Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Basileus' Finest: the phalanx formation in EB

Hello everyone!

Today I'm going to talk about something fairly important in EB. Yes, you guessed by the title: Macedonian phalanxes are the topic. "Macedonian" is there for a reason: very important remark. I'm specifically referring to the sarissa guys; if you want to know more about the use of the Hoplite phalanx in EB, please refer to the guide on guard mode.

Phalanxes are incredibly relevant for someone who plays EB. It's goddamn certain that you're going to meet a plethora of the pointy dudes during your campaign, and even in MP they are definitely frequent. If you do the quick math, it is highly likely that it is yourself the one who fields phalanxes in the first place: out of 20 factions, 9 (Makedonia, Koinon Hellenon, Epeiros, Pontos, Arche Seleukeia, Ptolemaioi, Hayasdan, Pahlava, Baktria) may and will consistently field phalanx-based armies.

Historical note

Phalanx comes from Greek word φάλαγξ (pronunciation in IPA notation /pha.lanks/, and if you don't know what IPA is you should be ashamed of yourself), a word commonly used by Greek writers when referring to massed and ordered infantry formations, regardless of the equipment but generally comprised of heavy infantry armed with pole weapons. First used by Homer to describe organised battle lines, as opposed to individual duels between heroes, the phalanx probably rose to prominence in Greece around the 7th century BC, together with the citizen-hoplite equipped with shield (hoplon) and spear (doru) as the primary combatant in wars between city-states.

Traditional hoplite phalanx. The flute player in the back (auletés) had the purpose of coordinating the march, maybe giving some kind of predetermined orders by means of specific motifs and overall keeping the phalanx in good order: as with many other Western disciplined formations, cohesion was its strength.

In the second half of the 4th century BC, king Phillip II of Macedonia and later his son Alexander III (commonly known as The Great) developed a variation of the traditional hoplite phalanx, that would prove itself as one of the most powerful military weapons in the ancient world. The Macedonian phalanx ditched the traditional big, round, concave hoplon and the 2.7 m long doru, in favour of a smaller and handier shield and one of the most famous weapons of the antiquity: the sarissa, an up to 5 m long pike held with both hands.

A typical phalanx in the Macedonian fashion was a battle line comprised of several squares of 16x16 men, called syntagmata, for a total of 256 phalangites in each syntagma. In order not only to be able to use their weapons effectively, but most importantly to maintain a coherent and solid formations, Macedonian phalangites were intensively drilled (they are among the first examples of systematic military drilling in history) and over the decades they got a more and more prominent role in armies from the Successor states, after the death of Alexander and the splitting of his empire.

Macedonian phalanx. The exceptional length of the pikes allowed up to five ranks to actively poke at the foes in front of them, and some ancient authors even claim that the back ranks kept their sarissai straight because that constituted an additional protection against arcing projectiles such as arrows.

What's the purpose of this article?

Today, the phalanx formation is our focus. With this expression, I specifically mean the special formation, included in the RTW engine, that allows tightly-packed, sarissa-armed infantry to form a porcupine-looking square. Many of the functionalities of the formation are still not well understood by most players; there are in fact several quirks that are more relevant than one could usually expect. This article and maybe some others in the very far future would hopefully cover those aspects with both logical reasoning and experiments.

Phalanx and missiles

One of the most peculiar characteristics of the phalanx, exalted by many writers, was to be extremely resilient to projectiles. As already briefly mentioned, the tight packing of soldiers in each syntagma would result in a "sea of sarissai", above the heads of the phalangites, that could disrupt the trajectories of incoming missiles, which would lose their momentum and bounce harmlessly on armour and shields. According to ancient witnesses, the power of the formation alone was able to protect the phalangites more than what their equipment could have suggested. While this interpretation has been debated in modern times, many scholars give credit to the fact that a Macedonian phalanx could survive much more easily to archer fire.

Here we are discussing a game, though, Europa Barbarorum, which is based on the Rome Total War engine. The question is, how has the phalanx formation been coded in the game as far as its resistance to missiles is concerned?

Case study: phalanx vs missiles

In an old thread at the Org, the user Tollheit rises a question: what is the influence of the phalanx formation on the defences of a unit? The question is not as trivial as it would seem: as a matter of fact, his small research shows how a hidden bonus is granted to phalangites just by the activation of the phalanx formation.

I did some testing today. Since phalangitai are so well armored that the AI will not waste any ammo on them in 1vs1 custom battles, I did some modding first.
Klerouchoi Phalangitai: defence 1,1,5 (armour,skill,shield).
Saka Foot Archers: secondary attack 1, defence 0,0,0, unit size 10 on medium scale (in order to discourage melee).

I did 8 battles, 4 using phalanx mode and 4 without phalanx mode.
I noted the casualties once the archers had exhausted their ammunition.
No manoeuvring except for approach of archers; flat terrain.
When I used phalanx mode, the AI archers managed to shoot: 17/19/22/17 phalangitai
When I didn't use phalanx, the AI archers managed to shoot: 40/30/36/42 phalangitai

My conclusion: it seems to be plausible that phalanx mode does increase the effective shield value.


[If the phalanx formation gives a hidden armour bonus,] phalanx/no phalanx should not make much of a difference for slingers, so I repeated my little test with defence: 0,0,5 phalangitai and a unit of 41 Iaosatae


with phalanx: Iaosatae shoot 9/15/15/10 phalangitai

without phalanx: Iaosatae shoot 32/31/31/27 phalangitai

At least as much of a difference. Which is consistent with increased shield values, since Iaosatae have more ammo but less attack, and their ap ability doesn't make a difference against shields.

The tests in the original thread are interesting and strongly support the hypothesis of a hidden shield bonus, while rejecting a hidden armour bonus. Unfortunately they bear little consistency with themselves and thus the possibility of a quantitative analysis is fairly remote.

As a matter of fact, there are several glaring differences between the two tests. For example, phalangites have 1 armour in one test and 0 armour in the other; archers have 5 attack while slingers have 1; the arcing of the projectiles is different for bows and slings. On top of this, other somewhat subtler information is unfortunately inaccessible. How many phalangites were deployed? The unit scale was the same in both tests? (Why this is relevant: read my article on Large vs. Huge unit scale).

Generally, doing tests with different armour values is not recommended, because of how weirdly armour behaves when low values are reached: losses are disproportionately increased when the armour of the target unit is exactly 0, for some reason. This is one of the (many) reasons why it's pointless to question the "barbarian bonus" for light, low-armour barbarian units; the others have already been discussed in my previous post.

0-armour barbarians are utterly unplayable. Just as a comparison, in vanilla RTW multiplayer most of the barbarian factions (Gaul, Spain, Dacia, Germany) are almost never used by competitive players, because they get regularly destroyed in most matchups; in some clan wars and tournaments, there is a bonus in budget for generals who choose to lead said factions, just to make them playable. I think that's exactly due to the 0-armour issue: those factions can't field cost-effective armoured troops, and many of the soldiers they have to rely on are 0-armour men who get raped by missiles.

Three good examples of 0-armour barbarian units in vanilla Rome: Total War. From left to right, the Briton Woad Warrior, the Germanic Chosen Axeman and the Gallic Naked Fanatic. These three units are severely handicapped because of their lack of armour. If you argue that the Chosen Axemen eat armoured units for breakfast, well, you're right; however, they have no shield too, so they're even more vulnerable to missiles. It's hard to see them close into hand to hand, because they are basically tiny, vulnerable arrow magnets running around on the battlefield.

But I digress. Let's get back to phalanxes.

In order to find more quantitative results, I repeated the tests with some variations. Inspired by Tollheit, I modded the Sakae Foot Archers and gave them the following stats:

Men (large scale): 20
Melee attack: 1
Ranged attack: 5

Armour: 0
Defence skill: 0
Shield: 0

This made them terrible fighters and discouraged any type of melee engagement, ensuring they would stay at distance and just shoot my men. Never trust the AI to do the most logical thing.

Paired against the AI-controlled Sakae archers I fielded two units: one general, positioned at the very back of the deployment zone, and one unit of Klerouchoi Phalangitai. I didn't select only the Phalangitai because I wanted to avoid any side effect of having the general inside the same unit I was testing (e.g. the general being killed by an arrow and thus the whole unit routing, effectively ruining the test). I withdrew the general unit at the beginning of each battle.

I wanted to test not only the presence of a hidden shield bonus, but also if the shield bonus is a fixed value or has a variable effect.

For this reason, I lined up my Phalangitai with phalanx formation on and let the AI archers empty their quivers; then repeated the test with phalanx formation off. I carried out this procedure for different shield values, ranging from 0 to 6, both for Phalangitai with phalanx formation turned on and turned off.

Men (large scale): 120
Melee attack: 15
Ranged attack: -

Armour: 0
Defence skill: 0
Shield: 0 → 6

The results are shown in the graph below. Each dot in the graph is the result of ten separate tests and the error bar already takes it into account.

Casualties inflicted to the phalangitai by the modded Sakae archers after having emptied their quivers, as a function of the shield value given to the phalangitai; the red curve displays the results for phalangitai with phalanx mode off, while the black curve data have been taken with phalanx mode on. The straight lines represent the linear fits of the experimental points.

