An advanced guide on how to defeat 7 allied emperor AI opponents by turn 70 as a Draconian Necromancer.
- This is an advanced strategy guide for playing Draconian Necromancer on Age of Wonder III (v1.802) with all DLC installed (i.e., Golden Realms + Eternal Lords expansions).
- This guide assumes you are familiar with basic AOW3 gameplay and strategy, as well as the Draconian and Necromancer units, Empire Upgrades, Strategic Spells, and Combat Spells. You can read up on this information at Fandom's AOW3 website, if necessary.
- This guide is designed to help you defeat 7 allied Emperor-level AI opponents using the strong race/class combination of Draconian Necromancer. It is not designed for multiplayer or auto-combat contexts. It is designed with the following settings in mind, some of which increase the difficulty of the standard game (e.g., strong defender strength) for added challenge and enjoyment.
- Random Map.
- Difficulty: Emperor.
- Map Size: Large (the larger the map, the stronger the AI can snowball).
- Map Type: Land (AI has an easier time navigating land maps; harder for single human player to defend against multiple AI when there are many more choke points).
- Surface and underground enabled.
- 8 total players: human player (team 1) and 7 Emperor AI opponents (all on team 2).
- All Heroes have resurgence: Never.
- Defender strengths: Strong (makes site clearing more challenging).
- Number of Heroes: reduced to 5 (increases challenge for 1 human to compete with 7 AI’s).
- Max Hero Level: reduced to 20 (increases challenge).
- All other settings set to default / normal.
Recommended Specializations for Draconian Necromancer
Destruction Adept for:
- Hasty Plunder: allows you to plunder cities in 2 turns, which is essential when plunging deep into enemy territory and you want to obtain quick gold and cannot afford to leave defenders behind in newly captured cities. Works well in this 1v7 context. Research this when you need it, otherwise prioritize your Necromancer techs.
- Scorched Earth: if you don’t want to plunder a valuable city but would hate for it to fall into enemy hands, Scorched Earth is perfect. Cast Scorched Earth on a city you own. If it is captured by the enemy, it will be instantly razed. If you can recapture that territory later in the game, you can use the Necromancer ability Animate Ruins to instantly rebuild the city. Like Hasty Plunder, Scorched Earth is perfect for this 1v7 context, and should only be researched when needed.
Destruction Master for:
- Wreck: powerful combat spell to help you deal with enemy Undead or machines, as Necromancer lacks attack power against enemy Necromancers and Dreadnought machines. Research only when needed.
- Storm Magic: empire upgrade that increases damage of direct damage combat spells by 50%, which synergizes with Disintegrate.
- Disintegrate: combat spell that attempts to disintegrate target (strength of 15 physical is quite substantial) which can be a wonderful counter to T4’s and enemy Heroes. If it does not disintegrate them, the unit still takes a substantial 25 physical damage. Storm Magic makes this damage 50.
Shadowborn Adept for
- Embrace Darkness: to allow your built and summoned units to have the lifesteal ability, which is powerful on tanky high tier units such as your racial T3 (Draconian Flyers), Necromancer class Banshees and Dread Reapers (upgrades their native life drain to greater life drain, as these stack), and any other summons (e.g., Obsidian/Bone Dragons) you may be using. Also makes all of your Heroes instantly Dedicated to Evil and gives them all lifesteal on physical attacks, which can stack with native life steal of Necromancers and life steal/drain from forged items.
- Black Lightning: if you can research it early enough, it will let you lower the resistance and spirit protection of enemies, thereby allowing you to more easily Ghoul Curse living units and obtain enemy Undead via Necromantic Aura. Helps you build your army.
- Seed of Distrust: an ability you may use occasionally on key dwelling cities (e.g., dragons) to prevent enemy team from being able to advance their diplomatic status (e.g., make the dwelling a vassal).
Unit Production Priorities
- When playing 1v7, I almost never build units from my cities. The reason: I instead build my army by Ghouling/Necromatic Aura’ing T2 supports as well as T3/T4 tanky units. There are only 2 types of units that I will build from my cities: Reanimator and Flyers. Reanimators are built early game. Flyers may or may not be built mid-to-late game, depending on my gold reserve.
- Reanimators: once I’ve researched this tech, I build 3-6 of them and distribute them to my armies (1-2 per stack). They are necessary for in-battle healing, between-turn overworld map healing, raising Cadavers and keeping them alive so they can reach gold rank, and inflicting curse/despair with their ranged attack on units your Necromancers wish to Ghoul/Necromantic Aura. Once Healers of the Dead is researched, Reanimators also get Lesser Reanimate Undead, which can help you keep Cadavers and your T2 supports alive during tough fights. A big reason I prefer Draconians as my Necromancer race is because their Reanimators are strong, with 3 damage channels (fire is the new addition), which makes them much more robust damage dealers.
