Seems that lot of people are little lost in this game. Problem is that right strategy is pretty unintuitive, you should not build big empire or specialize in one place, both quite opposite to other Civ games. After first try out game, I played two games on second hardest difficulty and each time declared independence around turn 180 and would won easily, except some bug each time caused that king stopped sending army after I beat first few waves. Anyway here is my strategy that worked fine for me, at least with France.
Go for quality not quantity. I won with 5 cities each time (standard size continental map, normal speed). With bigger empire you need more money to buy more colonist, that means more trade and that means faster tax rises and price drop. And most importantly you will need more bells to start revolution and more bells means bigger REF. So you must find point when expanding stop pay off, which is in my experience somewhere around 60 colonist. Try be maximally efficient, adapt you strategy to bonus resources you have and specialist you get early.
Two best colonist early game are scout and preacher. You absolutely need scout, early exploration get you most money and you need o be first visitor to each village and ruin. I tried it few times and it seems that you always get scout in first batch. You should send one of first two colonist on exploration to get some money, so you should hurry scout as your ship land back in Europe. If you will see preacher in second batch, go immediately for church in you first colony. Your main goal early game is to get colonist on continent as fast as possible and no other profession is so efficient in this. One colonist early cost around 50 crosses and buying cheapest specialist cost 800, thus one cross is equal of 16 gold (800:16). That means preacher generate 96 gold per turn without raising taxes (any good you sell to Europe rises chance of tax rise). Better that early is only silver miner if you get silver resources and build mine. But be ready that value of preacher drops pretty fast and when you reach 300 crosses per colonist even with cathedral one preacher just make make around 24 gold (600 for colonist with Minuit / 300 = 2 gold per cross), so its time to send that lazy preacher to natives to learn something useful. But early boost worth all that trouble.
When choosing place for second colony, check bonus resources and commodities prices. Raw material cost 3-6 randomly each game, so you really would want city around bonus resource that cost 5 or 6. Instinct of veteran Civ player says build city around bonus food resource and that tundra is bad, but it is not true here, because in Civ you can not buy population like here. Don’t believe me? OK time for some math again. Tundra forest (without bonus resource) produce 6 furs, 7 with lodge, 14 with master trapper, with price of fur on 5, it is 70 gold per tile. Rising colonist by food production cost 200 food, buying colonist (with Minuit) cost 600, so one food worth 3 gold. Even on plains with corn, master farmer produce 13 food = 49 gold. Like I said, much worse than tundra forest, at least until taxes are sky high. Its trap for veteran Civ player. In Civ you build first cities around food and money resources becomes important lately, it completely opposite here. First come money generating resources and food resources becomes useful late game when prices drop and taxes rises.
Live in peace with natives (especially true for France). First you absolutely need them to obtain expert planter/trapper, because they are not available in Europe. Missions are also quiet good and vital for France, did not forget that newly produce native could be left in village that produce him to teach specialty, thus becoming normal colonist, that could take guns. Trade with natives is also important, because to be really effective you need obtain some wealth without rising taxes and causing price drop and trade with native is one of few possibilities (other are crosses, early exploration (but not money from treasure), and lately food production). Natives money are quite limited, but if you go for small empire, it should be not problem. Especially look for villages that demand guns, horses, trade goods and tools. You usually get about 2-3x European prices. So with guns you easily make around 900 gold per cargo. For other commodities you get usually little less than in Europe, but without affecting taxes. Also selling 20 pieces of one resource should be enough to change their preferences to something more profitable (hold shift if you want load less than 100 pieces). Also if you sold them horses and guns, they will be much better ally against REF, but don’t count on it, because most of time they don’t have contact with king, thus can not declare war on him.
I’m not sure what change Natives attitude toward you, but they never attacked me at all. Of course I send many missionaries, live among them, trade with them and give them few gifts. Being French also help and to be sure I go for one or two FF that improve relationship with them. My only concern is REF, I really don’t want mess with natives. With good relationship they start giving you villages instead of fighting if you surround them. But giving here means that village disappear thus you lost business partner, cheap school, source of colonist and war ally for absolutely no gain, never except this “gift”.
Never use army except after revolution. OK, probably somebody uses other tactic, but with current AI, other nations and natives don’t mean treat. I played entire game with 0 – 2 soldier and nobody tried attack me, soldier is just wasted colonist. Also soldier even outside colony count as normal colonist toward maximum bells you must produce to start revolution. And again, more bells = bigger REF, so its pointless to build army prior revolution. You really just need stack tons of horses and guns, I would say about 400 – 500 per city (unfortunately you could stack just 300 per city, so you will need lots of extra wagons, enjoy your micromanagement hell).
Most important thing (also quiet stupid), start revolution as soon as you reach 50% rebel sentiment. Otherwise you just let REF grow bigger much faster than you will profit from production bonus, especially with taxes that will be around 30% at this point. Also with one civic you could make +50% bell production and so reach 100% sentiment in few turns. Not that it really matters, because you turn most of colonist into army, so production bonus is wasted and military bonus only count on settlement defense. But most of REF army consist of artillery with power 4 and +150% bonus on city attack, so they attack with power 10. If you think that right strategy is turtle in city with cannons, forget it. Your canon will defend with 50% rebel sentiment with power 5,25. Even if you are Bolivar, waste resources on fort, get 100% sentiment and build cities just on hills, you still get just 11,25 (3 base, +100% sentiment, +25 hill defense, +50% city defense, +100% form fort). On the other hand if you will go for all cavalry army, you get +50% bonus against artillery. So you will get 6:4 against artillery, 4:3 against soldiers and 4:4 against cavalry. Does not look so great, because even if you will stick with my strategy, REF should outnumber about like 1:5. But fortunately they come in small waves, so you just whip them as they land on your shoes and have around 3 turns to heal. With all promotion coming, you should get 2 generals and few military FF so even when you lost few units, your militia army will be soon superior.
Also forget about navy, you stand no chance against man-o-war. Wining on sea is not necessary and all that tools and guns used to make ships of lane are total waste. Don’t ask me how are you suppose win on island map.
Last thing, always go for Peter Minuit, other FF are mediocre to completely useless, he is broken and you also get him first. Again poor design choice.
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