I still remember the Saracens as the most wanted civilization in my early days of Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. One day, in my unexperienced days of playing the game, I was exploring each civilization tech trees to try to find tactics suitable to my play style, as well as a counter to cavalry such as the War Elephant from the Persians. I found the Saracens to look like an interesting civilization, so I gave it a go.
And oh boy am I glad I did, I quickly discovered the might of their camels and mamelukes and they quickly spread as the favorite civ to use among my friend players We had to impose a rule: we shall only pick unique civs, or else everyone is going to go with the Saracens!
Camel, Cavalry Archer and Naval Civilization
Market trade cost only 5%
An understimated trait for the Saracens. While it will not decide the outcome of the game in general, it may be the secret weapon of an expert Saracens player. In the beginning of the game, mining gold is a little faster than farming food or cutting wood, so you can always buy needed resources from the market and develop faster! Not to mention you can sell stone in the early game for a lot of gold! This little Saracen trick allows for a very efficient development!
Transport ships 2X hit points, 2X carry capacity
Somewhat passable bonus. It can be used on water maps to deploy small armies on your enemy island.
Galleys attack 20% faster
This is the bread and butter of the mighty Saracen navy! This means firing more arrows, which means sinking enemy ships faster, giving the Saracen Galley more survivability and dominance in the waters! When in numbers, add some cannon galleons to clean the coast and you've got yourself one of the most powerful navies in the game. Be careful of fire ships, though.
Cavalry archers +3 attack vs. building
Another great bonus to Saracen units! If you manage to advance ages sooner than your enemies with the market trick, you can create some cavalry archers, raid your enemy villagers, and when they retreat to the town center, destroy their farms! Boom, there goes the economy.
"The mamelukes were slaves trained as warriors by various Arab leaders, partially because early believers in Islam would not fight each other. Slave warriors got around this ban. The mamelukes were well trained and highly motivated. A mameluke army from Egypt won a rare victory against the Mongols in Syria, turning these barbarian horsemen back from the Nile and North Africa. In time the mamelukes rose up against their Arab rulers and took control themselves. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in the eighteenth century, he defeated a mameluke army at the Battle of Pyramids."
The Saracens have the most expensive unique unit in the game, but with good reason. The Mameluke have particular traits that make it a top-tier unit: it counts as camelry, receiving bonus damage versus cavalry; it is a mounted unit, so it is fast; their numbers can raid towns and slay infantry with ease; and it has range! Meaning great efficiency in large numbers.
Mamelukes can be used to massacre paladins and elephants; toy with infantry, wreck rams and trebs; and can be used as support behind a wall of a heavy camel front row for greater effect, as they lack the hit points to be sent to battle unprotected. These mean guys can ruin your economy, though, so a Saracens player needs some serious economy coordination skills.
"Strengths of the great Muslim armies were their speed and their absolute faith in their destiny. Their strong religious beliefs calmed the natural fears of any warrior and gave them a sense of invincibility their enemies could rarely match. The effect was armies that accomplished deeds out of proportion with their size and equipment."
This tech gives the Saracen camels and mamelukes 30 more hit points! Add to that Bloodlines (+20 hit points), and you've got yourself a much needed endurance boost to the fragile Mameluke, and a Heavy Camel that can somewhat fill in the role of the missing Cavalier.
Foot archers +1 attack vs. buildings
One of the least useful team bonuses of Age of Empires II, both for the Saracens or any other civ that teams up. It can have its use though, if you want to try an early rush in Feudal, this bonus can aid the Saracen archers in destroying enemy farms faster. The civs that come to mind that could benefit a little from this team bonus are the main archer civs: The Britons, the Chinese and the Mayans.
British longbowmen have insanely long range, so an added +1 in attack can give their armies the spur to destroy enemy buildings from behind walls. The Chinese chu-ko-nu are very damaging archers that fire multiple arrows at the same time, so a +1 to buildings can make them building razers. While the Mayans can quickly put cheaper archers on the field thanks to their great economy.
The Saracens would benefit the most from a partnership with the Britons for 20% faster-working Archery Ranges, or from the Chinese farm upgrade bonus, which gives them +45 food, great for the standard game start.
Saracens only lack the Paladin really
Perfect Archery Range
The Saracens are the only civilization with all the Archery Range units and all their upgrades available! This makes them one of the best archer civilization in the game, despite the fact that it's not their main focus! A player using this civ can make use of the Arbalest, Elite Skirmisher, Hand Cannoneer and the best of all, Heavy Cavalry Archer!
The Saracen Cavalry Archer is the best in the game. Together with the Turks, they are the only civs in Age of Empires II to have fully upgraded cavalry archers, not to mention the Saracen bonus damage to buildings. This makes it a beast of an archer, capable of hellish hit-and-run strategies, in addition to serving as great back row support for the sturdier camels.
Another perfect elusive tech tree for the Saracens, the Monastery. They are one of the three civilizations with complete Monasteries, alongside the Spanish and the Aztecs. Monks are underused units, but they can be a pain in the right hands. They can convert enemy villagers, unprotected buildings, slow units, you name it. You just have to be extra careful with your monks, as they are very expensive and fragile units.
Great Siege Workshops
Getting a perfect Siege Workshops would be overkill! They only lack the heavy scorpion upgrade. Siege is a pretty big deal in the late game, so having siege onagers to protect the mamelukes from incoming archers, siege rams to raid enemy towns and bombard cannons to finish them, is always very welcome.
Perfect Champions and Hussars
Although lacking the Halberdier and Paladin upgrades, the Saracens can always count on the Champion and Hussar. Champions are powerful and cheap units that can be used to complement any army. They can take down buildings easily, protect your camels from enemy halberdiers, or protect your archers from their worst infantry nightmares: huskarls- the unique units of the Goths, and eagle warriors- exclusive to the native American civs. Hussars on the other hand, are that light force that can go for your enemy siege weapons or rush his villagers.
The Saracens are very fun to play with and are incredibly versatile, both on land and on water. They have an incredible array of units at their disposal and excel in almost every department, in spite of being a civ dependent on a strong economy.
They have weaknesses, though. Camels have poor piercing armor, so even with their HP bonuses, they suffer against large numbers of archers and siege. The Turks, the Celts, the Koreans, the Mongols, the Chinese, the Britons and the Mayans are all civilizations that can be used to counter the Saracens. The Turks and the Koreans are deadly in the late game with their cannons and towers. The Celts have camel-murdering siege and the others are all great archer civs with cheaper units, able to easily outnumber mamelukes and kill them efficiently.
However, in waters the Saracens dominate thanks to the superiority of their galleys! Only the Korean turtle ships or the upgraded Spanish cannon galleons can really challenge the Saracens on a water map and pose a threat to their navy.
Pick up the Saracens if you want a very enjoyable civilization that can be a hard bone to bite in every stage of the game. Only be aware that, if you tend to rely a lot on cavaliers or paladins, then the Saracen play style may prove to be something quite different than your norm.
Liked the read about the Saracens? Then check out my 10 of the Best Civilizations from Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, for more info on other great civilizations!