- Flyers: if I have sufficient gold to build units (i.e., if I’m not spending it all on upkeep for my Ghouled units), I will cast Embrace Darkness on 1-3 high production cities and start building Flyers from them. If the Necromancer Vampiric Hunger upgrade has been researched, this means that these Flyers will have Greater Life Stealing, because the life stealing from Vampiric Hunger and from Embrace Darkness stack. If you can level these flyers up to gold rank and beyond, they become incredibly tanky with greater life stealing and killing momentum. You can build stacks of 7 Flyers and send them out to assist your main stacks, clear out of the way treasure sites, etc.
Unit Summoning Priorities
- Lost Soul: early game, if you have the mana to spare, I recommend summoning 1-3 Lost Souls to assist with map exploration and perhaps to assist with splitting armies during treasure site clearing. Lost Souls have Undying, which allows them to come back in 2 turns (assuming an enemy is not standing on their hex) or revive if the battle ends before then. This makes them great ways to split armies (entice a few units to chase it, making it easier on your main stack to kill the remaining treasure site creeps). If you don’t have mana to spare because you are prioritizing casting Whispers of the Fallen and Undead Plague and upkeep on Cadavers, then that is not the end of the world, as these things take priority.
- Banshees: if possible, summon 1-2 banshees to help a few of your stacks with tanking attacks. Their incorporeal status means they have 60% physical protection, which makes them great for soaking up initial enemy attack. Furthermore, as they gain medals, they start to inflict a host of useful debuffs on enemies that can soften enemies up and make them easier to Ghoul. Debuffs include despair (-200 morale and 20% spirit weakness), frostbite (-2 defense), exhausting fatigue (-300 morale and -4 melee attack), and spirit breaking (-2 resistance and -600 morale). The resistance and spirit debuffs stack and enhance each other, with each debuff making further debuffs more likely. Despair debuff also stacks with itself, which is overpowered. After a living unit gets despaired a bunch of times, they reach 100% spirit weakness, which leads to 100% chance of Ghoul Curse working, which is very useful for Ghouling T3/T4s to build your army. In short, Banshees are handy units, especially for reinforcing armies far from your cities that need some extra firepower. Because their primary damage channel is spirit, they are also incredibly useful for clearing Castles of the Lich King, which are filled with units vulnerable only to spirit and fire. I highly recommend having 1 banshee per stack for your Necromancer-led stacks.
- Dread Reaper: Dread Reapers are amazing. They are my favorite T4 class unit. They start with Fearsome (chance to panic enemy on attack), life drain (6-10 HP gained with each hit on living unit), Invoke Death (11 spirit chance to kill unit outright otherwise reduces unit health by 40), Energy Drain (10 spirit chance to remove 50% of unit movement), Flying (great for siege etc.), Incorporeal (60% physical protection and immune to physical debuffs such as webbing touch). These can tank enemy melee units for days because the life drain can keep their hp at a steady level. This is especially true when you summon them in a city that you have cast Embrace Darkness on, which will boost their native Life Drain to Greater Life Drain (8 to 12 HP), making them even more tanky. Make sure to build fortresses on Hearts of the X, build Palaces of the Perished in your big cities, and get enough levels of Necromancy to be able to summon them quickly enough (they take 260 casting points to summon, so its efficient to hit 90 casting points which allows a summon in 3 turns).
- It is likely that you will clear some treasure sites that grant you Strategic Spells allowing you to summon other kinds of units. You will have to choose between summoning the available Necromancer units and these non-Necromancer units, which will be dictated by your situation and the relative power of the units. Some of my favorite summons are Dragons, Elementals, Feathered Serpents (their heal is handy), and Angels. These summons are often more powerful than Banshees but not more powerful than Dread Reapers.
Early Game Empire and Spell Research Priorities
These items are listed in order of importance, from most important first to less important last.
- Whispers of the Fallen: main source of research points, so important to get up and running early. Will help you reach key empire and tech upgrades that will help Necro snowball.
- Produce Reanimator: get Reanimators out to your armies as soon as possible. If Lost Souls is not researched by default, research that first so you can start researching Produce Reanimator.
- Stiffen Limbs: slows units by -12 speed (also -2 defense and -2 melee). An essential spell for dealing with tough T3/T4 units, especially when you are seeking to Ghoul them but first need to Inflict Despair several times to maximize your chances of Ghouling them.
- Shrines of Unlife: Necromancers run low on mana in early game, so this helps better sustain spell casting and summons.
- Necromancy: there are key thresholds for casting points that are advantageous to reach. You start with 20 CP. Getting one level of Necromancy (i.e., 30 CP total) will allow you to cast Whispers of the Fallen in two turns instead of 3 and Summon Banshee in 3 turns instead of 5, for example. Keep an eye out on what spells you are hoping to cast and look for efficiencies you can get by taking additional levels of Necromancy to boost your CP to key thresholds.
