Back then I thought I could win my battles by outnumbering my opponents. Boy I was wrong. Know I have learned that the levy size is not that important. Battles won in Crusader Kings 3 with four key elements which are commander skill level, terrain, knights, and men-at-arms units. You can’t do much about the first three. But men-at-arms can be optimized. In short, you need the best and strongest man at arms in CK3 to win battles.
Let’s say you can’t recruit the culture exclusive men-at-arms unit mentioned below. You can choose a tutor with the men-at-arms culture to train your heir. Then, you can recruit the unique units after inheritance. After you recruit the exclusive men-at-arms, you can choose to embrace local tradition decision and return to your home-culture without any problems! It’s kinda cheesy tactic but you can have any unique men-at-arms you want without merging or embracing a totally foreign culture yourself.
All aside, the main thing you need to focus is to buff your men-at-arms with holdings. Let’s say you have one county with 3 buildings boosting heavy infantry… Simply station your heavy infantry there and pop their regiment number to max. You’ll stack-wipe the AI forces without breaking a sweat. After maxing one or two regiments, you need to diversify the rest for countering enemy men-at-arms forces. Also make sure to have one or two fully stacked siege men-at-arms for sieges.
1. Varangian Veterans
Explorers, adventurers, warriors, and mercenaries from all around the far-flung Nordic colonies. Some have even served in the Varangian Guard.
In general, heavy infantry stacking is the best. What’s the best heavy infantry regiment in CK3? It’s the Varangian Veterans! Most Asatru countries in 867 start date has the Varangian Veterans regiment. In 1070, countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have the Coastal Warriors cultural traditions. That unlocks Varangian Veterans, Bondi, Vigmen, and Huscarls.
Varangian Veterans has the ultimate best stats and positive terrain effects with zero negative terrain debuffs. So, simply build buildings with heavy infantry bonuses, station Varangian Veterans, and increase the regiment size to maximum. You’ll win all your battles, I guarantee.
Armored Footmen, Druzhina, and other similar heavy infantry men-at-arms units only counter spearmen whereas Varangian Veterans counter both spearmen and heavy cavalry.
Armored in coats of iron, Greek Cataphracts can break almost any defensive line with their charge.
Heavy Cavalry is really strong in Crusader Kings 3. As for the best heavy cavalry unit, it is the Cataphracts. In order to unlock them, you need Eastern Roman Legacy tradition which is present in Greek culture.
Don’t want to play as a Greek character? Let a Greek character tutor your son and convert his culture. Once you get the inheritance, you can recruit Cataphracts and return to your own culture via the embrace local tradition decision.
There is a better heavy horse unit that is unlocked at the high medieval age. It’s literally the end game unit though. Therefore, Catpahracts rule the %90 of the game and you should get them no matter what to control the power curve.
3. Horse Archers
Horse archers are used by nomadic tribes to unleash hails of arrows while being almost impossible to catch.
This is the best men-at-arms in the early game. So, if you’re going to take 867 start date, try to tutor your heir with a Turkic guardian for horse archers.
Though you won’t be able to boost the stats of Horse Archers unless you have access to Horse Archer buildings. So, I recommend you play as a culture / country with an access to horse archers and their respective buildings.
Most Turkic countries with Horse Archers can also raid in the 867 start date. You can raid, loot, and capture lots of prisoners with no competition thanks to the power of horse archers.
Though they require a lifetime to properly master, the longbows of England and Wales are powerful enough to pierce plate and can loose volleys at an almost-unequaled rate.
It is a men-at-arms unit unlocked with the Longbow Competitions culture tradition. Welsh and English cultures have this tradition. Though you need to conquer England as a Norman and form the English culture because that’s how you create English culture in CK3.
Longbowmen are weak at the beginning, but their strength multiplies as the technological age advances. Longbowmen is the only Men-At-Arms unit gaining power via age advancement alone.
Go get Crossbowmen at the High Medieval age if you can’t access the Longbowmen because of the cultural restrictions.
5. Siege Weapons
No longer constrained by the limits of levers and pulleys, these cannons can blast through fortifications with ease.
You want to take the up-to-date siege weapons because you win wars by besieging enemy castles. Therefore, whenever a new age / era gets unlocked, first Innovation I take is the siege weapons with a few exceptions.
Siege Weapons are utterly important because AI like to build Walls & Towers to raise fort level. You can’t take high level forts without a large number of updated siege weapons.
One more thing, don’t hesitate to assault forts after getting close to the end. It will only cost you some levies but save you lots of time.
6. War Elephants
A charging elephant is almost impossible to stop, making them excellent shock troops.
War Elephants are the meme units of Crusader Kings 3. They are really strong and exclusive to the Indian region. However, by picking Haesteinn in 867 start date you can varangian adventure to India, merge culture, and return to Europe with your War Elephants in longships. It will be a fun campaign.
Memes aside, India is a fun region to play in Crusader Kings 3. Region is filled with farmlands, huge counties, universities, mines, and special buildings all pre-built. It’s the richest and the most fertile place in the game. Finally, you’ll have your elephant armies!
Masters of raiding, the infamous Konni light cavalry of Eastern Europe can make short work of a fleeing enemy army.
Konni is the best light cavalry in the game because of its high stats especially the pursuit. It can literally stack-wipe the entire armies even when outnumbered.
To recruit Konni your culture must have Konni Raids tradition. Cultures like Hungarian, Polish, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Vlach already has this tradition. So, all you need to do is train your heir with one of those cultures and recruit as much as Konni you want after the inheritance. Or simply choose to play in those regions.
Just make sure to avoid mountains, desert mountains, and wetlands because those regions nearly remove the pursuit bonus of Konni.
8. House Guard
This elite regiment is in the service of a specific Dynasty. The warriors are hand-picked from the most loyal subjects.
It’s improved version of Armored Footmen with zero unraised cost. Also, regular heavy infantry men-at-arms units only counter spearmen whereas Hosue Guards counter both spearman and archers. To recruit House Guards in CK3 you must unlock the Private Army which is the last ring of Warfare dynasty legacy.
You’ll probably not gonna get it before the end-end-game because there are much more important dynasty legacies to unlock such as Blood, Glory, and Kin. Besides, it’s not better than varangian veterans as a heavy infantry.
Russian Druzhina are skilled bodyguards who have devoted themselves to protecting their allies.
Russian and some other Slav cultures has the Druzhina tradition which is unlocking Druzihna men-at-arms and couple other martial bonuses.
They have good stats close to the varangian veterans. However, Druzihina does not have pursuit or terrain bonuses. That’s why Druzhina is like second or third best heavy infantry in the game.
10. Camel Riders
Better suited to desert warfare than traditional cavalry, these raiders dominate the sands.
If you want to win battles at sand, you need Camel Riders. They give huge advantage in the Middle-East / African regions.
Camel Riders only gain bonuses from camel breeders building. So, unless you’re going to play with a middel-eastern culture with camel riders innovation, it’s not really worth cheesing with tutoring. Because you can’t multiply their damage with buildings.
Camels are really strong creatures, and they counter light cavalry. Because horses get scared of camels. You see, that’s how you defend Jerusalem against Crusades as a Muslim ruler. Men-at-arms stacking and countering!
As for the composition, best men-at-arms composition consists of heavy cavalry, heavy infantry, archer, light cavalry, and siege units. Though it all depends on your economy, technological age, and region. After reading this page, you’ll learn which men-at-arms is strong for what reason, you’ll get the idea about the best possible men-at-arms composition for your own situation in CK3.