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Video Game: Total War

Total War is a series of strategy games developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Sega. The series combines Turn-Based Strategy with Real-Time Strategy and each game takes place in a distinctive historical period.

To date, there have been seven installments in the series, with associated expansion packs:

The games' system is an interesting hybrid, with a continent-scale strategic turn-based game that jumps to real-time battles for resolving conflicts between opposing armies. The main campaign takes place on a "Risk"-Style Map divided into territories, cities, and fortifications. Here the player manages his or her empire, selects construction projects for settlements, raises armies, hires and dispatches agents, conducts diplomacy, and marches troops around. When those troops encounter a hostile army or attack a settlement, the game zooms in to the conflict and loads a battle map, where the engagement plays out in real-time.

Battles in the Total War series are known as much for spectacle as strategy, to the extent that the History Channel used the Rome engine to provide visuals for a series on noteworthy Classical Era battles, and The BBC used the same engine for the Game Show Time Commanders.


This game series provides recurring examples of:

  • All Love Is Unrequited: Or to be specific, all love is one-sided. You can send a princess to attempt to marry a general in another faction in order to bring him over to your faction, the chances of success being determined by a comparison of their respective levels of desirability. It's implied that it is more a less a contest of who can get the other to fall harder in love; a success means the general falls hard enough in love with the princess to value her family over his own, while a failure can backfire and result in the princess falling hard enough in love with the general to join his family.
  • Alternate History:
    • A very likely outcome of a game in any entry of the series, although it's possible for players to recreate battles and scenarios virtually as they happened in real life.
    • The whole premise of Mongol Invasion is that the storm that destroyed the real-life invasion fleet never happened.
  • Amazon Brigade: Empire had the Amazons of Dahomey, actual Real Life Bodyguard Babes (albeit appearing slightly too early).
  • Ambiguously Gay: Pops up in most games, featuring characters with traits such as "Uninhibited," "A Bit Odd," and "Unmanly." Of course, they can also be unambiguously gay with the traits "Shameful" and "Too Well-Groomed," and/or the retinue member "Foreign Fruitcake." This being different eras, all of these traits decrease the stats you want him to have as well as his popularity and public order. Also frustrating if you're running low on heirs, as many of these traits decrease the chance of having children. Princesses in the Medieval games can also gain a "Prefers Women" trait, which reduces their ability to seduce enemy generals.
  • Anachronism Stew: The Total War games generally pay more attention to historical detail than other games of the same calibre. There have still been a number of minor mistakes in most of the games, albeit forgivable ones.
  • Animal Assassin: Assassins will often use animals to kill people.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted. Arrows are the bane of slow moving and/or tightly packed units in most of the games. They need protection though; an archer unit versus an infantry unit of equal tier will generally find itself cut to pieces before it can deal much damage with the arrows. They work best in conjunction with shock troops; the extra casualties and morale loss the archers inflict can be followed up by a brutal cavalry or shock infantry charge to scatter the foe.
  • Another Side, Another Story: In most games in the series, most factions you encounter in the game are playable, but are only unlocked if you defeat them at least once in the Grand Campaign. Other nations are unlocked only by beating the Grand Campaign. In Shogun I, Medieval I and Shogun 2, all playable factions are available from the start.
  • Anti-Cavalry: Comes in various forms across the games. In order of game release:
    • Shogun I: Cavalry were never best used from the front in the first place, but cavalry fell foul to spears (obviously) and units deployed in forests or on hills. As spearmen are your default pick for your armies, being the most balanced, and hills and trees are omnipresent in the game, cavalry are at just about their weakest point in this game. The exception is the Mongol Heavy Cavalry, who might just manage to roll over an unlucky spear unit by sheer force. (Mongol Heavy Cav. are devastating.)
    • Changed in Empire and Napoleon, where regular line infantry can be positioned in a "square" formation, specifically designed to counter cavalry. The formation is static and is a good target for artillery or even infantry charges, but any cavalry in range is likely to get cut up by musket fire, and cavalry charges will frequently result in a good number of the horses stopping short of the braced bayonets and throwing their riders. Militia troops and light infantry are unable to use the formation. In Empire, the formation must first be researched. It's available from the start in Napoleon. The regiment must have at least 40 soldiers to use the formation.
  • Arrow Cam: Thrill as your volley of arrows/artillery fire arcs into an enemy unit.
  • Arrows on Fire: You can order your archers to set their projectiles alight, but doing so makes them burn through their ammo supply twice as fast, and the arrows take longer to reload, are much less accurate, and generally don't do as much damage (except in Shogun 2, where they increase damage). However, they are quite effective as breaking enemy morale, and of course can set fire to siege equipment, buildings and ships. You can also order your catapults, ballistae, and cannons to fire flaming rounds.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Sadly common in the series. Several recurring examples of poor AI decision-making:
    • Factions that have been whittled down to one province and a handful of troops will declare war on the player or refuse to accept even a very generous peace treaty. This applies even if that faction had a prior good relationship witht he player, no other allies and much of their income depends on trade with the player. To make matters worse, it often chooses to do this initiate aggression precisely when the player has ended another war and can easily focus on the new, puny attacker.
    • Before Shogun 2, the AI has trouble sending invasion forces by sea. In an extreme example, in the unpatched version of Empire, Britain is effectively invincible. The Saxons in Barbarian Invasion are the only pre-Shogun 2 exception.
    • In siege battles, attackers have a habit of standing right in front of your towers doing entirely nothing as they get shot to pieces, leading to easy, if rather uneventful battles. Sometimes said attackers are archers or javelin throwers who are hurling shit up at your wall defenders or even over the walls at your defenders on the ground, but melee units share the same tendencies, which is an incredibly stupid move even by units that have a chance of dealing some minimal damage before getting annihilated.
    • The AI seems to assume that you'll never actually try to disrupt the attack once the siege transitions to an assault; if you can hit the troops manning the siege equipment, even for a moment, they'll drop their rams/ladders/siege towers to fight. They'll usually forget all about the equipment even after the fight is over. It's possible to suck a large army into a brutal, costly entryway fight by destroying/disrupting their ladders and towers and forcing them to ram the gate, and then letting them run inside. A player can shred a 2,000 man army with only a few hundred spearmen just by holding them there and pummeling them with missile fire.
