Byzantines have a standard Dark Age start with 3 Villagers and a Scout. They are lacking anyeconomy bonus in the Dark Age so the player can focus this time on setting up for their maincomposition later in the game.
From the Dark Age, a ‘Drush’ is a viable start and leads in well to one of the Byzantines’ main focuses – Archers. This is a sensible start as the main limitation for the Byzantines that should influence their game plan in the early game is the lack of Bloodlines for their Cavalry, restricting their maximum HP to less than many other civilizations. As such, it is sensible for the Byzantines player to streamline towards an Archer build early on.
Byzantines are able to follow up their Militia approach from Dark Age with Archers (possible with upgrading to Men-at-Arms beforehand). Archers are a suitable approach for the Byzantines as they have access to the full technology tree for the Archer-line, including all of their upgrades, and with advancing to the Imperial Age costing 33% less, they are able to tech into Arbalester early than normal.
Byzantines are able to field Scouts in the Feudal Age but this would be very situational as they do not want to invest in them for too long due to the a forementioned lack of Bloodlines. However, if committing to Archers, Scout Cavalry would be a quick way to counter the enemy’s Skirmishers that they may produce to fight your Archers.
The Byzantines are lacking any Feudal Age economy bonuses but have cheaper Spearmen and Skirmishers, reducing the impact on their ‘up-time’ if they need to create these counter units. Instead of investing in Scouts, it may be more sensible for the Byzantines player to mix in Skirmishers with their Archers in order to trade more effectively against enemy Skirmishers. With these being cheaper, they are likely to be more cost-effective if the enemy mirrors this composition.
On water maps, the Byzantines can compete throughout the game. While they lack economy upgrades to help with their water-based production, the Byzantines get faster firing Fire Galleys which allow them to take an early lead in water battles. Their potentially earlier Imperial Age allows them to keep pressing this advantage into the late game and they have access to all of the Dock technologies and units – making them a very strong water civilization.
Byzantines also get the Town Watch research for free on reaching the Feudal Age, giving all of their buildings additional line of sight. This is a very minor technology and many players don’t research it until a bit later in the game but the greater vision does allow you to have advanced warning of approaching enemies.
On reaching the Castle Age, Byzantines should normally have a mass of Archers ready to be upgraded to Crossbowmen. Having a large number of Archers to upgrade provides a big power spike and a major opportunity to damage the opponent.
If the opponent begins teching into Skirmishers to try to deal with the Byzantines, Mangonels can be added to counter these. The faster firing rate of Crossbowmen and high damage output of the Mangonels means that if the Skirmishers try to micro against this combination, they are likely to lose numbers easily. You could also add in your own Skirmishers as you already will have the upgrades and production buildings from your Crossbowmen.
Similarly, your opponent may well make the same decisions on how to counter your ranged army. If they switch into Mangonels and you don’t feel confident in winning the Mangonel micro battle then the Byzantines are able to add in some Knights. Without Bloodlines, Knights should not be the key focus of their army. However, adding a small number to deal with enemy Mangonels or even against Elite Skirmishers can be an excellent way to maintain your Crossbowmen mass.
The Byzantines have access to the most important Monk technologies such as Redemption, Atonement and Sanctity as well as Block Printing in the Imperial Age. In fact the only technology they are missing is Herbal Medicine, the loss of which is completely negated by the Byzantines team bonus. Alongside the open Monk technology tree, the Byzantines also have access to Onagers and Siege Rams in Imperial Age so a Siege-Monk push is a strong and viable option. The cheaper
Spearmen-line also eases the addition of Byzantine Pikemen to protect the Siege and Monks from Scouts or Light Cavalry. It should be noted that a Siege-Monk push should normally only be considered on closed maps.
The Byzantines have stronger than normal defensive buildings due to their civilization bonus of additional HP per age. This makes their Castles very long lasting compared to normal. Their Castle Age unique technology, Greek Fire adds 1 extra range to their Fire Ships, improving their strength on water. However, building a Castle is a significant investment of your economy so this is a very niche technology that may only be useful on certain water maps or if the player has needed to build a Castle in order to be able to get back onto water. If this is the case, it will be very beneficial for the Byzantine player to research.
The only Byzantines economy based bonus comes into effect in the late Castle Age. They have a 33% reduction in the cost to advance to the Imperial Age therefore meaning they can reach it much sooner than most other civilizations.
Reaching the Imperial Age earlier than your opponent allows a huge power spike with the Arbalester upgrade which can outrange any of their counters. Byzantines can use this advantage to push the opponent back or to severely damage the opponent’s economy. An additional advantage to arriving to Imperial Age earlier is that the Byzantines can begin the research on the Chemistry technology sooner. Chemistry takes a long period of time to research so being able to get this a little sooner allows the Byzantines to produce gunpowder units earlier than many opponents.
The Byzantines have access to Siege Rams and Bombard Cannons to provide a more mobile composition to attack Castles or push into their opponent’s base than the standard option of Trebuchets.
The Byzantine’s unique unit the Cataphract is incredibly powerful as it negates much of the bonus damage that would otherwise effect Cavalry. Traditionally, fully upgraded Cataphracts have not been overly utilised at the high level as the Elite upgrade and the unique technology Logistica (to give the Cataphracts trample damage to nearby units) were too expensive. A recent patch has significantly reduced the food cost to get these upgrades. While they now cost less to get to, it is still a significant investment and therefore a strong economy is needed to do this. Time will tell if these changes have
made them more viable as a composition.
In the late game, even without Bloodlines, the Byzantines player can use their Hussars for raiding purposes. The reduced HP of these compared to many other civilizations means that they should be reluctant to use these as part of their main army composition but they are still an ideal unit to cause damage to the opponent’s economy due to their mobility.
The Byzantines are missing the final attack upgrade for Infantry and Cavalry but in a trash war, this is compensated for by their reduced cost for Halberdiers and Skirmishers. The Byzantines need to rely upon their numbers or using their earlier Imperial Age to finish an opponent off before this becomes relevant.
In a game focused on constantly adapting to the enemy’s composition, the Byzantines cheaper Spearmen-line, Skirmishers and Camels allows them the flexibility to cost-effectively counter almost anything they may face.