How to flay an Austrian dog: 1, Make a careful incision along the belly

How to flay an Austrian dog: 1, Make a careful incision along the belly

From reading forums I have got the impression that I am not the only one who found defeating Austria difficult, and now that my war machine has got to the point where beating Germans is not so tough, I thought I would explain the tactics I used. For the Ottomans, defeating a European power (and the leader of the Holy Roman Empire) is not easy, despite our large manpower – they are far more technologically superior, they have allegiances, and they have a lot more men than one expects. So here is how I did it, and a little bit about why.

Why take Austria?

Well, because it was there …

There are easier European powers to defeat than Austria (Naples, for example, or Lithuania) and I could have spent my time laying waste to my Muslim rivals, but there are several reasons why I wanted to get started on Austria.

  1. History: I suspect that this game follows history, and historically from the beginning of the 17th century the Austrians began to work on uniting Hungary with Austria, which means taking it back from me. I wanted to get them first
  2. Tech lag: the longer you wait, the more Austria’s technology advances, and unless you’re lucky enough to Westernize earlier, they will get further ahead (especially in infantry). They also begin to grow in size as they absorb smaller kingdoms, and it’s not a good plan to lose the one advantage you have (numbers). Also, the more provinces you have the slower your research gets, so if you try to grow into muslim lands you will be able to keep up the manpower effects but you will gain a lot of low value provinces that drag back your research progress but don’t provide enough money to compensate for that effect; so growing into Austria is a good way to avoid this. Also, Austria holds a Weapons Manufactory, and taking that Manufactory gives me an army research bonus
  3. Completing the University Blitz: Austria held Parma in Italy (the Northwest tip of my possessions in the above map), and was allied with other university cities, so targeting one of those allies would be a key part of the war and means that if I was forced to a white peace I would still increase my university possessions
  4. Killing people and taking their stuff: Austria has 3 or 4 provinces with gold, which is a really big income boost. Taking them early (and also one trade centre) will really boost my attempts to catch up with Castille and France.

Austria also held claims on a bunch of my cores, and in the period just before this war started I was spending a lot of money sending gifts to them just to stop them declaring war on me. If it’s going to happen …

The basic strategy

Capturing Austria will take several wars, because even after total defeat the game won’t let you annex a multi-province nation and with a maximum warscore of 100% you can only grab a few provinces each time. So my basic plan was to lure Austria into a war with an attack on an Italian ally, and take the central provinces (splitting the nation in two) and the Italian universities on the first battle. I would then use an attack on another weak member of the Holy Roman Empire later to get a second war going, and use it to take the gold-holding provinces; then I would finish the last parts in subsequent, easier wars. It actually only took me three wars, but this was because the Netherlands stole some of Austria’s Baltic provinces at the same time. Luring Austria into battle is essential because it is always allied with another big power, and I can’t fight two big European powers at once; but because it is the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, Austria is obliged to come to the aid of even the smallest, shittiest Imperial member, so is very easy to lure into war even when it is not ready.

I also could not beat Austrian armies in a straight fight, but needed to be numerically superior to them by a factor of 4 – and then to have reserves since I would lose something like 25% of my men in the first engagement. So I built up my armies over a long time, to ensure I had manpower sufficient to reinforce an army of 180 divisions over a two year war. Also, after my previous University Blitz I had rapidly improving government research, and I used my new national ideas to ensure I had a big army as capable of taking on the Austrians as possible: I took Grand Army and Military Drill.

In order to defeat Austria in a war I used a strategy of separating the armies, to ensure that I didn’t have to fight two of their biggest forces at once. This meant using Italy as a lure, and getting them to send one whole army over there and capture my provinces, while I destroyed the other one on a war in my own provinces. I could then rebuild my existing armies quickly with reinforcements, and go smash the second army while secondary units of mine would take on any newly-formed units. But this meant I had battles of about 75,000 men vs. about 20,000, and was still losing 30% of them.

