The Banner Saga is the Most Beautiful (Digital) Board Game I've Ever Played

I've spent the day playing a very early beta build of The Banner Saga, an upcoming indie turn-based strategy game. Obviously plenty of the game wasn't working, but I can tell you about the bits that were.

In terms of presentation and design, it's a very simple game. So simple that you should consider it more a tabletop or board game experience than what you'd expect from a video game. There are no terrain modifiers, no sweeping views of expansive battlefields, just a flat, open board where two teams of warriors go at it.

Like Battle Chess, then. Only with Vikings (here's how it works).

Setting the game apart are two things. The first is the way The Banner Saga handles fatigue and damage, which basically amounts to the simple rule that the more damage you sustain, the less you can inflict. Sounds cool in theory, and it's just as cool in practice, as it means that as battles drag on, they become not only more tense but more tactical, as you're constantly having to adjust strategies on the fly to account for the fact that guy who just got smashed by an axe can no longer deal the killing blow you had planned.

The second, and this is the real star of this game, is that it's simply beautiful. Trailers don't do it justice when you see it running at 1920x, where every little hair, detail and animation stands out. I mean, I shouldn't be surprised, given the game's BioWare pedigree and early shots it's always looked good, but I wasn't ready for it to look so good at such a size.

When you first boot it up, you'll probably find yourself just... staring. There's a hand-drawn quality to the whole thing that makes The Banner Saga really pop, not just because of the quality of the art, but also its palette (there's loads of blues and reds, not so much browns and greys).

If you want to try it out for yourself, the developers have opened up a beta you can sign up for.

The Banner Saga is the Most Beautiful (Digital) Board Game I've Ever Played