This guide is for advanced players, who know the very basics of an Heroes of Might and Magic game, but have troubles against the AI. More specifically, it is meant as help for Heroes I campaigns. Yet, most of the hints are valid also for single scenarios. Main difference is that at higher difficulties single scenarios have less starting resources, making the town development slower. This guide contains no spoilers or walkthroughs.
What to do on day one/first week?
Hire 2 more heroes and combine the armies. On maps where you start with a castle and a village, you should upgrade the village to castle as soon as possible. Let the heroes pick up resources and the main hero can take easier fights. There is no diplomacy skill, but neutral stacks that are weaker than you may join for free. Belonging to the same faction increases the probability. Don’t forget to build dwellings every turn!
Which structure to build?
The linearity of town layouts leaves little room for customisation. As a rule of thumb, do not bother with mage/thieves guilds until dwellings are up or the cost does not delay dwellings/army hiring. The answer is more complicated with more than one town in your possession. In this case you have to consider your income and whether the additional troops are needed and how they fit into your army(ies). See also the answer to “what to do with captured towns”.
What to know about resources?
Most importantly you need to realise the absence of markets. A plenty on gems can in no way be turned into some crystal. You will have problems hiring dragons/phoenixes/cyclopes if you do not have a sulphur(mercury/crystal mine even if you found enough to build their structure. Leaving beside 3 top levels of mage guild, each town needs only 2 or 3 resources besides gold. It is usually vital to secure respective mines as soon as possible. Thus, the first thing is to find out your exact needs. Less important stuff/mines can be collected later.
Gold or experience?
Gold is usually more needed. The main hero should gain enough experience from battles and be equal/superior to AI heroes soon, without any need for experience boosts.
When to start conquering?
I would say at the begin of second week is the best time. You do not have the top monsters yet, but your army is strong enough to break through most low or medium level neutral stacks. AI has not had sufficient time to gain significant bonus from “cheats” that it uses, making it easier prey than later.
Kill all or concentrate on goals?
On several maps the main goal is not conquering all opponents. However, in most cases you need to pass hostile lands or gather huge armies, and, in fact, it turns better to conquer before looking for the main goal. It doesn’t hold true always though ;)
What to do with captured towns?
If the town is a village without castle, consider upgrading to castle as soon as possible. Castle brings you in 1000 gp/day, while village brings only 250. In game end stages the difference makes little sense though. However, do not upgrade towns which are likely to fall to AI, you would just cause troubles for yourself.
In the case of a castle seek for reinforcements for your main army, or consider possibility to sending out a second “main” hero, with the troops from new castle. If the castle is in little explored area, hire scouts before moving the main hero forward. If you can replace slow troops in your main army for faster/stronger ones, do it. Look also for walker to flyer replacements. In upcoming siege battles 1 dragon may be better than 20 swordsmen. If money allows, complete half-build castles (i.e. castles missing the top level dwelling or level 4 mage guild). Building more than 2 or max 3 towns (including starting castle) from scratch, may be economically unwise.
What is “chaining”?
Chaining is common in all first 3 heroes games and probably requires no introduction for most players. Since it helps enormously in some situation, a brief description for less experienced players. Chaining is a method to deliver troops faster than the could move in one army. It requires heroes placed one day travel distance from each other, forming a “chain” from departure to destination. The first hero walks from start point to second hero, transfers all creatures but one (You can split stacks by holding down the shift key). The second hero walks to third hero, gives troops to them and so forth.
I started a map but the first week ends on the second day. How come?
Campaigns follow continuous time line, meaning that map 2 does not start day 1 week 1 month 1, but exactly when the player finished pervious map. Considering the weekly growth, it may be sometimes wise to delay the final battle of a map until begin of a week. That way your first week on next map is not “halved”.
How do I get better final score?
The score is based only on number of days you spent. To improve your score, be faster!
Does the battlefield size matter?
Heroes I has a small battlefield; 5x7, to be precise. This means that an army of 5 units covers the edge of the battlefield without “holes”. Additionally it means that an adjacent stack can block 3 out of 5, which is important when ranged troops are present. The effect of terrain obstacles and need for proper manoeuvring of your large troops is more pronounced than in later games.
Who moves first?
Units can be either fast (3 steps), slow (1 step) or have medium (2 steps) speed. Spells haste and slow, turn the actual speed to fast or slow respectively. Casting haste(slow) on an already fast(slow) troop, gives no effect. The speed is the primary, but not only modifier of action queue. The second modifier is position on field. Creatures in first slots (from top to bottom on battle screen) act first. This order cannot be changed during the battle. Moreover, the game tries to keep flipping the acting sides. For example, if attacker and defender both have 2 fast units, then in first round the attacker goes first, followed by defender, then again attacker and again defender. As long as the speed is the same, changing the acting side has higher priority than placement on field. Even more, if attacker finishes the round, defender starts next round.