War 1: The Italian Trap

The first war started with an attack on a minor Italian state – Modena, I think. Modena is part of the Holy Roman Empire and is not allied with Naples, so made a perfect target. Soon after the war started Austria moved a large number of troops into Northern Italy, where I had a large army laying siege to Modena, but I removed my forces by sea before they could get bogged down in battle. The Austrian army then charged around Northern Italy razing my cities (another point worth noting is that the Austrians reduce cities very quickly, so don’t count on getting even a month to recover in a fast war with these people – they will have opened your city up and moved on before you have time to reinforce – which also means you need to build troop units far behind the lines to avoid losing them to rapidly moving siege units). However, in the time they were charging around “liberating” my Northern Italian possessions, their second army moved into Pressburg and then Pecs, central provinces in Hungary. This army was about 30,000 strong. They had other forces of 1-2 divisions (1000-2000 men) fanning out through other provinces, but these did not concern me. In total I would say they had 50-70,000 men, to my 140-180,000. But a lot of my men had to be fanned out to guard my eastern approaches and prepare for the inevitable uprisings, or were in reserve to be rushed in as reinforcements after the first destruction. For example, I had 8000 men in Nis to handle uprisings in Macedonia, and another 10,000 or so in Athens (also covering against seaborne assault). I also had a line of single divisions on the frontier. But in Pecs and all its adjoining rearmost regions I had armies of 10-25,000 men. When the Austrians attacked I used the scorched earth strategy – which is why I had single divisions on the frontier – and withdrew my men, though most got caught in the Austrian advance and ground into the mud. The main Austrian army then laid siege to Pressburg, but the scorched earth meant they lost perhaps 4000 men waiting for the city to fall. They then moved on to Pecs after about a month, with Pressburg safely in their possession (bastards). I was waiting though, with a base army of about 20,000 in Pecs and armies moving in from every adjoining province[1]. When the Austrians arrived in Pecs they found themselves caught by an army of 70-80,000 men, and their own demoralized by marching over scorched earth for weeks, and now numbering only perhaps 22-25,000. The result was a victory for me, though a fairly costly one – I think I lost between 30-40% of my men, while they only lost 20% of theirs. Fortunately for me though this ill-fated army retreated into one of my provinces, so I could pause to give chase to ensure my men arrived after the end of the month (with morale and numbers restored) and I think also some Serbians got in on the action. This second battle was pivotal, with my forces dropping only perhaps another 25% while the enemy was routed and lost half its numbers. They then had to retreat back through three provinces, being chased all the way, and when they returned to Austrian territory they numbered perhaps only 4000 men. I was then able to send my surviving army to mop up the small Austrian armies (of 1000-2000 men) laying siege to my northern cities, and rush in the reinforcements I had held in reserve earlier.

By now my men from Northern Italy had arrived and, confident that I had no need to defend Dalmatia I could move a reserve from there into Austria proper, so another force of perhaps 50,000 assembled and began marching across the border. To my surprise, the remaining major Austrian army had stayed fast in Parma after reducing my northern Italian cities, I think because in a sea battle I had accidentally sunk all the Austrian transports[2] and the soldiers did not walk across all of Italy and Austria to join the campaign. I tried drawing them out by destroying their cities in southern Austria but they weren’t tempted, and now my window of opportunity was closing – if I didn’t deal with them quickly a new army would form in Austria while I wasted time in sieges (maybe this is what the Parmiano army was waiting for?) and then I’d be toast, since I didn’t have enough manpower (or money) to build up another army of 70,000 men within a year, having spent most of my available manpower reinforcing the huge losses from the first battle. Did someone say “Human Wave Attacks”? That’s my army’s killer app…

So, we marched into Parma, and left behind a veritable horde of small units, 1000 men per province, sieging every city we could get our hands on – the sooner we bring down their cities the sooner we forestall the development of a major army. This behind-the-lines siege strategy is essential bookkeeping because once the first army was liquidated and its survivors marched to the cliffs of Herzegovina to meet their fate, Austria would have to raise soldiers simultaneously across many provinces. This means stationing a single troop unit in each province enables these new units to be killed all at once as they emerge from their little Austrian cocoons, before they are properly able to fight, and 20,000 manpower get washed away in a storm of blood before they can harm anyone.

