Colombo's Inn/mercenary strategy guide
7K is a great game because of its simple and yet still interesting economic system. Not only that you have to manufacture and sell goods, but strength of your kingdom is directly dependent on your population, which man all your factories and forts. It is thus very important to be able to conserve it. Not losing soldiers during conflicts means that you don't need to replace them from your population, which means that they can your people can breed, work in factories and produce money and food.
In this guide, we will utilize Inns and mercenaries to conserve your population. This will give you opportunity to get enough forces in the early game, without having to draw it from your workpool and thus have stronger midgame (or reach the midgame faster) and subsequently destroy your unprepared opponents.
Note that this guide doesn't use the frythan baiting exploit.
- Early game -- war machine technology not available, mostly untrained soldiers (green, later yellow), undeveloped economy. This stage consist of race to grab mines and neutral villages to get economic stability. Early rushes are possible, especially for easily trainable archer nations (Persians, Chinese, Zulu) who can make three forts of archers and destroy several other kingdoms without serious loses.
- Mid game -- War machine technology available and war machines present in small numbers. Veteran and trained soldiers available in multiple forts. Developed economy with caravans of non-mining nations dotting landscape. Most high-nationality population villages are already taken. During war, nations tries to cripple each other. The strongest point for AI.
- Late game -- Time of superstates. War machine present and plentiful. Every player have huge war factory production with multiple high-population villages providing large amount of taxes as well. Economy might be a bit sensitive due to huge number of war machines, as those are produced in huge numbers so that any loss is easily replaceable. Players now fight almost exclusively with war machines. AI, although currently probably in one or two superstates, is in weakest position as it tries to replace its loses with huge number of untrained soldiers, which fall easily to war machines.
These stages of game are based on strength of war machines, you should always go for them and obtain them as soon as economically possible. While producing war machine can be costly, losing one does not cost you anything and you can lose dozens of them without weakening your economy (unlike with soldiers, where each lost soldier is weakening your economy). Given their size and ability of some weapons to do splash damage, this makes them slaughter untrained soldiers and tear even veterans apart, which are much harder to replace. This makes stages of game easily recognizable, in the early stage you are trying to research war machines and establish economy, in mid game, you started your war machine production and you are able to defend with them, but the workers are not yet trained enough and thus your war machine production is still relatively limited. In later game, your workers are trained, your economy further expanded as your people reproduce and you probably build additional war machine factories.
Thus, while this is a general strategy to aim for, how will you get there is different matter altogether. And here comes mercenaries.
Mercenaries were always a bit underutilized in 7K, 7K2 did a bit better and very effective strategy was to hire a lot of cheap soldiers from inns to man your forts. This was possible since 7k removed professions and thus you could pick either soldier or civilian, instead of one of 6 (or so) professions. However, you can still hire cheap people and put them into forts! That is what we will do! Hire anyone bellow, lets say, 250 gold. If they are builders, turn them into peasant by settling village with them. I usually put two ranged soldiers as spies per fort (lesser chance of dying on battle, so look for those), if other cheap people are spies, I usually cancel it to save money (spies are more expensive to keep). Also, if you are looking for expanding your pool of generals, look for ranged ones (more survivability) or, as normally, someone who can win you some neutral villages.
Money money money...
You always need money. Taxes are not enough (keep them at 40, when you start fighting and there is high chance of killing civilians, start taxing higher, like 50 or even 70) to pay for upkeep for all your extensive soldier pool, and you need additional money to expand as well. Thus, you must obtain goods. If it is through direct control of mine ($4 per sold good), taking out mined resources from AI and refining it ($3 per sold good) or just buying goods directly from AI ($2 per sold good) doesn't matter. What matter is to have constant supply of goods into your largest population center (concentrate your population, it is easier to defend). This will not only produce you enough money to expand, but supplying people with goods will increase their growth as well. As for trade treaties, try to have only as little as you need. This means that if you own mine, you don't need any and you can safely hoard all the goods out of it. Alternative strategy might be to build more than one factory and through multiple trade treaties sell the goods as quickly as possible, making a lot of money through it. But I prefer steady supply that can power my economy for a long time than a big buck now.
I usually play with 3 natural resources, low amount of highly resistant villages and random kingdoms. This makes game a bit harder with additional pressure on people and economy. If you play on any other setting, the strategy might be a little different.
The general aim is to get sizeable fighting force to defend against AI while going relatively quickly towards Catapult III, you can start making them since Catapult II, since it is its first truly effective variant. Maintaining healthy economy is also important, especially if you didn't get the mine and you don't want to get aggressive to obtain it.
At start, look at natural resources you can obtain and immediately train and send builder to get it. If you don't get it, try the following one and so on. If you don't get any, look at the highest concentration of natural resources and build base nearby. This was you can transport huge amount of goods from enemy to your economy. To build base, you need market, fort, space for villages, possibly factory or mine. Build several tower of science nearby as well, but keep enough space for additional villages that can reach the same fort and market and space for war factories. Best way to transport large amount of people is to train them in certain profession. This cost some money but is by far fastest (and safest) way to transport people.
At the same time, look at neutral villages and your leaders. Send builder and general to those villages. Build fort and inn or two next to each of the village. At any minute, when you have time, look at those inns and hire cheap people. Ranged nations have priority, it is very important to provide counterspies to protect your generals. Build inn near your starting base as well and look for everywhere for a high-leadership general (from around leadership 50, you can start effectively claiming villages) that could gain you some unclaimed villages with high population or, if you want to expand your general pool, some ranged general with high leadership to train soldiers quickly. When overall village resistance gets to values below 50, build tower of science next to it, work and wage will lower resistance even further but be aware, at any time when AI build fort next to this village, try to claim it as soon as you can, even using fort. You risk that AI will overtake this village and your investment will go in vain.
When you build your new base, look at possible invasion routes and build inns there. Not only you can hire mercenaries from those inns, but they can also inform you early about incoming enemy army, so you can react and meet it with arms.
So you have working economy, either by buying resources/goods from enemy or by operating mine yourself. You have stable base and you were able to capture some villages with your nationality (i.e., with your king) and moved population from there to your main base. If you capture new nationality, you can do three things depending on the amount of people: Move them to your main base and establish a new village close to your market (large amount of people), keep them in place and create secondary base with as many war factories as possible (medium amount), use them as soldiers (low amount), if you do that, I would suggest to train them as spies, that will make sure that none of those newly trained soldiers won't assassinate or worse, bribe your general.
By this stage you should have at least 3 forts full of soldiers in your main base and some forts around map trying to capture villages. All filled with cheap mercenary soldiers from inn and good generals, those are able to defend you from enemy attacks. From this point, it is easy. Wait for catapult II or III, build 4-8 war factories at your main base and more at your secondary bases. Wait for enough catapults and wipe your enemies.