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Video Game / Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom

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Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom (2002), also known as simply Emperor, is the sixth game of the City-Building Series published by Sierra, this time set in Ancient China and developed by Breakaway Games.

Contrary to most other city builders, the focus of Emperor's gameplay is less on building up a large, populous city, but instead is on building and maintaining the infrastructure needed to run a city. Players must keep their people supplied with food, water, and goods from markets, and also build religious shrines, medicinal buildings, entertainment schools, and inspector and sentry towers among their housing. These buildings spawn "walkers" that patrol the city administering their servivces to houses they pass. As your citizens are given what they need, they'll renovate their houses into larger houses that can accomodate more people, and their demands shift from basic necessities to luxury services.


Meanwhile in your industrial sector, players must not only build craft workshops to supply the people with what they need, but also make sure that those workers are supplied with raw materials like metal, wood, clay, etc., so they can produce those commodities. Combined with the fact agricultural crops have growing seasons each year, and this means managing your city's infrastructure by making sure you produce enough food each year to last your city at least until the next harvest, having enough workshops to produce enough goods to sustain the level of comfort your citizens expect, and ensuring those workshops are being supplied with enough raw materials to keep working. Players can use the Industry tab to set priorities to certain areas of city management that your workforce will staff first, and also shutdown industries on either an individual basis or all of them across the city.


Finally, you are not alone in the world. There are rival cities out there and just like you they need to maintain the needs of their people. With friendly relations, you can establish trade routes to export excess goods and import things you need, can give and receive gifts of goods, and maybe even get them to agree to a military alliance. If things go hostile, your rivals will demand things of you, send spies to sabotage your city and steal your goods, and even rally a military force to invade and conquer you. Fortunately, you can do all of these things back to them. You can be The Good King who forms The Alliance with friendly neighbors, or you can be The Emperor who forms The Empire by conquering rivals one by one.note 

The single-player campaign spans millennia of Chinese history as the player acts as various historical figures, some addressed by name, others are just a flunky to The Emperor of the time building his city for him. As time progresses through the campaign, technologies (and resources) become outdated and are replaced with different technology, such as iron smelting replacing bronze smelting, bronze and iron each being used by different industries. Objectives often demand the player produce a set amount of a commodity within a year, get a certain population level, or conquer neighboring cities. You also get to build famous monuments, from stock temple complexes and palaces to Su Song's clock tower, the Grand Canal, and inevitably, the Great Wall of China.

This game presents examples of the following tropes:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Sending a city a gift of something it already produces will get a thank-you note saying the city's dour minister of commerce found it amusing.
  • Alternate History: Inconsistencies of the dates aside, as far as the game is concerned the Jin Dynasty thwarted the Mongol invasion and defeated Genghis Khan.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Those northern barbarian tribes at the Nomad Camps (later the Xiongnu Empire and eventually the Mongolian Empire) are always against you. The game even addresses them as Goddamn Bats, a nuisance for northern settlements that will pester many dynasties throughout the centuries. In many missions where everyone else is an ally or vassal, they'll likely be the lone city against you.
  • Anachronism Stew: Inevitably pops up. There's just no way a weaponsmith built in the fourth century BCE should look the same as one built in the eighth century CE, but it will, as will all other structures.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: You can always build at least one fort once you have an Administrative City, and another once a Palace is built. Past that, however, you need to build elite houses, each of which lets you build an extra fort, with a final limit of 12, and each fort holding 4, 8 or 16 soldiers.
  • Artistic License – History: Aside obvious alternations to history (like preventing Mongol invasion in the final campaign), there are few other instance that stick like a sore thumb, despite the otherwise obvious effort put into research about the historical context. Most of them aren't even caused by an oversight, but are logical conclusion of the game mechanics, all of which were directly ported from Zeus.
    • The way how you build your army works fine in Shang and maybe Western (early) Zhou dynasty: elite warriors, the quasi-nobility, serving the ruler. From Spring and Autumn period (so late Zhou dynasty) till the Qing dynasty (so late 17th century), Chinese armies were a combination of professionals, levies, pressing and volunteer forces, almost always drafted exclusively from farmers, while the "warrior" nobility never emerging to any prominence or importance. For extra irony points, all the previous games in the series used conscript draft, until Zeus, which was set predominantly in Bronze Age Greece, justifying the whole "elite housing as source of warriors" logic - and the system was simply carried over to Emperor, even if conscripts from Caesar and Pharaoh would fit much better.
    • Similarly, the elite housing system itself makes little to no sense in the historical context. Far more fitting would be the one from Caesar and Pharaoh, which provides "useless" for labour force and highly-demanding elites (in Emperor's context they could easily represent the Chinese literati class). Instead, they are Bronze Age warriors providing military force... that last all the way until 12th century AD.