What do we learn today?

There is one important consequence of the test: the phalanx formation gives a SHIELD bonus. This means that, while making phalangites more impervious to missiles from the front, it doesn't alter their defensive capabilities from the rear, and only marginally increases their survivability from the flanks. This is another demonstration (was it really needed?) of the No. 1 rule of phalanxes:

The first lesson taught and learned when playing Total War games is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front. Much like the rules of the film "Fight Club" the second lesson is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front, and the third lesson is that you engage a phalanx from the flanks or the rear.

On top of this, we can also see how the slope of the two curves is quite different. The slope of the 'phalanx off' curve should be obviously independent of the phalanx formation, i.e. every other unit with the same stats should get a similar result. The slope of the 'phalanx on' curve instead seems to imply that the shield bonus is somehow inconsistent, meaning that it's not a fixed value adding up to the total; something more complex might be at play.

I plan to investigate further the phalanx hidden shield bonus, so this is a sort of an on-going project. I hope you discovered something new thanks to this article: if you have suggestions or comments in order to improve it, please let me know.


Monday, 18 November 2019

Random thoughts #1: barbarian bonus

I was reading some old MP EDU balancing thread on the Org and I was surprised in discovering the number and vehemence of complaints from many veteran players when many units, included cataphracts, got the "fear" ability. The pressure from the community was overwhelmingly consensual in removing fear from units such as cataphracts, Vojinos etc. and leaving it only for a handful of cases. Well, I did some tests, and I actually realised how brutal it is.

Uirodusios, standard scary nakeds. Pretty unimpressive fighters if you take that "frightens nearby enemy infantry" away, but with that, oh boy are they useful.

The mere presence of one single scary unit potentially frightens the whole enemy army: how this could potentially sound not amazing? Note that this is independent of the fact that the scary unit is engaged or not, so you can just park your scaries behind your lines, push and wait for the mass rout to happen. The barbarian bonus and the high longsword lethality are also pretty neat. That's why SP noobs used to ask "Why barbarians are so strong?" and we had a million "Barbarians OP, plz nerf" threads. At first glance, barbarian factions may indeed seem incredibly strong.

But barbarian factions suck. Why?

Many barbarian tactics revolve around scaries, e.g. the "double scare" (nakeds + chariots) or even the "triple scare" (nakeds + chariots + druids, much rarer because you're left with little else to actually do the fighting). If you take all factions as streamlined as possible, without all the special abilities (i.e. no "phalanx", "fear", "cantabrian circle" etc) you could still play Hellenistic Successors, Easterners and Rome without much hassle, but barbarians would be utterly unplayable. Why is that?

Three reasons. Barbarian "functional" units, those that synergize well with barbarian tactics, have the lowest mean armour value among all the factions in EB. Armour is one of the most, if not THE most, important asset in EB battles: armour protects regardless of the direction of the attack, armour protects against missiles, armour doesn't decrease due to fatigue. Ironclad barbarian armies are feasible, especially with the Arverni and their Arjos, but they're ludicrously expensive. You're thus forced to take a good number of light or unarmoured barbarian units. Those have high defence skill, which is good in the early game even if not omnidirectional as armour; however, prolonged fighting increases fatigue and thus decreases defence skill. The single most effective way of stalling barbarian units and waste their stamina is guard mode. A guard mode line, if correctly supported, is the leading cause of death among barbarians. And this brings us to the third point: mediocre discipline. Barbarian morale is not that bad, to be honest, but their low discipline means that, as soon as your men start dying, you're susceptible to routing and especially chainrouting.

Now put the special abilities back in the game. If you factor in units with the fear ability, barbarians can actually hope to break a guard mode line via localised routs. However, the barbarian signature and most iconic scaries, the nakeds, are (big surprise) naked. Their awfully low armour value means that they're easily countered by arrows/javelins/cav charges/high lethality.

Next unit? Chariots. They can suddenly be behind you and move swiftly, making them quite annoying. But again, they melt like butter against missiles.

Next unit? Druids. Heavy armour, okay, but when they chant they don't fight: that means you're one strong infantry unit down.

If you can somehow approach the enemy army with your scaries, you still need to be super careful: if you take heavy casualties and/or lose your key hammer/eagle units, BOOM!, your army melts like snow, and suddenly you're left with nothing to push.

All your scaries can be dealt with, no matter what: your intrinsic vulnerabilities as a barbarian faction (low armour, guard mode OPness, bad discipline) combine all together to make your life as a barbarian player as tough as possible. You are just out of the pit of complete uselessness thanks to your cavalry: despite not being awesome, it can get stuff done (unlike in vanilla EB where light cavalry is plain bad), so it's not that hopeless to buy cavalry at least.

The place where you usually find naked fanatics on the battlefield.

And what about the Getai? They don't have access to scaries.

Well, the Getai have a billion boni. Strong medium archers + insane elite foot archers + good variety of horse archers = they can dominate almost every faction missile-wise apart from Pontos and steppes. Great skirmishers. Drapanai AND Bastarnai. Access to spear-phalanx units. Awesome general's bodyguards. Cordinau Orca. And the Getai are a tier 2 faction, which means that all of the above is sufficient to make them sufficiently playable (not to be confused with strong).


If we want to do some theorycrafting, what can be done to give barbarians a substantial chance in anything else than mirror matchups or some limited edges over some specific builds? What if some gimmicky mechanics (fear on nakeds/chariots, chanting) get removed or nerfed?

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A guide to missile units - Part 2

Behold a new article! Here I conclude the discussion about missile units. Let's break down and analyse how the introductory concepts in the first article truly come to life: efficiency is one of the roads to victory, and this is no less true for ranged units.

Early game

Also known as "when to decide the pace of the battle". This is the time when most arrow exchanges take place, and also the moment when you probe how your opponent thinks and reacts.

Deployment. First of all, you need to anticipate what you will be facing even when you're still in the deployment phase and you're placing your ranged units. Which faction my opponent is playing with? What are the terrain features? How can I take advantage of my range / ammo / numbers / accuracy?

A correct deployment of missiles can give you an edge over your opponent, since the less you run your men around, the more effective your ranged units are. A unit is most vulnerable to missiles when moving or running, and if your ranged troops are taking casualties when moving they cannot even shoot back in retaliation.
When playing with lots of missile units, as in steppe battles, this can be the difference between dominating or losing the skirmish phase. You need to have a plan, and anticipate what you must do to achieve your goals: think ahead and plan accordingly, nothing is more important.

"You're good, you're very good! But you must always, always be thinking two or three moves ahead: your brother is a master at it."
Professor James Moriarty to Sigerson Holmes,
"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother"

Keep also in mind that running your men is a source of fatigue. "What can a soldier do who charges when out of breath?" Missile units are no exception: their general performance, especially their speed, can be significantly hindered: not the greatest source of fun when your archers get caught in melee by cavalrymen lusting for blood.

Formation. What have we learnt from the introductory concept of beaten zone? I don't want to have my men packed up in the beaten zone of my opponent's ranged units. There is a simple solution for long-ranged missile duels: use long and thin formation of loosely formed archers, and don't position missile or light troops too closely one to each other. This minimises the amount of men inside the beaten zone, and therefore the casualties. In one of gamegeek2's commentary videos on YouTube this is clearly evident: the power of the formation gives his Toxotai Kretikoi a clear edge in the missile fight against multiple archer units in big squares.

However, since nothing comes for free in life, there is a clear drawback when using this tactic: manoeuvrability. Long lines of loose formation infantry are clumsy and wheel slowly, which is a problem if you have no map control and when playing in Huge scale.

The main reason why everyone likes using square formations for cavalry rather than having shallow lines is because they are a lot easier to manoeuvre. Horse archers are very mobile, but come in low numbers. There are small "tricks" to achieve a proper micromanagement of their formation, for example placing them in column formation while running on flanks or from one flank to the other. Such expedients pay off really well: according to the beaten zone table, the column is better when receiving flanking fire, so that you can minimize your casualties.

However, even if loose formation is such a powerful tool to get an advantage, close formation can play a role as well. When massing fire on one single target, several units in close formation can be devastating.

Targeting. Choosing the right target for your missile units is another point to be aware of.

Macilrille wrote a guide to archery which contains some good advice.
Now, the Vanilla advisor would repeat 100+ times that you could weaken the enemy centre with missiles and then push through with a charge. I never found or find this to work. What I do instead is to prioritise my targets, what you want to take out with archers is the low-armour-high–lethality units of your enemy. These will often be enemy archers and slingers (especially HAs) that are covered from your cavalry, or elite units with little armour such as Falxmen, Galatian Wild Men, Gallic Swordsmen and German Slagonez and Wargozez. Especially you want to target “Scare” units such as Wargozez, Gaesetae, etc.

If none of these are around or your cavalry can ride down enemy slingers and archers with no interference from nasty pointy things, what you want to target is enemy infantry and cavalry that you can actually harm. Never waste shots on heavily armoured enemies except in the circumstances I describe below where you want to push their morale over the Breaking Threshold. Medium phalanxes and hoplites are targets, but others are better, you will form an idea by trying. I cannot recall the specific order in which I take down enemies except on the battlefield and it changes with the situation.

