This guide assumes that you know how to play the game and how different traits work. It also is mostly conceptual because the game balancing is subject to change and I haven’t played every country yet.
Guide to Concepts
At its core fire and maneuver is a game of resource management. You have limited resources (orders and the currency you use to buy units) and an objective (defeating the enemy army). The way that you win the game is by using these resources as efficiently as possible. This guide will cover ways that you can do this.
The first part of the battle begins before the fighting actually starts. Unit select is key and you can lose against less skilled opponents just because they have better units. Something you should always remember is that every unit and every gun is an investment and buying many units of the same type will bring diminishing returns.
Some players will buy breechloaders but only fire once with those units or buy rifled guns and then charge the unit into melee. In these cases they could have bought cheaper guns and saved money. The same applies to units, don’t buy a rugged unit if your enemy can just fight on open ground. Another way players will waste value is by buying lots of the same unit. A good rule of thumb is to not spend more than a quarter of your funds on one unit. Each unit has a role and buying too many of the same unit means that you will have underfilled roles or your units will have to fill roles they aren’t suited for.
Most units in the game have no melee trait so they will perform identically in melee. This makes melee combat a great way to trade units, specifically if you’re a quantity faction. Melee combat can also be used to pin down mobile non-skirmisher units. The 4 things to consider before charging into melee are cost, cohesion, health and traits. Cost is the most important as most of the time in a melee engagement both units die. Cohesion and health should also be considered as all units do the same damage in melee so more health and cohesion lets you last longer.
Finally, traits like shock, melee drill and skirmisher can affect the outcome of the melee and a unit can simply pull back without taking attrition. If you plan on charging a unit into melee, equip it with the cheapest guns possible as it won’t be firing many shots.
In fire and maneuver units will regain their cohesion if there aren’t any enemy units adjacent to them. So ideally you want to kill enemy units in one turn so that they don’t get a chance to regain cohesion. To do this focus as many units as possible on one enemy unit. By doing this the enemy firepower will be reduced every single turn and minimizing the number of attacks needed to kill the enemy. Of course it isn’t always possible to fully defeat an enemy unit in one turn. When this is the case try to get a unit next to the wounded enemy or engage them in melee to stop them from regaining cohesion.
Even when you’re in a battle you should still be conscious of how much units cost. In multiplayer you have to accept the fact that you are going to lose units. So you want to make sure that you get the most value possible out of a unit before it dies. If one of your Hussars kills an enemy artillery piece but dies in the process that’s great since artillery is generally very expensive while Hussars are quite cheap. For this reason during large infantry engagements try to focus fire on the enemy guard units as they will do the most damage each turn.
Fire at Will
The easiest way to get more out of your orders is to set units fire at will. However not all units should be set to fire at will. In general the less units a unit could target the better it is to use fire at will (remember enemy units can move into range during the battle phase). You should also only use fire at will if a unit is holding a position or has breechloaders equipped. This is because once you order a unit to fire at will it will continue firing every turn until you give it another order. Also units with breechloaders will fire twice if you select fire at will even though you only used one order.
The downside of fire at will is that control is out of your hands so you shouldn’t use fire at will when focusing on a specific unit. You should also keep in mind that units firing at will are going to shoot after everyone else.
95% of the time you will only be using 3 formations, open order, closed order and attack column. March column is only useful when you want to quickly reach a place that is accessible via roads and it’s very rare to have a situation where square formation is useful. Closed order is the most balanced formation as you have decent cover and high ranged damage. Closed order should be used when you want to focus fire on a single unit or have the numerical advantage and works well with breechloaders.
Open order is a defensive formation that has good coverage and ranged resistance. Open order should be used when you want to hold a position and are outnumbered and is especially effective when the unit has ranged drill or additional range. Be aware damage will never be less than one so sometimes open order will be useless.
Attack column is the most offensive formation and it has extra charge damage and speed but has limited coverage. Attack should be used to move units into position or when engaging the enemy in melee. To save on orders try to change formations as little as possible and change into your preferred combat formation one turn before the fighting begins.
Because units have limited coverage you should keep them close together so that their coverages overlap and they can focus fire. The problem is that a limited number of units can fire per tile. Because of this in large engagements or at choke points the only thing that matters is the DPT (damage per turn) of your units, not how many units you have. This means as a quality faction you want to engage the enemy at choke points and fight with your whole army at once while as a quantity or skirmisher faction you want to avoid choke points and break the battle up into multiple smaller engagements.
When you have two units on the same tiles you can move both of them or change the formation of both of them with only one order. This isn’t always necessary as moving your units forward is the least order intensive part of the battle but it can help quantity factions during low order games. The main time reserves will make a difference is during combat. You can fire with a unit and then move another unit in front and fire with that unit. When combined with breechloaders this method allows you to attack 4 times from one tile, and if at least one of the units has range drill you can kill a whole unit with one tile combat width. This can also be done with non-indirect fire artillery so that you can shoot while still being protected.
The Order of Your Orders
Due to the simultaneous turn system the information you have on the enemy during the order phase becomes less and less reliable the later you are during the battle phase. So you should do your highest priority moves first which a lot of people already do. What many people don’t realize is that you can also benefit from an order being later in the order list. Yes the information you have when you make that order is less reliable but you also increase the chance that the enemy doesn’t respond.
Say you have a unit just outside of enemy range if the enemy shoots at your units on their 6th order expecting your unit to move but your unit moves on the 8th move then your unit won’t get hit. Then you can do a maneuver I call “last move first moving” and move the unit again on the first order of the next turn to get two turns of movement out of a unit without the enemy being able to respond in between. My favorite use of last move first moving is moving a light cavalry unit into position and then charging the enemy artillery before the enemy can do anything. This is an especially effective counter to German Krupp Guns which are very popular right now. The only thing to be aware of when last move first moving is that fire at will happens after all other moves so you may get hit with fire at will.