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Idea for a future Three Kingdoms DLC: 20th century Warlord China

Content of the article: "Idea for a future Three Kingdoms DLC: 20th century Warlord China"

It’s no exaggeration to say that Fall of the Samurai was the greatest expansion CA has ever released, so successful that they subsequently rebranded it to be part of their Saga series. Doing something similar for Three Kingdoms would be awesome.

Now an expansion set roughly 1700 years apart from the base game might sound unfeasible but there are a number of striking similarities between the era of the Three Kingdoms and 20th Century China during the Warlord Period. Just like the Han Dynasty before it, the Qing Dynasty rotted from within before it finally collapsed. In 1911 there was a child emperor on the throne, widespread revolts, a collapse of central authority and then for the next 40 years China devolved into provinces ruled by warlords all squabbling with each other for territory. Sound familiar?


Creating a Total War game set even further into the future than Fall of the Samurai could be challenging. In fact, lots of fans don’t think Total War is suited to modern warfare or squad based tactics (still think we should get 40K:TW though). However, warfare in 20th century China hadn’t quite caught up to the west. Chinese armies varied enormously in quality ranging from local peasant militias, to conscripted bandits to foreign mercenaries. Although a few armies like the Beiyang Army were drilled and equipped in European fashion, most suffered from chronic shortages of even the most basic weapons and supplies. Even as late as 1933, Chinese armies were resorting to engaging the invading Japanese in hand to hand combat with Dao swords due to their lack of effective long-range weaponry!

So, like in FOTS, a player could start off with poorly trained troops with antiquated weapons and then gradually modernise their army by hiring western advisors and importing weapons. Cavalry was still used during this period, in particular the Hui Muslim Cavalry brigades were known for their aggressive fight skills. And like in FOTS, artillery/machine guns would be king, however, to prevent battles consisting of artillery/machine gun spams, the game just needs to reflect the terrible logistics all the armies suffered from in this period. Ammunition and shells would be severely limited unless the player invested in infrastructure and the right generals for example. Finally, the largest battle of the warlord period had 100,000 men fighting each other which is also how large battles got in the Three Kingdom periods. So, if CA can simulate those battles, they can do battles in 20th century China.


Three Kingdoms features a complex system of relationships (guanxi) among the characters. Maintaining satisfaction in your court is crucial to avoid betrayals. Similarly, in 20th century China, the warlords formed various cliques that were plotting and scheming against each other. Even supposed friends would betray each other. In the base game, characters can switch sides bringing entire provinces and armies with them. This was a routine occurrence in 20th century China!

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The wuxing system of five elements is awesome as is and just needs a bit of updating for the 20th century. I suggest the character types would be:

Generalissimo (Yellow/Earth): Functioning much like commanders, they are talented leaders on and off the battlefield. They raise unit morale and a high-level Generalissimo as your faction leader is a must in order to keep high satisfaction. Can boost efficiency of government buildings Units: Modern Riflemen

Quartermaster (Purple/Metal): An army marches on its stomach as they say. Quartermasters ensure that armies are kept well supplied. The higher ranked the more ammunition your army can bring to bear on your enemies. Quartermasters also increase income from mines and foundries. Units: Artillery

Diplomat (Blue/Water): Just like in the base game, its best to keep them far from any combat. Keeping them off the battlefield is even better. The diplomat is well versed on the outside world outside china and thus can aid acquiring western technology. They reduce the construction costs of trade ports necessary for the importation of advanced western weaponry. Also are the characters most suited for spying missions. Units: Foreign Mercenaries

Guerilla (Green/Wood): Guerrillas are masters of hit and run tactics and ambushes. Although they cannot recruit the most powerful units, their masterful use of terrains more than compensates. True champions of the people, the seek to help the many downtrodden farmers, improving literacy rates and farming yields. Units: Militia

Brigadier (Red/Fire): From their Battlefield HQ, the brigadier is never far from the fighting. They boost attack and speed enabling devastating cavalry charges. On the campaign map, they push their armies to march farther and reduce the cost of military buildings. Units: Cavalry


