Reconnaissance: Knowing is Winning

Know your foe, know yourself, and you will know victory. This is an ancient saying, but one that very true in this virtual world of ours as well. You should already know the strengths and weaknesses of your own troops- light cavalry sucks at melee, while heavy infantry is not good for chasing down the nuisances of horse archers. But that enemy army wandering your realm? What fearsome troops does he have? Or is it merely a mob of peasants? You do not know.

But you can. Use the reconnaissance assets available and you will know what they have, and can then defeat them in detail. So, what assets do you have?

Strategic Assets

On the strategic map, you have several. Watchtowers and spies are the most common, but you have others as well. Assassins and the Diplomat can scout for you as well; so can units such as a small cavalry detachment. We shall now discuss these in detail, before moving to tactical recon.

Watchtowers are built by generals. Captains cannot do this. A watchtower costs two hundred fifty denarii, and lasts forever- there is no way to destroy them, though by placing a unit on the site you can disable an enemy watchtower for so long as it is occupied. This is helpful if you are planning an invasion and the enemy has watchtowers guarding the approaches- simply move a unit of swift light cavalry onto the site- then you can move your main force hopefully without it being seen. Watchtowers can also see a long ways- though they are blocked by mountains and somewhat by forests- thus proper siting is important to gain maximum coverage.

You can tell when one of your own towers has been occupied- the area around the tower goes dark. Sending an army to evict the miscreants will restore control back to you. But beware- sending a Diplomat to bribe the peasants to go away will indeed disperse the crowd- but leave the watchtower inactive. You will need to send a military unit to restore the thing to operation.

Spies are the normal means. Duh. They see farther than watchtowers and are mobile, which is an advantage. But they are limited to the lifetime of the spy himself- when he dies of old age or a knife in the back, you lose his eyes. The spy can tell you more than that there is an enemy army approaching- you can have him spy on that army and reveal its entire strength. Likewise, if a spy is infiltrated into a city, he can give you the garrison details- and provide the Assassin with a full target list. And spike the gates open for your coming assault- very handy!

Assassins are also strategic assets that can provide you with details of the enemy. His line of sight is not as broad as that of the spy, and his use is most often for assassination and sabotage, but an Assassin can give you some valuable intelligence as well. Target an enemy stack, and he will tell you the Family Members in that stack and the chance of killing one- as well as the title of the Family Member if a Faction leader or Heir, how many stars, etc. This limited knowledge can be the difference between your army standing to be defeated by a stack with six generals, and falling back to a choke point and killing them.

Assassins are one of two assets that can take direct action on an enemy army. In this case, by removing a Family member- permanently. When a Family Member dies, his bodyguards go away- costing the army a valuable unit as well.

Diplomats are usually considered golden-tongued old men with bags of money and meaningless platitudes. But they can also scout for you. Put one by a choke point- he'll see the enemy approach and let you know what he sees. Being old men, they usually do not see so far, but having golden tongues and bottomless moneybags, they can often bribe smaller armies into going away, or make treaties with larger ones- and thus reveal the enemy army for you.

The Diplomat is also one the the few that can actually take action on a hostile army, as just mentioned- they can bribe it. Cold gold goes a long way towards making friends from enemies.

Counter reconnaissance is the art of denying these assets of your opponent from gathering knowledge of your movements. We have already discussed how to neutralize watch towers. The others are usually dealt with by Assassins. But they can also be killed by military units. Simply surround the unfortunate asset on all eight sides with military units so that he (or if using one of the Amazon mods, she) is totally surrounded and hemmed in. Then move a ninth unit atop the Spy or Diplomat, and the asset perishes.

Tactical Assets

Life can be extremely pleasant watching the enemy army deploy ahead of you, like wheat standing tall for the scythe. Then comes that horrible moment when half of them disappear. Or worse, they move, and while you are maneuvering your forces, you suddenly notice that a good portion of the enemy is no longer visible. They are still there, and will return to view in a most unpleasant manner when you stumble across them slaughtering your flank.

This can be avoided by using tactical reconnaissance. Those are two mighty big words meaning 'scout'. Most commanders have scouts. Normally they are called cavalry or peltasts or skirmishers or some other fancy name, but they are all the same- highly-mobile troops that can go forth and rustle the bushes looking for those who would ambush you. Find the, pound them with artillery, and turn them into pulp, instead of letting them do this to you.

I find light cavalry- especially missile cavalry like jav cav or horse archers- extremely useful in this role. They usually have good eyes, and are fleet enough to avoid heavy spearmen- the bane of any cavalryman. Barbarian cavalry, or even heavy cavalry will do as well.

Skirmishers and other light infantry could do in a pinch- but ensure they have some proper back up in case they find the enemy sooner than expected- those buggers move, you know. Or use troops you really do not care for- like peasants.

It is a shame our virtual world does not allow you to attack the ground. You must click on a unit or a target. In the real world, we have a wonderful term called "recon by fire." Do you suspect an enemy hiding in those trees? Put a few rounds downrange upon them. Nothing moved? It is clear. It is a well-known human reaction to think one discovered when receiving fire- and to react to it. Rounds or arrows outbound from the target area confirm enemy presence. More than one ambush has been blown in real life due to this. But alas, Rome: Total war does not allow it.

Countering enemy battlefield recon assets is quite easy- have a visible unit nearby your hidden units, but not too nearby. When the enemy scouts come prodding around, launch the guardians at them. They will either move to engage, or move to flee. Either way, they are no longer performing their primary mission of searching the ground for your hidden troops.

That is a brief treatise on Reconnaissance. Use your assets to discover the foe and his composition, and prevent him from doing the same. Knowledge is power. Get as much as you can and use it wisely.

May thou often hear the melodious notes of the Horns of Victory.