- Healers of the Dead: Once you start to Ghoul support units, you want this empire upgrade. It allows all support-type units to "Heal Undead”. This reduces the pressure to build Reanimators, as these Ghoul support units can help out with healing (though they can’t Raise Cadaver or Lesser Reanimate Undead, which is why you always want at least 1 Reanimator per stack). Once your armies venture far from your core empire, you won’t be able to get Reanimators to your newly-created stacks, so Ghouled support units will have to be responsible for doing all the healing.
- Undead Plague: target city loses 400 per turn, which your nearest Undead city gains as population. Undead Ghoul cities grow slowly, which is why Ghouling is the only practical way to build armies capable of taking out 7 allied Emperor AI. Undead plague can help your cities grow. However, you’ll only have the opportunity to use the Undead Plague strategy if you can research it at a proper time and you have sufficient mana to spend on it and you have lost souls that are roaming to areas where your stacks are not. You will be conquering and migrating to Ghoul Draconian all the independent cities you come across with your main stacks. The only exception is when you are unable to take over a given city because its not near your main stacks but has only been explored by lost souls or other scouting units. When it works out, I encourage you to cast Undead Plague on cities. But I’ve won many 1v7 games when I didn’t cast a single Undead Plague because I was prioritizing other technologies and strategies. Please note that you cannot cast Undead Plague on dwellings.
- Dark Ritual: spawns 3 Cadavers near target owned city. Easy way to raise impromptu defenders when enemies threaten a city of yours. If you want Cadavers to remain as defenders over several turns, you need to stop them from decaying to death, which is where the Embalmers Guild becomes necessary to keep them alive and even a little buffed in health and fire resistance. Most games I don’t need to cast this, but it’s nice to have in your back pocket.
There are other spells and upgrades that I have not mentioned because I find them non-essential for victory.
Mid Game Empire and Spell Research Priorities
- Vampiric Hunger: helps your Flyers and Cadavers sustain in melee combat. May also help other Ghouled infantry/irregular/pikeman you have acquired.
- Harbingers of Death: all Heroes become Undead, which grants them Lich Aura (+1 def, +1 res, 20% spirit protection, turn all units in their stack to Ghoul units after one strategic turn). Aside from the buff to themselves and the units in their stack, the thing I like about HoD is that Heroes become immune to Convert/Charm/Invoke Death because they are now classed as Undead. A hero getting converted or invoked death can ruin a game for the human player.
- Scourge of Undead: a very cost effective spell that spawns powerful Undead units each turn (and does not stop doing so unless disjuncted). Makes clearing treasure sites easy, as you can sit back as the map fills with summoned Undead units, who can do all the heavy lifting for you. Because your Leader can cast this at double the cost when not in the battle, once you reach 100 Casting Points, you can deploy it for any battle being fought in a given turn, which is crazy helpful for clearing tough sites or winning defensive sieges that you were unlikely to win. When in combat with AI opponents, make sure to drain their Casting Points before casting Scourge of Undead so that they cannot disjunct it.
- Enemy of the Faith: Units gain devout slayer and support slayer. Handy for early and mid game before AI opponents start relentlessly disjuncting your strategic spells.
- Power Ritual: added damage for Undead units. Handy for early and mid game before AI opponents start relentlessly disjuncting your strategic spells.
- Damnation: cast on target enemy city, which causes defenders to -1 defense, -1 resistance, -200 morale, and most importantly, 60% blight weakness. The latter really makes units vulnerable to your blight-heavy armies.
Late Game Empire and Spell Research Priorities
- Produce Bone Collector / Produce Death Bringer / Summon Dread Reaper: you only need to research the first two upgrades so that you can start research on Summon Dread Reaper. I don’t find Bone Collectors and Death Bringers to be worth building; I’d rather save the money to help fund Upkeep on your Ghouled T3/T4s.
- Undying Army: bestows undying on all friendly Undead units on battlefield. Just like with Scourge of Undead, the goal is to avoid getting this spell disjuncted. When that is not a risk, this is a wonderful spell to use. I prioritize casting Scourge of Undead first and Undying Army second, if Casting Points and circumstance allows. Undying Army helps ensure your champion rank high tier units are not lost during tough fights, as well as your non-Necromancer Heroes who are liches (once Harbingers of Death has been researched).
- Age of Death: 35% of all fallen units from all battles become Ghouls under your control. A nice spell for swelling your ranks but has a huge casting points cost and will be disjuncted relentlessly. One of the last spells to be researched, typically, and also quite expensive to research. In my experience, AoD is researched by about turn 60 and cast by about turn 65, which honestly is usually too late to make a difference in this 1v7 context. My games usually end between turn 65 and turn 75, and my victories are really driven by my performance during turns 1-55… if I’ve done what I needed to do, my victory is inevitable and I’m just following through on cleanup from turn 56 onward. So, all this is to say that AoD probably won’t end up doing much for you and isn’t worth the considerable research and casting points investment… unless things get messy and your game becomes long and drawn out and you need the support that comes from these Ghouled troops. I usually find it more productive to summon a few Dread Reapers in that time.
