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Age of Empires Heaven » Forums » Age of Empires / Rise of Rome / Definitive Edition » The Reality of Shang and Civ Balance
Topic Subject:The Reality of Shang and Civ Balance
posted 12-28-98 05:42 PM ET (US)         
Hmmm. Someone on another forum noted that Shang no longer dominates play in the rated rooms. Hittite (and soon, I expect, Phoenicia) seems to be the popular choice...

This would seem to prove Ensemble's contention that Shang isn't an overpowered civ. The reality: Shang isn't any less dominant -- it's just not being played.

People like civ variety, or we'd all be playing "full tech" games. Shang dominates in default start RM; therefore, rather than have everyone play Shang, most of us simply ban Shang or play Random Civ (my preference). Thus, Shang's apparent popularity has fallen because of social pressure, and not because it is in any way less dominant.

The rated games do not reflect a real average of AoE gameplay. Go to the non-rated rooms, and you'll find greater game variety. Greater game variety, in turn, dilutes Shang's dominance, since Shang has no real advantage in, say, a bronze age start with high resources.

Of course, dominant is more a matter of perspective than it is of overall reality. Shang isn't dominant on every map type with every starting condition. Take Shang up against Romans or Babylonians with a high-resource start, for example, to see how Shang fails to dominate every setting.

The strength of a civ largely depends on the initial game settings, including map type, starting age, and initial resource allocations. The most common game -- random wet land (med, inland) map, default resources -- is well-matched to Shang's strengths. All the strategy guides are written to this setting, reinforcing the concept that Shang is somehow superior.

Now that I'm over the hantavirus (yes, I caught the big nasty and survived!), I'm working on strategy guides for alternative settings...

posted 12-28-98 06:01 PM ET (US)     1 / 25       
I mostly play in non-rated rooms and I rarely see anyone playing Shang. I don't disagree that they are the best in the default settings. But once the game progresses to iron, Shang's advantage disappears - the strong iron civs then dominate. Playing with players with different skill levels makes the Shang advantage minimal. For instance, if I'm playing with partners who are average players (or below), I certainly will not choose Shang because the chances are pretty good that the game will end up an iron war (unless I can take out all opponents with Shang - slim possibility). Also, keep in mind that Shang must be utilized correctly to be effective.

Second, I enjoy the challenge of playing against Shang. So, I do not think that Shang ruins the game. Sometimes if an opponent chooses Shang, I may choose them also (that's always an option especially if the skill levels are very similar).

posted 12-28-98 06:58 PM ET (US)     2 / 25       
And if winning doesn't matter, why keep score?

I think the worst thing they did to AoE was add automatic rankings. It appeals to the lowest urge to win at all costs, breeding cheaters and poor sports. Which is why I don't play in the rated rooms...

Aside from such philosophical concerns, consider the recent high-profile "Rome" tournament sponsored by Microsoft and Ensemble; Shang dominated play, especially in the final few rounds. All four finalists played Shang straight through. This is largely due to the 1-on-1 random map/default start used in the tournament.

In highly-competitive 1v1 and 2v2 games, you never reach the iron age, no matter what the map size. Thus it is that the civs with the strongest, fastest bronze -- Shang -- tend to dominate. If people would play more variety, and tournament designers were more creative, Shang would not be a problem at all.

posted 12-28-98 07:44 PM ET (US)     3 / 25       
Shang's strength is on default start and resources because they only require 35 food per peon which gives them so many options in the first couple of minutes and also allows them to cope well with poor starting maps since they only need to gather 10 food to create peon 9. Here is an example of 3 sucessive trials I did with Shang on a large med map. I started by building a house w/3 peons and running them towards to sea. Along the way they saw berries and a gold mine. At the sea the found SF by a forest with gazelles. Game 1) I ironed in just over 16 minutes 27 peons. Game 2) I bronzed in 10 1/2 min with 20 peons. Game 3) I bronzed in just under 12 minutes w/24 peons and 12 fish boats, and could have had a couple more boats but saved wood for scout ships/buildings. Surely this was a good spot and it is easier at 1.0 vs the computer than in a real game on the zone since there are no problems with nonresponsive units and no need to talk to allies or check achievements. On the zone one time I had one game where I thought I bronze Shang with 18 peons in about 10 1/4 but we stopped at 7 since one enemy dropped. I pitted 8 SF and had forest by TC.
The point of all this bragging is that it is very hard for any other race to come within 1 minute of these times or 1 1/2 minutes for that matter.
However, in the typical 3v3 game at least one opponent wants to hole up and fight iniron where Shang's lack of range, coinage and ballistics hurts.Sometimes as Shang in these games I have killed/wounded at least on enemy badly enough that we have a 3 vs 2. Other times(if needed ) I can't get my allies inmy early bronze to trib me a couple hundred resourceseach toenable me to get a few more units to finsh a guy off. With allies like that Ioften choose a civ that is better in mid/late iron... but in a 1v1 no civ can hope to compete with Shang. - neilkaz -

