II. The Basics and a Note on Game Mechanics

The Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy game. It bears a lot of similarity to chess. If you've played Civilization, Disgaea, or Final Fantasy Tactics, then you've got some background in turn-based strategy video games.

A typical battle involves 2 teams, 6 units a side, with players alternating turns as they take action (to move, attack, use abilities, etc.). Gameplay or combat takes place on a board, with square tiles, similar again to a chess board. Units have a specific number of tiles/squares they can move across each turn. Each unit is assigned a turn on the "initiative bar." This is the order in which units will take turns (on the battlefield, this will be on your lower left). Before battle, you can set the order in which your units will take action in The Proving Ground. This turn order cannot be changed during battle. (There is one exception to this using one special ability, but I’ll get to this later).

This also means that the player cannot choose which unit to move during his turn (in contrast to chess, you can move whichever piece during your turn). Instead, turns are assigned to units specifically and in order. You'll see this in practice once you try it out :).

Melee units can only attack adjacent units. Ranged units have a number of squares they can attack over (archers in this case, have a range of 5 squares), but they cannot attack units adjacent to them.

The game is over when one side has no more units remaining.


*An important difference from other games(!!!):

Players take turns when taking action with their units. In other turn based strategies, killing an enemy unit forfeits that side's turn. Put in a simpler way, in other games people with more units get more turns. That is not the case with The Banner Saga, here players continue to alternate turns even if one side has fewer units.

TLDR for this interesting mechanic:

This means that remaining units get more turns as your or your enemy's team dwindles.

(Let's relate this to chess, but by TBSF rules - the objective is to have the last man standing).
Now, with TBSF rules: let's say Player A has a queen left. Player B has a rook and 2 pawns, and EACH MUST TAKE A TURN. Player A will move his queen. Player B will then move his rook (because it is first in his order), he cannot choose which unit to move. Player A will move his queen again. Player B will now move 1 pawn, he cannot choose which unit to move because of the order. Player A will move his queen again. Player B will move his second pawn, he cannot choose to move the other two pieces.

In the example above, even if Player A is "outnumbered", he/she has the superior unit taking more turns. By TBSF logic, if you get rid of the "rook" and leave the "pawns", then you put yourself in a winning position. Take a moment to give this some thought, or observe it in-game.

A. Strategy/Tactics Point: Kill or Maim

This means that while playing, you are actually left with the choice to KILL or MAIM the enemy unit. In a later discussion I’ll discuss how this also has more subtle nuances.

Tip: consider things carefully, if you kill an otherwise harmless unit, you "speed up" the remaining units of your opponent (which is bad if they are really strong). You might also open yourself to being attacked, if the unit you killed was preventing something stronger from reaching you. However, if you fail to kill a highly useful unit (even when it's weakened), you'll see your team taking damage that could be avoided. Generally though, it’s a good idea to kill what you can, when you can, unless you open yourself to attack from something else.

When trying to judge the state of the battle, whether you’re winning or losing, you can consider 2 things.

  1. The number of units both teams have.
  2. The strength/stats left on both teams

Note, even if you outnumber your opponent, if he has 2 or 3 strong units left, he’ll use what’s described above to wreak havoc on your team, especially if you have more but weakened units.

B. Attacking Armor or Strength

Units have two stats that serve as health, one is strength - real health, and the other is armor, a shield that protects strength/health. (This will be further discussed later, but in TBS:F strength is not just health, but also attack power - so as a unit is hurt, it’s attack also decreases).

Normally you should reduce armor on a unit before attacking str.

However, when using units with really high strength (str), like a warhawk (units to be introduced in detail later), it's a good idea to attack an enemy directly, especially if you can reduce that enemy's str to half. Nevertheless, if a unit's armor is too high, or if both armor and str are high or if str is really high, it's a good idea to invest in making that enemy more vulnerable by breaking armor. After which, an attack to str becomes more effective.

Ideally, reducing the enemy to half life is a good rule of thumb, when trying to decide whether to attack str or armor. Another more advanced consideration is lowering the enemy’s highest strength unit to a level where it’s less threatening, but this can sometimes be a risky trade-off – unlike the given rule of thumb.

Ex. Enemy thrasher has 10 str and 12 armor. If your warhawk has 16 str and (1) willpower/exertion, attacking the thrasher's str directly may be a good idea, because you can reduce his str to 5. This makes him much easier to kill later on if ever the need arises. This also protects low armor units from taking damage that could reduce their effectiveness (such as archers who do better if they maintain full str). But let’s say that thrasher had 14 armor instead, so the attack would only reduce the thrasher’s health by 3. In second case, it’s better to reduce the thrasher’s armor first with another unit, and try to hit him with that 16 str warhawk after.

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