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The Banner Saga: Warbands» Forums » General

Subject: Is this game any good? rss

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Bob Nelson
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Oxford
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Anyone played one game? Doesn't seem to be much about how this game works and it just got released to retail...
 
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Todd V
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Illinois
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If you want to get an idea of how the game plays, the developers posted some gameplay videos on Youtube and you can also find them on the Kickstarter campaign page.

I really wanted to like this game, not just because it's the most expensive board game I've ever bought (even after you separate out the cost of the video games included in the pledge), but also because I'm a huge fan of the video games and thought both the game systems and the world and characters could be made into a great board game. Unfortunately, this is not the great game I hoped for, I don't think it's even a good game.

I've played 5 or 6 times since receiving the game, trying missions of various length, and honestly only that many because I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to Stoic studio and the excellent video games and world they created. If this same game were called something other than Banner Saga I never would have played the board game a second time.

I'm thinking of writing up a review so maybe I'll post that in the next few days. Here's are some summarized pros and cons (sorry this ended up being pretty long):

Pros
-excellent miniatures
-character art, map art, and battle tiles taken from the video game look great
-event cards create some narrative and give you some difficult choices to make
-tactical combat can be a difficult puzzle to solve

Cons
-some components other than the minis feel cheap like they cut some corners. Board is just bare cardboard on the edges with no covering or finish. Cards feel kinda cheap. Some punchboard tokens are printed out of alignment. Some character art is copy/pasted for multiple characters with minor color palette swaps.

-event cards describe the situation and choices you can make, but there is no writing describing the results of your choices. No story consequences, just totally mechanical like add 5 supplies, lose 100 soldiers, lose 2 morale. Sometimes a follow-up "camp event" may be triggered by your choice, but these are somewhat vague and generic since they could be triggered by several different initial events, and the same camp events come up game after game.

-the bidding system for deciding event choices seems not very well thought out or interesting. Basically you can spend your most valuable resource (renown, which is also used to buy supplies, hire troops, add follower characters, and upgrade characters) just for the purpose of winning an argument about which choose-your-own adventure event path to take, and you don't even know what the results of that choice will be until afterward. Every incentive is for the players to agree on one choice and spend as little renown as possible.

-very few interesting choices to make. Depending on mission length you will get somewhere between 3 and a dozen or so events. Half of events only involve 2 of the 3-4 players. The only other decision is the camp/city actions, which each player just chooses to do or not do.

-other than events and battles, other mechanics just feel like tedious bookkeeping, moving supply/troop/morale tracks up and down

-missions are bland and all basically the same. Kind of a problem as the entire game is just completing a mission and trying to meet the victory conditions. They are all basically "go from point A to point B along a predefined path". The only real differences are what resources you start with and how many steps are between A and B. Victory conditions are arbitrary like "have some number of character upgrades or renown points by the time you reach the end point". Missions are just boring and are totally lacking in theme. There is no campaign or overarching story to link the individual events or the various missions together. The lovely map is kind of pointless as any location or region or city is basically the same as another, the mission could be a straight track labeled space 1-2-3-4 and it wouldn't really change anything.

-tactical battles are really pretty simple despite being difficult to win without casualties. Maps are too small and movement ranges too big to allow for much maneuvering. Followers die very easily and there are few chances to replace them, and some battles are near impossible to win without them.

-rulebook is unclear and poorly organized, several things now listed in the online FAQ are either totally missing from the rulebook, totally unclear as written, or corrections to things that were just wrong in the printed rules.
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Andrew H
United States
California
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I agree with @sonambulo and my experiences are very much the same. My group has played a total of three games and we've been dissecting the rules after the games. I made a thread over on Megacon game's forum to discuss my early issues with Skirmishes, under the same username I have here. As we use more and more of the information that's been released since online, and it makes the game much more playable, but still not a very fun experience. We had lost the first two games we played, once because we just didn't know what to do at the very beginning and the second because we were thrown into an unwinnable encounter on turn one.

The third game, by having myself play the Warmaster and the Thane so we have all four Bannermen, we were able to win. After two or three rewinds to fix situations. We even won the last combat that we thought we had no way of winning after stopping and thinking about it more and more. Which resulted in one of our player's following asleep since she was just doing book keeping and defaulted to the other two of us as we would cover any tactical ideas the three of us could come up with.

