Thinking Strategically on the Campaign Map

By yakcamkir

This is a rough guide to my Campaign doctrine, detailing how I come up with a long-term strategy for any scenario. The guide is intended to explain the basis to my version of successful strategic thought and newcomers to RTW who have problems understanding how to think strategically on the Campaign Map can use this method of thinking to come up with unique strategies for unique situations and adapt the strategy they are planning to new situations that crop up.

Personally, I play RTW 1.2 with Bug Fixer 1.57 and a couple of minor modifications of my own. This guide should be applicable to any faction in any version of RTW with or without BI though, as it is a general guide to strategy rather than a detailed look at the specific strengths and weaknesses of a particular faction.

There are many different definitions of what Campaign Strategy does and does not involve. I will refer to Campaign Strategy as a series of different sets of objectives over different timeframes utilising variable degrees of flexibility to attain the overall goal.

To begin with, I will briefly outline the different parts that make up Campaign Strategy:

  • First and foremost, you have the Goal for the Campaign. This is, pretty much what it says on the tin.
  • The next part is your Long-term Objectives. This is where you want to be in 10- 15 years (20-30 turns).
  • The next part is the Short-term Objectives. This is where you want to be in the next 5 years (10 turns) and is the most flexible part of your plan. This may seem entirely logical or it may seem completely counter-intuitive, depending on the way that you think, but just trust me until you read the detailed description.
  • The next part is Logistics. This is the planning ahead for what you want to be doing in the next 1-2 years (2-4 turns). This is a relatively inflexible part of the overall Campaign Strategy.
  • The next part is Strategic Reaction. This is very short-term planning and is the point where a lot of Campaign Strategy goes pear-shaped.
  • The next part is Battle Strategy, which this guide won't cover in any significant detail, as it is on the battle map.
  • The final part is Tactics, which also take place on the battle map and by the definition I am using, cannot be planned for.

Firstly, I'll talk about the Goal for the Campaign. This can be simply to win the Campaign according to the game rules (50 Provinces in I think 568 turns and outlast the Senate). If you want a bit more of a challenge, you can decide on different rules, such as a different set of start and end dates (finishing the campaign by 230 BC for example). You can limit your play, modify descr_strat.txt to give yourself a worse starting position, modify descr_buildings.txt to change the units you can recruit or even modify descr_unit.txt to change the stats of the units you will be fighting with. A slightly easier alternative is just to install a pre-made mod.

Long-term Objectives

Moving on to the Long-term Objectives, successful campaigning involves forward planning and twenty turns is the least you want to be thinking ahead by. What you do not need is a rigid plan - that is the worst thing you can do. As the old saying goes "No plan survives first contact with the enemy". If your plan is inflexible because you have planned out the next 30 turns on a turn-by-turn basis, then you will be rewriting your plan every three or four turns, which will waste you time and probably lead to strategic blunders through over-planning and not taking into account every possible variable. What you need to do is to decide what position you want to be in 20 turns down the line. Coming up with a realistic estimate is a matter of playing a few games and assessing your skill at the game, the enemies involved and what resources are at your command. This part of the overall Campaign Strategy is very flexible. For example, if you are Armenia and you have just finished taking Asia Minor and are moving down into the heart of the Seleucid Empire when your Parthian allies suddenly decide that your capital looks rather tempting, then your Long-term Strategy will change.

In that position, I personally would have a full stack of battle-hardened troops that have just finished raping their way through Asia Minor standing somewhere around Tarsus and a second one of fresh troops with temple upgrades (probably including a fair few Cataphract Archers and Heavy Spearmen). This second army would be marching down from Artaxarta and Kotais to take Hatra and Seleucia while the first army is going to take Antioch, Damascus and Palmyra if it is Seleucid-owned.

I would keep the first army fighting the Seleucids, but the second one would turn back to fight the Parthians. The position I would want to achieve in 20 turns time would change from owning everything down to the Nile except for the Parthian lands to owning everything down to an approximate line defined by Salamis, Sidon, Damascus, Palmyra, Seleucia and Susa. The Seleucids are dead in both scenarios but in the first, Parthia are my strong allies and trading partners, in the second, they probably have two provinces: Campus Sakae and Dumatha, neither of which are of much use compared to Susa and Arsakia. Egypt come out better in the second scenario too, but that is a false hope for them, as they are now number one on my hit list and I have the army to deal with them.

