You already know about the mechanics and core concepts for Zhang Jue and the Yellow Turbans. The question, however, is how you’ll fare once the Mandate War begins in earnest. That happens early on in Total War: Three Kingdoms – Mandate of Heaven‘s campaign. This mini-guide will focus on your opening moves as the conflict engulfs China.
Note: Many of Total War: Three Kingdoms – Mandate of Heaven‘s core concepts have already been discussed in our previous articles, so check out our guides and features hub for more information. This guide was completed while playing Romance Mode on VH/VH difficulty.
II. Mandate of Heaven: Zhang Jue’s opening moves
The Yellow Turban campaign in Total War: Three Kingdoms – Mandate of Heaven can be quite frantic. This is due to only having eight turns to build up your forces, expand, and consolidate before the Mandate War event fires. As such, all your opening moves will be extremely important.
In Zhang Jue’s case, he’s poised to have one of the easier (challenging, but still easy) Mandate of Heaven playthroughs. Compared to the other Zhang bros, the Supreme Mystic of the Way of Peace is bolstered by increased replenishment thanks to high levels of Zeal. This makes it possible to fully replenish casualties within a couple of turns, and even losses from auto-resolved victories will be fine.
The uprising begins
Take out the unlucky Shen Shi and capture the nearby city of Zhongshan to make it your power base once you start Mandate of Heaven‘s campaign. You’ll be offered several quests, each with its own rewards:
- Capture the livestock farms in Zhongshan, Anping, and Ye = 5,000 gold
- Capture Taiyuan town, iron mine, and toolmaker = gain legendary weapons for the Zhang brothers
- Defeat 20 armies or garrisons = 20k population growth, 50% family estates income, 10% replenishment (all Yellow Turban factions)
- Defeat Liu Yu = He Yi joins Yellow Turban Rebellion
Two of the three livestock farms will get captured by your brothers within a couple of turns, so it’s up to you to grab the nearby one in Zhongshan.
Two of Zhang Jue’s generals — Ma Yuanyi and Liang Zhongning — have fire arrows unlocked, and that’s just awesome. You don’t need to focus on recruiting a full stack or an extra army (yet) since your hostile neighbors will only field a handful of troops.
In any case, you only have one assignment slot available. Choose “Attract Talent” and you should get an extra officer in a few turns. Lastly, don’t forget to upgrade Zhongshan’s main building.
Your next turns will involve the following:
- Detaching a part of your main army.
- Capturing Zhongshan’s livestock farm using a detachment — ie. Ma Yuanyi’s retinue to siege; Zhang Jue and Liang Zhongning serve as reinforcements.
- After capturing the settlement, Ma Yuanyi can’t be moved. Just get Zhang Jue and Liang Zhongning close to Dai’s town. This is known as “land-hopping.”
- Zhang Jue and Liang Zhongning capture Dai town; Ma Yuanyi serves as backup before moving close to Dai’s horse pastures.
- Again, with the replenishment bonus, you should have your troops in tip-top shape always.
Note: For my Mandate of Heaven Yellow Turban playthroughs, I avoided looting or sacking settlements in the early game (ie. one army sacks a city, the backup army captures it in the same turn). It’s possible especially due to the replenishment bonus and “land hopping” concept, sure. But, from my experience, it’s also led to a few wasted turns when I could’ve been moving units further afield. Later on, though, you could opt to go with the “sack and cap” routine.
Fanning the flames
Anyway, by the time you reach Youzhou, you’ll probably notice how random warlords are declaring war on “The Zhang Gang.” That’s fine. Oh, and don’t chase after Liu Yu’s forces further than Youbeiping.
If you have extra gold, go ahead and field some additional armies. Alternatively, just wait for turn 7 when Zhang Kai comes of age (he’s a legendary officer). You can have a captain retinue attached to this army (preferably an archer captain). Deploy him in a settlement you own that’s closest to Youbeiping.
The above is just as suggestion early on in your Mandate of Heaven campaign. In my experience, I eventually switched to this composition:
- A Veteran — preferably with “Focus” and “Opportunism” — who’s got Archer Gangs and a Trebuchet.
- A Healer-type officer. Honestly, Healer-type officers are just too good due to their “Knowledge of the Body” (HP regen) skill, and you could have an army comprised only of three of these near-invincible officers to obliterate your opponents.
- Other armies in support could have a mish-mash of different officer types or captain retinues (just to help generate new characters).
Once you get the ball rolling, your choices won’t really matter too much due to the Zeal mechanic and Zhang Jue’s unmatched replenishment capabilities.
