Duchy of Athens
The following advice is for vanilla 1.09 Grand Campaign Duchy of Athens, especially at very hard difficulty. Things can go a number of ways for Athens right from the beginning depending on the early declarations of war.
Starting the Game
Do not promote a tax collector; the money is needed for other things and war exhaustion may become a problem. Reduce military maintenance for naval and land to 50%; full maintenance is not affordable. Set domestic policy sliders to increase Aristocracy; this saves 2d per unit of cavalry. Ideal religious sliders depend on revolt risk in Orthodox provinces. Set the religious sliders for Orthodox tolerance to 50% and Catholic tolerance to maximum for now. There is no need to use religious sliders to improve relations with Catholic countries at the beginning since Athens begins with +125 relations with all countries of importance. Set research for maximum trade; some merchant placements are eventually needed in order to improve troop support limits. Wait until January 7, 1419 to see what declarations of war (DoWs) occur.
Common Elements of the Game Regardless of early DoWs
Duchy of Athens would be better off to have a different set of allies. To do this, first Athens must cast off the vassalization with Tuscany, only possible when stability is at zero or higher. The problem is that relations with the Catholic world will deteriorate by 50 when vassalization is cancelled. Once vassalization is cancelled, set religious sliders for as much tolerance of Catholicism as possible without getting revolt risk in Hellas. Relations deterioration is a problem because another goal of Athens is to get military access through large nations such as Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Burgundy, France, Portugal, Austria, and England in order of preference. To gain military access, relations must be raised to +180 or higher by making and breaking royal marriages. There are plenty of diplomats and, other than being able to cancel vassalization, stability is not much of concern since there is not much effect of stability on Athens' income.
Leaving the alliance with Tuscany is difficult because early wars begin so soon and last so long. Leaving Tuscany's alliance is only possible while at peace. It is more likely that Athens can get out of Tuscany's alliance by dishonoring an alliance call.
Gaining a vassal of Athens is very much needed. Athens' first vassal increases the troop support limit by 2K. Ragusa is an ideal vassal. Ragusa also begins the game with 500d. There is often 300d to 400d to immediately be had after war with Ragusa.
Athens would very much like to own the province of Ionia and have at least 20 galleys to help guard it from the Turks. There are no other core provinces of Athens that are out of reach from Ottoman Empire. Owning Ionia helps ensure that the Turks cannot force peace by demanding all of what Athens has in her treasury. Ownership of other provinces only ensures that Athens cannot be annexed. To gain ownership of Ionia away from Venice, an alliance with Hungary is desirable. Continually build galleys up to the support limit at all times when there is ample money and additional troops are not required.
Byzantium DoWs Athens and Ottoman Empire DoWs Byzantium
Do not call allies into war with Byzantium; Ottoman Empire does all the real fighting. Cancel vassalization with Tuscany. Build a galley. Use the 1K cavalry to mint the loot from Morea. Get the cavalry out of Morea and back to Hellas as soon as the looting is accomplished; Ottoman Empire will take care of fighting Byzantium in Morea.
In time, build two more galleys one after the other. After the ships are built, build another 1K infantry if there is money available.
When Byzantium's capital in Thrace is looted by Ottoman Empire, check the political map mode once in a while to see if Ottoman Empire has begun a siege in Thrace. If there is a siege, send men to the siege. Multiple units of 1K infantry or a single unit of 2K or more infantry can be sent so long as the ultimate amount of troops in Thrace totals 2K to 3K. Remember that to try to avoid fighting Byzantium's ships, always give moving ships a way path past the actual destination being targeted; stop ships when they reach the actual destination.
Wait until Ottoman Empire eventually makes peace with Byzantium. Ottoman Empire should take Morea in peace; it is hard to imagine any other outcome. That will leave 2K to 3K of Athens' men in Thrace. Click the reorganize button on one of Athens' troops in Thrace to cover the province and prevent Byzantium from building new troops. When Thrace stops burning from Ottoman Empire's previous looting, Athens can then loot and mint over 34d. If the fortress in Thrace is still small, convert some of the cash into an additional 2K infantry; save some money to pay maintenance costs without being forced to take a loan. A second season of looting 13 months later increases Athens' army to a total of over 10K troops for besieging Thrace. Move Athens' men in small groups over to Thrace. If more looting is required for raising an army and avoiding a forced-loan, remember to intentionally engage Byzantium in a naval battle and retreat, thereby preventing a white peace.