    • For that matter, siege battles as a whole suffer from severe Artificial Stupidity from both yours and the computer's units. You'll almost always have a group of units somehow end up with half its numbers outside the walls attacking, while the other half is stuck running into the wall on the other side, or other such monstrosities of logic. Generally, it's a good idea to consider a unit on a wall as "committed" to that wall; trying to pull them off the wall for quick redeployment is not a bright idea unless you've got extra time to pull it off. That said, an army outnumbering the player's army 2:1 can easily be beaten if you just place your archers on the walls and let them rain death on the enemy while you place your spearmen at the gates to slaughter the enemy cavalry as they ride in. However, avoid the wall if the enemy has any siege gear beyond ballistae. The AI will mercilessly pound any wall that has archers on it if it has any effective siege gear.
    • While the AI suffers in attacking cities, they are very good at defending them; it will ruthlessly exploit both fighting on the walls (and is very good at flanking your troops if they try to climb the walls) and the perfect morale boost from holding the square. Almost all city assaults end with a prolonged bloodbath as your men slowly hack and stab their way through the defenders, and you're lucky if you end up killing the enemy at a roughly 1 to 1 ratio because of that... unless you use a distance exploit. Bring gate-smashing artillery to a city and stand far away enough that the AI rushes its troops to the square. As soon as the gate is broken, run your men into the city. The AI always walks to the breach, and most of the time you can trap the enemy defenders in a bottle neck with spearmen while raining missiles both from behind your spearmen and from their own city walls.
    • Your artillery captains may need to be hanged in Empire. When told to cease fire, they tend to discharge their loaded guns directly into the line of battle. If they aren't relentlessly baby-sat, expect embarrassing friendly-fire incidents the second their target moves within musket range of friendly infantry. God forbid cannon arranged in a line, and the target moves to their immediate right or left. However unintentionally hilarious it is to see them shooting each other in the back from mere feet away, the fact that in many campaign battles friendly fire causes far more deaths than the enemy is frustrating indeed.
  • Ascended Extra: This sometimes happens to the Captain of an army after it goes into a difficult fight and comes out victorious - assuming the army didn't have a General at the start of the battle. The Captain-turned-General becomes a member of the royal family and a powerful combat unit. It ain't cheap after Medieval II though, and promoted characters become generals rather than relations (though most generals are non-royalty in Empire and Napoleon anyway.)
  • Astronomic Zoom: When it's time to fight.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: If you're lucky, captains of armies not led by officers can be promoted out of the ranks into the royal family or become a general after battle for their good work at commanding and kicking ass. (And become Emperor of Rome!!!) Unfortunately, this costs a lot of money from Empire onwards.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!:
    • Units with high enough morale won't balk at charging the entire enemy army unsupported. Impetuous units occasionally do this without being asked! This is less common in Shogun 2, completely outmatched units (particularly those that have already taken casualties in a previous battle) will flee before contact under the right circumstances. The in-game encyclopedia even stresses that as much as samurai place Honor Before Reason when it comes to their own survival, simply throwing their lives away for no gain or glory is not something they consider honorable, and even they will fall back if the odds are too much against them.
    • AI armies will generally just keep charging against the most invulnerable positions (directly into a row of pikes or up a mountainside while under arrow fire, for example) until they're routed.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • Played straight with Alexander, who comes with a 60-man strong unit of what might be the best cavalry in the entire series.
    • Averted in Fall of the Samurai. A General's Hatamoto unit is reasonably strong for the early game and at least as effective as any other cavalry available at that point, but when you hit Modernization Level 3, the Hatamoto are replaced by Bodyguards who are completely useless in melee and not particularly powerful with their revolvers. The description of the new unit even says that it's a general's job to direct the battle, not fight it himself.
  • Awesome, but Impractical / Cool, but Inefficient: Some of the big and/or expensive units.
  • Badass Beard/Beard of Evil: When a general gets older, they'll start to go gray, but during middle age their character portrait may show them sprouting a beard.
  • Badass Bookworm:
    • Your generals can gain this trait, and it reflects in their pre-battle speeches.
      General: "I am a well-read man, I have studied law and mathematics, decoded and scribed, yet I can still swing a sword and cleave a head or two!"
    • There is a reason why the saying "Pen and sword in accord" is attached to the Samurai class with righteous and exact meaning: Samurai are highly educated warriors who are both fluent at writing calligraphy and fighting on the battlefield.
  • Badass Grandpa: Even at 60+ years of age, most generals still kick ass as part of their bodyguards. And usually, by that time, they'll be literal grandfathers. In the original Shogun, Daimyos could be found going into battle at seventy.
  • Badass Family: Given that many of your generals in Shogun 2 come from your family, this can easily result. For that matter, since keeping a dynasty alive is a key game play element from Rome onward, this could apply to most of the series.
  • Badass Preacher: Norse War Clerics.
  • Being Good Sucks: Diplomacy is rather useless in many games as everyone that is not of your faction or under your rule is an obstacle to you and your plans for world conquest. The only time diplomacy is useful is early on when you don't want a strong faction bearing down on you. Even then, they'll eventually terminate their diplomatic relations with you at anytime for no good reason. (See Violence is the Only Option)
  • The Berserker: It's possible to have one of these as a retinue member.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Played straight in 'Empire, Napoleon and Shogun 2, where units will answer to your commands in their respective languages. Averted in all previous games, where units responded instead with (badly) accented English.
  • Blessed with Suck: Can sometimes apply to High Command (and Chivalry, where it exists) Generals. Sure, they give a massive boost to morale whilst they're on the battlefield and make battles loads easier, but if they die, the hit to your army's morale is huge - far bigger than simply losing a captain, and thus statistically far more likely to push them over breaking point.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Played with in the total war series. Rome had none, while Medieval II had some blood splatter, and units became bloody after getting into melee. However, Napolean and Empire were played straight, with battlefields being bloodless despite the dozens of corpses.
  • Blood Knight:
    • A small number of units are explicitly this, including Slavic Peasants in the Medieval games.
