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Stronghold Strategies & Tactics

by Kriton the Barbarian
The Stronghold is one of the most underestimated towns in the Heroes of Might & Magic III game (H3). Most consider it to be a poor choice of towns because of the low Defense value and average speed of the units, coupled with the fact that the Mage Guild is limited to the third level. On the surface, this appears to be true, but with the proper tactics, these disadvantages can be minimized, elimintated altogether or even used as an advantage. First, let's take a closer look at each unit.
Goblins/Hobgoblins
Average ground units, goblins are produced in large numbers. The upgrade to Hobgoblins is a must because of the +2 increase in speed, making Hobgoblins one of the fastest first level units in the game (only Centaur Capatains and Sprites are faster, with Familiars and Pixies being the same speed). Also, you must have Hobgoblins to get Wolf Raiders (see below), so get them as soon as you can spare the resources. Goblins/Hobgoblins are good fodder in small numbers, making them an excellent choice for taking the retaliation attack away from enemy units. In large numbers, they are a swift stack, capable of inflicting considerable damage to unguarded shooters or other vulnerable stacks.
Wolf Riders/Raiders
These mounted versions of the Goblins/Hobgoblins have great potential, but they are also one of the most vulnerable units of the Stronghold. There is no question that you should hold off buying Wolf Riders until you can upgrade them to Wolf Raiders. The double attack and solid damage (3-4) of the Wolf Raiders is one of the cornerstones of your attack strategy, so you don't want to waste it by trying to work with the lesser Wolf Riders. Always try to attack first with the Wolf Raiders, rather than retaliate, for the obvious reason of losing the double attack ability. Also, because of the low health of these units (10), they're best used to finish off enemy stacks with high health and a slower speed than themselves.
Orcs/Orc Chieftains
The Orcs and the somewhat sturdier Orc Chieftains are clearly not the best shooter unit in the game, but they're cheap, produced in good nmbers and have a good damage range. Since Cyclops are not going to be available for some time (see below), these units are your support for the ground units. I've found that your best tactic is to split the Orcs/Orc Chieftains into two stacks, since their growth factor and low price will allow you to amass a sizeable number of them, at least until you can add Cyclops or another shooter unit from some other source. A Bless cast upon this stack is very beneficial since it will alleviate the large range of damage (2-5), and Precision should also be considered, especially when employed by Jabarkas or Zubin.
Ogres/Ogre Magi
Probably the most underestimated fourth level unit in the game. Don't waste your time on the Ogres, and go right for the Ogre Magi (OM). OM's get a 50% increase in health (from 40 to 60), and they have more health than most fifth units do (only Gorgons and Dendroid Soldiers have more).
Add to this the Bloodlust spellcasting ability, and you have one great unit! Their shortfall is speed, but this can be overcome since haste and Air Magic are both easily attainable by Stronghold heroes. They will hold their own versus nearly stack, and they can certainly inflict incredible damage with their high attack value (13), and a wide damage range (6-12).
OM's can be the deciding factor in long battles with a high number of units on both sides, and I've actually beaten superior forces thanks almost entirely to the durability of the OM's.
Rocs/Thunderbirds
This valuable unit is Stronghold's only flyer. Good health (60) and the ease of building the Cliff Nest structure will allow you to gather a large number of them early in the game. The huge increase in speed (+4) and the Lightning Strike speciality make for a good upgrade, however, this can be put off until after the Behemoth Cave is built. Thunderbirds are the fastest Stronghold unit (11), so don't squander them or you'll be ripped to shreds before you can go on the offensive. When laying siege to a town, don't send your Thunderbirds right away, wait and go for the attack/retreat tactic at the end of turn/beginning of next turn.
Cyclops/Cyclops Kings
These are the hardest units to get, and, in my personal opinionm, the worst sixth level unit in the game, though Wyverns/Wyvern Monarchs are a close second. Unless the game is long and you've got the spare resources to build a Cyclops Cave, don't even bother. Even then, you're behind in production compared to other town's sixth level production.
If you do build it, then the upgrade to the Cyclops Kings is a must, although the cost difference is outrageously high (750 vs. 1100 per unit). With a paltry 70 health, low stats and average damage, they are just aren't worth the trouble. Their Ballistics special ability is rarely used, sonce the effectiveness is random at best. I've found that by the time you need them or you are ready to build them, you will usually have an another town from which to draw their replacement.
Barbarians are likely to have Leadership, as mixing creatures of different alignments is generally not an issue.
Behemoths/Ancient Behemoths
Another underestimated unit, Behemoths (B's) and Ancient Behemoths (AB's) have the ability to find the "Achilles' Heel" of high level units. Their unique ability to ignore 40% (B's) or 80% (AB's) of a unit's defense, allows them to inflict considerable damage to units with high defense values. Their above average speed allows them to reach most units easily, while their inability to fly is the only thing that holds them back from reigning supreme on the battlefield. In most situations, AB's will tear other seventh level units to pieces in no time. They're best used to intimidate your opponent, in an effort to control how he/she utilizes his/her higher level (most vulnerable) units. There are a few situations where you would want to be cautious with how you use them, namely against Mighty Gorgons (Death Stare), Wyvern Monarchs (Poison), Ghost Dragons (Aging), and maybe Dendroinds (Binding). Otherwise, get in there and slice and dice!
Next, we'll look at some basics about operating from a Stronghold town as the main town.
Basics
Early in the game, you need to get Rocs and Ogres, so you can begin collecting the guarded mines and loose resources lying about the map.
Although magic isn't that important in a Stronghold town, it is vital to get the first level Mage Guild as soon as possible, so your main hero can support his/her units in the "resource collection" process. Also, since your max level for the Mage Guild is 3, you'll most likely get your spells later on from a captured town with a higher level guild. Why build a Mage Guild, when you can "borrow" someone else's? >;-)
Probably the most important thing to remember about the Stronghold troops is that they're made for attacking, not defending. Your mantra is: "The best defense is a great offense." Do not make the mistake of holding back, as other units will slaughter you with your low defense values. Delaying is fine, as long as the enemy can't reach you, but otherwise, get in there and kick some butt! These units are designed so that you can kill your enemy quickly, so you don't have to worry about defending against them.
In most cases, you control the battlefield, making your enemy react to your moves, rather than taking the initiative and doing what "they" want to do.
No-one likes to fight a battle on the enemy's terms, so forse them to play by your rules. Most likely, when they watch you deal out your massive damage because of your high Attack values and probably Offense skill, they'll be ready to surrender or flee, the first chance they get.
Resources
Since your Mage Guild can only be built to the third level, you won't need lots of extra mined resources, except for crystal, which you'll need all you can get your hands on. Mercury and sulfur are useless, (you only need 10 of each to build up to the third level Mage Guild), so you can trade anything beyond that in for other resources, most likely wood, ore, or crystal. Gems can be traded off as well, but you do need 5 more (than mercury/sulfur) of them to get the Ogre Magi upgrade.
Structures
Stronghold has some decent "special" structures, but also has one of the most useless (IMHO) in the game. Let's start with the worst one - Escape Tunnel, which allows a hero defending the town in a siege to flee.
Personally, I've never built or used one of these. My philosophy is - if you need it, then you might as well as forget about winning anyway, so what's the point? There is no doubt that the Stronghold got the short straw on the unique structures pick.
On the other hand, they do have a few somewhat useful structures, given the right circumstances. Case in point, the Freelancer's Guild (FG). The FG allows you to trade creatures for resources, which in most situations isn't that helpful, unless you're playing a map with lots of wandering stacks that have a fair chance of joining you. If not, then this building is fairly pointless to construct. I'd wait until you have a need for it, and then build it. Waiting will also get you better rates, since later in the game, you'll most likely have more towns with Marketplaces, which give better creature to resource ratios.
Being able to build both an Ammo Cart and a Ballista Yard has its advatages, so the dual blacksmith is very handy. The Resource Silo, which gives +1 wood & +1 ore per day, is definetly needed because of the massive amounts of these two resources needed to build everything here, but noticeably missing is a crystal Resource Silo much needed. I would gladly trade the Escape Tunnel for a +1 crystal per day!

