to get armored men to the ramparts above while protecting them from missiles. The Romans, being clever engineers themselves, copied the ideas and improved upon them. Digging moats became a simple way of deterring siege towers, however, since the lofty and heavy structures could not be wheeled or pushed across moats or ditches.

Sap Points are the final type, though they are not always available against every city- sometimes the city is upon sand too soft to support tunnels, others upon solid rock. They are not available against wooden walls at all. But where available, they can be selected. And when selected, they appear as a little wooden hut near the city wall. Order a sap-capable unit (not all units can sap) to the sap point, and they wil enter the little hut and begin digging a tunnel to the city walls. Once they reach the walls, they hollow out a chamber, set it alight, and run. When the fires burn through the timbers supporting the chamber, it collapses and brings down the wall above it as well.

There are a few things every general needs to know concerning these items. These are:

  • Towers have the ability to fire at will. Use this. Always. As the unit pushes the tower, it will fire upon the defenders, often softening them up for the unit before the assault.

  • Towers also have a known bug- sometimes the unit manning it will simply dance about the bottom and refuse to climb. This is called the Siege Tower Shuffle, and can be quite irritating. It happen most often when the unit operating the tower is assigned to a section of wall, then re-assigned to another. The Shuffle can sometimes be solved by moving the unit away from the tower, then clicking on them, clicking on the wall by the tower, and letting them try again. Other times, the unit pirouettes about and gets shot to pieces, despite your best efforts. Thus, a word to the wise- Never depend on towers alone, and always mix your siege equipment types.

  • Rams can be used against any gates, but can only be used against walls of wood. In fact, rams are the only option available versus wooden walls. They are useless against stone walls.

  • Units carrying siege equipment have a ram in the upper right corner of their unit card. They also have an icon in the unit interface displaying a ram's head. This icon can be used to order the unit to drop the siege equipment. By selecting a unit capable of using the equipment and hovering the cursor over the siege equipment, a small hand will appear. Clicking then will order the unit to pick up the siege equipment. This is handy if the AI assigned the ladders to your archers but you would rather your axemen carry them.

  • Only one piece of siege equipment can be assigned to a single section of wall at a time. Sections of wall are those between the towers and gates. If you send a second piece to the same section, the first will stop to allow the second to go.

  • If you have spies in the city and they succeed in spiking the gates open, then the enemy will always deploy some of its forces to cover every gate. These forces will remain in place until your forces gain entry into the city- either by gate or breach- then move to the Main Plaza.

  • You most often cannot choose where Sap Points are deployed. The AI decides this based on the underlying terrain. In some circumstances, however, it is possible to move the Sap Point.

The Assault

Before the assault begins, you will see the standard pre-battle screen where you have an overview of the battle and two buttons- Wait, and Start Deployment. Use your judgment as to the weather. If you don't like it, wait. If you like it, Start Deployment.

Now you are ready to deploy. You have a section of the battlefield assigned to you, and your army has been deployed as the AI wants. Here is where the general in you should emerge. Do you like that set-up? Or do you think you can do better?

Most generals can do better. So, examine the troops manning your equipment. Shock troops like axemen, swordsmen, and legionaries are best manning towers, while phalanx and spearmen are best for manning rams. The reason behind this is that these men will be making first physical contact with the defenders, who upon walls are most likely archers and other light troops, while those on the ground will most likely be combat troops. Your initial assault troops will be making contact with them and you want to be able to push them from the walls.

Now that you know how to get in, you have to do it. Click on the equipment, then where you want it. Siege equipment (except rams, as noted before) can only be used against walls- not the towers or gatehouses. Those fortifications must be entered from the wall, or if you have troops inside the city already, from the tiny doors at the bottom.

Every general should know that putting all your eggs in one basket can lead to no omelet. The same applies if you put all your faith in getting through a single entry point. Thus a good general will always seek to gain entry at more than one point- if one attempt should fail, you still have your alternative.

So, examine the enemy walls and choose with care your points for the assault. The gates directly opposite your initial positions will be the ones most likely to be defended by the greatest number of defenders. Use this to your advantage by choosing a site away from them. Also examine routes to the center- some cities are designed to make you walk an entire circuit along the walls or beneath them in order to find the single entrance to the Main Plaza.

Once you have chosen your points and manned them, ensure the breachers have back-up. The enemy will try to swarm your breaching units in order to keep their city secure- so have reinforcements there on the spot.

Basic Tactics and Tips

A good tip if you have onagers with you is to disable enemy towers before closing for the assault. Some walls have wide expanses with no towers- these are ideal to assault. Others have towers tight as woven wool, which would shoot your troops to pieces before you get near the wall. A few onagers can reduce the towers to rubble, allowing your troops to place their equipment without further hassle.

