Pretender: Dormant Forge Lord, F4E4 Scales: Order 3 Production 3 Growth 1
Expansion with Androphag Archers and Sauromatian Amazons as blockers works very well against: Barbarians Light Infantry Militia
It works averagely against: Most [animal] tribe Indies
It works very badly against: Heavy Cavalry Throne Sites/other mages
vs Kaliasa: Yavanya go through the Amazons like they aren't there. Androphag Archers hurt them in numbers, but this wouldn't work against a human who'd be giving them mage support 'cos they'd be ethereal. The remainder of the monkeys get massacred so the AI loses heavily, but there's a surprise for you.
At this point Helheim and TNN were also both attacking and Helheim killed my pretender before Kaliasa were completely dead. I could probably win from my current position, but it doesn't feel like I'm doing this right somehow. New strategy required. So.
Pretender: Dormant Titan of Love, W9N3 (Blatant Fanservice, Mistress of This World, Princess of Chastity, Princess of Excellence, the Peacemaker) Scales: Order 3 Sloth 1
Expansion using blessed Oirapatas and whatever archers I can afford seems to work more smoothly. Independent troops largely don't seem to be able to penetrate the Oirapata's 22 defence, and quickness really helps with light lances. Finding someone to bless them requires foregoing a turn of mage recruitment, but given how much lower losses are I think I can deal with that. Basically everything except magic users can be easily squished this way, and magic users still go down to Oirapata but you take losses. By the end of the first year I have like twice as many provinces as the AI nations, so this seems like a plausible strategy.
vs Kaliasa (who helpfully showed up as neighbours in this game too): Oh this is hilarious. Literally nothing they have seems to be able to hit W9 blessed Oirapatas. OK, so I lost the 200-on-60 fight, but the casualty count was 20 oirapatas (to missile fire, it hits sometimes when they have 100 archers) to 100 assorted Kaliasa units including practically all their Yavanas. Blessing is still a problem, though; really need H3 priests around (or maybe lots more H1s) so they can bless all the sacreds at the start since I lost several before they were blessed. Without that, might have routed the entire enemy force.
So, first multiplayer game is going to be this because the game with slots in was LA and these guys looked like fun. Guess I'd better come up with a plan then. Sauromatia put on hold temporarily... Other nations in Saxophone: Ulm, Marignon, Jomon, Agartha, Abysia, C'tis, Pangaea, Bogarus, Gath, Atlantis, Caelum.
Pretender: Dormant Father of Winters, A3E4W4 (STOP RAINING ALREADY, August King, Lord of the Hierarchs, King of Courage, the Fountainhead of Order) Scales: Order 3 Sloth 1 Cold 2 Growth 3 Misfortune 1 Magic 1. Using this for the MP game as well, it seemed survivable.
Expansion using Skinshifters: They mow through independents like an indepedent-mowing device once they get into melee range. They also die (well, at least the first time and sometimes even both times) to missile fire before that happens. Experiments with a variety of arrow catchers have shown that Huskarls tend to die but Hirdmen have some chance of surviving long enough for the Skinshifters to massacre everyone. Vans are even better in that role, but too expensive for the early phase. The question of what to do about commanders is an interesting one. Vanherses have sailing, which provides huge tactical flexibilty on a map with some water; but that requires forgoing a turn of mage recruitment compared to indie commanders.
vs Caelum: Their line infantry does not appear to be able to hit Vans. Therefore, parking a small group out the front to attract the attention of the AI which has predictably left everything on "attack closest" allows the opposition to spend their entire time trying to work out which glamoured Van is the real one while hordes of Skinshifters devour them. This is unlikely to work more than once or twice against a human player.
Conversely, Vans can't hit some of their heavier troops, either (particularly Iceclads), and even Skinshifters can't always. The solution to this is to get my mages off their arse and make with the thunderstrikes already, but not really necessary against the AI which hasn't recruited very many of them so I can just HP rout armies containing them.
vs T'ien Chi: Opening skirmishes have yet to suggest they have any units which are a serious threat to even unaccompanied skinshifters (and they hadn't expanded enough to have the strategic depth to survive my initial assault). Maybe in the hands of a human.
vs Pangaea: Mostly so far whenever they crash an army into my Van/Skinshifter? groups it dies horribly. We will see if I actually need mage support at any point in this game at all...
Mid-game: Lightly geared (Frost Brand, Vine Shield) Vanjarls seem to do OK as raiders; the lack of sufficient reinvigoration means they're not really SCs though. Still, usable stealth commanders which can be given stealth units and sent to annoy the hell out of anybody who didn't spend their entire income on province defence. Vanjarls with water breathing gear can take lightly defended underwater provinces.