The Saracens are an offensive civilization with particularly strong camel and naval units. Even though they are not very strong in the early game due to lack of early economic bonuses, they instead have lots of powerful units and technologies making them a fearsome opponent in the late game.
Their unique technology, Zealotry, grants Camel Riders and Mamelukes extra hit points, allowing them to dominate almost any enemy cavalry unit they encounter. Camels normally are unable to stand up to Imperial Age heavy cavalry but Zealotry makes up for this, making them more cost effective. This makes them powerful against civilizations that rely heavily on cavalry such as the Huns, Franks and the Mongols which all have cavalry bonuses. The Mameluke is one of the most effective cavalry counters in the game, capable of taking down nearly any cavalry unit and in groups can easily handle War Elephants. However, they are a versatile unit and can handle most enemy soldiers.
The Saracens also have a strong navy, with their Galleons having a faster attack than normal and their transport ships have more hit points, making it more difficult for opponents to sink a naval invasion. In addition they can carry an additional five units so population space is saved when planning a naval invasion.
They have access to all siege weapons except for the Heavy Scorpion giving them strong offensive capabilities. They have full archer technologies and their archers also do bonus damage against buildings. This allows Cavalry Archers to become devastating raiders as this bonus allows them to raze buildings with ease.
The Saracens also have an economic advantage in which trading resources in the Market costs only 5% instead of the usual 30% (15% with Guilds). This allows them to easily amass resources through trading.
Their main weakness is in their heavy cavalry. They cannot upgrade their Knights and are one of only two Old World civilizations to be missing this ability (along with the Indians, which lack knights completely). Fortunately, the Mameluke's versatility makes up for this. They also lack several economic technologies, though their market bonuses make up for this somewhat. Their defense is merely average as the Heated Shot, Architecture and Bombard Tower technologies are closed to them. Thus, there's no advantage to help stop a determined attack.
Saracens have several effective strategies; they can rush and boom, but mainly they perform better as a rushing civilization at the middle game.
Saracens can perform a unique rushing strategy called the Smush (Saracen monk rush). In "the Forgotten" expansion Saracens received two buffs that help this tactic: a cheaper market and the madrasah technology.
To perform a Smush, Saracens must perform first a fast castle technique but with many differences. The most important of these is that they take their stone mine in the Dark Age (with at least four villagers) and then age up at 20 population, before placing a blacksmith and a market to sell their initial stone. Once this is done, the Saracen player may trade at the market for enough resources to advance to the Castle Age. This relies on the faster rate of stone mining compared to gold and most importantly the Saracen trading bonus to use the market efficiently. The player must then task some villagers to gold and leave the others mining stone.
To execute a Smush in the Castle Age, the player must create at least two monasteries and create then four or five monks. It is also helpful to research some of the monastery technologies. The player must then get the monks to their opponent's base and start converting enemy units but prioritizing enemy villagers. It is important for the player to micromanage well the monks and use only one monk per converted unit at once, the monks also must avoid town center fire. Once the player has converted several enemy villagers, they should task them to create some forward towers and steal the enemies resources.
Saracens are at their best in the Castle Age when they can start to create camels, Mamelukes and cavalry archers. This makes them a formidable cavalry civilization. Mamelukes and camels come in handy when dealing with enemy cavalry but they can also be used for raiding. Saracens have full monastery technologies so, if a player used a Smush earlier in the game, the left over monks can be improved and start to support their cavalry. Their Cavalry archers can work as a siege engine if massed because of their +3 attack vs buildings.
In the Imperial Age Saracens get the Zealotry technology which improves the hit points of the camels by making them more durable than other camels. Bombard cannons are often used for siege, as the Saracens get gunpowder units.
On water maps Saracens are one of the best civilizations as they have 2 bonuses that allows them to take the seas earlier than other civilizations. Galleys attack faster and Saracens require less transport units than other civilizations as transport ships have more capacity.
Their new unique technology, Madrasah, returns 33% of the cost of monks to the player when they die. This makes Saracen monks a more efficient investment when built to support other units.
Saracens also received a -75 wood discount building markets. This improves their access to the Saracen civilization bonus at the market as well as providing a small boost to trade.
