Battle Brothers Hits Early Access

To clarify…

I’m guessing that you mean that the game would be better for you with the toggles setting to off, so that people of color and women warriors wouldn’t be in your game, right?

Or are you saying that the option shouldn’t even exist?

If it’s the former, I can understand that based on what you’re saying. I see your point, for sure.

If it’s the latter, I’m struggling. :)

Do you have some book suggestions? Would love to have a better understanding of the Middle Ages as it was, rather than as commonly portrayed.

I’ve recently read “The Great Sea” by David Abulafia and “Pre-Modern Societies” by Patricia Crone. But those come recommend by https://acoup.blog, which provides a much higher level (and briefer) overview, and is much more entertaining (and has been recommended here before).

Interested about this as well, though I suspect it’s hard to make recommendations without serious caveats for all of them.

Currently, I’m reading the highly praised “Time Traveller’s Guide to the Middle Ages” by Ian Mortimer, and while it is quite enjoyable to read and has some excellent writing (it’s very much a “what you’d see if you travel in the 1400 England” approach), it also has a tendency to veer into the “crap ages” approach, because writing about death and suffering is just more entertaining, after all. It also contains one of the most blatant instances of female erasure from history I’ve ever encountered. It - quite seriously - suggests that you’d not find any or many women living or working in a Medieval Castle, because the payrolls for those castles list only men. This is of course patently ridiculous and falls apart the moment you think about it - not only are their tons of duties in maintaining a castle that was typically women’s work for the time; that the wives/daughters of the great Lords were solely waited upon by men doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The idea that women might have been present but “paid” through their husbands/fathers clearly did not enter his mind when he wrote that.

And that’s the problem with much writing on the period. Because while it has some glaring problematic parts (like the issue mentioned above), it has much to recommend it for too. Where else will you learn of the 14? different type of sugars you could buy from a London spice merchant?

I’ve read good things about Toni Mount’s books, and plan to get her latest “How to Survive in Medieval England” coming out later this year - I suspect it has a more balanced view than Mortimer’s book (it was through an excerpt from one of her books I learnt of the delightful 15th century “Ballad of the Tyrannical Husband”).

Edit: Also acoup.blog is generally awesome.

Toggles would be great. As I said, the game would be better for it.

However I believe that toggling on full gender equality and POC representation would move the setting towards generic fantasy for me. I generally love flavor text, setting, style, and thematic games. I dislike blandly European generic fantasy partially because they are overdone and partially because they feel like the epitome of whiteness as a default with POC pasted in simply as color. Battle brothers gameplay is good enough to overcome losing some loss of style and quasi-historical flavor in the setting but it is still a loss.

BTW, for what it’s worth I feel much of the flavor text in Battle Brothers is serviceable but not good. It’s the programmer art of flavor text. But combined with the names, place names, monsters, and equipment it gives a solid vibe of a mythic Germany the is equal parts the dark ages, the middle ages and the devastation of the religious wars.

You can’t use magic yourself and most fantasy monster elements are influenced by folklore that usually show up later in a regular game and even then rather sparsely. Hell, most BB players have no idea about the monsters hiding under that huge fog of war, never got that far or never found a named “magical” item. Some of the most terrifying foes aren’t of the fantasy kind either… the populated areas of the base game are definitely influenced by medieval Germany and I’d say the folklore parts fit perfectly into that setting. I found it logical that they didn’t turn that part of the game into a generic globalized D&D fantasy world but more into the old Warhammer Empire. It makes sense. As for the pony / mounts… yeah, same reason the game doesn’t have this and that feature like translated versions or indoor dungeons. They can only do so much with a small team.

@ toggle for people of colour: that’s not a good idea I think. The base game should have included some rare people of colour like it was the case in regular medieval times in Germany. The developers made it up for that through the last DLC in a logical way with the southern city states.

