The Man-At-Arms is the strongest standard melee unit available until the discovery of Niter. War hammers and suits of heavy armor give it a respectable 45 Combat Strength, and its Production cost is lower than both the Pikeman and the Knight that become available in the same era. (Notably, it also has a higher maintenance cost than the former and a lower maintenance cost than the latter in Gathering Storm.) Players who plan on waging war in the Medieval Era may prefer to save their Iron for Knights, which are slightly stronger and more mobile than Men-At-Arms. For others, Men-At-Arms are solid defensive units that don't take too long to train and will provide some frontline fighting power until Musketmen are available and sources of Niter can be secured.
As a melee unit, the Man-At-Arms receives a bonus against anti-cavalry units, which makes it especially deadly against Pikemen and almost equal to the Pike and Shot that becomes available in the following era. Players who don't have access to Niter may have to depend on anti-cavalry units (which don't require resources) to fill out their front lines - use Men-At-Arms against them not only to even the odds, but to gain the upper hand!
The term “man-at-arms” is a general term for heavy troops, especially European units in the middle ages. While a man-at-arms could be anything from a noble, mounted knight to a mercenary pikeman, here we use it to refer to the heavily armored footmen of the later middle ages. As armories and forges grew more standardized, cheap, replaceable “munition armor” became an option instead of the individually tailored, extremely expensive suits of plate that nobles used. With munition armor, regular soldiers or mercenaries could be nearly as well defended as a knight, and as such posed a real threat on the battlefield. The German-speaking “Landsknecht” of the 15th century, with their great two-handed swords, were a classic example of this.
Outside of Europe at the same time, similar pushes for mass-produced armor for non-noble soldiers led to similar “men-at-arms.” In the Sengoku period in Japan, a time when rival feudal claims to the Imperial throne tore the island apart, ashigaru (foot soldiers) dressed in folding armor (tatami gusoku), were vital. With the arrival of footsoldiers in mass-produced armor, no longer were infantry rabble to serve as backdrop for knightly conflicts, but they were suddenly significant on their own.
- The Man-At-Arms' Civilopedia entry contains a passage about the importance of ashigaru, infantry regiments similar to traditional men-at-arms, in Japanese warfare. However, Japan is unable to train the Man-At-Arms, since it is replaced by the Samurai.