Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne

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  • Heroes are not quite as powerful as in Age of Wonders 1, but are still extremely good. Focus on Defense first to keep them alive. Resistance is nice, but not super necessary. If you intend to use them for spell support then you can let their defense slide some.
  • Units get xp based only on the killing blow. If a unit never kills anything, it never gets any xp. Normal units can level up twice, getting a silver and then gold medal on their portrait. Try not to waste xp by having gold-medal troops get killing blows if you can help it.
  • When choosing your elements, the more elements of a certain type you pick, the more powerful spells in that school you will get access to. Unless you go 100% with one element, you'll never see the most powerful spells of that school. Most of the time the spells are well worth it.
  • Explorer is the best perk to start with.
  • When choosing which shrine to build in a city, go for the shrine of war or order. War has the best city effect (build troops with silver medals already) and both War and Order give great quest rewards (income blessings, dragon summons, whole-battlefield nukes).

Cities

Neutral

Neutral civs are good to start as because you can add units of other factions easily without them being more than slightly grumpy about your alignment.

Human cities get bonus production speed, their units are mostly boring melee units with good stats. Their Knights are great to have, and infuriating to fight against. Their tier 4 unit is the ultimate logistical enabler, but won't win you any wars on its own. They also get cannons.

Tigran cities get bonus gold, their units get lots of long range attacks and debuff attacks. They are a little weak in a straight-up brawl, or against units with high resistance scores. Their ultimate unit can mind-control, it's great.

Draconian cities get bonus research, Their units are all fire resistant, which is great because fire attacks are quite common. They also ignore shadow sickness. An extremely strong faction with no weaknesses. Red dragons!

Nomad cities get no bonus production, but can pack up and move somewhere else. They are basically humans with slightly worse stats but a few extra special abilities. Don't waste your money on elephants, their high hp doesn't make up for their low attack and defense. Their tier 4 unit is kind of weak for ultimate units, but it'll still rip chumps up.

Frostling cities get bonus mana. Frostling units are pretty universally awful, Yetis are the only unit that can take a punch, and their ultimate unit is embarrassingly bad. At least their scout cavalry isn't slowed by forests.

Good

Elf cities get bonus mana. Elves are awesome, they get the best tier 1 archer, a tier 2 mind control unit, and all their units are lightning fast, immune to forest terrain penalties, and heavily resistant to magic attacks. Their ultimate is a little lackluster, but the game probably won't last that long if you're playing elves right.

Halfing cities get bonus population growth. Halflings are the worst faction in the game. Their units are frail and weak, and even though most of their units ignore forest penalties, their movement speed is so slow they will still have trouble keeping up with most normal factions' units. Their ultimate unit is a leprechaun. Yes.

Dwarf cities get bonus production speed. Dwarves are top-tier, their units are strong and durable, and they all ignore underground terrain penalties to both movement and vision. They also are all poison resistant, a very common attack type. You don't need to be too creative with dwarves, their basic units will win 1-on-1 with most other factions' and they get access to the best siege units too. Runemasters are one of the few tier 3 units that can brawl with human Knights and reliably come out on top. Oh and they're also fire immune. And can crush walls. Dwarves get low movement points, but when moving underground they are actually faster than most factions.

Syrons cities get bonus mana. Syrons are odd. They get lots of lightning attacks, and are pretty mediocre unless facing shadow demons. They all ignore shadow sickness, but lack a real solid combat unit until tier 3. Their tier 4 is pretty awful.

Archon cities get bonus research. Archons get lots of holy attacks and holy champion specialties. They are all holy resistant, most of them are holy immune. They have the only unit in the game that can resurrect the dead permanently. When fighting an evil faction they are absolutely lethal, when fighting against neutral or good units, they're just average.

Evil

Goblin cities get bonus population growth. Goblins are the Halflings of Team Evil. They are slow, weak, frail, and overreliant on their poison attacks to even the odds. Their units are all cave comfortable, which can be nice. If you pick goblins, pray you don't have to fight the poison-resistant cave-dominating dwarves, or you won't be able to rely on your few advantages.

Orc cities get bonus production speed. Orc units are as straightforward as they come. Their stats are pretty high so they can beat most factions down in a stright-up fight, but they lack for options if their enemies start fielding units with special abilities. Their tier-3 warlords are powerful enough that you might not need options though.

Dark Elf cities get bonus mana. Dark Elves are scary opponents, they get an early double-strike unit, tier-1 archers on par with their good counterparts, and a tier-4 unit that you absolutely have to try out sometime. With the exception of perhaps their tier-1 melee guy, Dark Elves don't really have a bad unit in the bunch. Their biggest weakness is they lack a big brawly tank unit.

Shadow Demon cities get bonus mana. Shadow demons are strong and fast, with innate shadow sickness immunity. They're all lightning-weak though, so watch out for Syrons. Their units all have high offense but low defense, so getting high-level units can be a challenge. Their tier 4 unit is extremely strong, and as unsubtle as you can get.

Undead cities get bonus research. Undead are a bit disappointing, they get lots of interesting-looking units, but only a handful have decent stats or special abilities. Also they are all weak to holy attacks, as well as being evil, so Archon units get a double advantage over them. Their tier 4 is fairly poor.