It's time to fight back the Ancient Wizard Kings (or maybe the Champions, we don't judge here)! To help you out on your journey, we've written the top 10 tips & tricks that we could think of to give you a bit of a headstart against your adversaries in Age of Wonders 4! Starting with…
#1 — Annex!
Annexing as a system is quite complex. From learning how to balance what materials you want to their anxiety-inducing permanence because you can't change them, it's a bit difficult to find the courage to properly do it.
Although the mechanic isn't explained very well, it's important to keep in mind that annexing is one of the main ways for you to get some resources — namely, Production and Drafting, which you use for City Structures and building armies, respectively. Make sure you're annexing when you can and build your empire, especially as this increases your distant claims on lands.
#2 — Don't annex too much
I see you, overzealous fledgling that seeks to annex all the lands and make distant claims to the entire world so that you may start as many justified wars as possible. Stop! I know I'm contradicting point #1, but that's because I know a few of you are going to take "Annex" as "Annex everything", and that's not the idea.
When you're annexing, you need to make sure that you're careful with your City Stability; this is basically the happiness that your residents have in any given city. Upset them a little too much by annexing (which has a -5 stability price) and you are going to take a penalty to Production and Draft. Make sure that your city can take another Province before you start expanding by building things like the Tavern in your City Building tab.
#3 — Annex intelligently
Okay, this is the final annexing one, I promise — make sure you aren't haphazardly picking lands because you find them pretty (guilty as charged). Although that river would really complete your city build and make it look pretty and large, there is a "right" way to annex things.
Make sure you are expanding in the direction of better nodes. Whether these are for resources or ancient wonders, you can take advantage of extra resources whilst only taking the -5 City Stability, earning more resources for less cost.
#4 — Be careful with your unit upkeep
This might be an obvious tip; it was for me at first, but I quickly stopped being scared of the price of unit upkeep and started getting armies by the dozen because the numbers weren't affecting me... until they were.
One thing that isn't explained is exactly how Mana works as a unit upkeep, but the units you bring in with Mana (the ones that you can summon from the tomes) cost a Mana upkeep per turn, exactly as you would with Gold units. This, stacked on top of unit-enhancing spells (like the ones that give you extra resistances), costs a certain amount of Mana to keep per turn, and this can quickly take you from 2,000 Mana to 200. No, this is, unfortunately, not an exaggeration — I really was that dumb.
#5 — Don't forget the encyclopedia
Age of Wonders 4 does a great job at explaining practically everything to you via text boxes. The one with underlines can be hovered over to bring up even more underlines endlessly because there is that much to learn sometimes (oftentimes, lore information as well, but that's beside the point).
Whenever you're in a pinch, don't forget that not only does the game give you all of its information freely by hovering over most things, but you can also check out the encyclopedia in the top-right of the screen in a little ¡ icon. Here, you can sort between six categories or search directly for what you're struggling with. For instance, I searched "Annex" one too many times!
#6 — You can stack heroes in a single army
I am ashamed to admit that I learned this from an NPC, but credit where credit's due, if it wasn't for King Decimus the Unwavering of the Atoning Toadmen (you need to use the full title, it's only respectful to do so), I would still be filling my armies exclusively with tiered units.
If it wasn't because I enviously stared at King Decimus the Unwavering of the Atoning Toadmen's strength in envy, I would never have seen that two Hero units were stacked in one army and that is how he had masterfully passed the 1,000 mark I'd been trying to for so long. Whenever you're going to do an especially difficult fight, such as ancient wonders, which only let you take one army in, stack your heroes and watch them decimate everything.
#7 — Experiment with customisation
I've said it before and I'll say it again — I'm a goody-two-shoes in practically every game ever. My starting Affinity was — you guessed it — Order, and I tried to make sure my alignment was Very Good on my first run because I feel bad, even for faceless NPCs. If I can play anything light-related, I'll do it because I just like that sort of build.
That said, I tried to play with the other Affinities and found that, surprisingly, Order start was not my favourite build. Make sure you experiment with your factions because you never know which one you're going to like. I will forever deny it if my favourite ends up being Shadow Affinity, but that's beside the point.
#8 — Pay attention to the actions you can do per round
Every turn, Age of Wonders 4 helpfully highlights every action you can do, and this is a great way to keep track of what you can do and what you need to do at all times. This is great for people that are forgetful and can oftentimes end the turn a little bit too early.
From reminding you to research your tome (because I forget all the time) to reminding you that your treaty with a Free City has expired for the millionth time, it's never a bad idea to check out what there is. Make sure you keep a close eye on what else you can do so you never skip the turn too soon!
#9 — Play to your strengths
There are two crucial resources you have to keep in mind whenever you are adventuring through any realm — Gold and Mana; these two are the bread and butter for basically any operation in the game. Although it might feel like you need to focus on both, that isn't necessarily the case.
When it comes to the decision between Champion and Ancient Wizard King, you are essentially choosing between Gold and Mana respectively. Make sure that, if you want to be a spell-caster, you go for the latter; this will significantly affect how much you have and how much you earn, ensuring that you can build your army correctly.
#10 — Have fun
At the end of the day, Age of Wonders 4 is just a game, and the most important thing to do is have fun. Do deplorable actions, kill all of the Free Cities and reign supreme via Military victory, annex a little too much because you always dreamed of an empire with a river — once you win or lose, you can try again.
The game straight-up tells you to roleplay for your first run and there is a reason for that — you can, and will, learn to min-max as you play, and you will find that other builds just aren't as fun once you do. You can learn what the game has to teach you and learn about the Affinities and builds and combat and City Structures and annexing as you encounter them, and until then, just have fun. Likewise, play the Story Realms on Easy or finish them on Hard, and do as you please — Age of Wonders 4 is yours to experience your way.
Congratulations, Champion, you are now an expert in Age of Wonders 4! And if you're wondering why I just called you a Champion, it's because I lied — we do judge, and if you play Ancient Wizard King, I don't want to see your face anymore.
Let me know in the comments below any other tips you have — I know I have a lot more to learn! Now be free and annex to your heart’s content!