Another fine idea if you have some archer units with you and the enemy is cowering behind wooden walls is to reduce the enemy by shooting them to bits before launching your assault. I have personally reduced a defending force of two armored hoplite units and a unit of Spartans down to no Spartans and a half-unit of hoplites before even setting foot in the city, by virtue of expending my arrows and javelins before setting foot inside the breach.

Once you have gained entry into the city through your breach, it is a good idea to get the rest of your army inside as soon as possible. If the city has stone walls, send a fast, light unit along the walls to gain any enemy towers along your proposed path to the plaza- often the foe will try to stop your forces, and having the towers firing upon them, instead of upon you, can make a difference. Also, captured gates allow your cavalry inside. Horses are notoriously bad at climbing ladders and siege towers.

You capture the city by holding the Main Plaza or Town Square for three minutes or more. You hold it by having no enemy troops alive in the Plaza. Defending troops on the Plaza have incredible morale- they never rout on the Plaza. The enemy knows this, which is why when it loses the walls, all of its remaining units retreat to the Plaza for a last stand.

This is extremely hard on your forces, since the enemy will no longer rout. So, it is best not to fight defending troops on the Plaza until you have exhausted all other methods first. One of them is to get to the Plaza before them and destroy the routing troops before they can rally. Another is simply to annihilate them by artillery and/or massed archers. And a third is to tease them from the Plaza.

Teasing the Foe from the Plaza is easy, if you have archers or other missile troops. Set up a roadblock within range of the Plaza and place your archers behind the blocking troops. Fire upon the enemy. After a few volleys, they will sometimes charge those irritating archers- and impale themselves upon your blocking troops. They break, and you chase. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Beware the Invisible Walls of the Plaza! Infantry can usually walk directly onto the Plaza, but the horses of the cavalry tend to enter the Plaza only in the middle of the open side- as if there are unseen walls visible only to horses and the only opening is to be found in the center of the side. This has to do with the pathing, but can severely interrupt a wonderful cavalry charge and lead your horses upon enemy spears instead of into their flanks or rear.

It is advised to have the Battle Timer turned on when fighting, especially in the defense. Most assaults can be completed within a half-hour of hectic combat, but there may by a single enemy unit caught between buildings that may cause you untold agony if you pressed the 'Continue Battle' button after conquering the Plaza. With Timer on, you will eventually gain a victory. With Timer off, that trapped soldier must be hunted down and killed, or you may have to Quit the Battle by pressing the Escape key.

Advanced Tactics and Tips

There more good ways to assault a city than there are ground plans of cities. Everyone develops their own style, and each is different. What I intend to scribble here are a few tips, examples, and ideas I have tried and seen work well, as inspiration to your own ideas.

Subrosa's Long Walk

Pick a unit equipped with siege engines, or an onager, and deploy it opposite a section of wall far from where your troops actually are.

Start the battle. Have your onagers or siege engine away from your main body begin breaching. While this is happening, march the most of your main body around the walls (out of range) to where the breach is being made. Leave a portion to keep the defenders pinned in place. Plus, if the defenders peel away to face the new threat, these forces can move their equipment forward and effect entry from your original position.

The enemy should have deployed most of its forces opposite your main body. These will do one of two things- either stay in place, allowing your breach to succeed, or move to the Main Plaza, abandoning the walls. Either way, your assault will succeed.

Scythian Hide and Seek

This is especially popular among factions favoring Horse Archers, which the AI always severely underrates. Simply besiege an enemy city with a few units of Horse Archers. Do not expect to 'win'.

The enemy will sally against your force, seeing as how the AI thinks it can defeat the besieging Horse Archers. Let them sally.

Shoot them to pieces while keeping your Horse Archers away from the walls and enemy units.

If the enemy retreats inside, it is your choice whether to allow them to escape (they lose the sally, and thus the battle is a draw) or to chase them and crush them (and thereby win the battle and the city). If they retreat, you may use this tactic again and again, each time reducing their strength until you feel your Horse Archers can take them, or the city capitulates.

Terikel's Bait and Switch

This is a variant on SubRosa's Long Walk with which I have had some good success against stone-walled towns, though not epic walls. It does not, however, work at all for wooden-walled towns.

Scout first the map to see where you actually intend to strike. Once that is established, deploy your units carrying siege equipment there, then drop the equipment and move your men to across from where you want the enemy to deploy. Units move much faster when not carrying siege equipment, thus you in effect pre-place your equipment. Leave an onager or two in between the locations, though moved forward so that the walls are in range.

