Total War: Three Kingdoms - How To Play as Zhang Yan
In Total War: Three Kingdoms, the numerous factions available to players allow them to pick out an ideal specialized way of playing their campaign. Each of the diverse warlords brings something unique to the table. Zhang Yan runs one of the more difficult factions to master. You're not going to find too many allies on your road to unifying China, but as long as you choose your fights wisely and strategically plan out your steps, you can carve a well-laid path to victory. Here are the best things for you to do well with Zhang Yan in Total War: Three Kingdoms.
Playing Zhang Yan in Total War: Three Kingdoms
Unlike other warlords, Zhang Yan doesn't have a strong of a starting position, nor does he have the ability to amass as many followers to his army. He's going to take some time to establish, and you're going to spend most of the game struggling to acquire some solid ground. The best thing for you to do early is to back one of the stronger warlords on the map and find a way to weasel your way into their good graces. After you've done that, you'll want to work on getting yourself out of the northern region.
To do this, you have to take a significant amount of risk in choosing which of the surrounding nations to attack. You don't want to attack them with a more substantial force consistently. Instead, you're going to rely on Zhang Yan's natural passive of giving his troops increased speed when going through forests. You want to use this advantage to successfully raid a neighbor, steal a small number of resources, and then return to your territory of safety. You're going to have some outraged neighbors, so you'll want to watch how they react to choose your attacks wisely. Attacking in a repeated pattern is only going to invite an open war.
Strategic Friendship and Hoarding
One of the ways you genuinely excel with Zhang Yan is by focusing on keeping your region happy and establishing yourself as a lesser power in the area. To do this, keep close ties with a handful of stronger powers and find ways to keep them happy. This strategy may mean you're not going to flourish as a significant power because you're finding ways to send them funds or give them something you want. Regardless, your beginning to middle gameplay strategy is making another power stronger. The more you do this, the more you can huddle away and remain out of open combat.
To prepare for it, you'll want to focus on going through the Government and Military Doctrine reform trees. After you finish one of those, focus on the Philosophy & Trade reforms to build up Zhang Yan's ability to win over his allying factions. You can try to pardon actions you've done to wrong a clan by sending them gifts, but it won't last forever. You also don't want to do it over, so you need to delicately balance finding when to attack your enemies, when to win them back over, and when to sit on your gold to build up your forces. You'll want to invest in your territories as you advance to ensure you're ready for the end game push.
Thunder from the North
Surviving to your end game is a difficult feat to accomplish. Due to your position in the north, you're going to struggle to expand, and when you want to, you're going to find only larger forces are nearby. You'll have to play the waiting game, picking and choosing your targets. If you ally yourself with the correct faction, they're going to do the most considerable amount of heavy lifting for you. They'll weaken nearby neighbors and give you plenty of room to stretch out in as you become stronger.
You'll find that investing time into the Foreign Envoy reforms is going to serve you well if you can establish suitable trade agreements. Zhang Yan may not have the best access to everything, but he can drum up enough people willing to work with him to make use of some usually hard to find resources. You'll find that you're going to spend as much time on the negotiating and trading main screen as you do ambushing your opponents.
For those who want to toe the line between being an aggressive negotiator and a quick, dirty fighter, you're going to find Zhang Yan an excellent choice for you. However, he's an extremely difficult warlord to play due to the game forcing you to change tactics so quickly and boxing you at the beginning of the game. If you can overcome this, you should find most of the medium game is spent working with your allies to your eventual rise to power.