Here I give my thoughts on The Banner Saga: Warbands, a cooperative board game by Megacon Games, in association with Stoic and Versus Evil.

Where I'm Coming From

I'm a long-time board-gamer and also a huge fan of the Banner Saga video games (as of now that's BS 1 and 2 in the trilogy, plus Factions, the multiplayer battle game).

I also tend to think strategy games should be about strategy, and coherent with strategy alone--I'll play RPGs for role-playing, etcetera. I'm also not an enemy of randomness, but in small doses, thank you.

Summary of BS:Warbands

For the uninitiated, Warbands is a cooperative boardgame for 1 to 4 players, set in a viking-themed fantasy world (only loosely connected to Norse myth). The conceit is that you're in charge of a caravan, trying to safely get it to the next location.

You draw missions that indicate travel routes on a map, which indicates encounters along the way. Many of the encounters require group decision-making, either through negotiation or blind bidding. The outcomes of these decisions are then revealed. There are also battles, where you may lose caravan members; and skirmishes, tactical combat games-within-a-game, using tokens or minitatures (sold separately). Each player has a character who fights in these skirmishes, using basic attacks and some special abilities. Each character also has a role in the larger strategic game, managing different kinds of resources on a mat. There are quite a few resources ot track, and several decks of cards for the various encounters.

In outline, Warbands seems basically like the video games, and the art is also comparable--but in execution, they are quite different designs.

Thoughts

The goal may have been to distribute control of resources between players, and thus create interaction and tension. But since there's not a lot of control over those resources, the value of this approach is limited. For example, the quartermaster is in charge os supplies, but mostly this means reducing the supply count during travel and events, and possibly buying more at a city--there's nothing more dynamic or interesting to it.

Conclusion

Licensed game properties are often problematic. It feels like Megacon had a list of elements they needed to include. And by golly they did include them! But what kind of game did they make? Did they capture what was good about the original Banner Sagas? Not really.

There are a lot of elements in Warbands that don't come together. There aren't very compelling decisions to make--since most are extremely unpredictable, and others are fairly obvious (buy supplies if your victory conditions require them). There is a hint of it being only semi cooperative, but this potential isn't realized; and the alpha-gamer problem that bedevils cooperative games isn't dealt with either.

I've read that Megacon games has something of a reputation for making beautiful minis but dubious rules, and Warbands doesn't seem to be an exception. It's unclear how playtest groups could have been satisfied by the experience, or the rulebook. Perhaps the whole thing was rushed to take advantage of the license. If true, that would especially be a shame, because if they had simply made a Banner Saga:Faction boardgame, it would at least have worked--I would have been content.

I just have to hope that with some nice minis and a printed map, I can make a good homebrew that does more justice to Banner Saga.