The Knights are the remnants of a Crusading order, they are restricted to Rhodes in Divine Wind or Malta in some older versions of the game.
|At the start of the Grand Campaign – 14 October 1399|
|Number of provinces||1|
|Center of Trade||None|
|Other accepted cultures||None|
You have one province that doesn't even share your state religion, you have 0 ducats so can't hire a single advisor, you have only one ship and only one unit of infantry. Your province is poor and your manpower is a joke.
Now good news; you're a Catholic Theocracy, so you can convert other religions easily. You are in the Latin technology group, which is the best. The good news is that there are a lot of rich infidels around the world. Of course you won't succeed in fighting with anybody. You will probably start crying when you see your treasury for the first time. Is there anybody earning less than you in this game? I doubt. Well, what's even funnier you have to mint some cash as you start with empty treasury and can't really afford going bankrupt the second month of the game.
To even think about not being annexed by the Ottomans during your first 10 years of playing, you have to make a quick move. Put your army on your ship, set your starting general to lead them. You have to conquer Cyprus before it allies with somebody. So declare a war to them just after your ship reaches their shores and disembark your army. If necessary, to prevent them from making an alliance, declare war on them the instant you start the game. You're attacking from water and they have the same size of the army. So you're pretty much screwed. The only thing that can help you is your general - and you have to know that he's very talented. Also, you have your full Quality setting to your advantage. You win or you reload your game. Really. You can't afford not having Cyprus. Do not forget your most excellent starting admiral, Cyprus has a ship and they can attack and destroy yours if it's without a leader your conquest and survival is threatened.
Once Cyprus is taken you can only hope the Ottomans ignore The Knights of St. John. For your capital, the island of Rhodes, shares a land bridge with the Ottoman mainland. Try and lay low for until you feel secure to take a second island in the Mediterranean, but remember, the further from the Ottomans, the better, if Genoa is forced to release it's Corsica, that is a perfect target, but something which has a semi land connection is a tad risky.
Gather resources for your own defense and do ally with a nation like Venice, or a Catholic Mediterranean power. The best choice here is Aragon as it has numerous ships and can defend your pitiful islands from Ottomans and Mamluks for quite a long time. If they hate you, go for Portugal or Castille. You need somebody with fleet in the area to come and defend you as quickly as possible. At this time you can choose to clean your badboy and try to succeed as a minor trading nation. For that, move your slider towards Free Trade and follow the Economic strategy guide. Even one trader in any centre of trade can earn more than your starting country.
While it does seem suicidal to take The Knights, they also provide great fun and great challenge. You just have to employ the right strategy and a little bit of luck. Do not begin any wars near your island and do not change culture to match the Greek culture of Rhodes.
Shift the slider towards land and Make your ruler a general (yes, not a very good one, but the best you have, and if he dies, chances are you get a better ruler without problems with Legitimacy). Use your Diplomats to get Military Access to Castille and Aragon.
Put your single land unit on your single cog and sail to Aragon or Castille, depending on whether you have already declared war against Granada. If you have already declared war, sail along the shore of Italy and France and put your troops in the Aragonese province just above Murcia. Sail back after the next land unit (preferably infantry and preferably the Eastern Foot Unit - they are better for some time until you get the various Muslim troops). By this time, chances are that Castille has declared war on Granada and wiped out some of its troops. Chances are that they are laying siege to 2 provinces while landing troops in Morocco as well, giving you the chance to lay siege to a single province safely. When your next unit lands, simply walk that over to your siege force. You can afford 2 units and the single cog for your starting money. If you have enough Magistrates, use them to get Advisors. If you can use them, great, do so, and if not, you will get money for them instead.
When Castille makes peace with Granada, they will get a single province as they cannot annex Granada. When Castille makes peace, you move your land unit over to Granada, the capital province and when the siege is over, you simply annex the Country. This has several benefits: a) They are in the same cultural groups as yourself (Maltese, Andalusian, Castillian, Aragonian, Portuguese). b) The provinces are rich. c) It actually becomes possible for you to become Spain. d) and most importantly: You get access to the Charge Cavalry (one of the best Cavalry units before the Latin Caracole Cavalry, which will not be available for many years) and you get access to slightly better infantry units, almost equal to the Men of Arms and Longbow Men.