But the worst part was the results of a card that had some small to moderate effect on the game and put a particular camp event into the deck. By the time the camp events came around, we had bounced back from the issue and were sitting at the best we had ever been the entire game. But this one event said you put the 'Defeated' event into the camp deck, the card that you put in your camp if you lose a skirmish: Either you pony up 15 renown from the whole party to restart the game from your current position, or you lose. All from a even who's options you aren't aware of, and who's events we completely turned around and then some. Even with a story it wouldn't make a lick of sense that we would suddenly lose from 'lack of leadership' when we were all sitting with plenty of soldiers, plenty of food, skilled fighters, and plenty of wealth.

If you decide you want to give it a shot, I suggest you do, but make sure you read over the FAQ and have it handy as you go over the game. If you find you don't like it, play it again with a couple changes:

On external events, remove the penalty for having all votes be Renown 0. It makes no lick of sense.
If you find things way too arbitrary, read over the results on any event card and let your party come to a decision that way instead of voting on a choice and seeing what happens. This might make the game a little too easy, as there are some options that are literally just losing things in different amounts, but there are some results that just seem arbitrary.

All in all, I am very upset with this game and wish I could get a refund for at least the game portion. And will be even more upset if the stretch goal pieces aren't sent out either.
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Tim Chase
United States
New Jersey
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@sonambulo I agree with some of your points but not all, and so far I've enjoyed the game (only 2 plays). What player counts have you tried? How has your win-loss ratio been?
 
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Todd V
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So far I have played solo and with 3 players, both without the Thane and controlling the Thane as a group. About half of those were losses, once due to a party wipe in a skirmish. The other losses we completed the mission route but failed to meet the victory conditions. We reached our goal, the mission says we each need 5 renown to win and one of us only has 4, so I guess we lose. Extremely anticlimactic and unthematic.

The difficulty of the game is really not the problem for me. I love difficult co-op games. If I lose multiple games of Eldritch Horror, Ghost Stories, Defenders of the Realm, Yggrasil, Pandemic, etc. that just becomes a challenge that makes me want to beat the game even more the next time we play. The main problem for me with the Banner Saga is the lack of theme, which sounds strange to say for a game with a lot of thematic artwork, miniatures, and narrative events.

What's our objective? To get from this city to this city. Why? because the mission card says so.
Who is my character? You're the quartermaster, you're in charge of supplies. (inspiring?)
How do we win? You need X supplies or Y character upgrades before we get to the destination. Why? because the mission card says so.

Considering the only reason to choose one event option over another is purely dependent on roleplaying the decision your character would make within the setting, the fact that there is no effort to explain the characters or setting is a big detriment.

It seems like the board game is leaning so heavily on the video games and really can't stand on its own. I would never even try to introduce this game to someone who wasn't already a fan of the video game series, and the designers clearly aren't even trying to appeal to anyone who isn't already a fan. What's a varl? What's a dredge? Why are Arberrang or Grofheim important cities? Not a single word of lore or background or character is anywhere in the board game.

The best parts of the game (character designs, world map, events) are lifted directly from the video game, but the best parts of the video game (story, motivation, characters, the better parts of the battle system) have all been dropped in favor of keeping the most boring and tedious parts (supply, morale, head count of your caravan).

Sorry for another long rant, I really don't want to be so negative but this one has been a disappointment.
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Andrew H
United States
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@sonambulo +1
I'd have to say that is probably the main reason why my friend who doesn't know about the game doesn't like it. With some extra flavor on the results of the actions it would probably help blunt the pain at least a little bit.
 
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Tim Chase
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New Jersey
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I've only played 2 solo games so far with the 4 player rules. I've really enjoyed learning the game though. Here are some of my thoughts:

Objectives
The objectives for the missions seem arbitrary and don't have a thematic explanation. But I really like how much they impact the overall strategy of the mission. It forces you to rethink your priorities and adds some welcome variety.

Theme
Despite the above, the game captures the theme really well for me. It reminds me of when starcraft the board game was released. There was a lot of criticism about the design decisions that deviated from the video game. But it made for a great board game that felt like it was part of the same world.

