There are four resources in Age of Empires III, three being the natural resources of food, wood, and gold while the fourth is something unique to the game: experience, or "XP". Resources are used to improve your nation and increase its dominance through militarist and economic means. Note that in addition to the methods listed, you can always get resources using the Trade Route and shipping crates from your Home City.
You'll quickly get accustomed to gathering this resource since it's almost required that you immediately gather food when the game begins, so you can beat your opponent to the Colonial Age. Food is generally used for building Settlers and most military units, as well as researching technologies. Food is the quickest gathering resource and the often the most plentiful. Hunting is the fastest way to get food, but you can also gain food by foraging, farming from the Mill, and gathering herdables.
Wood is the slowest resource to gather, making it difficult to gain a steady flow of wood unless several villagers are gathering. On most maps, trees are plentiful, while on many desert maps they're scarce or scattered. This resource is unique (and difficult) because there's only one method of manually gathering it -- chopping down trees. If games are long running, you *will* eventually deplete the forests; after this, the only method of gaining wood will be to capture a Trade Route or send wood crates from your Home City.
Coin represents the money your colony makes using a variety of gathering methods: silver mines, gold mines, selling resources at your Market, and plantations. Coin is quick to gather, but the mines near your base deplete quickly, forcing you to switch focus to plantations or leave the safety of your base to mine elsewhere on the map.
Even if you aren't doing anything, XP is given at a rate of 2 per second. You can increase the rate which it's gathered by destroying enemy units and buildings, building your own units and buildings, and using the Trade Route. After you gather a fixed amount of XP, you're given a single shipment, which you can spend on units, technologies, or one of the three natural resources from your Home City.
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