posted 12-28-98 08:02 PM ET (US)     4 / 25       
One major reason why Hittite is more popular than Shang (apart from the obvious case of DM) is that so many play on Gigantic maps and with teammates they are not too familiar with. Shang's strength is various types of rushing, and rushing on Giga can be very dangerous if your teammates are not up to the task of exploiting the advantage you've created. A typical scenario: the Shang player toolrushes one opponent, taking him out while sacrificing his own buildup somewhat. But his teammates are booming and going for juicy iron age units, not taking advantage of the 3v2 situation. The Shang player, weakened from toolrushing, cannot kill the second opponent, now bronze with a strong economy. Game goes iron, and Shang loses to civs with superior siege.

In short: winning with Shang in 3v3 requires good team tactics. Winning with Hittite in 3v3 can almost be accomplished on one's own. Another possible explanation for diminished Shang popularity.

The most likely explanation, however, is that people are bored with Shang, and that 8 games out of 10 on the Zone are "No-Shang" ones.

My 2 cents.


posted 12-28-98 09:32 PM ET (US)     5 / 25       
BlackDouglas... I never disputed that Shang wasn't the strongest civ (especially in a 1v1). However, I never play 1v1, just team games. Just my preference. And in team games, at least the ones I play, more often than not it reaches iron age warfare. Now, that's just from my little world - I don't play with everyone in the zone. I'm just saying in my little world, I haven't run across the big "Shang Imbalance Problem." I do agree it exists though, but only in certain settings (mainly defaults). I like the new idea of letting all players choose one of the settings and playing random civs. Of course, the ones who play in rated rooms can play Shang all they want - I would tire of that quickly.

posted 12-28-98 11:51 PM ET (US)     6 / 25       
You guys are under the mistaken impression that shang sucks in iron. In AOE it sucked in iron..but in ROR it has what is probably the best unit in the game the Scythe Chariot. Shang can go iron faster then any other civ and get the scythe the fastest. They also get all the scythe upgrades, only the egyptians have better ones. The only thing I've see beat scythes in a cost effective basis is large numbers of helopolis.

Shang can also make helopolis's and put them behind the scythes(rarely necessary). Scythes do very well against archers and any hand to hand unit short of fully upgraded centurians.

posted 12-29-98 01:21 AM ET (US)     7 / 25       
You're mistaken about Scythe Chariots. They are the worst superunit. The only major advantage that they have is that they don't cost gold. Because of that, I still try to get the upgrade. However, I'd always try to stick with something like Armored Elephants for as long as possible before resorting to scythes.

posted 12-29-98 01:28 AM ET (US)     8 / 25       
Hah.. I guess you don't play much do ya?
Scythes are awesome..even in DM nuff said.

posted 12-29-98 01:44 AM ET (US)     9 / 25       
How can you say scythe are worst superunit? They are cheap, quick to produce, pack a punch, and most importantly are fast. You will not find a better catapult killer. Next to cats they are the best helepolis killer. Archers do well against them but only if they're massed and because scythe are cheap I promise you will easily be able to take down large groups of HA with equal numbers of scythe and you have not spent a cent in gold. I think their only downfall is sight, thats why I throw in a few HAs with them to scout.

Angel Mack
posted 12-29-98 02:05 AM ET (US)     10 / 25       
And those Armored Eles don't fair well against priest...unlike the Scythe chariots

Angel Mack

posted 12-29-98 02:36 AM ET (US)     11 / 25       
Scythes are good when you've run out of gold and other resources, won many DM's because of the Scythe chariot. don't match them against centurions or armored ellies though, they will be killed. Other wise i always use Seige weapons or armored ellies.

posted 12-29-98 07:07 AM ET (US)     12 / 25       
well in a default game shang will have scythe chariots before most iron age civs even reach iron. Its not like you'll be fighting them with heavy catapults, AE, helepolis and centurions. It will be the shangs scythes against your chariot archers/composite bowmen... and don't even think about using cav/camels against scythes its insane. I like phoenician more than shang on water maps, hittite is still okay as well, but there economy is too slow comparatively.

