The Malay is a naval civilization with strong economic bonuses. Their Fishing Ships and Fish Traps are cheaper than normal, and Fish Traps provide unlimited Food. This means that the Malay can save a lot of wood that would otherwise be used on rebuilding Fish Traps, and can instead use it on ships in water maps, and they'll save land space since they do not need to waste space for Farms. The Malay also have a strong navy, only lacking the Heavy Demolition Ship. The Malay also have fully upgradable Arbalests and Elite Skirmishers, as well as fully upgradable Halberdiers. Their unique unit, the Karambit Warrior, serves as a cheap, fast cannon fodder to protect the more fragile units, and takes only half the population space. They also have a reasonable naval defense, with the Harbor unique building and having Bombard Towers and Keeps, and only lacking Arrowslits, Fortified Walls, and Architecture. Their Militia-line infantry will cost no gold once Forced Levy is researched, allowing the Malay to excel in trash wars should gold run out, and the Two-Handed Swordsman upgrade is sufficient enough to deal with other trash units. Their Monk line is also solid, having every Monk upgrade except for Theocracy and Fervor, and is the only Southeast Asian civilization to have the Heresy upgrade. They also have a reasonable siege line, only lacking the Siege Onager and Siege Ram. Finally, the Malay can advance through the ages early with the faster age advancement time, meaning they can reach to the next age before other players can.
While the Malay have a strong navy and Fish Trap economic bonuses, their land unit options are very limited. They do not have access to Hand Cannoneers or the Heavy Cavalry Archer upgrade, leaving the Arbalests their only reliable anti-infantry counter. Their cavalry is noted to be the worst in the game, as they not only lack Bloodlines, but also Chain Barding Armor and Plate Barding Armor as well as the Hussar and Paladin upgrades. This makes their cavalry and Battle Elephants less reliable late game, since they will end up as paper mache to arrow fire from archers, towers, and castles. To make up for their weaker cavalry, the Malay have cheaper Battle Elephants, putting emphasis on numerical superiority over quality.
While the Malay have a powerful Forced Levy upgrade, they lack the Champion upgrade. This means the Malay's infantry will be incredibly weak lategame, even when the Forced Levy upgrade is put into consideration. This in turn makes the Goths a perfect counter to the Malay, as the Goths can simply spam Huskarls to counter the Malay Arbalests, and Champions to counter Two-Handed Swordsmen, Halberdiers, Karambit Warriors, and the Malay have no reliable and cost-effective answer to deal with the Huskarl aside from arguably the Malay Two-handed Swordsmen (and the Goths' cheaper Halberdiers will make quick work on the Malay's incredibly fragile Battle Elephants). Conversely, the Malay excel well in "trash war" situations when gold is low, and are a formidable foe to civilizations with incredibly poor trash unit lines, such as the Turks and the Malians, since the Two-Handed Swordsmen with Forced Levy basically makes their Two-Handed Swordsmen trash units that counter trash units.
The Malay is a unique naval civilization where the economic bonuses focus on Fish Traps over naval warships. While it doesn't seem much, since Food isn't the most important resource in water maps, having cheaper Fishing Ships and Fish Traps as well as having Fish Trap provide unlimited food is considered to be more of a wood bonus instead, as a lot of wood can be saved for warships. Because of the Malay's strong Fish Trap bonuses, the Malay can simply skip out on building Farms or researching any Farm upgrades in water maps, have most of the Food economy on fish and Fish Traps, and simply retask the villagers focusing on gold and wood instead. That being said, Fishing Traps are far more vulnerable to enemy sea raids than Villagers, so protection of Fishing Ships should be a high priority. Luckily, the Malay Harbors can help protect the Fishing Ships and Fish Traps from raids. The player can also build Harbors near enemy Docks and islands to deny their Docks the ability to build any ships as well as securing control in key areas and objectives. The extra line of sight of Malay's Docks and Harbors makes it easier for Malay to find nearby Fish earlier as well as warn incoming enemy raids.