Note that I barred some parts of the quotation: they are not relevant in multiplayer, since he is referring to fire arrows which have been removed in online games. Also, instead of unarmoured men you should prioritise the targeting of unshielded men: shield is much more important than armour for missile protection, since its protection value is doubled against missile fire. As you can see in this replay, for example, shooting Kluddargos (which have 11 armour but no shield) is a good idea because of the damage you can dish out in short order.

However, another advice that Macilrille gives in the same guide is clear and gets straight to the point: "shooting at heavily armoured opponents if other targets are present is a waste and should be punished accordingly by a more difficult battle."


During midgame the most important thing that usually happens is the ensuing of the melee. The two lines collide and men start pushing, killing and dying. This is when short-ranged missile fire (aka javelins) truly shine.

There are two big differences between arrows and javelins, apart from range. There are a lot more arrows than javelins, but javelins have a significantly higher attack. This means that each javelin volley is much more important than an arrow volley: javelins must be conserved so that they can wipe out entire units at the right moment. This is true also for arrows, of course, but with the less abundant javelins each volley is relevant.

Also, there's something that's not really evident at first glance. In the EDU (export_descr_units.txt, found in EB/Data), the txt file where the stats of all the units in the game are written down, javelins are grouped in a different class than arrows (or sling bullets). In fact, while arrows are "missile", javelins are "thrown": javelins are basically considered by the game as thrown spears. This doesn't seem a big deal, until you remember that shields double their protection value against "missile" weapon type. WOW. Javelin fire does not give shield value doubling to the unit the javelins are shot at! This is something worth remembering: even if big shield units (Roman infantry, Hoplitai…) are impervious to javelins from the front due to their already high shield value, when soldiers with small shield (3 or less) receive a javelin volley in the face they die much more easily than if they get hit by arrows.

Some factions (Sweboz, Getai) have exceptionally good javelin infantry (high attack, high accuracy, lots of javelins); some factions (Romani, Lusotannan) have access to large number of ap javelins (pila, soliferra) extremely dangerous to armoured foes. Play according to your faction strengths.

Some Germanic warriors from 1st Century BC to 1st Century AD. Note the iron-pointed spears, called "frameae" (singular "framea"). Those spears are one of the reasons why Germanic cavalry in EB is so effective.

Of course, when talking about javelins, frontal fire is not that relevant. We're in midgame, armies are sufficiently close to each other and flanking manoeuvres are taking place. As I said before, flanking enemy formations and singling out targets with massed javelin volleys are astonishingly effective ways to cause routs or even chainrouts.

Flanking is easier with javelin cavalry, as they are much more mobile; massing is easier with infantry, because they're more numerous and a lot cheaper. It is also important to remember that flanking your opponent, if not properly done, leaves your units unprotected and vulnerable; in this sense javelin cavalry has an edge over infantry, because its speed allows to quickly unleash a volley or two and then charge to break a wavering unit, while also easily escaping from any retaliation your enemy could prepare.

Unit scale plays a role as well: as I explained in the article concerning differences between Large and Huge, the increase from Large scale to Huge scale increases the killing power of javelin-armed units, especially the ones with lower accuracy. So bear in mind that sometimes more javelins are more important than more accurate javelins.


In the lategame missile units somehow lose importance, for the depletion either of the ammunitions or the manpower in the units themselves: one key factor for being effective is unleashing a large amount of projectiles, and this cannot happen when a unit is depleted. However, if you notice some of your melee units still have javelins, it might be worth to expend them in the back of engaged enemies instead of charging immediately. Why? Melee units have generally a high javelin attack; in the lategame units are usually exhausted; exhausted units have fragile morale. All these elements factored together give a much higher probability of insta-routing the targeted unit.

However, you must also choose wisely which unit to target, since the bigger scarcity of ammunitions imposes a greater care. It's much more important to rout a heavy unit, or a unit that is pinning a lot of your men preventing them to engage in other sectors, than a random unit close to your javelineers.

I think that's all for today. I hope the conclusion of this guide dedicated to missile units gave you some good points to think about. As usual, if you have comments or suggestions please let me know, so I can improve it even further.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Death from above! - A guide to missile units in EB

NOTE: I do not own the rights of most of the pictures in this article. They're just the result of a quick Google research when I needed something, so I'll remove them if someone complains. Now, back on topic.
When playing a battle in Europa Barbarorum, I imagine very few of you are thinking "I can't wait to start this battle with a good skirmish phase". The skirmish phase is probably the single most underestimated phase in the battle: an excessively small amount of players really pays attention to what happens during the early game. I am one of these players.

Why is the early game so overlooked? With the exception of steppe battles (not a common sight in the current MP environment) the initial skirmish usually leads to no significant conclusions, apart from the depletion of both ammunition and manpower of missile units. However, it often happens that a missile duel takes a significant part of the total length of the battle itself. Furthermore, some battles can be won or lost depending on your decisions during this phase.

From the moment when you click the button for ending the deployment to the start of the melee, the skirmish should be, for a good reason, your first pressing thought: this is what this guide is about.

I decided to divide the guide in two parts. In the first part I introduce technical concepts and discuss the results of some related experiments; the second part is dedicated to tactical considerations.


First things first, we need to recall some technicalities that everyone should be confident with.


  • R → Run/Walk
  • A → Fire at will
  • S → Skirmish mode
  • C → Close/Loose formation

Since this guide is all about efficiency, I start right now with some basic considerations.

Using R is generally more efficient than double clicking for commanding a unit to run. Also keeping fire at will off is generally the preferred option, so that you can target the units you dislike the most without wasting ammunitions. Skirmish mode is useful for micro-heavy moments of the battle, but its malfunctioning often causes the skirmishing unit to be trapped: use it with care, and not for too long if your men are chased.

All of the above are somehow trivial things, stuff that each decent player already knows. But the importance of a correct deployment and formation cannot be stressed enough. I repeat it: nothing can be more important than knowing how to correctly deploy and form up when using ranged units. And now we get to more exotic and interesting considerations.

In order to get to the juicy stuff, however, it is necessary to introduce the concept of cone of fire and beaten zone.

Cone of fire and beaten zone

When a large number of ranged weapons, such as bows, shoot their missiles from approximately the same position, the projectiles will be dispersed during the trajectory towards the target. The geometrical shape the arrows form when moving is called cone of fire.

Since the shots follow different lines inside the cone of fire, they will land not in the same spot, but within a certain area. The (approximately) elliptical area where all the trajectories converge on the ground is called beaten zone.

Now, a quick reminder on how projectiles work in EB. Each projectile defined in descr_projectiles.txt comes with an accuracy parameter that describes the spread of the projectiles, i.e. the maximum angle at which the projectiles are shot with respect to the "ideal" angle to reach the target. The lower the number, the greater the accuracy of the projectiles, since more projectiles are closer to the ideal angle.

There is a direct relation between the accuracy as defined for the projectiles and the beaten zone: the higher the accuracy, the smaller the beaten zone. Since the same number of projectiles hits a smaller area, there is a higher probability of hitting a man within that same area: here it is, higher accuracy means in general more effective volleys.

Oh, by the way: the above pictures tell us something very important: proximity increases accuracy. Projectiles spread less if they reach the target sooner, so the beaten zone is smaller whenever the shooting distance is shorter.


Once it has been said that EB online battles are all about conserving your resources for the appropriate time. This is correct. Furthermore, this concept assumes crucial importance when applied to missile units. This is another key point you need to take away from this article: you need to conserve your resources to dish out the maximum damage, at the right moment, in the shortest amount of time. You want to be as efficient as possible with each of your volleys: nothing worse than depleting all the ammunitions of your Toxotai Kretikoi on worthless Sphendonetai and then hopelessly watching heavy infantry units turn their backs to you without the possibility of punishing them.

How to play efficiently with ranged units? You want to place your beaten zone on top of as many enemy units as possible.

As you can see, there are different conditions you need to adapt to. Frontal fire is efficient with units arranged in column but inefficient in the case of a line, and vice versa for flanking fire. In general, flanking fire is superior due to how projectile resistance works in RTW (and consequently in EB): if you bypass the shield you can do a massive amount of damage. This is going to be discussed in the second part.

However it is clear what is the best option all around, which, unsurprisingly, has a precedent in history. The enfilade fire was the favourite of horse archers, who used to flank enemy formations (enfilade) and run as close as possible (proximity increases accuracy) to get the maximum penetration power and efficiency. Even in modern warfare, enfilade fire is considered superior especially for weapons using cyclic rate of fire in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of rounds per minute, but low accuracy, as for example machine guns.

Modern representation of some horse archer action.

For this reason, the use of enfilade fire is advised in any possible occasion, because of the extra kills that stray projectiles can provide on nearby units. This is something every Napoleon Total War player knows by heart, but even in RTW engine it's always good to know where to shoot at.