1916: The Qing fell five years ago and an uneasy ceasefire was brokered. Now peace is threatened by rumours that Yuan Shikai seeks to make himself emperor. The Republicans in the south will not stand for it and prepare for war. Meanwhile Yuan’s supposedly loyal officers watch attentively, seeking to exploit any opportunities that may arise…

Yuan Shikai (The Father of Warlords): Play almost exactly like Dong Zhuo. You start off as the most powerful faction in the game with the best army and many other factions allied to him. International recognition is afforded to you since you control Beijing. In real life he died in 1916 but if you play as him he can live longer. He is the only faction that can declare themselves emperor. If you do this, you will get a severe diplomatic penalty with all other factions but should you maintain control of Beijing for a whole year you will be able to cement your authority and then you can fight the rest of the country to create your empire.

Sun Yatsen (The Father of the Republic): Plays like Liu Bei. The “good guy” of the story. You start of as the weakest faction and are stuck in southern China far from the centres of power and are surrounded by unreliable allies. However, you benefit from being seen as the legitimate leader of the republic and thus republican characters are more likely to join your faction, can liberate instead of conquering territories and it is easier to confederate other factions that share your ideology.

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Zhang Xun (The Pigtailed General): If you want a legendary challenge, play this guy. Zhang is remembered as the guy who unsuccessfully tried to restore the Emperor Puyi to the throne in 1917. This will be your challenge in the game as the only faction who can restore the Qing. If you capture Beijing and do this, literally every other faction on the map will declare war on you and will never accept a ceasefire for the rest of the game. But you will have access to your own unique roster of traditional units (all wearing pig tails) and a reform tree to rebuild the Qing empire, under your personal supervision of course.

Wu Peifu (The Jade Marshal): Start off allied to Yuan but after he dies you will have to compete with his other officers for control of the Beiyang Army. You are however China’s most talented general which will aid you greatly.

Zhang Zuolin (The Bandit General): Kinda like Gongsun Zan. You start off in Manchuria so you get to build up your forces in the corner of the map and when you’re strong enough you can make a bid for Beijing. You have access to unique bandit units and Russian mercenaries.

Cai E (The Benevolent Warlord): The Yunnan army was considered only second to the Beiyang Army, as such you are in a good position to expand early game. As the first warlord to openly oppose Yuan’s despotism, you start off at war with him and his allies and will need the help of Sun Yatsen to survive.

Feng Yuxiang (The Christian Warlord): You start off as a vassal to Yuan but once he dies you will have to scramble for territories with his other former subordinates. Since your territory borders with Mongolia you can request aid from the Soviet Union or focus instead on promoting Christianity and suppressing vice in your territories.

1926: Ten years of war have not brought peace to China. Yuan Shikai’s death caused the country to disintegrate further as his officers fought over who should succeed him. Sun Yatsen died with his dream of a unified republic unachieved. But now an unusual alliance between nationalists and communists is on the verge of achieving Dr Sun’s dream. The question is, can such an alliance hold?

Chiang-Kai Shek (The Red General): New leader of the Kuomintang after Dr. Sun’s death and are now on the verge of launching a northern expedition to take down the remaining warlords. You start of allied with the left wing faction of the KMT as well as the communists but after you capture Shanghai you will have a dilemma to either continue this alliance or purge the communists. Kinda like Yuan Shao where you get bonuses from creating large coalitions.

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Mao Zedong (The Helmsman): Kinda like the yellow turbans. You can’t train regular units until late game, so you have to rely on your superior militia units. Specialises in ambushes and has improved campaign distance. Expect to relocate your base a lot once the nationalists turn on you.

Wang Jingwei (The Collaborator): Leader of the left wing faction of the KMT. Starts off allied with both Chiang and Mao but once the two declare war on each other you will have to pick a side.


Once you control enough provinces and the two capitals (Nanjing or Beijing) you can declare your Empire/Republic/Soviet. Instead of the base game where you have to defeat the two other emperors, I figure there should be something like the chaos invasions in Warhammer or the Norman invasion in Thones except in this case it’s the Japanese. You would have to fight off huge stacks of highly equipped enemies and the second largest factions would ally with the Japanese for even more of a challenge.

TL;DR: I’m struck by all the parallels between Three Kingdoms and 20th Century Warlord Era. My pipe dream is that CA makes this into an expansion.


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