Review: Sengoku Jidai: Mandate of Heaven

By Bill Gray 03 Nov 2016 0

Review: Sengoku Jidai: Mandate of Heaven

Released 03 Nov 2016

Developer: Matrix Games
Available from:
Reviewed on: PC

OK, I gotta admit, this title brought back memories of my undergraduate tenure at Clemson University, some . . . well, anyway, more than a few years ago. Dr Adams, former US Marine Colonel and Korean War veteran was my East Asian history instructor. It was he who introduced me to the concept of the Mandate of Heaven (MOH), which also happens to be the name of the latest DLC for Matrix’s wickedly good Sengoku Jidai, Shadow of the Shogun. The DLC (downloadable content) add on takes the player across the Sea of Japan into the late Ming Dynasty period of China, where the old regime is struggling to stave off collapse as warlords, Mongols, and even the Japanese themselves look with covetous eyes upon the riches of a great but dying dragon.

Thus the name seems more than apt for this type of expansion module. In China back then the term “mandate of heaven” referred to the virtue (or lack thereof) of the Emperor. As in Europe, the monarch was appointed by God to rule and did so until favor in heaven was forfeited. Many things could cause the Emperor’s mandate to disappear, such as war, natural disaster or rebellion. I always found the rebellion paradigm most interesting. If the people revolted and their uprising was crushed, then obviously the people were wrong as the Dragon Throne by definition still retained the favor of God. If on the other hand, the rebellion was successful, than by definition the mandate of God had been lost. Otherwise, the rebellion would have been suppressed. At that point a new monarch was selected, and this person did not necessarily have to come from noble or royal lineage. He need be simply a person who could rule effectively. And doing so thus gained this person the mandate of heaven.


I won’t go into exactly how the game is played, as after all this is DLC and one can assume that modification will be slight. I don’t remember the little arrows that indicate unit facing in the original, but that’s really about it. The gamer plays exactly as before, and given it did so extremely well in that department, it need be discussed no further. For those interested, I have done some reviews on Sengoku Jidai previously on, so I suggest just you take a look if interested.

No, instead, the strength of this DLC is the subject it covers and how it simulates it. In this iteration one is presented with not one but five campaigns to plan and execute. These include the Shattered Throne (1645, Ming vs Qing), the Three Feudatories (1674, Qing vs Zheng Dynasty supporting rebels) and the Dzungar-Qing War (1690, Qing vs Western Mongols). My review copy, however, included only the remaining two campaigns of which the first is the Mandate of Heaven proper and concerns the historical collapse of the Ming Dynasty under the heels of the Manchu Qing. The game will allow the player to assume the role of the Ming (seriously, does anyone else besides me get visuals of Max von Sydow in Flash Gordon?) or any of several other warring states attempting to become the dominant force in China. In fact, the player can become one of the warring states, designate the AI as another warring state and this triggers the Ming central government as a third, AI controlled player. Now that’s different, so different as a matter of fact, that I actually might tackle this campaign and play to its conclusion.

The second campaign concerns the invasion of China by the obscure yet famous Mongol leader Dayan Khan in 1514. These were complicated times but in general the Mongol empire held a dominant position over China, so much so that the Khan was able to keep 15,000 troops on Ming territory in forts built at Xuanhua and Datong. It was just a miniscule presence to keep an eye on what was going on down Beijing way, always a prudent policy. Nevertheless, Dayan Khan repeatedly tried to build trade relations with the Ming, but was also repeatedly told to take a barbarian hike back to his own real estate. As a result, the Khan pressed his desire for trade by invading China in 1514 and 1517 at the head of 70,000 Mongol horsemen.

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The lad didn’t do half bad against the Ming, one reason why today he is remembered as one of the greatest of Mongol leaders, even if his name is not familiar to most people outside Asia. In 1517 he was able to actually threaten the imperial capital of Beijing, though eventually repelled by the Chinese military. From that point forward until 1526 Dayan Khan continued to give the Ming Zhengde Emperor non-stop insomnia by not only raiding the north of China, but also the previously quiet east as well. Ironically, Dayan Khan died in 1542, just after a major defeat over the Chinese in open battle.

The Mongols are probably a good segue to my overall impressions of the game. I don’t normally do campaigns because as a diehard miniature gamer, I like the tactical level battles, not operational art. That is why in DLCs like this, I automatically go to the Skirmish menu to set up a battle that will give me a very convenient toy soldier fix. The Skirmish setup doesn’t work any different than before, but I was surprised at the very large variety of armies that were made available for play. Certainly you have the Ming, but also their opponents such as the Jurchen, Tibetans, even the Japanese and Pirates. And here each army has a different listing for various times during its military history, or even its geographic location. Thus one can have a Southern Army and also a Northern Army, each with its own unique characteristics. Pulling a couple of Wargame Research Group army lists, some of their Armies and Enemies tomes and a couple of Ospreys, I have to admit the order of battle and unit types that are produced are pretty spot on. Congrats on the research, guys.