Experimental study

We have one good starting point for an experimental study of the behaviour of missile units:
proximity increases accuracy.
Two possible ways to inquiry this phenomenon involve a "static" case, where the shooting unit remains untouched, and a "dynamic" case, where the size of the shooting unit varies because of casualties over time.

I'd like to thank Aeneas and his immense patience for having helped me in performing the following tests.

Case study 1: archery effectiveness

First of all we need to choose which archers are going to be included in the test. The important parameters are two: unit size and accuracy. I chose three archers with low, medium and high accuracy to run the tests, respectively Thanvarê Payâdhag (Persian Archers), Thanvarê Pârsig (Heavy Persian Archers) and Shivatîr-î Mardâ (Mardian Archers). The fact that their attack and number of men are different is ininfluent, since one can renormalize all the numbers accordingly (and that's what I did).

The unlucky Guinea pigs of this test were several units of Pantodapoi, deployed six ranks deep and with their backs exposed to the archers to maximise casualties and enhance the statistics. Of course they were kept in close formation.

The archer units were deployed in three different positions: at maximum range, at mid range and at point blank range (about 20 metres away from the back row of the Pantodapoi). To properly mark the mid range I used a "placeholder" unit whose position was adjusted beforehand, and then moved the archers in the same spot.

For each archer unit six volleys are shot; the average number of inflicted casualties is written down, and then the archer unit is moved into the next position while the Pantodapoi are replaced by another full-strength unit.

Case study 2: archery duel

In order to compare the performances of different archers at different distances, one needs to take into account also how casualties influence the outcome in the long run. For this reason, an experiment involving two archer units shooting at each other is prepared.

I decided to test the behaviour of the Thanvarê Pârsig with respect to the Payai Dunai (Saka Foot Archers). The main differences between those units are the accuracy (medium and high, respectively) and the armour (7 and 2, respectively). The unit spacing in loose formation is the same. The tests are run at two different distances: max range and generic "close" range, about one third of the max range. Note that the Thanvarê Pârsig have lower range than the Payai Dunai, so it's their max range that I'm referring to.

This time twelve volleys are shot, and the casualties done by each volley are written down. The two tests are performed separately with different units (no shit Sherlock...).


The table below shows the average casualties inflicted by the aforementioned units to the Pantodapoi at different distances. The number is divided by the attack of the archers and the number of men in the unit, to have a proper comparison between the killing power of one single man with a certain accuracy parameter.

Casualties per man
Unit typeMax rangeMid rangePoint blank
Thanvarê Payâdhag7.11 10-210.41 10-211.07 10-2
Thanvarê Pârsig10.0 10-210.00 10-211.78 10-2
Shivatîr-î Mardâ9.51 10-211.49 10-212.48 10-2

As one could expect, the killing power generally increases with the increase of accuracy. As we expected after the theoretical discussion, though, the killing power increases with the decrease of the distance, too: the beaten zone shrinks, allowing for more hits on the exposed unit.

An interesting comparison concerns the gain in killing power, i.e. what is the percentage increase in inflicted casualties. In the histogram below I plotted the results for the two units with maximum difference in accuracy.

The results show that the Thanvarê Payâdhag gain a significantly higher amount of killing power with respect to the Shivatîr-î Mardâ: 55.8% against 31.3%. I think this is because the high accuracy of the Shivatîr-î Mardâ is not improved by the decrease in distance as much as the low accuracy of the Thanvarê Payâdhag, since arrows are less dispersed anyway.

Regarding the test with two archer units opposing each other, below you can see a histogram illustrating the average number of inflicted casualties for both the Thanvarê Pârsig and the Payai Dunai.

No need to put percentages in evidence, as you can see. What is important here is the difference in the performances at different distances. While in the first case both are dealing with each other pretty evenly, as soon as the distance is reduced the Thanvarê Pârsig completely shred the Payai Dunai.

This is also remarked by the two following graphs, where I plotted the number of remaining men as a function of time (yes, it's the number of volley, which is the same). I also showed the gap in manpower of the two units at the end of the test: there is a clear difference between the two situations. Of course this result needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, since as soon as the number of men in a unit dwindle the survivors start to spend time walking to restore the formation instead of shooting. In the end, the effect is that the superiority of the Thanvarê Pârsig at close range is exponentially enhanced with time.

Disclaimer for graph aesthetes (click to expand/close)


From what we saw from the data we can derive some interesting conclusions.

From the first test we learned how the distance is a crucial parameter to consider when shooting with archers. While at long range highly accurate units perform considerably better than the others, at close range accuracy matters less and performances are evened out.

One thing should not be overlooked. Tthe Thanvarê Payâdhag not only gained the most in killing power, but also got the highest number of absolute kills at close range (a whopping 13.4 on average per volley, compared to 10.6 of the Thanvarê Pârsig and 12.6 of the Shivatîr-î Mardâ). Of course the reason for this lies in the high number of bows this unit can rely upon. As we can see also in the comparison between Large and Huge scale, in some cases quantity is more important than quality to deal a lot of damage in a short amount of time.

Furthermore, the archery duel test gave important results as well. At long range the Payai Dunai, the most accurate between the two, were taking on the Thanvarê Pârsig, which cost more than one and a half more and are clearly superior archers. This is due to their higher accuracy, that allowed them to do the same amount of damage they received even when at a disadvantage in armour. But at close range, the importance of protection is much higher because (as we saw in the previous test) accuracy matters less, and in fact the Thanvarê Pârsig dominated decisively the archery duel.

What do we learn today?

  1. A wise commander should employ low-accuracy archers at close range, where the sheer number of arrows makes up for their inaccurate shots;
  2. A wise commander should employ high-accuracy archers at long range, to maximise their killing power by peppering vulnerable units at long range;
  3. A wise commander should employ high-armour, medium-accuracy archers at every distance, because they are just as effective at close range as they are at long range; however, he should keep in mind that they excel at close range, especially in missile duels (and they can also close in melee and rout inferior skirmishers if their martial prowess is sufficiently high).

Note that there is no foot archer in the game which has a high amount of protection and a high accuracy at the same time: now we know why such a unit would be clearly overpowered.

One last consideration. In the tests I did not take into account slingers or horse archers. There are multiple reasons for that.

First of all, archers are the most numerous long-ranged missile units in the game, and generally the most used in MP: it made sense to give them priority. Secondly, horse archers are not used very often in missile duels. In third instance, slingers use different projectiles and have different values of accuracy and range. In my opinion there is also a problem in the balance of slingers: they are too effective in missile duels at the moment, thanks to the AP attribute and their low cost. To sum up, different experiments need to be conceived for these two kind of units, and I might do it in the future.

Well, this is the end of the first part of my study on missile units in EB. The second part is being worked on at the moment: I'll try to be as swift as possible!
I hope you enjoyed the reading of this article. As usual, if you have any suggestion or question please feel free to share.


Monday, 23 April 2018

Announcement: EB Online "Welcome Back" Tournament 2018

Hello everyone!

During the last months an increasing number of players decided to start again playing Europa Barbarorum multiplayer. After a long, long time of inactivity, the game started to live a second life.

For this reason, we decided to organise a small tournament: the 2018 "Welcome Back", titled after the happy circumstance itself.

Now, for the important things: the rules.
  1. Players are free to join without any limitation whatsoever: there is no need to have a specific amount of players to meet some prerequisites. Sign ups end on Monday the 30th of April. In order to join, you need to join the Steam group as well: send a friend request to me or Phillip V for the access.
  2. Players will be assigned a faction in the next few days, which is randomized among the 19 suitable factions for multiplayer (the Sab'yn are excluded for obvious reasons). In the tournament they can play only the faction they are assigned. The tournament officially starts on Monday the 15th of May, so players will have time to train with the chosen faction. The schedule is free, i.e. participants are free to talk with their opponents and decide day and time for the battles to take place. If one player is not satisfied with the assigned faction, he can ask for a new faction to be assigned. However, if he does so, he must stick to his second choice.
  3. The first part of the tournament is scheduled as a Round-Robin: each player plays every other player once. Each match between players is a Best of 3: whoever wins two battles wins the match.
  4. When the Round-Robin is over, the two players who have won more series go to the finals. If three (or more) players have the same number of wins, the two players who were defeated the least go to the finals. If the number of defeats is the same for more than two players, I'll come up with something else...
  5. The finals are scheduled as a Best of 5.
  6. The rules are listed in this page, and all participants are expected to follow them. Players who win a Best of 3 must be able to provide evidence of their victory, i.e. each replay needs to be saved.

Good luck to all, and have fun!

EDIT: The tournament has officially started. Players should now train their factions until the 15th of May.

VERY VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure to read carefully the tournament rules and use them when training, so that you get familiar with them. Remember: if you don't follow the rules, your opponent can call you out for that, bringing the replay as a proof, and in that case you receive an automatic loss that counts for the final result.

Below is the list of enrolled players with their factions.

Aeneas - Saka Rauka
antisocialmunky - Baktria
Gerd - Lusotannan
Karamawi - Pahlava
mephiston - Pontos
Phillip V - Koinon Hellenon
The Last Praetorian - Sauromatae
Trajan - Arche Seleukeia

A video of the first extraction (to show how the factions are randomly assigned) is downloadable here. The second and third parts are here.

