I made a post about the unique techs for the two new civs shortly after they were announced (link here) outlining why I was worried about them. In summary, I was not excited about the one-time mechanic all the techs had and how reminiscient of AoE3 and AoM they were. I believed the new techs would be either useless or OP in different situations with no in between. Flemish Revolution is not only useless but detrimental if you research it in early or mid imp. But if the game gets to late imp and its a skirm-hussar-halb vs skirm-hussar-halb trashfest, with each player having 100 villagers, turning those 100 villagers INSTANTLY into what’s essentially two handed swordsmen with a bonus vs cavalry is an immense and game-ending powerspike the opponent cannot respond to assuming the two players are of equal skill.
In that post, I talked about how its going to be really really difficult to balance these unique techs such that they’re viable in most situations. Most of the unique techs scale with some other parameter and their one-time nature means changing the cost of the unique tech or its effect size (stats on flemish militia, ratio of food to gold converted, etc…) just determines in what situations the techs will be busted, and in what situations they’re useless. It will not make them more viable and balanced in most situations. It’ll also be difficult to even know whether these techs should be nerfed or buffed. Should flemish revolution be buffed to make it more viable in early and mid imp, or should it be nerfed to make it less viable in late imp?
Another reason why they’re flawed is because all of the tech effects scale with some in-game parameter. First Crusade’s effect size scales with the number of tcs you have, scutage scales with your and your allies’ military count, burgundian vineyards scales with your food stockpile, and flemish militia scales with your villager count. If the cost of the techs doesn’t also somehow scale with its effect, there will always be some optimal amount of that determinant to have beyond which it is always worth getting and before which it is never worth getting. Increasing the cost of burgundian vineyards will just force burgundian players to wait until their food count is at the new optimal point before researching it.
After having played with and against the new civs in the past week, in ranked 1v1s, in ranked team games, in unranked lobby games, and against friends, watching pros play with and against them, and talking with other members of the community with how they perceive or think of the new unique techs, I still think the issues surrounding the new unique techs are very much relevant and need fixing. The new unique techs are for the most part useless when played in a meta setting, especially in team games. Except for scutage (and first crusade in its current state) I do not see why players would ever give up all their food for some lesser amount of gold or sacrifice all their eco for units that are easily countered when trade is available. In 1v1s, though, if the game drags late, these techs can determine who wins. That is unlike any other tech in the game and must be addressed.
I have also gathered some suggestions I’ve seen on the reddit and the official AoE2 forums, alongside my own original ones, about how these techs can be changed fundamentally such that they’re easier to balance in most scenarios:
Burgundian Vineyards. The first half of the tech, where all your food is converted to gold, should not be a thing. The tech is perfectly fine for the sake of balance if all it did was allow farmers to generate a small trickle of gold. If the tech was too underwhelming, you increase the gold trickle. If the tech was too strong, you decrease the trickle. This is useful but not game-ending to get at all stages of 1v1s and team games. It doesn’t have the potential to set you behind more than the resources the tech costs, and is not a one-time mechanic that scales with some in-game parameter as strongly.
Flemish Revolution. I understand revolutions/Ragnarok exist and aren’t game-breaking in other AoE games. However, they exist and work with many civilizations, and in those games civilizations are muuuuuch more different from each other than the ones in aoe2. Aoe2 civs share the same basic tech tree, have the same basic mechanics, and are in some sweet spot in terms of game design between Starcraft and Civilization when it comes to civ differentiability. This is, I think, one thing that makes AoE2 unique in the RTS world. Massive effects like converting all your eco into military work in those games because every civ has access to a similarly gimmicky mechanic of their own. All European civs in AoE3 have access to revolution, and can respond to any other civ’s revolution with their own if all else fails. This does not apply to aoe2 and the current effect of the tech will forever be a nightmare for the game and its players.
Why not, instead of force converting all your villagers into military units, this tech unlocked the ability to upgrade villagers into flemish militia? After a Burgundian player has researched this tech, a button appears in the villager selection panel where you command them to build/repair/be deleted that can unlock that villager to flemish militia at a set cost of x food/gold. This tech can be useful in all stages of imperial age, and you can still turn your entire eco into military if you so wish, but the cost of doing so will now scale with how many villagers you have. Alternatively, if one part of your eco is being raided, you can upgrade those villagers to flemish militia, deal with the raiders, and then send them to the frontlines to fight while replacing that small group of raided villagers. It’s much more easy to balance compared to what the tech does currently because you can change the cost of converting a villager depending on how strong the tech actually ends up being in practice.
First Crusade. The best suggestions I’ve seen for this one have been: (1) town centers can create serjeants, (2) the next 30 serjeants are created for free, or (3) just change the cost of the tech/number of serjeants spawned/maximum number of tcs it applies to. All three of those can work, as the tech just provides way too much value for what it currently costs. This tech isn’t as flawed as the others because there’s a cap on how much it scales: 5 town centers. It is therefore possible to balance it with the tech’s cost and effect size.
Scutage. This tech is, depending on how many troops are on the field and its cost, doomed to be “stronger/weaker paper money.” The way it currently is, if the team has more than 33 military units per player then its stronger paper money, and fewer than that it’s weaker paper money. On top of suffering from the scale factor and one-time nature of the tech, it’s also horribly similar to an existing one. No matter how you change its cost or how much gold it gives per military unit, there will always be some amount of units that make this tech “stronger/weaker paper money.”
If the tech is aimed at being a team-oriented one, I would recommend “team trade carts created 100% faster” or “team trade cart gold cost replaced with increased wood cost.” This has practical applications, isn’t game-breaking, fits well with the civ historically, isn’t similar to any existing tech, and most importantly can be easily balanced depending on how strong it ends up being practically.
I hope whoever reads this understands I do not think the techs are, currently, completely OP and should be nerfed. I do not think that and believe for the most part they’re easy to deal with or just will not be researched. In the situations that they are, though, they’re too strong a powerspike to deal with without a similarly-strong powerspike of my own.