Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Ancient Art of War: Boju

Thanks, Sunzie.

I've tweaked my DOSBox CGA emulation settings before playing this map, and now the colors look more vibrant to my eyes. Is this an improvement, or is it just more garish now? Let me know!

Boju was the site of a decisive battle between the ancient kingdoms of Wu and Chu. Legend, though not historical record, has it that Sun Tzu himself led Wu's pitiably small army to victory, diminishing Chu's power and bringing Wu's to its peak.

In Wu -vs- Ch'u, a fanciful interpretation of this event, you, a young Chu general, face rather significant strength disadvantage against Wu. Their army has 91 men, yours 67, but more importantly, they have twice as many archers as you, made all the more important here by the prevalence of forts, and half of your army consists of arrow fodder knights. On top of that, they control three unit-producing forts, you only get two.

Thankfully, this map has no fog of war, so he can't easily pull off that opposite trick where he looks strong where he's weak and weak where he's strong (corollary - always attack a Sun Tzu-quoting war bro when he looks strong).


My first goal, I figured, would be to besiege the fort closest to the west edge of the map, positioning troops on the hill to cut off its vulnerable supply line.


The main difficulty is the long march, but once reached and secured from the hill, the only way the fort can take it back is by fighting a literal uphill battle, or to cut through the woods to the village while mine need only march downhill to meet them.

First things, though - gotta make sure that the forts will actually provide you with reinforcements. They will do this as long as you have at least one unit in them with fewer than 14 men. At the start, both of your forts have full strength units, so I immediately split them up and leave two one-man units in each - this helps reduces the amount of micromanagement needed to ensure the reinforcements never stop.

The southeast fort dumps its excess troops nearby so they can react to Wu's motions quickly, retreating back into the fort if need be. The northeast fort sends its excess troops westward toward the objective. The units by the mountains head north, to capture one farm I can easily reach, and to support the northeast fort, and I also have one man up north detach and go for the other nearby farm.


Meanwhile, most of Wu's units are holding fast, except for two. The unit by the middle bridge heads southward to reinforce the southwest fort, and the unit by the northwest bridge heads toward the farm on the other side.

I withdraw to the hill. He stupidly follows.

One enemy unit eliminated, I can march unimpeded to my goal.

As I do this, Sun attacks my north position with some surplus soldiers from the fort, eliminating one of my units.

And, unluckily for him, he doesn't stop, sending a unit down from the relative safety of the hill they guard, to attack my unit on the relative safety of the hill I guard.

Now Wu is at a serious strategic weakness.

Look at all those exposed farms! Apart from the one in the far south, I can just march in and take them all, and then wait as two of his three forts are forced to make a move or starve to death.

The difficulty here is that marching such a long distance is tiring, but there's no way around that. Better to pressure the forts with tired, vulnerable troops than to not pressure them at all.

Then, while micromanaging my reinforcements from the forts, I notice Sun Tzu has done something surprising.

He's abandoning yet another farm, sending its sentry back up north to support the middle fortress! I know that the art of war is to surprise the enemy, but surprising him with free lunch might be missing the bigger picture.

And I cross the bridge and take the farm, giving the entire map's food supply to me.


Meanwhile, the enemy unit goes north to threaten my position on the midwest farm.

But this isn't much of a threat. I withdraw to the hill and it follows, where I rout it and easily retake the farm.

A few minutes later, as I wait for the forts to starve, Sun Tzu surprises me yet again.

The south fort is completely abandoned! So I move in to take it.

Our forces clash a few more times at the farms, but he simply can't hold onto them. My forts keep training more men, and before long my forces aren't just better fed than his, but also well outnumber his.

One last farm clash, and he throws in the towel.

His smartest move yet.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Ancient Art of War: Three Islands

Thematically, I name them, bottom to top, Corsica, Elba, & St. Helena.

A Tale of Three Islands pits you against Napoleon in a scenario with no artillery, no cavalry, no resemblance to any Napoleonic battles as far as I know, and Napoleon himself does not demonstrate any particular skill in mobilizing troops. But there are lots of bridges!

In this map, fog of war is present, but line of sight is quite far. Water is deadly, and mountains are slow and dangerous, but half of your army needs to cross them to reach the action. Crucially, the forts produce soldiers at the highest rate - about one each per minute.

Elba is unoccupied, and you'll want to get your troops on it quickly and take the forts ASAP. Do this quickly and you will probably win. You don't really need the reinforcements, but you definitely don't want Napoleon to have them, nor be faced with the grim challenge of laying siege if you don't have to.


First order of business. I fast-march my barbarians and archers across the bridge and toward the forts. Archers take the west fort, barbarians split one off from their group and send him to take the east fort, which Napoleon tends to ignore when both are occupied. Everyone else is carefully guided out of Corsica at normal pace, avoiding mountainous terrain as much as possible.

Too slow, paille-au-nez!

Barbarians lead Napoleon's charge, and head toward the bridge, so I move mine out of the way. He ignores them and continues south, taking the farm, and meets my knights on the bridge who chop them up into fish bait. I then have all but one archer leave the fort - this wasn't possible earlier due to an engine limit on the total number of units on the map - and move them closer to the farm.

My knights advance toward the next wave of barbarians for another easy rout.

Damnit guys...

Then, barbarians fight barbarians and mostly cancel each other out in a very confusing blizzard of pixelated clubs and feet.

I'm okay with this.

Afterward, securing Elba is straightforward. You do have to be careful about attacking stacked units - sometimes that barbarian unit you think your knights are well-positioned to fight turns out to be a barbarian and an archer unit in a trenchcoat and you wind up fighting the archers first, but this time that did not happen.

My archer detachment chases down and kills the knights, taking back the farm, and my other barbarian unit greatly outperforms expectations and singlehandedly destroys both archer units, who have foolishly decided to ford the river instead of just using the bridge.


Elba and its unit-producing forts are mine. 


I don't have a lot on it, though - just an exhausted barbarian unit at third strength and some archers. Nevertheless, things look good - Napoleon no longer has a numbers advantage, mine will grow as the forts train more soldiers, and reinforcements from Corsica are finally past the mountains and on their way.

Turns out, I don't need any stinkin' reinforcements.

The last farm on St. Helena is well guarded, but the last flag isn't. The unit stationed there is strong, but does not move. I like to think it's Bon himself taking one of his famous combat naps.

My barbarians, though tired, slow, and barely combat effective, sneak around him easily, and achieve Sun Tzu's preferred manner of victory - winning without fighting.


According to the manual, this was the game's last medium-difficulty mission. Three more to go, all long and challenging.

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