    • Your generals as well, with the right traits and/or a high enough Dread rating.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Nearly all Total War factions feature a militia or infantry unit that isn't especially special, but forms the backbone of any smart commander's army or city garrison. Militia especially, as they keep your town defended.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing: Large armies without a general can be surprisingly hair-raising to fight, particularly if they use their numbers to overwhelm you. Also, just because a faction is classed as "minor" doesn't mean it's not capable of defeating you at war; especially in Shogun and Shogun 2, where the great clans are frequently devoured by rebels and ronin in the former and minor clans in the latter. In Shogun 2, an army without a general or daimyo leading it will have the highest ranking unit in the army take on their role. It will even say "our general is in grave danger!" when they are attacked, and killing them, just like killing a real general, is vital to destroying an army's morale.
  • Bow and Sword, in Accord: Some archer and javelin units are quite capable in melee.
  • Break Meter: As of Shogun 2, unit morale runs on the following scale:
    • "Heroic" - Only available in Rome and Barbarian Invasion, impossibly high morale, the soldiers are so eager to fight that they become oblivious to all of your commands and absolutely nothing can cause their morale to drop until there is no one left to fight. Only berserkers can enter this state, which are only available to Germania in Rome. Barbarian Invasion adds a few more, with the Alemanni and the Lombardi sharing the Lombard Berserker, while the Celts get the Hounds of Culann. In this state, virtually every hit a berserker makes sends several infantrymen flying (even if they are weighed down by 70 pounds of armor or a twenty foot long pike) their attack score goes way up, and inflict a substantial morale penalty on their soon to be slaughtered enemies.
    • "Impetuous" - very high morale; soldiers want to fight - whether you want them to or not! In Shogun, Rome, and Medieval, units at this level of morale may charge without orders. In Napoleon, generals can sometimes inspire troops to reach this state.
    • "Eager" - high morale; soldiers are happy to fight. The default morale level from Shogun to Medieval II.
    • "Confident" - medium-high morale; soldiers are ready to fight. The default morale level in Napoleon and Shogun 2.
    • "Steady" - medium morale; soldiers are fighting but aren't as enthusiastic.
    • "Shaken" - medium-low morale; troops are getting skittish.
    • "Wavering" - low morale; unit breaking up and about to flee. The games will warn you (via an icon on the unit's card) that the unit is on the verge of running.
    • "Broken" - very low morale; soldiers are fleeing in panic and oblivious to the world. Units with broken status will try to leave the field and cannot fight back against other units post-Medieval I, and have their offensive strength severely curtailed from Shogun to Medieval I against any units they do happen across as they flee. A general who gets close to one of these units may be able to rally them and get them back in the fight. Post-Empire, Broken units that are attacked can fall one level lower, to...
    • "Shattered" - zero morale; soldiers are running for their lives and have no intention of returning. No amount of rallying, inspiration, or force can convince these soldiers to come back to the fight. Its worth noting that soldiers in the earlier games can reach a point where they will just refuse to return, its just not explicitly called "shattered."
    • "Fighting to the Death" - Units that would ordinarily be broken or shattered, but have no possible means of escape. They have infinite morale unless the enemy allows them an exit, and will often break their enemies instead.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The Papal Swiss Guard and Byzantine Varangian Guard in the Medieval games.
  • Call That A Formation: Thoroughly averted, units that should be in formation are, and those who shouldn't be usually aren't... and the way these units usually get cut to pieces demonstrates aptly why this is a bad idea.
  • Cannon Fodder:
    • The peasant units that are featured in most games have no armor and attack with farming implements, and tend to run away if the enemy so much as looks at them threateningly. They have absolutely no purpose on the battlefield other than to absorb arrows or tie down an enemy unit while you flank it. Peasants can be useful in defensive battles for settlements, if you've got nothing else available. Someone needs to man the walls so the towers can fire on attackers, after all, and better to have your relatively useless peasants up there than a unit that can actually fight. Peasants are also useful for simply padding the numbers of an army, giving it more "build points" with which to construct siege equipment. They can also be left behind in newly captured settlements as a garrison (since only quantity of soldiers matters, not quality) so your better troops can move on to the next target. You can also disband them in towns with a low population to re-recruit them as better quality troops. Most games also feature a few "militia" or "levy" units that are somewhat more effective than peasants, yet still fairly weak in front-line combat. Some examples from the series:
    • Ashigaru from Shogun 1 are fairly capable as cannon fodder goes. While weaker than the samurai and best used in overwhelming numbers, they are still definitely worth recruiting, especially since samurai units tend to be much more expensive and harder to recruit. Good tactics can also allow them to beat samurai units with relatively few casualties.
  • Church Militant: The original Shogun had militant Buddhist, and later Christian, samurai, who would rise up if upset at your daimyo's religious policy, be it conversion to Christianity or refusal to give up Shintoism if said daimyo conquers a territory that has been converted to Christianity.
  • Clown Car: Honestly, how does a full stack army consisting of Maratha war elephants fit onto a single dhow?
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Your generals can deliver these as part of their pre-battle speeches if they've got the right traits.
  • Command And Conquer Economy: There's no resource harvesting, only taxes, but your samurai/knights/whatever will require barracks or stables or blacksmiths to be built before you can hire them. Historically, the Medieval-era units at least ought to be providing their own equipment and training. However, reading the info cards shows that the better-equipped units actually are purchasing their own equipment, especially if they're nobles. You're simply paying for them to join your army. This also explains perfectly where all those massive armies of well-equipped rebels come from.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In Empire, the AI knows exactly which kind of ammunition you load in your cannons even before they fire a single shot. Early on, the only viable anti-personnel option is canister shot, which basically turns your cannons into gigantic shotguns. Switch to canister shot as the enemy closes in. Watch them immediately stop just out of range, then move around precisely following the edge of your range cone. Switch to round shot, they move in again. Switch back and oh look, they're all running right back out of range!
  • Cowardly Lion: In both Rome and Medieval 2, the generals speeches sometimes include a line that it is normal to be afraid before battle, but shameful to let fear rule you.
    "There is no shame in fear! There is only shame in letting fear rule you! Try not to look scared, and you will find bravery in your heart!"
  • Cornered Rattlesnake: This trope is why it's not a good idea to surround an enemy force in an open battlefield.
