This is not a civ by civ guide, this is not a map by map guide. This guide is on basic mechanical skills and theory which can be applied to any match up on any map. If you follow these tips, you can quickly get to 1st Lieutenant.
Pick a civ
There are 14 Civilizations in this game, resulting in 91 unique 1v1 match ups. Don't try to take all of this in at once. Choose one civilization that appeals to you and practice it until you can get a Lieutenant level of skill with it. The recommended civilization is France, as what you learn with it, can apply to every other civilization to some degree.
Learn 3 build orders for your Civ
Learn the three most common build orders for your civilization, one at a time, and what each one is good for. You can be excellent in all other areas, but if you don’t have a basic build order to follow you won’t get far. A build order typically guides you through what to do in the first 7-10 minutes of the game, after which it’s up to you to adapt and overcome. Once you repeat these openings enough, they become second nature. The three main strategies that most every civ can implement are:
Rush - Early Pressure designed to destroy the enemy early on
Fast Fortress - Quickly age and leverage powerful fortress shipments and units
Economic Build - Take as many economic advantages as possible and outscale your opponent
While every civ can do these, some are better than them than others. For example, Iroquois and Russia are great with rushing, Germany and France have powerful Fast Fortress potential, and Japan and Britain can typically outscale the rest of the civs. Figure out what your favorite strategy is, and use a civ that compliments it.
Now, for the major roadblocks.
The main thing that's keeping you at one of those common walls, like being stuck at Lance Corporal, Sergeant, or Master Sergeant, is IDLE time. If you can eliminate or drastically reduce the four common areas of idle time, every part of your build will improve.
Type One: Town Center Idle
In most every strategy you are going to need to keep your Town Center from idling. This means you must always have a settler training, or be aging. (Both if you're playing as an Asian Civ!) Idle time can quickly slow down your build, especially when it is in the early stage of the game. If you forget to train a settler first thing in the game for 30 seconds, you will be MUCH slower than if you had clicked it immediately.
Example: You are attacking the enemy, or taking a big treasure and are so focused on not losing that you forget to train settlers for two minutes!
How to fix it:
Set a hotkey for your Town Center and Train Villager commands. Make sure that you have your settings so that when you toggle your Town Center it does not snap to it! Keep an eye on your queue and make sure you queue a second villager before your first one pops out.
Make sure that you have enough settlers gathering food to sustain constant production of settlers. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 6 settlers on food. (You'll likely already be doing this, so remember to click that button! Even if you're fighting!)
Type Two: Home City Idle
Don't delay sending your home city shipments! There are few reasons to save shipments. Remember that you can send for example a 3 settler shipment with only 9/10 population space. If you time this right you can send the card and still have a villager training in time for your house to be built. Every second you let a card like the 3 settler card sit in your home city is 3 villager seconds that they could be gathering!
Example: You are distracted by raids and are trying to get your settlers away from danger and forget to send a shipment.
How to fix this, pay attention to the shipment alert and set a hotkey for the Home City.
Type Three: Settler Idle
This is easy to reduce but hard to eliminate. Taking steps now will pay off greatly. The main contributors to settler idle time are unnecessary walking and bad herd distribution. Every second that your settlers have to walk is a second that they are not gathering, and this is multiplied by the number of idle settlers you have. 10 settlers doing nothing for 10 seconds is 100 seconds of your economic potential down the drain.
Example: When the game starts, you let your settlers gather the crates without direction while you start exploring. (Split your settlers evenly onto food crates while you send one off to herd your starting hunt towards your TC. This allows for you to get your first settler queued ASAP.)
Example: You use 6 settlers to shoot one animal. (Only use one settler to kill an animal, anything more is a waste.)
Example: You shoot an animal and the whole herd runs away from you. (Go behind the animal and shoot it in the direction of your Town Center. This means that your settlers don’t have to walk as far to gather, and also means that they are easier to protect from the enemy raids.)
Example: You have 10 settlers gathering from a mine and it runs out of coin. (Hold Shift and task your settlers to the next mine so that they automatically go to it when the first runs out.)
