Started an Expert game as Lu Bu in 194. Here's a little AAR for the first session.
Lu Bu is actually helped a lot by my historical created officers; he gets some more Int and Pol guys and some okay fighters, though he's still an underdog next to Cao Cao. Yuan Shao and Liu Biao also gain a lot from the officers.
June 194, Chen Liu
The mood in Chen Liu was dark. The city's recent occupation was not viewed favorably, as Cao Cao has been thrown out by the rebelious Zhang Miao. Worse, Zhang Miao had called in the infamous Lu Bu to rule the city, former bodyguard of both Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo, and both dead by his hand.
Few believed the situation would last, as Cao Cao possessed the larger army, the superior officer corp, and the superior governing ability. But a number of Cao Cao's officers had joined the revolt aside from Zhang Miao; Chen Gong, Xu Si, Wang Kai, and Xue Lan had all raised the banner in favor of the new government. The war for Yan province was about to begin.
The first few months proved quiet; both sides raised and trained troops, governed the cities, and waited to see who would act first. Lu Bu's first scoured the nearby areas for men, and found two skilled warriors named Gan Ning and Xu Huang who agreed to join, perhaps wishing to learn under the land's greatest fighter. Lu Bu had also been sending men to search the ruins of Luoyang for treasure, left behind after the burn and sack of the city by Dong Zhuo only a few years ago. One of these treasures--a rare political treatise--used to bribe the powerful Yuan Shu, who accepted the tribute in return for an agreement not to involve himself in Yan.
Finally in September, the first move was made...
September 5th, Chen Liu governor's palace
The wine was flowing freely at the officer's banquet. Gao Shun had (as always) refused any alcohol, but most of the other's were enjoying themselves greatly. It did not last, however. The sound of footsteps were drawing nearer and nearer until some of Lu Bu's scout soldiers entered, gasping for breath and coated in sweat.
"Lord Lu Bu! Cao Cao's army is marching!" one of them said, bowing and laying down the scouting report on the floor. Lu Bu rose, swept up the parchment and read it slowly, scowling.
"You're certain about these numbers?" he growled.
"Yes, my lord! Fifty five thousand in four divisons under Cao Cao, Cao Hong, Cao Ang, and Zhu Ling."
The assembled officers immediately broke into furious debate. They all knew that Chen Liu itself had just over thirty six thousand troops, and there was not enough money in the coffers to raise more than another few hundred, at best. Chen Gong read the report before calling for a pause so he could speak.
"According to this, Cao Cao and Zhu Ling are leading twenty and ten thousand footmen, while Cao Hong and Cao Ang are bringing fifteen and ten thousand engineers with siege towers prepared. Those must be the first target or Chen Liu's walls will never hold. We must sortie in ten days. In the meantime we must train the soldiers, with my lords approval," he added. Xu Si stepped forward, and Lu Bu gestured him to speak.
"Cao Hong is tempermental. I believe I can buy us some more time before his towers arrive, if my lord will permit me to spread certain rumors in Pu Yang."
Lu Bu nodded. "Do it. Zhang Liao, Gao Shun! You two will each lead a division of the sortie!"
"Yes, my lord!"
"I will not fail you, my lord!"
In middle September, Lu Bu, Zhang Liao, and Gao Shun rode out with 8,000 men each to meet Cao Cao's forces in battle. They were outnumbered more than two to one, but Cao Cao's forces were spread out and, most unusually, Cao Hong and Zhu Ling began to withdraw towards Pu Yang as rumors spread that Yuan Shao had broken his treaty with Cao Cao and sent He Mao and Wang Mo to occupy the city. Yet as they drew near the city they saw no sign of battle and realized they had been tricked.
Closer to Chen Liu, Zhang Liao brought his forces to meet Cao Cao--his orders were to delay the arrival of this, the largest force, while the other divisons attacked Cao Ang. This was accomplished speedily, and Cao Ang began a full-scale retreat after a little more than a week of battle. Lu Bu urged his forces on towards Cao Cao, sending Gao Shun back to the city to handle the defense and, if necessary, bring another unit out to battle. Once Lu Bu arrived, Zhang Liao was sent to attack Zhu Ling's unit while the Flying General met the Hero of Chaos in battle. Although outnumbered, Lu Bu's powerful cavalry more than held their own...
Cao Cao's forces were arrayed for battle, though the enemy had not yet appeared. Although he had many more troops the campaign had gone poorly. Zhu Ling and Cao Hong's mistake in believing rumors had resulted in his forces arriving piecemeal. Worse, the siege forces under his son had been utterly broken, and what was left of his troops were limping back to Pu Yang in defeat. He received word that Cao Hong's force was struggling to arrive, and Zhu Ling had sent a hurried message that a cavalry force was overruning his position. Cao Cao realized he had under understimated Lu Bu--either the warrior was smarter than he was believed to be, or he was receiving strategies from someone.
"Enemy sighted, my lord!" shouted Xiahou Yuan. Indeed, Cao Cao could just barely make out the sight of horseman gathering in the distance, Lu Bu's banner raised above them. Cao Cao immediately had his forces wheel to meet them, but the approach was already coming rapidly. Lu Bu himself was clearly present, charging with the front rank of elite soldiers, all elite fighters, many of them having served as far back as the yellow turban rebellion under Ding Yuan's banner. Cao Cao's bowman opened fire and his spearmen braced...but it was no good. The horseman broke into a charge and smashed through the front line of the Yan province soldiers. Cao Cao immediately began to rally his rapidly forces, but to no avail as Lu Bu rode about slaying a man with each lightning-fast swing of his halberd. It seemed nobody could resist him, but Cao Cao was no easy prey; his troops regrouped and form a wall of spears to protect his crossbowmen, compelling Lu Bu's troops to withdraw, though the slaughter had been great.