    • Mulberry trees operate like every other farm and gameplay-wise, they are just reskinned olive trees from Zeus. They produce raw silk directly and are seasonal, giving their "harvest" once per year. Similarly to the issue with army, this only makes sense in earliest periods, when wild silkworms were gathered from mulberry trees. From the Han dynasty onward, the actual production of silk would be the continuous gathering of leaves and feeding them to "domesticated" silkworms, allowing uninterrupted production of raw silk all year roundnote .
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Averted, as the only way to build more than two forts is to build up elite housing.
  • Artificial Stupidity:
    • The walkers that carry and fetch goods are completely incompetent. They lack moderation when delivering resources to several places that need them, resulting in instances like, say, one tax office gets 4 loads of paper while another sits empty, or a bronzeware maker gets a delivery of 4 loads of clay while it has no bronze, and another bronzeware maker next to it gets 4 loads of bronze but no clay. There is also an issue of deliveries to many instances of the same building from stockpiles. The resources will be always stockpiled en masse in the closest building and then continue to be placed in further ones. The only way to prevent it is having a surplus stock in warehouse (so everyone gets bigger loads) or to send resources directly from the gathering building, one at a time (which only works if its close around and isn't something seasonal, like farms).
    • An instance due mostly to limitations of the engine: when a city suffers a famine and asks you for food, they ask for a specific type of food. If you send them dozens of units of food of other types, they'll react to it like any normal gift (ie, unless it's something they import, they'll reply "we don't need it but thanks"), and then will be upset if you don't send them the food they asked for on-time.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Carved Jade fetches the highest price of any commodity at 230 strings for 100 units, but Jade always has to be imported, and at 90 strings a unit that cuts the profits of Carved Jade to a more modest 140 strings. Not to mention you need someone to supply you Jade and someone to sell the carvings to. Carved Jade is still practical, but it isn't as profitable as it first appears. Fortunately, it's still good for bribing heroes.
    • Elite housing provides ten times more taxes than commoners, but occupy four times the land and hold a third of the people, who won't enter the workforce. Building them up also demands a lot of expensive supplies, particularly Silk and Bronzeware/Laquerware, which you'll often have to import at least one of. Unless you need a large army (Elite housing determines the max number of forts allow), you'll want to avoid Elite housing.
    • The highest tier of Common housing, Luxurious Apartments, is a cool milestone to reach for the first time. Maintaining it requires supplying them with Tea, taking up a significant chunk land and a spot in your market square that could be used to supply the people with a more important resource like Hemp or Ceramics. Also, on most maps the penultimate level of housing (Ornate Apartments) will give you a high enough population that you'll be battling to keep unemployment down, and Luxurious Apartments will make room for hundred more people on top of that.
  • Bag of Spilling: Subverted. Unlike earlier games in the series and continuing the trend introduced by Zeus, any city you've already built will remain exactly as you left it if you wind up coming back to it during the campaign (even if several years have passed, or in one case, if it was conquered offscreen).
  • Bears Are Bad News: Gobi Bears rank up with Tigers as one of the worst wildlife types. They kill the prey game your hunters are tracking, they actively seek out and attack walkers that get too close to them, and in pursuing them will tend to be drawn to the city limits when they'll go on a rampage.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: Citizens will tolerate guardhouses without complaint, but no more than one per 500 citizens, regardless of the length of their beats.
  • Blade on a Stick: Most combat walkers, including heroes, utilize assorted varieties of spears and polearms. Doubles as Shown Their Work; the ji and the dagger axe were common weapons in ancient Chinese armies.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Attacking a rival increases your reputation with other cities (except the one you're attacking, obviously), but conquering and squashing rebellions is treated as neutral by the target city.
    • One of the reasons vassals will rebel is if your military is weaker than theirs, as defined by how many troops are at home (so never send every single company of troops out to conquer).
  • Boring Yet Practical:
    • A pair of salt mines can produce enough salt to keep the entire city supplied, and seasonings of salt count as an additional food supply for purposes of food quality.
    • For the heroes, Xi Wang Mu and Sun Wu Kong. Xi Wang Mu reduces monument construction time by variably increasing the amount of workers that can be at the monument at a time, allowing them to do more work before they leave, and/or causing them to work quicker. When monuments take years to complete, the speed boost is appreciated. Sun Wu Kong meanwhile makes emissaries to other cities free and they travel faster, invaluable if you need to speed up communications for whatever reason and have a lot of allies to send messengers to.
    • In an In-Universe example, many of the magnificent monuments built are composed of timber frames, ceramic tiles, and enormous amounts of... dirt. Especially the Great Wall.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Those Nomad Camps in the north? Just another city, even if they quickly become hard to negotiate with, not that there's much to make trade worth it. They're eventually a minor nuisance, best to forget about them and just build up an army in case they attack. Fast forward to the last few campaigns where they aren't even on the map, until the final few missions where they reappear, now named... Mongolian Empire? Oh, Crap!.
  • Competitive Balance: Each type of troop you have access to has different stats.
