Simple Gameplay In Banner Saga: A Mini Case Study

Finished Banner Saga awhile ago, but I captured this image when I was impressed by some of its simple but thought-provoking gameplay. Seems like a simple multiple-choice question, doesn’t it?


So… let’s break this down a little bit.

This challenge (and similar others) comes up midgame and has consequences on the size of your cohort, although I’m guessing that failing or nailing all of these still wouldn’t make or break you.

Still, the challenge does raise some fun tactical questions that convey the sense of a larger campaign that you don’t really see in the central gameplay.

Five choices. If I remember rightly, my smaller army was bottlenecked at a bridge and trying to break through to green pastures. Tough spot. I’d say that 2 and 4 are largely the same, but certainly 2 has its appeal since it seems to imply an aggressive attack that might lead to a successful exit. 1 was interesting since the alien dredge seemed like they might try to win by force of main. 3 didn’t seem like a good fit to me for the situation; 5 seemed like a misfit for the tight quarters.

But five options, and a bit of a word puzzle as I tried to guess at the possible interpretations based on word choices and previous experience. I ended up choosing 1, which I fear wasn’t the best. It cost me some soldiers, but also wasn’t the end of the world.

However, I was impressed by this implementation of simple gameplay. Banner Saga never puts a lot of actual units on screen — battles are staged between heroes, not hordes — but these little multiple-choice challenges are thoughtfully crafted and fit perfectly in the fiction of a large, drawn-out campaign between entrenched forces. If your cohort is drawn down to skeleton numbers, it has a real effect on your success.

Five questions. Simple gameplay. In context, this is effective game design.