Leading Grand Cathay – how the Eastern Empire dominates on the campaign map


Total War
October 13 2021

Welcome back to TotalWar.com, let’s talk mechanics. You’ve learned all about the endless machinations of the dragons, the human lords, and the mass of humanity that makes up Grand Cathay. Now it’s time to learn how they play. This is the first in a series of articles where we will detail the main mechanics of each faction on the campaign map. Naturally, these are further modified by Legendary Lord choice, starting position, and then what happens in your own campaign – Legendary Lord mechanics will get their own posts soon enough. For in-battle mechanics, take a look at the Grand Cathay roster.

Do remember that WARHAMMER III is still in development, with a due date of Early 2022. That means things can change – don’t take all the numbers in the screenshots below as completely, unmovably final. That said, feedback is feedback, we look forward to hearing what you think.

That’s quite enough of the caveats – on to the mechanics.


As we’ve discussed previously, Harmony is everything in Grand Cathay. The smooth combination of ranged firepower and stalwart frontlines. The wellbeing of the populace alongside their unswerving loyalty. As well as boosting the power of differently aligned units in battle, you must keep your faction as a whole in balance through considerate building choices, lord picks, and technology.

Just about everything will nudge the harmony of your faction one way or the other, all tracked by a handy bar at the top of the screen. Should you drift towards one side, it will become cheaper to push back to the center, but your over-represented buildings will be less effective, and your control of your provinces will drop.

Maintaining the middle point is the biggest reward, giving significant boons to all areas of your empire and a unique army ability to summon the spirits of ancestors long dead to help out in battle. With every researched technology, built building, and hired lord trying to dislodge it, maintaining this for an extended period can be challenging, but it’s more than worth it – even for just a couple of turns.

Wu Xing Compass

The Wu Xing Compass is a great magical device built into the holy city of Wei-Jin, created by the Celestial Dragon Emperor to control the winds of magic within Grand Cathay. Its primary purpose is to project power to and help defend the Great Bastion when it is under threat, but the progeny of the Emperor can direct it as they wish to serve their purposes.

Whenever the Compass is directed to one of its four points, that area begins to fill with magic. Most provide a faction-wide buff that is always active, with another that is only available when the compass is pointed its way. As that area fills with magic, the passive ability grows in strength. However, if the compass is pointed elsewhere, the magic in the area begins to drop, depowering the passive. This balancing act depends on your needs as well as any emergencies you may be facing, and must be chosen wisely as there is a turn limit on changing the compass again. Here’s a breakdown of the regions and their effects:

  • Great Bastion
    • Passive buff provides additional supplies for Grand Cathay armies defending settlements and additional casualty replenishment for all armies.
    • Active buff decreases recruitment costs and provides a unique army ability to drop meteors on enemies.
  • Celestial Lake
    • Passive buff provides growth to all Grand Cathay factions.
    • Active buff gives additional income and stronger Winds of Magic growth within Grand Cathay regions.
  • Warpstone Desert
    • No passive buff or growing/falling energy reserve for this region, due to the mass of warpstone.
    • Active buff lowers corruption across Grand Cathay, guarantees lower Winds of Magic reserves, and gives a leadership debuff to enemy armies inside the nation.
  • Dragon Emperor’s Wrath
    • Passive buff provides Control to all Grand Cathay factions.
    • Active effect only at a full energy reserve applies massive (massive.) attrition to all Chaos forces besieging the Great Bastion.

Ivory Road

Trade is important to Grand Cathay – it not only has a massive population, but a hugely different collection of magical artifacts and native flora and fauna to Kislev and the other nations to the West. Even the Ogre Kingdoms value the delights of Grand Cathay enough to pay for it when they feel like it (or raid the caravans when they don’t). Which brings us nicely to the game mechanics of the Ivory Road, the central trade route in and out of Grand Cathay, running right through the lands of Zhao Ming and off to the Empire.

When playing as a Grand Cathay faction, you can dispatch a caravan whenever you like, sending it along one of the many paths of the Ivory Road. This will take it through various regions, some of which may prove treacherous. At various points you choose which direction the caravan will next take, with it progressing naturally across the map. While you don’t have direct control over it, it does have vision as a normal army would, giving you important scouting information as it goes.

