The Brilliant and Beautiful Banner Saga

The Banner Saga is turn-based tactical grid combat linked by an Oregon trail where you’re either Vikings or Giant Vikings. I sort of don’t want to say anything good after that, because I’m only writing for people who didn’t immediately leave to play Banner Saga, aka not my kind of people.

Pictured: my kind of people. At least four of them by mass.

Pictured: my kind of people. At least four of them by mass.

The first joy is the writing. Halo and Gears of War spending millions of dollars rendering their new alien enemies, but you’re no more moved to hate them than a sewage worker hates toilets: they might have to clean away all these brown and grey lumps, but that’s just their job. But one of Banner Saga’s events brought me to such hatred that I would pull down the sky to crush the Earth if only it would be sure of killing that one villain, and they did that with a few lines of text.

banner saga godstone

You’re watching small pixels plodding along a one-dimensional path when suddenly shit gets realer than it does on your side of the monitor. I won’t say exactly how, because the whole point is playing games is to gain new experiences, but they’ve mastered their new perspective despite being the only people using it.

The second part is the joy of working out a new gaming system. The innovative combat mechanics turn several established isometric combat tactics on their heads. And then cuts yours off if you don’t adapt.

Sides Always Alternate Turns

Alternating between sides means an outnumbered side gets more turns per character. So if you’re used to using circle-stomps to quickly cut down the enemy numbers, your weakened troops will now be facing totally healthy enemies who are now turbocharged to boot. Instead you have to take all enemies into account every turn, and you realize that makes much more sense than every other game you played.

Armor and Strength

You can choose to attack an enemy’s armor or strength (which is also their hit points). If your strength is less than their armor, your can only chip away at that armor as any other attack will probably be deflected. But they suffer the same problem, so your strong character should power through and cripple as many enemies as possible, leaving them weak as a kitten inside their perfect armor. That way your weaker allies can safely wear them down without being annihilated.

Kills Count For Everything

banner saga victory

It’s a warrior culture:  there are no XP increments for assists, so even if you helped with a thousand kills, if you can’t claim any for yourself then you won’t get any more famous. And soon you won’t be able to help anyone at all. If you don’t want your squad to end up looking like a mother duck leading a lot of fluffy little vol-au-vents into the enemies’ maw, you must avoid favoritism, sharing kills when you can. Especially since the cost increases exponentially per level – you can upgrade four people from level 1 to 2 for less than one person going from 4 to 5. The “pillage” round is useful for this: when either side is down to one survivor, it no longer alternates, every character gets one turn per round, and the winner should use this to decide who takes the kill.

The Banner Saga is more powerful and playable than the Gjallerhorn, leads to more epic battles, and is available on Steam.

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