The Italians have several naval advantages. They have almost full dock technologies (except for Heavy Demolition Ship) and can research all of these technologies at low cost due to their 50% discount on all dock technologies. Their Fishing Ships are 20% cheaper. As Cannon Galleons are gunpowder units they receive a 20% discount in their costs, these costs are further reduced by Shipwright. Their second unique unit, the Condottiero is available without upgrade cost, which makes it a viable option for landings. Their unique technology Silk Road benefits both Trade Cogs and Trade Carts. All these advantages make them one of the most powerful civilizations in water maps.
The Italians have a 15% discount for advancing ages which allows them to age up earlier. They are effective at booming since they have almost all economic technologies, and their Silk Road technology is very helpful in late game when all gold mines have been taken.
The Italians possess two unique units. The first one is the Genoese Crossbowman, an archer with an attack bonus against cavalry. The Pavise technology improves foot archer armor, making Genoese Crossbowmen one of the best armored archers of the game. Their second unique unit is the Condottiero, which is the only counter-gunpowder infantry in the game. The Italian team bonus makes Condottiero available to any civilization allied with the Italians. Civilization bonuses and unique techs that benefit infantry will affect the Condottieri. Condottieri have also good movement speed and bonus resistance to gunpowder units.
The Italians lack Camels and the Halberdier upgrade, and while the Genoese Crossbow is an effective counter vs Cavalry, it may only be produced at a castle, which makes it more difficult to respond quickly when attacked by heavy cavalry in the late game. In terms of siege weapons they lack Siege Rams, Siege Onagers, Heavy Scorpions. Even more crucially they lack the Siege Engineers tech, leaving all their siege sub-par in comparison to civilizations who have it.
The Italians' biggest weakness is probably their lack of early economic bonuses on land maps, aside from cheaper costs of aging up. Compounding this problem, the Italians' military bonuses don't really kick in until the Imperial Age, leaving them a vulnerable for during the early game on land maps.
Italians are primarily a boom civilization, and as such are best in team battles, playing in the pocket position. Italians should mostly be used on water maps, as navy is their strong point and galley rushing is the best strategy for them on such maps. They are best used as a support civilization, dealing with Cavalry, Boats, and sending resources to allies.
Typically, Italians should go for a Fast Castle and boom their economy. Genoese Crossbowmen and Hand Cannoneers form a strong ranged combination, although they are horribly vulnerable to Skirmishers. Massed Genoese Crossbowmen are an excellent counter to the ever-present Paladin, being able to deal with them from range, allowing allies to move around a stronger infantry shock force. Italians do get fully upgraded Champions, however, Condottieri are most often preferable as they are available without upgrades. It is important to take advantage of the Gunpowder bonus, making Hand Cannoneers and Bombard Cannons, and Cannon Galleons on the water. When fighting an opponent such as Turks or Spanish, who is likely to make large numbers of gunpowder units, Condottieri come in handy. Italians are one of the only civilizations able to go toe-to-toe with Turks in the Imperial Age.
On maps with water, Italians should strive to take it over. Cheaper dock technologies allow them to out-tech the opponent in early-game naval encounters without damaging their economy back at home. A nearly full technology tree for the Dock also helps them with this. It is important for Italian players to research shipwright as soon as reasonably possible in order to have also cheaper naval units.
Italians are improved as they aging bonus is furthered to 15% instead of 10% which means they can perform better a Fast Castle tactic and go for a knight rush or a monk rush. Also now they have Hussars.
Pavise now benefits also their crossbowmen as well as their Genoese Crossbowmen. The cost of this technology is also reduced significantly to 300 food and 150 gold instead of 550 food and 300 gold.
The Condottiero now don't requires a castle to be created and received +1 attack and are faster, this tweak in the Condottiero stats also improves the gameplay on a team game since this unit is their team bonus.
Their team bonus allows allies to create Condottieri at their Imperial Age Barracks. This shared unit is highly valuable for Infantry-based civilizations since the shared Condottieri will be affected by the bonuses of the allied player. It is also valuable as this unit is a counter against gunpowder units and may benefit also civilizations that have poor gunpowder counters or ranged counter units while adding variety to the battlefield. However the biggest advantage of the Condottiero is the fact that unlike the Champion, it is available without any upgrades and can be used as a Champion replacement, especially for civilizations that lacks them.
They make a good teammate for the Mayans, benefiting from cheaper walls, as well as covering the natural cavalry weakness of Native American civilizations. Heavy Cavalry civilizations such as the Franks and Spanish also synergize nicely. Italians also benefits from Team bonuses like the Viking team bonus if playing in water based maps, this considering the fact that many of the Italians' bonuses are made for galley rushing, the Viking team bonus discount on docks worth noting in this case the same goes for the Japanese team bonus that benefits galleys. Turk team bonus (gunpowder units are created quicker) helps a lot the Italians in later ages adding creation speed to their already cheaper gunpowder units. Some archer based bonuses (Magyar team bonus, and Saracen team bonus) will improve their Genoese crossbowmen and the hand Cannoneer. A Malay ally may also brings in win-win synergies, as they provide more sight to the Docks.
