Battle Brothers Hits Early Access

Not to get too preachy and/or tangential, but this is something10 (maybe longer, time is weird at 51) years ago I probably would have brushed aside. Part of it is paying attention and part of it is having two daughters now 20 and 15. I don’t think it makes me hypersensitive. Just hyperaware and I am glad for that. I’ve never been an dick in how I treated anyone, but my attitudes certainly influence how I handle things and the example I set for my girls and others. I don’t want a sanitized existence, but one that evolves into something better.

Ah yes, the “low magic setting” that has necromancers, reptiles the size of a country home, and flying vampires. This was always an annoyance about the game for me. You can’t even use a damn pony (seriously, how idiotic are these guys?) and you’re up against this crap. It’s pure DM power fantasy.

Wow, a lot to unpack here. I have other thoughts on the misogyny, the historical setting, and the inclusion of slavery that I’ll try to post about later, but …

One element of the conversation I haven’t seen mentioned yet is inclusion. Designers of anything (movies, office parties, advertisements, etc.) make choices along the way. A big part of white privilege, in particular white male privilege, is that we are given immense societal power and we consistently make choices that often unintentionally exclude less fortunate parties from the table. Recent example: I was reviewing a high school calculus book. In over 200 photos and historical references, there were less than 5 that referenced people of color or women. If you are a black girl using that book in a course, you get that message. And it makes a difference. It makes a difference in how we move forward, as we try to create a society that @Tyjenks mentions “evolves into something better.”

Back to the case at hand, the designers of Battle Brothers, with most of their design choices, have focused on the white male gamer. If you are a female gamer, do you feel invited to and represented in this game? I’d say unequivocally no. If you are a person of color, do you feel welcome in a base game that is 100% white? I don’t think so.

The standard reaction to this is, “Well, is it wrong to make game for a particular subset of society? Why can’t I make a game for white men? Women can pick from thousands of games, they don’t have to play this one.”

My general answer is that in and of itself it wouldn’t be so problematic if we didn’t live in a society where whiteness is set as the default standard of excellence. Games like these perpetuate the issue rather than choosing to help us evolve into something better.

And I think the better questions to ask are these: What would this game have lost if provided a toggle to include people of color in the base game? What would this game have lost if it included a toggle to include female mercenaries? The answer is: nothing. The designers could have so easily extended an invitation to a more diverse set of gamers at no expense to their core design vision, but they chose not to.

I can’t speak for the designers’ motivations. A lot of the time this stuff happens because good people don’t stop to consider how unintentionally exclusive we make things.

Yes to all of this. Privilege is a thing that is baked into everything in our society and many of us are only just now recognizing it to our chagrin. And as you say, choices are made at times with no malice as it never enters people’s minds to make any other considerations. Now people are rightly asking for that consideration.

And no, it is not the designers’ responsibility to fix what ails society, but being a part of incremental repair isn’t that difficult. Or simply omitting things that perpetuate the problems.

What he said, all of it! well said’

Good stuff, thread just keeps getting better.

I think we can all agree that as presently written and presented, a more apt title would have been Battle DudeBros?

The discussion has kind of moved on, but one other point I’d like to make is that the middle ages generally weren’t as nasty and violent and misogynistic as popular media would have it. (Game of Thrones is not a “realistic” depiction of power politics in the middle ages, in other words.) Of course lots of bad things happened–and more bad things than happen today, to be sure!–but everyone wasn’t always looking over their shoulder and getting murdered all the time. (Why not? Well, because then as now, people don’t want to live in that kind of society.)

Of course there are some locations and time periods where things were truly awful–the 30 Years War* was absolutely horrific, no doubt about it–but depicting society as horribly rape-and-murder-strewn is definitely an artistic choice, and saying “well that’s the way it was” is absolutely a cop-out.

Because we all love analogies: if you set your game in the worst inner city gang war of the 90s, that’s one thing, but if you set your game in a low-fantasy** 90s-era America with murder rates equal to the worst inner city gang war, you don’t get to say “well that’s the way it was in 90s America”.

*but that was more early modern than medieval and AIUI the transition to modern states is arguably somewhat responsible for the true awfulness of it
**to be clear I have no issue with keeping some parts of the setting “realistic” and adding in dragons and wizards and stuff–you just need to be aware that when you claim some parts to be realistic, make sure they were

I think we’ve successfully solved all of the worlds problems and we can go back to gaming. :)

Thanks for the discussion all!

Basically this. Also worth noting - it is absolutely possible to depict horrific times in the past without going “wink-wink” about it.

I disagree. I believe that both of those toggles would have damaged the verisimilitude of the setting. I also believe that the game would be better off with them but the setting would have been more generic. Similar to a kung fu, Viking, or Western setting that uses a historical past that never quite existed (often with fantastical elements added) I’m willing to accept media that uses the tropes of a harsh, dirty dark ages/very early modern European setting.

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.