So far, Banner Saga Warbands has done the same for me. You don't meet any non player characters, and the game doesn't dictate a carefully crafted story. You are one of the leaders of a warband (a different wardband that the video games), and you are traveling from one location on the map to another. Why? Because of all of the stuff going on in the video game, the world is ending, the dredge are invading, you want to survive, etc. You will have to carefully balance fluctuating resources to keep a strong warband and generate as much renown as possible (the currency for everything). On this journey you will face events that present tough decisions that could have a dramatic impact on your resources. The resolutions don't include explanations for the reason behind the consequences, but I think making that part up is fun. The skirmishes are greatly simplified from the video game, and they are fast, brutal and have no random elements.

The fixed path of most missions feels consistent with the video game, so it doesn't bother me. It also doesn't seem like it would add meaningful decisions (ie- do you want this internal event or that one? What does it matter, we'll draw the same card regardless).

The visuals are fantastic and really help with the immersion.

Pace
One of the merits of the game, is how fast it moves. I was expecting it to go a lot slower, but the low number of decisions per location and the simplified skirmish rules enables the game to condense the journey of the warband into a good time. Maybe playing multiplayer will change my opinion on whether the number of decisions is satisfying (since I've been playing 4 roles).

BookKeeping
My mind isn't made up here, but this is probably one of my bigger concerns with the game. There is a fair amount of information to track on each of the role boards. Will the amount of bookkeeping take too much time and attention, impacting the level of satisfaction? Maybe additional plays will help because it'll take less effort to remember everything. Multiplayer may improve this too because it'll be spread out the bookkeeping between the players.
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Todd V
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I did get the thematic feel at times, struggling along with barely enough supplies, morale is sinking, bannermen are wounded, not sure if we can survive the next attack.

The thematic experience will be more rewarding based on how much storytelling and roleplaying you put into it. If you can set the stage for the players (like torva said above, world ending, pursued by hordes of dredge, trying to get your survivors to a safer place), it will definitely add to the game, and make the debates over the event decisions more meaningful. The game doesn't do any of that for you, it's entirely up to the players and the storytelling groundwork laid by the video games.

More interesting mission cards I think would go a long way toward improving the experience. Some kind of motivation and context would add a lot to the decisions, battles, and the objectives. Maybe even some mission-specific events to provide story hooks or big decision points that aren't just totally random events. For example, when building the event deck you could do something like draw 2 spring events + 1 mission event shuffled in, 2 summer events + 1 mission event and so on. Or trigger a certain event when you reach one of the major cities along the way, or for the final objective.
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Joel Carr
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Even when I backed I thought the bidding system a bit odd. Wasting/leveraging renown on a decision(sure thematic) but as this is the currency in game, it is problematic. That said, the minis are excellent, and the skirmish puzzles fun to figure out(for me).

As the missions are supposed to be played in order, maybe there is some overarching "story" besides go from here to here.. but I have not 'explored it.' In fact if the 'win conditions' were the start conditions for the next mission... hmmm.. but this AFAIK is not the case

That said, even in the VG I felt like I had little idea of why I was traveling to a particular location, just that I needed to as the dredge were 'taking over'. E.g we were running from them. does it capture the feel of the VG? yes, for me it does.

Is it fun? yes/no.

My overall guess (after my 3 solo (multi board plays)) is that the game is not outstanding... just good/mediocre. It is not a bad game. But not excellent. I am not 'sorry' I backed, but I am a Myth fan (see avatar), and mainly went in because 1) I like Banner saga, and 2) myth crossover stuff.

[In comparison to Recon, this is component wise far far far better quality, but still room for improvement(wrap/seal the board and tile edges please)]


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I have only played solo so far. I enjoy the game as solo but I do see the issue with multi players that they may not all have enough to do.
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Trent Y.
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Is it good?

The minis are very nice.

That's about it.

The game plays pretty bad. From the noted arbitrary event results arises situations that are impossible to win. I cannot stand this in games. It's weak game design and a complete lack of play testing that leads to this.

I'm not talking about hard fights. I'm talking about Event X results in losing Resource Y that is needed to win Scenario 3. It will be impossible for you to acquire enough Resource Y on the journey to win, so, mid-game you just pack it up and wonder why you started playing in the first place.

 
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