The Ancient Art of War

aka: Sun Tzu's L'Art de la Guerre
Moby ID: 23
DOS Specs

Description official descriptions

The Ancient Art of War is a real-time strategy game based on the very basic elements of war: unit types, formation, and strength. The game is set in ancient battle-style times before the use of gun powder, consisting of the three basic unit types of that period: the light armored but fast 'barbarians', the heavily armored but slow 'knights', and the ranged 'archers'. A fourth non-combatant unit type is also available: 'spies', which is only available under certain campaign rule settings.

The game consists of different scenarios to choose from, each with a different geographical setting, difficulty setting, visibility setting, and victory condition setting. Some settings may be subject to change by the player.

Gameplay is represented in two major areas:

  • The first is the tactical/political map, which visualizes geographical and terrain elements from a top-down perspective. Here the player can coordinate, position, reinforce troops, and also command them to attack, defend or ambush enemy troops in a real-time setting. Time may be set to pause, faster or slower to make battle plans easier.

  • The second is the combat screen where one group of soldiers fight another group of the enemy. A squad consisting a maximum of 14 soldiers will fight according to their set battle formation and will act only on the player's real-time battle commands (e.g. attack, forward, retreat, etc.).

The difficulty levels are represented by eight opponents, which include the Greek goddess of war Athena, a stereotypical Russian-Soviet commander named Crazy Ivan, as well as the historical characters Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Geronimo, and Sun Tzu as the hardest opponent. Each opponent has a different fighting style of combat and strategy.

The game also comes with a construction set which allows the player to their create own campaigns: From the story, rules and to the map editor. In this game editor, the player can also tweak troops to the player's liking, such as default troop formations.

Groups +


Credits (DOS version)

6 People (3 developers, 3 thanks)

Special thanks to
  • The Avery Brundage Collection
  • for their permission to reproduce a detail of the BALUSTER VASE (Ch'ing Dynasty) for this cover.



Average score: 72% (based on 2 ratings)


Average score: 3.7 out of 5 (based on 47 ratings with 8 reviews)

AAOW was way ahead of its time.

The Good
The Ancient Art of War was a breakthrough product that introduced several forward-thinking game elements that still exist in today's products. As a real-time strategy game, you couldn't just sit on your laurels and think for hours; the enemy was moving and thinking at the same time you were. As a result, the faster you moved at thinking and manipulating your batallions, the better a chance you stood against the computer.

AAOW also included a playfield editor. This extended the playability infinitely, since you could introduce new battlefields to the computer opponents if you'd mastered them all. You can even write a textual description of your scenario--which is printed on on-screen "parchment"--and give your scenarios to friends.

The graphics in AAOW are effective, and there's a lot of them. Zooming in on a battle to control your troops reveals several nicely-drawn backgrounds.

Finally, there are eight computer opponents, all modeled after real-life people like Napolean, Sun Tzu, Geronimo, etc. Each has a different style of playing.

The Bad
Sun Tzu, the ancient author of the book on which this game is based, is an incredibly tough opponent. (You'd assume this, of course, since he "wrote the book on war.") Also, there could have been more campaigns on disk; less than 20 are supplied, which leaves you craving more.

The Bottom Line
Absorbing, simple to understand, clever, and engaging, The Ancient Art of War is a "must have" experience for any serious wargamer.

DOS · by Trixter (8952) · 1999

The FIRST Real Time Strategy Game ... in 1984!

The Good
Although the game only had three different army types, archers, barbarians, knights, the game required tremendous skill ... I wish I had this game still !!!

The Bad
The game only supported CGA ... !!

The Bottom Line
The first RTS game ever created ... command legions of archers, knights, and barbarians to conquer different war hero figures, like Sun Tzu, Ghengis Kahn, ... etc ...

DOS · by Trent Simms (2) · 1999

Ancient Art of War was my FIRST love in computer games.

The Good
Playability. Depth.

The Bad
AI could be better.

The Bottom Line
As others have said before me, the FIRST real-time strategy game.

DOS · by Rogue Agent (1) · 2000

[ View all 8 player reviews ]



Probably an unintentional bug, but Archers by default can only kill other blokes via ranged combat and are completely useless in melee combat. However, Archers can kill enemies in "melee" combat. At least, unintentionally.

If you send (march) your archers backward and forward in combat, sometimes (and rarely) the enemies may die when they bump into each other. This works even more so if your Archers have "good/high condition" compared to the enemies. Apparently the Archers can clobber them with the bows...


  • ATHENA is worshipped for her wisdom as well as her warrior skills.
  • ALEXANDER THE GREAT keeps good food lines but weak when not on the plains.
  • GERONIMO uses hit and run tactics but doesn't like to be caught in the open.
  • CRAZY IVAN isn't a great leader but he has a good sense of humor.
  • CAESAR is a tactical genius but does not always protect his conquests.
  • GENGHIS KHAN and SUBOTAI use surprise and speed to become nearly invincible.
  • NAPOLEON BONAPARTE makes precise plans but can underestimate his enemy.
  • SUN TZU understands every aspect of war and uses it to his own advantage.


Game Designers Dave and Barry Murray, Olympia, WA (from the 1988 Broderbund Software catalog):

We wanted to do a war game based on real tactics and strategies. So we did a ton of research and found Sun Tzu's book. It was written 2500 years ago -- Genghis Khan and Napoleon studied it. Usually, people think the way to win is to destroy the enemy. Not so. Actually, the winning strategy is to get the enemy in a position to surrender. We worked 16 and 17 hours a day out in the woods in Washington...but it's all paid off. We get phone calls and letters every day from players. They're incredibly loyal and involved.

MCGA version

An MCGA version of Ancient Art of War was released sometime around 1987 or 1988. I have played this version, and it appears to have 16 colors, but with a custom MCGA palette.


The game is based on the The Art of War (Bingfa or Ping Fa in Chinese), the first military treatise ever, written by ancient Chinese warrior philosopher Sun Zi (Sun Tzu) in nearly 5th century B.C. The quotes from it, as well as Sun Tzu himself, appear during gameplay.

Information also contributed by Indra was here, PCGamer77 and POMAH


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Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 23
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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Trixter.

Amstrad CPC added by Jean-Paul Mari. Apple II added by PCGamer77. Amiga added by Scaryfun. PC-98, PC-88 added by Unicorn Lynx. Atari ST added by Orfikus. Macintosh added by Garcia.

Additional contributors: john lahmy, Pseudo_Intellectual, Patrick Bregger.

Game added March 1, 1999. Last modified April 3, 2024.