Sunzi’s Ancient Art of Cheating

i-01e6c6044c7d27fff2224074a080b316-ancient_art_of_war-6.gifWhen I was a kid I enjoyed playing the 1984 computer war game Sun Tzu’s Ancient Art of War. Last spring I visited Tiger Hill in Suzhou where there is a small temple to the great strategist’s memory.

The game is good fun, not least thanks to the scenario editor that was years before its time and allowed an unusual level of creativity. However, my friend David and I eventually discovered an “exploit” that pretty much ruined the game for us. Here’s what we did.

The game keeps track of each troop unit’s fatigue level. Fresh troops fight way better than tired ones. What we found out was a way to always have fresh troops. You see, fatigue is registered on the unit level, not on the level of individual soldiers.

When on your way to battle with fresh troops, detach one guy (Ernie) to stay behind and take a nap or something. After the battle, your main force will be fatigued, and Ernie will be fresh. If you add Ernie back to the main unit, he will become as fatigued as they are. But if, instead, you add the main unit to Ernie… everybody’s suddenly rested again.

I wonder if even old Sunzi knew of this trick.


  1. #1 Nomen Nescio
    January 6, 2012

    hooboy, i’d forgotten all about that game! way to bring back memories. wonder if there’d even be any way to get it to run nowadays — maybe on an emulator of some sort. but how to get a hold of a copy? last time i saw it, it ran off of 5.25″ floppy disks…

  2. #2 Martin R
    January 6, 2012

    Retro computer gaming is huge on the web. I’m sure you can have that game running in an emulator with very little work!

  3. #3 PaulM
    January 6, 2012

    Ooh, I remember that game.
    I figured out a different exploit. I don’t remember the details of how it worked, but over time you gained more soldiers in each squad. However, there was a limit to how many soldiers you could have in each squad, and there was a limit to how many squads could exist in the game. So as long as they weren’t in any danger of attack I’d split each of my squads when they contained more than one soldier. I’d do that until it was no longer possible to create more squads, and then I’d wait for each of those to grow to full size.
    Because the computer wouldn’t split squads until they were max size it meant that if the game lasted long enough then your army would vastly outnumber that of your PC opponent.

  4. #4 Kaleberg
    January 17, 2012

    This reminds me of the XKCD take on SkiFree and the inevitability of death.

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