View Full Version : Four Lenses for Thinking About Strength

03-06-2013, 01:53 PM
Good afternoon (morning, evening, etc.) all,

I just started playing Banner Saga: Factions last week when it was released on Steam and I've been quite enjoying it. I have watched several of the tutorial videos and read through many of the new player posts that people have contributed to these forums. For what it is worth, I'd like to give a big thank you to everyone who contributed to helping newer players enter the game successfully. :)

In the past week of playing Banner Saga: Factions, I've been working things around in my head in terms of the best way to measure strength. There are several lenses to use when it comes to strength, and different aspects of the game seem to interact with these different lenses. While I don't have a "grand unified theory of strength" yet, I thought that I would write up how I'm currently thinking about strength in the hopes that people will share their thoughts about how they measure strength.

Lens #1: Aggregate Strength
Aggregate strength is the total amount of strength you have on your team. For example, two Warriors and four Raiders would have an aggregate strength of (12+12+9+9+9+9) = 60. Aggregate strength is an important lens to use because it's how you win the game: you need to bring your opponent's aggregate strength down to zero. Hand in hand with this, if you can maintain an aggregate strength rate advantage (i.e.: if you can make your opponent lose X+1 strength per turn while you are only losing X strength per turn) then you're going to win the game (assuming that you started with roughly equivalent aggregate strength).

This lens seems to have two implications on gameplay:

You should attack a unit's strength instead of its armor.
Going for big hits is better than going for small hits.

While those implications are generally true in an "everything else being equal" sense, things rarely (if ever) have everything else being equal. For example, it's often better to bring a strength 10 raider down to strength 1 than to outright kill a strength 9 raider. This is because of...

Lens #2: Concentrated Strength
Concentrated strength is a measure of how your strength is allocated between your different units on the board. For example, you and your opponent have the same amount of aggregate strength, however you have three units on the board while your opponent has six units on the board. In this case you might be said to have twice as much concentrated strength as your opponent did, assuming team had its strength distributed evenly across all of its units. (In general, if we were to assume that strength was always distributed equally across units then concentrated strength is simply aggregate strength divided by number of units. However, given that strength is usually unevenly distributed we don't have a straightforward calculation for it.)

Concentrated strength is important because of the initiative system. In general, you want to have as much strength as possible to use on each of your turns. If I have twice as much concentrated strength as you do, then on average each of my turns could potentially have twice as much effect on aggregate strength than your turns. In fact, each of my turns could have a lot more impact than that when you take armor into account as (for example) a strength 16 Warhawk would deal more than twice the damage as a strength 8 raider against a target with 8 armor.

This lens also seems to have two implications on gameplay:

You should attack units based on whether or not the attack will decrease your opponents concentrated strength (i.e.: maiming is preferable to killing).
You should actively try to kill (or get your opponent to kill, rather) any of your own units that are decreasing your concentrated strength.

At this point we've made some progress because we've explained why there's a significant difference between maiming and killing. Excellent. However, we're still not done yet.

Let's look at this example: you can attack a strength 7 Archer for three armor damage or three strength damage. What would you choose? Same situation, but this time it's a strength 16 Warhawk. Again, what would you choose?

For me, I'd choose strength against the Archer and armor against the Warhawk. In both situations I'd be reducing both aggregate strength and concentrated strength by same amount if I were to attack strength, so there must be something else going on to explain why my instincts say to make different choices in each situation. Enter the following ideas of...

Lens #3: Absolute Strength
Absolute strength is the amount of strength on a given unit. For example, the aforementioned strength 7 Archer has an absolute strength of 7 and the aforementioned strength 16 Warhawk has an absolute strength of 16. Pretty straightforward. This matters in terms of whether or not you want to attack a unit's armor or strength because the amount of absolute strength determines the number of hits needed for a kill. Additionally, the effect of armor needs to be taken into account as armor is the predominant modifier in determining how quickly you can reduce a unit's absolute strength.

In the case of the Archer, it takes three hits of three strength damage to kill the unit. Hitting armor with your first hit makes that two hits of six strength damage to kill the unit, but that's still three hits overall. No net change in the "hits until dead" calculation, so hitting strength first is a win because it reduces our opponent's ability to reduce our strength. With the Warhawk we have a different calculation. It would take six hits of three strength damage to kill a Warhawk. However, with the first hit being armor it then only takes three strength six hits to kill the Warhawk. This means that the initial armor hit reduces the overall "hits until dead" number from six hits to four.

Again, this lens seems to have two implications on gameplay:

Your decision to attack armor vs. strength should be based on the total number of hits it will take to kill a unit.
Your decision about who to attack should be based on how quickly you can kill that unit.