Yellow Turban reforms
Zhang Jue and the Yellow Turbans have their work cut out for them due to their faction’s reforms system. Since Total War: Three Kingdoms – Mandate of Heaven has a fast-paced (albeit shorter) campaign, there are only a select few reforms that you want to grab:
- “A New Beginning” – increased population growth; unlocked at the start of Mandate of Heaven‘s campaign.
- “Mandatory Drill” – -15% retinue upkeep; perfect for saving some cash.
- “Peacetime Farm Labor” – +40% peasantry income; most commanderies in Northern China have farms, so you might as well.
- “Land Conversion” – higher-tier farms; synergizes with the above.
- “Existential Schism” – +10% experience points so you can get more local or faction-wide perks.
- Get “Enlightenment” later to lower corruption; “Military Fletchers” and “Simplified Transactions” also help with industry income once you control the mines in Taiyuan and Hedong.
- There’s also no point in researching for additional trade agreements. Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang will end up trading with each other. Your sole trade agreement slot will be for Huang Shao (explained below).
Mandate of Heaven: The Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Mandate War
Assuming you followed the above steps, you should be ready for the Mandate War that starts on turn 8. Here’s what my Mandate of Heaven campaign looked like once the Yellow Turban Rebellion began:
The mystic’s shake brings all the boys to the yard
Once the Mandate War starts, your brothers will call on their allies:
- Huang Shao’s stack spawns at Dong, and he’ll mostly act as a buffer against Tao Qian and Ying Shao.
- Gong Du spawns near Ba, and he won’t be helping you anytime soon.
- A splinter Yellow Turban faction spawns in Youbeiping to make Liu Yu’s life even more miserable; this one is allied with you.
- Fervor will also build up a lot faster in adjacent commanderies. Beware because, again, these random Yellow Turban spawns due to low public order will be at war with you.
Note 1: He Yi won’t pop up yet until you completely destroy Liu Yu’s faction. Once you’re able to do that later on, you can have him as an officer or as an independent ally. If you choose the latter, he’ll be somewhere near Yangzhou being a thorn on Yuan Shu’s side. Since Mandate of Heaven‘s campaign was going in my favor, I just recruited him as part of my officer cadre. He Man (the Master of the Universe) somehow ends up in the NPC Yellow Turban faction.
Note 2: You can mark war coordination targets for all your Yellow Turban allies, but they’re not guaranteed to follow orders. Just hope that they don’t commit to suicidal offensives.
Shooing the Shu-Han
The following steps will also be very important:
- Your main army (Zhang Jue’s) should swing to the south straight for Bohai’s fishing port to capture it.
- Your second army should serve as a backup and you should adapt depending on the circumstances.
The capture of Bohai’s fishing port is crucial. If you’re unable to get a trade agreement earlier, you can now propose one to Huang Shao.
Likewise, Han Fu, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei will start mustering near Bohai’s main settlement. On your next turn, decimate their forces and occupy Bohai’s town. Taking out “Mr. Benevolence” early in Mandate of Heaven‘s campaign prevents him from recruiting entire doomstacks led by his sworn brothers.
After you’ve taken Bohai’s main settlement, push onwards to Pingyuan with your main army. Capture it as well as the nearby salt mine to prevent Zhang Bao from grabbing that territory.
Your second army should also be moving to Youbeiping to take it. Do the “sack + capture” combo if you want to, and keep moving onwards to take Youzhou’s iron mine and Liaoxi’s toolmaker. Liu Yu will hardly be able to muster a full army. Also, a splinter faction of Yellow Turban rebels will start besieging his trade port. Once they capture it, you can just march and annex the settlement from them. Taking out Liu Yu will let you obtain He Yi’s services.
The Way of Peace is Total War
By turn 13, I have five commanderies in Northern China. I’ve completed two of the starter quests (capturing farmlands and defeating 20 armies). Here are the other findings:
- Deploy extra officer or captain retinues near Zhongshan which should be getting attacked soon.
- Once Zhongshan is safe, defend it via ambush stance.
- Switch to forced march stance with Zhang Jue and head southwards to Ye province. Switch to ambush stance and eliminate the enemies that carelessly advance.
- Again, use your Healer-type officers that have the “Knowledge of Body” skill to cheese some battles.
Once you’re in the clear and you’ve gained some additional officers and cash, you can go ahead and head further west. After you occupy all of Taiyuan commandery, you’ll obtain legendary weapons for “The Zhang Gang.”
From here, it’s a matter of turning Northern China into a bloody battlefield, a meat grinder similar to what we did in Dong Zhuo’s and Lu Bu’s defense of Chang An. Here’s a collection of all the generals that have fallen:
What’s left to do? Well, there are some notable events and an attempt to form the “Divine Empire” to confederate the other Yellow Turban lords. Read more to find out about these.
Total War: Three Kingdoms – Mandate of Heaven is available now on Steam.