@ how to write about harsh medieval times discussion: I agree you don’t have laugh through the writing at the horrid practices of those times (like I said earlier: more reaction options would have been appropriate in this case) but you can’t deny those practices either and if you want to play as the bad guy you should be able to. You can be a much, much(!) bigger cold-hearted bastard in the first two Fallouts and those game worlds will react to it. That latter thing is perhaps missing the most in Battle Brothers although some events do have a follow-up with consequences. I don’t think game designers should guide you into a certain direction on that moral compass, they should give you options and fitting consequences though. Be the goody-do-all guy and you’ll get taken advantage of eventually, be a monster and people will hate you through your reputation after a while. Again: mercenary companies weren’t exactly groups of lawful good paladins. The cynic in me would even say that that hasn’t changed at all nowadays. Jagged Alliance 2 f.e. pretty much circumvents those serious issues completely but it gets away with that by letting your crew resemble a collection of '80s action movie stars in a fitting, humorous setting for that. Battle Brothers does claim to be a more realistic mercenary game. They took up many other JA2-influences of course (for a reason as it is still the best turnbased tactical game out there) but in terms of mood and setting they went for a more serious tone, lacking the character of fixed voiced mercenaries. That works to an extent as some of the rare jokes do but when it gets cringy it becomes a lot more noticeable. It’s uneven at times but to burn the developers or even the writer at the stake for that… no, they’re a very small company and those really poor writing moments remain rare in my opinion. The way some of those texts get mixed could have been done better as well but that’s one of those structural problems and the same reason that official translations were never an option for them.

Can’t wait to see what their next game is, they once posted a picture that hinted at a modern tactical game… with legs. No Battle Brothers 2.

Uh, who’s doing the praising? That’s such an obviously bogus statement indicating such a lack of familiarity with both whatever source material he’s using and any scholarly literature that it really makes me wonder about the rest of the book. I’m going to hope that you’re (unintentionally) misrepresenting what he said. :)

One of the really interesting things I learned in “Pre-Modern Societies” is just how little the common person interacted with so many things we take for granted today–the market, the state, etc. As in, a tiny fraction of people in pre-industrial societies actually received a wage (and would thus be represented on a payroll), and they’d generally be working in service of a tiny elite (either directly, or indirectly as e.g. merchants carrying luxury goods). So while they’d certainly be clustered around the noble in the castle, assuming people don’t exist because they’re not on a payroll is… questionable.

Bret over on acoup.blog (we’re on a first name basis, you see) was also starting to get into this in his recent post on EU IV about how many people were “legible” to the state (meaning, basically, “known”, as in available for state-organized taxation, conscription, labor, etc). Similarly there was another interesting concept he went into in earlier posts about how monetized different societies were.

Haven’t seen academic reviews, but it was apparently reviewed very well in the book columns and sold excellent numbers. I forgot where I heard of it, but it was also a positive review.

But then you fall across a paragraph that starts:

As you wander around the castle, you may be surprised to see that there are hardly any females present. Of the 135 people in earl of Devon’s household, only three are women. This is normal - even in those households which are headed by a woman.

It goes on to mention a few exceptions, but argues further that if the men in the castle married, they would be forced to leave the lord’s household and set up their own (thus: few women).

It’s one of those things which raises doubts about everything else in the book, but on balance I feel the book is otherwise pretty good. A little overly focused on the negatives, as mentioned (and there are lot of them, of course, as the story covers the Great Plague), but overall capturing many interesting details of daily life.

Haven’t read it, but it’s gone on my list.

Huh? In my second tutorial start (first game was very brief) I fought Orcs and died to the sleep eater guys. I don’t understand how anyone can argue in good faith that the setting is somehow ‘realistic’ Germany vs swords and monsters fantasy.

My issues with the game aren’t brutality or the capacity to make evil choices, or the balance of brutal events with women in them to the overall balance of events in the game.

My issue is this:
Most (if not all?) of the women who appeared in events that I came across were one-dimensional whores portrayed in the basest of terms.

There aren’t many events in the game as far as I can tell, so in 11 hours of play, these events kept recycling. At one point, I asked myself, “Are there any positive depictions of women in this game?”

Big dev team or small dev team, that’s a design choice that reflects something other than portraying a fantasy medieval Europe as stark and brutal.

Have they ever commented on that? To me it felt like the events were the remnants of a something they wanted to do to highlight different origins/careers but stopped adding to because it was too much work for little reward.

Is anyone making that claim? I’m certainly not; I don’t think such a high level dichotomy makes much sense. I’d go with something closer to …

  1. Historical
  2. Quasi-historical - myths and folktales are true to some extent, magic is very limited, and the feel is consistently based on real cultures even if the names are changed. A few non-humans might be around but they are treated more as folklore not as simply another type of person with different abilities.
  3. Fantasy - non-human races, magic that can be used by the player beyond a few rare items, cultures that start feeling more of a mishmash or everyone is cosmopolitan in outlook. Real world logic starts to break down because of the existence of fantastical elements.
  4. Totally fantasy - The entire world is shaped by the fantastical elements.

Battle Brothers is fairly strongly in the second category to me. The monsters feel like the pre-modern stories of things that go bump in the night made real.

Fairy tales of necromancers and trolls are not as believable as a Black woman with a sword.