Necromancer Hero Ability / Stats Upgrade Path
Here are my recommendations for what upgrades to get at each level:
- Level 2: take 1 upgrade point in stats such as +1 HP. Save the rest of your points for the upgrades listed below.
- L3: Lesser Reanimate Undead (4 upgrade points) + Lifesteal (2) + Throw Curse (3) – being able to Reanimate Undead will help keep the same Cadaver leveling up and can save your T1/T2 units from being lost in early battles. Lifesteal helps with survivability and will eventually stack with the lifesteal from Embrace Darkness and the lifesteal from a lifesteal weapon that you should eventually craft in an Item Forge. Throw Curse will help you gain additional XP per battle, trigger aggro once your forces are properly arranged in the battlefield, reduce the movement of high-resistance enemies so you don’t take too much damage during a single combat round, and lower resistance to assist with Ghouling T3/T4 targets.
- L4: Protection from Light (5) – improves resistance against fire and spirit. You can delay this upgrade if you wish.
- L5: Devour (3) – until your two starting Necromancer Heroes become Arch Liches, they remain living units and thus can’t be healed by Heal Undead. Since you’ll be doing many battles each turn and losing healthy on your Heroes, it will be important to have a mechanism for them to heal up. Devour allows them to eat corpses toward the end of each battle to regain significant health, allowing them to stay healthy across multiple battles. Also an easy way to gain additional XP each battle.
- L6: Inflict Despair – reduces morale and inflicts spirit weakness (stackable) when attacking with melee or range. This allows your Hero, as well as your Reanimators and Banshees, to stack Despair on key targets you want to Ghoul. Also helps do additional damage to high HP targets you need to kill.
- L7: Greater Reanimate Undead (6) – a powerful ability that has two primary purposes. First, it acts as a second opportunity to Reanimate Undead that can keep Cadavers and low level units alive. Second, it allows you to revive T3/T4/Lich Heroes (not your Leader, though, since Leader goes to the void rather than leaving a corpse on the battlefield) during tough fights, which is an incredible lifesaver. Third, when fighting Undead units, once they die in battle, you will have a chance to Renaimate them to join your stack. This is a great way to add T2 support units and high powered T3/T4 Undead units to your armies when you are far away from your home cities.
- L8: save your points for better things at L9.
- L9: this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. At level 9, you can learn Inflict Ghoul Curse (7) and Inflict Curse (4). Like Inflict Despair, Inflict Curse makes each attack a chance to lower defense, resistance, and morale. Lowering resistance increases chances of Inflict Ghoul Curse working. The game first gives Inflict Despair and Inflict Curse a chance to be inflicted on the enemy before it checks to see if Inflict Ghoul Curse will work, which helps increase the chances that Inflict Ghoul Curse will succeed. Inflict Ghoul Curse only activates during melee attacks, so it is best to first inflict as many stacks of Inflict Despair (as well as a single Inflict Curse… not stackable) before having your Necromancer Hero go in for the first melee attack. If Inflict Ghoul Curse does not work during this first melee hit, the enemy becomes Immune to Ghoul Curse and will cannot be Ghouled the rest of the battle by anything. Thus, it’s important to maximize your chances of Inflict Ghoul Curse working during this one chance.
- L10: save points.
- L11: Undying (8): this ability allows you to use your Necromancer Heroes much more aggressively because they will be revived two turns later (or resurged if the battle ends before then) if they die. This helps with Inflict Ghoul Curse because you can put yourself in dangerous situations in order to get the Ghoul Curse on high value targets where your flank may be opened to counterattack. I have three warnings about Undying, though. First, if an opponent keeps a unit on the hex where you died, you will not respawn during battle (though you will resurged after the battle). Second, if you died and are revived two turns later, you will NOT have the ability to use many of your one-shot abilities such as Greater Reanimate Undead. So, there is a downside to dying early in battle if you are hoping to be able to use these abilities later in battle. Third, if you are killed a second time, you will not revive/resurge, so it’s not a get out of jail free card.
- L12: Energy Drain (4): because of all the other debuffs your attacks do to enemies, the Energy Drain debuff has a decent chance of being activated once or multiple times, effectively rooting enemies in their tracks given greatly reduced movement. This is extremely handy for reducing the movement of high value targets that you need to kill or Ghoul.
- L13: Invoke Death (5): as I noted when discussing Dread Reapers, this spell is a great nuke.
- L14: Shadow Step (4): this skill allows you to hope 3 hexes from your current location during battle (it’s unlocked at Level 9 but we don’t have the upgrade points to spare until now; feel free to take it earlier if I don’t mind pushing something else back), which is handy for avoiding death and getting in a clutch Inflict Ghoul Curse. If you are very worried about dying before getting Undying, you can take this at level 9 and push back other skills.
