Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 27, 2022
Battle Brothers

If you were trying to find out what kind of a game Battle Brothers is, various sources on the internet would tell you that this is a turn-based tactical RPG. You have a group of mercenaries which take on various contracts to hunt bandits, greenskins, or undead. There is tactical turn-based combat on a hex map. Between the loot from battles and the money from contracts you hire new mercenaries, gear them up, and level them up. But once you play this for a while, you'll notice that this doesn't feel like playing a fantasy RPG. It feels like playing Football Manager.

The principal culprit here is the difficulty curve. Difficulty in Battle Brothers goes up with game time, the higher the number of days displayed on top of the screen, the harder the game is getting. Which means that if you are wasting your time exploring or traveling to far places, you risk falling behind the curve. I lost one of my early games because I took on an ambition to find and clear an outpost, and wasted weeks trying to find one that wasn't impossibly strong. Walking through the wilderness exploring drains your money and food supplies, it turns out the world is largely empty, and you end up weaker than before while the enemies got stronger over time. If you are trying to play Battle Brothers casually and explore the world around you instead of maximizing your revenue per day, that isn't going to end well.

If you want to play Battle Brothers well, you best find a cluster of villages and towns close together and do the rounds there, taking on all contracts, except those that would force you to travel far from there. In combat you need to apply some tricks, like using puncturing daggers and attacks with a flail to the head, to not destroy the body armor of your enemies, so you can loot it. And then the main part of the game becomes managing your team, like in a Football Manager game. While you start with 3 decent mercenaries, most of the people you can hire early on don't have late game potential. So you need to make money fast, to buy better recruits, and weed out the useless peasants in your team. Certain stats of each mercenary are marked with stars, and those are the stats that grow faster when leveling. So you need mercs with good starting values and stars in the most important stats for their role. And you need to get those early enough that you still have time to level them up before the "late game crisis" arrives.

At the easiest difficulty, I find Battle Brothers is still fun enough. At the higher difficulties I find the game gets annoying, because even if you plan everything perfectly, the randomness tends to mess up those plans. Yes, you can find lists which backgrounds tend to have the best stats and try to hire those. But you aren't assured that they will have stars in the right places, and there is random variation of the stats themselves. At higher difficulty you will need to rely on cheesy tricks, like trying to take out human enemies with specific weapons that don't damage armor too much, so you have a higher chance of getting that armor as loot. And in the end Battle Brothers is too much of a management game, and not enough of an adventure for me.

I enjoyed Battle Brothers after treating it more like a FFT-themed Darkest Dungeon.

However, I did end up bouncing off it for the reason you mention: the inane looting system. It's not much of a "choice" to choose between using effective weapons (that destroy armor) or performing riskier maneuvers to save the enemy's armor, when the binary reward is so unbalanced. A set of full plate costs like 4000g (pretty much all your mid-game money) to purchase from a store... or you can just reload an individual battle 4-5 times and repair it from 1% durability if the RNG goes your way. It almost didn't matter to me whether getting full plate was "required" in order to survive - the existence of that mechanic cheapened the overall experience of the game.

Sort of reminds me of FFT insofar as farming Job Points by killing everyone but one enemy, then having your entire team buff themselves/throw rocks/heal the enemy just to keep the JP flowing. At some point, the metagame becomes more important than the game.
I've apparently had Battle Brothers on my Steam Wishlist for nearly 5 years, and never found any compelling reason to actually look into it beyond "it's my kind of game" and "it's quite well reviewed". After your description, it sounds like a major pain in the ass, and I should probably just get rid of it.
I'm still playing Battle Brothers. After identifying the points that annoyed me, I was able to find mods that made the game better. For example a mod that allows me to hire recruits "naked" (, so I don't pay for their expensive armor. And another to see their stats before I buy them. As I said, Battle Brothers reminds me a bit of Football Manager games, and in those games it would be ridiculous to not know the stats of the players you buy, or their price being mostly determined by how expensive clothes they are wearing.
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