The battle in Parma went quite quickly, possibly because the Austrians had forgotten to take over Firenze before they retreated to their Parma castle, and so my armies could reinforce after each battle. I think it took four or five battles before we finally drove them into the Papal State; but before they returned to attack me, my siege units completed the siege of Parma and my conquest of Austria was complete. Result! I demanded Karten (Weapons Manufactory), Streirmark, and Parma (university), as well as the liberation of Riga. That brings my warscore up to 99, and that’s all I get for a year of war – after which I have to settle down to several years of putting down insurrections and rebuilding my manpower. Oh Austria, were you worth it?

How to skin an Austrian dog: 2, carefully peel back the flesh from the left flank

How to skin an Austrian dog: 2, carefully peel back the flesh from the left flank

War 2: The Croatian Trap

I used a similar combination of diversion and scorched earth on my second war, and again started it by attacking a small Italian state. This time I chose the rump of Naples (see the map above), because it gets me the high value provinces south of my university cities, and by now Naples was becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage, protecting me from retaliation from France or Poland. Although this happened only a few years later, I noticed my Land technology had increased in this time – this is because of the effect of having France as a neighbour, plus the Kranten Weapons Manufactory (see below for more about this). I also had access to Austrian infantry units, recruited in Streiermark and Kranten, which are vastly superior to even my Condotta infantry. This eased up the challenges in battle a little, but I still had tough fights ahead of me and this time the Austrians were much less surprised – by the time I had quelled dissent and rebuilt my armies they had a force of some 35,000 men in the northern section of their divided kingdom, and 20,000 in the south. That’s not pretty. However for this battle I had an advantage – a brief alliance with Persia, which meant that halfway through the battle a whole horde of Persian soldiers came stomping in to take over siege duties. These guys died in their multitudes if they so much as caught sight of an Austrian soldier, but they were good for capturing territory.

This time I set a trap for the southern Austrian army, with the full intention of destroying it as quickly as possible. In the map above, the large grey province sticking into my glorious Empire is Croatia, and the green province beneath it Dalmatia. The salmon-coloured nations are Bosnia, my vassal, and to their east Serbia. I positioned a large army in Dalmatia, and another in Bosnia, then more in the provinces north, south and east of it. I then scorched the earth in Bosnia, and waited. Austria lays claim to Bosnia as a core, so leapt straight into my trap, sending its 20,000-strong army to get it back. Once they moved into Bosnia I used the same tactic as before, pouring soldiers in from all sides, but now I also sent my men into Croatia to seal the trap. The Austrian army was beaten more effectively this time, and simultaneously suffering attrition from the scorched earth. When it retreated, it fell into the ambush I had set, and was completely annihilated in the valleys of western Croatia. I immediately withdrew my men into my own territory to get resupply, and lined up the same wall of troops around Pecs in central Hungary, to face off against the Northern army. This time my troops had not been so badly mauled, and I rushed up reinforcements, but I still only outnumbered my enemy perhaps 2.5:1. Luckily those new Austrian troops, plus a slightly better land morale, made the difference, and I won at Pecs – though I think I lost 60% of my men trying. I couldn’t press my advantage but had to rush in more troops from far afield – again, the Italian troops who were on anti-partisan duty in the north of Italy had to be shipped in. This is a dangerous tactic, since even if Naples capture all of Italy they cannot force me to surrender, but if Italian partisans hold a portion of a historical state for long enough they can declare independence. I also, of course, left my northern borders undefended against Naples, but Napolitan forces were much reduced and I could be confident that they would not be a threat. With this new force brought in, and also moving up my southern Greek anti-partisan forces, I was able to quickly return to the offensive, and spent a few months chasing that army around western Hungary until, finally, I cleaned it up.