Long-term Objectives are not the be all and end all of your campaign and whether you hit them, fail them, exceed them or go in completely the opposite direction because the Dacians had the cheek to try to make you a protectorate, it doesn't matter. They are merely a pointer to help you plan your more rigid shorter-term strategy and keep it pointing in the right direction. Shorter-term planning is only a little way forward, whereas the Long-term Objective takes you a noticeable step towards your Campaign Goals. An example of Long-term Objectives is in the initial part of the Brutii campaign, where I aim to take the non-Roman parts of Sicily, Carthage, Thapsus, Caralis and the southern part of Greece in the first 20-30 turns. This will gain me the position of the most powerful faction. I will have the most important thing for a successful campaign - a powerful trade-based economy. I can use the money I earn from this trade to build more and better soldiers than my enemies. Typically, I would be close to the Civil War at this point, so I plan for the Civil War at least 20 turns in advance. Having armies within a single turns march of Rome, Capua and Arminium yet still within my own territory means that I can declare the civil war and win it with surprise, something that the AI will very rarely get on the Campaign Map.

Short-term Objectives

Short-term Objectives are generally the most flexible part of Campaign Strategy. Over the course of a Campaign, you will not get a huge number of huge strategic upheavals requiring drastic alterations to your Long-term Objectives. Because like a sensible General, you gave yourself enough flexibility in your Long-term Objectives to allow you to still achieve them if things go wrong (hopefully), you can now set your Short-term Objectives such that achieving them achieves your Long-term Objectives. This is the most critical part of the whole strategic thought process and it is this process of planning for the present and near future whilst not losing sight of where you want to be in the more distant future that has been the hallmark of successful businesses the world over. Playing RTW is just applying the same thought processes to conquering thousands of square miles of land and slaughtering your enemies' armies - a much more fun use in my opinion! The reason that Short-term Objectives are the most flexible part of your Campaign Strategy is that you can make huge alterations to them with minimal alterations to your Long-term Objectives. This allows you to take cities in a different order because of Plague or to deal with a rebellion or enemy defenders being better than you expected for example. Using the example of the Scipii campaign from the very beginning, I would aim to take Syracuse, Lilybaeum and Caralis in the first ten turns. This gives me the economic strength to build an army to take Carthage and Thapsus, then take Numidia in its stride or do whatever else I want to do, depending on what my Long-Term Objectives are. Remember that although the Long-Term Objectives have your empire expanding in huge jumps, the Short-term Objectives have it expanding in smaller, more logical blocks.


Logistics are generally inflexible. If you decide you want to besiege Carthage in 260 BC, then you have to have the troops loaded onto ships by 261 BC so you need to have them training by 263 BC at the latest. Another old military saying goes "An army marches on its stomach". Now although RTW doesn't include this sort of planning, it does involve putting the right mix of troops in the right place. If you want to fight the Greeks, then lots of light melee infantry is generally a poor combination. Pinning infantry, missile troops and decent cavalry are generally what to use. If you are besieging a settlement though, cavalry are generally of little use so having half your army made up of cavalry will reduce your siege capability. That is not all; you need the troops in the right place as well. Having four full stack armies invading Greece is all well and good, but if they are all around Sparta, then the enemy have time to regroup and counterattack. If you take a little more time with the way you approach the enemy territory though, you can besiege four cities at once, vastly reducing the enemy's ability to cope with the invasion. You can also finish a faction off within two turns of declaring war on them if they have only a few settlements that are close to you. The ability to wipe a faction off the map is vital to success in RTW, as it makes diplomacy far less complicated. If there are only 10 factions left, then you only have 45 variables rather than 210 for the full 21 factions. You also have less hostile armies coming your way, which is always a bonus. Logistical reasons cause my armies to stop conquering every so often to replace the troops in my main conquering armies with better ones from my core cities. For example as the Greek Cities, I tend to wipe out Macedonia and push the Brutii back to Italy before I have Armoured Hoplites in the front line. It is then that I stop for four or five turns to get my new Armoured Hoplites to the front, so I invade Italy with full units of Armoured Hoplites with 2 bronze chevrons and bronze weapons and armour rather than depleted units of Vanilla Hoplites with 2 or 3 chevrons but no other upgrades. This ensures that my armies are utilising my best troops in the best way possible (ie. putting them on the front line to kill more enemy soldiers than my other troops).