Battle Brothers is self-described fantasy, designed to appeal to white dudes. It’s fine if you like it, but I think it’s telling that its fans are more willing to accept giant animated rock monsters as realistic or even “quasi-historical” before they accept a shield maiden, let alone a woman that isn’t either a seductress, hag, or prostitute.

If you had a similar game (tactical combat, characters aren’t generic but too many to really mentally feel you are playing one specific character) set in Tang dynasty China with the fantasy twist that Chinese folklore and ghost stories are real would you also expect to see Africans and Europeans appearing in the recruits? In a similar game set in 13th century South America? Would it matter if it was set in either of those cultures using basically culturally correct but fictional geography? My answers would be no, no, and no. I’m more likely to be interested in a Tang dynasty, Incan Empire, or German medieval game than a more blandly cosmopolitan game if everything else is equal.

I won’t, and haven’t, defended the writing in Battle Brothers. I’d love to see events and descriptions that treat women as something other than seductresses, hags, or prostitutes. My only reason for entering the threat was that @Godzilla_Blitz claimed nothing would be lost and, because I missed his idea of toggles, I wanted to point out that even if representation would be improved (a good thing!) that some setting integrity would be lost. The gain is bigger than the loss but there is still loss.

My take on this is that if 1% of games cater to a specific audience it’s not a problem. If 80% of games cater to a specific audience then it is a problem. Especially if the way the audience being catered to is problematic in itself (separate from the pervasiveness).

So is Battle Brothers problematic? In a vacuum, no. But in the context of a decades long history of ‘optimizing’ games for white males it’s hard to see it apart from that.

I do feel that great strides have been made in the past two decades with regards to representation, but I can’t say if it’s already where it needs to be before we can accept games like Battle Brothers as they are.

And just to make it clear, I’m not saying that everyone needs to be okay with any game as long as it’s niche. I’m saying that pervasiveness of a target audience in games and a target audience being terrible in itself are both bad yet two different things.

Battle Brothers’ theme is (mostly) bad due to the former. Whereas a game called ‘The Final Revolution’ that appealed only to tankies would be bad due to the latter.

Odd, might that have to with the difficulty setting or a specific seed maybe? Orks and Alps don’t show up until much, much later in my game (unless you seek the Orks up in the wilds of course but that’s usually not a trip you’ll get back from in the beginning). My game sessions start without any fantasy influences. You’re usually being eased into the harder monster stuff with a Necromancer first and his undead followers, Nachzehrers, small spiders, lowly undead Empire soldiers, Goblins, etc… Real horrors like Trolls or Lindwurms take quite a long while to appear. Pretty much all of them fit into the theme of that German medieval background, the DLC’s expand the region in a believable way as well. It’s not realistic after some time but it certainly gives the impression to start out that way while the introduction of the folklore elements make sense. And yeah, to me it certainly feels different enough from the 1000th fantasy variation on medieval England or the Forgotten Realms for example.

The developers are from Germany themselves so I understand where they’re coming from with this choice. I can’t blame them for focusing on twisted parts of local history. Would a Battle Brothers game with a unique setting like medieval Africa, Central/SouthAmerica or Asia be cooler and a lot more unique? Oh yeah, definitely and I would play the hell out of it. Would white NPC’s or player characters have to show up there too? No, not really. You rarely see those kind of games though and that’s a real shame.

Shield maidens and more remarkable events involving women would be nice, the negative depictions of women just stick out more than any positive ones perhaps when they do show up. But not all negative portrayals are done in such a poor way imo, the Witches work pretty well from a lore point of view for example. The developers have heard the Battle Sisters mantra a lot by now and they do keep an eye out on most mods (just for the bugs these cause alone). There’s definitely more than one mod improvement that would be great to have in the base game but Overhype usually doesn’t take on much of those things, in general they tend to stick to their original design. I’d be surprised if they’re taking the same “low-women” approach for their next game though, even when it isn’t Battle Brothers 2.

Obviously we all have different tastes and I do really like the game if I don’t read it and am playing it a lot now so this isn’t a drive by situation. I think that your comments agree with me in general there so please don’t take this as a direct counter to you but as a clarification.

My point is that I don’t think that it’s a good faith argument that the setting of the game as medieval Germany requires an aggressive negative narrative of women to feel ‘period authentic’ while somehow Orcs and undead and etc are somehow period authentic despite not actually existing and whatnot. Like if your view of authentic history is that the undead roamed the earth but a woman couldn’t swing a sword then that’s terrifying.

I don’t think that games need to be sanitized in any way. They don’t have to shy away from the reality that there’s awful people and awful situations in the world. But at the same time if they decide to bring those things into the game world with some bullshit regressive justifications then that is sad.

