I think France is the easiest faction to play, because it has the biggest and most versatile choice of troops in the game. I think they can have four different types of pikemen alone!
You really shouldn't have much trouble, once you get a little bit more experienced.
One thing I LOVE to do is follwing:
1. Open SEGA\Medieval II Total War\data\world\maps\campaign\imperial_campaign\descr_strat.txt
2. Find brigand_spawn_value and pirate_spawn_value and put them to 9999, which basically stops pirates and rebels of spawning. I think they are annoying and add nothing to the gameplay, so I usually remove them. But it's a matter of taste, of course.
3. Change timescale to 0.5, which means you get two turns a year, instead of one turn being two years. I like how the game becomes much more relaxed with this change.
4. Move all faction from the "nonplayable" section to the "playable" section, except of aztecs, mongols, timurids and slave.
5. If you did so, you moved the Papal States to the playable section.
6. Start a new campaign as Papal States.
Seriously, I LOVE Papal States! They have excellent militia troops and poor professional troops, which means you can rely almost exclusively on buliding cities, which give much more income than castles.
Their best troop, the Papal Guard, is recruited in cities, too. In melee they are almost as effective, deadly and tough as dismounted knights, with the difference that they come in regiments of 150 men and have spears. Unless they don't get charged properly with full force, a single regiment of them can kill a complete king's body guard unit! It's amazing! They can even be used to stop dismounted knights for quite some time, and with the support of only one town militia unit they will win.
Their crossbow militias have pavise shields by default and are as effective as the pavise crossbowmen from the castles! Only Genovese crossbowmen are better. They are cheap, easily accquired and highly effective. Usually it's perfectly fine to have an army of a few units Papal Guard, the rest pavise crossbow militia and perhaps one cavalry militia to chase fleeing enemies. Place the guardsmen at the foot of a hill to form a line and cover the flank, and inside this "box" you place your crossbowmen so that they can fire directly on the enemy. Massacre guaranteed. (Make sure you put the spearmen on "hold formation" and remove the skirmisher mode from the crossbowmen. Usually I put them on "hold formation", too)
But the best part is: as soon as you attack a catholic faction, it gets excommunicated
The only downsides are:
- you have the wrong campaign videos of another faction
- you don't have a "family tree" card
- there is no heir
- you can't call out crusades yourself, it happens randomly
Besides of that Papal States rock. You can even offer reconciliation to excommunicated factions, and usually this is an offer that's much appreciated.
Later, as soon as you expand your cities to metropoles, you can't recruit Papal Guards any more (god knows why
), but you get the Swiss Guard for it, a terrifying unit which works as pikemen, but can even stand in melee with a broken formation.
All in all it's great fun, I tell you