posted 12-29-98 11:01 AM ET (US)     13 / 25       
I didn't say that Shang sucks in Iron , just that their siege workshop units are vastly inferior to those races which have engineering and that +2 range. I have no problem as Shang going after small to medium groups of enemy siege w/shang scythe, but when you have to fight 15 Hcats and 15 hele's the scythe never get close to anything most of the time. Range 10 hele's and range 12 Cats get wasted vs range 15Hcats and range 12 hele's or range 15 Hcats supported by a HA horde. - neilkaz -

posted 12-29-98 12:19 PM ET (US)     14 / 25       
Scythes are the best hele killer other than Cats? A non-egy scythe has 137 HP, meaning 4 hele shots take it down. If the hele starts firing as soon as the scythe comes in range (10/12 tiles) it will get 3/4 shots off, Meaning that on a 1 to 1 basis the scythe may sometimes get close enough to kill the helepolis.

Obviously, battles are never 1v1. While one scythe may make it to the heles, it will be lucky to get an attack before an helepolis cuts it down.

Scythes are cheaper, yes. But if all your scythes die without inflicting any damage, then you are still wasting res.

I have had decent success with compies vs scythes. If (and I say "if" because a smart shang tool rushes Minoa) a shang was going scythes vs Minoa in bronze, I'd think massed compies would have good luck vs scythes. We've all seen compy hordes drop charging cav (172 HP), why shouldn't they beat scythes (137 HP)?

Just my thoughts.

-Nineveh, "Minister for Compy Equality"
ICQ 16407576

Big Daddy
posted 12-29-98 04:04 PM ET (US)     15 / 25       
If you get 15 heavy cats and 15 helos against Shang, then you have won. I'm sure no one is arguing that point.

As for comps reaming scythes... Doubtful, for one simple reason. I'll drop 15-20 of your comps with 3 cats and then scythe the rest. You can't fight a Shang iron army with any bronze army. The four most powerful early iron units (Catapult, Ballista, Horse Archer, Scythe) are available to Shang.

The fact that I'm comfortable in early iron versus a Sumerian shows how underated Shang's iron is. I guess it's the tremendous economic and time advantages that Shang possess. Smashing the enemy's bronze army with with 5 cats and 8 ballista is a very pleasant experience. But it can't even compare to finding 10 Sumerian cats with your scythe followup army.

"I'll show that Catapult & Ballista making' Shang!"



posted 12-29-98 04:11 PM ET (US)     16 / 25       
Hi Nineveh

Did you forget about the minimum 3 tile requirement for heles to operate. This means that the scythes take only 2.3/3 shots before they reach the heles.

Small consolation though when facing a horde of spread out heles on stand ground mode. Heles seem to have the most intellegent targeting of any unit. Its like they agree how to split up the targets. Maybe Compies do this as well?


posted 12-29-98 05:44 PM ET (US)     17 / 25       
In my experience, iron jumping and going straight for scythes isn't that great a strat for Shang. A Phoenie or Minoan can go iron just as fast on water maps, and Phoenie can outproduce Shang when it comes to scythes. Shang has a rather unique ability to fight hard in tool and bronze and still go iron reasonably fast (25 mins or so) and that's probably the best way to play them IMHO.

As far as Shang iron goes, the scythe/helepolis combo sure rocks for them just as it rocks for Roman (ok, the Roman one rocks more). The only thing that can beat that duo is an army of superior (engineered) helepolis (and only four civs can build those), or elephants with catapult backup (and Shang has pretty good priests, so...) Its a pretty expensive duo though, and it requires lots of micromanagement to use.

My 2 cents.


Big Daddy
posted 12-30-98 06:14 AM ET (US)     18 / 25       
You're right, going straight for iron/scythes with Shang isn't the best strategy. That's not what I'm suggesting...

Shang will strike earlier, much earlier. Whether a handful of armored clubbers stray into your woodies just as you press the tool button, or some camels come tearing through your village minutes before you reach bronze - you will be struck.

Shang has an overpowering iron for the simple reason that her opponents arrive limping into iron. Blah, blah, blah, you don't get engineering. Who cares? I got double your villagers, since half of yours were slaughtered in Shang's period of dominance. Your +2 range means jack when your 6 catapults meet my 12.

Shang's iron is also versatile.

-HA for early CA removale and villager hunting.
-Cats for archers & ballista
-Ballista/Helos for non-cat unit
-Full priests for elephants
-Fire Galleys to establish early sea control.

This is assuming that Shang's opponent will reach iron. This is assuming that you've held off the fastest (by far) tribe in the game that had access to every last tool and bronze unit.

To beat Shang
-Survive tool age against a tribe that will tool a minute, or more, before you.