A fantastic team-match-oriented civilization always has a bag of share-worthy tricks their teammates are craving for, so as to the Vietnamese for their Italian allies (or even vice-versa on watery maps). They offer first-hand information of the enemy bases at the beginning, which might bring rush-oriented opponents fear of their archer rushes, allowing Italian players to strive for Castle Age safely, or even unleash warship hordes onto unlucky opponents in watery maps. Furthermore, their gold subsidy from Paper Money grant decent bankroll for extra Galleons, their cannon-armed counterparts, Condottieri or land gunpowder units, together with Imperial Skirmisher as a countermeasure against enemy archers and Halberdiers, plus a must-have trash component for late-Imperial domination. In return, the Italians grant them Condottieri to decimate enemy gunpowder units, plus dauntless supporting fleets on watery maps, not only suppressing firepower support from anti-cavalry Genoese Crossbowmen, dirt-cheap Italian Hand Cannoneers and Bombard Cannons, so this gives birth to a formidable duo which becomes a nightmare for monk-dependent or missile-dependent civilizations.
The Genoese Crossbowman, being an armored archer with attack bonus against cavalry and ships, counters almost all kinds of cavalry. Even the cavalry of prominent cavalry, cavalry archer, and elephant civilizations (like Khmer, Persians, Franks, Huns, Magyars, and Mongols) have trouble when facing Genoese Crossbowmen, especially if they are deployed in large numbers. As they also have an attack bonus against ships, they may counter enemy vessels on the shore or in the shallows, giving a harder time to prominent naval civilizations (such as Vikings, Koreans, and Portuguese) at shore combat. Due to their Archer condition, they are also good at taking down slow-moving, low pierce armored infantry, and weaker archers. Thanks to the Pavise technology, they can survive an Onager volley, limiting their counters.
The Condottiero, being an infantry with good movement speed, fast creation time and attack bonus vs gunpowder, will represent a challenge for Gunpowder-based civilizations, as they revert the typical "gunpowder defeats infantry" rule. Even civilizations with good gunpowder (like Turks, Spanish, Portuguese and Indians) have trouble against masses of Condottieri.
Regarding naval warfare, their Dock technologies are cheaper, they have almost all of them (only lacking Heavy Demolition Ship), while at the same time their Cannon Galleons are also cheaper, and they have cheaper Fishing Ships, so they have an advantage against civilizations that rely on coastal defenses (like Malay, Koreans and Byzantines), while also being at advantage against civilizations limited in their naval tech tree (such as Huns and Aztecs), or that have very specialized naval warfare (such as Vikings).
As Pavise benefits Arbalest-line units by giving them +1/+1 armor, they have an advantage against civs with weaker archers, or reliant on infantry (with some exceptions), so civilizations like Spanish (whose archers are mediocre), or prominent infantry civilizations (such as Aztecs, Celts and Burmese) may have trouble against Italian archers.
As they have full defensive improvements, including the Bombard Tower, they have an advantage against civilizations with mediocre siege units or without a proper anti-building unit, especially before the Imperial Age (when everyone gets access to Trebuchets).
As they have cheaper Age advancements and a near-complete Monastery technology tree (only lacking Heresy), their Monks can effectively counter Paladins, Elephants and other types of cavalry, so civilizations like Persians, Khmer, Indians, Burmese, Malay, Vietnamese, and Franks may have trouble against Italian Monks if they don't make use of light cavalry.
Since they have cheaper gunpowder units, they excel against civilizations lacking them at late game, such as Celts, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas and Britons. As Bombard Cannons are a great tool for dealing with defenses and enemy siege, they have an advantage against civilizations with poor defenses, and even civilizations with good defenses (like Incas, Byzantines, Teutons) will have trouble against the cheap Italian Bombard Cannons. And against civilizations like Khmer, Celts, Huns and Britons, their Bombard Cannons can pretty much counter their siege. Their cheaper Hand Cannoneers add more power against infantry armies, giving trouble to civilizations like Goths, Aztecs, Incas, Burmese and Vikings.
As they have a fairly open tech tree with most relevant technologies available, they can effectively counter civilizations more limited in that regard (like the Goths, the Mayans, the Magyars, the Britons and other "specialist" civilizations).
Despite the fact that Genoese Crossbowmen overcome one of the main archer weaknesses, the cavalry, while at the same time are stronger than most archers and can survive an Onager volley, there are several ways to effectively counter them. First of all, they are still vulnerable to Skirmishers, so civilizations with good skirmishers (such as Vietnamese, Aztecs and Byzantines) should make use of them. However, Berber Genitours may be on tie vs Genoese Crossbowmen, as they deal bonus damage against each other. Units with high pierce armor (such as the Vietnamese Rattan Archer, the Malian infantry, and especially the Goths Huskarl) are also a good response against Genoese Crossbowmen. Also, archers with better range or more attack can be a threat to Genoese Crossbowmen, so Civilizations like Britons, Chinese, Ethiopians and Mayans should take this into consideration. They can survive an Onager volley, but if they are left unmicroed, Onagers are still be a threat, as the resilience of Genoese Crossbowmen only delays one hit against Onagers, so they are still a good response. Celt, Ethiopian, and Korean players should take this into consideration. Fast infantry like Woad Raiders, Shotel Warriors and Karambit Warriors can catch them.
