When everyone else around you is just as strong, the quickest way to secure an advantage is to marry your children off to secure alliances. Look for the following when you are finding suitable candidates:
Even when you have a military advantage on the “Declare War” screen, keep in mind that it estimates your total alliance power against the enemy’s. Unfortunately, your ally could be embroiled in a war of their own and may not send troops right away even if you successfully call them to war. Prior to declaring a war, take a quick look at the allies you intend to call upon and see if they are currently fighting in their own battles. Also keep in mind that when rulers die, the alliance is annulled. Always check to make sure your alliances are still valid before declaring war. This usually comes up when you are at the “Declare War” screen and you see the comparative military strength. If you suddenly notice that you and your enemy have similar strengths rather than having an advantage, check your alliances to see if any of them were broken.
This may or may not be a bug that gets fixed later on. Currently, you can call your allies to war even when you don’t have enough prestige – you end up going into the negatives instead. This can be a lifesaver especially if you are struggling to defend against an invasion. Spending prestige and going into the negatives really isn’t a big deal compared to losing land. As a Count, you likely will not have huge stores of prestige, but you also don’t have a large standing army either. It is definitely recommended to call allies over losing the little land you have left.
Click on your current lands and see which nearby County falls under the same De Jure Duchy. Prioritize getting a claim on the ones that you can win a war over. Often times it will either be a powerful Duke or a King – avoid those ones and target other Counts and lesser Dukes. You have to examine their Troop strength and their alliances against your own to see if you can successfully defeat them. Creating a Duchy has numerous benefits early on as Count:
Most AI rulers currently spam Skirmishers early game and don’t generally get cavalry until later on. Bringing even a single unit of Archers can greatly improve your chances of winning battles. They are also one of the cheapest MAA regiments in the game and have the added bonus of attacking at an earlier stage in the battle. I usually build at least 2 regiments once my gold can sustain it since the bonuses it gives against other Count and Dukes is too good to miss. Starting as a Count limits your options early on due to lack of funds and Archers are one of the best investments to improving your ability to grab land.
The Invite Knights decision costs you 150 Prestige – for most Counts that can be a fairly large sum that can be better spent elsewhere. However, Knights are one of the most important early game units due to their ability to take out dozens, if not hundreds of levies. Counts in the early game tend to only have a few hundred troops and you will likely be facing opponents at a similar strength. Bringing Knights that have at least 12 Prowess substantially improves your fighting capability. 12 Prowess is just a general rule of thumb I use since the Knights tend to be fairly useless and die quickly below 10. Having a full stack is well worth the 150 Prestige you spend to get there.
It can be difficult to get an council position offer from your liege, but always accept it if you get it. The bonuses can be extremely useful and vary based on the position you are offered. For example, the Chancellor position gives you increased prestige gain, increased vassal opinion, and increased diplomacy lifestyle experience gain. These benefits can be huge for a Count regardless of your intended playstyle. Increasing prestige gain by itself is a great benefit especially with how much you need to expand your territory.
It can be tempting to spend it all as soon as you start the game, but you will definitely want to be frugal with it early on. See our Prestige and Piety guide to learn how to gain and preserve Prestige. Avoid changing realm authority laws and succession laws early on. The benefits they provide will likely not be relevant until much later on if you start as a Count. Saving approximately 150-200 prestige this way can effectively enable you to either Invite Knights, declare another war for territory, or call upon allies.