- L15: Necromantic Aura (8): ideally, we’d pick up this ability when it becomes available at Level 9, but other things take priority. Every time an enemy Undead unit attacks your Hero with Necromantic Aura, there is a chance that unit will be converted to your side instantaneously and permanently. This ability is primarily used to build your armies with Undead support units like Reanimators and T3/T4 units such as Wraith Kings, Death Bringers, and Dread Reapers. You may choose to take this ability earlier than Level 15 if you are about to fight at a treasure site that has these units that you want to bring to your side. However, remember that you’ll be able to take at least 1 of them by using Greater Reanimate Undead. I have found that I don’t take advantage of Necromantic Aura enough in my games to warrant taking it earlier than Level 15.
- L16 and beyond: some of the following upgrades may be useful depending on the situations you are facing - stat upgrades, Exploit Despair (bonus damage for each stack of Despair a unit has), Pass Wall (if you can’t obtain a flying mount), and Inflict Enfeebling Fever (-3 Defense and -300 Morale)
Hero Class / Race Recommendations
- Your starting Leader and the Hero that offers to join during turn 1 will both be Necromancers. This is important, as it helps you build up two Heroes who can start Ghouling to build your armies. However, statistically, it’s unlikely you’ll have a third Necromancer offer to join the rest of the game—though if one of your opponents has Necromancer Heroes, you might be able to Greater Reanimate Undead them or Necromantic Aura them to gain another Necromancer hero. It feels great taking over someone else’s Hero that you now get to benefit from.
- Aside from your 2 Necromancer Heroes, there are some other Hero classes that are a better versus worse fit for leading Necromancer armies. I’ll detail some of the better and worse ones here. Personally, I "request another hero” until I’m offered a Warlord, Rogue, Sorcerer, Arch Druid, or Necromancer.
- Warlord and Rogue are great tanky Heroes that you build up to be brawlers. Warlord’s Blood Brothers ability makes your entire stack 100% immune to spirit damage, which is an amazing buff for spirit-weak Undead units.
- I like to build Sorcerer to Level 11 Chaos Rift, which allows for easy treasure site clearing, sieging, and winning underdog battles against multiple AI stacks. On the way to Level 11, I build Sorcerers to provide heavy healing to Undead troops via Harmonizing Energy. The ability to stun and spirit break on attack can be good for Ghouling if you pair the Sorcerer with a Necro-led stack. Sorcerer can get floating movement as well, which means you can pair them with all-flying/floating armies of Undead units for easy map movement.
- I like to build Arch Druid to Level 11 Summon Beast Horde for the same reason I like Sorcerer’s Chaos Rift. Arch Druids can also help me acquire Shock Serpents (which I like to Ghoul with a visit to a Well) via Befriend Animal. The Call Ancestral Spirit ability is great for treasure site clearing between levels 5 and 11, when Summon Beast Horde is not available. Spirit of the Land helps partially protect your troops against spirit-channel damage, though it’s not as amazing as the Warlord’s Blood Brothers upgrade.
- Dreadnoughts and Theocrats are less of a good match for leading Undead armies, though the Dreadnoughts Forge Aprons ability (40% fire protection) might be useful if facing certain fire-type-heavy AI opponents.
Early to Mid Game Movement & Combat
- At the start of the game, accept the offer of your second hero to join (they are always Necromancer and hopefully a race that does not hate the volcanic terrain on which you will likely start).
- Put your Leader and Hero in the same stack, which ideally also has a Flyer and an Elder. The last two slots should be taken up by any additional Flyers or Elders (you are unlikely to start with two of a kind, though) as a first priority, and as a second priority I recommend Hatchlings, and as third priority I recommend Raptors.
- Send the rest of your units to explore the map, prioritizing picking up free resources, particularly mana, which you desperately need during early game.
- Prioritize finding independent cities and dwellings that you can capture (if discovered by a main stack) or cast Undead Plague on (if found by a scout and your main stacks are not nearby), as these facilitate early empire growth. Clear treasure sites in an efficient manner as you head toward these cities, trying never to double back on the same path you cleared before. Your main stacks should be able to capture almost all cities/dwellings you come across, with the exception of giant/dragon dwellings. Capturing cities is preferable because it allows you to migrate them to Ghoul draconian, which will help you work towards the Monoculture empire quest (3 free Ghoul Draconian Flyers given to you) and Racial Governance upgrades (The more cities belonging to a specific race you have in your empire, the more Racial Experience you get). If you can hold the city easily, then do so. If you won’t be able to hold it easily because you are plunging into enemy territory and don’t have sufficient forces to garrison the captured city, then do Hasty Plunder to get a bunch of resources in 2 turns time (make sure the enemy cannot recapture before that happens though). You can always Animate Ruins to instantly rebuild the city you Plundered, and in fact this is a great way to earn a bunch of resources and then rebuild the city once you can hold onto it, without any penalty to yourself. If you can’t capture the city and must cast Undead Plague instead, then this will help your nearest city grow its borders thanks to the influx of population from Undead Plague. Make sure you plan ahead so that you can cast Undead Plague when your scouts (e.g., Lost Souls) come across independent cities you can’t reach with your main stacks for a while.
