Naval Gameplay and ideas to breathe some life into it


I play naval maps. I play naval maps a lot. I remember back when this game came out I would hog the telephone and play comp stomps with my friend on Caribbean, feeling like vice admirals because we could beat the expert AI on water (even if we couldn’t on land).

Well fast forward to today and although I’m no pro, I’m no slouch either. I briefly broke into the top 500, I’ve been modding the AI, taking time to test it; and I’ve noticed there’s a few issues associated with naval gameplay that I would like to discuss.

Lastly, before I dive into my thoughts here, I want to say that I had hoped I would be able to solve most of them through modding, but alas I’m not that good yet so hopefully we can settle for only a partial solution.

Over the following sections I’ll briefly go over some things I don’t think are actually issues, and then get into what I think is holding back this gameplay.

1. The counter system is fine, and the ship limits are fine

1.a The current counter system is fine, but under-utilized

Ships currently come in a few different varieties: There’s the caravel; a ship that is decent in combat and can fish. There’s the galleon, a tanky ship that can take damage and has armor vs land targets. Then there’s the frigate that excels in combat but can’t fish, and the monitor that excels at attacking land targets but can’t do anything else.

All of this builds a counter system that looks like:

  • Ship vs ship
  • Ship vs building/land artillery
  • General purpose/specialized versions of each

As far as I can tell, this is perfectly fine. There have been threads about changing the roles or creating a fully unique counter system on water, but I don’t see why the current system can’t work.

The issue instead, is that there’s very little opportunity or reason to exploit the counter system. I didn’t even know until recently that galleons had armor against land units. As far as I knew the only reason to make one was because it trained units. We rarely see combat between ships and towers, or ships and land artillery.

1.b Ship limits are good

I get why there are separate limits to ships in this game. Having 1 frigate is a big deal. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned, and I like that you can’t just make endless frigates.

That being said, I’m not necessarily opposed to a different method of limiting the amount of ships on the map, I just don’t think it’s one of the issues.

2. The AI on Water Maps is non-functional

You probably could’ve guessed this was coming if you’ve heard of Assertive Seawall. The AI, simply put, does not function adequately on water maps. I’ll try not to dig too far into it, but on semi-water maps the AI does very little on the water and on maps like Caribbean or Amazonia, it’s practically non-functional.

From what I can tell, this is a huge deal for naval gameplay. PvP gameplay limits itself to standard maps despite not having this issue, and since the majority of players don’t play competitively anyway, I suspect this is a huge limitation holding back casual players.

If you want to give it a shot, my mod Assertive Seawall does give you a good time on water, though there are still plenty of improvements to be made and at best it’ll force a stalemate on water.

3. Naval Maps do not align with the designed gameplay

There’s two big issues here, and both relate to how naval combat tends to shake down on naval maps.

3.a The current selection of naval maps diverges from the naval counter system

When looking at the naval counter system it’s clear that we should be engaging in battles between ships and land artillery, but we don’t really have any maps that encourage that sort of combat.

Let’s look at our current selection of maps:

  • Caribbean
  • Amazonia
  • Ceylon
  • Archipelago
  • Corsica & Sardina
  • Mediterranean

On every map except Amazonia naval combat is fought on the open ocean. That’s OK to have, but why is that almost every naval map choice? We have a counter system built around land v ships but when it comes to our selection of naval maps it’s all open ocean where you only encounter other ships.

What I want to see are significant choke points on water. Cliff faces where artillery and towers can be staged to block ships from landing or passing. Maybe even an island that provides significant map control. Anything that forces land and naval units to interact.

3.b. “Run Around” Gameplay is encouraged on Water

There’s two ways to win on water. You can take the sea, train lots of fishing boats, and use your control of water to boom. Or you can make 1 Caravel, load up 50 units, and run past the enemy’s fleet to drop them off.

In what I’ve experienced, winning on the water gives you some ancillary benefits but is not a prerequisite for winning a water map. I think most of us would prefer that it be a prerequisite, but in practice even when you take control of the water it’s far too easy for an opponent to sneak one ship past you.

I would like to see a couple changes here:

  1. Ships loaded with units move slower
  2. Ships get heavily snared (even more so when transporting units)
  3. Ships with too many transports take additional damage

These changes would make it much more difficult to sneak past an opponent that controls the water, and make control of the water far more consequential.

4. Naval Bombardment. Where is the Naval Bombardment?

You’ve finally done it. You’ve taken the water, you’ve landed some units to engage the enemy forces, and now what? The enemy just retreated inland slightly and now your ships are useless.

