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A mercenary's life isn't all trading and scheming, of course. Fighting is important as well. And fighting in Battle Brothers is a heap of ruthless fun.
On a hex-based grid, your forces of up to 12 units - or brothers as the game calls them - face their enemies in turn-based combat. The enemies don't play fair, and on some occasions can field roughly fifty combatants. To overcome such long odds, you have to use every trick in the book, and in the case of Battle Brothers, that book is anything but simplistic.
What's even better, is that the enemy AI depends on the type of enemies you're facing. Highly trained soldiers will try to pepper you with arrows, protecting their archers with a shield wall, while the common rabble can try to do the same, but given their lack of discipline, they get restless after a turn or two and just charge your position. And while even the dumbest of brigands will try to avoid your menacingly sticking-out spears, various wolves or zombies will jump onto them with reckless abandon and attempt to drown you in bodies.
To deal with such a variety of enemy tactics, you have a wide range of tricks up your sleeve. Every type of weapon has its own unique move set - spears can prevent enemies from getting too close, axes can make short work of any shield, flails are good at delivering critical blows to the head, and so on.
To hit with an attack, you have to succeed in a roll where your melee or ranged skill attempts to overcome your enemy's defense skill. Some weapons, like swords and crossbows, provide a bonus to accuracy, and as such are better suited for your rookies.
The 1-hex radius around every character is their Zone of Control. Leaving it without using one of the specialized movement skills provokes an attack of opportunity.
Fighters on the battlefield, unless they are undead, tire. Every skill costs fatigue and as your fatigue bar fills, you won't be able to use as many or as powerful attacks, turning prolonged engagements into these visceral slugfests where both sides can barely lift their arms but have to kill one another regardless.
Fatigue replenishes after the fight is over but health doesn't. Health, as well as any wounds sustained, has to be treated over time, giving you one more thing to worry about. And in case one of your brothers falls in battle, there's a good chance they die for good. And if they do manage to survive, they will be forever scarred with some nasty permanent injury.
All in all, there are a lot of intricacies to the combat system. Just one example would be destroying your enemy's shield. Sure, it makes them more vulnerable but at the same time, shieldless, holding the weapon in both hands, said enemy can dish out more damage and becomes much more dangerous to your brothers.
While, overall, combat is extremely satisfying and there is little more epic than facing off against a tireless phalanx of Ancient Dead, or being forced into a tough contract that pits your undergeared company against a hardened Orc war party, there's one thing that sours the experience.
You fight your enemies full medieval style where two lines of fighters advance towards one another in an open field with maybe a few trees sprinkled here and there or an occasional swamp. And while such approach is fine for a noble house, a mercenary company shouldn't be beholden to such standards. I would have liked to see larger obstacles, urban multilevel combat, storming fortifications, and the like. The worst part is that when you learn the AI tactics, varied as they may be, fighting any kind of enemy becomes formulaic with such little variety in the battle arenas. The underlying combat systems are quite fun, and confining them to mere line combat was a mistake, in my opinion.
Overwhelming Yet Intuitive
When you first start playing Battle Brothers, it feels like you have an ocean of options before you. You can have a party of up to 12 characters plus a reserve roster of 8, these characters seem to have 16 stats, every weapon has a different move set, every character has a number of unique traits and a pool of 49 perks to choose from. And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
However, as you play the game you realize that things aren't as convoluted as they initially seem. All those stats boil down to a few important ones and the rest are there just to keep you appraised of your brothers' gear condition and such. Perks open up in a tiered fashion and don't require careful pathing. And after trying all the weapons out you quickly get the feel for what's what.
Despite how overwhelming the game may seem initially, it's actually extremely intuitive. It adds another, preliminary, step to the old "easy to learn, difficult to master" formula, which is "intimidating to get into." But steel yourself, jump in, and soon you'll be navigating the intricate waters of Battle Brothers as if it were a game you knew for decades.
In case you want to test your skills in consequence-free combat situations, the game offers a set of scenarios that aren't a part of the campaign. You can learn a few tricks there before jumping into the main game. And if you find some of the game's aspects confusing, one of the menu buttons takes you directly to YouTube where you can watch detailed video tutorials created by the developers. This isn't the most elegant solution but as I've said, this shouldn't be necessary, as you are quite likely to figure things out on your own.