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I've just bought CK2 and apparently a recent patch has invalidated most if not all walkthroughs. For instance, the Ireland start does not work anymore because you need 51% instead of 50% to create a duchy.

Lacking that, the preferred way to expand apparently is war. But I've tried a few times in Ireland, and also in southern Italy. Doesn't matter: defeat is unavoidable. In Ireland I just get stuck in a stalemate without any gains. In Italy my army was wiped out by a family member rebelling, even though he held only a single county with ~1000 troops and I sent in everything (~2500 troops). Despite that, I lost all my troops and he lost 69 or so.

Plotting hasn't achieved anything either, nor marriage. In fact the only positive change in territory I've ever seen was when I started in Dublin, since that sets you up to inherit from your father.

The war tutorial is less than helpful. It has Argyll with less soldiers than a single barony in the real normal game. No wonder that works.

So, is there a intelligent solution to expand? Picking just the right initial leader with enough internal stability and sufficient armies to beat up much, much, smaller neighbours? Wait several hours more and get lucky with marriage?

(Yeah, I'm aware this does sound like I'm quite unhappy. First and last Paradox game I bought. Spent 12 hours so far just in the game, without a single feel of achievement or having learnt something. That's a first in 300 games I've played over the years)

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Did you send those 2500 troops in against an army of 1000 levies (i.e., a soldier-dude walking around on the world map), or did you siege a castle containing 1000 troops? There is a huge difference in those situations. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 30 '13 at 0:51
    
Also, have you done the in-game tutorial? It's helpful, if long and tedious. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 30 '13 at 0:51
    
Walked in on a rebellious county with a thousand man strong levy. And yes, done the tutorial. But that's Argyll with IIRC 140 defenders against 650 attackers. Seriously, is there any good bit in the tutorial? Some "advanced" parts are just a dialog box with one paragraph of text.. –  MSalters Jul 30 '13 at 6:56
    
Regarding those 2500 vs. 1000 troops: did you try to assault a holding? If that's the case, you should have instead just besiege it and wait. –  svick Jul 30 '13 at 8:49
    
@MSalters did you do the whole tutorial? Yes it is a lot of stuff, but I felt all of it was relevant. The only time I have lost to an army that I outnumbered by that much was when I had no morale, and the enemy had full morale, or when I assaulted a holding on full morale. –  Michael Campbell Jul 30 '13 at 10:01
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2 Answers

First and Foremost, you should stop playing as a count, it is no longer as straightforward as it used to be. By playing as a weak starting character, you are intentionally handicapping yourself for a game you were completely unprepared for. Try playing as a french duke to begin with. That means that you will have the power of your liege for defensive wars, and can declare war on people much weaker than you, ie rebellious counts and weaker dukes. You should start out only going to war with people who you outnumber by 50 percent, minimum, since you have to deal with seiging and defended bonuses.

You should try not to rely on warfare. Making the right marriage matches and waiting up to an hour for them to come to fruition is part of the game, (playing the long game is part of all paradox games really). In fact, Marriage is actually a much stronger mechanic for taking territory than combat. Not only that, but marriage is the most powerful mechanic in combat as well, because it allows you to call allies with vastly larger militaries than you can command early in the game. An alliance with the king of NearbyNation will let you call in thousands or tens of thousands of additional troops.

Still, the overall point is to stop playing as weak characters. Counts and the occasional 1 province duke in ireland are not advisable start locations for someone unfamiliar with paradox games, because like real life, paradox combat is very swingy. A 20 percent difference in starting numbers can be a 200 percent difference in casualties. That means when starting out, make sure you absolutely have a substantial numerical advantage against whoever you declare war on.

As for your example of losing a battle where you had superior numbers, you probably made a mistake with regards to combat morale, but its difficult to know without screenshots. Even if they had a vastly better general you should not lose a 1000 to 2500 fight, unless you had virtually no morale (probably from not paying the men).