Type Four: Military Idle
Now this is harder to determine. You don’t always want to charge in with your units, but at the same time - not using them is the same as losing them. You invest into a unit and do no damage. AoE3 ultimately comes down to investment and return. The resources you invest need to yield a greater deduction upon your enemy. If you do this enough times, you win. So when you train 5 huss as part of your FF BO, you need to raid with them efficiently, not just leave them at your base. When you are massing up in colonial and have 20 muskets, you can poke into the opponent’s forward base and shoot one or two of his units and then back away. Think of these skirmishes as trades. Trade as few of your resources, for as many of his.
Macro is in a nutshell your economy and how you manage it. It is important to learn how to distribute your settlers onto resources effectively. This is predominantly decided by the unit(s) that you are making. If you are making mercenaries, you will need a lot of gold, if you are making crossbowmen and pikemen, you are going to need a lot of wood. Keep in mind that the different resources gather at different base rates, which are then affected by upgrades in the market and from the home city.
These are the base rates for European Settlers:
Huntable Food (Deer, Bison, etc) - 0.84/s
Coin (Mines) - 0.6/s
Wood - 0.5/s
So let’s say you are playing as the British and want to make Musketeers. Musketeers cost 75f, 25c, and take 30s to train. So if you are wanting to constantly train 5 Musketeers with no idle time between batches, you need 375f and 125c every 30 seconds. This requires 15 Settlers on food (rounded up) and 7 Settlers on coin (rounded up.)
Now, here is the importance of getting those market upgrades you may have been neglecting. Hunting Dogs gives you +10% to your food gathering rate. Placer Mines gives you +10% to your coin gathering rate. Steel Traps gives you +20% to your food gathering rate. All three of these can be researched by the time you’ve aged up and placed your barracks as the British.
Instead of needing 15 Settlers on food and 7 Settlers on coin, you’ll now need only 12 Settlers on Food and 6.3 Settlers on Coin. It sound small, but that advantage becomes much larger whenever you are trying to train full batches from 3 barracks. Keep these things in mind whenever you are structuring your economic distribution.
Here's some detailed info on gathering rates, borrowed from http://aoe3.heavengames.com/cgi-bin/for ... 32509,0,10
Micro is the way in which you control your units in battle. The main objective is to target what your unit counters and to prevent overkill. Your primary target will change depending on the situation, but preventing overkill is always relevant. Overkill is when you kill a unit that only needs 3 shots to kill with say, 7 musketeers. You’ve wasted 4 shots on a unit when you could have actually killed 2.3 of those units. This is incredibly relevant in every situation.
The first thing you can do is to use the magical Attack Move. Find a hotkey that works for you. Attack Move makes the selected units attack the nearest unit to them. This is great for opening encounters where you previously just right clicked on a unit.
The next thing is to avoid moving your units too much. Time spent walking is time that could have been spent shooting. There are exceptions to be made whenever you are kiting a unit. Kiting is whenever you use for example, a skirmishers superior range to shoot a musketeer who is not within his own range to shoot you. You shoot, run away, and shoot again. This is very important to do where applicable.
The next thing is to target counters. Fighting in Age of Empires 3 is a very complicated game of Rock Paper Scissors. Rock beats Scissors, Scissors beat Paper, and Paper beats rock, but with good micro, attrition, good positioning, and cascading victory - Paper can beat scissors.
Light Infantry beats Heavy Infantry and Ranged Cavalry
Heavy Infantry beats Hand Cavalry
Hand Cavalry beats Light Infantry and Artillery
Ranged Cavalry beats Hand Cavalry and Artillery
Artillery beats Light Infantry and Heavy Infantry
There are many nuances and situational times where you will want to target different things, but as a general rule of thumb, this is how the game of Rock Paper Scissors goes. Certain units defy this though, such as the Musketeer, which can beat or stand up well to light infantry when in the right position and situation.
Attrition is the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure. If you can poke into the enemy and weaken his troops or even pick off a few without losing any of your own, you can leverage attrition to catch up to the enemy or to secure your advantage.
Positioning is very important. Your 30 longbowmen will do better vs 10 Hussar if they are in a thick patch of trees than if they are out in the open. This is due to how units path in game. Cavalry are notably bad at finding a target when things are in their way. Take advantage of this.
Cascading Victory is something I find very interesting, and is easily seen in a British Mirror where both players often start musketeers and have identical masses. Whichever player leverages basic micro, positioning, and attrition, gains a small advantage in unit count which then cascades quickly to a victory with most of his units still standing.
These things are the basic things which helped me to improve. I am by no means a pro, but I know how to get from Conscript to Lieutenant.