Now it is tempting to get provinces in Morocco too. That requires a fleet to protect the sea lanes, so it is a mixed blessing, and you can probably forget about taking Tangiers, so you have to take the provinces on the west coast, maybe even going for inland Sus, which has gold. As stated, you need 6 Carracks to protect your sea lanes to get 100% of the oversea provinces' tariffs. Build them while laying siege to Almeria (most probably) and Granada, you watch the movement of the Castillian fleet and those of Morocco and Granada. When they clash, you help the Castillians and you can get your hands on more "free" cogs. Just remember to return to shore to get them repaired. For a little while, you can even use the Galleys that you win, until you have build enough Carracks.
Now you have 2 choices: Remain a bit longer on Rhodes and try to conquer the troubled lands of the Turks and Greeks, maybe also taking Malta from the Sicilians, or move your Capital to former Granada (when you get a core there). Both have good prospects. From here on, follow the various alliances and try to get one with Portugal and Aragon. They are most likely the best candidates to help you take on Castille. Once you got that carved out, getting cores slowly, you turn on Aragon. You may consider to let Castille continue a bit so they can begin their colonization of the world and then turn on Aragon earlier (as they will likely remain in the Mediterranean). That way you can also gain their colonies for "free", with the right culture, and the right religion. Don't be afraid to borrow some money, and remember to convert your provinces to the True Faith before upgrading them economically. You should try as fast as you can to get Armory and the sea unit equivalent. You will be spitting out troops for many years to earn a healthy respect from your 3 powerful neighbours.
For your first National Idea, you should pick Engineer Corps as you need the boost to your garrisons and you need the boost to your siege strategy. Move toward land, ignore your fleet. Remain at the best quality, particularly as you will only have few provinces anyway. After the first victory over Castille, make sure to make them revoke their cores on your provinces. That will ensure a bit longer periods between wars declared by Castille. Move your research sliders towards Land and Government. While you get the research done faster by ignoring your treasury, it is still a good idea to end up with a small annual surplus.
As soon as you get 20 in Army or Naval Tradition, get a General and/or an Admiral. They can make the difference however bad they may seem, and the General also get the +1 to siege. In 4 out of 5 attempts, you will get the two provinces Almeria and Granada. In the last attempt, you will simply fail, and you can use the above strategy to get on. However, after getting the two Granada provinces, everyone wants you in their alliance. Try to stick to the more powerful sea nations like Aragon, Castille, Portugal, Venice and Genoa. While it is sweet of the Austrians and the Bohemians to want you in their alliance, you wont get much from them. On the other hand, Portugal, Castille (not so likely) and Aragon will even send you War Subsidies (not much but enough for a few troops).
While the above strategy seems to happen within a few months or even a year, the perspective is 20+ years. You have to settle riots and uprising many times and you only have a few troops. Station the troops on the province Granada as that province is most likely to rise up against you with the most units. The presence of your troops there lowers the revolt risk somewhat. Save up money from the beginning.
Also taking on the one-state Italian countries can be a nice idea if you see that the Holy Roman Emperor is weak, or if the HRE might even be the Bohemians as they have to walk a long way to get to the Italian states. Modena, Parma, Sardinia, and Ferrera are good states to annex for a relatively low infamy cost.
Expand and Conquer
One advantage in having such a tiny country: The low stability costs. You need at least stability -2 to declare war, but even if attacking the target grants -2, no casus beli, and -1, same religious group, you will only go to stability -3. Keep moving that slider towards narrowminded. It helps too.
Do not forget your saintly admiral: In his mighty Cog he can bag big pirate Carracks or the tiny Cypriot ship. Use this to increase your fleet size. After conquering Cyprus, conquer Naxos. They are both one island nations with Wine resources. Be wary that Naxos shares a land bridge with Athens. Once -2 stability is recovered, or close to it, make another infantry unit or two, plus transport Cogs (in case your admiral didn't net you them already). Take a bank loan if necessary. Convert your terrible ruler to a general so you can get another general to play with. Only use him as a second choice though.
Get an Artist advisor to recover stability quicker, a Statesman advisor to boost government research, and an Army Reformer advisor to boost your land technology research. Naval Reformer is also helpful in this early game, so you can get Naval Technology 1 and blockade ports. After that you can dismiss him.
Next conquer one of the Italian minors. It gives you neighbours to boost your technology research and is far enough from the Ottomans. There are so many minors, you can easily find one without allies or with allies too far away to help. I conquered Siena. Free university and gives even more profit than any of the islands previously conquered. While you're waiting for stability to recover, research Government Technology 1.
