Nearly 23 years after its launch date, Age of Empires II remains a timeless multiplayer game. With an average player base of 20,000, it is still one of the more popular multiplayer strategy games.
However, it is a game that can be brutal to newer players (like, for instance, having your opponent spell out “noob” in houses just outside of your walls).
And some veteran players have been playing and refining their skills and strategies for more than 20 years!
This guide aims to equip you with knowledge of tactics and tips to help even the odds and enable you to dominate your opponents.
Although written to be read through in full, the guide contains a table of contents for your convenience.
Before you jump straight into the competitive multiplayer crucible, it is advisable to try some single-player skirmishes or campaign missions first.
As mentioned earlier, the learning curve for new players is very steep.
Having a basic understanding of the game’s mechanics like resource management and command and control is mandatory for success in multiplayer. Additionally, you can do cooperative multiplayer matches against the AI to get used to coordinating with other online players.
Creating or joining an AoE2 multiplayer match is very straightforward. First, launch the game, click multiplayer, then join or start a game with your desired settings.
If you have connectivity issues, make sure you have enabled crossplay, that your game is running on the latest version, your firewall isn’t blocking the connection, and your pc clock is in sync.
Finally, you will want to decide on a ranked or unranked match.
Don’t worry too much about losing ranked matches early. This is typical, but it also allows you to be more evenly matched against opponents in the future for more enjoyable games.
Terminology & Etiquette
AoE 2 is quite a competitive game. If playing a 2v2 or 3v3 match, your teammates will expect a certain level of competency from you.
It is therefore advised to begin with 1v1 matches to gain more experience. Basic multiplayer etiquette like not resigning early or pausing the game (yes, the game can be paused!) are in play.
Communication with your teammates is vital! Therefore, you will want to learn some of the shorthand players tend to use.
Obvious acronyms such as
- gg for good game and
- wp for well-played
are used often in most games.
Other codes are
- ”fc” for fast castle,
- ”tc” for town center and
- ”gb” for go back or abort your current attack or raid
are more AoE2 specific.
Players will also type ”x” when they want you to flare a location on the mini-map.
If playing in a 3v3 (3 versus 3) or 4v4 match, your starting location will determine your strategic task.
If you spawned on the side of the map, you are known as a flank player. These players tend to assemble archer and crossbow-heavy armies.
The player(s) in the map’s middle are known as pockets, and they usually make cavalry-centric armies heavy on knights.
Their increased mobility allows them to quickly reinforce a teammate’s defenses or support an attack into enemy territory.
Economy & Build Order
In many strategy games, even good military tactics will only determine if you win quickly (or lose fast if you lack them).
Short of a quick decision, in the end, it is your economy that will determine if you are ultimately victorious or not.
So let us break down the economy in AoE2 and how to ensure that yours is firing on all cylinders.
Food, wood, gold, and stone make up the four essential resources in AoE2.
Each is necessary, but some are more critical than others, especially at different stages in the game.
- Food is the most crucial resource of these four. Food is needed to build units, get certain upgrade techs, and advance ahead in ages. It is imperative in the early game to make villagers and get your economy up and running.
- Wood is usually next on the priority list. Once you have exhausted all of the meat and berries around you, it will be necessary to farm for food. Wood is needed to seed and re-seed those farms. Additionally, wood is used heavily in construction, for some units and upgrade techs. However, keep in mind which forests you chop down, as they can also act as a natural defensive barrier.
- Gold is gathered primarily from mines, although it is also possible to generate by using monks to collect relics and garrison them in a monastery. Gold is used to build military units and to get upgrade techs to improve those units. It is also needed to advance beyond the Feudal Age.
- Stone is often the least prioritized resource, but it is still a vital one. You get stone the same way you get gold, by mining. Stone is needed to build defensive structures like walls, castles, and towers. These buildings can act as force multipliers by funneling enemy troops into more efficient killing zones. They can also be used offensively by setting up advanced towers in your opponent’s territory.
Dark Age Build Order
Like many other strategy games, the economy in AoE2 is all about efficiency and return on investment. Therefore, you need to build efficiently. Most good players have precise strategies to allow them to build fast and efficiently.