The basic idea of Logistics in RTW is to get the right troops to the right place at the right time. What the particular troops are, where the place is and what the time is depends entirely on your current situation, but that is up to you to analyse and play it the way you want to play.

Strategic Reaction

Strategic Reaction is a difficult thing to plan for. It is basically reacting to something unexpected which compromises your planning. This is generally not for huge strategic upheavals; it is more for things like having to send a fleet that you had just built for the purpose of carrying an invasion fleet to carry out a blockade request instead. Suddenly finding an enemy army next to one of your cities is something you need to react strategically to, but it will not often affect your Long-Term Objectives. It is usually Strategic Reactions that force you to alter your Short-term Objectives so expect them in the Campaign and plan your strategy loosely enough that it can take up the slack of a Strategic Reaction or three. Once you have had a few Strategic Reactions, it is probably time to examine your plan all the way up to the Long-Term Objectives and consider whether or not it is now too tight and needs some more slack to avoid falling apart completely if heaven forbid, you then get a major strategic upheaval. The most common events that cause Strategic Reactions to become necessary are the Senate assigning missions and the emergence of rebel armies or pirate fleets.

Battle Strategy

Battle Strategy is a huge subject and covers every piece of planning that goes on on the Battle Map before battle commences. I am not going to go into great detail, but you should know what troops you have and what troops the enemy has (you are a fool not to look at the enemy army's composition before a battle). Basically, you need to play to the strengths of your army and the weaknesses of the enemy. Utilise everything on the battlefield to your advantage and try to guess what the AI's strategy will be. The most important part is to decide what your objectives for the battle are. Victory may not be enough; you may want to kill the enemy down to the last man. The battle may be unwinnable, so you may decide that your objective is to kill the enemy general and as many of his best troops as possible. Although you lose the battle, killing an 8-star general and a couple of units of Spartan Hoplites will at least give the enemy a Pyrrhic victory and will give your next army in the area a far easier battle.

If you can make the AI charge uphill onto the spear points of your phalanxes while under constant archer and slinger fire then release your cavalry to rout those enemy units that don't rout quickly and chase down the surviving routers when you have stopped your archers firing to reduce friendly fire casualties, having had the whole battle go to plan all along, then you are well on the way to becoming a great battlefield general, but remember that all the battles in the world won't win you the war if you are fighting the wrong battle.


Finally, Tactics is the most unplanned part of the game. Basically, it is taking advantage of any targets of opportunity that arise and changing the way you are fighting to suit the ever-changing situation. If you see a way through to an undefended Onager which you can charge your cavalry through, if you can make a phalanx turn just a little more to expose the flank to the Falxmen charging into it then you are getting the hang of Tactics in RTW. The best players (and I certainly don't rate myself as one) are master tacticians and will jump on the tiniest mistakes. These tiny mistakes are the keys to a difficult battle, where you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and the like.


Having read this guide, you should hopefully have an idea of how to work out a successful strategy for your campaigning in RTW. If you break the problem down into steps and apply them, then it should work. If all else fails, make a separate save and continue the campaign four or five different times using different strategies until you find one that works. This is the thought process I worked out after my first campaign, where I was going round in circles with no real strategic sense of direction.

If you really want to know where I got this information from, then I lurked in the RTWH forums for a while, before registering. Having looked in the newbie FAQ and read through most of the threads that were up at the time, I was able to avoid asking the obvious questions and learn a lot about the game. I also found the Smackus Maximus guide very useful. You can read it here. This guide was invaluable to my learning how to play RTW effectively, and I recommend it to all players, although you do have to take some points with a pinch of salt. Destroying the enemies' economies won't work on the harder difficulty levels for example, because they have infinite money. The basic theory still works though and understanding it takes you well on the way to becoming a competent player.

Well, that's pretty much it. I hope you found this useful. If you are a relative newbie at RTW then good luck, may your campaigns be successful and most of all enjoy playing the game. If you are an experienced player, then hopefully this is a new way to consider your strategic play and I hope I have helped you. If you have any burning questions about strategic thinking, then post it in the forums or feel free to e-mail me. I can't guarantee a quick or detailed response, but I'll do my best. You'll get a better variety of responses in the forums, although not everything will be works of genius, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.

May your swords always remain sharp, your arrows always fly true and your subterfuge always be successful!