Mao: Diplomacy, Trade and Trade Routes

Disclaimer: I haven’t tried playing Emperor-above or Multiplayer games. The goal of this guide is to show you how to play using his traits. Also, this is my first post here so comments and suggestions are welcome!


I used to always play Qin for the choko-nu rush in my past games. I noticed that the other Chinese leader, Mao, is not well received in this strategy. His traits expansive and protective do not help at all. So I tried to experiment using him in another way and here is what I found:

Playing as Mao, the common problem that people face is that both traits do not give off any significant advantages. Faster granaries are good but not enough to help you win the game. However, I noticed that he has a "minor" synergy in two buildings: Harbor and Castles. Castles are scorned for its high-hammer cost, weak returns (+1 culture, +1 trade route, +25% espionage) but with harbor, castles started to look promising.

I decided to leverage this synergy by picking up an archipelago > snaky continents map. I think this type of map gives you a lot of opportunities to build many coastal cities while at the same time ensures that much of the cities will be in the same "big" island. This allows you to cut off unnecessary city maintenance in the early phases of the game.


Initial Setup and City Placement 

After founding your first city, the ideal situation is to have a lot of fish, clams, crab resources. A corn/wheat/rice resource may help since Mao start with agriculture but the former gives some gold which can boost your research a little.

Choose the tech path to fishing > sailing. We will want to construct The Great Lighthouse as soon as possible so as to enhance increase our trade route. It’s a shame that Mao does not start with fishing but agriculture. Anyway, in the production, start a worker. Once the fishing has been researched, switch the production to fishing while putting the worker in the queue. It’s a gamble not to have warriors first but because we want to REx and improve the tiles as soon as possible so as to start the lighthouse. Try using your warrior to fog bust outside the capital.

Build a lighthouse once sailing is done. In the meantime go to bronze working > masonry. Build a settler after the lighthouse, by now you should have at least 2-3 improved food resources so as to quicken the production of settler. Found a second city, building warriors to defend your cities. Use the 1st warrior to scout. In the meantime, you should start building the Great Lighthouse. If you haven’t noticed, there are no resources that can quicken this wonder. This gives everyone an equal chance to build it (industrious does has a 25% bonus) but only Augustus Caesar and Roosevelt are industrious leaders with fishing as starting tech. Hopefully without them around and starting straight to sailing, we can get the wonder. Chop or whip if necessary. I always chop the forest in luxury resources like Dyes, Incense and Silk since you need to chop then later on for plantations.

Meet as many AI opponents as soon as possible. This provides more trading partners, minor boost to research and trade routes for your cities later on. The better if the AI opponents are in another island only separated by coasts. This gives even more luxurious trade routes. You are lucky if you meet peaceful leaders like Gandhi or Sitting Bull. On the other hand it sucks if Tokugawa is in the game as he will not open borders with you and likely to attack you if you are weak. Lastly, be sure to research pottery > writing and open borders with the AI. Most probably the AI will have it earlier writing tech than you since you detoured to sailing in turn 1.

As for the second city, you should choose a coastal city with lots of hills and at least one food production. After building the warriors, try to use the second city to build workers then settlers for your expansion while the capital is building the Great Lighthouse. Mao is expansive so you should have the worker ready in no time. Hook up any strategic resources (marble/stone/copper) you might delay iron working as we might not want to go to war early. The third and fourth city should be coastal and have good food tiles or maybe flood plains and little forest. This can serve as a science city later on. Or you can choose fatcross with lots of resources for you trade later on. The idea is to have cities that grow fast and a lot of resources for trading. You should also consider your distance with the AI. If you have aggressive AI beside you, you might deny him/her of strategic resource in expense of the good cities I mentioned. If you can’t do it, you should get hunting > archery or copper resource as soon as possible to even the odds. Build you army just for defense and don’t overspend.

Next, look for stone/marble resource nearby. This will dictate which tech path you will go. If you got marble, you can go to Mysticism > Polytheism to grab the Temple of Artemis. But be sure to check if the AI opponents do have that resource too. If yes, the pursuit might not worth it but you can try for fail gold. In my experience, the AI really loves to build the Oracle wonder. If someone builds the Oracle, most probably you are halfway in the Temple of Artemis. I doubt the AI can catch up with you if that is the case. Best scenario is to have the ToA and Great Lighthouse at the same city which most of the time is my capital.

For stone resource, the Pyramids can be an attractive alternative. You can build it in your 2nd city after you have 4 cities present (again, be sure to check if AI does have stone nearby). If you managed to get it, we can go to representation early on which helps in happiness. Furs and Elephants can also provide the same minor benefit if you have it around you but you need to research hunting.

So now we have 4 cities. Trade or research alphabet > aesthetics to backfill the tech you missed. Get the Parthenon or the Great Library if possible. In my experience, you cannot always get all the wonders I mentioned but that is okay. Only the Great Lighthouse is crucial. Get currency next, to enhance your trade route as well as build markets. If the economy supports it, grab another coastal city with the description I mentioned above. Research/Trade calendar, iron working, mathematics in no specific order based on the situation.

