Combat in Rome still has the same underlying paper-rock-scissors formula. Missile troops are vulnerable to cavalry, infantry are vulnerable to missile troops, and cavalry are vulnerable to infantry, especially in the woods or against spearmen. Thatís not to say that cavalry canít decimate infantry, or that infantry wonít hand missile units their heads (literally) if they get into melee combat; its just a general rule. I charged one group of cavalry over top of several groups of spearmen. My cavalry had fully upgraded armor and weapons, as well as very high valor. They were combat hardened, and it showed. They slaughtered the much greener spearmen, cutting down those who werenít simply trampled under hoof. The spearmen took such heavy casualties their will was broken and they fled (unsuccessfully). So, while this simplistic model underlies the game, many, many things keep it from truly being that simple.

On the subject of units, Creative Assembly certainly did their homework, as tons of historical units are in the game. There are many different kinds of troops available for the Romans. Right now my forces consist of mainly Hastati (sword bearing infantry with a shield and two pila), family cavalry, a handful of Triarii (spearmen), and Veliates, with the first units of Roman Archers on their way. Iíve used War Dogs in one battle, and was impressed with their effectiveness, even against foot soldiers. They kibble-ized an entire group of light infantry on their own, and then turned and attacked the remaining group as my Hastati were throwing their pila (see this screen). The battle ended with about 75 dogs chasing down and mauling the enemy general. It wasnít very pretty. Well, actually it was. Just not for him.

Before... and after...  please don't ever turn your back in a battle...

The one thing that can turn any battle in your favor, or out of your favor, is fear. There are several ways to cause fear within the ranks of the enemy. As units take losses, their morale will decrease. You can cause units to run simply by slugging it out and winning. The wise general, however, will use units to create panic with the least loss of his own men as possible. Here you have many options. Cavalry have tremendous shock value in the charge, and it can be magnified by the wedge formation. A charge from behind will break the morale of nearly any unit in short order. Elephants cause fear in the same way as cavalry, but on a larger scale. Some missile units can be ordered to use flaming ammunition (including catapults), which is less accurate but more devastating, not only in damage but doubly so in its effect on morale. War dogs will cause fear to both footmen and cavalry. There are also head hurlers, who toss the severed heads of their enemies to cause fear. One unit even consists of pigs covered in pitch and tar. When the order is given, the pigs are lit on fire and, as would be expected, run crazed into the enemy, goring any in their path. And afterwards, when you're hungry from fighting so hard, you can have a crunchy ham sandwich with extra pitch.

At some point in the game, what amounts to a second tech tree opens up for the Romans. Marius was a strategist who redefined the very legions of Rome, and when this event occurs in game, there are many new troops that can be trained. Legionary First Cohorts are one example. These heavy infantry are powerful troops, and can form the tusteudo formation (meaning ďtortoiseĒ). Remember the orcs in The Two Towers walking up to the gate? They were in a tusteudo . Men on the outside lock their shields together, while the front line holds their shields in front of them. The units in the middle and rear lock their shields together above them. This forms a sort of tortoise shell of shields that renders the formation nearly immune to any missiles (except artillery). The drawback is that this formation also requires the group to move about as fast as a tortoise.

Nothing short of a big rock getting through here...

Cities and Family

City management is easier now, with the ability to have your cities auto-managed. In fact, if you donít have a family member in a city, you cannot control its actions (more on family later). If you want to manage your own cities, there are several things to consider. First off, taxes are the most important thing. Without money, you die. So, you raise taxes as high as you can, right? Wrong. Raise taxes too high, and the population will rebel. Raising taxes lowers happiness. Plus, you now have limits on what a city can build based off of the cityís size. Guess what. The higher the tax rate, the lower the growth rate. So if you tax your cities to death, you inhibit their growth and risk falling behind in advancement, which will leave you with inferior armies.

There are many buildings that you can build to improve your cities. Public health is a concern, as is farming and trade (which increase population growth). Of course, training of troops is quite important too, and youíll find there are several strategies you can employ to advance a city. I find that specializing cities in one area or another produces good results. Youíll definitely want at least one city that focuses on growth in order to allow for the most advanced units.

Family members are much more important now than in Medieval: Total War. As I mentioned before, only family can allow you to control the building and training within a city. However, they also serve many other purposes. They are the generals of your armies. Without a family member, an army will have no general and will not be as effective as a fighting force. Family members are also obviously your source of heirs. The family tree will actually allow you to hand pick who the heir of your current ruler is, so you can make sure the man you want is you faction leader when the time comes. A leader with the right traits can greatly strengthen your family. In addition to traits, family members (as well as spies, assassins, and diplomats) can attract retinues. These are those who are drawn to important people, such as advisors, bodyguards, mentors, etc. For example, a wrestler can provide added influence and protection from assassins. These ancillaries can be traded between family members, allowing you to put people where you need them.