Results of the Round Robin:

Aeneas vs Gerd 2-0

Aeneas vs Trajan 2-0

mephiston vs Trajan 2-0

mephiston vs The Last Praetorian 2-1

mephiston vs antisocialmunky 1-1 (in progress)

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Unit scale - Large vs Huge: an experimental analysis

Changing the unit scale is one of the subtlest ways to influence gameplay in EB.

Campaign-wise, the main difference between Large and Huge lies in the strategic concern of avoiding the depletion of city population when recruiting units; but the effects of an increased unit dimension can be noticed in the tactical map as well, even if this aspect is often totally overlooked.

My purpose in this report is to provide evidence of the main differences related to the tactical part of the game when the unit scale changes from Large (which is widely recognised as the most used in MP environment) to Huge (which, in the opinion of some players, provides a more realistic and entertaining experience). Since I don't like to base my discussion on random things out of thin air, here I'm going to use both theoretical and experimental approach. I'm also going to use pictures beautifully crafted in Paint, and some simple math that I hope is not going to scare anyone.

Some theory

Switching from Large to Huge causes all units to double their numbers. The main assumption of the report is that the size increase of the square formation of a unit is uniformly distributed on its lateral dimensions; that is, the shape of the square itself, i.e. the ratio of rows over columns, remains the same (as shown in the next figure). I'll mention and discuss the validity of this assumption later on. Note that I wrote a completely random number as percentage inside the squares, just for example.

From this hypothesis we can derive the coefficient that multiplies rows and columns in the change from Large to Huge. Let r be the rows of the formation, and c its columns; then the total number of men in the unit n (the unit "area") is n = r × c .

This is valid for both Large and Huge unit size.

We also know that nH = 2nL , where the subscript H or L is related to Huge or Large scale, respectively; units in Huge scale have double the men compared to Large scale.

Therefore, if the unit keeps the same shape as assumed before, this means that the ratio between rows and columns remains the same: therefore

nH = rH × cH = 2 rL × cL =  2 rL ×  2  cL

This equation holds that doubling the number of men inside a unit results in an increase of its rows and columns by a factor  2 . This result is true only if the unit shape is not modified, as I stated before.

Movement and troop positioning

The capitalization of the map space is an essential feature of tactical encounters in EB; this holds true especially for steppe factions, but it is arguably one of the most pressing thoughts in general, and any good commander should start thinking about it since the deployment phase. A Large unit size allows for an emptier battlefield, while Huge size units fill a greater amount of available space. It is sufficient to imagine a the size of phalanx units in Large and in Huge scale: in the second case it is much harder to flank a compact phalanx line, introducing some tactical problems especially in team games with two or more players on each side.

Nonetheless, unit size influences not only the space filling of the whole army, but also the behaviour of single units. The bigger is a unit, the more difficult and time-consuming its movement is. Since in the RTW engine the speed of each soldier is fixed regardless of the unit size, one can intuitively say that complex manoeuvres such as wheeling or changing unit facing are slower in Huge scale. In general, Huge unit size results in clumsier and overall slower movements, and it is easy to see a cohesive formation break up when marching; this factor that can prove determinant for winning or losing. In Huge size you have more time to think early, but less time to react later.

Strategy is the art of making use of time and space.
I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.

Napoléon Bonaparte

As an example, I can analyse semi-quantitatively the unit wheeling. The next figure shows a counter-clockwise wheeling. In custom battles, the wheeling does not follow an arc, but instead a (approximatively) straight line. It is clear that, while carrying off this manoeuvre, the men who have to travel the most are the ones the farthest from the centre of rotation. Therefore, the wheeling will be completed only when the men on the far right would have travelled the path connecting the two D vertices. As the unit size increases, the length of this path changes.

From trigonometry we know that
D = R × sin θ

where D is the distance from the two D vertices and R the radius of the wheeling.

When we change unit size, θ remains the same, while R is modified since the row of the formation is lengthened as I stated before.

The order of magnitude of this increase can be a factor  2 , if O = A: if the unit wheels over one of its corners, the manoeuvre takes the maximum amount of time. Instead, if the centre of the wheeling is far away, the time increase is often negligible, because the segment OA is far longer than the length of the rows of the formation.

From this fact it comes natural to imagine that accomplishing complex and, in particular, quick manoeuvres is more difficult in Huge scale than in Large scale. This provides a slower reaction to tactical necessities and puts the player in the need of planning carefully his orders, as already mentioned previously. For instance, escaping from an incoming charge while minimizing casualties becomes harder, because the fast wheeling required to move away from the trajectory of the charging unit is slower in Huge scale: a proper and timely micro- and macro-management of units is even more important.


It is known that the sheer number of men inside a unit does not influence the outcome of a fight, as long as stats and morale are considered: the stats remain unmodified, and morale is influenced by the percentage of men still fighting, not their absolute number. This is the reason why battles fought in Huge scale are generally slower than battles fought in Large scale: it is necessary to kill more men in order to achieve the same percentage of kills on the same unit and break its morale. This balances in some way the slower pace of unit movement on the battlefield. This consideration influences only the timespan of a fight, not its outcome.

There are nonetheless two aspects which are actually influenced by the unit size. They are the charge and the javelin volleys, and I'm going to prove why, and how much, these aspects are influenced.

(a) Charge

If we assume that the charge (e.g. from a cavalry unit) is carried off by the first row of men, we can safely imagine that the change in the rows and columns dimensions may modify the outcome of said charge. More precisely, we can say that the number of inflicted casualties during a charge is not doubled by the increase from Large to Huge, but is multiplied by our usual factor we're familiar with, that is  2 .

(b) Javelin volleys

The larger the unit scale, the more crowded the battlefield is. This fact can be exploited by javelin-armed units. If accuracy is not influenced by the unit scale (i.e. javelins are thrown in the same "area", or with the same dispersion), then javelins can be much deadlier in Huge unit scale, because in proportion more javelins are going to hit a soldier.

Case study 1: charges

Firstly I want to provide some insight into the effects of the charge and how it changes when we switch from Large to Huge.

The tests are made separately with a unit of Agema Klerouchon Hippeon and a unit of Hetairoi, on the Grassy Flatland map. Their opponents are:

  • Parthohellenikoi Thureophoroi (sword-armed infantry with javelins);
  • Kardaka Arteshtar (Hoplites with spear as primary and longsword as secondary);
  • Gund-î-Nizagan (Spearmen);
  • Kamboja Asvaka Ksatriya (Light cavalry).

For each type of opponent four tests are made. The charge is executed frontally, after giving the attack order with a single right-click; each unit is eager/fresh at the moment of impact. Each weird AI behaviour (e.g. running sideways and exposing the flank of the unit) is ignored, and the test repeated. The number of casualties caused by the charge is written down after 10 seconds from the impact.

Of course, to stay true to the initial assumption, the formation is kept the same for both unit scales.

Case study 2: javelins

The differences from Large to Huge regarding javelin casualties are studied with the help of a human opponent (thanks to ZEVA-Phillip V for his precious contribution).

For each unit size three units are taken into account: Thureophoroi (medium accuracy), Peltastai (high accuracy) and Peltastai Makedonikoi (ultra high accuracy). Each unit is shooting rounds of javelins from maximum distance in the back of a unit of Galatikoi Klerouchoi: this is done to maximize both the number of casualties and the influence of accuracy (accuracy matters the most when shooting at max distance). Three rounds of volleys are shot for each unit, and then a mean of the casualties is computed.

Experimental results

Below there are two histograms, one for each cavalry unit; they show the average number of casualties for both Large and Huge settings, in cyan and red respectively. There is also a green bar, an expected value for Huge setting: it was obtained multiplying the casualties obtained in Large by  2 .

Casualties inflicted by Agema Klerouchon Hippeon (top figure) and Hetairoi (bottom figure) when charging four different units, in both Large and Huge scale, together with expected values for Huge scale.

We can see that the experimental data for Huge scale are for the most part in good accord with the expected values. One notable exception is the case of the Kambojas: here the casualties greatly exceed the expected numbers, for both the charging units. It's challenging to understand why this happens: I suspect this has to do with unit density. I honestly have no idea whatsoever for explaining the casualties of the Kardaka when charged by the Hetairoi.

Disclaimer for boring people (click to expand)

Regarding what happens with javelins, it's not interesting to show raw data for the casualties. As a matter of fact, in Huge scale there are double the javelins than in Large, so a direct comparison is useless; furthermore, the attack values are different among the units I used. For this reason, it's better to renormalize the data: I divided the average number of inflicted casualties by the number of men in the unit and the missile attack value, so that I get the measure of the "killing efficiency" of the single soldier, regardless of the unit scale and the attack value.

For example, if a unit of Peltastai in Large scale kills an average of 9 men with each round of javelins, then I divide this number by 90, which in Large scale is the number of men a Peltastai unit is comprised of. As a result I obtain 0.1 = 100 10-3: this number is the measure of the "killing efficiency" of a single Peltast in Large scale. Then I divide again by 6, which is the missile attack of the Peltastai; this number is then compared with the equivalent for Huge scale.