It does seem that we roughly agree. BB is a weird game in that I can see all the flaws that people are pointing out but I feel that they are a much more defensible stylistic choice.

That would be a terrifying view! The game in no way requires an aggressive negative narrative concerning women. It has one and it is a problem in the writing of the events. How much of a problem is somewhat of personal issue as you say. I think of it as much the same as hearing about crimes on the news; the day to day decent interactions don’t get reported. More varied events or encountering events more often might change that but the game really has fairly few and fairly infrequent events.

Which leaves the idea of battle sisters. I’m going to make them a different post because I want to keep this from being way too long.

Orcs and those zombie guys show up pretty early. But even if they don’t, there are skirmish battles off the main menu that put you up against teleporting vampires. Sorry, it’s not a low-magic setting. It’s low magic for the player, but that’s because only monsters get to do the cool shit in BB.

See, it’s medieval Germany, not England, so yeah, way different. Also, they’re not called two handed swords (so trite! so banal!), they’re zweihanders, and my white guy’s name is Heinrich instead of Henry. I do agree that the bold decision not to include elves and dwarves is refreshing and makes it slightly different than D&D fantasy.

This isn’t a case of there being a few good events with women and a few bad ones. The “harlot” encounter above is horrifically misogynistic, but it’s far from the only one. It’s more remarkable when the writing doesn’t categorize women as prostitutes or hags.

Personally, I think one of the fantasies they are selling is a return to white guys being 100% dominant, and a part of that includes getting to do horrible things to women. Have you read some of the events? Some outcomes have you casually murder scores of defenseless women and children!

For me, the repulsive writing is inseparable from the setting.

Sorry, this is long but I think it also helps point out how I can separate the writing of the random events that I’m not so wild about from the issue to all male recruits which doesn’t bother me at all.

A feeling of realism is a messy thing. It’s pretty clear that if you collect together enough fighting people in any historical period you will end up including some women whether they are hiding their gender or openly in the ranks. It’s also clear that until WW2 women weren’t common in combat in most cultures. Even in WW2 while there were thousands of women in the various armed forces there were very few as a percentage in actual combat. So should you include women equally in direct combat roles in a game that is trying for a historical feeling?

My answer depended on the type of game. In an RPG the answer is of course! You are focusing on individual characters, have more self insertion into the narrative, and even when RPGs claim to be about normal people they are always going to be stories about people who are exceptional at least due to their status as the protagonist. In a historical wargame I’d say no unless you are representing troops known to have had a significant number of women.

What about a tactical game that represents small groups of individual fighters? If there is a lot of room for self insertion, if there are characters created directly by the player, or if there is one character who is the player’s avatar in the game I’d treat it like an RPG and say there needs to be a mix of men and women both as the avatar characters and others. JA2 for example with your one player character created to go with the hired mercs. Of course setting also matters; JA2 is set in the timeless modern now of action movies where you expect to see kick ass women. But even in a more historical setting I’d want to see a mix of genders due to the self insertion and personal connection with the character.

Battle Brothers is much more of a historical wargame. As far as we know medieval mercenaries didn’t tend to include a lot of women in their bands. The game doesn’t have me creating a personal avatar nor does it give me a singular main character. Instead I’m playing a band, a unit, a group and, to me at least, that makes it acceptable to show what is basically the gender ratios from the historical culture the game is representing. So it makes sense that when we get random representative recruits they aren’t women. It would actually be a pretty neat touch if 1 in a hundred or such was female or even better different chances for different occupations to be female. It would be cool but I’m willing to give the developers a pass on that as they don’t seem to be a big company with a history of polished games… The comparison would be Phoenix Point; it’s a similar small unit tactical wargame but the setting is near future. We already have women and men serving in the military and there is nothing in the setting that would indicate that it would have become more sexist in that regard so it makes sense that the recruits have random genders.

Of course you reject the idea that BB can feel historical in any real fashion. You don’t seem to think that “Everything is like X historical culture except that some of the myths, fairy tales, and ghost stories are true” is a viable genre. I’ll admit I can’t think of another similar tactical game that isn’t modern and movies, books, and rpgs (both tabletop and computer) tend to have either comparatively few main characters or the self insertion issue. However I can say that Heinerick, zweihander, lindworms, and Germanic place names give a different feeling to me than Henry, two handed sword, dragons, and English place names. That might well be purely a function of freshness but the use of a more consistent naming and folklore is also nice when compared to the often jumbled mixture in fantasy set in a more fictional middle ages.