The One Game Week 8: Team Building

I’m dedicating time to one game in order to try and master it. I’ve chosen The Banner Saga to be that “One Game”. Each week I’ll be reporting on my progress within the game, as well as things I’ve learned outside of it. You can follow my progress via this tag.

Week 8.
Total time played (according to Steam): 10 hours.
Matches Played / Won: 6 / 0
Achievements unlocked: 0.
Rank: 56969.
Rating: 984.
Team Power: 1.
Renown: 40.

This week I thought it would be a good idea to summarise my thoughts so far on constructing a team in The Banner Saga: Factions.

The biggest sticking point for me is that it seems very difficult to create a team with a specific strategy in mind. As I’ve said before, the idea of building a team should be loosely analogous to deck-building in Magic: The Gathering. Should be, but isn’t in practice. There’s too much emphasis on tweaking fine-grained stats on a specific character as opposed to choosing characters with wildly different abilities. Personally I see this as the game’s great weakness, but for other people it will be the greatest strength.

Here’s why I don’t like it: first of all, there simply isn’t enough variety. The stats basically boil down to how much damage the character can withstand, and how much it can dish out. With few exceptions, the different abilities of the character types don’t amount to much more than modifying damage (the exceptions being the Siege Archer, Provoker, and Warleader). The abilities just aren’t interesting enough. Where are the abilities to instantly kill a character by sacrificing one of your own? What about damage over time? And so on.

In addition to this, bar the use of abilities and the differences in stat maximums, every character type plays the same as every other. The only real difference is the size of each character. Varl make for good blockers due to their larger size, with the trade-off that they have far fewer movement options once the match is in full swing. This all means that I can’t build a team that makes for dramatically different gameplay, than say the difference between powering-up and overwhelming?

But, as I have to keep reminding myself, this isn’t Magic: The Gathering. The mechanics of Banner Saga: Factions are such that it is in the nuances of character design, the subtleties of trade-off between the break stat and the strength stat. Which is why it’s all the more annoying that it’s a struggle with the UI to find out this information about an enemy’s characters during a match. There’s an enforced time limit, which means you don’t get time to look at the opponent’s characters other than what class they are, which is much more of a problem when you consider that every character will be different. I can play my turn at Magic very quickly, because I can easily tell exactly what’s in play (and calculate the possible outcomes in my head) just by looking at the cards’ names, something I can’t do in Factions.

This also means it can be tricky to analyse weak points in the team. Trying to figure out if I’d have been better off with an extra archer instead of a Raider is simple enough, but trying to figure out whether that Archer needs an extra point in strength or not is a different story.

With that in mind, I pick up where I left off last week, with the same team. To battle!

Ninja Foodstuff vs. Mazzeo_Br

I start with 2 Varl front and center, raiders flanking, and archers at the rear. I’m going to take a similar approach to last week, which is to try and create a wall to prevent the enemy getting through. There’s a fire pit in the middle of the map, so that will also help to create a wall.

Argh! Stupid Varl walked across the fire pit, taking two points of damage! Why do that? Why not go around!

Mazzeo_Br takes an interesting approach, sending both Varl down one side and keeping the archers and raiders on the other. I focus on taking down the most likely threats: the closest Varl on one side, and the closest raider on the other. One of my Raiders takes a hell of a beating, with Mazzeo_Br seemingly focusing just on strength attacks.

I resist the opportunity to lose good position by attacking characters away from my main group, but this is going to be a long battle. I don’t know if “resting” for so many turns will pay off.

Strangly, at one point Mazzaeo_Br moves an archer right next to my Varl. I have no idea whether that was deliberate or not. I punch 3 points out of her armour in an effort to find out.

I have to be careful though: I lose one of my raiders, leaving my archer exposed. Fortunately my blocking Varl is still holding up well, and I focus on draining strength at this point, as I seem to have the advantage in armour. Mazzeo_Br is running low on willpower, having to tap the horn a couple of times, but then missing some shots.

At this point we have a Varl and 2 archers each, though I consider myself to be in better shape. The showdown: 2 archers vs 2 archers. I tap the horn and go to work. For the first time, I get the opportunity to pillage.

AND DO I! The remaining archer goes down. Victory is mine, for the very first time.

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2 Comments

    arniestoic says:

    Very entertaining read and congrats on your first win!
    Now on to some points: Your Varl walked through the fire because you did not select waypoints to make him go around. Click tile by tile if you want and only click the check-mark when you like the selected path.
    I was a bit confused as to why you said all the units are basically the same until I remembered your team power of 1. Have tried them all? Skystriker secretly traps tiles and will insta-kill at rank 3 (sometimes at rank 1 if Puncture is in effect). Strongarm can knock units around the board. Backbiter runs through units and the Bowmaster has increased range…etc. Even the units that simply increase in damage dealt, like the Thrasher, are situational. For instance his last hit does +1 damage per adjacent friendly unit. Most tactics in the game lean on positioning of units. We did start new players with the base units so they can learn the base game and passive abilities. We feared moving them into the rank 1 abilities too soon would be too much information too fast.
    Info: Click the banner icon in the upper right of the combat board (or tab) to see everyone’s info banners which have their main stats at a glance. Some play the whole game with them open. We will soon be adding the ability to click any unit in the field to see all their stats, but the 3 major ones needed to play the game, Willpower – Armor – Strength, are on their info banners for quick reference.
    Click on their portraits along the bottom to see all their abilities and what buffs/debuffs they have on them and what ranks the buffs/debuffs are.
    Advanced tutorials are found in the upper right of Strand in the banner icon.
    I hope some of this helps a bit and look forward to reading next weeks saga!

      Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      I did play most of the other types during the beta. The point I was trying to make was that the abilities don’t feel varied enough, not enough to drastically alter the flow of the game, as can happen with MTG (I neglected to mention the Skystriker, who does indeed have an ability like that, which I’ve even written about before). The point I’m trying to make is that the majority of the abilities are about “change what damage I’ll do”. For instance the Thrasher will do X points of strength damage or Y armour damage, but using his ability renders Z strength and armour damage. That’s fine, but there’s nothing really game-changing like being able to sacrifice a character to kill another.

      You can’t forcibly change the enemy’s position except for the Strongarm, who needs to be adjacent to do so. You can’t manipulate the enemy’s willpower in any way. There aren’t really any buffs/debuffs other than the passive abilities which are based on proximity. There’s no way to heal damage. And so on.

      I think part of it is that there are only six characters in play, but I think giving each an extra ability or two would go a long way. Even ranking up a character just provides incremental gains to each ability, rather than turning them into something new. Although I have several choice to make each turn, they are mostly about positioning. I seem to be finding (which I’ll probably write about more next week) that it’s pointless to hoard willpower in the early game.

      If you look at XCOM, there you have a small team, but with a lot of different options. As they improve, their options also increase, whilst still remaining within certain limits, through the use of equipment (can apply to any character) as well as new abilities.

      Thanks for letting me know about the banner, which will help a lot.

Your thoughts on this?