The civilization of Age of Empires II that doesn't really excel at anything in particular, but that provides the player with an improved version of the most reliable unit in the game for its high and balanced stats, the Paladin.
The Franks were never a contender for the best civilization, but there is one thing that they can be, and that is a nightmare to archer or infantry civilizations, especially to the native american horseless civs.
Castles Cost -25%
The castle is the most important building in Castle Age, it allows for some great town defense in a time when there are no trebuchets, and is the military building of the unique units of each civ. The Franks can build this for a great discount of what is generally the scarcest resource in the game, stone. They can build a total of 5 castles for the same cost of 4 castles for the other civs!
Knights +20% hit points
This single battle-breaking trait is what makes the Franks' cavalry a tough nut to break. Having knights with +20% hit points, means being able to start creating them with an included free-of-charge Bloodlines (+20 HP), and by the time you can research paladins, you gain an extra 12 hit points for your units, meaning a total of extra 32 hit points for a unit that by itself, is one of the hardest units to kill in the game when charging in numbers. It's very easy to create halberdiers, true, but they won't win in a 1-on-1, and a good player with paladins knows to never send his precious units protectless against horse-murdering lances.
Farm upgrades free
A Franks player wants to focus on its heavy cavalry, so being able to upgrade the farms for free for a steadier income of food is a welcome bonus.
"The Franks took their name from the axe that was their preferred weapon in ancient times. They continued to use the axe into the Dark Ages and their warriors were especially noted for their ability to throw this axe in battle. The axe was well balanced and could be hurled a good distance by a strong man. Franks carried several axes into battle, holding on to one for hand-to-hand combat. As they advanced they could pick up axes thrown previously to replenish their supply of missiles. Throwing axemen were especially good against light troops wearing little armor. Carrying axes was also useful for dismantling fortifications."
When I look at the French Throwing Axeman, I can't help but see a mini Mameluke! It's a mountless, less damaging physical ranged man-unit that serves the same purpose of the Mameluke, dealing large amounts of damage before enclosing in combat, and support front-liners. However, there are some things that throwing axemen have over the mamelukes: a much lower cost, better range and the support of the French paladins.
Many people regard them as useless or weak, but I love these units for town defense. They are not incredible unique units, but they are very cost-effective, can be created as soon as you build a castle, and their range allows for mass damage while other infantry need face-to-face combat. You can use throwing axemen to slay halberdiers and camels, paladins' worst nightmares. The Teutons' titanic infantry and the Persians' behemoth cavalry need a different approach, though, as Teutonic knights and War Elephants render this combo useless against them.
"The bearded axe got its name from the extended length added to the bottom of the blade, making the blade far longer than its connection to the haft. This axe was a further development of the Francisca, the throwing axe that gave the Franks their name. The bearded axe could be thrown or used hand-to-hand. Before the Franks discovered cavalry, they fought in massed formations. As they approached the enemy the front ranks threw axes. These disordered the enemy, caused some casualties, and stuck in shields, making them unwieldy. The Franks then closed quickly for hand-to-hand fighting with additional axes or swords."
Even if it is not the most astounding unique technology of Age of Empires II, Bearded Axe gives throwing axemen an extra range. It may not seem like much, but it can be the difference when having a large army of them. In the end I guess the Franks' unique unit and unique technology leave something to be desired, while still adding some uniqueness to a civilization whose real focus is standard cavalry.
Knights +2 line of sight
See your enemy's army before he can see yours. This team bonus gives the paladin army an advantage, as it can find out whether the enemy has pikemen or camels in the front or not, and decide from where to strike, or what to send in.
The Knight line is one of the most used in mid game, it is reliable and gives safety to most armies, so any civ can benefit from this bonus really. There are two civs I can think of that can combine greatly with the Franks for mutual benefitting team bonuses. The Persians could team up providing the team's knights with extra damage vs. archers in addition to the extra LOS, while a team up with the Huns would give the Franks 20% faster-working stables, a great bonus for civilizations relying heavily on cavalry units.
You could create the perfect Paladin in a 3 vs. 3 game where your team would be the Huns, the Franks and the Persians. This team would make the French Paladin, that already gets an extra +20% HP plus +2 LOS, receive +2 attack vs. archers from the Persians and +20% stable creation speed from the Huns. In this game, the Huns would rush the enemy with scouts or milita as soon as possible; the Franks would receive the team stone supplies to fortify with castles all over, while researching cavalry upgrades; the Persians would focus on growing and creating a War Elephant army to finish the game with style, fully supported by the French Paladin and the Hunnish Cavalry Archer! Yeah, I just confessed you one of my wet dream games!
The best Paladin has good support
Great Champions and Halberdiers
The Franks only lack the Squires research, 10% faster infantry, for a complete Barracks tech tree. While the additional speed is good, especially when you have infantry supporting cavalry, it doesn't take the usefulness of the fully upgraded infantry of the Franks. Champions are units that can always be created from the beginning of the game to protect your town and that can raid buildings with incredible ease, while halberdiers are cheap and fast to create and will protect you from the constant threat of enemy heavy cavalry.
Hand Cannoneers and Bombard Cannons
Despite lacking bombard towers, the Franks have nice gunpowder technology. Keep your raiding army mobile by providing it with Bombard Cannons for those enemy castles and towers. You can even advance with a square formation to protect your valuable cannons surrounding them in a Paladin wall! You also have hand cannoneers available, a unit that can have its use in repelling charging pikemen and other infantry. Contrary to throwing axemen, hand cannoneers would be able to damage Teutonic knights if facing the Teutons.
Perfect Heavy Scorpions
Ah, this is a favorite of mine. Heavy scorpions are great weapons for their continuous damaging bolts. Combining them with the superior paladins, makes for a combination that can virtually repel every single counter. Annihilate halberdiers and camels with heavy scorpion fire, while slaying those pesky eagle warriors and hussars with your paladins. Enemy siege won't have a chance as well if you coordinate your forces well. Unique units like Teutonic knights, huskarls, woad raiders, cataphracts os mamelukes could all be taken care of. Only war elephants could become a serious problem, but for those you have halberdiers and priests.
As it is normal with cavalry civs, the Franks are susceptible to economic problems. Forming an army of paladins needs a serious investment in gold, not to mention the cost of the Stable and Blacksmith upgrades needed to make that awesome Paladin.
The Saracens are a great counter due to their cavalry-murdering techniques. Stronger heavy camels, mamelukes and cavalry archers could make the Franks player's life a real hell. There are also many civilizations like the Huns or the Mongols that could rush the Franks before giving the player time to use its greatest force. If you can survive Feudal rushes, the throwing axemen that become available as soon as you hit Castle Age, can really help you in defending your town. Slowly and steadily invest in knights and your army will start to gain shape.
If you find yourself relying on paladins often, this civilization may prove to work very well for you. Their focus on the unit that has grown to become the bulk of many armies thanks to its perfect mix of attack, defense and speed, made the Franks a civilization of predictable threats. However, no matter how predictable an army of paladins may be, it is never an easy thing to fight. Counter the predictability with the other options this civilization has to offer, as they can very well be used to surprise and conquer.
If you enjoyed reading this article, read more about 10 of the Best Civilizations from Age of Empires II: The Conquerors!