As of The African Kingdoms, camels are no longer considered ships. This change affects the Saracen unique unit, the Mameluke, and makes them better protected against enemy towers, which were previously more effective against Mamelukes when raiding.
Their Cavalry Archer attack bonus now applies to the Archer line and the Hand Cannoneer, but is reduced to +3 (for a total +4 in the case of the Archer line, considering their team bonus). This makes an archer rush in the Feudal Age much more appealing for Saracens, while also making masses of Arbalests and Hand Cannoneers a viable alternative to siege units in the later stages of the game. The cost of the Market is lowered now to only 75 wood, making their fast Castle technique described previously much better.
In team games, Saracens should preferably play in the pocket position, but they can also stand in the front line position.
Saracens profit greatly from the following team bonuses:
Britons: +20% faster archery range. The bonus is helpful with any archer rush tactic, which the Saracens can already employ very well. It also aids in keeping up a steady production of archers in the late game.
Magyars: +2 LOS for foot archers makes them better, especially after the Definitive Edition buff for these units (+4 attack against buildings).
Byzantines: Monks heal 50% faster. This improves the strong Saracen monks and helps with the smush.
Huns: +20% faster stables. The Hun bonus is useful for Camel and Scout Cavalry production.
Indians: +6 Camel attack versus buildings. This bonus affects the strong Saracen Camel and Mameluke units and helps with raiding enemy towns. The camels are still susceptible to building's attacks though.
Japanese: +2 Galley line of sight. This improves the fast firing Saracen Galleys and helps with early scouting and rushing on water maps.
Vikings: Docks 15% cheaper. This makes an early-game Galley rush even easier.
Burmese: They reveal in-map locations of the relics to their teammates even as the match kicks off, allowing competent Saracen monks to snatch them early to ensure future gold supply.
Bulgarians: Blacksmiths work 50% faster. This makes all Saracen military units receive improvements quicker, considering Saracens have all Blacksmith upgrades.
Lithuanians: Monastery works 20% faster. This makes researching technologies and producing Monks faster, improving the Monk rush.
Tatars: +2 line of sight for cavalry archers. This allows fully-teched Saracen cavalry archers with bonus attack against buildings to conduct scouting works and spot enemy units more efficiently.
Turks: Since Saracens get access to gunpowder units, and their Hand Cannoneers have +3 attack vs buildings (since the Definitive Edition), the Turkish team bonus (Gunpowder units are produced faster) becomes very handy.
As a teammate, Saracens make a synergy with archer based civilizations, such as the Britons, the Chinese, the Mayans, and others. Their team bonus gives allied foot archers +1 attack versus buildings. This adds to the Mayan technology Obsidian Arrows which increases archer attack versus buildings by +3, making massed archers a viable replacement for siege and swordsmen. Fully upgraded British Longbowmen can outrange towers and castles, so this bonus speeds up the destruction of enemy fortifications. Vietnamese allies also grant Saracen players gold subsidy (via Paper Money) for extra Mamelukes, camels, warships or horse archers, together with anti-building-enhanced Imperial Skirmishers and first-hand revelation of the enemy bases at the beginning, in exchange for more "siegable" Rattan Archers against hostile fortifications.
The Mameluke being a camel unit with range and attack bonus vs cavalry counters almost all types of cavalry, even the cavalry from prominent cavalry and cavalry archer civilizations like the Franks, the Burmese, the Persians, the Huns, the Magyars, the Mongols, etc. Also they can counter slow moving units by hit-and-running them, like the infantry (with some exceptions; see in disadvantages) Even civilizations with good infantry may have trouble against Mamelukes like Goths, Aztecs, Malians and Burmese as they can hit-and-run them. Their zealotry technology adds more advantage against the previously cited cavalry civilizations.
Being a civilization with good mid game and late game and able to perform a good Monk Rush as well as being able to raid with the use of Scout Cavalry, Camels, Cavalry archers and Mamelukes, they can defeat civilizations that fare otherwise especially in enclosed maps like Arena and Fortress, especially if starting at Feudal Age onwards. These civilizations include, Aztecs, Huns and Mongols for example. In Arabia they can take this advantage against civilizations with bad early game like Turks, Spanish, Indians, Portuguese and Khmer, as they can jump to Castle Age by Market trading.