This brings us back to the Mongols. There are several different listings for Mongols and if you play or play against Mongols, it suddenly hits you that this game just works different. While there have been some foot units added to the mix (Western Mongol armies), every Mongol mini-horde I have dealt with so far has been mounted 100 %. No kidding, the entire army was cavalry and nothing else, zilch, nein, nyet, nada. While there were some heavier, “regular” units, most Mongol horse seems to be light tribal cavalry. And everybody has a bow and that bow seems to be the primary weapon. I’ve only played against the Mongols so far, but doing so does take some getting used to, primarily because the little buggers will not stand still and fight. Instead they simply swarm all around and shoot you to pieces while you get frustrated with futile attempts to run them down. I swear these lads always seem to find a flank that even I didn’t know existed.

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And shooting is another aspect of this game that feels different, primarily because ranged weapons seems near universal. I know that the regimental motto of Britain’s Royal Horse Artillery is (or was) Ubique (Everywhere), and that’s the persona you see when playing this game. Every unit on the table has a bow, crossbow or some sort of firelock. Units that do have some sort of close combat weapon only list them as a minority (18% for a lot of infantry units) or as a secondary weapon, even heavy armored cavalry. Yes, the Tibetans are present with the armored lancer cavalry, really Asian mockups of early Byzantine Kataphractoi, but even these doughty chaps have bows. You really have to tunnel down to things like peasant mobs before you get a lot of edged weapons in a Ming army or any of the warring states, who do tend to be somewhat duplicative to the Ming as regards structure and units. If you get a really big Chinese army for skirmish play, you might (might, mind you) get a single unit of Ming Kuijia Bubing infantry, which seems to be some sort of heavy armored foot with heavy weapons.

And for more shooting, did I mention artillery? There seems to be a lot more artillery in this game than I saw in the Japanese based games. This really goes for any and all of the Chinese factions, but seem to really show up for the Ming armies. From what I can see so far, there is heavy artillery, medium or light artillery, rockets for Ming Fourth of July parties and even regimental guns? Yes, some of the infantry units also have listed regimental cannon of some sort as part of their firepower mix. All combined it means that shooting is far more important than close combat in this game, certainly more so than previous games involving the katana swinging Samurai and the Ashigaru spear toters that support them. If you want to succeed at this game, you really need to flip a mental button and drop the close combat, sword and shield mind set. In many ways success here seems to encourage shying away from melee and depending upon bow or firelock for victory.

But don’t think that victory will come easy as the game serves up one more surprise to test your generalship. In the base Senkogu Jidai products, and in general, players face armies that are familiar to them. After all, the game is primarily Samurai vs Samurai, so one could expect opposing forces to organize the same way and have similar units in similar proportions. Certainly there are exceptions to this rule, but I think for the most part it rings true. With MOH and its very heavy Mongol presence, the rule has been modified just a bit. Chinese armies may be firepower oriented, but they are also very infantry oriented as well. Cavalry seems much sparser, and if I did an actual count, I would not be surprised if artillery units outnumber mounted units in a typical Chinese military force. This, to me, is what makes a Mongol vs Ming engagement so very, very interesting. Here we have two armies that are at very similar due to heavy firepower attributes, yet very different because of the multitude or dearth of cavalry present. It really makes losing . . . did I say losing; what I really meant was playing (ahem) . . . a Skirmish contest all worthwhile and quite enjoyable.

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Otherwise the game plays as in the past and that is a good thing. On the map I did notice several roads lined with pink cherry trees and this really conveyed not only an Asian, but nice “imperial” feel to the game. This really looks spiffy to my mind. In the quibble department I was disappointed that there were no historical battles present, but some cursory research on my part did not turn up a lot to choose from. I did find references to Chinese armies numbering 200,000 men of which a quarter where garrisons and the balance in the field. Something this large is very expensive to resource unless a monarch has a very good reason, so I am certain it had to fight somewhere, but so far specific clashes evade me. Besides, the strong Skirmish system more than makes up for this minor stumble. I also noticed that the standard Samurai helmet (Kabuto) continues as the icon indicating the presence of a general. I would suggest changing that to something more appropriate if possible.

In conclusion, I can sum up my overall impression by noting this. This review copy evidently had only two of the five campaigns which come in the final product. I have no doubt that I am going to fork over whatever shekels are needed for a legitimate Steam copy when released, because I really want to tackle those three other campaigns. Given how notoriously stingy we Pewterheads are, that should tell you all you need to know.

This review covers a game developed and/or published by members of the Slitherine Group. Please see our Reviews Policy for more information.

Review: Sengoku Jidai: Mandate of Heaven

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