More progress in looking at strength! However, we're still not done yet. (Will this ever end?!?) There is still one very important factor that we haven't taken into account yet, namely armor. I mentioned armor briefly above in terms of calculating the number of turns it takes to kill a unit given a specific amount of strength damage. However, where did that amount of damage come from in the first place? How do we take into account what it takes to deal damage to our opponent? This seems to require the use of...

Lens #4: Relative Strength
Relative strength is how your unit's strength compares to your opponent's armor. A high relative strength indicates that you have more strength than your opponent's armor, meaning you can deal a large amount of strength damage. Similarly, a low relative strength indicates that you have less strength than your opponent's armor, meaning you can deal a small amount of strength damage (if any).

Given that the way to win the game is based on your ability to reduce your opponent's strength, acquiring and maintaining high relative strength is of critical importance. The most obvious way to achieve this during a game is with armor break: the more armor you break the higher your strength becomes relative to your target's armor. This would explain why it is incredibly important to break certain units' armor (such as Shieldbangers) before you attack them as you're working to maximize your relative power and therefore be able to deal more strength damage.

However, you shouldn't always be breaking armor, because it's equally important to reduce your opponent's relative strength against you. This is because every strength hit you take reduces the difference between your strength and your opponent's armor. Also, going back to the aggregate strength rate advantage concept, in order to have a higher rate you need to both keep your rate up while also keeping your opponent's rate down. The best way to keep your rate up is to hit strength before your opponent does, which means you hit harder on average as your opponent has lower relative strength in hitting back.

Not to be a broken record, but this lens yet again seems to have two implications on gameplay:

Your decision to attack armor vs. strength should be based on how much armor you have relative to your opponent.
Your decision about who to attack should be based on how much you can reduce your opponent's relative strength to minimize the damage you take.

Phew! That's a lot of pondering about strength. I hope that it came out with reasonable clarity as I'm still working on making sense of it myself.

I would be very interested to know what people think of my different lenses above and how people are thinking about strength in their own games.

03-06-2013, 02:35 PM
If you strip away positioning and the sequencing of turns, I think these are a good way to assess how well a match is going. A couple thoughts:

An archer's relative strength is magnified by Puncture.

I don't think the lesson of absolute strength is to target "based on how quickly you can kill", but instead based on eliminating the biggest threat (which may mean leaving them alive)...?

This reminds me of Slimsy's "commandments" (http://stoicstudio.com/forum/showthread.php?1036-Slimsy-s-Compact-Guide-to-Factions-Strategy) for why games are won or lost.

03-07-2013, 09:34 AM
Wow. That's a great guide and I will be adding this to the fan guide submissions and library thread which is linked in the mother sticky.

This is quite well thought out, good for experienced players to understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. And it echoes much of the lessons learned, in a different light, from Trevor's guide (who conceptualized that stats can mean "turn advantage" and aggregated stats=total turns your team will last/total turns your team will kill the other team), and my own guide, which elaborated on how individual stats created turn advantages through survival or damage potential as well as scenarios applying this.

If you're looking for parallel discussion on this subject, you'd best check them out!


03-07-2013, 02:10 PM
I would like to see your analysis of other facets of the game, like franknarf mentioned turn order and positioning. A guide that integrates everything into a description that's as keen and logical as this one would be awesome.

03-07-2013, 03:47 PM
Thanks for sharing this! It's really informative!

03-07-2013, 06:51 PM
I generally fall into the last category when it comes to my thought processes. However I will throw in that another modifier I have when deciding who to attack is my opponents initiative. I will routinely sacrifice a bigger hit on an easier target to hit the str of the next unit they are attacking with.

Most people will attempt to predict what their opponent will do while waiting and formulate what they will do with their next unit to move. If you forgo a basic how much damage can I do in total vs how much can I negate their following move it opens up a whole new debate on WHO to hit rather than just basing everything on str and arm.

03-07-2013, 10:53 PM
I always went for strength when I could and that's probably why I was reasonably successful. Sure, it's cool when an archer one-shots raider or a varl with puncture, but by then that enemy had 2-3 turns of hitting your people with full strength. So I usually go for strength hits first to maim the opponent and only resort to breaking later on, if I have to.

03-07-2013, 11:04 PM
Excellent guide. It really captures the decisions you have to weight when considering strength. I'll echo the other comments here; I'd love to see an in-depth review of initiative and positioning.

Like scase, I often forgo the biggest hit to target the next threat in the turn order. The numbers might not support that move, but it rattles opponents, forcing them to reevaluate their plan of attack.