Casualties inflicted by javelinmen with medium, high and ultra high accuracy, divided by the number of men in the unit and the missile attack value, for both Large and Huge scale.

It is evident that in Huge scale javelins are more efficient, because each volley kills more enemies per man and per attack point. If there was no difference between the settings, one should have expected roughly the same amount of kills per man and per attack point ( = roughly twice as many kills in Huge than in Large).

However, the data show how in Huge scale javelins are much more efficient, especially for lower accuracy units. In fact, the increase of kills per man for Thureophoroi (medium accuracy) is around 300%, while for the Pheraspidai (ultra high accuracy) the increase is less than 100%. I think the reason for this lies in the fact that at very high accuracy the increase of the number of men in the target unit does not matter as much, since the javelins are less dispersed anyway.

It is very interesting to see how the change from Large to Huge scale results in a somewhat rigid shift in the line of the casualties as a function of accuracy. This rigid shift benefits more the lower accuracy units, as already mentioned: the huge difference in efficiency between the Thureophoroi and the Pheraspidai in Large scale (2.32 vs 7.28, Pheraspidai are over three times more efficient) is greatly reduced in Huge scale (6.72 vs 12.5, less than double the efficiency).


From what we saw, we can now derive two main facts:
  1. Charges are less effective in Huge scale than in Large scale, in proportion to the number of men in a unit;
  2. Javelins are more effective in Huge scale than in Large scale, in proportion to the number of men in a unit.

This leads to two important conclusions.

First: when you choose the class of cavalry you want to field, you need to consider that light and medium mounted units are less viable in Huge scale: their charge is less powerful, and then in the resulting melee they get cut down to pieces by superior units. Conversely, elite cavalry is more effective in Huge scale, because after having charged they have sufficient staying power to fight competently in hand to hand. Concerning infantry, their "passive" reaction to the charge tells us that elites are again a superior choice in Huge rather than in Large scale, for the very same reason: if they suffer a charge, it cuts down less men in percentage, and in melee elite infantry can punish almost every cavalry unit.

Second: a correct use of javelineers in Huge scale (especially if concentrating fire on a single target) can be much more devastating than in Large scale, because of the impressive increase in kills per man. In this case, regular units gain in efficiency much more than elite units, even if the sheer amount of kills per man is lower. This means that units with lots of javelins, even if characterized by lower accuracy, are actually more effective than elite ranged units with fewer javelins.

There are of course other considerations that can be done, such as a more in-depth analysis of the space filling for both unit scales, but I think I reached the maximum tolerable length for this article, so I'm calling the day for now. If there are any suggestions regarding other aspects that you think can influence the outcome of a battle, please feel free to share your ideas: I'd be glad to expand this study on topics that I may have overseen.


Friday, 23 March 2018

Guard mode: the art of fighting in formation

On the Org, the user SFraser published a guide concerning the use of guard mode. In my opinion, it's one of the best analysis of the influence of a somehow "hidden" mechanism in the game, which is unit formation and cohesion, that every online player should be aware of. It is worth reposting the guide as a whole, with some comments.


"A disorderly mob is no more an army than a heap of building material is a house"

The first lesson taught and learned when playing Total War games is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front. Much like the rules of the film "Fight Club" the second lesson is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front, and the third lesson is that you engage a phalanx from the flanks or the rear. Even the most average of infantry armoured in little more than paper with the skill and morale of a small child can, when equipped with shield and pike and arranged into a solid and organised formation, become a weapon of infantry annihilation.

While it is true that much of their fighting strength comes straight from their incredibly long sarissa which prevents opponents from getting close enough to attack and kill these soldiers, it is equally true that a man with a sarissa on his own in a loose formation and in a disorganised state is a man waiting to be put out of his misery. The sarissa is as much a weapon of utter uselessness and hindrance as it is a weapon of invulnerability. The key to the immense frontal strength of this unit and style of combat is the organisation and cohesion of the formation wielding the tools. Without the immense organisation, cohesion, training, shape and spacing of the formation of this unit, a unit of sarissa wielding infantry would be the single worst unit in the entire battlefield.

However when four units are arranged in a tidy square around the flag, or placed at strategic chokepoints inside a city, the most basic of phalanx units becomes the nemesis of entire armies. The tightness and organisation of the formation, the mass and immovability of the formation, and the length of the weaponry wielded turn the unit into a wall. The enemy cannot disrupt the formation, cannot easily isolate and kill individual men, and likely dies long before he gets into thrust range for his sword.

On the battlefield the unit is not so safe from danger and its flanks are a constant concern. This is where the weakness of the weaponry shows its true colours when the unit is surrounded, but when multiple units wielding the sarissa surround an opponent you see unmatched devastation of the opponent.

It is easy to get drawn into seeing only the weaponry of this immense unit. It is easy to only consider the strengths and weaknesses of the sarissa itself, but the phalanx unit is so much more than the sarissa. Its strength comes not from the weaponry it wields, but how it wields it. How a unit employs its strengths and defends its weaknesses and behaves as a formation is at least as important as its strengths and weaknesses if not more so. It is the mass of the unit, the spacing of the unit, the training of the unit and how the commander orders and uses the unit that turns a unit of sarissa wielding soldiers from a bunch of men carrying unwieldy and long pikes into a devastating and decisive battlefield formation.

It doesn't have to be more complicated than this:

"The first lesson is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front. The second lesson is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front, and the third lesson is that you engage a phalanx from the flanks or the rear."

Why is that? Because of the sarissa AND because of the tight formation of the phalanx. Try to keep a line with phalanxes in loose formation, and you'll get the idea of how important it is to properly form pike blocks.

A glaring example: Hoplitai Haploi

Hoplitai Haploi, or "Hopeless Hoplitai" as I used to call them are a sterling example of the power of formation and training and organisation. Poor soldiers with limited capability to kill opponents or even fight against them man for man, they are nevertheless superior to most levies due to the simple fact that their forward facing defensive abilities are magnified by their equipment and organisation and formation and mass. Poor soldiers with a big shield, spear, and arranged in close and tight order. They are capable of standing against and defending against units many times their individual martial prowess because of the combined function of their equipment and formation organisation. They will not last long when defending against heavy opponents, but they will last longer than almost every other unit with similar attack and defence stats, purely because of their strength as a unit.

The strength of a unit

The strength of a unit is far more than their attacking and defensive statistics. Attacking and defensive statistics define what is necessary to kill an opponent in terms of sheer man per man combat. Different angles of attack carry different requirements to kill an opponent, and this is what makes unitary strength or formation strength so absolutely key. Attacking or fighting an opponent from the front gives the maximum defensive strength to the opponent and carries the maximum risk of retaliatory death. Attacking from the flanks gives reduced defensive strength to the opponent, allowing an easier kill. Attacking from the rear usually gives the maximum opportunity to kill an opponent.

Obviously then you want the opponent to attack you from the front, while you get behind the opponent and attack him from the least defended angles. That is a rather basic lesson/tactic in Total War but it is one that is generally viewed in terms of entire units, i.e. avoiding frontal combat with an entire unit, flanking entire units, getting behind entire units. Something very rarely discussed yet absolutely vital is the ability to disrupt units, get into the heart of units, and attack units from the front that causes them to become disrupted and disorganised and present opportunities to kill opponents from within the unit.

This is the heart and soul of the Strength of a Unit. The purely offensive unit is unanimously widely spaced for maximum ability to penetrate and flank opponents while the purely defensive unit is unanimously narrowly spaced to minimise the opportunity for the opponent to penetrate and flank large numbers of individuals. This issue of spacing enables or denies the ability for units to get into space and surround individuals, but it is only one of the issues involved in Unit Strength. The other issue is Unit Mass which is the direct ability to physically shift opponents or prevent opponents from shifting you. Widely space, high Mass attackers can charge an opponent, disrupt their cohesion and infiltrate the formation, and flank the entire formation at the same time. Tight spaced, high mass units deny the opportunity to infiltrate the formation and also present a barrier against disruption of cohesion which would otherwise present internal flanks for attack.

The third element is training, which defines how well tight ranks line up and present minimal angles of attack. Highly trained units present an extremely cohesive front line to the opponent. Untrained units can be tight yet have limited cohesion for the presentation of the front, allowing opponents to attack the flanks of soldiers despite the tightness of the formation. So while attack value + lethality of weapon defines the ability to kill an opponent, while the various defence values define the ability to defend attacks from various directions, it is the combination of Formation Spacing, Training and Mass that defines the ability to produce or eliminate combat from angles other than head on man to man. These attributes in a unit more than almost all other statistics and attributes define the actual capabilities and performance of a unit as a formation.

The cohesion and training of a formation of course works both ways. A high spaced, low training melee unit will spread out, get into gaps in the opponents formation, draw opponents out and generally attempt to exploit individual martial prowess against the opponent and disrupt his formation. This in turn presents opportunities for the opponent to strike from multiple angles and at weak spots in the defence of the unit, thereby increasing the risk of death to the opponent unit. This is very often off-set by high armour values, or at least the "elite" units you are looking for to fulfil this role should ideally have significant armour values to produce an all round measure of defence from multiple angles. By contrast a very tightly spaced, highly trained unit will not only present limited opportunities to attack soldiers from defensively weak angles, but will also present the opponent with a wall of weaponry and the opponent will have to attack from the direction they are likely to be struck back.

