The Cheap Strategy: ALL YOUR ISLANDS ARE BELONG TO ME
Before you read the "proper" guide, there is in fact a very easy way to defeat Hard AI's (you can have 3 Hard AI's in the game and easily beat them or keep them under submission indefinitely - without breaking a sweat). This strategy exploits the AI's programmed behavior - which disallows them from settling an island that's already inhabited. If you wish to beat them the "proper" way, please feel free to skip this section. (*this strategy does not work in the Venice addon as the AI will still built a warehouse on your Island even if you have taken all islands).
- At the very beginning of the game, quickly locate & colonize an Occidental island (with fertility for Cider and Hemp) to your liking - preferably one that's sizable and have many fertilities & raw materials. Do not waste time here - grab one as fast as you can.
- Leave only 10 tons of wood and tools on the island you just colonized - load the rest of them back onto your Flagship. It is time to settle more islands! You now have two options:
- Sail the Flagship around Occidental waters first, and colonize all the nice "starter" islands (Cider & Hemp fertilities) - meaning ones that are large and have many raw material nodes. Since the AI's are set to "explore" the map for a suitable island (even if the map is set to "Revealed"), you can easily beat them to settling all the prime estates, leaving them with only small, remote, pitiful starting locations. This is useful if you plan to have multiple large Occidental settlements in late game.
- If you don't care about "locking down" all the prime Occidental locations, you can go ahead and sail the Flagship southward and colonize all the Oriental starter islands (Dates fertility). This will effective lock the AI's at the second Civilization Level (Citizen), since they won't be able to establish an Oriental settlement, and therefore produce Spice for their population. I personally prefer locking down the prime Occidental locations first before locking down the Orient, though - there is more than enough time if you do everything right.
- While your Flagship is sailing around, build two to three Lumberjacks and start plopping down some Peasant houses. Also set your Warehouse to buy tools. With the majority of your starting resources on your Flagship, your settlement won't be able to proceed very quickly - but with the AI's under control, you have all the time in the world; there's simply no need to rush in building up your settlement with this strategy.
- If your Flagship runs out of Wood before "locking down" all the islands you need to settle, buy some from Richard's warehouse. Again, there's ample time here as the AI's will take quite a while to build up to the second civilization level and seek an Oriental settlement. Additionally, if you locked down a bunch of Occidental starter islands like I recommended, the AI's will waste even more time sailing around to locate those few islands you left for them settle - thus giving you even more time for your sinister masterplan!
- Start saving up Honour as quickly as possible (it will help if you gave yourself 300 starting honour in the game settings - your game will easily qualify as "Hard" if you have more than two Hard AI's regardless). The goal is to save 400 Honour so you can purchase an Occiedental warship from Al Zahir - this will help you ward off any Corsair ships or belligerant AI's. If you do decide to wage war against the AI's early on, you can of course build a shipyard and start pumping out warships yourself. I typically prefer to maintain peace until late game, though.
- Maintaining peace with all the AI players is fairly easy - Ingratiate often, and set up a small tradeship to visit all the AI players' warehouses and trade with them constantly. You will be able to build up the entire map at your leisure without having to worry about anyone bothering you (and the AI's will remain extremely weak, locked at Citizen level with may be 2 warships at most). And the beautiful thing is you will still be able to do quests for these AI players (for achievements) without having to worry about them being a threat to your absolute power!
- If and when you wish to wipe an AI off of the face of the map... well, 2 small warships simply won't be able to stop you.
Side tip: If you wish to defeat the Corsairs completely without losing any ships of your own, there's an easy strategy as well. Once the massive Corsair fleet spawns, settle a nearby island and cover the side nearest to the Corsair fleet with Watchtowers. Now equip an Oriental warship with speed-enhancement items, and use it to bait the Corsair fleet to the island (the Oriental warship is extremely fast and won't have trouble escaping). Every time they wander near, they will take a pounding from the towers. Rinse and repeat until they are all sunk!
Side Tip #2: The strategy described here also works in Anno 2070.
The Fair Strategy: Introduction
Anno 1404 puts the player at a great disadvantage in the beginning of the game regarding military actions versus the AI. In fact, you cannot even build military units until 510 patricians live in your city, at which point you get access to the Keep building. Therefore, the number one goal when playing against hard AI is to avoid war until you've at least built a "Small Town" that is running a decent surplus of gold. This guide will aim to show you how to maintain peace, build a proper military force, and destroy hard AI players when the time is right.
- Keeping up with the AIs: One crucial factor in maintaining peace is to not fall behind in your city growth compared to the AIs. You will lose reputation very quickly if the AI feel they are outpacing you and therefore, more powerful. So with hard AI, advancing your main settlement to new civilization classes quickly is essential. Do not delay getting the first citizens and patricians to move in because the AI achieve this status in remarkable time. See Imperator Scenario: Early Game Tips for a guide to efficiently build your starting settlement.