Aside from the fact that Condottieri can overcome the main infantry weakness, gunpowder, they are still vulnerable to other anti-infantry units, such as the Aztec Jaguar Warrior, the Byzantine Cataphract, the Incan Slinger and the Mayan Plumed Archer. Well-rounded or better basic stat-wise equipped infantry and cavalry (such as Battle Elephants, Persian War Elephants, Slavic Boyars, Teutonic Knights, and Paladins) can also counter them. As they are costly, they can also be outnumbered by Malay Karambit Warriors.
Regarding naval warfare, they may be at disadvantage in early game against civilizations that can perform early Galley or Fire Galley rushes, such as Vikings, Byzantines, Persians, Portuguese, and Berbers, especially in the Feudal Age. Later on, as their naval advantages comes from cheaper technologies and cheaper Cannon Galleons, and not on raw statistics, they may fall apart against civilizations that boost up the raw statistics and characteristics of their navy, such as Berbers, Saracens (with their Galleons), Portuguese (with their tankier navy and Caravels), Koreans (with their Turtle Ships), Vikings (with their Longboats and cheaper navy), Byzantines (with their better Fire Ships) and Spanish (with their Cannon Galleons).
Despite the fact they have cheaper Bombard Cannons, they are stat-wise suboptimal as they lack the Siege Engineers upgrade. Also, aside from Bombard Cannons, their Siege Workshop is mediocre, so civilizations with better Bombard Cannons and siege (such as Ethiopians, Turks, Portuguese and Celts) can overturn them in several situations, especially in the Castle Age.
Massed Japanese Samurais are a threat to both Italian unique units, who compose the core of most Italian armies.
Mayans, Incas and Aztecs have Eagle Warriors that can effectively counter Bombard Cannons, Arbalests and Genoese Crossbowmen, all of which are part of the core units of the Italians. Regarding the Bombard Cannons, similar logic can apply to light cavalry civilizations such as Magyars, Huns and Mongols, as light cavalry can catch them with ease and destroy them. Mongol Mangudais also counter the Bombard Cannon. Mongol Rams with Drill filled with infantry may counter very effectively the Italian Bombard Cannons, as they move very fast and deal bonus damage against siege.
Civilizations with good siege engines (such as Turks, Celts, and Ethiopians) can counter the Italian fortifications, as though Italians have all defensive technologies, they don't have any particular bonus for them.
In maps like Arabia, Italians will have a hard time against civilizations with early aggression (such as Aztecs, Japanese, Huns and Magyars), as their only early advantage is their cheaper age advances.
Malians can be a very unpleasant rival for the Italian archery, as their infantry bonus can partially negate the overall effectiveness of their archers vs infantry. Similarly, Goths can counter an Italian archer army by swarming Huskarl,s as they have attack bonus vs Archers and high pierce armor. Huskarls are also a threat to Italian defenses, as Huskarls have attack bonus against buildings. Celt infantry can also be unpleasant, as they move fast enough to avoid arrow-fire (especially the Woad Raider).
While they have good monks (as they only lack Heresy) and can perform a Monk Rush as their age advancements are cheaper, they don't have any specific bonus for them, so they can fall apart against the Monks of civilizations like Spanish, Aztecs, and Burmese. Eagle Warriors and Hussars are a huge threat to monks. Also, the use of monks for converting requires heavy micromanagement, so it is better to use them only when the situation favors it.
Italian cavalry are lackluster, so any civilization with good Pikemen, Monks, Camels or better cavalry can counter the Italian cavalry.
Since the basis of the advantage of their Hand Cannoneers is their cheapness, they may fall apart against the Hand Cannoneers of other prominent gunpowder civilizations, such as Indians, Turks and Portuguese. Also, cavalry and Onagers still pose a threat to them. Similar logic may apply to the Arbalest line, as the basis of their strength is resilience through armory, so civilizations with archers with better attack or range (like Britons, and Chinese) can counter them.
As they have a good tech tree and bonuses for gunpowder, Italians are well suited for Post-Imperial matches.
In Deathmatch mode, as the scarcity of gold and stone isn't an issue, they can much more freely spam their gunpowder, Condottieri, ships and Archers
In densely forested or closed maps, like Black Forest, they can Wall up and then improve their economy and army, so they get an advantage over early game civilizations. Similar logic can apply in maps like Fortress and Arena as they start the game walled up.
Having most improvements for monks, they may take that as advantage in "Capture the relic" game mode.
In water and amphibious maps (especially in the maps included in the "Rise of the Rajas" expansion), their cheaper Dock advancements can give them a nice edge over their rivals.
In high resource settings, since their Age advancements are cheaper, they can perform their Fast Castle, Fast Imperial tactics much sooner than in normal resource settings.