We will focus on putting your economy on a solid foundation, starting in the Dark Age. Then, after mastering this, you can adapt it to your personal preference or to a specific strategy.
Mastering the Economy in AoE
In the AoE Dark Age, your priority is to first build villagers and get enough food and wood to create even more villagers.
So right out of the gate, you need to build 2 houses to increase your population cap (unless playing as the Huns, of course, who do not need to build houses).
While these houses are being constructed, you need to send your scout to find sheep. Then, once the houses are built, task all of your villagers to work on butchering these sheep.
You will want to assign up to 6 villagers to do this.
Your next 4 villagers build a lumber camp – next to a forest – and start collecting wood. The wood will come in handy in building more houses to continue your population growth.
The minute you are almost finished slaughtering your sheep, you send a lone villager to find and lure a boar back to the town center. You mustn’t actually fight the boar 1v1, or you will lose your precious villager and all the resources and time it took to create it.
Once back at your town center, you can safely attack the boar with your “butcher squad” on sheep duty.
If there are more boars nearby, repeat the process.
Finally, for your last 5 villagers, you need to build a mill close to your supply of berries. Once created, they will harvest all of them.
By now, your population is 15 villagers strong and a robust foundation to enter the Feudal Age.
Reaching the Feudal Age, you can expand your economy to include gold and stone mining as well as military construction.
Units + Counters
There are several different unit types in AoE2. Knowing which type is effective or weak against others and which situations they excel in is critical to your success as a player.
While Aoe2, for the most part, does follow the same basic rock/paper/scissor concept most gamers will be familiar with (ranged beats infantry beats cavalry beats ranged), there are some exceptions and not so apparent pairs.
- Archers – counter infantry. Countered by siege units, skirmishers, and cavalry.
- Skirmishers – counter archers. Countered by cavalry.
Archers are effective against slow-moving infantry like swordsmen and spearmen. However, they lose badly against skirmishers and cavalry. On the other hand, siege units that deal splash damage, like mangonels, can be devastating against Archers because they tend to group up when firing.
Skirmishers counter archers wonderfully due to bonus damage they hand out against them. However, they are weak against cavalry. This is because they have a minimum firing range which cavalry can continuously close, leaving them unable to fight back.
- Spearmen – counter cavalry. Countered by everything that ain’t cavalry.
- Swordsmen – counter spearmen. Countered by archers.
At first glance, spearmen appear useless, being only effective against cavalry. While it is true that spearmen only do bonus damage against one unit type (cavalry), a lot of their utility lies in cheap production cost. A handful of spearmen placed strategically can defend your town from a cavalry rush.
They will lose 1v1 to all units other than cavalry. There is some truth to the phrase “Quantity has a quality all of its own.”
Swordsmen are a formidable counter to spearmen but will struggle against all other unit types. This is not due to any statistical weakness but rather their slow movement.
Many players often do not use them but favor archers or cavalry.
However, once upgraded with some piercing armor upgrades, they can do a decent job against buildings and other melee infantry units.
- Scouts/Knights – counter ranged. Countered by spearmen and camels.
- Cavalry Archers – counter melee infantry. Opposed by skirmishers and camels.
- Camels – counter cavalry. Countered by spearmen.
- Elephants – counter ranged. Opposed by spearmen and monks.
The scout line (light cavalry) and the knight line (heavy cavalry) do an excellent job against ranged infantry. Their speed also allows them to close the distance against siege weapons, which often have a minimum firing range. On the other hand, scouts are vulnerable against enemy camels and spearmen. Light cavalry is also effective against monks.
Cavalry archers are too fast for melee infantry to catch, allowing them to fire without being challenged.
However, Cavalry Archers share the Archers’ traits, which means they will still take increased damage from enemy skirmishers. Camels are also fast enough to catch them.
Camels are the ideal opponent to all cavalry as they cause bonus damage against them. Unlike spearmen, they are also fast enough to catch enemy cavalry to deliver the damage.
The downside is their lower overall stats relative to other cavalry units.