Any suggestions for combat lineup?
Since the stacks in first slots move earlier, slot number one could belong to a medium speed or slow ranged unit (centaurs, trolls, elves, archers). Thanks to great speed druids act usually before they are blocked by enemy (gargoyle, phoenix warning!) and thus can take a lower slot. Second to fourth slots could belong to walkers/flyers who can protect the ranged units or charge forward. Again, if you plan a retal stealing or dealing fast lethal damage before enemy gets a move, look at the placement of your troops and their speeds.
The spell system of Heroes I is different from other heroes games in various aspects. First there are no spell points, but knowledge skill determined number of spell scrolls. Second, a unit may not have more than one active spell. The latter means that casting a status affecting spell automatically dispels the previous spell on the target. Cure and Dispel act as mass spells.
Castle walls in Heroes I have no door. Even the defender cannot move walkers from the castle as long as the walls stand. Teleport spell can save the day here. The wall is 1 hex wide, and castle interior is 2 hexes. Watch the placement of your 2 hex creatures, defender! Castle has also a fire tower, which shoots automatically in the begin of defenders turn. The tower cannot be taken down by catapult. Artifact “ballista of quickness” makes catapult to fire twice per round, which is huge help for armies with mainly melee units.
Knights are defence oriented and have very cheap troops and dwellings. Except Mage guild, which is expensive everywhere, only cathedral (paladins) requires “precious” resources. Still, a significant amount of wood is needed for level 1-5 dwellings, so collecting loose woodpiles and capturing sawmills is at highest importance in the first week. Cavalry should become available by day 7. The main force for weeks 2 and 3 are cavalry, pikemen and swordsmen and archers. The latter probably cannot accumulate large numbers, because they are targeted a lot. Knights have only one weak ranged troop and no flyers. In case of larger maps with many towns, help in siege battles is needed. If you are up against different castles, warlocks or sorceress should be first to conquer, just to get some decent flyers.
Knight heroes give troops +1 morale bonus.
Warlocks are likely the strongest nation in Heroes I. All their troops have decent durability and speed. Main drawback is high cost. Not only the cost of dwellings, but since warlock hero power is in spells, it requires an expensive mage guild. Therefore a barbarian (or knight) hero may do much better than original warlock. A barbarian requires no magic to utilize its power and boosted attack skill hooks well with the fast sturdy warlock troops. The cost of level 1-3 dwellings is not extremely high and also minotaurs should become available on week 1. This is the main army until dragons. Except a few maps where one has to play defensively, hydras have little use. You may delay the building until you are ready to build also the dragon tower in next turn. With more than one town build first town up to dragons before building hydra swamp into second town.
Warlock heroes have increased vision range (scouting).
Barbarians is the other might faction. They concentrate on attack and are more expensive than knights. The most important resources for barbarians are ore, crystal and gold. Expense is a problem, since cheap goblins, orcs and wolves make no serious army in later game. On campaign maps trolls should become available first week. They have good HP, are ranged and regenerate. One can say without fear that trolls are the key unit for barbarians. Unfortunately AI knows it and targets them whenever possible. Regeneration of wounded trolls and average bad defence of barbarian troops makes knight heroes a good alternative to native barbarians. Another thing that plagues barbarians is the lack of flyers. In siege they do better than knights only because of trolls, who are the best shooters in this game. On a map with many sieges or ranged opponents, supporting your army with flyers from warlock or sorceress towns can turn the tide.
Barbarian heroes suffer no movement penalties.
Sorceress have most balanced army: 2 flyers, 2 ranged and 2 melee walkers. Central units are druids, elves and later phoenixes. Sprites and unicorns are good supporters for blocking enemy ranged units (sprites) or absorbing and dealing decent damage (unicorns). There is no need to support your armies with troops from other factions. The sorceress hero, unfortunately, is not anything great. They are magic (knowledge) oriented and such specialization comes handy only in very long battles. Like in Heroes II, sorceress troops do better with a barbarian hero. Defensive knight comes second choice, although fast and ranged druids, elves and no-retal sprites gain probably more from a barbarian. The cost of troops and mercury required for druids and phoenixes is a more serious problem than the hero. Still, on campaign maps level 1-5 dwelling should come first week.
Sorceress heroes have double movement on water.
My thanks to Kristo, Qurqirish Dragon and Gnohmon for corrections and suggestions.