Want one word to describe Tenshu General? Simple. Sure that’s stating the obvious, but keep in mind that being simple can have both positive and negative connotations. There are game elements that benefit from uncomplicated and straightforward presentations. Simplicity, for example, can help keep learning curves low for high player accessibility. Having too many aspects of a game be overly easy could make the experience unrewarding and unimpressive. Tenshu General succeeds in blending many uncomplicated aesthetics with interesting gameplay, for simple and entertaining strategy sessions.
Tenshu General is set in feudal Japan, during the romanticized Edo era. You are tasked with commanding a tenshu, or the main castle for your faction. Ultimately, you will be tasked to push control of your faction to all provinces, while reducing enemies into ground fertilizer underneath your pimp getas. At all times you computer opponents are reacting and remembering your actions. They will try to take away your favorite approach or hit and run tactics to steal your farms. Overwhelming your enemy’s tenshu will require quick thinking, as well as a little fast clicking.
You begin the game with a quick tutorial and explanation of how to manage the only resource in the game: rice. Rice accumulation will happen every few seconds, the amount of which increases or decreases based on the amount of farms and villages you actively control. Farms and villages can be upgraded with tools, oxen, irrigation, and more plots for farming. Accomplished by a quick click on one of these locations (and provided you have enough rice), then clicking on the allowable upgrade. Farms or villages can be limited in their upgrade options, while other locations will have higher upgrade counts for much higher rice production per minute. Naturally protecting those valuable key provinces will be key for healthy and powerful armies.
Protecting your rice supply lines will require armies. These are produced out of your tenshu. Your castle’s defenses can also be upgraded, which is important, losing your tenshu means the game is over. Armies are represented by your factions banner on the overview. With available rice, you can add cavalry, archers, or foot soldiers to your army. Movement of your armies is restricted by specific paths. Clicking on your army and clicking on an adjacent province (provided there’s an available path), will start the army marching towards that area. Armies will take a few seconds to march from one province to the other. With AI controlled armies also on the move, staying ahead of them can at times become complicated. Do you move towards the center of the map leaving your high producing rice centers unprotected for a moment? Do you sit back and turtle while the AI conquers half the map? This strategic aspect is akin to playing the board game Risk, but with real time army maneuvers, for an interesting take on combat.
Having two opposing armies enter a province at the same time triggers a combat screen. Troop types and numbers, are buffed or de-buffed based on terrain. Mountainous provinces give advantages to archers, while forests give advantages to foot soldiers and weaken cavalries. This bears remembering as it is easy to move troops into an area expecting a quick victory; things might not turn out as expected if terrain is disregarded. Dotted lines represent locations your troops can advance on. If there are no connecting paths you cannot enter the province even if adjacent. This additional subtle layer of strategy, taking into consideration the amount of time it will take to move between provinces, as well as terrain type, makes matches surprisingly interesting. AI armies can circumvent your advancing movements and take over a more crucial area behind your forces. Losing a province means that rice production will assist your enemies in the meantime – which in turn means you can expect beefier invasion forces.
During one match the AI continually ran cavalry back and forth through my two farms, as soon as I tried to move my defensive army towards my big rice production province, the AI would move its biggest army into it as well. Additionally its second smaller army would capture another farm territory. It was becoming too expensive to rebuild a full army and lose rice production every few minutes. So I sent in nothing but archers into the mountainous territory and foot soldiers into the marshy farm province. The result? With signficantly less cost to maximize an archer army for defense I was able to keep my rice production going long enough to purchase an advisor (bonus rice production in any territory he resides in) and a third army for brute conquest.
A tenshu can command up to four armies, while it appears that may seem like a small number, as mentioned moving armies and protecting your food supplies and replacing fallen troops four armies becomes hectic to manage in real time. This is where Tenshu General is at its best. Going against AI opponents that are trying to flank you, and play keep away with valuable food producing provinces. While not neglecting the defense of your most valuable location, your castle. This constant slow march of icons may appear simplistic, but there is delightful challenge in out maneuvering your enemies.
You have the option of skirmishing the AI in various default maps or custom made ones. Additionally there is a campaign to jump into where you command your armies towards total control of ancient Japan. This campaign has a well thought out progression and is enjoyable to complete. As the campaign progresses AI becomes more dangerous.Tenshu General features an AI scheme that will start to adapt to your play style. Soon the AI will start stacking archer armies on the mountain provinces to counter your cavalry – with a backup army forming at its castle to follow up and finish obliterating your remaining forces. Defeated armies do not always get wiped out completely, they retreat allowing them to be reformed. Astute counter attacks can eliminate armies causing a longer delay to remake a new army and bring it to the front lines. These kind of flanking vs defending, bottlenecking paths, and progressively managing retreating armies is a great strategic and enjoyable aspect of this game.
In the end that’s what a strategy game should do, make you think, react, and adapt to adapting enemies. Tenshu General does this well and it masks the simple aspects of the game. Graphically, this is a top down 2d strategy game with little detail and very dated looks. There are no animation, little sounds or soundtrack to speak of. There is little variety to terrain sprites and towns. UI and upgrade options are also minimal. Click and you make more rice. Click here and you add another cavalry. Tech upgrades? Fancy tactics? Defensive options?
There’s not a lot to really hang your hat on aesthetically, but does it matter? Yet for its low investment point, Tenshu does bring quick entertainment in spurts, and re-playability with its challenging AI skirmishes. Skirmish matches take approximately 20 minutes versus three other AI generals. I’ve played several such matches and they do not play out exactly the same. Campaign missions are often broken up between the base provincial conquest and other types like reach a shipwrecked Dutch trading vessel with your armies before the AI can stop you. It’s simplicity and low learning curve belies the catchy and intuitive short but strategic fun Tenshu General can offer. This is an easy recommend for RTS or even turn based fans that want a little more reaction time in their play.