    • Infantry are Mighty Glacier combined with Close-Range Combatant and Zerg Rush: they have the best armor and decent hit points, a good melee attack, and train in groups of sixteen to provide numerical superiority, but are very slow. They're also good for conquering walled cities.
    • Crossbowmen are Long-Range Fighter: They attack from range with powerful missile attacks, but have the lowest HP and are terrible in melee combat.
    • Cavalry are Jack-of-All-Stats and Master of All: They move fast, have strong attacks, and decent HP and armor, which makes them all-around the most versatile troops. However, when sent to conquer they are useless against walled cities (which is what infantry and catapults are there for) and thus best used against the nomads/Xiongnu/Mongols.
    • Chariots are Lightning Bruiser combined with Elite Army: They have strong attacks, the highest HP, their armor is almost as good as infantry, and they move almost as fast as cavalry. However, you can only have four to a fort, making it difficult to get large numbers of them.
    • Catapults are Glass Cannon: Their missile attack is the most powerful attack in the game, strong enough to kill most enemies in one shot, and they have very long range too. But they have low HP and armor, no melee attack, and move very slowly, making them easy to kill.
    • Sentries are Stone Wall: They have the highest armor of all, but weak attacks and slow movement speed. However, they're more intended to defend the city from outlaws than fight invading armies, so they don't need to be offensive powerhouses.
    • As an overall, the game tends to nudge you to either a Zerg Rush or Elite Army composition. At the max 12 forts full of units, it's very unlikely you'll see any of them gain experience unless you use them for multiple sieges. With one or two forts of infantry, they tend to gain experience much faster.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard:
    • When a rival attacks your city, they spawn at a set point and begin a rampage until you fend them off. Reloading and building walls near where they came in before will just have them spawn somewhere else. Occasionally you can also get attacked without the customary advance warning.
    • You can send demands of goods from other cities. While their compliance depends on your relationship/army strength, sometimes the menu states that they simply can't fulfill your demand for it, an option never available to you.
  • The Computer Shall Taunt You: Unless you're their best friend/have a much more powerful army, AI city rulers will always sneer down at you, demanding things of you with the warning they're so mighty they could just march into the city and take them by force, so you might as well save yourself the trouble and just submit to them — at which point they'll snicker you caved "like an obedient dog". And if you don't send it off by the deadline, they'll say that a "yak-brained fool" like you is lucky they're patient enough to wait a bit longer, but don't press your luck further.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: You're allowed up to 12 forts on most maps. Each fort holds, depending on the type of troop, 16, 8 or 4 soldiers. On most maps, six forts would be more than enough to steamroll any enemy city you attack.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Farmhouses that grow only a single type of crops are extremely inefficient: because crops have different growth cycles, such farms will be left twiddling its thumbs for months on end. The game encourages you to plant different crops at every farmhouse to keep them working all year round.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Buildings will operate at peak capacity regardless of their state of repair, then collapse into rubble or burst into flames instantly.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: The greatest difficulty you'll face, as per usual for the series. Insufficient workers may cause housing to devolve due to supply of needed goods drying up. This reduces the number of workers, which reduces the production of goods, which reduces available workers, which... Thankfully, the game now allows you to turn off industries on an individual basis in addition to shutting down entire sectors, allowing production to continue at a reduced rate but freeing up workers for other areas.
  • Crying Wolf: One Zhou dynasty king is mentioned to have been conquered because the only way he'd found to entertain his favorite concubine was to repeatedly light the signal fires, leading to his army not responding when the city really was under attack.
  • Cursed With Awesome: Having too large a population can actually be a hindrance to managing your city. With a larger population comes a larger workforce, but the workers of Emperor are actually very efficient; a workforce of say, five hundred people, can sustain a city of two thousand people, depending on how your labor is divided up. As the population keeps increasing so will the available workforce, leading to unemployment. If you lower wages, the people will be upset; if you build more industries to give them something to do, you can wind up with warehouses clogged full of surplus goods you don't need. Proper city planning and good use of trade routes can help stem the problem, thankfully.
  • Cycle of Hurting: The AI will attack your city if you have a small military, which usually will lead to the city having a smaller military due to the losses incurred if you manage to fend them off. Another rival will often notice this and will take its turn to attack you.
  • Death-or-Glory Attack: It's possible to send all twelve forts' worth of soldiers abroad to conquer cities. Doing so will likely cause vassals to rebel and rivals to attack, perceiving your weakness.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • Salt counts as a food source... but only if there's another type of food being produced/imported.