- Settling the orient: It's imperative you settle your oriental settlement as soon as possible. This means you should purchase your first diplomatic letter from Northburgh immediately once you have 50 honor accumulated. Sail to Al Zahir, deliver the letter, and take his new oriental trading ship he gives you and go settle a large oriental island with dates and spices fertilities at least. Hopefully you already explored much of the map with your flagship after you founded your original settlement. Get an oriental city going and start producing spice as soon as you can so you can ship it home to meet your citizens' needs so they can quickly advance to patricians.
- Maintaining Reputation: As stated in the introduction, maintaining peace is absolutely essential to surviving with hard AI in the beginning and mid-game. You will lose if they attack you in the first 10 to 15 minutes because you simply do not have the resources to defend yourself. To do so, you must constantly boost your reputation with the AI players. Your reputation can be checked on the diplomacy screen. The following are all the ways to boost your reputation early on:
- Ingratiate: This option has a fairly low rate of success with Hard AI's, but if you don't mind being cheap, you can save & reload before each at temp until you succeed. Otherwise, this is a risky option, as failing an attempt will actually lower your reputation. It is recommended you spend some Honor to gain Northburg's Attainment that boosts the gain from Ingratiate and the risk. This is a free source of Reputation.
- Trade: Have a small tradeship set up on a route to sale excess goods to all your competitors. Frequent trades with the AI players will garner reputation gains from them. Note this does require a Trade Agreement which can be costly.
- Paying tributes: Paying tributes will gain you reputation points, and this has a much higher chance of success than Ingratiate. Some AI's will also occassionally demand tributes from you - this seems to occur ONLY if your reputation level with them is about to drop one tier below (for example, if you are borderline Peace/Trade Treaty, or borderline Trade/Alliance Treaty - in which case they will demand that you pay them to maintain the treaty, or you suffer a large reputation loss and lose the current treaty agreement). The key to avoiding AI's demanding tributes from you is to keep the reputation level as high as possible! Frequent Ingratiate and trades should ensure this easily.
- Completing quests: Completing quests for neutral powers, Northburgh, and Al Zahir more often than not increases your reputation with the hard AI. Although, doing quests for Al Zahir will mildly anger Cardinal Lucius. Still, it's always advisable to complete all early game quests, not only for the possible reputation boosts but for the rewards. Earning lots of money is critical on hard because you will be paying tribute constantly, which is very expensive.
- Holding tournaments: Once you reach 355 citizens, which you should reach quite quickly if you hope to win, immediately build a Tournament arena and hold the first level tournament. Tournaments will very often boost your reputation with several of the hard AI players. This is very critical to building up enough reputation to enter into trade treaties. You can build/hold tournaments on every Island. As soon as you have 1 noblemen, set your warehouse to buy at least 10t provisions (and 30t weapons). This will cost you but you can hold the largest tournament every 45 minutes, gaining reputation and honour without having any weapons and provisions production chain.
- Expansion: Aggressive expansion angers the AI. Unlike most 4X games, trying to take many islands is costly both economically and politically. You only need at most 3-4 islands pre-Noblemen: One with Spice, Dates, and Indigo, and one with Wheat and Herbs.
The Fair Strategy: Some additional tips
- Have Cider and Hemp on your first island, there's no time nor Tools to go look for an auxiliary Occidental island early on.
- If you see a good island, do not hesitate, take it right away. If you later find out the hard AI has got a better one, you can restart the map and then rush there. A good island is not just big. It needs cider, hemps, at least 1 stone, at least 1 ore but also the location is very important. If you have a good but not best island in the middle of the map, then take it. Your trade routes will be shorter, which means better to protect and faster delivery of goods. Protecting your trade ships can then be done by using towers and your flagship in stead of more expensive war ships.
- Block ascension rights right away and upgrade only as many houses as you need to get to higher levels. Do not waste a single tool or piece of wood.
- Or build 4-5 woodcutters, little city, advance to citizen (around 5min), build a tool chain. With this strategy, AI will like you because you are more advanced and you wont need to buy those expensive tools. Now you really have to extend your wood production.
- Rush into citizens level not caring much about building layouts and how many houses you have, just pop them left and right until you get enough population, you will have plenty of time to correct the layout later.
- Rush into stable Tools and Stone production very fast. Buy Tools through your warehouse as soon as possible. If it's 10 minutes into the game and you can't produce Tools yet, you've lost and might as well restart.
- Have at least 5 Woodcutters.
- Honor and Vizier. The first recommendation letter from Lord Northburgh to the Vizier will earn you a ship full of Tools and Wood.
- To keep a steady income when you almost run out of cash. Build lots of peasant housing (using no tools and only wood). You will only need 1 extra fishing hut every 25 pesant house to keep them at even-tempered. But this will boost your net income, when you have just build a expensive production chain
- The first priority for the patrician level is to provide the patricians with Beer and Bread, leave Jerkins for a few minutes later.