Finally, the Hall of Valhalla gives +1 Attack to every hero that visits the town. This is perfect for the Stronghold, since its heroes generally have high Attack values anyway, and a potential +5% to damage is quite useful.
Heroes
Barbarians and Battle Mages are the heroes found hanging around the Stronghold towns. Personally, I prefer Barbarians (of course!), but Battle Mages can be quite useful as well. Contrary to waht most players believe, I've known greater success by choosing the Might heroes over the Magic heroes. It realy comes down to your personal style of play and the size of the map/lenght of the game. Aggressive players, S/M maps, or in short games, the Barbarians typically will have the upper hand. cautious players, L/XL maps, or in long games, the Battle Mages will be able to make use of their spell aptitude, so you'd want to most liely develop one of them as your main hero.
Developing 2-3 good heroes is usually better than one great hero, unless your opponent is very close to your home base. In most cases, 2-3 god heroes is fairly easy to accomodate, since Stronghold troops are cheap and numerous. This allows you to break into teams of average sized armies, which can explore and collect in a wide area pretty quickly, rather than sending out one "super" hero in only one direction - a fatal mistake made by many novice players. The aggressive nature of the Stronghold heroes and troops, along with their Offensive skill inclination, will facilitate your expansion. Perchance you might even stumble across an unwary opponent's vulnerable town! >;-)
Top 3 Barbarians:
Crag Hack, Krellion, and Gurnisson

Top 3 Battle Mages:
Terek, Gundula, and Vey
Key Skills
There are a few secondary skills that are not only extremely useful but also very likely to be learned.
For Barbarians, Offense is automatic, and the Key Skills are:
Tactics, Leadership, and Resistance.

