How to contain or defeat France

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This article is accurate for the latest versions of EU3, Napoleon’s Ambition, In Nomine, Heir to the Throne and Divine Wind.

This article is about the "art" of defeating France, known in jest as the "Big Blue Blob".

Why France is so powerful

France starts with numerous advantages which give it the ability to intimidate and overwhelm other nations. These include:

  • Several vassals (HTTT/DW: Provence is not a vassal)
  • High manpower
  • Relatively high base tax provinces
  • High value goods (Wine)
  • Good missions
  • Military Drill is usually the first Idea
  • Usually lucky if Luck is on
  • Has cores on most of her neighbors for free wars

Thus, France starts with the ability to create large armies and can improve Military Tradition with multiple easy wars.

When France becomes a problem

France becomes a problem when modern day France is unified under one nation. The French AI can often be involved in wars in The Netherlands, Italy and Northern Spain. A further expansion of military might is only halted by simultaneous wars or high infamy. Should France take areas in Spain, Italy and Germany then matching their manpower will require a large colonial empire.

How to deal with France

Preparation

Diplomacy

Build a perimeter around them. France alone is very dangerous; France plus Lombardy and the Low Countries is much, much worse. In earlier versions, Burgundy could generally hold them off, but in IN, they almost always dismantle Burgundy early on. You need to plan for, and/or get in on, that. Use guarantees and warnings to get England, Castille and possibly Milan or Austria on your side whenever you can.

Remember that war is not about defeating the enemy's armies, it's about defeating the enemy. Prawnstar was able to defeat Portugal with the Iroquois in his AAR The Audacity of Hope, on Very Hard difficulty, by sending them stability-hitting peace offers ("This deal is better than they expect...") which they weren't going to accept, and waiting—bringing them down to -3 stability because they wouldn't take a demand to pay 25 ducats. They held out even after that, until they ran out of manpower and started facing rebellions everywhere in the world—eventually losing their colonial possessions and being force-converted to a Reformed-religion Tribal Democracy...

Dogpile when possible—if you can, wait for them to go to war with someone else, someone powerful, before you attack.

Ideas

Watch the National Ideas—France's taste for army-based NIs helps them a lot; Military Drill, National Conscripts, Glorious Arms, etc. are worth considering to help you fight them.

Espionage

Use the "Infiltrate Administration" spy mission, which lifts Fog of War for whoever you use it on.

If you have some money to spend, but not enough manpower to face France, Sow discontent can also be a very powerful tool. For 100-200 ducats and 1-2 spies a year, you can keep them at -3 stability. Keep it like that for a few years while you wait. The resulting rebels will be a continuous drain on both their manpower and their income. While they aren't likely to collapse to rebels, rebels can wear down the French doom stack considerably. This tactic does not work in Divine Wind where you can only Sow Discontent once.

Military strategy

Don't rush. The French like to use gigantic stacks; scorch the earth of the territories they try to invade, hang back, and let attrition do its work (also increasing their war exhaustion, which means lower taxes and higher revolt risk as it goes up).

Use cavalry. Wait for a French stack to be badly degraded, then hit it with 20,000 Gallop Cavalry, and they won't seem quite so impossible—try to destroy them, but even if they just retreat into France, you've done well. Make sure your troops are the best unit type available, commanded by a general, and at 100% military maintenance. Don't be afraid to mint a lot of coin if that's what it takes to do this.

Early game hit

Between 1399-1430's France is a relatively weak nation and is surrounded by weaker (but still relevant) enemies.

This is an ideal time to deal with France, if you are starting as England, Burgundy, or Castille. Allying with Castille or Burgundy gives strong support in a war. If the player is England there will be at War close to the start, so either train as many troops as possible and attack France, or just give up your continental provinces for the time being. If you can win wars, take as many provinces as possible in peace deals or release nations to divide France into pieces. At this point France is inept, and likely to be defeated by the player or an AI neighbour.

Mid to late game large conflict

Dealing with France cannot be done simply and easily unless your nation is as big or bigger. Early on if possible ally with another European continental power, Spain, the HRE, Austria are good examples while England is useless as they will never land large enough stacks of troops in a unified France.

Build up your resources for a war with France where you will have to deal with well lead high power stacks. Allow their large armies into your country and whittle them down using scored earth and doubling up your large stacks in defence. Meanwhile cover the entire French lands with stacks of 3-4 infantry to maximise sieging and prevent reinforcement, this is doubly helpful as is pushes up war exhaustion. Be careful to prevent a large French stack mowing through your sieging armies as this will seriously harm your war effort. Once enough of France is occupied the peace deal should be tailored to releasing French minors, assuming your infamy is low they won't automatically dissolve the alliance with you and its an extra province on your side and one less of theirs, a double hit. This is generally more efficient than trying to take French provinces as they tend to have a high value and you will ge very few from a complete victory.

Late game large conflict

Containing France does not always mean fighting France. If you can become a bigger colonial power your manpower will be higher and you may well have conquered large tracts of Germany and Eastern Europe. Wait until France has just finished a large war with another power and build up massive armies of 100,000 troops or more. Use the same strategy as the mid game hit to break up their armies and use your navy to disrupt troop motion. If you have beaten France once you can do it again and need not worry about releasing nations but instead can concentrate on taking provinces. Spies can be used to help seed revolts in colonies you cannot or do not wish to access as this provides a further distraction.

The Personal Union Strategy

In Heir to the Throne and Divine Wind, it is worth it to marry France, and wait for her monarch to hit 15–20 years from coronation and have no heir before claiming the throne. If you are lucky, you can get a Personal Union without a war. At that point, just stay at war until you are larger than France, letting France steamroll your enemies and take territory for you.

Divide & Conquer

France is built out of the pieces of several small nations, some of which are already absorbed into it in the beginning of the game, and it will steadily annex its vassals until France is roughly shaped like it is in the modern world. Thus, France can always be divided into its component pieces once again, either by provoking revolts or forcing France to Release Nations from within its borders.

To Divide and Conquer France without taking a single hit on your Reputation, pick a fight with them and either defeat them militarily using one of the strategies above or by using Espionage to encourage Nationalistic revolts. Holding them at war until their War Exhaustion maxes out is another valid way of achieving the same, as they will soon be awash in Nationalistic revolts. When you conquer enough of their nation to make a truce you like, force them to release as many nations as possible, setting them back decades in their efforts to unite their country under one banner.