- +10% Infantry combat ability
- +0.5 Yearly army tradition
- +10% Global trade power
- +15% Fort defense
- +10% Morale of armies
- +10% Institution spread
- +1 Yearly prestige
- +2 Tolerance of the true faith
- +20% Caravan power
- +5% Discipline
Songhai is a Sunni monarchy of the Maliki school located in West Africa. The region is largely isolated from European interference. Among the starting nations in the region, Mali and Songhai are the strongest.
- Main article: Songhain events
Songhai starts off as one of the strongest countries in West Africa, capable of easily defeating most of the countries in the region in a one on one fight. Despite that, it is not strong enough to easily defeat most of the alliances that form by the time it is able to declare war. The player should grab a few allies at game start, and start fabricating claims on neighbors while waiting for them to inevitably declare war on each other, then pounce once their neighbors are either weakened from fighting or unable to call allies to their aid. By prioritizing an attack against Timbuktu, the player can complete the Nobody wants to die achievement in a single war. With a bit of luck, Songhai may be able to conquer one or more of its neighbors in the first decade or two, and from there will be in a comfortable position to expand through the rest of West Africa. Its position in the north central part of the Sahel also means that it will likely find itself between allied enemy countries, such as Timbuktu and Air. Consequently, the player can defeat alliances that can field armies as large as their own by concentrating their military and wiping out individual enemies before they have a chance to combine their forces. This strategy pairs well with a military composition that prioritizes attack pips over defensive pips, which also makes a good fit for the flat steppe of the northern Sahel.
The many different small countries provide an excellent opportunity for expansion through a judicious use of forced-vassalization and the release of subjects. Combined with a divide and conquer strategy, the player should be able to cut separate peace deals in each war and rapidly grow their vassals without incurring much aggressive expansion or administrative point costs.
Institutions and consolidation of West Africa
As a West African nation, Songhai starts without the Feudalism institution, although the institution slowly grows in the capital city of Gao. Rather than spending monarch points on expensive technology, the player should invest monarch points in Gao to speed up the acquisition of the institution. While this will put Songhai behind on military technology compared to its neighbors, but by the time other countries reach level 3 or 4 military technology, Songhai should be able to field a much larger military thanks to its investments, and should not face much competition from their African neighbors. Once Songhai has embraced Feudalism, it will likely already be 30% or more behind on the Renaissance, and should proceed to invest in development until that has been embraced as well, diverting monarch points only to keep from falling more than 2 or 3 levels of military technology behind its strongest neighbors. Institution acquisition can be made more affordable by exploiting development in the provinces that are being developed, as this drops the cost of subsequent investment without affecting the level of institution acquisition. Administrative development is the best choice for exploitation as the gold boost can be used to buy more skilled advisors or for embracing the institution itself. The rate at which institution acceptance grows will increase until it hits +10.0 institution acceptance per unit of investment, incentivizing the player to focus on one province at a time; further investment in a single province will have diminishing returns once the price to invest is greater than 150 monarch points or so. Because Songhai has a long way to go before it catches up with the Europeans technologically, and because it will be in a relatively safe position after its initial burst of expansion, the player should play greedily and continue to invest heavily in institutions, even when the institution tech penalty is relatively low.
While it is often best to start off the game focusing on Military monarch points, and while military technology will become a priority once Songhai begins to catch up on institutions, the above strategy delays the player's first technology long enough that the player is going to have very little to do with surplus military points. Administration is thus a better early focus, as surplus points can be used to raise stability (a high priority, as it increases institution spread) and core provinces.
Note that a consequence of this strategy is that Songhai will fulfill the High Income mission prerequisite before they have the technology to actually build any useful buildings. The player should avoid actually completing the mission until they have both the administrative technology and the reserved funds to build multiple temples.
As the Sahel is home to a wide variety of cultures, most of which are not in Songhai's culture group, the choice of which culture to promote first depends a bit on which direction Songhai has expanded in first. Tuareg is a good choice if Songhai has expanded across the north into Timbuktu and Air, and Mossi is a good choice if Songhai has expanded into Mossi. Avoid promoting any of the cultures in the Songhai group, as they are not significantly larger or richer than the other cultures in the region, and will eventually be promoted to acceptance for free once Songhai becomes an empire in the mid-game.
Throughout this period, the player should be able to expand at a reasonable pace by feeding vassals. Keep an eye on trade power as well: once Songhai and its vassals' combined trade power in Timbuktu or Katsina reaches 50%, the player should force their vassals to transfer trade power, as this will allow Songhai to adopt the Propagate Religion trade strategy. Propagating religion through the node is more efficient than force-converting vassals, and will reduce the burden of converting the player's own provinces as well.