    • Introduction of iron and, later on, steel provide your farms with increased yield, as your farmers have access to better tools. This means that depending on era, you might need more (or less) farms to feed the same amount of people.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: You can reduce the chance of a natural disaster occurring by keeping the ancestors appeased, but sooner or later, it'll hit even if they adore you. Droughts you may not even notice and floods can be prevented by building away from the river. But earthquakes? On a bad day, expect to see more than half your city crumble into ruins instantly, likely killing a good chunk of your population, destroying stockpiles of goods, and costing you thousands in repairs to replace it all. A sufficiently bad earthquake hitting the right buildings could reset an entire city back to square one.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: The flavor text for the watchtower mentions your patrolling watchmen fortifying themselves with hot tea and sweet pastries before going on patrol.
  • Downer Ending: Doesn't matter how beautifully you built up their capital or conquered every rival, the last mission of every campaign describes the ignominious end of the dynasty. The beginning of the following campaign usually continues in the same vein, with the new dynasty anxious to prove the former one was decadent and needed oustingnote .
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Mission briefings often open with words to the effect of "the previous emperor is dead and now his son is in charge." The last two historical campaigns are particularly bad with this — since they each combine two historical dynasties, at some point during their run you'll find out that not only is the emperor dead, but the entire government has been overthrown and a new dynasty founded.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • The second mission of the Han campaign has Spices as a commodity, as the capital of Chang-an can import it. However, much like Jade, Spices are a commodity no one can produce at home, they're the signature export of Kashgar via the Silk Road. Thus, while Spices are technically available in the mission, there is no way to acquire them. The next mission actually introduces the Silk Road and Kashgar, where Spices can be obtained.
    • The Money Printer is not introduced until partway through the final Song-Jin campaign, but the final Han mission which introduces Paper as a new commodity also allows the Money Printer to be built. This may just be an developers' oversight though.
  • Early Game Hell:
    • Over the first year or two as you get your city up and running, you'll rapidly lose money as you build your city layout and have little tax income and exports to make money back, your workforce will be pitifully small and you'll have to set their priorities to make sure your first harvest can sustain your population for the year to come, and any commodity you produce will be rapidly depleted as your growing city consumes it to increase their housing levels. After that first year or so pass, you can start to collect taxes and put together exports, you'll have a substantial enough workforce to not worry about being understaffed too badly, and the consumption of commodities your city needs will stabilize.
    • The AI is very fond of Kick Them While They Are Down. Hostile AI cities will know if you have a small military, which is often the case until mid-game and will proceed to Gang Up on the Human repeatedly.
  • Easter Egg: Entering "Uncle Sam" as a cheat transforms tax collectors into, well, Uncle Sam. And his icon changes into an American flag with fireworks.
  • Easy Communication: Played with back and forth.
    • Within your city, build a new mill, warehouse, or industry that requires raw goods, as soon as the place has staff present a warehouse in the city will spawn a deliverymen to bring them what they need (assuming they're fully staffed; understaffed warehouses will take time to spawn the walker). Changing a mill or warehouse's priority to "Get" will not only make its own employees head out to retrieve the commodity they need, but any agricultural or industrial building in the city that produces that commodity will know that mill or warehouse is on priority and take their goods there, even if they spawn just two seconds after you changed the priority.
    • Soldiers instantly respond to orders, and will depart to conquer a city instantly regardless of their actual location relative to the city limits. However, they still have to actually walk to the city exit before the army icon on the map will begin to move, and you can watch that icon move across the map over the next few months as they head to the enemy city.
    • Spies and Messengers likewise spawn from your administrative city and move to the city entrance to begin travel to their city of operation. For messengers, though, what happens when they get to the city limits depends on the type of message. If you're demanding something of a rival city, the second your messenger reaches the city limits and vanishes, your rival will instantly be notified of your demand, but if you're giving them a gift or sending a diplomatic request, you can watch the messenger move towards the city on the world map and the rival will respond when they get there. Send a demand and a gift at the same time and usually, despite this variance, the city will respond to both messages when the gift messenger arrives.
    • Cities that make demands to you will not acknowledge you sent them what they asked for until a month or two after the fact, but they will always acknowledge that you responded within the time limit they gave you, even if by the time they respond it's past due.
  • End of an Era: The last mission of every campaign (except the last one) describes how that dynasty fell.
  • Enemy Mine: There are several ways to get on good terms with rivals, including sending them gifts and meeting their demands on time. You can also do it by attacking other rivals, and if you attack enough cities, you're liable to get the cities you aren't attacking to a point where they'll happily become your ally.
  • Every Man Has His Price:
    • Invading armies can be given a "Begone" Bribe to leave the city alone (and it may actually be cheaper to pay them off than sending soldiers, depending on the complexity of getting weapons). On occasion, your own armies may be sent back in this way, although they do give you the money.
    • One of the factors used to determine how happy a hero will be after a sacrifice is the sacrifice's price.
  • Fake Difficulty: Some missions forbid you from building certain types of structure. While this may be justified due to the climate of different parts of China and the resources in the area (you're obviously not going to be able to plant rice in the desert, or go hunting and fishing on a map with no game or fishing spots), other times the restrictions are arbitrary.