This time I took the remaining states bordering France, and – most importantly – Tirol, which has a large gold supply. I also forced further concessions from Naples. Now Austria was reduced very much in size, and had lost all its manufactories and universities, as well as its trade centre and gold resources (all located in Tirol).

How to skin an Austrian dog: 3, gently draw out the flesh intact, and throw the remains over your right shoulder

How to skin an Austrian dog: 3, gently draw out the flesh intact, and throw the remains over your right shoulder

War 3: The Cake-walk

After the second war there followed another couple of years of pushing down revolts and rebuilding armies, but then I noticed that Austria had somehow become embroiled in a war with several neighbouring states and the Netherlands. Not wanting to lose the best chances, I declared another war – this time on Ferrara, which had foolishly reneged on its alliance with France and stood unprotected right there by my other northern Italian states – and led a rapid invasion party. This time Austria capitulated quickly, and gave up all its provinces except the capital, Wien. Wien itself capitulated after a further short war, and I was gracious enough to annex them into my empire. Austria thus no longer existed, and it only took 40 years including all the preparation and recuperation. I also seized all of Northern Italy, a province next to Lithuania, and a couple of small German states (like Salzburg) that had to suffer necessary collateral damage as part of my war. At the end of this war, as the map shows, I have captured all of Austria, Salzberg, a province south of Riga, most of Bohemia, Thuringen, and have nearly stomped Hesse. I also now have all the northern Italian university cities except Liguria and Venezia, most of southern Italy, and have lost nothing. The only problem is a single province that the Dutch took from Austria as a peace settlement before I could win the war. Notice the large number of small city-states and one province principalities that got absorbed into my empire during this titanic war – I’m sure they’ll thank me 100 years from now …

A few lessons about fighting technologically superior forces

Fighting significantly stronger forces can be devastating, even if they are numerically much weaker than your own – just as I experienced when I slapped the Golden Horde all the way back into Asia. It’s particularly tough if your war lasts more than a few months, since you will inevitably draw down on the forces that are responsible for maintaining civil order. So here are some tips:

  • Lure them into war by attacking weak allies, so they are isolated from alliances
  • Don’t underestimate even small allies – a two province German state fielding an army of 10,000 highly trained infantry will be enough to turn the battle in their favour
  • Get yourself an ally, even a terrible one. They can do siege work while you do the hard work of smashing the enemy, and although siege work is often seen as something to do after you destroy enemy armies, it is crucial for keeping a lid on reinforcements if you are fighting a war of attrition. If your enemy has money and manpower and you leave his provinces unguarded, expect him to raise another 15,000 man army in a couple of months – just after you lost 30,000 or 40,000 men
  • Fight him on your land, not his, so you get resupply bonuses and he doesn’t. If you can use the lure tactic (I am terrible at this) then use it to draw your enemy far away from resupply
  • Pay attention to tiny things: the date you arrive in a province makes a huge difference to resupply and morale (always arrive after the last day of the month); attrition rates in a large army can be equivalent to losing a whole division; when your army tradition is up, hire better generals and take the time to load them onto your biggest armies.
  • Be very careful to ensure all your armies converge at once – even a day of difference can be a disaster. These Austrian juggernauts tear through small armies like a threshing machine, and if your grand army of 80,000 arrives 20,000 apiece staggered a few days apart, you’ll lose the battle and 60,000 men
  • Hire advisors who can keep revolt risk down, if you can, because you don’t want to lose a core province permanently to some nationalist bigots while you were chasing the bigger prize
  • Once you own a province from your powerful western enemy, rapidly generate their best troops from that province – they will be far better than yours and can form a bulwark in the next battles, and you will lose access to these units after 50 years, so you want to generate them during the period that the provinces are not core, and spread them through all your armies
  • Save before peace agreements and check which land you want very carefully – take the provinces of highest value to your enemy first. You may not be able to find out the best approach (e.g. where universities and manufactories are) without signing a peace treaty and checking, so be willing to reload and try again
  • Keep an eye on Great Britain and Castille – as your reputation tanks from multiple small wars you may need to spend a lot of money keeping them on good terms with you
  • Keep an eye on your manpower – if it begins to get really low you will need to bring reinforcements from anti-partisan duty, or else you won’t be able to field sufficiently sized armies
  • Preparation! Go to war with a full manpower complement and your army already built (it may take two years to get to this point) so that you can guarantee resupply and the ability to build another 30,000 man army within two months – your casualties are going to be horrific
  • Remember you’re fighting a war of attrition and your soldiers are just peasants. Be ready to throw them away – digital men love to die for a cause
  • Save often, because even the smallest mistake is going to lose you 70,000 men in a month
  • Avoid war taxes and try to fight on savings. War exhaustion really soars up when you are fighting a war of attrition, and you don’t want to load taxes on top of that
  • Design your strategy so that you capture a province neighbouring France early – the neighbour bonuses from France are staggering

