Stratagems and Strategy: The Empty City

You’ve been drilling the troops for days, training day and night, and you’ve amassed an army the likes of which Evony has never seen. Your supplies are plentiful, your numbers overwhelming, and all of your preparations are complete. Today, all of that work is going to pay off: you’re going to march across the map and finally, finally sack that enemy city that’s been in your sights since you started playing.

Just to be sure, of course, you take a moment to gather some last-minute intelligence on your foe, to make sure you’ve got enough troops to finish the job… but what’s this? The enemy’s numbers are lower than you expected… a little too low. So, here’s the million-prestige question… is this a bluff – or is it a double-bluff? The Stratagem of the Empty City has outfoxed military leaders for centuries, so what chance do you have against it?

Simply put, to employ an “Empty City” is to make your numbers appear deliberately smaller than they truly are. In Evony, this means your opponent sees your troop numbers appear 10%-20% below their actual levels for 24 hours. At its most basic, this can be used to trick the enemy into attacking when they believe they have superior numbers, only to be annihilated when they blunder into an army larger than they had expected. But what if your foe sees that trick coming? Historically, the most cunning generals have found the Empty City most effective as a method of reverse psychology!

Evony may take place in a medieval setting, but the game draws inspiration from many periods of historical warfare. In this case, we look to the Thirty-Six Stratagems of ancient Chinese warfare, the 32nd of which is the Empty City. As in Evony, this ruse simply involved disguising a fort or town to understate its troop population, but the most famous example of its use was for defense rather than ambush. As the story goes, the military strategist Zhuge Liang was tasked with defending the city of Xicheng with only a few thousand troops, when he learned that his enemy, Sima Yi, was en route to attack with over 150,000 men.

Zhuge Liang ordered the city gates to be left open, and had his men disguise themselves as civilians, calmly sweeping the streets when the enemy army arrived. When Sima Yi saw the “Empty City,” he refused to believe the illusion, believing that the appearance of poor resistance surely meant a trap was awaiting him inside. Unwilling to take that chance, Sima Yi retreated – despite having actually having an army that outnumbered his foe by almost a hundred to one!

So, the next time you’re preparing for war, and you see an enemy city that’s just a little too unprepared for your attack, ask yourself… do you feel lucky?

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