  • Crack Defeat: It can happen. Defeats of Roman armies by Frankish forces outnumbered 6:1 have been sighted, and this is hardly the only occurrence.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Averted mostly by units with more than one weapon but still significant enough to be a rule of thumb. This rule can even apply to factions in terms of their unit rosters. Artillery can be hopelessly lost to cavalry and infantry if they're allowed a chance to close the distance.
  • The Crusades: A major part of Medieval and Medieval II. If you're a Catholic faction that gets excommunicated, they can happen to you. On the other hand, if you control the Pope, you can do this to others.
  • Culture Chop Suey: The overall aesthetics of Fall of the Samurai increasingly give this impression, with its mix of 19th Century Western and Japanese styles, such as Victorian style photographs for the unit portraits, and the unit control interface looking more "western". This is also reflected in the soundtrack.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Able to be handed out both by you and to you, and is denoted by a Heroic Victory or Crushing Defeat respectively post-Medieval.
  • Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain: Shogun had such a near-future Japan as its victory cinematic.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Wallachia (in one mod) can still have Chivalrous generals and family members, despite their reputation and iconography.
  • Darker and Edgier: Some of the games compared to their predecessors. Such as Medieval II (which is notably more graphic in presentation), Napoleon (which seems to have a more ominous atmosphere compared to Empire) and Rome II (which is slated to really drive the brutality of war home).
  • Death from Above: Many artillery units, especially in later historical periods. Any medieval-period archer unit with the "Long range" trait is also capable of this.
  • Decapitated Army: Killing an army's general causes its morale to drop like a stone, making it easier to rout them. In extreme cases, the general going down can, indeed, cause an entire army to rout. For example: an army of 800+ attacks a castle. Your walls are lost, the gate is down and you are pulling what is left of your infantry to support knights in the Last Stand. THEN, a lucky pikeman kills the enemy general. Outcome? Entire enemy army routs and flees after the first cavalry charge.
  • Depraved Homosexual/Depraved Bisexual: Your general can get traits that reflect his lack of inhibitions when pursuing same-sex pleasures. And if he has one, he tends to get another trait with worse effects, to the point that a city will break into riot the moment he sits on the governor's seat. One of the worst traits is Catamite, in which your general keep a boy-toy Sex Slave. Squick.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Pushing the enemy to this point is often the main objective in field battles, as once the entire enemy army is routed you've automatically won the battle. It is somewhat more complicated in siege battles, as defending troops will flee to a central square, where they will fight to the death (often meaning heavy casualties for both sides).
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: In Empire, if you are fighting nearby a city with fortifications, scroll over to the map's edge closest to the city. You can see the fort in the far distance. It's a nice touch.
  • Digitized Sprites: The first two games, Shogun and Medieval, used CGI Renderings for all the units. This was probably a cost-cutting measure to avoid going over on the development budgets and to reduce the system requirements needed to run the games.
  • Distant Finale:
    • In Shogun: Total War, after your clan achieves victory, the final cutscene jumps forward into the far future. It show your daimyo's statue being displayed in a public square in high-tec, Cyber Punk style Tokyo, with the narrator saying how legends of your courage and cunning still lives on to this very day.
    • In the Mongol Invasion expansion pack, if you fail to defeat the Mongolian invasion of Japan, the ending skips forward to the future. It shows the same cutscene as mentioned above with the modern day Tokyo in the future, seemingly suggesting that history goes on same as before... except then narrator reveals that you are looking at the province of Japan, which is now part of Mongolia. With its cultural heritage and legends of the samurai being long since forgotten by history. The final shot of the ending being a giant statue of Kubla Khan standing proudly in a public park at the city center.
  • The Dreaded: A character in either of the Medievals can keep order with a high Dread rating. It even says that the room goes silent when your character enters the room in Medieval with maxed out Dread, and Medieval II has Dreaded characters lower the morale of entire enemy armies by their mere presence. This is very annoying when fighting the Mongols, who all have high Dread generals. Use Chivalrous generals to balance it up... or use a general of your own with even higher Dread to make the Mongols break first. With a general whose Dread is maxed out, it's possible to break an entire enemy army by simply charging them. You don't even have to hit them; simply charge the entire army straight at them, and there's a pretty good chance that the lower-morale units break immediately, starting a chain reaction of routing that sends the entire army fleeing. With your faction leader, if you push the Dread high enough and execute enough prisoners/exterminate enough populations, he'll end up with the moniker "The Lord of Terror."
  • Dummied Out: The First Shogun had text and sound files that remained unused, including:
    • Material related to the Chosokabe clan, which was used later in Shogun 2.
    • Sound files mentioning the birth of a daughter, a concept which was later used in Medieval.
    • Unused text lines stating Christian Excommunication, which was later used in Medieval.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Shogun and Medieval could count, as many game play elements associated with the series debuted in Rome. Among others, a stricter "Risk"-Style Map was used, meaning units could only move one province at a time every turn. Also, units do not recover their stamina during battle even if they're walking or standing still. Requiring a tactical emphasis on having exhausted units being switched out with fresh reserves.
  • Easy Communication: You can command a surrounded group of knights half a battlefield away from your general to break off, struggle through the enemies and reform, before having them charge right back into the enemy (assuming they haven't routed). In Rome and Medieval II at least, you can select an option that forces the camera to stay at your general's unit to counter this somewhat.
  • Elite Mooks: Every single faction has them, and usually they are an extreme nuisance to kill, if not a threat all unto themselves. Unless you break their morale, that is... though one of the reasons the Elite Mooks are such a nuisance is that they're much less likely to break and run than other units. Some of them even have traits that cause them to inflict morale penalties on your troops by their very presence.
  • End of an Age: Some of the games and expansions are set during periods fitting this tropes. In some cases however, it's possible for the player to either bring this about or a Dawn of an Era over the course of a campaign.
  • Enemy Civil War: Several games in the series allow for this, at least from the perspective of opposing factions.
  • Epic Fail: Those assassinations/infiltrations that don't end thanks to reality ensuing are these. For example, an assassin hiding behind a door who stabs himself with his own dagger when someone opens the door, an assassin who gets bitten by the very snake he's trying to slip into your bed, or a ninja trying to drop-kick a target off a railing only to miss and take a tumble himself.
  • Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: Averted. The only part of the series that features bagpipes are parts of the soundtrack, which was painfully received by many fans, especially since Empire and Napoleon, where Scottish regiments were given the same boring drums as everyone else. Even mods could not yet introduce bagpipes, although they get more and more historically relevant as the series advanced.
  • Evil Laugh: Generals with high Dread are fond of this upon victory.
  • Evil Pays Better: In the earlier games in the series, massacring a captured city's population means greater profit and increased happiness (due to diminished squalor and a higher garrison/population ratio) after the battle. This is averted in Napoleon and Shogun 2, where looting and pillaging cities hurts your economy in the long run, causes more unrest and gives you a hit to your daimyo's honor in Shogun 2.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Or close to it, anyway. When a major clan is destroyed (and thus the daimyo dies) in Shogun and Shogun 2 (only when it happens to the player-controlled one in the latter), he recites a historical "death poem", written by samurai before they either committed seppuku or went off to a Last Stand.
  • Faction-Specific Endings: The ending cutscene of Shogun: Total War changes slightly depending on what clan you played as.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Many historical battles have you playing as the side that historically loses, leaving you to do your best to try and change history by winning.
  • Fearless Fool: One of the generals of the game makes reference to these characters, describing them as moonstruck fools.
  • Flavor Text: Each unit, building and technology (especially from Empire onwards) has a lengthy description of its use and some of its history in Real Life.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: A well-executed cavalry charge can do this. This is particularly true of the General's bodyguards in Medieval II or the Cliblinarii in Barbarian Invasion, both of whom are quite capable of murdering entire formations of infantry and far more than their fair share of opposing cavalry... and that's without infantry support!
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: A possible trait for diplomats.
  • Follow the Leader:
    • While Total War is the most famous franchise to combine turn-based strategy and real-time tactics, it was not the first. Lords of the Realm and its Spiritual Successor Lords Of Magic have very similar underlying gameplay features to most Total War games.
    • While there aren't many modern Total War clones out there, they do exist. One is Imperial Glory, copying the series' gameplay mechanics though its premise predated Empire and Napoleon by a few years.
  • Friendly Fireproof: Averted. Firing artillery or missiles into close combat is only advisable if you like huge casualty reports. Mounted archers in particular seem adept at hitting their own squadmates, and in older games, it's a well-known "rule" that if you fail to call your archers off shooting a target before the General's bodyguard units slams home, the last volley will cause one casualty.
  • Game Mod: The series as a whole is well-known for its support for mods.
  • Glass Cannon:
    • Artillery in general is capable of causing devastating damage against troops and buildings, but is highly vulnerable to close-range attack.
    • Most light cavalry units. Their light armor makes them exceedingly vulnerable in pitched combat, but they are fast and hit almost as hard as heavy cavalry on a charge. Just keep in mind that they have to be babysat constantly because if a heavy cavalry unit catches them, slaughter will ensue. It is not uncommon for a battle to take out ten to twenty percent of your light cavalry troops, even if your other units only take light casualties. On the flip side, they gain experience very quickly due to the high attrition rate.
  • Government in Exile: Even if you defeat a faction and take over their lands, if you don't keep your newly obtained citizens happy, you'll see revolts and the spawning of nationalist rebels.
  • Guns Are Worthless: The early Medieval-era ones anyway. Hand cannons have less range than a javelin and can't hit squat, but they make a lot of noise and are therefore effective at breaking enemy morale. Arquebuses and muskets are more useful, while guns from Empire onwards are a completely different story.
  • Hard-Coded Hostility: Rebels. The rebel faction, while perpetually at war with everyone, is also used in the early games not just to represent rebels and criminals, but also minor independent faction (such as, in Medieval II, the Florentine Republic, Valencia under El Cid, Kievan Rus, the Abbasid remnant state in Baghdad, etc). This leads to "real" factions, being eternally at war with rebels and incapable of negotiating with them, conquering most such minor "rebel" factions early in the game without qualms.
  • The Hashshashin: Islamic factions can recruit them in Medieval and Medieval II.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Invoked when Empire hails artillery-centric generals: "Here's a man who knows when to blow his load!"
  • Hired Guns: Mercenaries in at least some games, ranging from cannon fodder to very potent battlefield units (so long as you pay them). It's even possible for a general to gain a "mercenary captain" as part of his retinue. Empire and Napoleon are exceptions however, with the rise of standing, professional armies rendering the need for mercenaries irrelevant. Foreign Veterans in Fall of the Samurai meanwhile can also get traits emphasizing their Only in It for the Money motives.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics:
    • Possible after Shogun. If you tried that there, your soldiers just randomly ran away. Damn samurai honour!
    • Skirmishers in most games can of course do this better than any other infantry, but this to some extent is the main role of cavalry from Empire onwards — other than cuirassiers, cavalry have little or no armor, and thus rely more on their speed to perform flanking attacks.
  • Honor Before Reason: All units in the mobile game Total War Battles: Shogun can only move and attack forward or forward-diagonally. Never to the side or backwards. The same applies to the enemy. This turns the game into a glorified chess game where every piece is a pawn. According to the game, this is because every Japanese warrior abides by the code of Bushido, which demands no retreat.
  • Horse Archer: Present in every game in some form or another. Varies in deadliness from game to game.
  • Incest Is Relative: You can order your princesses to marry within the royal family. In Medieval, it's also a surprisingly common trait for your units to acquire, always with their daughter. Nothing is stopping a prince from having a relationship with his daughter. Even if he isn't married, and is in his teens...
  • Instrument of Murder: There is a brief cutscene in Shogun that shows a ninja assassinating his target with a poison dart blown out of a flute. The Geishas also have several fairly brutal instrumental kills. Special mention goes to the assassination scene where a Geisha kills a room full of enemies, armed only with a violin-type instrument.
  • The Knights Templar: Recruitable in both Medieval and Medieval II
  • Last Stand: Units that are in a city or castle's square will fight to the death, and if they have to fight there, they usually are fighting to the death. In city or castle fights, if a defending unit routs, it will attempt to run to the city square. Sometimes, if you get to the square and are controlling it, a enemy unit somewhere else might rout and run right into your soldiers. Soldiers completely surrounded in the field will also fight to the death; but this is just to break out.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Some glory-hungry units, such as Medieval knights, may charge without orders, thus dooming themselves by chasing skirmishers into an ambush or throwing your careful redeployment into utter confusion. The Date clan in Shogun II also has this as their specialty: They gain a bonus to charging units and their specialty unit is the No-Dachi samurai, a unit that's most effective when charging an enemy unit.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: Losing a standard in Rome or your general in any of the games will demoralize your entire army. While the death of one's general won't cost you the battle outright from Empire onwards, it often ends up being a Morale Event Horizon.
