On most maps, every player starts out with three Villagers (except Chinese, who start with six, and Mayans, starting with four Villagers), a Town Center, and a Scout Cavalry. Because they have no access to mounted units, the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas start with an Eagle Scout instead of a Scout Cavalry. In addition to those civilizations, the Gurjaras start with a Camel Scout instead of a Scout Cavalry.
Typical activities during this Age include exploring and scouting the surrounding area, finding and herding Sheep, and hunting animals including such as Wild Boars or Elephants and sometimes Deer. Several Houses usually have to be built during this time.
Note that in the case that the Scout Cavalry/Eagle Scout is lost it cannot immediately be replaced until the Feudal Age is reached. If the initial Town Center is destroyed, a single new Town Center may be built.
The Dark Age is followed by the Feudal Age.
The Dark Age offers very little in terms of technology and diversity among civilizations. Players should generally pursue rapid development of economy since their options for military are extremely limited. Primary resources to gather are wood (for more Houses to support more Villagers and buildings to advance to the Feudal Age) and food (to create more Villagers and advance to the Feudal Age). Gold is only required if the player wants to perform a Dark Age rush or a fast archer rush, while stone might be collected for a Tower rush. About 19-21 Villagers is a good start for most civilizations, while some civs can even stretch the villager count to 16. Tasking the Villagers on the resources will depend entirely on the situation of the map, and the civilization used which will also drive the kind of strategy the player will perform. When tasking and creating Villagers, rapidity is advised. The player should try to use the Deer and Wild Boar before starting to build Farms in order to save wood.
If the map includes fishing as a source of food, building a Dock and creating Fishing Ships is feasible since Fishing Ships collect food more quickly than Villagers, while also adding an extra production building to build an economy and freeing Villagers for gathering other resources.
Although the Dark Age leaves all players with little military capability, it is possible to rush players early with Militia and Villagers. Such a tactic can be risky due to the time and resources needed to commit to an army so early on in the game. But, if successful, it can be game-deciding. Laming an opponent can be another good strategy, in which the Scout steals some Boars and/or Sheep and takes them back to the player's camp. Attacking the Villagers is another useful laming strategy.
- House - provides +5 population room
- Mill - gathering point for food -- Folwark - also provides +5 population room and gathers 10% food from nearby Farms (the latter Poles only)
- Farm - provides food (175 initially)
- Lumber Camp - gathering point for wood
- Mining Camp - gathering point for stone and gold
- Dock1 - gathering point for food from fishermen and fishing ships, creates and upgrades ships
- Since the Feudal Age, the Dock is primarily used as a military building.
- Outpost - simple Tower; does not attack, but provides visibility in a large area
- Palisade Wall - hinders enemies for a short time
- Palisade Gate - integrated into Walls, allows allies to pass (since The Forgotten)
At the Town Center
- Villager - constructs buildings and gathers resources
At the Dock
- In The Age of Kings and The Conquerors, the Transport Ship is first available in the Feudal Age, not in the Dark Age.
At the Barracks
- Militia - basic weak infantry unit
Spawned near the Town Center
At the Town Center
- Loom - Villagers receive +15 HP and +1/+2 armor
- Aztecs: Start with +50 gold.
- Burgundians: Double-Bit Axe, Horse Collar, Gold Mining, Stone Mining, and Wheelbarrow are available in the Dark Age at Lumber Camp, Mill, Mining Camp, Mining Camp and Town Center respectively.
- Chinese: Start with +3 villagers and -200 food, -50 wood.
- Huns: Start with full population room, -100 wood and inability to build Houses.
- Mayans: Start with +1 villager and with -50 food.
- Lithuanians: Start with +150 food.
- Persians: Start with +50 food, +50 wood.
- Poles: The Mill is upgraded to the Folwark, which in addition also provides +5 population room and gathers 10% food from nearby Farms.
- Sicilians: Start with +100 stone.
|“||Following the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, Western Europe plunged into an extended period of barbarity, lawlessness, and economic retreat that has come to be known as the Dark Age. The infrastructure of the Romans, including public works, courts, law enforcement, education, written records, coinage, and trade, largely disappeared. Germanic invaders from north of the Rhine and Danube Rivers substituted a tribal political structure based on loyalty to local strong warriors. A gradual recovery was fostered by three main influences: exceptional leaders who stabilized large areas, the Christian Church (operating from Rome and Ireland), which preserved and spread a modicum of learning, and revitalized economies based on agriculture (especially the wool and cloth trade).||”|
|—Age of Empires II manual|
|Ages in Age of Empires II|
|Dark Age · Feudal Age · Castle Age · Imperial Age|