As an absolute beginner there’s a lot to learn, but the three golden rules will help you to improve instantly and give you some important things to remember while you do. This is the starting point, how far you go and what your goals are is up to you, this website aims to give you all of the resources you need to reach those goals.
If you haven’t played and beaten the William Wallace tutorial campaign please do that before continuing, as this website assumes you know the basic game controls and components.
The Three Golden Rules are simple yet effective. As a new player it’s great to start here because the golden rules apply to any map or civilization. They also give you something to think about immediately without needing to teach you too many “hows” or “whys”, those will come later!
Rule 1: Always Keep Your Town Center Working
Whether you’re training a villager, researching a technology or advancing to the next Age; the Town Center should always be working. Your goal at the start of any game should be to queue villagers and keep queuing villagers until you’re ready to advance to the Feudal Age. That’s why we see such a heavy focus on food at the beginning of the game, since villagers cost 50 food we need to be sure to have enough food income that we can always afford to train a new one.
You should try to quickly find your sheep and be sure to have 6 villagers gathering the sheep before sending villagers to gather any other resources. This ensures that you have enough food to keep villager production going. If you fall short on food then you can research loom from the Town Center so that a) your TC isn’t idle and b) you can save enough food to queue another villager as soon as loom completes.
The Town Center Is Your Engine
As your Town Center trains villagers and researches upgrades/ ages it pushes you forward in the game. By having more villagers you will have more resource income, by having more resource income you can afford to advance to the next age and by being in the next age you can access more powerful units and upgrades.
Idle time compounds. A few seconds here and a few seconds there might not sound like much but it all adds up to make a big difference over the course of the game. Imagine if you have just 5 seconds of idle time between each villager that you train. By the time you’ve trained your 5th villager you could have had 6 if your Town Center had not been idle at all. This directly effects your resource income: fewer villagers means fewer resources to spend (which ironically could lead to more idle time!).
By reducing Town Center idle time you can massively improve your skill level. In fact, it’s the number one difference between players who are just starting out and someone who can beat them! All of those extra villagers start to add up, don’t let your opponent get ahead.
My best advice for keeping your Town Center running is to use the villager creation sound as a cue. Every time you hear it get into the habit of pressing “H” on the keyboard. This will select and bring your screen directly to the TC, allowing you to queue a new villager before that idle time starts to rack up. (Villager hotkey is “A” by default).
Rule 2: Always Keep Your Villagers Working
It might seem obvious but one of the biggest mistakes that newer players make is to have too many idle villagers. If the Town Center is your engine then your villagers supply the fuel, if they stop working then your fuel supply dries up and your engine stops. You should try to ensure that your villagers are always gathering something. When you’re new to the game it doesn’t matter so much what they gather. So long as they aren’t standing around doing nothing they are infinitely better than your opponent who might have have 20 sleeping villagers at the back of their base.
When your Town Center has no idle time and your villagers are working effectively then you’ll have a lot more resources. You may have noticed a theme so far: the objectives of Rule 1 & 2 are to improve your economy. In Age of Empires 2 having a good economy is essential to the game and when you’re new having more economy than your opponent is a great way to beat them.
Rule 3: Always Spend Your Resources
That’s right, spend them. If you’re under 200 population and you have more than 1000 of any resource stockpiled then you have room to improve. You should only ever have more than 1000 of any resource in very few cases. Unspent resources are as good to you as resources that are still in the ground, it’s a waste of villager time and effort digging up that gold if you’re not going to spend it on something!
It all comes down to this, Rule 1 and 2 are geared toward giving you more resources to spend while Rule 3 is going to push you to use them.
What to Spend Resources On
1) The Town Center
Rule 1 teaches us that we should always keep the TC working, so spend your resources on making villagers first. Then once you have excess resources you can save towards advancing to the next Age.
In a standard 200 population game you should aim to have between 110 and 130 villagers. That’s a lot of villagers! In fact, with a single Town Center it would take you 50 minutes to reach that number and that’s not taking into account the Age Up time. To help you reach your villager target faster it’s a good idea to build two additional new Town Centers in the Castle Age. This allows you to accellerate your villager production and reach the required number of villagers faster.
Why 110-130 villagers? This is the average number of villagers that you’ll need to keep replacing an army of 70-90 units. It’s important that once you have an army you can afford to replace it quickyl if it dies!
Building enough military production buildings is also important. There are far too many situations where a player has thousands of banked resources but only 100 population. Meanwhile their 1 stable is queued with 15 knights and just can’t produce knights fast enough to keep pace with the resource income. If you have a lot of resources then don’t be afraid to add 8 stables and queue 2 knights in each one, this will allow you to spend resources faster and fill up your empty population slots faster too.
Similarly to buildings, it’s far too common to see new players not making enough military. Remember, your entire goal is to reach the maximum population limit and stay there. Anything less than the maximum is reducing your power and giving your opponent an opportunity to overpower you. Again, if you have unspent resources in the late game then train more units and start doing more damage!
Practise Practise Practise
With these three rules in mind go out and play some games, be aware of how often you’re following them and how often you’re breaking them. It’s likely that you’ll break them a lot more than you realize, but that’s okay, even better players can improve their TC idle time a lot. It’s a good idea to watch one of your recorded games back from time to time to check for these mistakes and see where you can most improve. There are many details, tips and tricks which have been glossed over in this article. We will come to those later on. This serves as an introduction to what you can expect from these guides and will give you some high level goals to think about while you play. Good luck and have fun!