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This is a generic strategy guide for winning against the computer in Heroes of Might and Magic II. The AI in this game presents a good challenge and is fun to play against, despite being known to cheat a little bit. Because it's a computer opponent, it behaves predictably in many situations. In this guide, we will explore the AI's behavior and discuss the best ways of achieving victory.

Table of Contents
  1. Basic Difficulty Information
  2. More Computer Advantages
  3. How to Win (or at least have a fighting chance)
  4. Exploration Strategies
  5. Tips and Tricks

Basic Difficulty Information

Setting the difficulty level not only affects how many resources you start with; it affects the AI's starting resources as well. As the difficulty increases, the computer gets more and more while you get less and less. On Easy and Normal the AI also seems to be a bit handicapped, but on Hard and above those limitations are gone. New players will invariably want to start on Easy, while Normal and Hard present a good challenge for experienced players. For expert players and scoremongers, we have the Expert and Impossible settings.

Easy:
Human players start with 10,000 gold, 30 wood and ore, and 10 of each rare (Sulfur, Gems, Mercury, Crystal) resource. The computer starts with 7,500 gold, 20 wood and ore, and 5 of each rare resource. The computer's skills are severely limited on this difficulty level. You'll notice that the computer will occasionally do some really stupid things, such as attacking a hero or castle with no real chance of winning. Also, I think the AI is prevented from purchasing level 6 creatures if it built the dwelling itself. This means that on most maps, if you take over an AI castle that has a level 6 dwelling, there will usually be creatures available. However, on maps such as Broken Alliance, where Purple starts with an Upgraded Cloud Castle, the AI will use them. Overall, this level is great for new players by giving you an enemy that's not too harsh.

Normal:
Humans start with 7,500 gold, 20 wood and ore, and 5 of each rare resource. The computer starts with 10,000 gold, 30 wood and ore, and 10 of each rare resource. On this level, the AI is a little smarter, so you won't see the incredibly stupid moves you see on Easy. But, as far as I know, the level 6 creature handicap is still in effect. Where things start getting harder is with money. The increase in starting computer resources means that its armies will be slightly improved, at least for the first few weeks. The 2,500 extra gold usually translates into an extra dwelling or upgrade that human players won't be able to afford right away. Yes, it's technically unfair, but after the first couple of weeks things tend to balance out. A skilled player can easily make up the difference in a short time. This is the standard difficulty for most people.

Hard:
Humans' resources are decreased once again. This time you start with 5,000 gold, 10 wood and ore, and 2 of each rare resource. Computer players start with 10,000 gold, 30 wood and ore, and 10 of each rare resource. Starting with this level, and continuing with Expert and Impossible, the computer really starts to cheat. AI players receive a 10% increase in gold income (i.e., their castles produce 1,100 gold per day) and get one free wood and ore each turn. As far as intelligence goes, I'm fairly sure that the AI's deficiencies are gone by this level. I know for sure that the level 6 creature handicap is gone. Also, this level is when the computer starts being more selective about when it attacks. Computer heroes will only attack if they have at least a 50% advantage in total hit points. Hit points don't mean everything, however. You can still win an AI-initiated battle if you have higher stats and/or good spells.

Expert:
Humans are drastically limited on this level, starting with only 2,500 gold and 5 wood and ore. The computer starts with 10,000 gold, 30 wood and ore, and 10 of each rare resource. The computer gains 50% more gold and gets one of every resource free each turn, even if he doesn't own any mines. Computer heroes like to have an army three times larger than yours before considering an attack. Therefore, if the AI comes after one of your heroes, you probably don't stand a chance.

Impossible:
The computer players start with 10,000 gold, 30 wood and ore, and 10 of each rare resource. Furthermore, they gain two of each resource each turn, free of charge, and they make twice as much gold as you would with the same amount of towns, castles, and mines. Just when you thought things couldn't get any more unfair, the human player starts with NOTHING! Honestly, the point of this level is for those people who have truly mastered the game, or as I like to call them, scoremongers. Winning on this level more than doubles your base score. Your only saving grace is that the AI will wait for a 900% hit point advantage before attacking. It's called impossible for a very good reason; you usually cannot win by normal means.

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More Computer Advantages

Extra Knowledge:
Computer players almost always start with more resources than you do, but that's not all. The AI also does not seem to be limited by black, unexplored area. This is evident by watching computer-controlled heroes move around. If you leave a castle undefended long enough, eventually an AI hero will beeline right for it, even if that player has never been in that area before. The AI also appears to have perfect information on every hero and every creature stack. Computers are numbers-based by nature; they cannot make effective decisions without complete information. Many people complain that this constitutes cheating. My feeling is that if cheating is necessary to make the game fun, then by all means the AI should cheat. Writing a good AI is very difficult, especially given how complex the Heroes games are. Playing against the computer is still a lot of fun, despite the rampant unfairness. If that bothers you, stick with multiplayer.