Once Thrace is captured, create a tiny cavalry army in Thrace to stay there and keep looting in the future. Byzantium should not be annexed; the loot and peace reparations are too valuable. On January 1, 1424, Konstantio XI appears in Thrace; his army must be reduced to less than 1K men if there is a minimal fortress in Thrace or another tiny loot army must be sent to Thrace if the fortress is still small.
Except for the tiny loot army, move all men in small groups back to Hellas. With a few seasons of loot in the treasury (perhaps 70d will do), declare war on Albania on the 5th of the month. Do not invite allies to war with Albania. See the next paragraph for war with Albania. Continually mint loot from Thrace and keep control of their capital until there is a rebellion in Thrace or until Byzantium can pay at least 300d in peace reparations. Also demand vassalization.
Once war is declared on Albania, start building 3K cavalry. Advance 8K infantry to the province of Albania. Albania may advance on Hellas or the initial battle may take place in the province of Albania if Albania's men are off fighting Serbia. Regardless of where the battle occurs, Athens' men are going to be reduced significantly in numbers either by attrition in Albania or by cavalry in Hellas. That is okay since Athens is way above her support limit at this point. However, if any battle goes horribly wrong in the first day of fighting, just retreat from battle. Eventually the 3K additional cavalry will help to ensure victory over Albania. The 3K cavalry should arrive in battle in the plains one day before the infantry component of the army to ensure that Albania does not get a cavalry advantage in battle; that is, the cavalry should depart four days after the infantry. Disband some infantry if the fighting goes too well for Athens.
Once victory is had over Albania, further looting of Thrace allows the building of more galleys. Control of Albania's province should be maintained until Albania can pay somewhere near 300d. Also demand vassalization or demand military access if Albania is sure to be annexed by another enemy such as Serbia.
Raise relations with Ragusa to +100 or higher by making and breaking royal marriages. Prepare for war with Ragusa by breaking the last royal marriage. Regain stability of -2 or more. Circle some ships on the Adriatic side of Naples to scout her strength. More than likely she is too strong to take on; but if she is in another war, there may be an opportunity to gain a substantial victory over Naples as well. Naples likely does not commit any troops to fighting; Athens can wait for or sign a white peace agreement with Naples once peace is made with Albania. Naples does not build many ships. The ones that are built can be chased back and forth for some war score. Perhaps Naples signs a separate peace early on.
If Aragon joins the war on the side of Naples, hopefully Aragon makes no resistance to sieges in Sicilian provinces; Aragon can be convinced to sign a separate peace agreement. If neither Naples nor Aragon is to be attacked then it is time for war with Ragusa. See the section on war with Ragusa after war with Byzantium.
Byzantium DoWs Athens but Ottoman Empire does not DoW Byzantium
Call on the help of Tuscany for war with Byzantium. Cancel vassalization with Tuscany. Build a galley. Move the 1K cavalry to loot and mint money from Morea. Send 5K infantry to arrive in Morea as soon as possible. Byzantium likely builds 2K infantry in Morea. Hopefully Hellas is not burned after Byzantium's men retreat from Morea. Leave only a cover force of infantry to guard Morea and chase Byzantium's men to Hellas. Byzantium's men should be killed in Hellas. Watch allies' ships; click reorganize on one of Athens' units to be able to see the ships' current exact positions. Likely, Tuscany will unload her entire army to Morea very soon; Tuscany can unload men even while engaged in naval battle. So after defeating Byzantium's men, nothing but a cover force in Morea is desired if Tuscany's ships near Morea. Break off a few tiny looting armies of cavalry using split and reorganize. If Tuscany's men do not disembark, temporarily send all men to the siege in Morea. Click the reorganize button on the tiny loot armies to see the whereabouts of Tuscany's ships.