It's not uncommon to see lines of medium spearmen, preferably with decent armour, placed in guard mode to hold the centre of an army. Two examples of units that are widely employed for this purpose are Hoplitai and Thureophoroi.


Melee attack: 14
Ranged attack: -

Defence: 24

Melee attack: 14
Ranged attack: 8

Defence: 23

Usually, people look at the "big three" when picking medium spearmen for their mainline: attack, defence and ranged damage. In this case, Hoplitai offer slightly higher defensive capabilities, while on the other hand Thureophoroi have javelins to soften up an incoming charge. Thus, Thureophoroi may appear a slightly superior choice for a mainline compared to classical Hoplitai, thanks to their greater flexibility.

Does the story end here though?

Let's forget the "big three" for a moment. We are here to study the strength of a formation, remember? If we add in some other data like mass, spacing, training...

...Things look a bit different. Hoplitai are high-mass, tight-spaced, well-trained armoured spearmen, perfectly suited to defend a line because of the frontal density of their formation. Their mass means that anyone but elite assault units won't be able to push through the first barrier of interlocking shields, their spacing results in a high density of weaponry at the front and their training ensures there won't be gaps leaving some Hoplitai exposed to be struck from multiple directions.

Conversely, Thureophoroi do not perform as well as Hoplitai do in the same conditions, even if the stats are quite similar. As a matter of fact, their formation is more loosely spaced and easily disrupted by a strong assault because of their low mass and high spacing; moreover, individual Thureophoroi won't be able to retaliate as efficiently as hoplites, because they lack the frontal cohesion and density. As a result, Hoplitai form a compact and impenetrable wall of shields and spears, while the gaps between individual Thureophoroi are weaknesses ready to be exploited by their foes.

The influence of formation on shock infantry

Two excellent examples of genuine "shock" infantry. Note the relatively high mass for disrupting opponent formations, the high charge, the high attack value and high lethality of the unit. These units are designed to inflict maximum casualties on the charge, maximum casualties in melee, and to disrupt the opponents formation and disturb their lines and cohesion when charging or fighting. Most important however is the very high spacing of these units, the relatively low training and the high armour values. These are "disorganised" units intended to spread out and seek kills while encouraging the opponent to get sucked into a disorganised melee fight where these two units' high and omni-directional defensive capabilities and immense lethality should hugely magnify their killing abilities when the opponent is lured into fighting in their disorganised, uncohesive and man-to-man style. When used appropriately, with guard mode off and either frontally assaulting low lethality defensive formations or flanking concentrations of the enemies most powerful infantry, these units are not merely butchers but battle turners capable of rolling over a low lethality defensive formation or rolling up the line of an assault concentration. If the enemy force turns to face these units, or is reinforced by a limited capability reserve, those units find themselves locked into disorganised close combat with units that absolutely thrive and excel at that style of combat. If the enemy reinforces with a highly organised concentration of significantly lethal units, then our shock infantry will be destroyed with speed.

The importance of cohesion for offensive units

For inbetween the spearwall and shock infantry lies a range of infantry types that are essentially a fusion of the two, combining the defensive strength of formation cohesion of the spearwall style unit with the offensive capabilities of the shock sword infantry, in greater or lesser degrees. These units are very often "mistaken" for pure shock infantry due again to the weaponry wielded and the widespread existence of pure spear wielding units in the game, but the truth is very different. While undoubtedly wielding weaponry of less defensive strength than their spear armed counterparts, these units combine spacing, training, mass and defensive statistic strength with the ability to inflict high casualties while defending, inflict severe casualties when attacking, and fight defensively and offensively with immense cohesion and formation organisation at all times, which magnifies their capabilities. Understanding that statistics tell at most only half the story, and understanding the immense tactical flexibility offered by these units makes them the central point for almost every army they are a part of. My two personal favourites follow:

These two units are obviously towards the upper end of the spectrum of their unit type but are none the less cheap enough and arrive early enough to be considered as line troops or "medium infantry" in terms of pre-defined "eliteness". The Milnaht description "...capable of standing against slightly heavier warriors" is an understatement par excellence. Carefully commanded a few of these units are capable of standing against entire armies.

It is a mistake to see the weapon type, charge bonuses, attack and defence skill and view these units as effective melee combat units. While they are most certainly effective melee combat units, these units are absolutely defined by their formation strength and every other statistic or attribute simply adds personality and individuality to what are, in my opinion, the definitive units of heavy infantry. Both units have very tight spacing, extremely high training, and high mass. This means that both units fight as a dense and organised block of infantry that is difficult to disrupt, difficult to penetrate, difficult to isolate individual soldiers, and fights in such a way that presentation of maximum combat strength to all opponents is the style, purpose and defining element of both units.

The Milnaht by comparison to the Principes would seem to concede defensive strength, but this is an illusion as the Milnaht fight in formation that is much more dense and compact to the Principes, presenting more men, swords and shields to the opponent. When the Milnaht soldier is knocked back by a charge, his neighbour is much closer to deliver the telling flank attack, and the Milnaht carry swords that are close to double the lethality of the Principe. The cause/concession is that the Milnaht lack armour while the Principes have very high armour values, meaning that the Principes are in fact more adept at disorganised combat due to the omni-directional nature of the highest defensive statistic.

It is perhaps surprising to consider that the Milnaht are in fact slightly superior to the Principes in frontal combat (due to weapon lethality), while the Principes are superior to the Milnaht in disorganised or penetrative melee combat, however both units are by far at their best when employed as defensive units, when fighting to the immense strengths of their formation rather than their attack and defense statistics. This undoubtedly goes against the grain of much of the "lore" or combat trends of combat in these forums, particularly the Celtic "Barbarian" fighting lore and trends. It is a common statement in these forums that when playing a Celtic faction "see charge bonus 8 = CHAAAARGE!!". While I will not deny the charge bonus and kill capability of Celtic units when charging, I wish to put to bed the conception that they are charge and melee combatants and instead show that they are in fact defensive units par excellence with flexibility and options and combat abilities for the commander to exploit and use at his discretion. And a unit of Milnaht has these options not only in abundance, but with immense strength of execution. They can defend, kill, charge, and fight offensively in equal measure with significant capability, due to the combination of their combat statistics and formation cohesion.

The art of fighting in formation

There is no "right way" to play this game, no real "ideal composition" and "best tactics". There is only instead good tactical play, intelligent usage of troops, and the understanding, creation and employment of options. My experience in playing EB has lead me to view the usage of guard mode as a significant and key element of battlefield tactics and commander flexibility, precisely because fighting in guard mode is the art of fighting in formation, and formation is a vital and fundamental component of the strength or weakness of every single unit. I am possibly one of a great minority of Celtic faction commanders that enters a battle with 90% of his forces on guard mode, yet my experience with guard mode means whenever I come to play a new faction, one of the major issues is whether or not I can recruit Milnaht. I'm sure you are thinking "he cares about whether he can recruit a 162 man unit of swordsmen with 11 attack and 22 defence? WTF?" but it is precisely because of the formation strength of the Milnaht unit that I absolutely love to employ them in my armies, and feel significantly weaker whenever I cannot employ them or something like them as my infantry.

So what is it that Guard Mode does? Well I have heard many rumours of this and that statistic swapping and stat bonuses or losses, but these are not what is important in my opinion. What I consider important is the following.
  1. Units in Guard Mode do not break formation to attack units.
  2. Units in Guard Mode hold position when engaged.
  3. Units in Guard Mode crucially attempt to maintain formation.
  4. Units in Guard Mode crucially attempt to maintain their cohesion.
  5. Units in Guard Mode crucially attempt to maintain a front facing line.
  6. Units in Guard Mode attempt to present the centre and front of their formation to the bulk of the enemy.
  7. Units in Guard Mode without attack orders do not lose stamina/become fatigued.

What happens in Guard Mode is the unit will always attempt to maintain their formation and cohesion and position while presenting the maximum point of the units strength (the centre of the front) to the opponents greatest mass or number. When attacking under guard mode the unit will attempt to advance from the centre, attacking the opponents greatest concentration, while maintaining formation. When defending the unit will attempt to retreat under pressure as the centre is pushed back and the rest of the unit maintains cohesion with the soldiers being driven backwards.

Under both conditions maximum forward facing strength is presented to the opponents maximum concentration of force, while the formation is maintained. Guard Mode is the instruction to maintain maximum possible formation strength when attacking or defending, and not present maximum casualty inflicting unit arrangement.

