In 1989, just one year after KOEI was born, Bandit Kings of Ancient China hit the market and started a strategy revolution. Its interface would become the backbone of other KOEI strategy games to follow. The game is perhaps one of the most detailed games in this genre. In order to succeed you will have to build a strong army to conquer the neighboring regions, but at the same time you need to make sure that your populace is thriving.
The entire game is controlled via keyboard commands. Although it might seem difficult at first, you will soon get used to the controls. Basically you type in a number and press Enter. If you have typed in the wrong command, simply press Enter once more (without giving any new orders), and it will take you back one step. Pressing Enter will also tell you which commands are currently available.
What distinguishes this game from many other games in this genre is that you don't win the game by becoming the only ruler; rather you have to capture the nefarious Imperial Minister of War, Gao Qiu. Once this has been achieved, the game ends.
The game is divided into four different scenarios, and you can choose among different heroes to play in each. This gives the game a high replayability value, as each hero will differ from the others, both in terms of starting-position and power.
The first thing you need to do is to settle down in a region, and start preparing for war. You will have to recruit men and other heroes, hunt for food and fur, collect gold and metal, create weapons and govern your regions to the best of your abilities. There are also a lot of political issues you need to control. Making allies is perhaps the most important one, but if you don't treat your allies well, they might leave you when you need them most. This game truly shows you the value of loyal generals in the midst of battle.
From time to time you will have to go to war, and as with the rest of the game, this is controlled via the keyboard. Before the battle commences you must position your troops. You will notice that some of the tiles on the map have numbers on them. You can only place your troops on these tiles. As for the actual combat phases, you move your troops with the num-pad and use the 0 key as confirmation key.
Bandit Kings of Ancient China is an all-out strategy game that will push any hardcore strategy gamer to his limits. You will need all your skills if you are to be successful. This is a game I would recommend to veterans of this genre. Newcomers are free to try it as well, but they will probably become frustrated over the controls and the fact that you have to govern all things yourself.
The game also supports multiplayer for up to seven players.
I was unable to get any sounds or music in DOSBox, which really was a bummer.