Byzantines

byzantines_teaser

Byzantines were my favourite civ, when I knew nothing about the game really and just played for fun. I thought they were the strongest one, because of the full tech-tree. Only technologies I did not understand at the time were missing. I haven’t played much with them since, so it’s a good thing cysion already did a really good overview of them here. I can be brief again.

byzantines_techtree

So, the first thing about byzantines – which is not a bonus – but it can be seen as such, the insanely wide range of unit choice. The only units missing are siege onagers and heavy scorpions (and eagle warrior understandably). That’s insane! Even from the technological standpoint the only relevant techs missing are bloodlines, blast furnace and siege engineers. Masonry and architecture are replaced by the bonus. They are missing parthian tactics, but who would create cavalry archers besides mongols, huns and maybe saracens? Heated shot and treadmill crane can hurt a bit in the late game, but they get rarely researched and are situational. Finally, byzantines don’t miss much with disabled sappers (villagers +15 bonus against buildings) and herbal medicine.

The first and probably the strongest real bonus of byzantines is Buildings have +10% HP in Dark, +20% in Feudal, +30% HP in Castle and +40% HP in Imperial Age. As I mentioned earlier byzantines don’t even get masonry (10% extra HP and +1/+1 armor and +3 building armor) to strengthen their buildings. This bonus more then compensates for the fact. Civilizations having both masonry and architecture (the same upgrade numbers as masonry) will end up with +21% HP +2/+2 armor and +6 building armor in the end for the cost of 375W and 450F. Compare that to the +40% HP in Imperial age buildings from byzantines, which get this for free, I would take the byzantine bonus all day. Too bad the bonus doesn’t add extra armor as well. I guess it would be way too OP otherwise.

The next strong bonus in line are the 25% cheaper counter units. That includes camel line, spearman line and the skirmisher line. This helps byzantines recover or even pull ahead in feudal age versus civilizations with early eco bonuses. Still, using counter units don’t have to be the only strategy with byzantines with their awesome tech tree, but it’s a very good plan B.

Next! Advance to Imperial Age costs -33% Which is awesome if you plan on fast imping. Also helps a bit to hit the imp button just a tad bit faster. Still, for a fully boomed eco the 333 food and 264 gold is an advantage of 30-60 seconds game time faster imperial. That’s not much. Still a nice bonus to have with byzantines relying so much on counter units costing lots of food and wood.

If the water balance in AoE wasn’t broken the 20% faster attack speed for fire ships would be a great bonus to have. On nomad types of map and other mixed maps they can have their uses.

And finally: free townwatch. This is something amazing for a defensive civ as byzantines. The extra range really helps spotting enemy unit movement around your base, and also spotting towers. The only downside, you’ve got nothing to do when you get housed. 11

Uniqueness

cataphract

My second favourite units in the game after chuks are the cataphracts. I just love spamming fully upgraded cataphracts on black forest into enemy camps. There is just no stopping them. Let’s look at the stats compared to a paladin:

Unit HP Build Attack Armor
Knight 100 30 10 2/2
Cataphract 110 23 9 2/1
Paladin 160 30 14 2/3
E. Cataphract 150 23 12 2/1

The cost of the knight line is 60F 75G versus and the cataphracts cost a little more 70F 75G. So they cost more, their stats look weaker compared to the knight line, you need castles to make them, byzantines don’t even get bloodlines to make them stronger… So why would anyone bother with them? The answer is in the bonus attacks and armors. Cataphracts get +9 attack bonus against infantry and +12 cavalry armor. The elite upgrade increases these to +12 attack bonus and +16 cavalry armor. Look at some of the obvious counters:

Unit Bonus against Paladin Bonus against Cataphract Bonus against E.Cataphract
Camel +10 +0 +0
Heavy Camel +18 +6 +2
Spearman +15 +3 +0
Pikeman +22 +10 +6
Halberdier +32 +20 +16

Almost all bonuses get cancelled, and only the halberdiers do okay-ish. Still, against fully upgraded cataphracts with logistica (trample damage 0.5 radius and +6 attack against infantry) halberdiers perish. The +18 attack against infantry is just too much. Heavy camels are basically useless as well. The only way to beat them is either overwhelm them with some trash with a mass of archers behind, or just out-mass them with paladins.

I already mentioned logistica. It adds +6 bonus attack against infantry and trample damage (5 damage) in a 0.5 radius. This bonus gets really effective only after cataphracts are massed and they are in staggered formation. After that halberdiers just melt. Even in smaller numbers 3 fully upgraded elite cataphracts can easily defeat 9 halberdiers. (Note: the trample damage does not only apply to infantry, but all units around)

Economy

Byzantines get no economy bonuses whatsoever, not even a non-direct one, like saracens with the market. On the bright side, they get all possible upgrades for their economy, making them really strong in the late game.

Military

Byzantines get all units in the game except siege onagers and heavy scorpions. This makes them a really versatile civilization. They have an answer for every possible situation and they can play mind-games with their opponents. They lack a few key technologies though, as I mentioned earlier: blast furnace, bloodlines, parthian tactics and also a few non-key technologies: treadmill crane, heated shot. They are the kings of trash and with stronger buildings they can hold out long after gold has run out.

Byzantines are possible the worst in dark age, so let’s just move on. In feudal age their cheap trash helps them hold against any other civ, maybe even push after eliminating most of their opponent’s army. In castle age they still can play defensive. They have a wide variety of units available for them, but their cavalry lacks bloodlines. But here comes the imperial age upgrade! Byzantines can get it  much faster than their opponents, thanks to it being cheaper and cheaper trash. With gunpowder and faster upgrades on their units, they can really push.

In the imperial age itself their unit combinations of cataphracts and trash, gunpowder with trash, archers and trash… anything and trash is just really hard to beat. Until trade does kick in, they are the best and most versatile civ you can imagine. You can do almost anything with them. Once there is enough gold coming in from the trade, they lack that ultimate powerful unit as frankish paladins, massed mangudai or plumed archers, etc. In teamgames they are forced to a supportive role building bombard towers and providing a meat-shield for their opponents.

Conclusion

Byzantines are one of the best civilization after feudal age, but they lack a real punch against their opponents until early imperial age. Until then they can hold on with their cheap trash and strong buildings. They are not an easy civilization to play. There is no straightforward strategy with them and it takes a smart player to get the most of their bonuses.