If Tuscany loses a naval battle, the ships may return all the way back to Firenze. If Tuscany's ships near Firenze, move all but a cover force off of Morea; Tuscany will calculate how many men to send back to Morea based on the supply limit and number of men already in Morea. If other allies such as Papal States join in the fighting, Tuscany's help is probably not needed.
Once Athens has built her first ship, give the ship way points for a round trip past Thrace. Load the ship with a tiny loot army. Stop the ship near Thrace and unload the loot army to Thrace in the first half of a month. Be quick on the pause button; if Athens' only ship is attacked, retreat immediately or risk being annihilated. When the loot army arrives in Thrace, also retreat immediately. Return the ship to port in Hellas beginning the day after the loot army retreats. Mint the wealth of 34d that comes from looting Thrace.
Hopefully there are about 8K of allied soldiers in Morea. Once Morea is captured, start building 3K cavalry and declare war on Albania on the 5th of the month. Invite allies to war; the allied troops in Morea will move through Hellas toward Albania. As soon as the war is declared, move all of Athens' infantry toward Albania. Albania's men will either be chewed up in Hellas if they advance on Hellas or will be chewed up in Albania if Albania's men are off fighting a war with Serbia. If a fight is won in Albania and Albania's men retreat toward Hellas, break off cover forces from the infantry in Albania. Only move the cover forces not the original troops to arrive. Defend Hellas as best as can be done. Hopefully Albania does not win a battle in Hellas. If they do, the main objective is to reduce Albania's men to less than a 5K siege force. The 3K cavalry that will soon join the fighting will help in that regard. The controlled province of Morea helps as a staging area for regaining morale.
Repeat the looting of Thrace and Morea as many times as possible while the war with Byzantium lasts. Try to synchronize the looting of enemy provinces; gaining the loot of an enemy province is not possible if allies are present in the province. Thanks to a good deal of naval fighting, Athens' allies should make peace with Byzantium, giving Morea to Athens.
If Papal States is in the alliance, once Athens' allies are finished with their siege in Napoli, send a little over 1K troops to Napoli. Possibly Athens may gain control of the siege there when one or more of Athens' allies are finished with the war against Naples.
Raise relations with Ragusa to +100 or higher by making and breaking royal marriages. Prepare for war with Ragusa by breaking the last royal marriage. Regain stability of -2 or more. As soon as the province of Albania is captured, make peace with Albania demanding all of her money and military access. Albania is likely to be annexed soon; so there is no point in demanding vassalization. Albania will not agree to give both vassalization and military access. Military access is more valuable for the war with Ragusa. See the following section on war with Ragusa after war with Byzantium.
War with Ragusa after War with Byzantium
To reduce the badboy hit, declare war on Ragusa when relations are +100 or higher. Move about 2K infantry into Albania. Wait for Ragusa's men to leave their home province. Then move Athens' 2K men into the province of Ragusa. Mint the loot. Ragusa's men will attack in Hellas. It is not necessary to win the battle against Ragusa. All that is necessary is to reduce Ragusa's 6K men to a force less than 5K. Winning the first battle against Ragusa is not advisable since Ragusa's men can retreat back to their ships. Athens' men should retreat to Albania. Then move on to start siege progress in Ragusa. When Ragusa has at least 300d for peace, vassalize Ragusa and make her pay up. If Athens must wait for Ragusa to come up with the cash, clear Ragusa's men off of Hellas. Winning one battle is all that is required to eliminate the enemy since Ragusa has nowhere to retreat.
Byzantium does not DoW Athens but Ottoman Empire DoWs Byzantium
Athens could DoW Byzantium and proceed just as if Byzantium had declared war on Athens. This is the way to go for an Athens that wants to annex Byzantium. Another method of play is given below.
Declare war on Albania. Do not invite allies to war. Use some split and reorganize to divide armies into a force of 4500 infantry and a combined force of 500 infantry and 1K cavalry; mixing cavalry with the fewest amount of infantry helps to protect the cavalry against losses. Begin building 3K cavalry on the 14th of the month; when the cavalry are finished being built they can retreat without reaching Albania in the same month. Albania will attack in Hellas. Just retreat from the battle. Ottoman Empire moves troops through Hellas to help cause attrition to Albania's troops. Once in Albania, mint the tiny bit of loot from Albania; it is needed to avoid a forced loan.
