The traditional counter system in Age of Mythology, going clockwise

A counter is a unit or building that holds an exceptional advantage against a particular unit, unit class, specific building, or building class. All games in the Age of Empires series feature counter systems.

Effectively utilizing counters in a player's army against the enemy's key units while protecting units vulnerable against enemy counters is often the key to winning battles.

Age of Empires Edit

In the original Age of Empires, a basic counter system was implemented. The concept of the rock-paper-scissor of this game has still been applied on the counter system of its successors. Unlike in its successors, however, attack bonus is not that emphasized in this game, rather a unit type gains the upper hands via the unit's attributes (attack, armor, range, speed).

Basically, there are two rock-paper-scissor cycles.

  1. Infantry is superior to cavalry (infantry has superior stats to cavalry, especially Academy units).
    Cavalry is superior to archers (cavalry can easily close the gap between them and attacking archers).
    Archers are superior to infantry (archers can easily hit-and-run infantry).
  2. Defensive structures defeat regular units (regular units do have a small amount of hit points and are normally within a tower's range).
    Regular units (infantry/cavalry) defeat siege weapons.
    Siege weapons defeat defensive structures (siege weapons have an attack bonus against buildings, and can often outrange them).

Age of Empires II Edit


Spearmen making short work of an enemy Knight.

The second title in the series has a counter system largely similar to that of its predecessor, with certain categories of units being better suited to beat certain units (for example, cavalry being a great choice to hunt down most archer units).

However, the rock-paper-scissor mechanic is more often than not subverted because of the existence of armor classes, which set the bonus damage that is dealt by a unit against units that share a certain armor class.

According to armor classes, bonus damage is a flat additive value to the base damage and if a unit has more than one armor class, the bonus damages of the attacking unit stack. For example, the War Elephant is in the war elephant and in the cavalry armor class, and the Halberdier has an attack bonus against both classes. So both bonus damages are added when a Halberdier attacks a War Elephant.

An example of a unit that subverts the traditional rock-paper-scissor mechanic is the Genoese Crossbowman. Although an archer unit, this unit boasts a bonus of +5 (+7 for the Elite version) against units with the cavalry armor class.

There are 16 total armor classes for units and 5 for buildings, thus complicating which unit is better suited to deal with enemies in different situations. Some units even serve very specific niches: an example is the Condottiero. This unit boasts an attack bonus of + 10 against units with gunpowder unit armor class combined with a unique armor class that makes it quite resistant to gunpowder units, which makes them an excellent choice to counter specific units, such as Hand Cannoneers.

Age of Mythology Edit

Age of Mythology utilizes the concept of a rock-paper-scissor-mechanic to make various units viable while also remove dominant strategies from the game. Besides handling economy, producing military units, and micro-managing them to fight, the counter system allows to trade produced military cost-efficiently. Losing significantly more resources than the player's opponent in a fight by losing more valuable military units leads to one player being ahead and often decides a game.

Rock-paper-scissors mechanics Edit

The basic counter-mechanics presented are the rock-paper-scissor mechanics among infantry, archers, and cavalry, as well as said mechanics among human soldiers, myth units, and heroes. Other appearances would be arrow ships, siege ships, and Hammer/Fire Ships, and siege weapons, normal units and buildings.

With infantry being food-based, cavalry being gold-based, and archers being wood-based, the counter mechanic of infantry-cavalry-archers is translatable into a gold-wood-food cycle.

Exceptional units among this counter system are ones which revert the mechanic, like the Destroyer and Huskarl infantry units being resistant or even strong against archers. Chinese cavalry are based around on a reversed mechanic, such as the anti-infantry Cataphract, anti-cavalry mounted archer-cavalry hybrid, the Mounted Archer, and Scout Cavalry being part of a basic cheap cavalry.

Each rock-paper-scissor cycle needs to be closed to fully function and not disturb others while doing that. The tools to do this are damage type, armor type, attack range, speed and attack multipliers.

Damage and armor types Edit

The damage types are hack, pierce and crush. Units can deal multiple damage types at once, commonly hack and crush or pierce and crush as done by various myth units. The damage type dealt is being reduced by the percentage on armor type before it decreases the victims HP.

E.g. if one deals 10 crush damage against 90% crush armor, only 1 damage is dealt to the HP.

