TW: Shogun 2
Absolute beginners guide
Playing Total War: Shogun 2 without prior experience in the series or other war games will be a very confusing and perhaps frustrating experience. In order to closely mirror real historical combat the Total War series uses a high number of parameters where someone new can easily get lost in or be unaware of.
This guide is meant for these new faces to the Total War series. It covers the absolute basics of what you need to know. More experienced players may benefit from reading up on the underlying mechanics of the game but should already know these things.
This guide borrows heavily from the excellent guide for STW and MTW written by Frogbeastegg found here. This guide is meant as an update/rework and to make it more of an overview at topics that were heavily linked with the previously mentioned games.
Don’t forget your economy
He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. Sun Tzu
While you may think that war is all about battle prowess, that’s only the last stage. In real life, most (if not all) conflicts start as an economical dispute.
Firstly you should make sure that you have a solid economical base before even considering going to war. Without enough income you won’t be able to recruit, replace or upgrade your army and military infrastructure. So while you shouldn’t leave your lands defenseless, always make sure you have a margin to grow economically.
Also when in war, decisions should be at least partly economically in nature. Whether this is attacking a province for its richness in resources or making peace because you fear waging war any further may ruin you for years to come.
Don’t fight a war on multiple fronts
A war is a huge strain on your resources. This strain will only exponentially enlarge when you fight multiple opponents on multiple sides. Not only will you have to split your available forces but you’ll also have to juggle with use of your resources.
It’s always appropriate to consider bidding for peace before opening another front. Offering money, recently conquered provinces or threatening multiple provinces at once may persuade your enemy to temporarily rethink his position towards you.
Soldiers aren’t robots. Self preservation is still very much present on the battle field. Your men won’t just follow you to certain death just because you ordered them to. When your soldiers believe that all is lost, at least for them, they’ll try to get as far away from the battle as possible. Morale is the in-game representation of this. If morale gets too low your units will start to rout.
This is likewise the case for your enemy’s army. You’re aim shouldn’t be to completely destroy his army but to cause a chain rout as this will be a lot less costly in the end.
Factors that have effect on morale:
- Unit: each kind of unit has a different morale score. The higher the morale score the longer the unit will fight on in adverse circumstances.
- Opposing strength: Units will get discourage when they face a far superior enemy in numbers or in strength. Be aware that this is measured for every unit. You may have superior numbers overall but if one of your units has been isolated and now faces the brunt of the enemies forces alone, it won’t stick around long.
- Exposed flanks: Most, if not all, formations have clear fronts, flanks and backs. Obviously fighting the formation in front of you is far easier than fighting something at your back or flank. When a unit knows that their flank or back is exposed to the enemy, morale will drop.
- Casualties in the unit: As said above, soldiers aren’t as willing to die as you might expect. Morale will obviously drop when the unit is taking serious casualties. Be aware that this is relative to the unit size.
- Result of their effort: When the unit is losing it will start wavering earlier than when it is winning.
- Friendly unit routing: Seeing a friendly unit rout will significantly lower another units morale. This can even cause a chain rout when a rout will snowball through the army.
- General: The proximity of the general will boost the morale of any friendly unit nearby. The death of a general will significantly lower his army’s morale.
The terrain you’re fighting on will make a huge difference in the outcome of the battle. The battle map will present you with opportunities to take and problems to avoid or at least keep in mind.
Effects of terrain:
- Hills and mountains: A unit on higher ground has a better chance than one on lower ground. All ranged units gain extra range and damage. Any unit fighting up hill will receive penalties and get tired faster.
Hills and mountains are also ideal to maneuver units unseen.
- Trees/walls/fences/…: Trees and the likes are obstacles. These obstacles will disrupt formations, causing problems for units who use formation bonuses. They also slow formations down which has the biggest effect on charging cavalry. A prime example is the serious drop in performance of cavalry fighting in woods. Obstacles also protect your unit somewhat from missiles. Of course they also have an effect on the missiles fired from behind or in them.
Additionally trees, bushes and such can hide your units (except your general). Laying an ambush can have a devastating effect.
- Impassable terrain: Obviously, units can’t cross impassable terrain such as cliffs or bodies of water. This can be used to make a choke point or to protect a flank or a rear.
- Bridges: Bridges form wonderful choke points. Units can only cross bridges slowly and in single file. This makes them an easy targets for missiles. When they are coming off the bridge they are still subject to the penalties for being crowded together. This makes them easy work for the enemy’s hand-to-hand units. Crossing any bridge is a bloody job, which will cost many lives. Armour and lot’s of men are the only answer.
- Surface: Certain soils, like sand, will have an effect on the movement speed of your units.
Weather can have a number of influences on your army. Whether it obscures vision, fatigues soldiers or hinders the performance of certain technologies.
- Precipitation: Rain, snow, … has an effect on missile units. Wet bowstrings cause loss of accuracy. Wet powder causes misfires or the failure to fire at all.