Now that I’m used to this strategy I’m much more confident about taking on technologically superior opponents. I have the men, they have the guns, but I can do it if I’m careful and methodical in my planning.

A brief note on neighbour bonuses

I was really shocked to notice after I captured some provinces bordering France that the neighbour bonuses on research had shot up to 30 or 40%. Now I have 6 universities and neighbour bonus from France for a total government research bonus of 60%, equivalent to an increase of 60 ducats a month in research – I get research outcomes in all my research fields of up to 40%, equivalent to 200 ducats a month in income just from neighbouring France. This has been particularly effective in my Naval research, which had been lagging. So get this early in your strategy.

If you’re playing the Ottoman empire this can be done early by grabbing Liguria (of the Kingdom of Genoa) before France gets it. This option arrives early when you get the mission to take the Crimea, which Genoa holds – with a good navy you can grab Liguria after two wars, and they aren’t actually militarily so tough, nor do they have good allies. I didn’t do this but as I understand it they have a university and maybe a manufactory. They become a neighbour of France 100 years before you can complete the capture of North Italy, and they also have a centre of trade (5 ducats of income a month from harbour fees).

I’m also wondering if this tactic could be an effective way of making yourself a huge power in Asia. Take a small Asian country and send a force early on to take a piece of land adjacent to e.g. the Ottomans. Then use this neighbour bonus to get a huge research bonus over all your Asian neighbours. Then use this land as a stepping stone to grab a single state adjoining France (anyone would do, North Italian is best) and your neighbour bonus will be huge. Then you can dominate Asia. I would say that for the Ottomans or any Islamic state, having a province adjoining one of the major western Europeans is worth expending a lot of blood and treasure on. In fact now in my game Syria adjoins the British province of Alexandria, and is developing its land and naval forces faster than e.g. Persia or the Golden Horde (who adjoin Muscowy). These neighbour bonuses now have me stellar distances ahead of my Islamic brother states – I think the Golden Horde are still stuck on Land 16 or 17, while I’m on 23. France is on 27, so I’m catching up.

I think these tactics are key to catching up and competing with the western “lucky” countries. When I started playing the Ottomans I didn’t know about the crushing disadvantage of being Islamic (slower research, inferior units) but if you use the neighbour bonuses and careful strategy, these disadvantages can be turned into challenges rather than game breakers. Dragging myself up through Austria to threaten the entire Prussian north has been a really enjoyable part of the game, and it certainly has been a challenge! But now I’m beginning to feel I’ve turned a corner, and my empire is nearly ready to take on the majors …

fn1: You can’t have more than a certain number of units in any one province without suffering serious attrition, and I couldn’t spare any incidental loss of men, so I had to fan my men out until the key moment.

fn2: 41 of my ships to 18 of theirs, and I sunk 6 of theirs and barely won… another example of the devastating effect of huge tech differences. Never split your fleet if you are in a war against a western power.

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