    • This is most blatant with many maps that have copper or iron ore visible in the rocks, but you're not allowed to build Smelters to mine it.
    • Some maps prevent housing from evolving past a certain level by removing the building for it, such as acrobats, acupuncturists or the appropriate seller. The last one is especially obvious if you can import or even make yourself that particular good, but still can't deliver it to your citizens.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: If a Palace with animals inside is destroyed, the predators will go on a rampage.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration:
    • Paper/Iron Smelting/Lacquerware/etc. has been discovered! Time to integrate it into your city because the old stuff just won't do anymore.
    • Wondering why Sun Tzu is the only Confucian hero during the Qin campaign? Because in real life the Qin outlawed the study of Confucianism, burning his books and killing their scholars. Sun Tzu only got to stick around because for purposes of gameplay your noble housing needs access to Confucian worship, and he's only treated as a Confucian hero for gameplay purposes. In real life Sun Tzu had nothing to do with Confucius or his teachings.
    • Several levels happen along the Silk Road, with little natural resources and a high annual income as a requirement. The best way to make money is to buy silk from Chinese cities and sell it to Kashgar at inflated prices, partaking in the trading game.
    • Many later campaigns that have you building the Stone Great Wall often do so with you rebuilding a collapsed wall from an earlier era — many parts of the Great Wall were built out of wood and packed earth in early times, then reinforced or rebuilt with stone in a later dynasty.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • No mineral deposits for smelters means no raw materials for weapon crafting, but your hunters and sentries, guardsmen and woodsmen seem to find metal for their bows, crossbows, spears and axes just fine. And even if you don't have stone quarries a lot of your buildings, including city walls, obviously use carved stone. Falls under Acceptable Breaks from Reality — if you actually needed Stone to build every building that looked like it was built of stone, the game would be nigh unplayable.
    • Hand in hand with the below instances of Protagonist-Centered Morality, your allied cities really shouldn't be addressing your character as rudely as they do, when in many of the campaigns you're a city administrator personally serving the Emperor. For that matter, why is the capital city of the empire so angry that you asked for military aid; isn't the whole point of the current mission to establish a forward camp near enemy territory to deploy troops from?
    • Several campaigns see your character being sent to a pre-existing city to build it up. Despite the fact that this city existed in just the previous mission and you could trade with them, the map will always spawn completely blank and you need to build from the ground up. These missions do work in some continuity, though, as usually the resources you lack and will need to import, and the ones you'll be exporting, will line up with the city's imports and exports as an NPC city. One could Hand Wave that the map the player is given is a new sector of the city being newly constructed.
    • In the last two missions, the Mongolian Empire is treated like any other rival city. This means a few gifts of silk and tea can get them to like you and they'll become your ally, and a military spy sent to infiltrate them can cripple their army, and despite the generals warning you not to do it, you can actually conquer them.
    • Several missions that demand a period of hero visitation typically focus on one particular hero, especially in earlier campaigns when the game's religions are in-universe still growing and new saints and gods enter worship. However, no matter what the briefing narrator says, you are never required to have any specific hero visit your city, any of them will fulfill the objectives.
    • Natural disaster messages tell you angry ancestors sent a flood or earthquake... but use the same one when scripted disasters occur. It's also possible for a flood to occur in desert maps, in which case the one small pond on the map suddenly balloons to three times its size in all directions. In such cases, it's easy to believe divine intervention is at work.
    • The Great Wall of China takes hundreds of units of Stone, hundreds of workers, and many years to build. But you're able to build city walls and sentry towers as normal structures instantly for no expense but cash, and city walls are not all that much smaller than the Great Wall.
    • This is lampshaded by woodcutter walkers when the city is under siege: "I would lend my ax to the defense of this city, but we need this wood and we need it now."
    • A city that rudely makes demands of you can have its request refused followed up by a demand of resources, if your army is strong enough they'll very politely answer it.
  • Generation Xerox: Some mission briefings mention your character for the mission is the descendant of your character in the previous mission several decades or centuries ago, and you're being called upon now to see if you have the same gift for city planning as your ancestor did. Averted at the end of the Qin campaign, the next mission establishes you're the same character who's been spared for his recognized skill and integrity.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • When a spy is reversed, you get a message telling you about it and what city he came from. However, this doesn't mean the spy is actually gone, in order to take advantage of this you need to send the spy to that city (in effect, giving you a free spy if sent to the city). Similarly, right-clicking a spy doesn't mean he's gone, he just comes back the next month.
    • When giving an animal to another city in order to receive another one, the only way to know if you're giving them an animal they can't get is by looking at the city's icon on the world map (and the amount of greenery on the icon), then remember if the animal you're giving is native to that climate or not (the bear, antilope and vulture are from desert climates; salamander, pheasant and panda from the temperate ones; and the wild pig, alligator and tiger from the humid ones).