- When should you split your Necromancer Heroes up into two separate armies that go their separate ways? You can do this once you have 10 other units, such that 5 will go with Leader stack and 5 with your second Necromancer Hero stack. The ideal composition for your stack when you split up should include, ideally: your Hero, a Flyer, an Elder, a Reanimator, a Cadaver, and a sixth unit of your choice. It’s likely you won’t have a flyer and elder for both stacks, so improvise as necessary. If you don’t have an elder for a given stack, use a second Reanimator for that stack instead. It find it’s helpful when at least 3 of your 6 units have ranged attacks (e.g., hero, elder/reanimator, reanimator). If you have Ghouled / Greater Reanimate Undead a strong T3 or T4 unit or two by the time you are splitting, then your stacks may look different (and more powerful!).
- Given the above recommended stack composition for your two primary armies, I have some advice about your early fights.
- First, raise two Cadavers as early as possible and then keep those two Cadavers alive for the remainder of the game. Use your Raise Cadaver and Lesser Reanimate Undead spells from your two Heroes to keep raising those Cadavers when you they fall during battle so they can keep tanking enemy hits. The ability to allow Cadavers to tank big hits/charges to keep your other units healthy is what allows you to take on high-level treasure sites earlier than you otherwise would. Ideally, you will have 2 gold-ranked Cadavers by the time you split your force into the two primary armies. At gold rank, Cadavers get resurgence, which means you can allow them to die during battle and they will resurge after the battle with a 1/3 of their health, which frees you up from having to worry about Raising/Reanimating them before the battle closes… one less thing to micromanage. You’ll keep these Cadavers alive turn after turn thanks for your Necromancer Hero/Leader and the Reanimator that is with it in the same stack. It is wonderful when your Cadavers start getting Champion medal ranks because +10 hp per Champion level is a huge amount for this unit, and if you keep these alive over the course of the game it is not uncommon to have one or two Champion 4-6 level Cadavers by turn 50.
- Second, it is important to keep your other key units alive. In order of most to least important to keep alive: second Necromancer Hero, Necromancer Leader, Flyer, Elder, etc. If you’re in a tough spot and have a chance to sacrifice a Flyer to keep a Hero alive, do so. It’s always better to keep the higher-value units alive, even if you must sacrifice a lower tier unit. Keep in mind that Lesser Reanimate Undead can revive T1/T2 units such as your Elders and Greater Reanimate Undead can revive units of any tier, including your second Necromancer Hero (but only once they are an Undead Arch Lich, mind you). These two abilities give you some an escape plan when a battle is too tough and you must lose a unit. Just make sure your Hero will have the opportunity and safety to Reanimate the dead unit in question before the battle ends or the Hero gets put in jeopardy. The single biggest way to lose momentum is to have your Hero or Flyer die, so concentrate on avoiding this, even if it means passing up on juicy high-tier treasure sites with tempting rewards.
- Third, ideally, you will have started in a corner of the world map or at least the far left or right side. This allows you to meet the 7 allied AI opponents later in the game, once you’ve had time to build up your forces and allowed Whispers of the Fallen to propel your research for a good while. Please note, when you meet 1 AI, one or two turns later you will automatically meet the other 6 AI; they will start disjuncting your spells from then on out, which is why you should not count on Strategic Spells staying up for long periods of time (and besides, you’ll want to be prioritizing your casting points for summoning Dread Reapers rather than reinforcing/re-casting your Strategic Spells). You should be able to explore the fourth of the map closest to you without running into the AI until at least turn 30, so vigorously explore that fourth of the map but do not venture out too far beyond that fourth of the map, as this will hasten when you will meet the opponents. Once you have at least 2-3 strong stacks (ideally with at least 2 T4 units per strong stack) and your two Necromancer Heroes have Undying, you are ready to meet the AI, so you can then feel free to venture beyond your fourth of the map. Please note that you are more likely to meet the AI on the topside than the underground, so feel free to explore a bit farther underground than you would the overworld. The idea is to clear out your back corner/side of the map in an efficient fashion where you don’t have to double back with your strong stacks to clear higher level sites. You need to build up your hero and troop ranks by defeating treasure sites before you are ready to battle the enemy AI, which is why you should focus on defeating neutral camps rather than seeking out the enemy AI early on.
- Fourth, in order from most important to least important, you want to gain experience on the following units: Heroes, Flyers, Ghouled or Greater Renimate Undead’d T4/T3 units, Cadavers, Reanimators, Elders, everything else. This order prioritizing Heroes as the engines of your whole strategy, Flyers are your power house units until T4 Ghouls start arriving, T3/T4 Ghouled or Greater Reanimate Undead’d units become the backbone.
