The French are a very well-rounded civilization, sharing characteristics of both a decent economy and powerful military. They have an economic advantage due to their Coureurs and possess one of the most powerful cavalry units in the game.
The French economy starts fast and can sustain a strong army, thanks to their special Settlers, the Coureur des Bois, which gather and build 25% faster than regular Settlers. Fledgling colonies start off with five Coureurs (equivalent to 6.25 settlers). The French Explorer is also assisted by a Native Scout.
The French military is very well rounded. They can upgrade their Skirmisher to the Royal Guard level, giving them very powerful anti-infantry abilities in the late game. In addition to this, the French have the third most powerful cavalry, the mighty Cuirassier, which can also be upgraded to Royal Guard status.
The Cuirassier is a very powerful cavalry, being able to defeat almost any unit in the game and also have an area effect damage, which makes them good against compact groups of units. Heavy infantry like the Pikemen or Halberdier can threaten the Cuirassier, but as the French can upgrade Skirmishers to Royal Guard, they also have a very powerful anti-infantry unit. The combination of Cuirassiers and Skirmishers is a very powerful combo that can be difficult to counter. With its economy being one of the best in the game, it can easily sustain the deadly combo of Cuirassiers and Voltigeurs (Skirmishers), making France one of the best civilizations in the late game.
The French also can make stronger alliances with the natives as they have many unique shipments for it. As their relationship with the natives suggest, their "Wilderness Warfare" card improves the damage of native infantry, Coureurs and Skirmishers.
Other advantages include being able to send two forts (three with Warchiefs expansion), which greatly increases the ability to enclose opponents or defend the colony (although Mortars and Monitors can easily destroy them if in range). The Fur Trade Card is very useful in Treaty games. The French also have a team card to enable production of Skirmishers in the Colonial Age, allowing them, Spanish, German players to train them like the Dutch can. Portuguese players are able to train Cassadors, their version of the Skirmisher during the Colonial Age with this team card. For British and Russian players, it simply decreases the train time for Longbowmen and Strelets.
Although French Coureurs gather resources much faster than common settlers, at the same time they are also more expensive. They must be kept alive as long as possible so they can contribute as much to the colony.
The Cuirassiers are quite costly, if opponents swarms up a large army French player may not be able to produce enough of them to counter. They also occupy a lot of population, and will be decimated easily by large groups of upgraded War Wagons.
Their church upgrades do not provide much benefit. The only two upgrades they have are the Napoleonic Code and the Guard. The Napoleonic Code will greatly increase gather rates, but will result in the player's buildings costing more resources to build. This could be a hindrance with a lack of Coureurs and/if they need to rebuild again, unless the player is allied with the Cree or Tupi tribes and researched their wood upgrades, which negates the increased cost. Despite this, it can allow the French to quickly rebuild an army because of the Coureur's superior gathering rates. The other one, the Guard upgrades, sends Grenadiers which are somewhat useless if the player has a powerful army. However, they are excellent to bring enemy buildings down and can be a powerful addition to a Natives rush or fast fortress.