  • Hollywood Spelling: Some city and people names are spelled phonetically instead of how they ought to be spelled. Somewhat justifiable since they're all in Ancient Chinese, and a lot of such names can be translated into direct English in different ways.
  • Instant-Win Condition: The city is hopelessly in debt, outlaws roam the streets killing indiscriminately, people are leaving the city, and in two months the Xiongnu arrive to attack and you don't have an army. Oh good, the year production tallies are in and you met your quota, mission complete! Averted if you actually get conquered — you cannot win any mission if you're another city's vassal, even if you meet the requirements, and will need to fight your way to freedom by conquering your conqueror.
  • Interface Spoiler:
    • The menu shows coverage sections for entertainment and religion facilities long before you get access to them, and clicking on a house will tell you what they need to evolve, which may be a resource or building you don't have yet.
    • The second mission of the Shang campaign has four trading partners as an objective, and the mission briefing advises you to make money by importing jade and selling carved jade. The mission starts with only three rival cities on the map and none of them sell jade, a pretty clear tip-off that a fourth city is going to pop up eventually.
  • It Will Never Catch On: On the mission that introduces paper as a resource, the official says it just might catch on.
  • Just the First Citizen: Your formal title is usually just "city administrator". Despite this, you not only control the entire day-to-day functions of your city, you also run the military, oversee international trade and diplomacy, and are routinely sent out to found other cities from scratch. While you are almost never The Emperor, you might as well be for how powerful you are.
  • Kick the Dog: Whenever a foreign city sends an emissary to your city, you have the option to allow them in, turn them away, or execute them. This has little practical purpose but to piss off your rivals, but you can do it.note 
  • Kick Them While They're Down: Sending all your forces abroad will cause opportunistic raiding by other cities. These armies can be bribed away, fortunately.
  • Killer Rabbit: Companies are named after the zodiac animal you chose... so your city can be defended by the Audacious Rabbits or Celestial Rats.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Buildings that spawn service walkers, like religious shrines, inspector towers, and so forth, will only have their walkers walk so far before they return to their spawn building. However, on the return trip they will always take the shortest path back, disregarding gates and roadblocks in their way, and they will continue to provide standard services to buildings they pass. Clever city planning can exploit this to effectively double their patrol zone. For example, a herbalist walker will walk 30 tiles before returning to their shop; build their patrol path in a loop 58 tiles long, and when they hit their 30th tile they'll keep walking along the other side of the loop since it is the shorter path back.
    • A building's feng shui cannot change after it is constructed. This can be exploited by putting buildings near trees to get them good feng shui, then destroying those trees to change the elemental alignment of the terrain so different buildings can be placed there.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: One campaign has maintaining 25 elite houses as its final mission requirement, one for each of the player character's 25 sons. Naturally, at the end of the campaign they're all at each other's throats.
  • Might Makes Right: A large army and an invasion will swiftly bring enemy cities under your control. If they rebel, you can earn favor with the city and wait (possibly years) for them to return to the fold peacefully, or you can send your army down to get them back in line the hard way. It's also possible, though rare, for a neutral rival to willingly become your vassal if they have a high opinion of you and you command a superior military arm.
  • Money for Nothing: Cities will only take gifts of cash into consideration if you're poor enough that it actually means something.
  • Money Sink: You can get rid of unwanted goods for offering them to a city (although the reward depends on whether they actually need the good) or heroes (the more expensive the item is the better). You can also do this with money, though only to other cities and it's less effective the more money you have.
  • Mook Chivalry: The only aversion in the Caesar III engine/saga. Soldiers no longer engage the enemy in one-on-one fights, but every man in a company of up to 16 soldiers will spear the same single target at the same time if the odds allow it.
  • Mundane Utility:
    • Offer sacrifices to the Heavens. Entice a Physical God to manifest in your city. Put it to work blessing you with free materials and extra-productive buildings. Rinse and repeat.
    • Need an easy way to employ lots of people to avoid unemployment, but don't want to overproduce resources you don't need? Build some city walls in an out-of-the-way spot and line them with sentry towers — even if your sentries are just walking in circles on a wall guarding some trees, work is work.
  • Narrator: The mission briefings and summarizations have one, which changes between campaigns.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: One mission has a rival city suggest a joint building project: a canal that will increase trade. At the end of the mission, it turns out the idea was to tie up resources and manpower in a pointless construction project, leaving the city ripe for conquest... except now the canal really did boost trade.
  • Not in My Backyard!: As in Real Life, no one wants to live near the Industrial Ghetto. Fortunately, residential walls can reduce the effect of undesirable buildings, letting essential services be built conveniently close by without offending the residents' delicate sensibilities.
  • Numerical Hard: Higher difficulty levels don't actually change the mission objectives at all, and basic gameplay remains identical. All that difficulty affects is how many workers are employed for each level of wages (on higher difficulties, Normal wages employ fewer people), and building costs (more expensive on higher difficulties). The result, the difference between Normal and Very Hard is that you run out of money faster and have a smaller workforce to put to task.