Early to Mid-Game Empire Management
- In your capital city, start off with Builders Hall to increase production. Rush production if you can afford the gold (you can always afford the population cost!). Build Reanimators as soon as you are able, though you may have time to build a shrine and then a harvesters/embalmers guild before then. Shrine helps with your mana shortage. Harvesters/Embalmers will help with growth and allow Cadavers to chill in your capital without Reanimators keeping them from decaying to death. Once you’ve produced the recommended 4-6 Reanimators early game, you have some flexibility with what to produce in your capital city.
- I love research so I tend to prioritize laboratories and observatories in most all of my cities, whether built or captured (I stop building these once I’ve researched my key techs and can summon Dread Reapers).
- If you have enough resources, you can build up to Palace of the Perished in your capital (and any other city that has a well-developed infrastructure when you capture it, such as core enemy cities). However, make absolutely certain you have enough gold income to cover the cost of the upkeep for all of the expensive T3/T4 units you will be Ghouling. The casting points are the main reason to build Palaces, as these points make it much easier to summon the Dread Reapers that form the backbone of your late game army.
- Regarding non-capital cities, I will build Shrines if I still need the increased mana income, I may build Harvesters Guild for boosted growth to help expand borders to encompass key resource-generating structures, and I may build Embalmers Guilds in key frontier cities and fill them with Cadavers raised during nearby battles to help them resist minor raids (mana upkeep on Cadavers is super cheap).
- I pick 1-3 cities that have high production and build item forges. Item forges help round out the items equipped by your Heroes and are a great value. Items cost more mana than gold, which makes it perfect for using your large mana reserve that you should have mid to late game. I build the following items in general order of priority from greatest to least priority, though it depends somewhat on your Heroes, current situation, and what items you have already picked up from treasure sites: weapon with Life Drain & Overwhelm (1 for each melee Hero, including your two Necromancers), torso item with Strong Will + Armored, use item with Heal Undead (for each non-Necromancer Hero; allows you to heal Undead in your stack), helmet with Bringer of Good Will (keep cost of high-tier stacks’ upkeep lower), boots with Tireless (1 for each melee Hero), shield with Static Shield (1 for each melee Hero), first accessory with First Strike + 20% Fire Protection, second accessory with +20% Fire Protection and 20% Shock Protection), and so on. Other handy Use Items include Bane Fire (for Heroes who want a balanced 3 damage channel triple proc ranged attack option), Dominate (allows non-Necro Heroes to convert units to your side), and Stunning Touch (to use to isolate T4 units for Ghouling or experience cheesing at end of battle). As you can see, these item recommendations are tailored to melee Heroes who need to be able to stand their ground and stay alive via life drain and strong resistances. For your non-Necromancer ranged Heroes, the item recommendations are as follows: use item with Heal Undead, helmet with Bringer of Good Will, torso item with Strong Will + Armored, shield/quiver with 2+ fire ranged attack and 2+ shock ranged attack, weapon with Inflict Weakened (melee and ranged attacks have chance to reduce armor, resistance, and create 60% blight weakness), boots with Pass Wall (if needed) OR with +20% Fire Protection and 20% Shock Protection 20, first accessory with + 20% Fire Protection and 20% Shock Protection, second accessory with +20% Fire Protection and 20% Shock Protection), and so on. Honestly, you will probably only have time to craft the 3 most important items for your four most important Heroes before the game is decided, so it’s important to keep these item forging priorities in mind.
- Racial Governance Upgrade recommendations: Patron (shrines cheaper), Protector (Magma Forges give +10 production), Champion (all Heroes +10 casting points), Prophet (Flyers gains movement and martial arts), and Deity (pick the one that fits better for your situation). In my experience, I win games by turn 60 or 70, which means I may or may not reach Deity in time for it to matter much. The Champion upgrade is typically the most impactful, as it can be eared early enough in a game to make a difference (e.g., helps your Sorcerer and Arch Druid Heroes start casting their Level 11 spells a bit sooner).
- Dwellings (Giants, Dragons, Fey, Archons, Naga and Merfolk) serve three functions. First, if you can own one of these cities early enough in the game, you can build up the infrastructure enough to be able to produce their T4 units. As Draconian Necromancer, I recommend Fire/Frost Dragons, any of the Giants, Fey Nightshade Fairies, gold-ranked Naga Matriarchs, Naga Gluttons, and Merfolk Lords of the Deep. Fire Dragons and Giants can help your armies deal with fire-weak opponents and balance out the rest of your army’s heavy blight/frost damage. Nightshade fairies, once Ghouled, have strong resistance to many damage channels are great damage dealers that are highly mobile (a great addition to those flying/floating-only stacks I talked about above). Matriarchs get exciting once they reach gold rank, where they can cast lightning, which is very useful for sieging in particular. Lords of the deep can cast thunderstorm and have projectile reflection and even get total awareness and static touch at gold rank so they are deadly pikeman units particularly with their high fire protection. Second, if you do not have the resources and time to build up a dwelling’s infrastructure to produce troops, then it is best to keep them as a vassal or conquered town. Both provide a trickle of resources to you, but vassals with whom you have a good relationship will periodically offer you tributes and quests (which can help you earn units when accomplished). I find it quite helpful when I am frequently offered tributes and quests of mid to high tier units from a dwelling and can keep an army around their location to help complete those quests. Please note that the units built by these Dwellings are not automatically Ghouled (you don’t Ghoul Dwellings that you capture), so you will have to find a Well of Souls to send these units to for Ghouling before battle (or send them to a Hero-led stack once Harbingers of Death is researched).
