I'm doing this to answer Elodin's accusations that Artificer simply can't be used until the end of the game. Now he wants me to use a normal map that's not resource rich. I've chosen a very common map, Heritage. It's got all the mines, but few stashes in your immediate vicinity. In the center of the map is a Dragon Utopia but by the time you can get there and take out those loose resources mini-artifacts shouldn't be a concern anyway. Also, since this is for the general player, I'm breaking with my long standing tradition and I'm doing this map on Hard difficulty instead of Heroic simply because not many players truthfully play on heroic. If you ARE playing on heroic, you can still pull this off, but the mini-artifact usage will most likely be pushed back one week. On with the show.
Heritage. Hard Difficulty. Yellow starting position. Academy/random hero/random starting artifact.
Day 1: You begin with a tavern already built. My starting artifact was the Far Seeing Crown...durnit. My starting hero was Nathir. The heroes in my tavern were Jhora and Nur. I'm going for Jhora as my main hero and I purchase both heroes and transfer all troops to Jhora (and artifact). Build Gremlin Workshop. Purchase units & add to Jhora.
Jhora then takes out the Ore Mine with no losses. Transfers units to Nur who takes out Sawmill with no losses.
Day 2: Build Gremlin Manufactory. Nur brings troops back to town & upgrades gremlins. Shuttles troops back to Jhora who captures the Arena (archer guards) for +2 attack and 4 gremlin losses. Heading east towards Mercury mine fighting wandering monsters along the way.
Day 3: Build Mage Guild level 1. Continuing east fighting wandering monsters and hitting morale/luck boosters along the way (before and after battles). Multiple fights with no losses. I'm turtling my corner Gremlins with 3 stacks of regular gargoyles and I have one single golem standing separately. He's my lure. He gets sent forward to lure the enemy into gremlin range. At the end of combat I repair the killed lone golem. I also spam MotW with Eldritch Arrow to take out Squires and such.
Day 4: Build Blacksmith. 2 scout heroes are roaming as far as they can to reveal territory. (one is trailing along behind Jhora to pick up loose resources thus saving Jhora's movement points). Jhora takes Mercury Mine with only 8 gremlin losses. Grabs exp. from chests and gets Beginners Wand (+2 spell power). Continues along path towards planetarium (+1 spell power).
Day 5: Build Golem Forge. Jhora takes out Iron Golems guarding planetarium with no losses. I see no point in continuing on this path as I'm only seeing Treants blocking my path (and 2 other fights before them) with no goodies in sight. Heading back home. Scouts continue to hit powerups and pick up loose resources.
Day 6: Build Arcane Forge. Yes, that's right, YOU HEARD ME. Arcane forge in WEEK ONE. On heroic it has to wait until week two due to gold restraints and you must make a more direct path to the capitol. On hard or below, you've got more freedom so take advantage of it. Jhora is still heading home, but hitting all the morale/luck boosters along the way. Scout checks out the thieves den to scope out the competition. We're right on track.
Day 7: Build Town Hall. Jhora plans to spend the night in town to max out her spell points but they're alredy nearly at max. Builds her first mini-arti. A level 1 Armor Crushing orb for the Golem(s) for only 5 ore + 5 sulfur. Heads back out towards Gem Mine/Windmill. There's only on golem currently, but that'll change on....
Day 8: Build City Hall. In tavern I see Havez...*drools*...but I'm short on funds so he'll have to wait. But I plan on purchasing him before the weeks out. Jhora flags the Gem Mine with no losses...again. Windmill is guarded by "lots" of Vamp. Lords...they can wait a bit. Stats are currently at (2/0/9/4) Who says Wizards don't get spell power? :O)
Day 9: Build Altar of Wishes. No plan on buying them anytime soon though. I just want the treasure cave for the extra growth & income. Jhora heads to Sulfur mine but can't quite reach. I've just had 4 consecutive level-ups where Dark Magic was offered to Jhora. 8% my butt. :O) I'm down to 305 gold.
Day 10: Build Marketplace. Low on gold, but I need a cheap build to open up the path to the Treasure Cave for day 11. Jhora flags Sulfur Mine and heads towards Crystal Mine. I've currently got 99 Master Gremlins, 19 Iron Golems (with +1 armor crushing arti), and 24 Stone Gargoyles (in 3 stacks of 8 for turtling).
Day 11: Build Treasure Cave. My goals are to get the Gargoyle & Mage dwellings by the end of the week. Jhora flags Crystal Mine with no losses and finds Titan's Trident. Scouts take gold from treasure chests to compensate for delay on capitol. Jhora's currently at (2/1/10/4) with Expert Artificer, Advanced Sorcery, Arcane Training, Counterspell and all 3 Artificer secondaries. Surprisingly enough, I'm getting low on spell points due to some tough battles, so Jhora's heading home from here.
Day 12: Build Stone Parapet. Jhora hits the movement/morale booster and makes it back home at the end of her turn. She'll spend the night to recharge her batteries. But we're going for the windmill tomorrow. Time to poke some holes in some Vamps. :O)
Day 13: Build Mage Tower. Purchase Havez from Tavern and combine troops to Jhora. Jhora builds her second Mini-arti. Level 1 piercing for 5 ore + 5 crystal and places on Master Gremlin stack. Jhora now has 176 Master Gremlins (+2 attack), 37 Stone Gargoyles, 19 Iron Golems (+1 armor crushing). I can't quite reach the Vampires guarding the windmill, I guess we'll crush 'em tomorrow.
Day 14: Build Library. We're starting to get into the guts of the game so I need to figure out what's in the guild soon so I can plan my hero development. Early on you can get by with low level spells & gremlin/golems. Pretty soon, that won't be the case. Jhora clears the Windmill with ZERO losses (again) and gets offered basic War Machines. Finds Runic War Harness (+2 defense & knowledge). Heads back home.
