Core Tenets for Playing Age of Empires

United StatesShmolagin

Well Known Pikeman
Jun 14, 2014
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RM - Team Games
I thought it would be interesting to write down a list of core concepts in AoE. I would say that most if not all of this is common player knowledge, especially as you go higher in terms of skill. Also this list is in no particular order. Also I may add more via edit if I think of them later.
  • Higher risk can mean higher reward.
If you're playing with a skill deficit, or really any type of disadvantage it makes sense to choose strategies that are more luck based. Going for a 2 siege workshop build on Arena is obviously quite risky but with a little bit of mangonel luck it can be unstoppable. Conversely, if you're playing with an advantage of some sort, you should choose less luck based strategies, since you don't need luck to win.
  • Pick whether to play for long game or short game.
Imagine you're playing a classic example of a tough civ match-up, Mayans vs Goths. You know that as the game goes on it will become harder and harder for you to win. The obvious solution is to go for a strategy that keeps the game from lasting a long time. You want to win the game in feudal age if at all possible.
Another scenario: Imagine you are playing a mirror civ game and you happen to notice that the neutral golds are all closer to your base. It might make sense to go for a boom strategy since you know this would give you a late game advantage.
  • Don't waste resources on something if you're not going to use it.
This is just common sense. If you spend resources on a stable in feudal age but don't make any scouts, all you're really doing is slowing down the rest of your build. You could have spent the 175 wood on 3 farms and gone up to castle age faster. This rolls up into idle time as well. If you invest in military, use it. If you have villagers, keep them working.
  • If you're losing in economy go for a win with military.
Imagine you had a long feudal age war in which you lost more villagers. You manage to hit the castle age at approximately the same time but you're on 40 villagers and he's on 50. If you both go for a boom strategy you will probably lose, and if you both go for an all in military strategy you will probably lose. BUT, if you go for an all in military strategy, and your opponent goes for a boom you can potentially catch them off guard and still win the game.
  • If you're in a winning position finish the game now.
Imagine the same scenario as previously but from the other side, you just made it to castle and you are 25% ahead in economy. The dumbest thing you can possibly do in this situation is boom. It might seem like booming is playing it safe, but in reality it would be giving your opponent time to catch up. There's no reason to give them any opportunity to get a lucky engagement and suddenly be in the lead. Going full military is usually the smartest thing to do in this situation. It gives them no time, and even if they play slightly better than you for the rest of the game you have enough of an advantage it should not matter.
  • Use resource starvation if you get the opportunity.
This one is quite self explanatory. If you can force your opponent off gold or wood it can end the game almost immediately. If your opponent can't take wood, then they can't make farms, can't make military, and can't win the game. Forcing an opponent off gold can often stop military production and give you a win as well. In the right situation, starvation from stone or food can end the game as well.
  • Commit to a strategy but don't over commit.
There's a sweet spot between committing to a strategy and reacting to a situation. It's better to commit to one strategy rather than execute two different things half way. Going for men at arms, scouts, skirmishers and archers all at once is arguably always worse than going for just one or two of the previously mentioned units. Ideally you would pick units that have overlapping upgrades, or complement each other in other ways. That being said, you can definitely be too afraid of switching things up. If planned to go 2 range archers but your opponent is going full skirmishers it would be stupid to not create some unit to counter the skirmishers.
  • Mix your military.
This is another very simple one. If you just go for one unit, then chances are your opponent will be able to easily counter you. On the other hand, if you create a mixture of complementary units it becomes very difficult to counter. An example would monks and siege. Say you want to go for siege to attempt to end a game quickly. Siege is easily countered by knights, but if you add monks you can counter the knights yourself before they have a chance to counter your siege.
Last edited:
Likes: pete26196


Bronze Supporter
Jan 15, 2014
Great post!

  • If you're in a winning position finish the game now.
Imagine the same scenario as previously but from the other side, you just made it to castle and you are 25% ahead in economy. The dumbest thing you can possibly do in this situation is boom. It might seem like booming is playing it safe, but in reality it would be giving your opponent time to catch up. There's no reason to give them any opportunity to get a lucky engagement and suddenly be in the lead. Going full military is usually the smartest thing to do in this situation. It gives them no time, and even if they play slightly better than you for the rest of the game you have enough of an advantage it should not matter.
Not sure if I agree with this tho, sometimes you just can't really use your military advantage, maybe due to walls and/or castles and overinvesting into military instead of focusing on your eco as well might give the game away.
Likes: Poxo