Having complete Archery Range upgrades and an anti-building bonus for archers, they have an advantage against civilizations with poor defense (like Magyars and Japanese) and civilizations reliant on infantry (like Aztecs and Celts).
Regarding naval warfare, they have an advantage against civilizations that rely on their late game Naval vessels and close proximity ships (Demolition Ship and Korean Turtle Ship) as their Galleons have more firing rate and transport ships allows +5 loading space, Even the navy of civilizations like Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Malay may have trouble against the Saracen navy.
As far as they are awesome against cavalry and able to hit-and-run slower units, Mameluke have several disadvantages. They can be killed by Onagers if the player forgets to microing them so the Koreans, Celts, Ethiopians and others can get an advantage there. Indian Imperial Camel despite doesn't having range, can close down the distance and counter the Mameluke as they have better armor, similar logic applies to the Berber Camelry as they are cheaper and regenerate. Masses of Incan Kamayuks, Japanese Samurais and Halberdiers are a huge threat, while Viking Infantry with Chieftains may overturn overall the Saracen cavalry. Units with high melee armor also can counter the Mameluke. Towers still retain a +1 bonus damage against camels so civilizations with good towers such as Koreans, Byzantines, Japanese and Incas can use them to defend their towns against the Saracen camelry. Byzantine Cataphracts have hidden armor against camel attack so they can counter mamelukes and their camelry perfectly.
Malians can be a very unpleasant rival for the Saracen archery as their infantry bonus can negate the archery attacks against them making the Malian Halberdier more threatening to their core units (Mamelukes, Camels and Cavalry archers). Similarly Goths can counter the contingents of a Saracen Archer/ Cavalry archer army by swarming Huskarls as they have attack bonus vs Archers and high pierce armor, this combined with disposable and fast created Halberdiers will make the Saracens to have a hard time.
Mayans, Incas and Aztecs have Eagle Warriors that can counter Monks, Camels, Cavalry archers and Archers (they deal bonus damage to all of those units) all of these units compose the core of the Saracen army.
Persian Paladins have an attack bonus against archers, which puts the Saracen Archers at an disadvantage. Similarly, as Tatar Cavalry Archers and Light Cavalry get +1 pierce armor out of the Silk Armor technology, they are effective counters against archers.
Vietnamese Imperial Skirmishers can counter a Saracen Cavalry archers, Archers and Mamelukes perfectly. Other prominent civilizations with good skirmishers that can also do this are the Aztecs (with the Atlatl technology), The Berbers (which have the Genitour who is a mounted skirmisher) and the Britons (whose Skirmishers are created faster and get +1 range out of Yeomen technology). Beside the Saracens have all Archer technologies and being good against buildings other prominent archer factions have better bonuses and can deal with them with ease (this includes Ethiopians, Mayans and Chinese), Civilizations with good Onagers such as Celts and Koreans can also defeat with ease their archers.
Besides Saracen Monks can be a good offensive unit in the mid game, civilizations with good light cavalry (like Huns, Magyars and Mongols) can counter very effectively them.
Regarding the naval Warfare they are in disadvantage against civilizations with good Fire ships (such as Byzantines, Portuguese and Berbers) as that is the counter for the Galleons, Similarly their Galleons fall apart against Viking longboats, also they have a disadvantage at late-game as they don't have access to Shipwright so civilizations with either cheaper ships or access to that technology (like the Italians for example) or late game sustainable economy (like Malay and Portuguese with their unlimited resources bonuses) can overturn them.
In high resources Random map matches, they have an advantage as they can perform very soon a fast Castle and deliver their monk rush, thanks to their market interchange bonus.
In the Real World map Earth they have an early advantage as in this map players start with 3 villagers a scout and a transport ship (that will retain its value further in the game)
In the Capture the Relic Game mode as they can jump to Castle Age and access monks buffed with all monastery technologies plus Madrasah they have an advantage over other civilizations.
Their Market fee bonus is highly valuable in the Game mode "Wonder race", as they can jump to Castle Age and develop a booming strategy.
Saracens are quite capable in late-game trash wars. They have excellent Hussars with all upgrades as well as strong Skirmishers, thanks to their full Blacksmith. However, a major problem is their lack of Halberdiers.