Pick Deus Vult as a national idea and attack poorly defended 1-2 province Muslim and Orthodox minors. Point research to Land technology 2 so you can get morale boosts and Men-At-Arms. Get Military Access through Venice, Austria and Castille. This way your ships and troops can retreat somewhere if things get iffy. Possible targets include Karaman, Dukaldir, Ak Koyunlu, Morea, Montenegro, Candar, Trebizond, Moldavia. You usually get 50 ducats from each.
In my first raid round I got 200 ducats altogether from four different nations. I also managed to vassalize Athens, Dukaldir and Ak Koyunlu. Remember Athens is on the other end of the land bridge to Naxos. While Dukaldir, Ak Koyunlu and Trebizond limit Ottoman expansion to Asia. This effectively contains the Ottomans at the east, while the medium and major European powers contain them at the west.
Make sure you repay any outstanding loans and make a small treasure chest through raiding, 200-300 ducats should be enough. Badboy should be pretty high now. But with a Carrack and some money, it is time to colonise.
Switch your national idea from Deus Vult to Quest for the New World. Get an Explorer on a Carrack. Get military access through Castille, if you didn't already, so you can rest at their ports. You need forward bases. So drop a colonist in Cape Verde (easy to find following the African Coast).
From there find Brazil and colonize. Sugar, tobacco and gold are good. Start two colonies there, but quickly move to the Caribbean before it gets crowded. Most of it is good and is more easily defensible since its a bunch of islands, while being another playground for pirate ships that your admiral can nab. Start colonies on every island with friendly natives so you can plant flags before the others. Use your army to subdue aggressive natives.
Raiding and Colonizing
Once you get Land technology 3, switch research to Government technology 5, pick Deus Vult as your second national idea. Then research Production/Land Technology. Your earlier raiding will make small nations, previously raided, declare war on you. Enjoy the raiding!
Raid some more while increasing your number of infantry units to 6. This way you can raid even medium nations such as Algiers, Tunisia and Tripoli. These will be weaker once Castille starts messing up Morocco. Make sure to annex provinces here in North Africa, especially the ones in your culture group. Even when the provinces lack natural resources they aid your feeble manpower numbers. Make sure you develop some Caribbean colonies into full cities. After you have 6 infantry units, start building cavalry. You will want 10 cavalry units. Once you get close to that number get the remainder even if it takes a bank loan.
- Remember not to split your army until you have ground the majority of the enemy forces. Aim for his army first, then siege him. Use your navy to blockade his ports.
- If you need more cash, and can afford the stability hit, raid Ireland. It has 3-4 minor nations, usually allied with each other, and is easy to loot with 4x units. Just one war declaration easily nets 3 minors to raid.
- With 10x units you can plunder Kongo. No fortresses. He throws a lot of spies at you, but I managed to get 1000 ducats once.
Plundering Aztec and Inca Gold
By about 1520 your forces can consist of 3 armies: 2 armies 5x Latin Knights (cavalry), 1 army 6x Gaelic Galloglaigh (infantry). A shocking combination for sure. Put your best general with the infantry. Get two conquistador leaders for the cavalry units.
Remember moving through unrevealed terrain is slower than moving through revealed terrain. So use navy to explore the Central American coastline as best as you can, and probe the northern Aztec provinces with cavalry, before you do declare war. Speed is of the essence here. You will be outnumbered in every way possible. But you can win and preparation is key.
There are three northern provinces. Position your infantry in the middle and your cavalry in the flanks. Use your cavalry as spearheads to discover terrain and make the first strike on enemy columns, using infantry to reinforce cavalry when it encounters an army that is too large for it to handle. Corral the enemy into the southern provinces. Once you occupied the entire Aztec land, Annex it. When peace expires, annex Zapotec and Maya.
Replace your Artist advisor with a Diplomat to clean up the badboy. Your state should be large enough now that he won't be much use anyway. Your forces should have been pretty much wasted the last round of fighting, allow them to recover. Pay your loans. Do only occasional raids so the badboy goes down. The Inca territory is larger, so the tactics have to be refined. It is possible to conquer the Incas with 3 cavalry armies: 2 spearhead armies with 7x Latin Knights and one with 4x Latin Knights for reinforcement and plugging cracks in defence. 18x cavalry total. Use corralling again.
Make sure you get National Bank as your third idea. Inflation should be a monster right now. Prop up your economy by building workshops, solidify your defence with level 1 forts, convert natives, etc.
Your direction from here is very broad, the ideal goal for the Knights is to retake Constantinople, and reclaim the Holy Land. With the help of competent allies and gunpowder, it is possible, but only the greatest players are able to bring back the Byzantine empire and win over the Muslim rivals.