Sheridan's France 1419 strategy

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France
http://img173.echo.cx/img173/3060/frenchflag3ve.gif
Scenarios All
Orientation Jack of all trades
Religion Catholic
Economy Very good
Military Very good
Enemies Austria, England, Spain, Netherlands, Prussia
Allies French minors, Scotland, Portugal, Sweden

Note: This strategy will only take you through the first 150 years or so, and then only in general terms. It is designed as a strategy for achieving modern borders and then going colonial, but many of the points here could be adapted to other strategies or other countries.

Economics

First, DP settings - early on I usually focus on Innovative (one or two clicks - not too much as you will want colonies later, but for now this helps with tech research) and Free Trade (a.k.a. -Mercantilism... again, useful for later colonies). Free Subjects (a.k.a. -Serfdom) is also a good option, for troop morale. After you have diploannexed your starting vassal states, THEN push Centralization. After 1500 or so, you will want to go a little more Narrowminded (a.k.a. -Innovative... for missionaries and colonists) and Free Trade (colonists). Don't mess around with Land/Naval for colonists- you will want this one near the middle or slightly to Land for troop morale reasons, until your colonies are rather economically developed. Quality and Offensive Doctrine are nice, but can generally be picked up through random events.

At first, set all income to infrastructure, so you can get tax collectors ASAP. Once you have the tech for that go treasury until the opening war ends and you have TC's set up everywhere; then go land and/or naval. After the first war and TC's are complete, you should be able to lock treasury slider at zero permanently unless you get in a particularly fierce war. France can generally run any annual operations - except in times of major wars - off of its annual January lump-sum income, or save that up for major purchases such as refineries (to be placed in the wine provinces in the south and east). This means that you can keep inflation very tightly under control, ideally below 10%.

First wars

In the first war (vs England, Burgundy, Brittany, any allies they may bring), use your southern army to siege Franche Comte and then Bourgogne, while sending your northern army into Artois, Flanders, Zeeland. Temporarily ignore any invasions of your own territory, unless the siege leader is Burgundy, and avoid army-to-army combat with England (as they have a super leader for the first 4 years or so). Force Burgundy into a separate peace which gives you Franche Comte, Artois and possibly some cash. I would advise against taking Flanders; it's a long-term economic sinkhole because it is rather prone to revolts, especially during the Dutch Revolt sequence in the mid-1500's.

Then deal with any other English allies (they often bring in Aragon or Navarra, which means you can take Rousillon or Bearn from them now) and occupy but do not sign a treaty with Brittany. Then take all English-held territory on the mainland; you may be able (with Brittany also fully occupied) to get the English to offer you a peace treaty ceding all of their continental possessions (this is the ideal result).

After the first war, consolidate your forces and get your economy in order (TC's, etc.) and pay off any loans you were forced into during the war. Bribe your vassals up and diploannex them. If you catch Brittany without allies, and they've broken their vassalage to England, go in and either forcevassal them or bribe them into your alliance. Same for Lorraine, Strassburg and Savoie.

Sometimes, a single war will be possible against both Aragon and Navarra at this point (roughly 1440-50), or else Navarra will lose Bearn to either Aragon or Castile. But it's not the ideal time for that yet if the opportunity is not extremely tempting. In any case, you should plan on securing and fortifying your southern border, EXACTLY at the limit of your core provinces, by 1475. This will usually prevent Spain (with its very nice leaders) from trying to invade you, by establishing a border that does not cause either country to have a permanent casus belli on the other.

Next wars

Crash land tech research to level 5 (for assault); this should come around 1460-70. England has some civil war trouble then, so use that to take any remaining territory they have in your cores (you may need ships for this; at this point, build galleys and collect them in Normandie or Calais. When England only has one or two provinces on the mainland, you have to invade England to get enough warscore to grab them).

Once you have land tech 5, launch a series of "blitzkrieg" wars using fortress-assault tactics with large infantry forces to grab any remaining core provinces you don't own or have vassalized. If Savoie has lost its Italian province, take its French one for yourself.

Using this strategy, by roughly 1480-90 you should possess all of the French culture provinces as well as all of your core provinces. Then you should crash naval research toward level 11; if you can get that prior to 1519 you are all set.

This is not a strategy for large-scale conquest within Europe. Once this goal is reached, you should be able to stay out of major wars in Europe until around 1675, when you can get more core provinces by event. In the meantime, focus on colonization. Spain and Austria make good alliance partners in this period, if you do not mind being dragged into long meaningless wars. Additionally, nobody will generally mess with you if you are allied with these two powers.

16th century

Around 1519 you want to build a shipyard; best places are Gascogne and Normandie, unless you've had a lot of + tax value events on a single coastal province, in which case it may be better. *DO NOT*, no matter how tempting, build it in Provence - it is several seazones farther from North America, and also access from it to the Atlantic can easily be blocked if you wind up at war with the owner of Gibraltar or Tangiers. Since your explorers arrive in your highest tax value port, I often take any +tax event choices for the Atlantic/Channel coastal provinces and take -tax choices on Provence, to skew my explorer arrivals out of the Mediterranean as well.

Using your explorers (the first one, Verrazano, comes in 1522) chart as much of coastal North America as possible, focusing on the Canadian and Chesapeake areas. Stadacone province is your best (and historic) inroad to the continent, and Isle Royale makes a great naval base for exploring. I don't usually bother with the Caribbean islands; no matter how rich they are, you'll have to be very eagle-eyed about Spain trying to take them under the TOT, and the Chesapeake tobacco provinces are equally rich.

When you finally get a conquistador (Ribaut, 1562) you need to move him out of continental France ASAP, as there's a major revolt event very close to then and he will get killed if you don't. Ship him over to North America (via Caux or Normandy to a fleet in the Channel; he arrives in Ile de France) and use with cavalry for speedy exploration. If you're really fast you can explore all of Canada and either the American east coast or the Mississippi Valley (don't try for all three.) It is possible to get a conquistador by event earlier than this - count yourself lucky if you do, and start colonizing immediately if you can reach North America. (If you can't, try trading maps with Denmark, Norway, Sweden or, after 1497, England so you can get to the Newfoundland-Nova Scotia-Quebec area.)

Other than North America (which you should take as much of as possible), best sites for colonies are islands outside the Caribbean (not subject to the TOT; this includes St Helena, Bourbon, Mauritius, Mahe, Tahiti, Taiwan, etc.) as naval bases, and South Africa, Australia, New Zealand as extensive colony sites. Eastern Siberia and western North America can also be very profitable.

As far as the reformation - stay Catholic (it's much easier than going Reformed, provincewise) and be very quick about using missionaries in mainland France to return provinces to Catholicism.