Total War: Three Kingdoms Heroes – Sima Yi the Strategist

Although he isn’t one of the Total War: Three Kingdoms heroes who is playable at the start, there are few characters who had as much influence on the era as Sima Yi. This highly intelligent strategist didn’t emerge from obscurity until the latter stages of the period, but he came to dominate it within a few years. As a general of the Kingdom of Wei he won many victories and became the nemesis of Zhuge Liang. Eventually, he would oust the Cao family from power, paving the way for his sons to conquer China, end the Three Kingdoms period, and establish the Jin dynasty!

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Total War: Three Kingdoms Heroes – Sima Yi

“Blessed with great intelligence from a young age,” says Creative Assembly; “Sima Yi is one of China’s greatest strategists. Loyal only to himself, he schemes and plots to outwit Zhuge Liang and pave the way for his own family to usurp the throne and establish a new dynasty.”

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Sima Yi’s character class is Strategist. As a Strategist, he should have a very high Cunning attribute. Although he won’t be a great warrior or duellist, his class does provide several valuable benefits. They boost their army’s military supplies, for example, and get ready access to ranged units and siege weapons. Plus, Strategists can unlock unit formations for the units under their command. Only one of the playable faction leaders is a Strategist; Kong Rong. However, there are several famous strategist characters, including, of course, Zhuge Liang himself.

Sima Yi’s Role and Special Abilities

Sima Yi does not appear at the start of Total War: Three Kingdoms. However, according to Creative Assembly, an event will occur in Cao Cao’s campaign which gives players the opportunity to recruit him. Looking at Sima Yi’s history, this event is likely to be based on an account of how Sima Yi came to join Cao Cao. According to this account, the general Cao Hong had heard of Sima Yi and, hoping to recruit him, sent him an invitation to meet. However, Sima Yi feigned illness in order to avoid the meeting, walking with crutches to make the excuse more believable. When Cao Hong reported the incident to Cao Cao and the warlord summoned Sima Yi himself, Sima Yi supposedly dropped his crutches at once, before hurrying to the meeting. Thereafter he was appointed as an attendant to the crown prince, but he rapidly climbed the ranks.

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Four of Sima Yi’s abilities are revealed on his character poster. The first is Silver Eminence, together with the quote; “If you cannot fight, defend. If you cannot defend, flee. If you cannot flee, surrender. If you cannot surrender, die!” His other three abilities, which will be available on his upgrade skill tree, are:

  • Inspiring Surge: “Inspirational deeds spur forces to swifter action!”
  • Whitewater: “This legendary presence gives enemies pause.”
  • Wisdom of the River: “Knowledge of the enemy weakens their defences.”

Sima Yi, Nemesis of Zhuge Liang

Sima Yi was recruited by Cao Cao sometime before 215; twenty-five years after the start of Total War: Three Kingdoms. As such, players may not expect to see him until towards the mid-game stage, or even later. Once he joined Cao Cao, he quickly became important, particularly as an advisor and friend to Cao Cao’s son, Cao Pi. When Cao Cao died, it was Sima Yi who oversaw his funeral arrangements, earning him the respect of many state officials. At the stage, his friendship with Cao Pi paid off, as the new King of Wei enfeoffed him as a Marquis and named him Chief Clerk.

For years, Sima Yi had urged Cao Cao to usurp the emperor and seize the throne, but Cao Cao had never done so. In 220, at the urging of Sima Yi and others, Cao Pi finally did just that. He ended the Eastern Han dynasty and declared himself Emperor of Wei. Unfortunately for the new emperor, he died just six years later, leaving the throne to his son, Cao Rui. Under his rule, Sima Yi became more active as a general. He defeated a Wu invasion and also defeated the rebellion of Meng Da with an impressive surprise attack. Thereafter, it was in 231 that the Wei strategist finally met his eventual rival, Zhuge Liang, at the Battle of Mount Qi.

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Sima Yi’s Conflicts with Zhuge Liang and Cao Shuang

The forces of the two strategists fought several times at Mount Qi, and again at Wuzhang Plains. There, a standoff between the pair went on for over 100 days. However, this standoff came to an end with the death of Zhuge Liang following an illness. However, when his army fled, Sima Yi initially believed it was a trap, resulting in a saying; “A dead Zhuge [Liang] scares away a living Zhongda [Sima Yi].” When he heard this saying, Sima Yi laughed. “I can predict the thoughts of the living but I can’t predict the dead’s,” he said.

By the time of Cao Rui’s death and the succession of Cao Fang, Sima Yi had become one of the most important members of government. However, Cao Fang was not old enough to take the throne. As such, Cao Shuang, a general, became regent. Shuang greatly disliked Sima Yi, and swiftly began to strip him of power. He promoted him to Grand Tutor, a position with little actual authority, while strengthening his own grip on the government. By 248, both were plotting against the other. However, it was the elderly Sima Yi who would prove victorious in this matter. At the Incident at Gaoping Tombs, Sima Yi staged a coup against Cao Shuang, leading to the arrest of Shuang and many of his supporters. All of them were executed. Following his suppression of Wang Ling’s rebellion, Sima Yi died in 251 of an illness.

Fourteen years later, Sima Yi’s grandson, Sima Yan, usurped the throne from Cao Huan. In doing so, he established the Jin dynasty, and with the final conquests of Wu and Shu, ended the Three Kingdoms period. Sima Yan posthumously honoured his grandfather with the title, “Emperor Xuan of Jin.”