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Age of Empires I Hints and Tips
First things first, if playing in a random map mode (and I would recommend that you do), set the resources to high. This is because if they are set to low or default, you do not start on an even playing field and the computers begin with more resources. It may seem like a cheat, but saying as the mechanics of the game can be unfair sometimes it seems fair enough to me.
I would recommend beginning on nomad instead of a defined age also as this can give you a time advantage as you should always get your Town Centre built before the quickest computer. You also get occasionally lucky and one of your enemies gets mauled by a lion or two and gets knocked out of the game early.
Pick a good area to build your TC and build it asap. If you can't get a place beside all the resources, prioritize in the order Food, Wood, Gold, Stone. Build two houses and produce as many villagers as you can without bringing your food below 500.
Build a storage pit to sort out the resources that are missing from near your TC and build a granary and barracks asap. Preferably the food source beside the TC should be deer and then your granary is built beside berries. Try to always have at least two methods of food production. If you are near fish-able water get a dock built and maximum fishing boats.
Put the majority of your produced villagers on food production. Put two on wood and one or two on gold for stockpiling for the later ages.
As soon as you have all your villagers produced and two buildings built, research the tool age technology.
As soon as you progress to the tool age, build both an archery range and a stable. If playing in an unrevealed map, I would make a scout from the stable and scope out my enemies. If you can afford it build a market too. Build a few more villagers while these are being created and houses as you need them. Put these villagers onto food, wood then gold so you have have 10 on food and 4-6 on gold and wood. Make 1 or 2 for Stone also and research the Bronze age asap.
One thing to note at this stage is if you create any units or watch towers make sure they do not kill the enemies villagers as this will cause them to attack you with all their force. From the point of view of creating units, however, I would recommend waiting until the next age.
As soon as this is researched, build as many cavalry units as you can afford and continue to do so. They are without a doubt the best unit for this age and you should try to create at least 10-15 before thinking about the next age. You can make more villagers to up your food and gold production and research the technologies in the market. Research the hand to hand and cavalry defence technologies in your storage pits.
Build a couple of extra villagers and start building a lot of towers around your resource production areas. Expand these tower areas to cover all entrances to your base. A tactic that I like to use is creating choke points for the enemy units by building walls and then build lots and lots of towers here. Ie create one entrance into your base away from your villagers and build as many towers there as you can manage. Keep your cavalry nearby to deal with any siege vehicles that may come your way.
At any point during this age you could start being attacked so get your defenses and army prepared as quickly as you can manage.
Once you start to save up resources and have a solid defense set up, get into the Iron age asap. Generally you will not get there before the first computer player but if you are around the same time do no fret.
Basically you need to keep your villagers alive and producing max resources while keeping your defences secure and a decent sized army. It then becomes a war of attrition, with everybody getting into the Iron age around the same time, which you just have to fend off until the enemies run out of resources and stop producing units.
Only go on the offensive when you have maxed out an army of heavy cavalry and heavy horse archers and have the resources to create another one quickly if they get wiped out. Make sure you attack the enemy most likely to do damage to your defenses while you're fighting a war elsewhere. And REGULARLY check in on your base to make sure you are not losing your towers to sieges or a massive force.
A useful tactic I find is to build a lot of stables and archery ranges so you can produce many units quickly. This also lets you cheat the population limit by as many units as you have buildings producing units at the time that you reach the maximum. This is because as long as a unit has started being produced when you reach the maximum, it will be completed.
A good tactic for when you are at war is roaming around in a group of at least 10 horse/heavy horse archers. Keep them on the move to avoid siege fire and get in tune with their reload time so you can attack - move - attack - move with maximum efficiency. Using this method you can kill any amount of any unit, just use your initiative to either get in close to attack (for example priests) or run and attack and run (for example heavy cavalry)
These are the methods i use to defeat the most difficult computer opponents but it will not work all the time as if 7 of them attack you at once (which can happen randomly) you don't really stand a chance no matter how prepared you are. You may find that some of my methods don't work as well for your or indeed if you have a better method feel free to share in the comment section below! This is just for some ideas if you are having trouble winning when you increase the difficulty level a bit.