Age of Wonders – Hints and Tips
Age of Wonders is a rather deceptive game. The first few campaign scenarios do a masterful job of lulling you into a false sense of invincibility. But a bit of playing will soon reveal the game has more tricks up it’s sleave than you had expected.
Your early foes are stuck at the Squire and Knight AI levels, and their forces usually sit passively in their fortresses, waiting patiently for you to find and then annihilate them. A coherent strategy, good battlefield tactics, defending your conquests, economic skills—none of these are necessary against these brain-dead AI generals. But the game compensates by providing a complex gaming system. This gives you some sense of superiority as a new player.
Then you meet your first Lord, and everything falls apart. Immense armies of high-quality troops appear from all directions. The enemy aggressively counterattacks weak points with well-balanced forces. High-level heroes rain magical death on your shell-shocked troops. A few turns later, you glance around the map at the smoking remnants of your empire and realize that yes, this is a good game. Hopefully this tips piece will enable you to prevail even in that black hour.
In standard campaigns, your starting hero is much like the king in chess. If he dies, you lose the game. Low-level heroes are also about as weak as a chess king. Level one and two troops are a real threat to beginning leaders, while level three and four troops can usually kill them with ease. Careful development is therefore crucial. Starting heroes (or villains, for that matter) face a bewildering variety of choices. The best way to ensure hero success is to spend roughly 50% of the skill points they gain through experience on their base stats.
Sure, the hero abilities are tempting, and these flashy special skills provide very useful upgrades to a leader’s tactical and strategic effectiveness. Dead heroes don’t benefit from flashy skills, though, and good stats will keep them alive.
The two most important stats are defense and resistance, which only cost five points apiece. A hero who possesses these in the 8-10 range will shrug off most melee and magic attacks and be able to single-handedly slaughter entire armies of low-level foes. Additional hitpoints are nice too, of course, but it’s better to avoid damage than suck it up. Raise defenses first.
The attack stat (another five pointer) should also be given priority, as eventually even heroes specializing in archery or spells will find themselves embroiled in melee combat, and they can’t hurt what they can’t hit. Damage, which costs 10 points to improve, doesn’t need to be boosted very far to be effective—a rating of five or six is fine. The least important stat is movement, which only costs two points to increase. Raise this only after your hero becomes so strong that he no longer needs support troops for anything but the toughest battles, which won’t happen until roughly the mid-point of the campaign. When it does, you’ll find that a high-speed hero can wreak havoc behind enemy lines, conquering or razing cities as appropriate.
Finally, note that a good set of magic items can effectively boost your leader’s stats by several levels. However, their bonuses don’t appear on the skill point allocation screen, so you have to remember that they’re there. A hero decked out in heavy armor probably won’t need another point of defense.
One skill every hero should always have is extra strike. By boosting the number of swings a leader takes from two to three, it increases melee effectiveness by 50% for a paltry 15-point cost. The skill is spell casting, which should be increased to at least level three. This will enable heroes to cast the Town Gate spell with a one-turn delay. A high-level hero and his army can zip across the map on a moment’s notice, saving key cities threatened by the sudden appearance of otherwise unbeatable enemy forces and then returning to the front lines.
Of course, the other combat, movement, and enchantment spells are also nice, and will be discussed in the next section, but Town Gate is the key spell in Age of Wonders. Having a couple heroes with level three spell casting in your army will also provide most of the mana you’ll ever need.
Charge and parry (both five-point skills) are quite useful. Charge increases the damage a moving hero does with his first strike by two, while parry does the reverse—it decreases the damage done to a hero by the initial attack by two. Powerful first strikes can end a fight in one blow, and these two skills will greatly increase hero survivability. Round attack, another five-point melee skill is good too. It enables heroes to take a single swing at all adjacent troops, and one blow from a mid-level hero is enough to kill most weak foes. It is extremely useful when you are sorrounded by a throng of weaklings!
The various movement skills (forestry, wall climbing, cave crawling, etc) are well worth their five point cost. As they progress through the campaigns, leaders will find themselves stacked with troops with a wide variety of movement abilities. Without matching skills, hero-led armies will either be slowed or find themselves unable to enter otherwise crossable terrain.
Of course, there are others skills not worth their price. Protection (from fire, cold, or whatnot) is much too expensive at a cost of 10 points. Instead of reducing your damage from one type of attack, boost your defense or resistance by two instead, which will reduce damage from them all. Life steal has been greatly weakened by the patch. It only functions when the hero is attacking, and it heals a maximum of one point of damage. This formerly indispensable ability is now overpriced at 15 points. The various strike skills (fire, cold, etc.) are also too costly. Magic weapons that confer these abilities are pretty common, making the skill unnecessary.
Spells in Age of Wonders are distributed across seven spheres of magic, but only a fraction of these are available to any leader. Before beginning any campaign or scenario, decide which sphere(s) of magic will complement your strategy. It’s usually best to specialize in two spheres (Cosmos is available to all spell casters), which will allow you to learn fourth level spells in one and third in the other. While all spells are useful, and the Mastery enchantments in each sphere can completely alter the course of the game, a few are especially noteworthy.
Fire: Much like Earth, this sphere suffers in comparison to its opposite. Still, Fireball, which blasts both walls and units, is both versatile and lethal, and Warmonger’s boost to unit experience is a powerful tool.
Earth: Even though spells like Gold Rush and Enchant Roads are nice, the fact that this sphere is opposed to Air (and thus prevents you from learning it) is reason enough to avoid it unless you’re looking for variety or challenge.
Air: The Air school is arguably the game’s best. Freeze Water, Wind Walking, and Haste all make movement on the strategic map much easier. Bird’s View and Great Eagle are excellent for rapidly revealing the map. Air’s combat spells are superb, especially the level 1 Chain Lightning, which can damage and stun up to four targets at once.
Water: This sphere is nearly as good as Air. Flood is the most dangerous spell in the game, capable of destroying armies all over the map—including your own! Use it with care. Frost Beam, which can encase its target in a block of ice, is a very useful combat spell, and Liquid Form confers both mobility and defense on its target (which should generally be a hero). Great Hail, Healing Showers, and Fountain of Life are also top notch.
Cosmos: The critical level 3 spell Town Gate has already been discussed. Enchant Weapon is also excellent, and every hero should have this spell cast upon them as soon as you can afford the maintenance cost. Rank and file troops that can’t otherwise damage physically immune foes also benefit from this spell. Disjunction is the only way to rid yourself of the enemy’s pesky global enchantments.
Life and Death: Life spells like Bless and Holy Champion give stat bonuses and should be maintained on all heroes and the occasional ordinary trooper. Remedy enables Life casters to heal their troops both during and after combat, which greatly reduces recuperation time in town. Tranquillity’s beneficial effects on race relations is extremely useful, making peace treaties much easier to obtain and reducing the need to migrate friendly races into conquered cities.
Animate Ruins is one of the game’s best Death spells, allowing Death casters to raze and rebuild every unfriendly city they conquer and thus avoid lengthy migrations. Dark Gift and Evil Champion, the dark counterparts of Bless and Holy Champion, should be used similarly. Mind Decay, which does damage every turn, is a nasty combat spell. If your leader is faster than his foes, cast it and then run away (chuckling evilly all the while) until the target dies.