Damage and armor types are used to establish the counter system.

Attack multipliers Edit

Some units deal bonus damage against other units. While soft counter units only sometimes get a bonus of 10% or 25% against the units they are supposed to counter, hard counter units can deal several times the damage they'd deal against other units. Pharaohs and Priests change their projectile type to show whether they are hitting normal units or myth units, against which they deal a great amount of bonus damage. Knowing that they are hitting the right units is important since the great amount of bonus damage can decide the outcome of battles.

One of the most important attack multipliers is between heroes and myth units. Heroes deal huge damage to myth units, and myth units usually deal reduced damage to heroes. Another instance of attack multipliers belong to myth units. Since they are strong units with a lot of hit points, most myth units have an attack multiplier of 2 or 3 times against other myth units to make the fights between them shorter. Other common multipliers are among some hard counter units, which otherwise do little damage overall and are not a threat to anyone else. Some other multipliers include multipliers are villagers doing bonus damage against towers and siege weapons, the Myrmidon and Fanatic damage multipliers against great amounts of units, and some multipliers against buildings by various units.

Attack multipliers are not presented in the game UI, which makes it difficult to evaluate exactly how strong of a counter units are. It is also difficult to compare heroes to each other, since their amount of bonus damage can differ a lot, partly due to their various availability among the civilizations.

Rock-paper-scissor cycles Edit

Siege weapons Edit

The easiest cycle concerns siege weapons, units, and buildings through mobility and crush damage/armor:

  • Siege weapons deal crush damage, have a high pierce armor, low hack armor and low speed.
  • Other Units are fast, deal either hack or pierce damage, but are themselves 99% armored against crush damage.
  • Buildings are immobile, deal mostly pierce damage if at all and have only 5% crush armor.

Siege weapons are practically immune to the pierce attack of buildings, while dealing a damage type on which buildings often have little armor. Other units are immune to siege weapons, are worse at destroying buildings, and are weak to building's damage.

This also leads to siege units being able to tank arrows from archers. Commonly used in Egyptian tactics is the use of the combined forces of siege units and Priests.

Human soldiers Edit

Another cycle concerns infantry, archers and cavalry through range, speed and pierce/hack damage and armor.

  • Infantry are slow, deal hack damage and have very little pierce armor.
  • Archers are slow, deals ranged pierce damage and have little hack and pierce armor.
  • Cavalry are fast, deal hack damage and have little hack, but good pierce armor.

Due to the use of two damage and armor types every fight could already be decided correctly if it was close combat, assuming that the archers hack armor exceeds the infantries pierce armor. But additionally range and speed come into play. Ranged units can engage in combat from afar, which allows for fighting while the enemy is still approaching, fighting from back rows and micro managing without causing the units to move before being able to fight again, allowing to focus fire dangerous or easy killable opponents. This is a huge bonus and makes them a must in most military compositions already. Fast cavalry can evade the archers' projectiles and catch them even if they are running away, while infantry are able to escape archers due to them not being able to attack while moving and sometimes slightly higher speed. In both cases of attempted evasions the archers lose, which limits their job to holding ground, but makes fast archers like Centaurs and Chariot Archers more deadly.

Unit class cycle Edit

The cycle of human soldiers, myth units and heroes is easily resolved. Compared to human soldiers myth units are more cost-effective and their upgrades more substantial, being effective for a little amount of units already. Heroes on the other hand, while strong units themselves, are not cost effective compared to human soldiers. To close the cycle heroes are given high damage multipliers against myth units, while myth units get a high damage reduction against heroes, allowing to defeat the most cost effective unit with the otherwise least cost effective one.

The recruitment of myth units is heavily restricted by them being expensive, requiring the troublesome obtainable resource of favor, the other uses for favor and the maximal amount of favor allowed. On the other hand, if on advancement the temple did not get destroyed since the Titans with every reached Age one free myth unit is granted to the player.

Ships utilize pierce, hack and siege-damage as well as pierce, hack and siege armor. This is combined with ramming ships, such as hammer and fire ships, being fast melee units attacking slow ranged siege units, copying the cycle of infantry, archers and cavalry.

