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Below you will see a description of each unit types skills and best uses (in my opinion). I will be adding some videos soon showing some of their skills and how they fare in combat with different units. This will help to give you a general idea of the units strengths and weakness.
Please keep in mind that on the battlefield unit experience, terrain, morale, weather, surprise attacks and many other aspects come into play. The information below gives you only a general idea on the best uses for each unit. While this can be very useful it is not the be all and end all of military usage in Shogun 2.
While a lot of what is written below is fact based much of it is opinion based. I am sure many people have different views, feel free to share them in reply. Also, this guide is mostly aimed at newbies!
Ashigaru Units Yari Ashigaru – Yari Ashigaru are lightly armoured spear infantry. They make up for their light armour with numbers, by body count they are they are the largest unit in Shogun 2. Generally Yari Ashigaru stand up pretty well in melee combat but they are no match for samurai. They can be extremely effective as cannon fodder as they can deal quite a bit of damage before you pull them back and send in Samurai to finish the job.
Setting Yari Ashigaru to loose formation and having them rush Bow Ashigaru or Bow Samurai is highly effective. You should deselect loose formation just before you reach the bow men though. However, the Yari Ashigarus true strength lays in defending against and attacking cavalry. Yari Ashigaru can decimate even the deadliest cavalry in the game. This is especially true if you use their spear wall formation ability against a cavalry charge.
Bow Ashigaru – These units are highly effective against lightly armoured targets and they are one of the most useful units in early stages of the game. Having a large contingent of Bow Ashigaru in all your armies can be extremely helpful. If for example you have an army with nine Bow Ashigaru units you can route three charging Yari Ashigaru before they reach your front line. Obviously if the enemy has enough units will eventually reach your front line. However, routing three or four enemy melee units before they get close can tip the battle in your favor.
The generally accepted rule with Bow Ashigaru is to use them to target lightly armoured units only as they have little impact heavy armour units.
Bow Ashigaru also make great castle defense units. Just like any range infantry they do have a limited amount of ammunition both in a castle or on an open field.
Matchlock Ashigaru – These units specialise in defence both inside castle walls and on an open field. For castle defence you simply line them up against the castle walls and let them fire. You will find that your Matchlock Ashigaru cause most enemy units to route before they reach the castle walls.
In field battles Matchlock Ashigaru need to be used strategically, you should never place them directly behind your other units. Anybody in between your Matchlock Ashigaru and the enemy will get shot. When possible you should place them on a hill so they are elevated above your other units. This way they can shoot over friendly unit’s heads. If there is no hill then simply hold your Matchlock Ashigaru back until your melee units engage the enemy melee units. One the melee units are engaged send your Matchlock Ashigaru around behind the enemy melee and have fun.
Matchlock Ashigaru excel at killing high armour units and breaking Morale. So when possible have them target Naginata Samurai, hero units or Generals.
Samurai Units Katana Samurai – These are one of the best units in the game for melee combat. Although they are quite pricey they make up for their cost with their amazing battlefield performance. Few units can stand up to the Katana Samurai in melee combat. There biggest weakness is cavalry followed by Bow Samurai. Charging No-Dachi Samurai can cause problems too but in prolonged melee combat the Katana Samurai come out on top. Katana Samurai can be used with great efficiency against pretty much any units except for cavalry.
You can also use Katana Samurai to rush archers if needed. When approaching archers use loose formation to ensure your Katana Samurai suffers fewer losses. As they get close to archers return them back to normal formation. While this is effective you should try to use cheaper units for this task.
Yari Samurai – Like their Ashigaru counterparts Yari Samurai are amazing against cavalry. They also do well if you rush them in on loose formation to route enemy archers. Yari Samurai have the rapid advance ability which speeds them up for a short period of time. This is particularly good for moving them in to route archers. As soon as they get within archer range you use their rapid advance ability set them to loose formation. As for attacking cavalry no strategy is needed besides, point, click and decimate.
Curiously Yari Samurai do not have spear wall formation as a defence against cavalry charges. This is a bit of a let-down but either way they will stand up well to cavalry charges.
Naginata Samurai – Naginata Samurai sit somewhere between Katana Samurai and Yari Samurai so they make an amazing all-rounder. In addition to their versatility they are the most heavily armoured common unit in the game (only Katana Hero has equal armour). Thanks to their heavy armour arrow fire from Bow Ashigaru does about as much damage as throwing pebbled would to a toddler. Ok, that is not entirely accurate but generally they stand up much better to arrow fire than most other units.
The Nanginata Samurai’s versatility makes them great against all Ashigaru units and Yari Samurai in melee combat. You should not put them up against Katana Samurai directly though. The best option is to use other melee units to attack the enemy Katana Samurai and move your Naginata Samurai in from the flanks.
Bow Samurai – At 90 men per unit Bow Samurai are small in number as compared to their Ashigaru counterparts. Numbers aside Bow Samurai reload faster, are more accurate and are much more effective against armoured units. A lot of players tend not to use Bow Samurai because of the low number of men per unit. This is a mistake, having a mix of Bow Samurai and Bow Ashigaru is the best strategy. Bow Samurai should be viewed as snipers which target the most highly valued or highly armoured enemy targets. Using Bow Samurai wisely can tip many battles in your favour.
The other great thing about Bow Samurai is that they can engage in melee combat. This does not mean you should send them into battles charging though.
No-Dachi Samurai – Take a Katana Samurai, strip him of his armour, give him a bigger Katana and tell him to charge at anything that moves. He is now a No-Dachi Samurai.