Basic Concepts to Practice:

  1. Revoking a county title as a Duke. This usually starts a war of rebellion that you can crush.

  2. Invading an independent county as a Duke. This includes ones rebelling from their liege that have become independent temporarily

  3. Marrying daughters into a powerful alliance (nearby, but not where you want to expand to)

  4. Marrying sons to inherit land

  5. Keeping your most important vassals and advisors (particularly the spymaster) happy.

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One other excellent start: the Duke of Normandy. It's one of the default starting positions, and it will quickly make you a king: you start with a declared Invasion of England, and winning that war gives you the crown. (Just make sure to wait for Norway to invade England before you send your troops over; otherwise, you'll have to fight off both Norway and England.) As a King, you'll have significantly more power to throw around, and I've found it to be a lot more fun. –  Paul Marshall Jul 29 '13 at 22:54
    
Not a big difference. As Acquitane, within 10 years I lost the Duchy of Gascogne to Toulouse, who totally outnumbered me (5000 troops? Where did those came from?) and lost the Ducy of Berry to Vlaanderen (3700 troops each, I lost 3000 vs 800). This at difficulty "very easy" [sic]. –  MSalters Jul 30 '13 at 0:11
    
BTW, liege? Never seen anything of that kind. Danish inlaws? Didn't want to help either. So, two defeats later I've lost more territory than in all earlier games together, faster, with still no clue why :\ –  MSalters Jul 30 '13 at 0:24
    
@MSalters You liege won't help if you're fighting another of your liege's vassals. They're legally required to stay out of their vassals' fights. Allies get to choose whether they help, so currying favour is important for maintaining alliances that are actually useful when a war erupts. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 30 '13 at 0:55
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@SevenSidedDie I did misunderstand you. Yes, there actually are difficulty and AI aggression sliders under the options>gameplay menu. Difficulty mostly changes the mean time to happen for various events, and makes creating new titles cheaper/more expensive. The more you know. –  Lawton Jul 30 '13 at 1:37
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Recapping the comments, plus what I've learned elsewhere & through playing

  1. There are many, many factors influencing army strength. They're collected in many different places. So far, I've discovered sheer numbers (obviously), morale (red/green bar on side), leadership level (if present), terrain type (favors defender), river crossings (favor defender), and possibly some I've overlooked here. the one thing which does not affect this is the difficulty setting, surprisingly enough.

  2. Levies and mercenaries are raised without morale; retinues are standing armies and don't suffer from this. It will take time to rise. A beaten army will lose a lot of morale, in addition to troops. To kick your opponent when he's down, chase his decimated armies and win again. This adds extra points to your war score.

  3. If the army strengths are not equal (including modifiers), the weaker party will suffer massive losses. This explains how I could lose 2500 troops to 69. Disorganized attack acroos water into hilly terrain.

  4. The only point of the defending army is to slow down the siege. You should never bother with a fight.

  5. Have overwhelming numbers. It's entirely possible to get stuck in an "almost won" war otherwise. The other AI's do notice and take advantage of this. For this reason alone, don't start with a small country.

  6. Don't expect allies or marriages to help. They might, occassionally, so there is no reason not to try. Just don't build a strategy that relies on it.

  7. To try and get a grip on the game, start as big as it gets: the Holy Roman Empire. It will almost certainly revolt soon, since you don't know yet how to deal with all those vassals. No problem: you will still have supporters. Raise all their armies, stack them together (size matters disproportionally), assign leaders (not doen automatically), wait for morale, and then beat some rebels. Don't expect to win, though. A truce is a nice result, and the point is to learn what you can do with armies. Becoming efficient is a later goal.

I already mentioned the places where troop strength info is scattered. Here are the all the places where I've found information about troop strengths:

  • Troop count is shown on the main map, as a number
  • Morale is a vertical green bar on red background, next tot he number.
  • In some army views (showing flanks), the generals names are shown. These views allow you to change the general by clicking the button. These views also have general strength.
  • Hovering over a county can show attack modifiers for terrain
  • In battle, the actual modifiers for terrain and water crossing are shown if you hover over the small "terrain" icon.
  • The technology screen shows the technology bonues, which are generally in the military column.
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There was a patch a while back that changed how armies are organized, too: you need to manually set generals rather than the army automatically using the best generals of the levies in that army. Also, the composition of your army (archers/light infantry/heavy cavalry/etc.) matters, but it mostly just means that the highly-skilled generals will pick the right tactics for your troop mix. (And the unskilled generals will pick the wrong tactics.) –  Paul Marshall Aug 1 '13 at 19:54
    
I would strongly advise against playing as HRE as a new player. Running a large empire requires a lot of vassal and faction management, as well as breaking up large duchies and such things. You are likely to get overwhelmed. Play as a safe count or duke inside a kingdom or empire. This will mean you don't need to use the more advanced concepts until you have learned the game well enough to expand your territory. –  SMeznaric Aug 8 '13 at 10:20
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