Soft counters and hard counters Edit

Soft counters Edit

A standard unit among the counter mechanics is only slightly better than the unit it counters, allowing for beneficial fights or trade-offs in some situations even if the own unit is countered. Such soft counter units are more versatile in other statistics and can be used for various tasks.

The most basic soft counters are considered standard infantry, archers, and cavalry:

Due to Odins HP-bonus on Hill Fort units, the Huskarl can be used as basic infantry.

Hard counters Edit

Hard counter units on the other hand are highly specialized to fight a specific type of enemy. They are very cost-effective against the unit they counter, but do very poorly against anything else due to very low attack or armor.

Heavy units Edit

Heavy units are such which require to be hard countered to be cost effectively defeated. Using soft counters against them resolves in loosing more resources than the opponent.

Examples of heavy cavalry are War Elephants and Jarls, which require hard cavalry counter units to be defeated cost effectively. Myrmidons and Fanatics are heavy infantry which require hard infantry counters to be defeated cost effectively.

Technologies Edit

Line upgrades like Medium/Heavy/Champion increase attack and HP for a specific group of human military, while Armory upgrades benefit all human soldiers. Especially in the realm of soft counters being technologically more advanced than your opponent might allow to trade units efficiently when they shouldn't by counter-rules.

Some technologies grant attack multipliers and may change the role a unit plays in the counter-system.

  • Some units like the soft counters Spearman and Ulfsarks can be upgraded into becoming hard counters against cavalry through the mythic upgrade Greatest of Fifty resp. the heroic upgrade Swine Array, when the value of their decent stats as soft counters may be reduced by them being classical age units.
  • Alike Raiding Cavalry can be turned into a hard counter against archers with the mythic Sons of Sleipnir.
  • The Axeman and Huskarl, being hard counters against infantry and archery, respectively already, can be upgraded to be strong against buildings as well through the myth technology Axe of Vengeance or Bravery, respectively. While Huskarls are good at destroying buildings, the Axeman's poor pierce armor makes it hard to demolish such which defend themselves shooting arrows.
  • Similarly, Contarius-heroes can become strong against buildings through the Lance of Stone.
  • Another upgrade is increasing the damage multipliers of Priests and Pharaohs against myth units through the heroic Funeral Rites.
  • The Immortal can have its damage multiplier against myth units increased with the heroic technology Demon Slayer.

Age of Empires III Edit

The counter system of Age of Empires III is largely similar to the one utilized by Age of Mythology; as both games are based on the Bang! Engine, bonus damage is determined by multiplication rather than by additive bonuses and armor classes. A basic difference with the system of Age of Mythology is the fact there are many more categories of units, and a greater variety of multipliers against them.

Elaboration Edit

For example, infantry are distinguished as either heavy infantry or ranged infantry units.

The first category includes infantry that either fight exclusive in melee (such as the Samurai) or with muskets and bayonets or swords (such as the Janissaries). They tend to be a hard counter against cavalry and light/ranged infantry in melee but in turn, artillery or light/ranged infantry in range tend to beat them easily.

Light/ranged infantry (such as the Skirmisher) in turn boast great range, coupled with multipliers against heavy infantry and light/ranged cavalry, but fall easily to heavy cavalry, heavy infantry in melee, and artillery.

Niche units Edit

Of course, multipliers are not limited against the above-mentioned units. There are also multipliers against less common unit types, including worker units, mercenaries, and ships. This can sometimes lead to training certain units for very specific tasks, occasionally to levels of crippling overspecialization.

An example is the Spy, an infantry unit that causes just 5 damage but with very large multipliers against mercenaries, native warriors, and heroes. Another such unit is the Culverin, an artillery unit with spectacular range and great multipliers against ships and other artillery, that is somewhat ineffective against anything else.

Taking the above into consideration, and a light/ranged infantry unit in Age of Empires III) has a 5x multiplier against heavy infantry, then it takes the unit's base damage and multiplies it by 5 to heavy infantry. Units may also have multipliers that lower their damage output. If a unit has a 0.5 multiplier against Villagers then it does only half of its base damage to Villagers.

Something that has to be noted is that a unit lacking a multiplier or even having a multiplier lower than 1 (divider) does not make a unit ineffective against others. Heavy cavalry are an example, as most lack multipliers against other units, yet tend to consistently beat light/ranged infantry and artillery units because of their combination of speed, hit points, and high attack.

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