  • Military Mashup Machine: See the page for Medieval II for a striking example. Though if you want sick, look at Rome's incendiary pigs; the pigs are pointed at enemy units and then set on fire! Stand well back.
  • Mister Muffykins: A possible retinue member for princesses.
  • Morale Mechanic: The series implement Morale Mechanic for armies. One of the best ways to decimate a unit or entire army's morale is to kill its commander.
  • More Dakka:
    • Canister shot turns an ordinary cannon into an enormous shotgun that rips even Mighty Glaciers to bloody shreds. Shrapnel shot does the same at long range, meaning you can subject your enemy to an unending hail of buckshot.
    • There's nothing like a battery of Gatling Guns to wreck a full stack army into a bloody and fleeing tatter of stragglers who've been completely scared beyond reason, eh?
  • Multi-Melee Master: Phalanxes in Rome, pikemen in Medieval II and Empire, and yari ashigaru in Shogun 2 caught out of formation or at close range will down spears (or, apparently, stash pikes taller than they are in their trousers) and haul out swords. Only the Spartans and a few really tough pike units (like Swiss pikemen or Spanish Tercios) truly fit the mastery of both weapons part of the trope however. For others, its an Emergency Weapon.
  • The Musketeer:
    • All ranged units can fight in melee. Why you'd want them to is another matter, as they generally have plentiful ammo.
    • Post-Empire, ranged infantry and cavalry can befit the trope with varying effectiveness depending on unit stats and abilities. Dragoons are the best example, but are limited to melee attack when on horseback (since they're basically "infantry who ride to the fight"), while several minor nations in Empire, France in Napoleon and everyone in Fall of the Samurai have cavalry who can fire carbines from horseback, such as Napoleon's chasseurs cheval.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Anyone, potentially, as titles and nicknames are assigned based on traits, reputation and deeds. What's more, if the character in question has high enough Dread, enemy forces often actually will run away from them. Nothing like seeing King Edward, the Lord of Terror, charging an army of several thousand all by his lonesome only to see them turn and rout at the mere sight of him.
  • Naval Blockade: A common tactic depending on the era. In Rome, all harbors have trade routes and ships attacking the harbor blockade it. In Empire, ships can attack trade routes themselves, gaining plunder, while ships that enter empty ports belonging to the enemy deprive them from building any new ships.
  • Ninja: Recruitable in Shogun and Shogun 2. In keeping with the emphasis on realism, these act mostly as spies, saboteurs, and occasionally assassins, going into enemy territory in the "Risk"-Style Map and compromising them behind the lines. Kisho Ninja can also be recruited as a battle unit. They will get swamped in open combat, but they can use an ability to hide in plain sight for a short time, climb castle walls quickly and safely, and use blinding grenades to stun foes and finish off critical targets, making them an excellent utility unit in the right hands.
  • No Arc in Archery: Averted. If the front rank of a unit of archers or crossbowmen has direct line-of-fire to the enemy they'll take a straight shot, but otherwise archers will, well, arch. This lets them fire while safely behind tougher units or hit enemies on the other side of cover, but such volleys are less accurate and damaging than direct arrow fire. In any case, whether they are arrows, bullets or artillery missiles, a distinct trajectory will be visible.
  • One-Man Army: Thoroughly averted for the most part, with a few exceptions:
    • The Kensai unit in Shogun, a master swordsman capable of tearing through entire units or holding a choke point all by his lonesome.
    • Both Shogun and Medieval also featured the infamous Jedi Generals. Simply put, the more command stars a general accrued (mostly by winning battles), the harder and tougher to kill he became (this to counterbalance the fact that killing him made the entire army's morale drop like a stone, and the AI wasn't programmed to protect its generals). A single dude on horseback could rack up hundreds of kills until he was finally put down... or he could win the battle by himself. The later games fixed this, firstly by segregating command and combat abilities, and secondly by making all cavalry units much more vulnerable to protracted melees.
    • Empire onwards (except for Rise of the Samurai) has generals as light cavalry, so they are much weaker compared to previous games.
  • Pedophile Priest: Implied if a priest has the retinue member "Choir Boy", which has -1 Purity effect for that priest.
    "This child's voice is a gift from God! Once which I must keep close at hand..."
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Mongols... sometimes. On easier difficulty levels, they'll just sort of sit there and occasionally besiege one of your settlements, only to retreat later. Perhaps they're busy razing the countryside or something.
  • Power of Love: Your royal family's princesses can attempt to bring foreign characters onto your side through marriage, though there's a chance this will backfire.
  • Praetorian Guard:
    • Family members take to the field in units of (usually mounted) bodyguard, elite soldiers that can either protect the general from harm or provide a powerful punch to an offensive. Sometimes both if things go sour. They are significantly weaker post-Empire, however, and should not be actively sent into combat except under special circumstances.
    • Many of the elite units across the series are drawn from military units that historically were body guards to national rulers. Byzantine Varangian Guards, Napoleon's Imperial Guard, and many different nations' Life Guards/Republican Guards in Empire and Napoleon are some examples. Really, pretty much any unit with the name "Guard" in its name has a good chance of fulfilling this trope.
  • Promoted to Playable: The Chosokabe clan, in Shogun 2. In Shogun 1, they were Dummied Out.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Almost inevitable, given the nature (and the design) of the game. In Shogun 2, it's actually called a Pyrrhic Victory if you have a lot of casualties in a battle you won, though depending on the circumstances, this can be a mere annoyance.
  • Rags to Royalty: Recruit a unit of peasants. Win enough battles with that unit so that its commander is promoted to a general. You can now make that general the faction heir or marry him to the ruler's daughter, depending on the game, and he can succeed as ruler.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • More than half of the failed assassination/infiltration videos involve the would-be assassins/spies getting caught doing something fairly obvious and getting killed instantly. Especially notable in Shogun 2 with one of the geisha assassinations, where the geisha approaches two guards with polearms armed with two very short daggers. If successful, she kills both of them, while if unsuccessful....