I would love to see another type of attack that allows ships to engage inland enemy forces, even if it be with a weaker, less accurate bombardment. It could even be varied across ships, where galleons have a strong bombardment and caravels a weak bombardment. I just want to see naval forces able to project their power inland.

5. Minor Issues

There are some little things that bother me about the water:

  • Native civs get no water benefit from allying with natives, they still can only make the normal amount of canoes.
  • No dedicated anti-water base defenses. I get why this is the case, but I would love to be able to build something amounting to a stationary culverin or coastal gun that could specialize in combating ships.
  • Shallows should allow small ships through (maybe even just canoes?), instead they block everything.
  • There’s only one type of infinite fishing resource, and nothing for fishing boats to do if there’s not enough whales.


So what are your thoughts? Can we breathe some life into naval gameplay, and do you agree with any of these issues and suggestions?


There is no counter system. It’s just spam as many ships as you can to win. There is supposed to be a system involving buildings and some artillery, but it is minimal and can be avoided by staying out at sea. What we need is ship roles that are actually differentiated such as ships that fight in melee.

Better maps would also help. Hybrid maps with a chokepoint would actually let naval units be pivotal in participating in battles or bypassing a congested land route.


I basically agree with you, but take the opposite solution. I want to see more interplay between land and naval units, and watch the triangle develop in a coastal region rather than focus on deep water fights.

Even with a proper counter system there’s still not much of a reason to take the water other than access to some temporary fish and at best a few whales.

Makes alot of sense

Additionally I would like to see a stand ground mode on ships too, similar to land units.


The biggest thing is for sure we need an “anchor” mode for ships so that a player can build a proper blockade. Also it would be good if ships by default engaged other ships a little inside their range or had the “target lock” feature of land units like archers, so they don’t do the thing where they fire a single shot and then slowly turn to follow a fleeing boat and then get in range, turn to shoot, get out of range, turn to follow, get in range, turn to shoot, get out of range, etc. etc.

I play only skirmish against AI and I often build culverins for the sole purpose of blowing up enemy fishing boats, because the AI likes to spam them and won’t resign if it still has a lot of fishing boats around. From doing that I can tell you shore artillery is absolutely oppressive against ships - even the specialist anti-land galleon dies almost instantly if there are cannons in range. So I don’t know if trying to further encourage land based anti-ship tactics would be much fun, or a way to make ships more interesting.

It would be fun if in the industrial age we could build fish traps/farms, and it might give a reason to use the water a bit more. Maybe there could be economic cards for new opportunities on water too. Like a piracy card that gives you gold for sinking enemy ships. Or maybe something far out like AoE 1/2s dock trading system so that you could set up docks on different islands and trade between them for gold based on the route length.


La flota europea es fácil de dividir y darles un rol de piedra, papel y tijera.

  • El Galeón es un cuartel flotante, debe de resistir a la artillería y a las torres pero débil contra los demás barcos.
  • La Carabela es útil para explorar y pescar, débil contra barcos grandes, resistente a botes con ataque y a las canoas simples.
  • La Fragata es un mega barco fuerte contra todos los demás barcos, devil a los ataques de Monitor, torres y cañones de costa
  • El Monitor es un mega barco fuerte contra edificios costeros y fragatas por su largo alcance, es débil a embarcaciones sercanas, recomendable de protegerlos con los demás barcos.
  • El pesquero, queda como está, resistente al ataque de torres, bueno para la pesca y débil en ataque (si es que gana un ataque gracias a un envío)

Ahora, el tema es con las demás embarcaciones, hay varios que son ibridas.

  • El fuchuan chino es una fragata y a la vez un galeón.
  • La Canoa de batalla africana es un galeón y Carabela a la vez.
  • El Buque a vapor es galeón y carabela a la vez.

El otro tema es como llenar los espacios con el tema de la marina nativa. Los incas tienen solo balsas chincha, el resto la canoa común y la canoa de guerra.
Barco cuerpo a cuerpo ya va más por los Junko de fuego, brulotes malteces y el ataque cuerpo a cuerpo de la Galeaza.
Y si no faltara poco tenemos buques mercenarios y embarcaciones nativas que hay que decidir en qué grupo iría

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I assume you have been the one with the culverin? Recently I’ve gotten into lots of fights where I’m trying to kill AI artillery staged along the coast. Galleons have been indispensable in those fights and allow me to actually win them whereas a caravel just melts away. This is keeping in mind though that a culverin costs almost as much as a galleon.