  • Oblivious to Hatred: The husband of the musician couple doesn't seem to get that his wife doesn't bother hiding her contempt for him.
  • Panthera Awesome: Tigers rival bears as the worst animal type to encounter; they move fast, kill game animals your hunters are tracking, seek out and kill walkers that come near them, and tend to wander near the city limits while pursuing them.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: It usually isn't too difficult to spot spies in your city. Hint — it's the random herbalist/water carrier/taoist priest wandering through your industrial sector, or walking halfway across the map to reach your trading posts. They'll even disguise themselves as religious walkers for religions you may not even be able to build yet. Subverted if they disguise themselves as inspectors, which are omnipresent in cities and thus rarely look out of place.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: Cities can accept up to four gifts of cash or goods a year, but will tell you off if you keep trying to give them stuff.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Inverted on you when it comes to dealing with enemy cities; no matter what the issue is, when something goes sour, you are always the one at fault.
    • AI cities will often laugh in your face if you demand something of them, even if it's something they produce in surplus and you have previously sent them dozens of units of goods they need. Conversely, when the AI demands something of you, they will be outraged if you don't comply, even if there's no reasonable way for you to get what they want in time. For instance, they'll demand crops that are out of season, or commodities you simply can't produce, and may expect you to fork over a dozen units of it with as little as two months of notice.
    • Demands for troops to defend an allied city may come with only a month or two of advance notice, but even if you send your forces immediately they may not arrive in time, and how dare your soldiers be late when they were so sorely needed! Sometimes you can also send your army and they arrive in time, but they were too weak to be of help, so your ally is still annoyed with you. Of course, if you're getting attacked and request military aid from an ally many months in advance (perhaps because you don't have an army of your own, which is possible on numerous maps), they're liable to take their sweet time responding, will just refuse, or will send you one infantry unit, and they'll be very annoyed with you for asking even that of them. They will also ask for your support in attacking rival cities and be annoyed if you don't contribute any forces, but they'll hate you if you try to ask the same from them.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The trade caravans.
  • Settling the Frontier: Some mission briefings even state explicitly the city you're building is a colony to explore the countryside outside the current imperial border.
  • Shoot the Builder: The completion message for the Underground Vault (better known as the Terracotta Army) suggests you run for the hills before this happens to you.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Emissaries leaving for other cities express fears that this may be their fate, while you can execute foreign emissaries (if for some reason you want your name to be mud).
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Naturally, given the game somewhat keeps to historical events. It doesn't matter how big and grand you build the capital of the empire and how big the army defending it is, it is going to be sacked, and of course the Great Wall won't keep out the Mongols, sorry for the real-life hours you spent building it last mission. And every campaign ends with the current dynasty falling apart no matter how good a job of running it you were doing.
    • Even if you conquer every city on a map including the Nomads/Xiongnu/Mongols, the next level will set them back to rival status, forcing you to bribe/conquer them again if you want to trade with them.
    • The penultimate level has you racing to finish the Great Wall under constant assault from the Mongols. Once it's finally beaten, the next level tells you the fortress has fallen thanks to the Mongols going around the wall.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • It's obvious that as much as a historian will facepalm at the game's events, the developers did at least some research and often refer to real historical cities and figures with accuracy.
    • All of the Heroes are important figures in the real life equivalent religions, if not deities then saints or monks. The exception is Sun Tzu having nothing to do with Confucianism, though there's some Gameplay and Story Integration there as described above under that trope's entry.
    • The Qin Dynasty ruler is referred to as Shi Huangdi, not Qin Shi Huang — it was only after the Qin Dynasty that the name was shortened and prefixed "Qin", when other rulers named Shi Huangdi sprang up. And there's also the above mentioned fact of Sun Tzu being the only Confucian hero because the actual teachings of Confucius were outlawed under the Qin.
    • The first few times you're assigned to build the Great Wall of China, you instead build it up as a wooden frame surrounding a rammed earth wall, which the wooden frame removed eventually. However, many sections of the original Great Wall were built out of rammed earth and wood, some sections used stone but others did not. Later dynasties would rebuild sections of the wall into the stone version we're familiar with, and the game does mention that you are building on the site of the old dirt walls that have fallen into dunes over time.
      • The game also reflects how the more "iconic" design of the Great Wall... is still build out of rammed earth, only faced with stone, giving it appearance of being entirely built with masonry.
    • The game depicts Zhengzhou as one of the capitals of the Shang Dynasty two years before actual Chinese archaeologists declared it to have been so.
    • The aesthetics of Feng Shui assign each building an element within the Wuxing system of elements, and terran types (rocks, arid land, ore-bearing rocks, grass, and trees). A building is considered Harmonious when near one of three compatible terrain types and is Inharmonious near the other two. The game's system for this follows the Wuxing, where each element is preceded by and followed by another element in the "generative cycle", and destroys and is destroyed by the other two in a "destructive" cycle. For example, a building aligned with Earth is aligned with Fire and Metal also, and opposed to Water and Wood — the same relationship Earth has with the other four elements in the Wuxing.