Active Member
May 15, 2017
I will try to give my input trying to apply some coaching to my PoV on the points you made (really good post btw, the kind of posts I like the most). Will place everything into spoilers to avoid post getting too long, just open them if you want to read them

While part of what you said it's true, it's also false the same way. You should try to take a Korean approach to this problem which is, from the start assume you're in the same level as your opponent even if it's not true, get your buildorders going and stick to your game plan. High risk - High reward tactics are usually bad since it's a high deviation from a standart play which you didn't practice as much as your usual builds and will be more likely to fail and set you even further behind BUT if at some point you consider the game will be lost, then it's when you deviate from your standart build and go for some more risky play, because since you're already from your PoV into a lost situation, making it worse will just accelerate your loss, while if you manage to do it properly it could surprise your opponent and make you win the game. I guess that's what you meant with double siege workshop (from MoA5 Tatoh vs St4rk?, didn't watch games yet) but I assume the player doing so started with a common build and game plan and when he thought game was in a lost point he tried surprising his opponent.
This is basically called victory conditions and layering. Every civilization or team composition (for team games) have a plan or victory coditions, where if you execute them properly, you should be able, in normal conditions, to win. In the example you used, goths vs mayans, from goth PoV, your victory condition will be to make a stalemate of the game long enough to be able to reach imperial and start out producing your opponent with anti-archers in order to win, same can be applied to team games but it's a bit more complicated since team composition play a role here also (what for you're pickin your x amount of civs and how well the play with each other)

The second concept here is called layering and the best example of this concept is TheViper himself (applies usually for top 1% players, aka top 1-25 more or less). When you start a game, let's play again your mayans vs goths matchup, a normal player would think something like, okay I'm mayans and my best unit is in castle age and it's plume archers and my enemy best unit is another castle unit called huskarl. A very good player would think something like, okay I need to win the game early with Mayans because after we reach imperial the goth player will start outproducing me, making anti-archers and start raiding my eco all day long until I can't match him anymore, while the top 1% players (and here is where TheViper shines and one of the reasons he's so good) is because he will think like, okay I might want to go feudal war to make him hit imperial later than usual to win some advantage, I will go for an archer build which he should counter with skirms (a layer in a thought process), then I will try to answer those skirms with doing x and he will try to answer that with y (another layer) and he keeps building layers in the process to try to stick to his game plan and execute it as good as possible. Here we could introduce advanced scouting, while you do mental layering, you can actually use your scout to prove if what you thought was in fact what your opponent is doing and if not, act accordingly
I mostly agree with all of this, a general rule of thumb you usually can have is, never have your military idle, keep them always in use (ex: raiding, scouting or doing w/e you consider), unless some exceptions like, I have a good amount of archers and reaching castle age, in this point I want to not risk anything and wait for castle to upgrade them to xbows.
This goes back to the layering concept. If you're losing in villagers you should ask yourself, what does my opponent need in order to win the game in this point when I'm 10 villagers behind? With that in mind your new objective is to try to avoid your opponent from getting that objective as much as you can, in example, if answer was, going to an aggresive play in order to finish me, you need to try to enter into a stalemate phase of the game in order to win time and maybe reboom so your opponent can't kill you that easy, that might be achieved by booming and protecting yourself with stone walls to make it harder for him to raid you.
Same concept as above but using opposite case. In this case you think again, what does my oponent really want to do in order to come back from game? If answer is in example wall himself with stone walls and boom to recover, you might want to go forward and drop a castle + siege workshop to keep the pressure going and avoid him from getting what he wants in order to close out the game ASAP by snowballing your lead
Again a case of layering. Let's say you explored his map and see that his extra gold are unprotected, you can let him mine his gold and try to force him into a fight for all the extra golds in order to not let him mine it properly, so in the long run you will have gold superiority if you control those extra gold piles resulting in him getting starved off gold and win from there
You just used the layering concept here yourself, I go mangonels so he will go knights so I need to counter them with monks, it's a pretty good example of layering itself. Also try to have a balanced mix of army in order to fully counter your opponent, let's say your opponent is doing Karambit warriors which are very fast and attack super strongly but have low armor/hp , you decide to go for archers to counter them and while your thought process makes sense, you get absolutely destroyed , that might be because your army composition wasn't optimal and you might need a frontlane of meatshield to tank the damage from karambits in order for your archers to stay safe and deal damage, maybe by adding some knights or elephants in front to tank for a lot of damage might be better than just going full archers

United Statesguitarizt

Active Member
Jun 6, 2014
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RM - 1v1
Everything is really generalized so I have a hard time getting anything to click in my head. The one thing I do like is going for a win with military. I feel like I should be doing this at all time on ladder.