The Malay Fish Trap bonus also have good synergy with their infantry line, with their Militia line only costing Food once Forced Levy is researched. This will allow the Malay to infinitely spam Two-Handed Swordsmen combined with the infinite food from Fish Traps. Players should consider building Barracks along with Harbors within the enemy's island to add extra pressure in water maps. This combo can be even useful on maps with small ponds or rivers if a Malay player can use them for creating their unlimited fish traps.
On land maps, the Malay are played similarly as the Vikings, as they need to use the faster Age advancement bonus to get an early game advantage over their opponent. Otherwise, their late game will fall off, since their army composition is incredibly limited. That being said, in situations where gold runs low, Two-Handed Swordsmen with Forced Levy should suffice. The Malay should never attempt to build any cavalry units (except battle elephants) or go for a Knight rush since their cavalry is incredibly weak, lacking Bloodlines and two important armor techs for their cavalry. If the Malay needs to build any cavalry unit, they should take advantage of the cheaper Battle Elephants, as even without the armor techs and Bloodlines, a Battle Elephant in the Castle Age is far more threatening than their weaker Knights. Malay players can even consider performing a Battle Elephant rush, but supported by infantry, as their Battle Elephants are cheaper (Malay Battle Elephants cost only 96 food and 56 gold, in comparison a regular knight costs 60 food 75 gold, so in gold terms, Malay Battle Elephants are noticeably cheaper than Knights, while having also better attack and more hit points but lacking speed).
Their unique unit, the Karambit Warrior, is incredibly cheap, only occupy half population space, and is created fairly quickly, but is also very weak. this unit is useful as cannon fodder, especially in large groups, and may be treated as a " trash unit", even when they cost 25 food and 10 gold. Karambit warriors are also helpful for Castle drops. The advantage of the Karambit warrior is more noticeable in games with higher population limits, since if the player has 100 population space, it can turn that population in 200 karambit warriors.
Those who enjoy playing as the Vikings on both water and land maps can easily pick up playing as the Malay, as their tech tree and civilization bonuses are relatively similar. The Malay Battle Elephant rush strategy is very comparable to the Viking Knight rush strategy, since both civilizations have suboptimal cavalry rushes when compared to other civilizations (in the case with the Malays, the Khmer Battle Elephant rush outclasses the Malay's), but viable due to their strong early game economic bonuses.
While the Malay team bonus may seem useless on paper, it helps allies to find nearby fish faster, and to see earlier an overcoming navy. The Malay have several good teammates that can make good use of the increased vision of Docks. Allying with the Japanese allow the Malay Galleys to scout better in water maps (as well as the Japanese benefiting from the increased Dock vision that would allow them to secure fish control thanks to their Fishing Ship bonuses). Having a Viking teammate would be incredibly useful, as the Malay only save a lot of wood for their infinite Fish Traps, their Harbors will cost even less, saving even more wood and allow more coastal defenses. The Dock bonus is also very helpful for Italians.
Malay Harbors are very useful in team games on water maps, as the trade routes to the Malay player will be slightly better defended, and in some cases they may be used as walls for an allied island with the plus of the attack.
That is being said, the Malays also have valuable teammates when it comes to land maps. A Goth ally will make Two-Handed Swordsmen spamming more viable in conjunction with Forced Levy tech. A Berber ally is also relatively useful, as they will not only increase the creation speed of the Karambit Warrior, but also give the Malays Genitours, adding more power to the Malay's trash unit line in conjunction with the Two-Handed Swordsmen that cost only food (although it should be noted that the Malay Genitours will be weaker since they don't get Bloodlines). An Italian ally would also be useful for the Malay, noting that the Malay do not have the Champion upgrade and the Condottiero can serve as a viable infantry unit alternative to their Two-Handed Swordsmen (as well as giving the Malay some anti-gunpowder capacity). If the Malays wish to use their fragile, but cheap Battle Elephants, the Huns would make a great ally thanks to the boosted workrate for the Stables. Vietnamese are also a good ally for them, as the Imperial Skirmisher will give the team an edge in "trash wars", while at the same time the Vietnamese can give their Malay teammates the initial locations of the enemy team, and give them 500 gold with the Paper Money technology.