When a second diplomat is available, declare war on Ragusa. Wait for Ragusa's men to vacate their homeland. Then move a cover force of infantry into the province of Ragusa; mint the loot. Ragusa's men will move by ship to Hellas, thereby increasing attrition on Albania's troops. Repeatedly move men to attack the enemy forces in Hellas; just retreat on contact. Only attack to increase attrition on the enemies. More of Athens' men may be used in the attacks if enemies are busy building ships.
When stability returns to zero, cancel the vassalization with Tuscany. Eventually, all of Athens' men will be at full morale and there will be little chance left for causing attrition damage to enemies. Temporarily raise maintenance to 100% and move all men into Hellas so long as those men are not acting as cover forces. The 3K cavalry should be timed to arrive one day before the infantry units; that is, the cavalry should depart four days after the infantry. Having the cavalry arrive before the infantry prevents Athens' enemies from getting the cavalry advantage in battle. If the early battle does not go Athens' way on the first day of battle, just retreat and try again until victory is nearly certain. Ragusa's men have nowhere to retreat and Albania's men are very unlikely to win in the mountains after suffering a recent defeat.
The goal is to get 300d and vassalization from Albania and Ragusa. A separate peace with Naples may be possible once looting of Albania and Ragusa is synchronized and allows for some ship production. Naples builds few ships and those ships may be chased around in repeated battles to gain war score.
Byzantium does not DoW Athens and Ottoman Empire does not DoW Byzantium
This is an unlikely situation. If this occurs DoW Byzantium and proceed just as if Byzantium had declared war on Athens and Ottoman Empire had not declared war on Byzantium. The one exception is that it will take a number of months before vassalization can be cancelled with Tuscany.
Other Wars in the Tuscany Alliance
Of course if Ottoman Empire declares war on Athens before Ionia is owned there is a big problem. Invite allies to war. If a peace cannot be reached before Ottoman Empire captures Hellas, then Athens may need to annex another controlled country to avoid being annexed herself. Unless it is Albania that is annexed, Athens might then lose all money in the treasury.
It is possible that Genoa may join the Tuscany alliance and then might declare war on Golden Horde. This is a nice war to get into for the loot. Also, Golden Horde does not guard Astrakhan well, so money may be had from controlling Astrakhan. Cover Uralsk and bounce cavalry between Uralsk and Astrakhan to capture two provinces with the same men. It is highly unlikely that a separate peace may be signed with Golden Horde giving ownership of Astrakhan to Athens; the allies will most likely sign a different peace agreement before that. Concentrate mostly on the loot.
For just about any other war, dishonor the alliance call so that an alliance can be formed with Hungary.
Alliance with Wallachia
It may be desirable to enter an alliance with Wallachia for a short time to defend against possible war with Ottoman Empire. Do this until war with Venice is desired. Do not join any wars that Wallachia or her allies may get into.
Alliance with Hungary
Once the vassalization and alliance with Tuscany has been cancelled, Athens can join Hungary's alliance. Unfortunately, in the early game, Hungary is of no use whatsoever in war against Ottoman Empire. However Hungary can help in war against Venice.
War against Venice
Once an alliance is had with Hungary and there is some money in the treasury, declare war on Venice. Possibly Athens may like to wait for some or all of the war exhaustion to dissipate before declaring war on Venice. The goal in war against Venice is to gain ownership of Ionia. If Athens has at least one vassal, Athens' support limit should be at least 11K. The limit could be as much as 12K if there is some grain trade in a few CoTs. The limit could be even higher if Morea is also owned. In any case, there should be enough support for besieging small fortresses.
War against Poland and Lithuania
Having military access through Lithuania is nice for looting even during the winter months. The alliance with Hungary may provide an opportunity to join a war against Poland and Lithuania. Otherwise declaring war against either Poland or a smaller ally is possible for only two badboy points when relations are +100 or more. Brandenburg may be in the Poland and Lithuania alliance for example. Invite allies to war with Athens in war. Looting Lithuania is the most profitable.