- Build two carpet productions chains and sell them at your warehouse (passive trading) as soon as you have the money and material. This will help boost you income at a relative early stage in the game.
- Complete all quests and get as much honor as possible.
- Use the honor to upgrade your flattery diplomatic option, and use it as often as it maxes out.
- Use your honor to upgrade Lord Northburgh's and the Vizier's auxiliary fleet, so then when war does come, you have some instantly-buyable ships.
- Save often, and be prepared to load an earlier game if the AI suddenly decides to land an army on your island. Rule one in war, take initiative. Be prepared to build a castle and at least two armys. In case of war, send them to HIS island and when he is to strong than protect your armys with your ships. If you dont have ships than you lost the sea. In this case you can only pray.. or load a previously game.
- In most games (not just against the difficult computer opponents) you don't do your economy any good by building shipyards, weapon smiths, rope yards, etc any earlier then you absolutely have to. All of them come with pretty steep upkeep costs, so the longer you can put them off the more cash you'll have for other things. Until you're up to the noble level never keep multiple warships sitting around "just in case", and even then you don't want to keep all that many (I usually have no more then 5). You have to use your honor very carefully instead, and always try to make sure you have enough to call for at least one auxiliary fleet (two is better).
To use a real world analogy, back in the middle ages very few kingdoms had much in the way of a standing army or navy because they cost too much in comparison to the overall economy. The solution was to have a very small core body of troops during peace time, but to expand the army as fast as possible once war broke out. As soon as the war was over, the army shrunk again. Same thing goes for this game, because nothing will sink your economy faster then a high military upkeep. The biggest difference is that you shouldn't keep ANY troops on land during peacetime - your (small) navy should be your entire defense, possibly backed up by some walls/towers on your home islands.
Defeating the AI
Once you've reached Noblemen, and ideally Cannons, have a steady income stream and a good supply of Weapons, Ropes, and crafting materials, you can start to consider war with the AI. It'll often be clear which AI you have the hardest time maintaining your reputation with, and that is the one to focus on. While the AI is extremely poor at ship combat, taking their main island can be an expensive exercise in frustration. Wars are extremely attritive, lengthy, and costly in Anno 1404 regardless of your strategy of choice. There are three possible strategies for defeating a developed AI, but the focus should be on their main settlement to deny them ships and keep them isolated.
An AI can be defeated with nothing but a navy. Find their main settlement and destroy every coastal property, but primarily Warehouses, Shipyards, and most critically Fish Huts. The AI will try to rebuild these coastal areas so ships must be stationed using their Area of Influence to block building. Eventually this will starve the settlement, which will cause rebellion cause mass fires, desertion, and reducing the town to nothing but decaying peasant domiciles. Eventually the AI will be bankrupt and defeated. Note this is probably the longest of the three options but has the lowest maintenance cost. It may require a blockade of both the Oriental and Occidental Settlement. Captains that self repair are key to this strategy to prevent attritive losses from the prolonged siege. Pass them back and forth between damaged ships.
Similar to the above strategy but using a land invasion to swiftly destroy the AI. This is quicker but more expensive and may require Oriental Technology.The two best troops for destroying is the Trebuchet and the Cannon Position, with the Cannon being superior. You will be facing Towers more than any other defense, and the AI will rebuild them right in front of you. Cannon Positions out range towers and are better suited that Trebuchets, which do excellent but will suffer attritive damage. The AI will aggressively rebuild the town as it is being destroyed, so it is important to destroy Market buildings. Do not try to capture them. It takes 60 minutes to do so and will cost you a huge amount of money in maintenance. Note only Trebuchets and Cannons can target and destroy Markets, but they do so much quicker than encampments are able to capture. Gradually push your Cannons up to conquer the island. You may even need to build your own Small Market Buildings to exert their own influence and prevent the AI from rebuilding.
If you have Venice, buying an island is also possible if you have ~ 500,000 gold required to do so. This is not risk free as this will cause Reputation loss and threat of war, so must be backed up by Warships. It requires 3 Council seats plus the Key. The AI responds very poorly to these threats, often not even attempting to counter your aggressive takeover. Once you've bought the main town, maximize taxes to cause the town to depopulate and bulldoze it. A standard war can then be waged against their smaller islands easily.
Corsairs are at best a nuisance but can be extremely damaging when your ships are elsewhere. You will regularly get extortion requests from Hasan. Your Flagship is capable of fending off these assaults from a single Corsair. If you can find a captain that automatically repair your ship this will be much more cost effective than a Repair Crane. However once you are engaged in a war (hopefully of your own choosing) it is well worth the price to buy him off to keep your trade lanes free of harassment and avoid a 2-pronged war.