Everything is Always Defended:
Watch the computer players long enough and you will notice a similar strategy in every game. Take a look at each castle they control and note the garrison. Every castle has at least some defense. After all, the computer makes more money than you, so he can afford to do that. Human players generally cannot spare enough gold to have a decent defense in each castle and still field an effective army. Further, AI players never seem to have a weak hero. Remember that they have perfect information, i.e., they have no use for scout heroes. The computer has one goal: use each hero to defeat the enemy.

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How to Win (or at least have a fighting chance)

Use the computer's uniformity to your advantage:
Computer players don't play offense or defense. They balance everything in order to be ready for whatever the opponents do. If someone attacks, their castles are defended. If someone is weak, they have a hero ready to attack. The key is that the computer cannot purchase more creatures than its castles will produce. It may be able to buy the dwellings sooner, but it's still limited by weekly production. You can rest assured that each week, the new creatures will be spread out among its heroes and castles. Therefore, if you take all of your creatures and give them to one hero (a "superhero"), you should have a superior force, at least in theory. There is one caveat, though. This strategy leaves your castle(s) undefended, so you're bound to invite attention. Let them come.

Expand, Expand, Expand:
Warfare is a contest of information. All else equal, whoever knows the most about his enemy will win. In Heroes II, the human players start with a huge disadvantage. Most of the map is covered by the black unexplored region that the computer doesn't have to deal with. You need to even the score as soon as possible. Thus, it is of paramount importance to explore as much as you can. The more of the AI's territory you can see, the sooner you can spot approaching heroes. They will be coming because your castle is undefended. Your superhero's job is to catch them before they get too close.

Effective Use of Garbage Heroes:
All heroes other than your superhero are role players. Their job is to help explore new territory and deliver new creatures to your superhero. Since these heroes are primarily used as scouts, there is no reason for them to have an army. Strip all but one of the fastest creature from their armies and donate the extra troops to either your superhero or your castle garrison. Castle duty is a good role for creatures of different castle types from yours. Sure, they might lower your garrison's morale, but that's preferable to lowering your superhero's morale. Besides, if you have to fight the enemy in your home castle, you've probably already lost.

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Exploration Strategies

Free Resource Piles:
In the early stages of a game, those little piles of resources are more valuable than mines. The AI won't hesitate to pick these up, and neither should you. This is a great task for garbage heroes. Send a hero out into the unknown and see how far he can get without running into wandering monsters. Pick up anything you can get your hands on. Ideally, your superhero will clear any chokepoints, allowing a garbage hero to explore further while he hangs around to mop up the current area.

Treasure Chests: Gold or Experience?
Ah, the age old question (well, since 1995 anyway). What do you do with treasure chests? The trouble is that there's no right answer. It really depends on the situation. If you're trying to win Valley of Death on Impossible in 13 days, gold is way more valuable than experience. But if you're playing Lost Continent on Normal, you're probably better off taking the experience. If you decide to take the experience, make sure the hero is actually going to use it (e.g., your superhero).

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Tips and Tricks

Dealing With a Superior Force:
Consider this situation. You just conquered Green's last castle. It's day 3 of the current week and this new castle has no creatures available. You end your turn, and out of the shroud comes a Red hero with a vastly superior army. What do you do? This is really a hopeless situation, so your best bet is to leave. Don't defend this new castle; let Red come in and take it. When that hero eventually departs the castle, he will invariably have left behind some defenders. You can then swoop in and retake the castle. Voila, you've just taken a chunk out of Red's army without losing a hero. You can repeat this as many times as necessary until you can safely handle the hero. If you happen to have another town or castle nearby that you can afford to let fall for a few days, so much the better. You can keep Red running between the two places, leaving part of his army behind each time. This game of "musical castles" is another example of using the AI's predictability to your advantage.

Hopeless Castle Sieges:
There's no sense in wasting your money on creatures that will just be destroyed by an approaching hero. As long as you have turrets, five Peasants (one for each garrison slot) is just as good an army as any. If the enemy only has one shooter or flyer, that's five turns of turret fire that he has to endure. Better still, if the enemy has only ground troops, no damaging spells, and no Ballistics skill, you can hold out almost indefinitely. You'd be surprised how much good those Peasants can do just by taking up space.

The Paramount Importance of Ghosts:
Ghosts in large numbers are by far the strongest units in the game. Thanks to the Price of Loyalty expansion, you can now employ them in your armies for 1000 gold apiece. All units killed by ghosts become ghosts, so if you find a large army of puny creatures, you can turn 10 Ghosts into 300 with a single battle. A game is basically over once one side obtains them. Therefore, if you're designing a map that uses expansion objects, I suggest not putting in Barrow Mounds. I have no qualms about stomping the AI with 20,000 Ghosts, but in multiplayer games it's completely unfair. Even if both sides have Ghosts, whoever gets in the first shot will win.

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