    • On meta-level, this is the first game in the whole series that allows to provide an uniform design of your cities without any issues, problems or abusing AI behaviour. This ties nicely with traditional Chinese urban planning, which was all about creating uniform cities with specified districts in them, always following the exact same patterns and street layouts. And with sufficiently large maps, it is in fact possible to recreate a miniature of a Chinese city that will both fit the historical examples and be fully functional in gameplay terms.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Qin campaign ends with the death of Qin Shi Huangdi and the narrator proclaiming cities are already overthrowing the Qin's heavy-handed rule and rebels are on their way... set to the cheerful music that plays when you finish a campaign. However, depending on how much you know about Qin Shi Huangdi himself and how much you buy into Confucian smear campaign against him, it might be perfectly fitting for overthrowing a bloody tyrant.
  • Technology Marches On: In-universe, in their due time, paper will replace wood as writing material, iron will replace bronze and then be replaced by steel, lacquerware will replace bronzeware, and horsemen will replace chariots.
  • Token Good Teammate: In a sense, you're this to the Qin Dynasty. The briefing for the first Han Dynasty mission mentions you are the same character as in the Qin campaign, and while the Qin were corrupt and oppressive, your performance as a city administrator was honorable and efficient, which is why the new rulers have kept you around.
  • Too Dumb to Live: AI cities never learn that if you've got a standing army as large as the game allows, maybe they shouldn't make unreasonable demands of you, or refuse and insult you when you demand something of them. They will do the latter even if your army just returned from conquering them and making them your vassal. As mentioned above, your rivals will demand resources of you with the warning if you don't comply they'll just march into your city and take what they want by force. It's almost always a hollow threat coming from an AI opponent, but the player can actually do it.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: The first mission has the objective of 150 people in Plain Cottages. However, if you plan your city poorly, it's possible they may not be in an aesthetically pleasing-enough area to grow beyond Huts. The game doesn't let you even view the Aesthetics tab until the second mission, so a player who doesn't understand the mechanic will be left scratching their heads about what "appeal of the neighborhood" means and how they fix it.
  • Trigger Happy: When a hero captures an animal and brings it back to the palace, overzealous sentries will shoot it down, no matter how harmless.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Cities that rebel against your rule can be reconquered by force of arms or bribed into returning to the fold. However, it's mentioned that if your troops fail, you'll be looked down on by other cities.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential:
    • Pandas appear on numerous maps. They can fight, but only do so to defend themselves, otherwise they're docile and will plop down in the middle of your crops to munch some bamboo as your farmers work around them. You can't even hunt them for game meat like other animals. But you still have full ability to hunt them down and kill them.
    • When a city is conquered, you can set the tribute to be whatever good you need if you don't need cash, including goods they need to import, and even set the level of tribute to Harsh.
  • Video Game Delegation Penalty: Inverted with bribing armies. This is much faster than actually fighting, which cuts into your manpower, slowing down production for months, and frees you from having to maintain expensive troops. That said, if you maintain zero troops whatsoever other cities will happily attack you.
  • Video Game Time: The developers tried to line up new technology and the rise and fall of cities with the historical dates... but play a mission long enough and you'll be building, say, the Terracotta Army of Qin, a decade after their dynasty fell in real life.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Attacking enemy cities is actually economically helpful — it'll get you a new trading partner, the initial attack will yield spoils of a variable type of commodity, often a lot of it too, and you now have yearly tributes of whatever commodity you want.
  • Written by the Winners: Played for Laughs. As far as the narrators are concerned, whatever rulers you are serving at the time, regardless of what they are actually doing, are virtuous and wise... right up until they get deposed by someone who doesn't like them, in which case the same narrator will sneer at the past ruler and denounce them as an insidious and weak poser. This can even happen between the ending narrations and the briefings for the next mission, making it seem like the narrator goes from singing the praises of the current ruler to viciously insulting them a moment later.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: No matter how overpowering a city's military strength is, it can be reduced to 1 with a single spy.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Guan Yin, the Mother of Mercy; the name should be a hint. All of her abilities and benefits are in the name of city beautification and health: reducing the construction cost of gardens and parks, acting as a water carrier, improving city health, and lowering the cost to bribe enemy armies. Gardens and parks are cheap already, water is the most basic resource a city needs so there's no way you should be wanting for it, and city health is rarely a problem as long as everyone can access your herbalist. Only the latter is of any real use, and if you're in a mission where you're at risk of being invaded then you should be building your own army to defend the city anyway.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Any time you get tired of a rival city, even if they've been very pleasant to you and a loyal trade partner for years, you can conquer them. You have an alliance with them? Break it off and launch an invasion a moment after.


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