With each major rest-stop along the route, various events and dilemmas can fire – found friends, Ogre mercenaries, new routes, and many more surprises await upon the road. These can result in battles, bonuses, further cargo, or any combination. Once a caravan reaches a destination, you will receive money based on cargo amount and some other factors, and it will begin to return home. At this point, another caravan can be sent out.

Each caravan has its own leader, a new lord type with a unique ‘blue’ skilltree for increasing the boons of caravans – extra cargo, more replenishment between rest-stops, etc. They can naturally also take various combat upgrades, depending on what you think they might get up to. The key to this mechanic is finding safe routes or building caravans that can take the punishment of the big, wide world, plus making smart decisions about how and when to fight.

If you’re opposing Grand Cathay in the campaign (surely you wouldn’t dare?), you can find their caravans on the map and attack them. Doing so (and winning) will destroy the caravan, making it a good way to starve them of resources. Of course, it does involve declaring war, with all the diplomatic consequences that entails – the dragons may be pleased if you take out rebel caravans, but less so if you target theirs.

Great Bastion

The Great Bastion sits in the northmost part of Grand Cathay and is vital to the defense of the empire, its people, and the world. It also forms a central part of gameplay for the nation. As you can imagine, this is more relevant at the start of a campaign to Miao Ying, as she starts in the region, while Zhao Ming is busy dealing with rebel lords and various ratmen. That said, threats to the wall are a threat to the empire, and Zhao will need to keep an eye on it as much as anyone else.

The Great Bastion takes the form of a massive, impassable wall, with three gates that must be controlled and held by the forces of Grand Cathay. Chaos forces are constantly attempting assaults on it, but the larger ones come from a slow buildup of forces in the wastes. These must be dealt with through sallying forth or preparing your defenses with commandments at each gatehouse, if you hold them.

Threat to the Great Bastion is tracked through a meter at the top of the screen, which fills as Chaos prepares an assault, and descends if they are defeated. Keeping the threat low, and reaching zero, are looked on favourably by the Celestial Dragon Emperor, who will reward those who do so. Allowing a breach, as well as earning his ire, means Chaos is now rampaging through the soft heartland of Cathay, a recipe for disaster.

The Fortress Gate cities – the Snake Gate, the Dragon Gate, the Turtle Gate – share a unique building tree and commandments. These serve various purposes, and you will need to balance constant vigilance with the need for rest and recouperation at the edge of Chaos. Once a Gate is returned to its full glory at tier five, it reduces the cooldown on using the Wu Xing compass.


Naturally, Grand Cathay has a technology tree like many of the other races. We’ll be highlighting anything unique about the layout and mechanics of tech trees in these articles. For Grand Cathay, tech choices are split into three branches, which converge a few times through the tree. The central, and least large, offers minor improvements but doesn’t push in either Yin or Yang direction. The other two are broadly focused on melee and ranged combat (though include many, many other elements) and push in the Yin and Yang directions, respectively. Each technology researched pushes your harmony in that direction permanently, with some doing this multiple times. That makes it a balancing act between what you need to buff your armies and your needs for Harmony.

This, along with all the other systems that interact with Harmony, can be quite a lot to govern every turn. Having Harmony during key battles or moments is more important than maintaining it constantly, though of course you could abandon that track to focus almost purely in one direction. Many technologies give boons to armies that are more one way than the other, and naturally affect the units that are most likely to be in those armies. Of course, each legendary lord has a preference too, and some of their skills can push one way or the other too.

A few times the tech tree for Grand Cathay recombines into one central point, then branches out again. Planning your next few turns of research and the armies that you will want to support will give significant boons as you prioritise your route through the tree. There are many dead-end paths with big rewards, but which aren’t the pre-requisite for anything else – when to take those is vitally important.

For the Dragon Emperor!

That’s Grand Cathay in a nutshell. All of this is naturally altered by faction bonuses and the capabilities of Zhao Ming, the Iron Dragon, and Miao Ying, the Storm Dragon specifically. We’ll get on to that in the future, along with the campaign mechanics for the other factions.