Mid to Late Game Movement & Combat
- If you play well during the early to mid game, then the mid to late game is not difficult, and merely a matter of avoiding major mistakes.
- By turn 40, you should have 4-6 strong single stacks that are roaming the map on their own, most led by a single hero. These stacks should be composed of (1) Champion-level T2 units that you started the game with or produced in the first 18 turns, (2) a wide array of T3/T4 Undead and Ghoul units (the older ones of which are at least Gold rank) that you’ve acquired via your two Necromancer Heroes, and (3) some newer T2 Undead and Ghoul support units acquired to support your more recently-formed stacks of T3/T4’s.
- The shift to mid to late game is characterized by turning your focus from treasure sites in your 1/3 of the map to moving your stacks against the enemy front lines. There are a few principles to keep in mind when going on the attack against AI.
- First, send scouts ahead. You will be raising Cadavers with most battles, which you can send on ahead of you to get the lay of the land. You want to know when you are going to run into a well (or weakly) defended city and when powerful AI stacks are approaching you. This will inform if you need to retreat, wait for reinforcements, or plunge ahead.
- Second, if you can’t easily hold a city after conquering it, then use Hasty Plunder so you can move on with your power stack to pursue new objectives. Allowing an enemy to recapture their front line towns creates complications for guarding your borders that you don’t want. We want you to stay on offense, so that the enemy brings their forces to defend rather than getting an opportunity to send them to attack your homeland. In almost all of my games, my AI opponents never had the opportunity to attack any of my homeland cities because I was sending my armies into their territory to meet their forces. Basically, good offense is good defense.
- Third, have a plan for how each power stack you are sending can capture a city. Do you have many flying or wall climbing units who overwhelm the enemy? Do you have a ton of ranged units that can park outside the corner of their walls and eliminate their ranged units until the enemy melee units are forced to exit the walls? Do you have a high-level hero with life drain that can hold study at the top of a wall and tank their entire army? Do you have a long-range ability that can be used at a distance and force the enemy to exit their gates? If a given stack cannot take a certain city, pass it by and find another city to conquer. When you discover a city that is well-defended and will require multiple power stacks to conquer, then look for an efficient route for multiple power stacks to arrive at that city so they can take it together. In my games, around turn 50 some of my power stacks are joining forces halfway into enemy territory to take down powerful cities that the enemy is camping.
- Fourth, because you will own 1/3 (and soon ½) of the map with your empire, you will find that the individual enemy AI’s will start to surrender to you (especially once you eliminate their power stacks/key cities) faster than you’d guess. This is handy because it gives you a free hero, units, and city, which you can use to support your power stacks in taking other cities. I often take out 1 or 2 of the 7 opponents by turn 50 via surrender. If you want to increase the challenge of the match, you can refuse to accept their surrender.
- Fifth, prioritize summoning Dread Reapers. Logistically, you will likely find it most convenient to summon them next to your power stacks. However, if it is ever feasible to summon them in your Embrace Darkness-affected towns, they will get Greater Life Drain, which is amazing for enhancing their survivability. If they are not overwhelmed by flankers and fire/spirit dealing enemies, they can tank entire enemy stacks to the point that they seem OP.
- Sixth, be attentive to what Heroes have what items, which Heroes need new items forged for them, and what items should be swapped around as new Heroes join and old Heroes gain different upgrades. Revaluate your item array every 5 turns or so to make sure you are getting maximum synergy and damage channel resistance across your key Heroess.
- Seventh, if you have a surplus of mana, make sure your non-Leader Heroes are spamming spells as much as possible, since you can spare the mana and they will benefit from the experience gain.
Mid to Late Game Empire Management
- Stop building laboratories and observatories in your newly-conquered cities when you’ve researched all of your key empire upgrades, strategic spells, and the Summon Dread Reaper spell.
- You don’t want to Ghoul everything possible because it ends up costing too much in upkeep; you could be using that gold to build toward Palaces of the Perished, which will boost your crucial casting point cap. Focus on Ghouling only the most powerful T3 / T4 units and a few T2 support units to support them. Don’t waste your time Ghouling anything else.