-Survive bronze against the fastest bronzing tribe that has access to all the bronze units.

-Survive early iron where Shang still cleary rocks.

-Use your superior iron units to offset Shang's still present economic advantage. See not only are their villagers still cheaper (small, but useful advantage), but they will almost always iron with a much more stable and safer economy due to the previous two ages.

-Destroy a Shang wonder - Smash through 1000 hp walls with 30 priests (armed with matrydom), cats, and ballista lurking behind them.


posted 12-30-98 05:48 PM ET (US)     19 / 25       
meth's completely right, which is why i was up in arms (and down in brains, but that's another story) 4 months ago when i wrote that article all but saying ES was being idiotic.

they still havent apoligized, even in private, for screwing with me and methos the way they did, and also how they ignored me for 2 months and ...

well, that's another story. i wasnt right, but they werent angelic either, as is the case with most confrontations concerning corporations.

btw, i apoligize to the people that had to see me go berserk like i did with no understanding of the situation, and also to AOEH for the uh... tirade

i have no excuse, just to say that i wasnt in my right mind (still might not be, but that's another argument )

but one thing i never will do is apoligize to ES, because when they gave us the runaround for 3 months, publicly challenged us and our ideas (and all but publicly saying we were idiots) and backed out, and other stuff as well, they forfeited any rights to courtesy.

of course, my view of corporate america has always been very very poor, so well.....

posted 12-30-98 09:02 PM ET (US)     20 / 25       
Well, this is a nicer side of Kleitus to see, and I even agree with him on something for once. Our veiw of Corporate America. I would agree with almost everything that Methos said, even though I havent seen Shang much at all. But thats mostly because nowadays I typically just play with friends or in non-rated rooms with different seetings then the average defaults. In your everyday default game Shang definately has a powerful punch early on, which can help it in the late going. But almost every civ has this type of dominance in certain settings. But with the tremendous boom of tool rushers I can see Shang being used quite often in Rated games which stick to those defaults.

Bastyrdus I
posted 12-31-98 05:24 AM ET (US)     21 / 25       
Oh, goody.

I'm so glad this has been brought up once again. HOW DARE THEY DISAGREE!

How dare they try to make money (in a capatalist economy of all places)! How dare they not do what I tell them!

Yes, you weren't listened to. Yes, Shang is more powerful than, say... every other civ.

I revert to an old saying...

"There is a top and a bottom to everything. There is a beginning, an end, and everything in between. Consider the the only thing that has no form. It is the shadow, and it is nothing."

If the Shang weren't going to be the most powerful, then some other civ would be the best. I'm sure you are one of the top players in the world, Kleitus. Would you stop YOURSELF from playing because YOU'RE "too powerful?"

And if you hate corporate America so much, don't work for them, buy any products from them, or ever start a business of your own.

Have a nice day.

-Bastyrdus I

[This message has been edited by Bastyrdus I (edited 12-31-98).]

posted 12-31-98 06:46 AM ET (US)     22 / 25       
Kleitus wasn't just mad because they ignored his opinion. He was mad because they publicly challenged him and Methos to a game to prove that Shang wasn't overbalanced, and when it came time to play the game they blew him off, not even responding to him when he asked why they blew him off. While Kleitus might of gone overboard(if he didn't he wouldn't be Kleitus ) I think he was right in his opinion and that ES probably does owe him an apology.

posted 12-31-98 12:52 PM ET (US)     23 / 25       
Well due to the fact that I had a crapped over Internet for a couple of months I only caught the tail end of the Kleitus/ES argument. It seemed that Kleitus had most of his facts right and a good point, but was too abusive, whereas ES were nice but basically saying to both him and Methos, "You are idiots, we're not going to fix it because (pick reason from below)."
1. Shang have a bad iron, so just survive their rushes and you can win!!!
Refute: Even if their iron was all bad, which the early part most definitely is not, a crappy iron is still better than almost any bronze assuming you have enough food to build iron units. (That's going to be a real problem for Shang. )
2. The camel rider will take care of Shang's cav rush, the slinger will take care of their chariot archer/bowman rush, and neither of these units are good rushing units. A broadswordsman can take a camel!!!
Refute: Part 1- The slinger-that's pretty accurate for the rushing part, if you only use that one unit. If you do a three unit Tool rush then they actually help rushing! Why? Simple. A unit can counter another unit of its own type pretty easily. (bowman vs. bowman) So while you may not be able to get an army of them up fast enough, if you do then you're ok because bowmen also rule axers. With the slinger, the victim's bowmen can't even do that, so they have even less of a chance of surviving. They build slingers themselves? Say hello to Mr. Johnny Q. Axeman!!! If they build axers to take the slingers, then the bowmen kill them. Villagers? While a vil can and will destroy a slinger 1v1, the bowmen largely prevent this too.
Part 2-The slinger can only take a chariot archer if you grab two upgrades that cost food, neither that you would normally get in tool/bronze anyway unless on transition to Iron. Stone mining? I only get it if I am going to need Siegecraft for something. Bronze shield? Maybe if I'm Roman, Choson, or an elephant civ...perhaps Greek, but by this time they're dead anyway so it doesn't matter. True, a broadswordsman will technically be able to kill a camel... If the camel stays put. Do you think anyone is going to try to kill infantry when they want to attack villagers? I don't think so either. Camels are the cavalry of AoE, except with less attack. Oh yeah, the one advantage Yams might have had to keep people playing them is now useless. Shang, well since they just so happen to GET THE PHREAKING DISGUISED CAVALRY, just got a cheaper cav. As if they needed it. Oh yeah, the same argument from refute one applies here too. You can't get camels in the Tool age. By the time you are bronze, you'll be more worried about getting a few vils up than building camels.