Known Member
Apr 13, 2016
Hmm, nice post. But it's Tenets, unless you're renting knowledge :unsure:.

One doesn't really need to look much further than basic military strategy axioms (where they exist) if seeking some generalizations, or theory of war itself. Many, if not all, are translatable to aoe2 without problems when certain parts are omitted as not depicting the game (moral forces for instance, the soldiers in aoe are happy enough to do as commanded without many issues with Friction, aside path-finding).


Clausewitz's Principles of War and how to implement them to aoe2, namely the 'rules' he imposes for enabling successful achievement of the objectives: from with added commentary in parentheses, with some Rayne-quotes from which had relevant deliberations

General Principles

I. Warfare has three main objects:

(a) To conquer and destroy the armed power of the enemy;

(b) To take possession of his material and other sources of strength, and
[meaning terrain, nothing short of 100%map control, which enemy resignation signifies]

(c) To gain public opinion.
[this one's insignificant for a single aoe2 game, obviously, except for [Edie]( 11]

1. To accomplish the first purpose, we should always direct our principal operation against the main body of the enemy army or at least against an important portion of his forces. For only after defeating these can we pursue the other two objects successfully. [you must design the military (composition) in accordance to the enemy's, in order to defeat it. This is in line with the arms-race thinking @guitarizt probably had]

2. In order to seize the enemy's material forces we should direct our operations against the places where most of these resources are concentrated: principal cities, storehouses, and large fortresses. On the way to these objectives we shall encounter the enemy's main force or at least a considerable part of it. [added italics for the relevant part which is self-explanatory, Rayne's post signifies this in "2. Focus on Weaknesses and Make Plans From Them"]

3. The first and most important rule to observe in order to accomplish these purposes, is to use our entire forces with the utmost energy. Any moderation shown would leave us short of our aim. Even with everything in our favor, we should be unwise not to make the greatest effort in order to make the result perfectly certain. For such effort can never produce negative results. Suppose the country suffers greatly from this, no lasting disadvantage will arise; for the greater the effort, the sooner the suffering will cease. [If you have an opportunity of gaining an advantage, you *must* take it and follow it through, follow the 'branches' of opportunity as Rayne put it until the enemy calls GG. I suppose this is analogous to the Upping forst and having army, of not idling it on defensive unnecessarily: sitting on an advantage instead of making use of it]

4. The second rule is to concentrate our power as much as possible against that section where the chief blows are to be delivered and to incur disadvantages elsewhere, so that our chances of success may increase at the decisive point. This will compensate for all other disadvantages. [You should fight for the most map-relevant areas for both players. Namely either the greatest point of strength or the greatest weakness either player has, usually on Arabia you can recognise the largest hills which become impregnable when defended, or perhaps locations that have strategy-critical resources in the early-game (wood/gold)]

5. The third rule is never to waste time. Unless important advantages are to be gained from hesitation, it is necessary to set to work at once. By this speed a hundred enemy measures are nipped in the bud, and public opinion is won most rapidly. Surprise plays a much greater role in strategy than in tactics. It is the most important element of victory. Napoleon, Frederick II, Gustavus Adolphus, Caesar, Hannibal, and Alexander owe the brightest rays of their fame to their swiftness.
[As Sun Tzu put it, "5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays." more stuff to go in line with Rayne's point 1. Understand the Importance of Time]

6. Finally, the fourth rule is to follow up our successes with the utmost energy. Only pursuit of the beaten enemy gives the fruits of victory. [Plain and simple, do not retreat upon a victorious battle! A won skirmish opens an opportunity of gaining terrain and incurring more losses to the enemy, and possibly even more time to strengthen your Power (of economy and military both), which to use as an Avalanche later!]

7. The first of these rules serves as a basis for the other three. If we have observed it, we can be as daring as possible with the last three, and yet not risk our all. For it provides us with the means of constantly creating new forces in our rear, and with fresh forces any misfortune can be remedied.
Therein lies the caution which deserves to be called wise, and not in taking each step forward with timidity.

[For this last one, we must recognize that defeating the enemy's military completely and utterly (so as to facilitate complete disarmament of a hostile enemy, to reach a point where they must sue for peace, GG, or perish unavoidably) is THE FIRST objective, only credible to be switched to circumstance-specific goals.]


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