No-Dachi Samurai are shock troops, they have a charge bonus of 28 which gives them the most devastating charge of any common unit in the game. The main drawback is that after their initial charge they become vulnerable. They have as little armour as Ashigaru units so they do not stand up well to sustained melee combat. For this reason you will want to use your No-Dachi Samurai once the enemy is engaged with your other units. You should send them in from the flanks or behind.
No-Dachi are weak against cavalry and archers, keep them well out of range of archers when possible. Again, they have little armour so even Bow Ashigaru can decimate them. If you can hide your No-Dachi do so and bring them out once the enemy is close. These troops are almost destined to die, they have the ‘banzai’ ability which makes them fight to almost the last man. Use your No-Dachi Samurai wisely and they are a great asset.
Matchlock Samurai – Nothing much to say about Matchlock Samurai, they are similar to their Ashigaru counterparts. Matchlock Samurai do have better statistics, they reload better, they are more accurate and they have better melee skills. All that being said you should use them in the same way as you would Matchlock Ashigaru.
Monk Units Bow Warrior Monks – These units present a bit of a problem. They are light armour units and while they are decent in melee Bow Samurai are better. They do have better morale, range, accuracy and reload skill than Bow Ashigaru/Samurai. The issue is the cost, they come in at 1,000 with a 220 per turn upkeep. That makes them more expensive to recruit and maintain. The unit is also only made up of 75 men which makes the smallest unit of the three common bow units.
Technically speaking the extra range gives you about one volley of arrows before enemy archers come within range of the Bow Warrior Monks. From that point their superior reload skills do not do much for them as their numbers are few. However, their morale means they keep fighting regardless of heavy losses so they do beat other bow men. The question is does their slight superiority justify the massive price? Well only you can decide.
Naginata Warrior Monks – Again these Monks are expensive albeit more economical than bow monks. With a unit size of 120 and decent statistics it can make sense to use Naginata Warroior monks. They can definitely beat Katana Samurai and Nanginata Samurai head to head. Due to their devastating charge the No-Dachi Samurai beat the warrior monks.
So again the choice is yours, warrior monks can be useful but they’re one of the more expensive units.
Cavalry Light Cavalry – They are lightly armoured and have decent stats when compared against their older brother Yari Cavalry. They are also extremely cheap and do not require horses as a trade resource. So they can be built early and they are a devastating force.
Keep in mind light cavalry are spear cavalry so you never leave them in melee battles. They are purely used to charge and to be pulled back multiple times. Their charge score is 20 compared to Katana Cavalry’s 15 but there melee attack is 4 compared to 18 for the Katana Cavalry. So it should be very clear that light cavalry are used to charge and then are pulled back to charge again.
Yari Cavalry – Just like Light Cavalry but double the cost to recruit and double the cost in upkeep. The benefit is of course better statistics such as armour, charge bonus and many others. Use Yari Cavalry in the same way you would light cavalry.
Bow Cavalry – In the right hands Bow Cavalry are a deadly force. All you need to do is bring them in range of melee units, fire and retreat a little. Melee units will never catch up to them so you can slowly wear them down. The bad thing is Bow Cavalry have shorter range than bow infantry but they also have the Swooping Crane special ability which greatly reduces unit loss from enemy bow infantry.
Bow Cavalry to require a lot of management but like I said if you use them well they are an amazing unit.
Katana Cavalry – These units are a different breed of cavalry. Instead of charging an enemy multiple times Katana Cavalry are at their best used like you would Katana Samurai. Charge them into combat and leave them there until they kill everything.
They are particularly great for flanking enemies or getting behind them. However, my personal favourite use for them is getting rid of pesky bow infantry. If you get them to a flank you can easily take out enemy bow infantry.
Special Infantry Fire Bomb Throwers – These units are effectively grenade throwers. As siege units they are very effective. However, on and open field many people find these units troublesome as they have a tendency to friendly fire. Fire Bomb Throwers are a very powerful unit so you owe it to yourself to experiment with them. If you use them correctly they can make a hopeless battle winnable.
Fire Rockets – Just like Fire Bomb Throwers these are a siege unit. They are perfect for taking out gates and depleting the number of castle defenders at long ranges. Fire Rockets have a longer range than any archer.
They are effective on an open field too. They can severely impact enemy morale and there immense range makes it easy for them to route melee units before they reach your men. They are quite expensive though so use them well and do not get them killed.
Ninjas – Who doesn’t love Ninjas? These units are a lot of fun and pack a huge punch. They also have some very useful special abilities. The stealth ability renders them almost invisible to enemies for a short period of time. However, even without the stealth ability they are rarely seen by enemies until they are on top of them. They can also throw blinding grenades allowing them to easily cut down incapacitated enemies. Finally they carry metal claws which allow them to easily scale castle walls.
Besides all their fun skills and gadgets they are extremely deadly. They carry around grenades which allow them to cause massive damage to enemy units at range and lower morale. Ninjas also have Katanas, so after they lob fire bombs at the enemy they run in and cut them down.
Siege Machines Fire Projecting Mangonels – Technically speaking they are purely an immobile siege unit. They are used when besieging castles to damage gates, walls and even units. They have a very long range and are extremely effective but their ammunition is limited.
If you like to experiment you can take these guys out onto an open field and wreak havoc. If you are on the defending side of a battle you can set these units up just behind your men. As the enemy approaches you can rain down fire on them for a while before they reach your melee units.
Mangonels are very useful as a siege unit and as a defensive unit.
Cannons – The same as Magonels except they reload slower, they have a greater range but they fire only in a straight line. This means they cannot fire over walls and single out a specific unit. Mangonels can be told to target an enemy general within castle walls and they will as they can fire over walls.
You can use them in open field battles too but I prefer Magonels.