In my opinion the distinction between the two is crucial, and a vital tactical issue. While guard mode is a defensive instruction, an instruction to maximise defensive capability and efficiency through presenting the cohesive front of the unit to the opponent, it is also an instruction that maximises combat efficiency for this very reason, it minimises casualties while presenting maximum weaponry to the maximum point of the opponents threat. When a phalanx, or a unit of Milnaht defends a narrow street in a city and is set to guard mode, you see the awesome impact of both the unit and the instruction at work when the flanks are defended. The cohesion of the unit presents a near insurmountable barrier to the offensive effectiveness of the opponent and the capability of the unit is magnified to extraordinary levels. By contrast a unit of Eiras or Kluddargos, despite their superior offensive and defensive statistics, would simply melt away even when parked in a narrow street and set to guard mode. Despite the outer flanks of the unit being protected, the cohesion of the unit is minimal and the opponent can simply wander through the formation en-masse and attack the defensively weak angles of the unit in numbers and without fear of reprisal.

Four units of Milnaht arranged in a square near the flag or at key chokepoints in a city can not only prevent breakthroughs and encirclements but slaughter large number of opponents and even entire armies. The astute commander must therefore be aware that the same style of combat on the battlefield, with intelligent tactical employment, can produce similar results. This is why this post is worth writing in my opinion, understanding formation cohesion and the astute usage of guard mode is perhaps the most integral component of gameplay necessary for the development of superior battlefield tactics. Usage of guard mode in conjunction with army layout and organisation is one of the most crucial elements in tactics in R:TW and EB. If you do not understand the merits and potency and potential, you are missing out on a significant aspect of the game.

I am sure we have all played around with Pezhetairoi arranged in squares or pentagons or hexagons etc. and seen the significant combat ability of those units in those formations, but without realising that the weaponry is only the weapon and far from the true strength of the formation. The strength of the formation resides within the cohesion of the unit, it's spacing and training and mass, and so a unit of Milnaht for example is the unarmoured, sword wielding version of the phalanx. That is it's true greatest strength, and when employed with knowledge and understanding of that strength, rather than simply appealing to it's charge bonus and conception of the unit as a maniacal melee unit, it's combat effectiveness is multiplied far beyond it's basic combat statistics.

There are a lot of "tricks" to fighting in guard mode, and several gameplay issues to be aware of that make certain elements of guard mode combat more difficult to control than they should be.

Guard Mode Tricks

Feel free to chip in with your own.

The most significant issue with "guard mode" is that the unit at all times has an "idea" of what is the front and what is not and so when moving and fighting under guard mode it is easy to find the unit engaged from the flank or the rear even when you think you have ordered the unit to attack from the front. The most important thing here is to realise that you are going to experience some casualties while you sort out the mess, but that it can be sorted out with relative ease so long as you do not panic.
  1. Turn on guard mode to see where the unit itself thinks its "front" is.
  2. Realise that units that are moving under guard mode will stop to engage the enemy and stop the whole formation.
  3. Understand that a flank attack is almost always superior in defensive terms than being attacked from the rear.
  4. Understand that in EB soldiers do not die fast.
  5. Understand that if you retreat, the opponent is going to focus on the guys left behind and caught up in melee and not advance like water into the spaces you leave.
  6. Understand that under significant pressure with significant failure of cohesion, attempts at manoeuvres will cause routes.

When caught with your pants down and your behind presented to the opponent, turn on guard mode to see where the "front" is and then look for the shortest manoeuvre to place your flank to the enemy with guard mode off, then front to the enemy and so on. You need to employ a multi turn strategy of redrawing your formation slightly more beneficially and then engaging and then redrawing and then engaging until you manage to get the units "front" facing the enemy. At this point you draw your desired width/depth. It is vital to realise that the weaker your unit is compared to the opponent, the faster you must draw and then engage and the more you must do it to avoid significant casualties. Wait until the "front" is properly engaged with the enemy before turning guard mode on.

Next "trick":
While there is a several second delay between ordering a "stop" and units engaging defensively, the benefits usually outweight the negatives unless the unit is already carrying out complex manoeuvres or has been caught in a compromising situation. If the situation looks unresolvable then engage in offensive melee. If it looks resolvable then do not panic and try to resolve it as above. The benefits are almost always worth it.

Next "trick":
Learn to rush units behind an opponent unit and double click when inches away from the target. Attempting to attack through a friendly unit will simply cause your units to halt and waste energy from the rear. Attempting to run behind the opponent will run your unit through the friendly unit, disrupt their cohesion, and still allow you a charge bonus when you double click to engage. This is the perfect time to tell the already engaged unit to halt and defend with guard mode on. The already engaged unit will cease expending stamina, will fall back when attacked, and the charging unit will push the opponent back. This is the essence of the Hastati-Principe cycle of combat, tell your Principes to run behind the opponent, then charge the opponent when enough Principes pass through the Hastati.

Next "trick":
When surrounding an opponent, always use guard mode and regularly charge. This will not only minimise your casualties but will ensure that as opponent numbers dwindle, entire units of friendly forces will charge en-mass at the opponent to fill up the space left behind. Well timed charge orders for guard mode units will see a cascade of high cohesion units frontally charging the opponent regularly, while presenting minimum opportunity for the opponent to get any kills. This is particularly useful against units like Gaesatae.

Next "trick":
Understand the nature of formation rotation when attacking in guard mode or defending in guard mode. If the opponent attempts to flank your line and you attack them with a unit under guard mode at the last second, that unit will slowly lose men on it outside flank while slowly rotating to face the opponent head on. As soldiers on the flank die, your unit will rotate and apply pressure to the opponents opposite flank. Once the rotation and flank versus flank combat reaches about 30 to 45 degrees, you have the perfect opportunity to charge some lethal shock infantry at the opponents inside flank, at the gap opened up between your pressured unit and the rest of your line. If a route does not happen instantly, you will destroy the now isolated unit eventually and magnify your numerical superiority down one flank which will turn into a carpet route.

There are a lot of "tricks" to fighting in guard mode, and several gameplay issues to be aware of that make certain elements of guard mode combat more difficult to control than they should be.

Likewise with guard mode you can design for numerical inferiority down one flank, and wait for gaps to open up in your own line for the decisive charge of key shock infantry units.

Do not, if you can ever help it, actually place shock infantry units in a position to attack the outside flanks of the opponent. You wish to break the weak points of their attacking line, not expose your own troops to javelins or cavalry or the charge of reserve units.

Next "trick":
It's not really a trick per say, but understanding when and where to turn guard mode "off" for a loss of cohesion but more offensive power is one of the most significant skills you can learn in the game. The well timed release of the fighting prowess of a unit of Milnaht at a key section of the battle line is an awesome weapon. Especially when it is combined to a perfectly judged and timed tactical charge.

Final comments (and some additions)

Some units are all but wasted when kept in guard mode. "Shock" units should rarely be kept in guard mode, because this does more harm than good.

Shipri Tukul are fairly mediocre fighters, effective only in big numbers, but this is not the point. The defensive stance proper of guard mode has no synergy with their equipment, weaponry and formation. High armour, ap secondary weapon (although with crappy 8 attack), relatively loose spacing: lots of hints suggest an aggressive use of this unit.

The second example can get even worse. The Dorkei Hatqapa Iberim is the epitome of the "shock" unit type, with their high armour, impressive stats, loose spacing (note that the Heimstatt unit cards are a bit outdated, since the side spacing in the online multiplayer EDU is actually 1.2 metres) and ap weapons. Keeping this unit, which will likely be on your flanks, in guard mode will prevent the men in the unit from enveloping the enemy and actively pushing the opposing formation. You can see the effects of a bad use of guard mode for the two aforementioned units in this video from minute 18:50 onwards and in this video from minute 9:17 onwards, respectively.

Something that the guide doesn't mention is the need of keeping the flanks safe when using tightly packed guard mode units. Imagine a scenario of two opposite infantry lines in front of each other; it is always worth remembering that, if the deployment conditions are the same for both lines (equal number of units in the line; for each unit, same amount of men; same amount of rows and columns in each unit as well), the faction which has more tightly packed men is more efficient in a defensive stance, because of the higher number of men per square metre, but at the same time runs the risk of being encircled because its soldiers occupy less space. For this reason guard mode needs to be used carefully coupled with loosely spaced infantry blocks on the flanks, to prevent flank attacks that are particularly efficient in breaking guard mode units. The Koinon Hellenon has a nice way to accomplish this: by fielding standard Hoplitai in the centre and protecting their flanks with Syrakosioi Hoplitai, that have a wider spacing, a wise Koinon Hellenon commander can hinder the capability of his opponent to envelop his line. Throwing in the mix also Pezoi Brettioi and Hastati Samnitici as medium and heavy swordsmen happens also to favour the roleplaying of a local Greco-Italic power.

Some final remarks about the "tricks". Most of them have limited use in multiplayer, since they're either heavy on micromanagement or rely excessively on your opponent overlooking that stage of the battle (or both). The last trick, however, is crucial: knowing when to use guard mode to "stall" a specific sector, and when to turn it off when things came under control again and you're ready to push again, is a rare ability that requires a lot of knowledge of the "flow" of the battle. Something worth noticing is that the multiplayer EDU has introduced much higher charge values for some units, so a more active use of the charge is to be taken into consideration.

I hope this guide can be useful to catch the key points of one of the most overlooked aspects of the game. If you have any comments, please feel free to share.


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