Medieval Economy Building

At this stage of the game, most probably you will have religion spread unto you. Unless the conversion to that religion gives you benefit, stay where you are. AI will probably demand for a tech/resource or convert to his/her religion. Agree on the demands if the AI is the top dog or aggressive type. Since we are building our economy, we do not want to engage in wars, or having the AI close borders with us. This is because it can hurt our trade route in the process. In terms of tech we will want monarchy, code of laws, metal casting and compass as priority. If the AI is researching it, you may research other technologies like literature, metal casting and trade it with them. Generally in monarch-level, the AI will have a faster research rate than you but since you have good amount of trade route (+1 for sailing, +1 for currency, +2 for Great Lighthouse) and market. You should have lots of raw commerce; in a way, helping your research. I assure that you won’t be dead last in tech.

I really don’t build monuments for expansion of cultural borders, rather build a library instead. Still that should keep my resources reasonably protected. If I do get a great engineer early on, I tend to rush the Parthenon or Great Lib in border cities that I know will lose the border war. It sucks then the food resource is stolen by the neighboring AI because he/she is creative. The pavilion can also be an alternative if you got Drama.

Once you have compass, start building the harbor. Harbor is nice in a sense that the 50% is added to the trade route commerce before the slider is applied. Building one means roughly that all your trade route commerce is increase by 1. Next, go machinery > engineering to even improve your economy by building castles.

So how useful are castles? Wall and castle cost 150 hammers. But being a protective leader + stone, the build time is 3x faster. 1 hammer now becomes 3 hammers and the time spent is as fast as building a barracks (they are 50 hammers btw). If you build it on 5 cities, you are gaining 12 to 15 raw commerce per turn (with harbor). That allows you to raise your research slider higher. Take note what’s good about this is that the commerce is not affected when you do whipping or working on non-commerce tiles (farms, workshop, mines), you still get the benefit of it.

If you are still having difficulty in gold, try building the Colossus (it is good to have copper nearby). This should allow you to still earn a surplus in gold while the slider is 100% science. With the infrastructure on place, your research and wealth gaining should be roughly as good as Hannibal’s economy with Cothon 🙂 

Renaissance Quick Invasion/Spying 

The problem with castles is it obsoletes quickly. So to make full use of it, the late medieval, early renaissance is very crucial. If you got the chance to be first in tech, try to move the slider to espionage in a few turns. This is assuming you do get the courthouses built. We will want to put in our espionage points to the AI that has faster research rate. Once we have higher espionage ratio with the AI, we can see what they are researching. We want to be first in liberalism but on the other hand, we do not want to give the AI a tech boost so we might detour to other tech like nationalism/banking/guilds in the meantime. Grocers and Banks will surely make you insanely rich! What you can do is to pre-research philosophy/education with a turn left and switch to other tech, this way the AI cannot have the research bonus. Once you get liberalism, choose astronomy if you have AI that is on the other side of the ocean or maybe replacement parts if you still have forests.

After this is done, your castles are now obsolete. But they already did a good job is supporting your commerce and providing you a passive espionage advantage against the AI. Although you lose Colossus, ToA and Castles in Astronomy and Scientific Method, you do gain Observatory, Free Market and Foreign House. In a way it won’t affect your economy much in the long run. What hurts most is corporation tech which obsoletes your GL. You can forgo the research of it until many AIs already have it. Btw, University and Observatory provides the same increase in science but the later is cheaper and allows you to run 1 scientist. You might build the other one first if you need more science ASAP.

Having amassed a forture, it is your call which direction you will be heading to. You can go Gunpowder > Chemistry for musketman or privateer to harass neighboring AI. You may declare war to the nearby AI who recently changed to Mercantilism as they will not give you any benefits. Use drafting to make your cities optimal to size 10 so as not to give the AIs more commerce in trade routes.

Even with copper, you can build maceman or spearman. Give the maceman city raider promotions while combat for spearman. Do bring a few longbows (cheaper) or musketman to protect your stack. Stay on hills if the opponent has war elephants or knights. Longbows has innate defense on hills remember? Trebuchet will also come in handy in softening city defenses. Choko-nus (iron needed) are good if they has good win percentage so make sure only to use them once the defenders are already weak or if not they are good in busting out enemy stacks in the field. It is ok to lose the chokonus but make sure once the war is over you do get a bunch of CR3 maceman. They will be very strong city attackers once you upgraded to rifleman.

One last thing I need to mention is once you reached assembly line, don’t be shy to build coal plants as the unhealthiness will be offset by the +2 health of the expansive trait. You can still build a hydro plant if you want to later on.

In summary, when using Mao:

  • Build GL, setup coastal cities
  • Defer early war, build economy first
  • Use diplomacy to trade tech and resources.
  • Use pavilions to secure your cultural borders
  • Build Granaries, Harbor, Wall, Castle, Market for early economic infrastructure.
  • Get Liberalism while at the same time know what the other AIs are researching
  • Start planning for war in renaissance once you have a strong economy to support it. Choose your opponents wisely.
  • Don’t forget to exploit the +2 health and innate promotions of archery and gunpowder units