Battle Brothers Hits Early Access

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.

I wanna get this off of my chest. My 5th and longest running beginner ironman ended on the 64th day. A band of 12 brothers with levels ranging around 3-6 took up a Nobel house quest to get rid of skull 2 green marauders.

Scouting revealed 11 orc youngs. I thought a 1:1 fight could be doable. A few bad dice roll quickly turned this into an one sided fight against me. I couldn’t spam spear wall because I equipped my guys with heavy armors and that exhaust stamina quickly.

Orc battles are so bullshit in this game. When exactly is the good time to fight orcs?

When I first read about it, I saw a their faq which basically aligns with your comments:

WHAT ABOUT BATTLE SISTERS?

Adding female characters would mean a considerable work-load when we want a whole lot of other things in the game, too, many of which could be considered more important additions. The main hurdle is that the game consists of more than 250,000 words at last count, all of would have to be edited in a way as to account for both sexes.
That being said, if we’d ever add female characters into the game, they’d come with their own backgrounds that take into account how a quasi-medieval world treats them, so they won’t just be male characters with different heads. Just like their male counterparts, some would be more and some would be less suited to the hard life as mercenaries. Here is a preview of how they might look.

And I think that is generally understandable. But then you see all the time they did spend adding in, to steal a phrase from an earlier comment, “low women” flavor text and events into the game and it’s hard to take those comments as a reason vs a justification.

At a certain point it’s a discussion that isn’t going to resolve because we’re speculating on other people’s reasons and motivations, but I think it highlights why people have different perspectives on it.

Later. :)

I think you just really need decent armor that can take a couple hits. But, then you get three headshots in a row and that doesn’t even matter. RNG is going to get you.

So, I do not think people should boycott the game or anything like that. I think that there is a lot to like about the game and that the core game play loop is awesome.

But let’s be clear - the writer is a known islamophobe and gamergater - and the game’s attitudes to refugees and women are of a piece with the type of attitudes the writer has expressed in public (the fact that all that stuff is now deleted or hidden is not accidental), The other creators of the game made a choice to stay associated with the writer, despite knowing all this (and presumably having known this for a long time). More to the point, they chose to permit the writing in the game to reflect those same attitudes (and it’s not just isolated - it drips through in pretty much every piece of writing) - and that reflects upon them as well.

I’d note that the “realistic medieval” and “women are too hard to add” defenses are iffy even under the best of circumstances when coming from game studios (because they have so often been exposed as BS); but I would under normal circumstances be willing to give a small indie shop the benefit of the doubt. Viewed in isolation - yes, I could consider it a defensible stylistic choice. Given the context, though? Nope. Not defensible at all.

The problematic writing doesn’t make excellent game mechanics less excellent, though. As the hate-object #1 of GG likes to point out: it’s completely possible to enjoy something and also acknowledge its more problematic aspects.

Really enjoying the conversation and the civility, these are tough and uncomfortable topics to lean into. Thanks to everyone who has posted opinions and thoughts, even the ones I don’t necessarily agree with. :)

While I imagine I’ll keep playing the game, the point where I regretted my purchase and decided I won’t support the developers in the future came with the last line of the Pimps and Harlots event.

I posted this before, but I think the important part is easily missed. If you opt out of having sex with the whores, the event ends with this:

Despite the protests of some of your men, you decline the pimp’s offer. She (the pimp) shrugs.
Damn, I knew I should have invested in little boys. Well, suit yerself.

So… if your crew doesn’t have sex with whores, the implication is that you’re gay pedophiles? Why are you direct linking being gay with pedophilia? This is a perfect example of a casual microaggression centered on the marginalized status of a sub-group in society. You could delete that sentence or write it in 100 different ways and the event is functionally the same. You went out of your way to bash gay people.

That’s the point where I feel like the developers tipped their hand and the other problematic parts clicked together. And that’s the point they lost me.

