A Newbie's Guide to Strategy

By Cheesewiz

So, you're new to Rome: Total War and would like to learn a bit about strategy? Or perhaps you have been playing the game with no success? If you answered 'yes' to either of those questions, or if you want a good outline of very basic battle strategies, this is the guide for you. So, fear not Newbie, soon you will understand.

Part One: What is Strategy?

To really understand the art of Strategy, you need to know what strategy is. I like to use three words to show its definition: React, Control, Dominate. First, you must React. Recognize and analyze the situation as it is unfolding. See the possible problem or advantage. Next, you must Control the situation. Look around to see how you can best exploit your opponent, then plan ahead on how you will maneuver your units so that they will be able to capitalize. Finally, you must Dominate. This means assaulting and battering your opponent where it will hurt them most. You must do this quickly, efficiently, and with good judgment. All of this is what strategy really is, and how it will really be when you are playing in real-time. So remember, React, Control, Dominate.

Armoured Elephants rampaging through a formation of Nile Spearmen

Part Two: Flanking

One of the most basic of strategies in Rome: Total War is the flank. Flanking is when you assault the enemy troops from the side or from behind. This causes extra damage, and can allow weaker troops to crush strong ones. When you hit a division from behind, you get an even bigger attack bonus, because those units are not facing that direction for defense. Some troops are better at flanking than others. A heavy infantry, for example, would have a hard time getting to the side of another unit. However, a Cavalry division might be able to out-maneuver an enemy formation and get in-behind them for a massive assault. Also some units have what's called a charge bonus, meaning that when running they do extra damage. This value can be from one to as high as twenty, greatly increasing damage. So if you combine that charge bonus with your flanking bonus, they effect is collosal. So, to flank first you must React. If you see an opportunity for your troops to hit the opponent from the side or behind, get ready. Select your troops and be ready to order them to charge into the enemy. Next, you must Control. Remember: flanking is best when done at close range. Therefore, a good plan is to engage the enemy from the front, then flank them with another division. That way you can get in range, then charge, then the flank is at maximum effect. Finally, you must dominate. Move your troops to attack on the flank of the enemy and watch as you deal a serious blow to your opponent.

Carthaginian cavalry charging Desert Axemen

Part Three: Skirmishing

Anytime a missile units uses hit and run tactics, they are skirmishing. Skirmishing is so fundamental that it even has its own mode in RTW. Aside from just clicking the skirmish mode button, there are several ways that you can keep your missile units safe. First, you must remember that archers should rarely fight hand to hand. The only exception to this is when they are out of ammo, which will be explained later. Secondly, you shouldn't always rely on the skirmish button to save you. Often you must manually move your troops back to keep them from being crushed by cavalry or infantry. Third, it is often a good idea to have your missile troops behind a line of infantry, that way, they can pepper the enemy troops with missiles, while being completely safe.

When avoiding an attack on your skirmishers by cavalry, you really have no hopes of running away. So, simply alt attack, to manually fight them with swords. You will probably lose most of your division, but at least some cavalry will go down with them. However, when being changed by slow infantry, skirmishing can be very effective due to the low armor of your missile units that give them good speed.

Some Cavalry units are actually missile troops. These units are ideal for skirmishing. With the speed they have they can run in and out of enemy formations, crippling them with arrows and javelins. One additional plan is to use the Cantabrian Circle. This will cause your missile cavalry to run in a circle, making them very hard to hit from distance or close range. When all of the ammo has been expended, charge them into the fray to make them completely useful, and possible this could grant you a victory.

Some units, such as Hastati or Legionaries are able to throw missiles prior to a charge. Often, this means that they only expend one volley before charing into battle and possibly dying. This is excellent for attacking, but for defending it is useless. Now, to me this is a waste, therefore I recommend that you turn them on fire at will. This will allow them to fire the missiles as often as they can before being engaged in melee (hand-to-hand) combat. Remember, when attacking you want fire at will off in most situations. This will prevent friendly fire problems.

In review, first you must React, by noticing when there is an opportunity for your missile units to engage the enemy from range. Most units will attack automatically, but some must be switched to fire at will. Often it's to your advantage to order your units to attack, so they will run to get into engagement range. Next, you need to Control. analyze how long your missile troops might have before they are engaged by a melee unit. Be ready to call them back, or order them to attack deeper within enemy lines. Finally, you must Dominate. In many games of my own, my missile troops have had the highest kill rates of any of my troops, two fold. The ability to kill from distance is huge in R:TW, and must be realized as such. Get those missile units attacking the enemy to induce maximum casualties before those troops are able to engage your heavier forces.

Cretan Archers firing at Greek troops in the woods

Cretan Archers charging Hoplites from the rear

Part Four: Formations

There are two aspects to formations in R:TW. First, there are the division by division formations where each unit of troops has a specific shape to their lines and columns. Secondly, there are the mass formations, where you arrange your divisions by unit type and set up in a full battle set.

Usually your division by division formations will change during the course of the battle. Often, it will depend on what the opponent attempts to do. When you are under attack by missile fire, it's a good idea to put your units into loose formation. That way, they will take fewer casualties. However, in most other circumstances, tight formation is better. Some Roman infantry can form the testudo formation. Testudo is latin for Tortoise, and it acts the part very well. This formation makes your units nearly sealed into close formation, with shields guarding the front and the sides of the formation. Arrow fire is minimized, Cavalry charges are slightly impaired, and the effect from a flank is slightly reduced. However, this formation does not allow you to run, nor does it allow for throwing pila(Javelins). Melee fighting is also hurt, so only use the testudo in an ideal situation. Some spear infantry can form the phalanx formation. This formation provides excellent protection from cavalry, moderate protection from infantry, and slight protection from archers. Most phalanx-capable troops should always be in the phalanx, even though it limits movement and is very vulnerable to the flank. Remember to keep an eye of a phalanx; otherwise, you might be hurt severely by a sudden cavalry assault from the side or worse, from behind.

As for mass formations, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. First, don't rely too heavily on one unit type. This could cause you to be unable to defeat a particular unit type without taking great losses. Secondly, you need to remember general unit balances. Cavalry>Archers>Heavy Infantry>Light Infantry>Cavalry. This doesn't always hold true, but it's a good general rule. Therefore, set up your formations so that you are able to cover for the nearby units. Also, keep your archers protected, and your phalanx secure. Also, keep your General unit safe, because nothing is worse than having a General die, causing all of your nearby troops to rout. Try to keep of this in mind.

The German Scare Square

Congratulations! You are no longer a Strategy newbie! With a little work, who knows, you could become a great general. Remember, Rome wasn't build in a day, Caesar took a few years to Conquer Gaul, and the folks at Creative Assembly spent many man hours preparing a good game. The moral of the story: It takes time and effort to be a great general, so get out there and play!

The enemy are routing