Wet conditions also have an effect on fatigue. Armor is held together by silk threads. These threads get heavier when wet and thus causing fatigue for armored units.
Rain would also have an effect on morale.
- Obscuring weather: Mist and thunderstorms can conceal units or even whole armies from there opponents.
Your aim should be to give your men as many advantages as you can while negating them to the enemy. There is no best way to go about commanding a battle but identifying the dangers and ceasing the opportunities as fast as possible will get you a long way.
Here are at least some principles to get you on your way.
Place your army well
If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way. Sun Tzu
The deployment of your troops will go a long way towards winning the battle ahead. There is some difference between the deployment of an attacking army and a defending one. An attacking army will most likely have to dislodge their opponents from their defensive deployment while a defensive army can just sit there and try to withstand the oncoming attacks.
A defensive set-up is easier. Find the best protection for your men considering all the influences talked above. Chose the high ground, protect flanks with impassable terrain or obstacles, … Secondly make a beaten zone that the enemy have to cross in order to reach your men. In other words make a large area where your missile units can harm the enemy without much risk to your men. This will casualties and a morale drop, ensuring that the impact of the attackers will be lower when they finally reach your lines. Try to make the time the enemy has to spend in the beaten zone as long as possible. Be mindful of the fact that the top of a hill may not always be the best place to deploy if this means that your beaten zone shows a few blind spots due to different inclinations.
If you are attacking, deployment is trickier. Height for example will probably be in your disadvantage. Trying to entice them to abandon the high ground can be a first step while on the attack. Outflanking them while out of range, massive missile fire or offering them an supposedly easy target can cause them to move to a less advantageous position.. If they don’t move, then you will have to search for some slight reduction of the height penalties and/or attack from several sides.
Hold the line
Move not unless you see an advantage; if not, stay where you are. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. Sun Tzu
Your ability to hold the line will go a great way towards winning the battle. An army in disarray is easy pickings while a determined one in an ordered formation can support each other. In order to achieve this keep a constant eye on moral. Reinforce a weak spot at the right time. Avoid dissolving the general form of your formation. And always keep some kind of base of operations to start from or regroup.
Protect the flanks
Be on the lookout for flanking opportunities but also for flanking attempts made by the enemy. Horses to the flanks of your formation are ideal to take advantage of opportunities and to see off threats. High morale troops on the flanks to avoid a chain rout are also a staple tactic.
Should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak. Sun Tzu
Perhaps counter intuitively but you shouldn’t throw everything you got at the enemy right away. Keep units in reserve to plug gaps in your line or to react to new developments and threats. Once a unit is engaged it's really hard to disengage until the opponent routs or another unit takes over. So keeping one or more units back until there is an extra unit needed somewhere is a tried and tested tactic.
Obtain local superiority
On the battlefield it’s faster and less expensive to rob the opponent of their will to fight than to totally destroy him. This is most easily done by obtaining local superiority. You can get in this situation by outflanking your opponent as a whole, taking advantage of gaps in the enemy’s lines or isolating enemy units.
Keep the enemy on the back foot
The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him. Sun Tzu
Don’t unnecessary abandon a good position but it can pay off to keep pressure on the enemy. Routing units may rally and regroup if left unharassed. An advantage may be lost if you give the enemy the opportunity to reorganize. An army in disorganization, for example when forming up, present a great opportunity to attack.
The importance of timing
Don’t throw everything in at once. Don’t execute your master plan at once. When the enemy sees it coming, it can adapt to it. Wait for the right time when most of the soldiers on the field are engaged.
A good example of this is the hammer and anvil technique where you pin an opponent with one unit and charge in its flank or rear with another. Postponing the charge until the enemy is wavering at certain places can start a mass route where an immediate charge would only result in the rout of one unit.
Unit's and there uses
If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete. Sun Tzu
Every unit has a role or a niche. Combining these roles well will increase your success significantly.
For all the fancy Tactics and special units, no general can go without infantry. It’s more than likely that your army will consist mainly of infantry.
Peasant units are at the lower tiers. Although they can perform a number of tasks, there is certainly another unit available that can do it better. The Achilles heel of these units is their morale. If used in battle you’ll have to be mindful of this and support them well. Their upside is of course their minimal cost.
They are best used as garrison troops or as throw-away units. Early, they can help adding bulk to your army. Be careful when using them as reserve units as seeing others rout might mean that they won’t even engage in combat before taking off themselves.
Ranged units are the only ones able to create a beaten zone or to soften up the defense before attacking. Ranged units have difficulty hitting moving targets, especially when the target is moving quickly so you should try to target stationary or slow units where possible. Bowmen shoot in an arch which make them ideal to shoot over obstacles or over friendly units.
Generally speaking most missile units are rubbish in a melee. Because of their low combat ability you should try to keep your ranged units far away from hand to hand unless you are very desperate for more bodies to throw at the enemy.