Day 15: Builds Mage guild level 2. We've got Haste/Fire Trap/Weakness/Slow in level 1 and Endurance/Raise Dead/Vulnerability/Lightning Bolt in level 2. I'm definitely leaning towards Dark Magic now (and kinda kicking myself for not grabbing it earlier). Jhora heads out towards the Treants blocking the path to the west. At the end of my turn, Red's main hero kills the treants and retreats back under the shroud)~Vinrael (4/14/5/10) with multiple stacks including unicorns....I left a scout standing at the thieves den for just such an occasion. :O)
Day 16: Builds Mage Guild level 3. (Righteous Might/Phantom Forces/Confusion/Suffering) Oh yeah, we're going for Dark for sure. If you notice, I've gotten 5 of the 6 total Dark spell available in levels 1-3. And Wizards specialize in WHAT again? :O) Jhora continues along the western path hitting a +1 knowledge crystal along the way. We see Vinrael sneaking around some more...but we're cautiously optimistic that Jhora can crush him in a one-on-one.
Day 17: (Teal is vanquished...I missed who did it). I'm currently 3 sulfur short for building the Silver Pavilion and I start making plans to ship one Iron Golem back to town to shatter his mini arti if I don't find a sulfur cache. No Build...I'm saving for both the Capitol and the Raksashas before the end of the week. Occasionally gold from treasure chests will help me towards that goal.
Day 18: Build Capitol. It's later than I'd hoped, but all things considered it's not bad. I look at the day and I notice that I'll reach my sulfur demands by the mine production alone so I cancel my golem-mini-arti-crushing plans (although the scout/arti are still on route to town). Jhora sees a witch hut (has a scout learn it's contents of course) and sees Advanced War Machines...nice. I also come across a Red Hero. I was hoping for Vinrael, but I got a level 2 Anwen instead. I lost 12 gremlins in the battle. I forgot to purchase a Tent back in town. Doh! (yes, I've got the tent skill too)
Day 19: Builds Fort. Scout heads up towards the dragon utopia in the middle and hits a redwood observatory. Upon the reveal I see a Tome of Dark Magic (guarded by sev. AA's). Jhora hits the witch hut for Advanced War Machines then continues west towards the Merc. Camp and the stairs underground.
Day 20: Builds Silver Pavilion. (Orange is vanquished...yeah, I missed it again. No clue WHO did him in). Jhora hits the Mercenary Camp (+1 attack), picks up Sylanna's Cloak (50% reduction in earth damage) and then peeks underground to see what's up there. I spot Red's Main hero Vinrael underground.
Day 21: Builds Citadel. My scout returns to town and crushes the golem mini-arti (he's just going to be sittng there, so in case I need the funds, they're there...its only a level 1 anyway). Jhora hits the stash underground (multiple chests) with no losses and finds among the chests the Tarot Deck (+1 luck and knowledge) then heads back up towards the Dragon Utopia. Second scout spots Blue's Main Hero Helmar...who's LOADED. Surprisingly, Helmar passes up the scout and heads towards Jhora.
Day 22 (day 1 of week 4): Builds Resource Silo. Scout hero rebuilds the Golem's artifact and re-ships it out (with additional golems and m.gremlins) to Jhora. Jhora meanwhile spots Vinrael very close and decides to go for it. I don't want to stray too far as Helmar is still approaching my territory. The battle commences. Vinrael is Level 16 (4/16/5/13) while Jhora is Level 13 (4/4/11/11). Vinrael has Sprites/Dancers/Elves/Unicorns/M.Gremlins (most are +20, elves are at 9 and unicorns only 3). While Jhora still has only M.Grems (~170), 20+ gargs & 18 golems (shipped one back earlier). Final outcome...Jhora lost 23 Gremlins. That's it. Spoils of battle...
Necklace of the Lion
Armor of Valor
Dragon Scale Shield (WooHoo!)
Jhora is now at 4/7/11/13. Low spell power my butt. And that's with me taking OFF the +2 spell power wand.
I decide not to build for the next couple of days because I'm pretty close to getting the Cloud Collesium.
From here on out, it should be pretty clear how to proceed. Once the basic dwellings are built you let them stockpile until you can no longer succeed with minimal losses with just golems/grems/gargs. Jhora will be heading back to town shortly to learn her level 3 spells (magic insight recieved earlier) and to upgrade her 2 mini-artis now that her knowledge is considerably higher. She'll then explore farther out and only head back after she's gotten a spell school (or two) to advanced. I'll ignore the secondaries for the spell schools for quite a while. MotW can compensate for a lack of mass spells for quite a while. Once you get your guild up to 5, from then on you should have no problem creating mini-artis for ALL your units. When you decide to upgrade a dwelling, break one down if need be, build your dwelling and re-build a lesser mini arti with your remaining funds. It's not that tough folks.
And lastly, to Elodin. If you feel this is a poor example, please feel free to let me know what map or difficulty setting you feel is a more fair example. Personally I think Heritage on Hard is a good middle-ground example. Truthfully I couldn't believe how much easier it was than on Heroic. The enemy stacks are SOOOO much smaller. *grin* But concerning the mini-artifact usage. You'll notice that they're not powerful. But they don't have to be. The -1 defense arti for the golems is all you really need early on. The repair keeps him fully stocked and the defense reduction makes your gremlins that much more potent. Getting some early sulfer piles will allow you to upgrade your Golems early and then the Armor Crushing arti really shines with the unlimited retaliations. All I'm saying is give it a try. Don't wait until you've built everything before you start using Artificer. You'll end up hurting yourself more than you think.