    • This extends to the battles themselves, especially given certain conditions: That enemy commander may be intimidating and legendary but all it takes is for a well-timed charge or a lucky shot...
    • If you surround an enemy force out on the battlefield, they won't give up, but instead fight with all they've got to try to get away.
  • Real Time with Pause: In the single-player battle portions. Extremely useful, as it allows effortlessly commanding massive armies, as well as minimizing casualties. The strategy part of the game is strictly Turn-Based. Shogun 2's Legendary mode throws a blinder at veterans by taking away the "With Pause" bit.
  • "Risk"-Style Map: The campaign map, which was noticeably more "Risk-like" in the earlier games: armies can move only to adjacent provinces per turn while provinces themselves were used almost solely for producing taxes and additional units. From Rome onwards however, this gets progressively more dynamic and expounded upon (such as diffused structures, development types and even forms of government), though the principle largely remains the same.
  • Rousing Speech: Delivered by your generals before battles in several games. Some are straightforward, some are hilarious, and some are downright bizarre. Later games in the series will alter the content of the speech based on context. Things like the general's experience, previous battles against the same faction, the weather, and the relative sizes of the armies will affect which lines the general delivers.
  • RPG Elements: Keep your units alive throughout the campaign and they gain experience, allowing them to hold their own against green units from further along the Tech Tree in Empire onwards, and against units from more advanced settlements in other games. Your generals also gain traits according to their performance as generals, governors and other duties, as well as their surroundings, and this is codified in Shogun 2 as you can purchase traits as your generals or agents gain experience.
  • Save Scumming: Pretty much mandatory to level up your agents. Since you only get city improvements that allow you to train better spies, merchants and the like after you have an experienced agent in the field, your starting agents are breathtakingly incompetent morons who somehow swallow their murder implements or never learned basic mathematics. Quicksaving before sending them on a mission and reloading until the Random Number God smiles upon you is the best way to level them up without constantly recruiting replacements.
  • Sedgwick Speech: Your general gives an inspiring speech before every battle, even when utterly outmatched. These vary in quality based on the general's leadership skill, from "I have never lost a battle in all my campaigns!" to "Maybe we'll survive if they do something utterly stupid."
  • Sequel Difficulty Spike: Inverted after Shogun I where the rebels could wipe you out and there were super assassins that could kill your entire family: Medieval I is a far easier game at least for the majority of factions and Rome got easier still, culminating in Medieval II where a major complaint was that even on Very Hard the game simply wasn't a challenge. Played straight however in further games; Empire, Napoleon and Shogun II are all harder than their predecessors, with Shogun II arguably being the hardest game of the entire series.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Springtime for Hitler : See Uriah Gambit below. Sometimes, you just prefer that the heir of the throne is that epic conqueror with eight stars in Command and seven in Dread, instead of a shitty governor from nowhereland, since it gives bonuses (i.e. counter assassination attempts). So you send the 0 star general and have him attack Milan alone, facing his personal guard of at most 30 men against at least 300 soldiers. He wins and gets a trait which makes him much harder to kill.
  • Sprite/Polygon Mix: Shogun and Medieval; Rome, apart from its series defining changes, also introduced full 3D.
  • Storming the Castle: Pretty much how you take down most fortifications in the game, unless you're willing to tie up an army for up to ten turns besieging the fortress.
  • Straight for the Commander: A viable tactic. Killing the enemy general will shake the morale of the entire enemy force. Low morale units may rout and this can trigger a chain reaction of the entire force fleeing.
  • The Siege: Unlike how it's normally depicted in video games, the attackers can just besiege the city until the defenders run out of food, and will either have to desperately sally forth or surrender. Sometimes this approach will be too time-consuming or costly to the attackers, however, in which case they may choose to start a direct assault.
  • Stock Footage: Kind of, in that the opening cinematic of the Warlord edition of Shogun is an actual scene from Ran.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Once you acquire gunpowder, this is your assassins' favorite method of either killing or sabotaging.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: Prior to a degree of improvement in Shogun 2, the strategic AI tends to gravely overestimate its chances and will gleefully attack an empire five times its size and three times as powerful. They'll also refuse terms if you try to reason with them, somehow still confident that they can destroy you with only one city and a few units. On the tactical level, however, the AI will form a defensive block or flee outright if you clearly outmatch it. On rare occasions, the AI may genuinely offer ceasefires if they're outmatched. However, they quite often come with ludicrous requirements, such as almost destroyed factions asking for tens of thousands florins for a ceasefire against a vastly more powerful enemy.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: Despite being one of the most realistic representations of battlefield tactics in the gaming industry, the series does this a lot. A unit's standard size in Rome is between 40 and 60 men, and even at the huge unit size, where unit sizes can reach a massive 240 men, armies can't exceed 4,800 men. The actual Roman army, meanwhile, could number tens of thousands in single battles. Naturally this is due to graphical limitations, a 10,000 man army would break all but the most advanced computers of the time. Every faction bringing that many or more to the field would make the game impossible to run. There is, however, a mod for Empire that increases unit size to about 500 men per unit, making a full stack grow close to 10,000 men.Shogun 2 and its expansions can avert this, with each side being capable of fielding up to 64,000 men in a battle, although realistically, armies in campaigns will not get anywhere near this size.
  • Take Over the World: Or at least a good part of it, but this is your intended goal.
  • The Thirty-Six Stratagems: Well, obviously in a series like this they're going to come in. #16 is most obvious, though - a surrounded enemy who would otherwise be 'broken' will 'fight to the death' if there is no avenue for escape. As soon as you create one (by ordering a unit to break off), they'll down tools and leg it, allowing you to butcher whatever's left of them with zero losses.
  • Thieves' Guild: Building one enhances your spies and assassins. Conditions have to be right for it to appear however.
  • Title Drop: In the opening cutscene for every game before Napoleon, the narrator will manage to work "Total War" into his final sentence, often rather conspicuously.
  • Tutorial Failure:
    • The optional tutorial of the first Shogun, where in one scenario, you're supposed to take out marching Spearmen on a hill, while you only have archers. The spearmen WILL get to your archers, causing a melee fight, in which may end up you failing the scenario. Supposedly, this was to play out "High places, stronger arrows".