Just as a side-note (because I am a pedant when it comes to history) - medieval mercenary bands would have looked much like other medieval troops, and as such would almost always have included lots of women in the “band”. As one German knight comments in the 13th century of armies - “Of ladies there were also aplenty. No queens were they; these wenches were soldier-girls.” Apart from a few unique institutions (e.g., the Roman army), the sharp distinction between army and civilian society is a relatively modern conceit and any sizable band would have included a significant number of non-combatants (ratios of 1:3 are not unusual), many of whom would have been women - wives, whores, servants, traders, and daughters. Certainly, it would be unusual for the fighters themselves to be women, but a band such as the one in the game would very quickly have attracted hanger-ons, male and female, permanent and temporary. Even more so in a dangerous world such as the one depicted in the game.

Now if the camp events of the game dealt with the challenges of managing what would essentially have been a small medieval village on the road, then I’d be a lot more sympathetic to the “depicting historical reality” argument. I also think it would be a lot more interesting as a role-playing game (it would certainly be unique).

Great point. I almost mentioned that but decided that talking about fighting people and front lines would cover it. A full on management game might be interesting but it would also be a very different game. I suspect that a management style game would have brought some of the objectionable writing from a mostly skippable side note to the forefront though so perhaps its good they didn’t go this direction.

The “main hurdle” is absolutely post-hoc justification. They first decided their game was going to exclude women, then executed on their “low woman” worldbuilding premise. After that, they bemoan how they couldn’t possibly rewrite all 250,000 words to accommodate an at least woman-neutral worldview.

I’d be more inclined to accept this excuse if the writing wasn’t so hostile to women. Urtuk is a less historically based wargame without women in the mercenary band but at least has writing that doesn’t actively degrade them.

I think this used to be more true when the game first came out. Now there are so many fantastic creatures, spellcasters, and magical gear that it’s pretty much standard (Germanic!) medieval fantasy.

I think it’s instructive to look at true history-based modern wargames. Somehow CK3 is able to include women in a non-misogynistic way, and it’s far more true to German medieval history than BB. Similarly, Total War: Three Kingdoms allows women as officers and treats them as equals in most respects. I don’t want women generals in a historical WWII game, but why not, if we’re talking fantasy. I question why that ruins immersion for people. Further, even if it does, I find there’s more to be gained both financially (appeals to a wider audience) and societally (more inclusive entertainment forms).

Speaking for myself, the pedantry is appreciated.

Most of this game should be a slamdunk for my interests, but: for reasons previously mentioned, I just can’t bring myself to buy it. (Also, as someone who has drawn male and female heads for paperdoll-style game characters that weren’t even armless, legless torsos, I don’t buy the art asset argument.)

Darklands handled the role of women in a dark medieval mythological German setting far better… in 1992.

Edit: To add to production thoughts, while the art assets wouldn’t take an enormous amount of work, more work probably lies in making sure content data/names/strings/pronoun tokens are all lined up everywhere they’re used. If they didn’t do that work at the start, it’s a lot of work to fill it all in. If I were planning the production, I’d make a Battle Sisters DLC with some unique content or other for the marketing/sales push while using this dev time to cover the addition of female characters throughout the game.

( … Which is what Gaslamp Games did with Dungeons of Dredmor. We launched without a female hero because we had no money to commission an animator. For the first DLC we had one drawn and implemented and released that as a free update alongside the paid expansion which featured the female hero in marketing. It worked out great for sales, and we got a ton of thank-you emails for women who were delighted that a roguelike was making literally any effort to appeal to them. And this was pre-GG, so there wasn’t a culture war backlash.)

CK3 does a solid job with this, yes. There are settings for parity with men, and another setting for flipping the status of men and women. Our daughter loves the game, and has only played on the default setting. She understands that the historical context favors men, but the game still gives her so much to work with. Some women characters can get extremely powerful.

It’s interesting you mention women officers in a historical WWII game. Because of this conversation, I’ve been thinking on my own views on inclusion in historical games. I’ve been playing Sherman Leader (board game) lately, and I really like how they have a diverse set of officers in the game. I’d guess 30% are BIPOC. This is ahistorical, but such a huge step forward in my mind.

But… I’m not sure I’d want female armor officers in the game as a default. Thinking as well, I don’t think I’d want racial diversity in a game set in ancient China, for example. As options, sure, why not, and they’d be fun to explore, but in some way in my mind some historical settings are dependent on culture and race.