Melee infantry can be divided into two categories: offensive and defensive orientated units. Defensive infantry is the backbone of an army. They will stop the advances and charges of enemy units. They provide a base from which others can launch attacks and retreat behind. Their job isn’t to kill but to defend other units or to pin down enemy units so they can be flanked. Defensive infantry can also be used to delay the enemy while you fight elsewhere or rush additional units to the scene. They are excellent at holding important locations and adding cheap, capable bulk to an army.
They have decent morale and a high defensive stat. Spearmen are the schoolbook example of a defensive unit.
Your offensive infantry will do most of the killing. Ideally, an offensive melee infantry unit should have good mobility for flanking, a high melee stat, decent morale and be able to last long enough to be used multiple times. There are however a lot of unorthodox offensive infantry types that can work just as well. There probably 3 archetypical offensive infantry:
You have fire-and-forget units (point them at the enemy and let them loose). They’re fast, they kill quickly but don’t expect them to survive. To be of use Fire-and-forget troops should have decent morale (to fight on when most of the unit inevitably dies) and low cost (to make it worth constantly replacing them).
Next up are the so called bread-and-butter of an army. These are the all-round infantry. They are decent in everything but don’t excel in anything. It’ll take some time for them to take out their target but they will get it done eventually with a lower mortality rate. The aspect where they really shine is there flexibility though.
Last are the tanks. These behemoths are slow to get into position but once there, almost nothing can stop them. They’ll be in trouble against a mobile enemy but shine when they can start hacking.
Mobility is a great asset on the battlefield. To be at one place at one moment and at another the next, can cause a great difference to the result of a battle.
The most iconic imagining of cavalry is of course the cavalry charge. Heavy armored men on large horses clashing with foot troops. Heavy cavalry are powerful, well armored, fast and versatile. They are well protected so they can lead an assault on a defended position, they have high morale so they can operate independently and will keep fighting after taking many losses, they can kill most units when out in the open and they can chase routers. Of course just because they can do all those things doesn’t mean that they should, light cavalry are better for chasing routers, infantry is more disposable when leading an assault ... What you should do is keep a unit or two of heavy cavalry and send them where they are needed: to charge an engaged opponent, intercept the enemy flanking attempt, run down the enemy missiles or what ever else is needed at that moment in time. Don’t get over confidant though , try to charge from the rear if you really must take on spears.
Light cavalry are not as powerful as heavy They do have one thing in abundance: speed. At the same time they often have weak charges and poor attack, defense and armor stats. This cavalry is best used to run down routers and chase mounted missiles units. Unless your target is routing always hit from the rear to increase your unit's chances of survival. These units are usually very cheap for cavalry and this makes them rather throw away – send them to take out infantry missile units when you expect to lose your cavalry in the attack, or to take out siege weapons that threaten your position. Basically send them on any suicide mission where speed is more use than power. Just remember to keep an eye on their morale as it is often rather fragile and you don't want them to rout before accomplishing their goal. After the goal is complete they can run away all they want
Missile cavalry are one of the most difficult classes of unit to use. They require plenty of practice before they become truly useful to your army. When you do master them they become a deadly force capable of raining death on the enemy before nipping out of the way, leading the enemy into traps and forcing them to split their numbers. Watching someone use missile cavalry well is an incredible experience, with the cavalry endlessly moving to a better position luring, feinting, retreating and killing in an endless dance.
Be aware that infantry missile units kill mounted missiles with ease, therefore keep your missile cavalry out of range. Infantry missile units have both superior range and superior accuracy when compared to the mounted versions. The mounted missile's horse also provides a much larger target than a single man on foot. If you have to take out infantry missile units with missile cavalry then order them to draw their melee weapons and charge. Generally your cavalry will have the advantage in a melee.
When waging a constantly moving war missile cavalry have two major weapons at their disposal: speed and stamina. Coupled with their blinding speed is outstanding stamina, missile cavalry can gallop around the field for a long time before tiring.
So, bearing all this in mind, what should you be doing with your mounted missile units? You should target vulnerable units and try to damage them badly and draw them out of position, if they move towards your cavalry pull back and keep shooting until the unit is isolated and ready for a quick death. Charge several units of suitable killers (ie Don't send in cavalry if you are luring spears) and crush the unit. Then go out and draw more units to their doom. Unless you have a very long time to spend in the battle try to draw two units at once, both in different directions and using two different teams of mounted missiles and killers. If you attack on many fronts at once the enemy are forced to split their army to deal with you, this makes them easy to surround and crush at will.
When faced with dangerous units like heavy cavalry try to aggravate them into charging your mounted missiles by launching a few volleys at them. The arrows will not do much damage but they may irritate the unit into action. Since heavy cavalry are slow and have poor stamina for cavalry you can safely lead them all over the battlefield in pursuit of your missile cavalry. Then, when the unit is very tired or exhausted you can surround them with several other units and kill them reasonably easily. This tactic also works with certain powerful infantry.