    • When the tutorial makes you the attackers (Now Cavalry), while you're supposed to drive the archers (now Gunners) out of a hill. A simple rush makes a victory, no less.
  • Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: Want to see how the Moors would have fought the Mongols, how the Scots would have handled the Timurids, how the Turks would have invaded the Americas, or the Danes would have fought Reconquista Spain? Have at it! Shogun 2 takes it a step further, by letting 12th, 16th and 19th century armies battle each other in multiplayer. Ever wanted to reenact the final battle in The Last Samurai? Now it's possible.
  • Uriah Gambit: The vagaries of fortune mean that some of your royal family members will be utterly lacking in redeeming qualities. You can't retire them, but you can order them to, say, charge the enemy army on their lonesome... on the plus side, if they do survive after getting beat up, they have a good chance of getting one of the "Scars" perks, which increases their health in battle, allowing them to take even more of a beating next time! Want to be rid of all your superfluous family members at once? Pack them onto a single weak ship and have them go on a cruise, attacking the pirates where you can!
  • Video Game 3D Leap: As mentioned, Rome brought the series (which until that point was a Sprite/Polygon Mix) into full-3D. Subsequent games would build further on the foundations this created.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential:
    • When capturing a city or fortification, one generally gets the option of sacking the place and massacring or enslaving the civilian population. Depending on the situation, this may or may not be advantageous.
    • Some games allow you to take prisoners on the battlefield. They can then be released, ransomed or brutally slaughtered.
  • Video Game Historical Revisionism: Though it's obvious the developers are doing their research, sometimes there are goofs.
  • Violence is the Only Option: You can try diplomacy and being nice to people, but either the AI will force you to fight or you'll get tired of your annoying neighbors. That said, it's possible to bribe armies or settlements to disband or defect to your side (except in Empire and Napoleon).
  • Violent Glaswegian: In Medieval II when you click on a dreaded Scottish general:
    "I'll rep off yer head an' spet down yer neck!"
  • War Is Hell:
    I know you fight for God and you believe it's right
    to risk your home, your life, to face the evil night.
    But in the darkest night, when our children are asleep,
    I think about the families of our enemy.
    Do they feel the same believing their own truth?
    They must love their children as fiercely as we do.
    We all share one thing: our hearts were given from above
    and the only thing worth fighting for in this world is love.
    On and on through the years the war continues on
    why can't we see the truth - we are all one.
    On and on through the years the war continues on
    on and on through the years - we are all one.
    • A general who repeatedly suffers heavy losses to his bodyguard can become convinced that this is true. Keep in mind that those free, readily-replaceable bodyguard cavalrymen are your general's friends who have sworn their lives to defend him.
    • The ending cinematic for Fall Of The Samurai may also qualify: Your lord/general is drinking at a party, celebrating your faction's victory. He walks onto a balcony, seemingly in a melancholy mood. He gazes into the night sky, previously shown with the stars; as he looks up, you see a large number of paper lanterns of the variety used in obon, a Japanese festival commemorating the dead, floating off into the distance in the sky. It is implied that your lord/commanding officer saw them in his mind's eye—the human cost of his conquests must weigh heavily on him.
    • The overall tone of Rome II appears to acknowledge it, resuming it in the phrase ''How far will you go for Rome?''
  • Warrior Monk: In the Shogun games, of course. In Shogun 2, they are the best at what they do (naginata warrior monks at melee combat, bow warrior monks at archery), but they lack armor and thus are vulnerable to enemy arrows and melee attack (respectively).
  • The War Sequence: The games can be as fun to watch as they are to play, just to see thousands of little soldiers hacking or blasting away at each other on panoramic battlefields. One of the niceties about Napoleon is that it upgrades this a lot... although sometimes you have some not so funny moments, such as a hapless cavalryman from a shattered unit whose foot is trapped in a stirrup, hence his being literally dragged away by his galloping horse... here's hoping that was a corpse. The battles themselves can get pretty brutal as well when viewed up close. You sometimes can't help but cringe as someone gets stabbed by several soldiers at once, run over by heavy cavalry and blown away by artillery.
  • We Cannot Go On Without You: If a faction's entire royal family is killed, their empire descends into anarchy and the faction is defeated. This is averted in Shogun 2, in which it is now impossible to destroy factions through family assassination: The wife of the daimyo will lead the faction until a new heir comes of age/a new leader can be appointed. Apparently, even Ninja consider it uncouth to kill people's wives and children.
  • We Have Reserves: The combat system discourages this. First of all, elite units, general's bodyguards and hardened veterans tend to be too valuable to throw away - aside from the turns spent and the money/battles it took to train them, their experience makes them very valuable. You CAN go this way with throwaway cheap units, but having other units rout is a major morale hit for even veteran units. However this tactic is very effective when besieging cities without a siege weapon, send the cheap units to climb the walls, fight the defenders there (normally they're just archers) and control the gates to allow the hardened veterans to go through the gates and finish the job.
  • Video Game Time: The time scale of a turn on the world map and technological developments doesn't match up well with the travel time for a unit (e.g. from London to Edinburgh taking nine months) and nobles can die while units will march for decades. Napoleon is a lot better about this, due to turns equating to two weeks, though with some buildings and research it still is a little off in that it now happens too fast.
  • You ALL Look Familiar: Especially in the early games. In Medieval II the series added more randomization to soldiers' faces and uniforms, but made them all have the same face again in Empire. Fixed in Napoleon, where there's differing (though often similar or reused) appearances for individual soldiers, but named historical generals will have their their distinct looks. For example, Thomas Picton appears in a long red coat and top hat (his luggage having not arrived to Waterloo in time), while Napoleon wears a long gray overcoat and his distinctive hat.
  • Zerg Rush:
    • The favoured tactic of peasant rebellions is to create huge armies of peasants with a few archers mixed in for variety, and charge you. However, because they all run away if their general dies and their general is usually in a peasant unit like the rest, 20 knights can send hundreds of peasants running, which has actually happened in real life before.
    • It may be a viable option for the player in many games in the series. Used well, a large army of cheap, quickly trained troops can outmatch a smaller and more expensive army of elite units.

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