As Cao Cao and Lu Bu fought outside Chen Liu, Zhu Ling's force was routed by Zhang Liao. Tough nearly half his men were now dead or wounded, Zhang Liao continued the assault and struck at Cao Hong's siege unit. But Cao Hong was a fiercer enemy than he had warranted. In the end, Zhang Liao was forced to withdraw with less than two thousand troops and retreat.
Meanwhile, Gao Shun rode out with another host to attack Cao Cao's unit, which was now caught between two armies and the defenders of Chen Liu. But Cao Hong's force was beginning to arrive, and the battle was in the balance as Cao Cao received continuous reinforcements from Pu Yang. Xiahou Yuan's ferocious mounted cavalry attacks took their toll on Lu Bu's army; during one raid on Gao Shun's force, he personally shot Xu Huang in the side, severely injuring him. But the terrain and the shorter supply line favored Lu Bu, and Cao Cao's force begn to falter. Hoping to shift the tide, Dian Wei of Cao Cao's army challenged Lu Bu to single combat with a shout:
"Lu Bu! I am Dian Wei of Ji Wu, and I say your reputation is false! Face me if you dare!"
Lu Bu feared no man and accepted, unhorsing the giant after several rounds. The desperate maneuver had backfired, and Cao Cao's troops lost all hope. Before 194 ended, his force was wholly routed. Lu Bu's battered troops returned with many wounded and prisoners--both officers and common soldiers--to the cheers of the defending troops. But Cao Cao was not defeated; he still had soldiers enough to make a fight. But Lu Bu now held the advantage in Yan.
While all this happened, Yuan Shu began his invasion of Xu; Liu Bei resisted bitterly but was broken. In the north, Yuan Shao easily swept aside his rival Zhang Yan, and soon invaded Qing. Li Jue did battle with Ma Teng to little success. Sun Ce built a massive army in Lu Jiang, but did not march. Liu Biao began to take control of the rest of Jing province.
Cao Cao regan to desperately ransom his officer corp back from Lu Bu, cutting greatly into his funding. Worse, enemy forces had taken to raiding Donga port, stealing hundreds of gold pieces and forcing Cao Cao to sell large number of supplies just to pay his staff.
Early in 195, he received word of an opportunity. Lu Bu's main force had moved to Hu Lao gate, and had soon after occupied Luo Yang. Spies in Chen Liu reported that he wished to name himself governor of Si Li and reclaim Chang An from Li Jue, and that he believed that Cao Cao would be too afraid to attack him after the previous battle. Eager to deal a powerful blow to his enemy, Cao Cao brought thirty-five thousand troops out to attack.
But it was a trap. Lu Bu has secretly contacted Li Jue, offering him a rare treasure in exchange for a promise not to invade Luoyang for atleast a full season. He had accepted. Cao Cao's forces was thus ambushed by the full weight of Lu Bu's army and cut apart. Although most of his commanders escaped, Cao Cao had lost even more soldiers, and cursed bitterly. The war came to an end soon; Cao Cao marched forward to occupy the abandoned Hu Lao gate, only to encounter Lu Bu's forces en route to Guandu port. A confused skirmish resulted; Lu Bu's forces had not been arrayed for battle and divided. Lu Bu himself took his own division to Hu Lao, while Zhang Liao and Gao Shun avoided Cao Cao's force and reached Guandu mostly unharmed.
Calling for the eight thousand men raised in Luo Yang to reinforce the gate, Lu Bu took fifteen thousand men to meet Cao Cao. The battle turned against him at first, but Xu Huang lent powerful support fire from the gate and Xiahou Dun's defeat in single combat with the monstrously strong Lu Bu weakened his resolve. Worse; at this tim Zhang Liao and Gao Shun lead nearly thirty thousand men against Pu Yang, which has only thirtreen thousand to defend it. The city fell quickly, and Cao Cao's few remaining troops in the field scattered. Cao Cao himself fled to Xu Chang. Yan was now wholly under Lu Bu's control.
Most of Cao Cao's officers surrendered in the coming months. A few sort service with other lords, mostly the two Yuan brothers. Cao Ren had served briefly in Yuan Shao's army, but left to rejoin Lu Bu when he received word that many of his relatives had submitted. Lu Bu soon after signed a treaty with Yuan Shao, offering tribute and promising to speak well of Yuan Shao when he reclaimed the capital. Yuan Shao soon after marched to take Xu from his brother.
His flanks secure, Lu Bu brought his main host to Luo Yang in July of 195. Kong Zhou of Xu Chang had refused to submit to him, famously stating that if Lu Bu wished for a war, he should be prepared to fight it. Lu Bu mused to himself that they would soon see if Kong Zhou himself was prepared for such a fight.
I actually had Cao Cao at 0 gold at one point. It turns out there's a small error if someone with no gold tries to ransom an officer from you; if you highlight the grey-outed gold button, the little text claims that you don't have enough gold, rather than the person you're negotiating with.