I like all these ideas and think it definitely spices things up on the water.

The weird boat types seem fine to me. Land units are all wonky for those civs so why not let their navy be wonky also. You’re right about the baseline canoes, though. Its a naval unit that every civ in the game can get from allying with a native tribe, and so I wish they had another option or even just a different standard canoe.


I think naval gameplay is never favored in any AOE or any RTS in general simply because you cannot translate advantage on water to the advantage in the “decisive” part of the game which is always destroying the enemy base.
Connected maps with large water bodies: water is just a resource. Capturing it gives you some advantages, but you can totally ignore it.
Disconnected island maps: you need to land, and it’s tiring. There isn’t a thing like blockade or control zone. There is no obstacle or chokepoint or “terrain” on water. You’ll need to watch out for guerilla ships all the time even if you dominate water.

Navy is always a different system as land military. A different set of units and a different dimension of gameplay.

Air is different. In a lot of RTS with air combat, those units are still effectively land units but can traverse certain obstacles and can only be attacked by a smaller variety of other units.

The only RTS I know that makes water gameplay important is Red Alert 3, with these very unconventional designs:

  1. A lot of naval units can crawl onto land.
  2. Most maps have water.
  3. There are huge amounts of resources on water. You can build a lot of buildings including the base on water.

None of these seem realistic here. So water may remain a meme forever.

That might actually be difficult. Most historical RTS I remember have to “invent” totally unrealistic units to make a counter system, like universally available Greek fire, mass-produced dedicated fire ships or simply ships with the same weaponry and similar designs but forced different roles.

Naval warfare just was not interesting before modernity…even less interesting before gunpowder.

The two versions of maps that we have do fall into these categories, which is why I would like to see one that forces towns to be coastal and provides clear choke points to force fights between land units and ships. I think the current counter system could really shine with the right map.

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1000000% absolutely for any Naval Improvements!

We’ve got a game which covers the entire age of sail, empires settling across the oceans. the golden age of piracy and some of the most famous naval leaders and their landmark battles.

Naval A.I. and pathfinding is number one for me followed very closely with a sensible Counter system.

The counter system I had in mind would that of the RTS game Rise of Nations which consists of:

Light Vessels - Strong against Fire Vessels. Weak versus Heavy Ships. Great LOS and Speed.
Fire Vessels - Strong against Heavy and Bombardment ships (i.e slow ships). Weak versus Light Vessels. One-Shot - very strong to anything they can get close to, with best use against Heavy Vessels.
Heavy Ships - Strong against Light and Bombardment ships. Weak versus Fire Vessels.
Bombardment Ships - Strong against buildings and ground units (i.e everything that’s not a ship). Weak versus all other ships. Reasonably good against anything at long range however incredibly weak to anything close-up.

As you can see Fire Vessels are a typical unit type rather than available to one or two civs and this is how it should be in AoE3. Historically Fire Ships were used a lot to cause signifcant damage and chaos to warships. Its one of the easiest naval ‘weapons’ to create as long as you have access to a boat/ship - whether it be Native Americans settling ablaze a canoe and sending it infront of a European ship, or the British converting a sloop to a fire ship, filling it with flamable material and powder barrels and sailing it into a cluster of ships.

In game that means that everyone should access to them. Native Americans can use cheapers, weaker but faster to train fire canoes and Euros/Asian/Fed States can train Fireships (i.e whichever ‘exploration’ vessel available to the civ, on fire). The only different to Rise of Nations is that their health degrades very slowly as they burn, so they cannot be hoarded - the main use being to train them up quick to get you out of bind or to deal with Bombardment-type ships.

How the counter system could translate in AoE3:

Military Vessels:

  • Light Vessels - Small boats and ships - ‘Exploration’-type ships (Junk, Sloop, Caravel, etc)/canoes/boats (including Chincha Raft & Tlaloc Canoe).
  • Heavy Vessels - Warships - All ‘Galleon’-esque and ‘Frigate’-type.
  • NEW Fire Vessel - Fire Ships, Fire Canoes, Fire Rafts, Fire Junks
    Incidently, all Fire Vessels use their Civ’s Light Vessels as the base model.
  • Bombardment Vessels - Monitor, Ironclad

Economy Vessels:

  • Fishing Boat/Canoe - Weak versus everything
  • (Possibly) Whaler or Whaling Boats as a Whale-only hunting Eco vessel that extracts Coin quicker)