This makes them less effective against ranged or melee infantry than knights. Camels should just be used in their role as fast, anti-cavalry units. Like all cavalry, they are weak against spearmen.
Elephants have a solid buff to their HP, which means they can tank damage from ranged infantry very well. However, they still take bonus damage from spearmen, and they are really slow, unlike other cavalry units.
This makes Elephants highly vulnerable to enemy monks.
Siege units in AoE2 are unique in that, unlike other games, they are used in large numbers and not exclusively against walls or buildings.
Most players will build rams, mangonels, trebuchets, and bombard cannons. Siege towers are also on the menu but have minimal use.
Therefore, most players do not use them. Generally speaking, siege units are resistant to ranged attacks but vulnerable to melee attacks.
Below is a breakdown of how best to deploy the different types of siege weapons.
- Rams -> Building Destruction
- Mangonels -> Anti-Personnel
- Trebuchets and Bombard Cannons -> Fortification Destruction
With a +125 damage bonus versus buildings, rams are often the go-to unit for players trying to demolish an enemy settlement.
Defensively, rams have very high piercing armor, making them almost impervious to arrow fire from archers and defensive buildings.
Because those units will target the closest enemy, a common tactic is to send your rams in as the spearhead of an attack to tank enemy defensive fire.
They do take extra damage from melee, so you will need to protect your rams against infantry and cavalry.
Finally, rams can be garrisoned to increase their movement speed and attack. In addition, the units inside are protected by the ram’s piercing armor which can allow it to function as a type of armored personnel carrier for your more vulnerable troops!
Although a siege weapon, mangonels are primarily used in an anti-personnel role. They deal melee-type damage (this is important because several units have resistances to piercing damage).
Additionally, their projectiles do splash damage affecting multiple enemies at once. This makes them very effective against slow-moving groups of enemies like archers or rams.
Mongonels need a minimum range to fire that can be exploited by faster enemy units like cavalry.
Finally, they have a niche ability to remove trees quickly from the map. This can allow you to attack your opponent from an unexpected direction, giving you a decisive advantage.
Dealing heavy damage to buildings and bearing a long-range, trebuchets are excellent for neutralizing enemy defensive fortifications. But the time needed to set them up, their slow movement, and their firing speed make them unsuitable to use against enemy units.
Bombard canons fulfill a similar role. They are slightly more accurate and have a higher movement speed than trebuchets, so they can be used against enemy units.
However, it should be noted that Bombard cannons are also less resistant to enemy attacks than trebuchets.
In AoE 2, the civilization you choose has relatively little impact on your strategy compared to most other strategy games.
While there are some differences, they aren’t significant enough to warrant their own unique strategies.
However, some civs are more newbie-friendly than others. For example, civs with defensive bonuses or early economic boosts are particularly attractive to new players, as they tend to play defensively and turtle.
Here are a few of the more favored civs amongst new players:
The Byzantines are a favorite choice for new players and veterans alike for defensive bonuses. Byzantine buildings receive a solid +10% HP in each age. They also receive the town watch tech for free, which adds a +4 sight range bonus. Early warning and more resilient buildings could be the difference in fending off a raid or being destroyed by it.
The Teutons have excellent defensive and economic bonuses. Their farms cost 40% less wood to build, which means they can produce food more efficiently. Additionally, their castles have increased range with their unique crenellations tech. This is a considerable advantage as it permits them to match range with attacking trebuchets, which could otherwise rain down destruction untouched by return fire.
The Franks benefit from faster forager gathering, which helps their early food economy grow faster. Early food bonuses can snowball into a decisive economic advantage in the later game if leveraged correctly. They can also construct castles at a 25% discount allowing more of them to be built for increased security.
The Britons are an archer-based civ. Unsurprisingly, they receive range bonuses to their archer units. Outranging enemy ranged units is often a significant advantage in combat. For their economy bonus, their shepherds work 25% faster. Like the Franks, this early food bonus means they can get an economy up and running more quickly than other civs.
Start your AoE 2 multiplayer game
Congratulations! You now have the basic skills needed to defeat your opponents in Age of Empires II. Go forth and conquer. And when in doubt, don’t forget to spam “30” in the chat ;)