With the above strategy, Songhai will obtain its first idea group not too long after it embraces the Renaissance. Economic ideas are an excellent early pick, as the economic boosts and development cost reductions are unparalleled, and necessary for closing the rest of the tech gap with Europe. The yearly inflation and interest reductions will also allow Songhai to run a deficit economy with few consequences, which will be particularly useful when the time comes to invest in manufactories.
If the player hopes to colonize the Americas, Exploration needs to be prioritized, as without it the player will not be able to discover the relevant provinces. Note, however, that because of direction the flow of trade between nodes, Songhai stands to gain much less from colonizing regions other than Brazil and La Plata, which can send trade value to the Ivory Coast. However, until Songhai controls the trade in the Ivory Coast, even South America will be less lucrative for it than for the typical colonizer. Songhai's inland starting position will also mean that it will have a deficit of sailors when it first reaches the coastline, and will have a hard time competing with other colonial powers at sea. Colonizing the African coast, as well as the inland provinces separating the Sahel from North Africa and East Africa, is thus likely a better option. If the player chooses Economic ideas as their first idea group, they will not be able to follow it with Expansion ideas, which are the most natural fit for expansion within Africa. If the player is in a hurry to start taking African colonial provinces, they can adopt the first two ideas of the Exploration idea group to gain access to a colonist. At this point, further investment in Exploration will provide little benefit, as the following ideas are really only useful for countries that are colonizing the Americas (or Australia). The player can then wait until they unlock their third idea group to grab Expansion, and once they have gotten a colonist they can drop Exploration in exchange for a 10% refund and a different idea group.
In the military column, Aristocratic ideas can be a useful group for the military technology discount. If Songhai is feeling threatened by European powers or the Ottomans, Defensive ideas are a good choice, as the enemy attrition bonus will whittle away at invading armies as they march across the broad reaches of the player's African territory. Quantity ideas are also a good fit, although they make a better mid- or late-game idea group, as the player may not be able to afford the massive armies that this group will allow them to field.
Influence ideas are an excellent choice in the diplomacy column, as it will directly aid a vassal-based expansion strategy. Together with enacting the Strong Duchies reform, it can allow Songhai to maintain vassal states on every front, allowing it to scoop up African minors and eventually move into Europe or Asia. Espionage is also a solid choice for expansion, thanks to its aggressive expansion and corruption reduction.
Almost all of the idea groups in the administrative group are attractive to Songhai, forcing the player to decide based on situational priorities. Because of the strategic necessity of picking Economic and Expansion ideas later on, by the time the player is able to take Innovative ideas in the mid-game their usefulness will be limited. While Administrative ideas' tech and coring cost reduction are attractive, the boosts to mercenaries are less immediately helpful, and the economic benefits are less urgent if the player has already selected Economic ideas (although it may be viable to pick Administrative as the first idea group instead of Economic). Religious ideas are likely a better choice than Humanist ones, as the player is unlikely to encounter hard-to-convert provinces until they reach the Coptic provinces of East Africa, and thus is unlikely to fall behind on religious unity before that point, and the free casus belli against other religions will be helpful.
After consolidating West Africa and catching up to the Europeans technologically, Songhai has a variety of options. Allying whichever European powers rival those who are colonizing Africa will provide opportunities to snipe away coastal colonial incursions. Portugal will likely be Songhai's first European rival, and its relatively weak military base combined with its geographic proximity to Africa makes it an attractive punching bag. Once the border region between the Sahel and Morocco has been colonized, it should be relatively easy to push into North Africa, taking advantage of nations like Morocco, Tlemcen and Tunis, which both have a large number of permanent cores and are likely to be in poor shape when Songhai arrives and thus ripe for vassalization, either through diplomacy or by force. Morocco in particular makes an excellent march to ward off Spain until the player is ready to push into Iberia.
Expanding eastward into Ethiopia is a good idea, not least because it is necessary in order to grab the last few provinces of the Sahel which are needed for the Consolidate the Home Region mission. Unfortunately East Africa lacks good Sunni vassal options, so expansion past Ethiopia may be costly, Setting up Makuria as a march in Upper Egypt and feeding it Mamlukean provinces will provide a buffer against the Ottomans, although it does not have too many cores of its own.
The Congolese interior is not a particularly high priority for Songhai, as it is both a different culture and religion, as well as being relatively self-contained and thus not a prerequisite to the conquest of other regions. After taking the Ivory Coast provinces along the Congolese coast, there are few reasons to prioritize defeating Kongo over other regions.
Once Songhai has conquered Africa, assuming that it has maintained tech parity, few should be able to stand in its way. Players can try to unify Islam, to expand to maritime southeast Asia and grab an achievement for propagating their religion through trade there, to push into Iberia, or to steal South America from the colonizers.