Now, you may see that and think Native Americans (and any other Civ that doesn’t have Heavy, Warship types) are hard done by as they will not have Heavy Vessels, however the reality would be that whilst Light Vessels are weak against the aforementioned, they are all cheaper and faster to train than Heavys and would still have their nuances, i.e some will have good siege attack or resistance - they just share the same tag of [Light Vessel] which covers all the light, military vessels which are strong against Fire Vessels (and Bombardment ships). The weakness against Heavy Vessels can be overcome by numbers/resources. Even within the [Light Vessel], you could have a Civ’s best canoe having some sort of slight multiplier against [Heavy Vessels] as a ’

Natives could also overcome Heavy/Bombardment types by way of Capture/Hired versions much like the Mortars later on in the game.

As mentioned with the Light Vessel tag, all other categories still can have their respective nuances within their tag, for example a typical Galleon would still be very resistant to Ranged Attack and be able to train units, though as it is a [Heavy Vessel] it has a natural disadvantage against a Fireship, but great against Light Vessels.

New Ships / Replacement Ships

India - Whilst the Mughals did very much venture towards European-style Warships later on, they did use their own vessels such as:

  • Ghurab - Light Vessel - the ‘exploration’ sailing ship
  • Ghanjah Dhow - Heavy Vessel - Large Dhow cargo/warships - similar to Galleons


  • Race-Built Gallleon - [Heavy Vessel ]- A slimmer, cheaper and faster Galleon (one of the ‘lightest’ Heavy Vessels) that whilst not as tough as the standard Galleon in HP and resistance terms, can use its speediness to hit and run the tougher ships.
  • Rocket Ship - [Bombardment Ship] The mention of rockets in the US anthem actually refer to the rockets launched from Rocket Ship, Erebus. The British Rocket Ship is a Bombardment Ship (about Sloop/Schooner size) that fires a long range broadside of multiple rockets. Faster than a Monitor but less HP. Fires a barrage of rockets rather than a single mortar bomb, however takes longer to reload.

General Changes

  • Monitor - Change name to Bomb Ketch. Monitor is a nonsense name, based on shallow-water armoured small ships - Bomb Ketch or just Bomb Vessel is historically correct and is instantly obvious what it does.
  • Fireships - Available to all in Canoe and Ship form depending on Civ. Counter-measure to the most powerful ships, with the disadvantage being weakness to Light Vessels and slowly depleting health.
  • Armoured Frigate - Euro Civs get an incredibly expensive additional upgrade to the Frigate line to enable (ocean-going) Ironclads - the Armoured Frigate. Uses French or British Armoured Steam Frigate (such as HMS Warrior - 1860) as basis for the model. Euros should have Ironclad representation!
  • Wrecks - Sunken wrecks added to water-based maps - finite source of XP and Coin
  • Outlaws/treasures added to water maps - Essentially those before (original + Warchiefs) and after (DE) the Asian Dynasties expansion
  • New Naval-based maps - For example a King of the Hill style map with the ‘hill’ being a Sea Fort (Suomenlinna Sea Fortress and Fort Boyard as examples).

Out of topic but that reminds me of total war shogun 2 (fall of samurai campaign), where most of the cities are coastal (because Japan) and you can call naval bombardments in most battles XD.

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Race-built galleon could actually be a good card as well.


Mi manera de pensar con dibujitos para que me entiendan todos sin importar el idioma

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I was thinking of Age of Sail, where there are tons of coastal fights and ships engaging with land units.

I’ll try to script a map like this when I get time, but I think it’s possible to force this gameplay with the right map. Basically a mix between great lakes and Rockies where there’s only a couple ways in and out, but your town is effectively stretched along the shore of a protected cove.

Water is viable - if it is on the map you basically must play it and win it otherwise you will have a really hard time and prob lose

… and 4. In case of eliminating a ship with passengers or cargo on board, you will be awarded experience for these casualties.

For example, I destroy a ship with 50 musketeers inside, then it gives me the experience of the ship, plus the experience of 50 musketeers.

I think the transport system isn’t very historical because outside of a specially made harbour or peer the way you would embark and disembark a ship was by row boat, this is why Viking raiders were so feared as longboats were an exception because the ships could go all the way up the the shore, no need for a harbour or rowboat.

I also don’t find the ship to ship battles very interesting, most RTS don’t do naval warfare well, exceptions being Total Anhilation and supreme commander, Warcraft II was a little limited, But I find it fun.
AOE2 and AOM naval systems however seem a little forced. AOE3 seems to be about having the most guns.