There are several others, obviously, that are very helpful, but you really need these to excel.
For Battle Mages, Wisdom is automatic, and the Key Skills are:
Tactics, Air Magic, and Earth Magic.

Again, there are several others, but to be effective, you'll almost definetly need these.
Other useful skills for both include the following:
Logistic, Wisdom, Pathfinding, Scouting, Ballistics, and Archery.
Key Spells
First and foremost are Haste and Slow. These will be used more than any other spells in your repertoire. Other good spells include:

- Shield, Stoneskin, View Earth, Anti-Magic, and Earthquake from Earth Magic.
- View Earth and Precision from Air Magic.
- Bloodluct and Blind from Fire Magic.
- Bless, Cure, Dispel, Forgetfulness, and Teleport from Water Magic.

If you can get the higher level spells, some good ones are:
- Counterstrike, Resurrection, Town Portal, Berserk, Frenzy, Slayer, Clone, and Prayer.
Combat Tactics
This is a hot topic, but I can only tell you about what I've learned and what consistently works for me. With that said, it's time to tackle the milieu of the battlefield, a.k.a. "home" to the Barbarian. >;-)

There are two things you will just have to accept. One is that you will most likely not be getting the first attack, due to the average speeds of your units. This will only diminish as the game progresses and your opponents develop their faster, high level troops. The other is that, due to your low Defense values, you are going to take losses - learn to live with it! >;-)
As mentioned above, Haste and Slow are your magical power base. Without these spells, you're going to have problems. Now before you pack your dufflebag and start heading for the hills, you can take solace in the fact that Haste and Slow are among the most likely spells you'll see in a Stronghold town - so not to worry.

Typically, your best strategy is to use your Tactics skill to position your troops as close to the enemy as possible, so if you cast a Mass Haste spell, all your troops can reach the opponent. Obviously, there are situations where you wouldn't want to do this, but they should be obvious, so I'll leave that to your judgement. When you use this plan of attack, either your opponent will "wait" out your spell, so he/she can cast Mass Slow or Dispel to counter your Mass Haste, or they'll try to cast either Mass Haste/Slow themselves (if they have it). Either way this works to your advantage. How, you say? Let me explain.
If your opponent "waits", then you will get to cast your Mass Haste, enabling all your troops to tear apart your enemy before they can counter.
This is fine because it's what you do best. If your opponent tries to take the initiative and cast first, then that's fine because you've successfully manipulated your opponent into "reacting" to your tactics, rather than giving them the freedom to enact his/her own strategies! Of course, you'll take some losses, but you would have had them anyway. By forcing your opponent into your style of fighting, you will be able to control the entire combat.
Another advantage you gain when your opponent casts first, is that you can counter his/her spell, finish the round, get first attack on the next round, possibly wait and counter the opponent's spell the next round, and continue this advantage every round thereafter! Your opponent will then either try to change tactics (albeit probably too late), flee, or (my favourite) die a horrible death at your hands!
Bloodlust is an another handy spell, which is generally available in the guild and always handy if you have Ogre Magi. A little known fact about Bloodlust is that a lot of times it's better than Bless, especially on the Wolf Raiders and Goblins/Hobgoblins. Bless is best used on untis with a large range of damage, e.g., Orcs, Ogres, and even Behemoths. Counterstrike is an another good one, if you can get it, but the drawback is that you have to be attacked before you can use it. That's not preferred, but in a situation where you know you can't avoid getting hit a lot, it will certainly make your opponent think twice about ganging up on your high damage dealing stacks. A timely casting of Slayer on your AB's will strike dread into the heart of any enemy, even Necros, and Frenzy is almost tailor made for Stronghold units, since their Defense is usually inconsequential. Every increase in damage is boosted by the hero's Offense skill, so take every point of Attack you can get. Your troops will thank you for it! >;-)
Overall, here's what each best troop is best used for in combat:

Thunderbirds and Ogre Magi - Shock troops, take out shooter threats.

Behemoths - Attack special and/or high level troops.

Orcs and Cyclops - Cover ground troops, take out units with special defenses

Hobgoblins and Wolf Raiders - Clean-up for Thunderbirds, OM's and B's.
With Stronghold, just remembre this: If you kill your opponent before he/she has a chance to attack you, then you don't need any Defense.
Good luck and happy pillaging! >;-)
~Kriton the Barbarian~