As the battle opens, have the onagers blast down a section of wall between your forces and the AI's defenders. If you do this in time, you should catch some of the defenders in the falling wall. The rest are now trapped in their original locations by the gaping hole and are forced to make one of two horrible choices as your army marches around the city to where your siege equipment is located to begin their assault. The defenders can either remain in place (and thus allowing your breach to succeed), or abandon the walls and try to regain them on the other side of the hole (costing time, and allowing any cavalry you left to catch them strung out on the ground).

Either way, your breach succeeds.

Technically the Bait-and-Switch could be considered cheating, as you are using the programmed response of the AI (to put its troops directly opposite yours) to defeat it, but humans could also fall for this. Just be careful, and remember that with any battle, timing is very important.

The Swarm

Swarming is a technique suitable if you have lots of infantry and time to build much siege equipment, or if you want to keep your troops busy while the besieged units slowly lose some strength.

Swarming is relatively simple. Build lots and lots of siege equipment. When you have enough for most of your army, initiate the assault.

As in other tactics, use any artillery to destroy the threat of enemy towers first, and spread your forces about so that some end up breaching unguarded walls. The rest you face against the defenders (unless that is suicidal) and assault.

What makes the Swarm effective is numbers. More attackers mean more targets for the defenders, so they lose the ability to concentrate their fire against a single unit. If the defenders do go that route anyway, the rest of your swarming assault troops reach their walls relatively intact. For the attacker, a win-win solution. Overwhelm the defenders in hand-to-hand combat, while the troops who breached unguarded sections come along the walls to close the flanks, and open any gates they manage to pass for your cavalry to enter the city as well. If done speedily, you can catch most of the defending garrison upon the walls and hack it to pieces before they can retreat to the Plaza.

Be aware, though, of unit size. Siege equipment, like walls, have a finite number of damage points they can sustain before being destroyed. On huge scale, the number of arrows an archer unit can fire is four times that of the normal scale, which means four times as much damage to siege towers, rams, and the like. Thus the Swarm, when used against massed archers on huge scale, can be equated to suicide. Against a force of non-archers on any scale, however, it can overwhelm the defenders and slaughter them far away from their regenerating Plaza.

Terikel's Hellrain

This tactic is for barbarian villages with wooden walls. The attacking army has onagers and archers (I usually have one or two onagers and typically four units of archers).

Deploy with the onagers forward, with one unit of infantry right up against the front of the onagers. Deployment should be as far forward as possible, yet outside the range of defensive archery and towers. Deploy the rest of the army in columns before where you wish to breach, with the archers forward. I usually scout the battlefield and find a place where the road to the center has a large open area just behind the walls in which the enemy can form up. This becomes my killing ground.

Open the battle by having your onagers knock out the towers facing your army. Then have them bash a few holes into various walls- nothing is more embarrassing than smashing the enemy to pulp and then running out of ammunition before you can get into the town. You will lose, no matter the casualty count. And if you lose the battle, your forces retreat away from the city- sometimes several provinces away. It is far better to make the breaches first, then pound the enemy into dogfood.

After creating your breaches, move your troops up. Spearmen or legionaries to guard the breaches, with the rest of the army lined up behind them.

I then group three of my four archers (Skirmish Off, Guard On) and have them start raining death down upon any defenders stupid enough to try and guard the holes. The onagers I move forward, ensuring they have a good field of fire and no friendly units not directly in front of them- I do not like toasted assault troops. Set the onagers to fire Flaming Ammunition and have them aim at the center of mass of those units in the killing zone. Flaming ammunition is more inaccurate than normal boulders, but those that hit will kill far more than a rock. By aiming at the center of mass (the unit most in the middle), you can increase the chance that a missed fireball will still land on another enemy unit, continuing to cause damage. Alternatively, use Boulders on the enemy general- sometimes you can assassinate him before entering the fight. Stay there until you run out of ammunition or enemies. I usually use this time to tighten the formations of my assault troops so they fit through the gates and breaches easily. When the missile units stop firing, it is time to enter the breaches and begin the actual assault

The fourth archer unit now moves forward, behind a screen of infantry. Both make for the Town Square, where the archers empty their quivers into the flanks of the enemy to whittle them further down. Then the infantry have it easier and the town is mine.

End Words

Study well, young generals, and we hope you have learned new ways to kill the enemy without letting too many of your soldiers die for their country. Capturing a city is difficult and bloody, but as you saw above, it can be done with less of your blood and more of the enemy.

So fear not those towered walls, young warlord. Go forth, and conquer!