Setup and Position
The Total War battle engine isnt like a typical real-time strategy game. You dont simply rubber band select all of your units, click on the enemy unit, and watch the fight unfold. How you setup and position your units before and during the battle has a huge effect on the outcome. Proper positioning can help you win battles where youre outnumbered; improper positioning can cause you to lose battles where you outnumber your opponent.
Unit types--and fighting the smart fight--dictate positioning. Dont leave ranged units away from your main army or theyll be charged by a cavalry group. Dont keep your own cavalry back behind your forces while enemy ranged units pelt your infantry without consequence.
A flanking maneuver, where you attack an enemys rear side, is very, very powerful. This cant be stressed enough. Shields protect units from the front leaving the rear far more unprotected. Further, when you attack an enemys rear side, that enemy is usually engaged from the front. This means your flanking attackers can assault unopposed.
Cavalry are optimum flanking units because of their increased speed. Engage enemy spearmen from the front with infantry then assault their flank with cavalry. Send war elephants into the flank of an engaged enemy and watch the troops fly. Attacking units from the side or rear should be high priority during battles.
Keep unit groups spread as battle becomes imminent. Dont clump yourself into a small group. It may work in some real-time strategy games but it will only get your army surrounded in Total War. Spread your forces so you have options on how to better position your units as the enemy approaches but keep them close enough together so you can adjust unit groups over into flanking or counter moves.
Note that you can also spread or tighten individual soldiers by using loose or tight formations. Toggle to loose formation when under archer fire; toggle to tight formation when preparing to engage in melee combat. Utilize terrain in your setup and position as well. Higher ground is notably important for ranged units.
Watch friendly fire! Its possible to slay a lot of your own infantry with your own archers if youre firing arrows into a big skirmish. Check where your archers target and try to avoid too many self-inflicted wounds.
Even though an enemy is in retreat doesnt mean the battle is over. Use cavalry units to chase down fleeing soldiers. Any enemy that escapes the field of battle returns to an army on the campaign map. This army might get retrained or merged with another force and youll have to deal with them again. If youve won the fight and have the enemy in retreat, finish the job. But dont pursue if you need help elsewhere. Use those troops to aid any allies in need before committing to a chase.
Becoming a conqueror will require battles around and within enemy settlements. Though you may be able to "siege" most settlements (starve them until they eventually give up), it will often become advantageous for you to assault the settlement before reinforcements arrive.
In the Imperial Campaign, as you advance tiers and build new ranges, youll gain access to siege weaponry, which can be used to bombard gates, walls, and wall defenses. Early on, however, you can build battering rams to knock down those gates or use spies to infiltrate settlements (spies have a small chance of opening that gate for you).
Its possible to use ranged units to fire over small walls and at the enemies within the settlement. Careful moving ranged units close to wall defenses, however; just as its possible to shoot the enemy, its possible to be shot from here as well. As you advance technologically, fire siege weaponry over settlement walls to bombard tightly packed unit groups. Weaken those defenders before pushing through.
You can break apart the gate and even sections of the wall to provide several entrances into the settlement. Settlement entrances are fierce chokepoints. Using a few entrances can help get squads inside the settlement quickly so you can aid groups at other entrances. Fighting along the streets is similar. The roads are narrow so be careful how you lead the charge. Dont lead with ranged units only to get charged by cavalry. Maneuver other groups along other streets so you can surround enemy forces and use the chokepoints to your advantage.
Formations, Abilities, and Morale
Preset formations position your troops into columns or various lines and can even sort troops by type. You can place your cavalry up front, infantry up front, or ranged units up front. Against an approaching enemy, at least in general, its wise to place shorter-ranged missile units in front (like velites) and longer ranged in the rear (to protect them better).
Infantry make up the bulk of your middle line while cavalry units protect the corners and prepare to capitalize on flanking opportunities. Keep your general behind your forces so hes not rushing into battle first against counter units. Position him near fighting allies to help boost their morale.
Some units feature special abilities that improve their attack or even lower morale against enemy troops. For instance, firing flaming arrows at enemy troops can cause their morale to lower. Some cavalry can use the form wedge ability, which when used can split apart enemy groupings as the cavalry charges through. Certain infantry contain the testudo ability; activate this ability to cause the infantry to use their shields to form a turtle-like shell as protection against projectiles.
Morale has a significant effect on how your troops perform in engaged battles. Fortunately you have the means to affect morale both positively for your forces and negatively against the enemys troops. The close presence of your general has a positive effect on your troops morale while your generals death crushes your troops hopes. Conversely, the presence of the enemy general lowers your troop morale while eliminating or routing the enemy general increases morale.
Other events positively affecting morale include outnumbering your enemy, causing enemy units to rout, using animals, and numerous special abilities (fire arrows, war chants). Other events negatively affecting morale include being outnumbered by enemy troops, having some of your men surrender, and being on the other side of animal units or special abilities.
If morale dips too low, the troops are routed and retreat to save their lives. Generals help rally routed troops by moving close while other routed forces might recover on their own after a hearty retreat. Though its often important to wipe out every unit, including those fleeing the battle, its even more important to concentrate on the enemy units still fighting to their death. Allow routed troops to run off and shift your confident attackers to remaining battles. You can chase down those troops after aiding your fellow troops in their engagement.