Well that wraps it up. I suppose if I wanted to I could think of more, but I would rather read other posts. Oh wait, ES, here's something to fix Yam. MAKE THE CATAPHRACT UPGRADE CHEAPER!!!!! MAKE THE CATAPHRACT ITSELF CHEAPER!!! GIVE THE CATAPHRACT MORE HIT POINTS!!! THIS WAY THEY MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PLAYED!!! This topic has already been introduced somewhere else, but I think it might help a little.

Kleitus- I agree with most of your stuff. You might have won more converts if you hadn't been as abusive at the time though. (TRS-80 calling the 486 slow)

If you want to flame me, well good. I enjoy controversy.


posted 12-31-98 01:29 PM ET (US)     24 / 25       
sigh.... me and my big mouth dragged this up again.

well, the only thing i was wrong about (if i remember right) is the fact that tool rushes are now MORE powerful in RoR, simply because the boom is so powerful to begin with. The best counter to a villie/boat boom is a tool rush.

now consider this --- shang has the best tool, hands down. i dont think anyone will disagree on that. well, shang also has the best boat boom as well because they get a dock 1-2 minutes before any other race can. the problem is exponential.

hill country --- dominated by tool rushes and early bronze age as well -- shang rules

mediteranean --- you always know roughly where your enemies docks are, very easy to get to them, you tool well before your enemies -- shang rules

those are probably the 2 most played maps in RoR on default.

methos got into all the rest, they have the counter for every race's unit in bronze except the minoan compie. and to be honest, if you tool rush a minoan, they're dead.

shang was given all the new units and techs except for the armored elephant, which to be honest is never used in the RM game.

in AoE, there was a pretty good triangle of equal civs. assyrian, yamato and shang all had fairly legitimate chances of winning. phoenician was a far 4th, but was also a winnable civ.

now, here's the kicker. they made assyrian and yamato weaker (in yams case MUCH weaker) and gave shang and phoenie every bronze unit.

you can see where this is going...

in short, shang dominates, phoenie is 2nd. end of story. Rome has about 40% chance against phoenie (on a good day), minoan can hang with phoenie on water maps (sorta, it takes a perfect game) but that's about it.

Hittite is BY FAR the best slow civ, with mace 2nd, because they can simply outproduce mace with hoppers. they have an ungodly good ca/camel combo in bronze, that only egypt MIGHT be able to beat, but in iron hittite rules anyone it wants to.

ok, that's enough on this subject. i'll answer questions and stuff, but i'll try not to bring it up again (no promises, i got too much of a temper anymore).

posted 12-31-98 02:39 PM ET (US)     25 / 25       
Kleitus --

Ensemble puts out a great game, but I fear they've been infected by the Microsoft mentality. Ensemble is pathologically incapable of admitting that they goofed, whether it's with balancing Shang or in handling my attempt at producing a professional strategy guide.

I've had a bit of a struggle playing RoR; my experiences with Ensemble left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. In the end, I decided to support the game because of the excellent work put into it by Ensemble's worker bees. They have no control over corporate policy, I'll wager, and I suspect some of them would have been happy to play that game with you and Methos.

In the end, the analysis of Ensemble and Microsoft all depends on how the observer defines "success". Is Microsoft a success for making lots of money, or a failure for its attrocious ethical and support record? I tend to think the latter.

As for corporate culture -- well, visit my web site ( )and the "Symposium" that contains reprints of some of my political articles. Perhaps you and I have more in common that we thought...

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