Of Sacrifice and PermaDeath

Pawns NEED to die. They exist as cannon fodder for the power pieces, so the heroes of the board can gain control of a situation and create necessary plays. The makes the pawn a vital piece and it is bestowed an honorable role within the game: to be a sacrificial lamb for the greater good. Oftentimes while playing games with perma-death (no revive, no phoenix down, do not pass go, do not collect $200) I lose sight of this fact. Instead of allowing the pawns to pass silently in the night, I reach for the reset button before they can fade away.

Time is a Resource

In the early levels of a game, I might allow an occasional rookie’s death to become canon within the story. They are easily replaceable with another entry-level soldier who will come with potentially greater, randomly generated stats, FFTbut as time progresses the idea of losing a unit is no longer an option. It could be a duel-wielding Knight who knows Blade Grasp in Final Fantasy Tactics or a Captain Sniper with 23 kills in X-Com, but the trend remains. There is a point of no return—no sacrifice is acceptable.

My excuse is time. That replaying the level will take less resources than it could take to slog through the rest of the story with a replacement pawn…typically a lowly level 1 soldier with no skills available. If I’m already facing situations where soldiers are dying, then it’s obviously going to be an uphill battle. I’ll need the best of the best of the best (with honors) to complete the rest of the game. I can’t sub in a b-squad character who managed to sneak their way into a few random battles earlier on. Time is the most valuable resource when playing a game, and I need to maximize mine with the best soldiers digitally-created.

Unbalanced Team

Maybe I should have thought ahead and created a rotating bench of characters to ease the sting of each death, but I wanted to power-level this crew. They went from prologue to mid-game together; it could demolish everyone’s morale if they don’t see the end credits as a cohesive unit. Plus, the strategy I’ve used to this point will no longer be valid (of course…if people are dying than maybe it wasn’t a good strategy to start with).

Tactical games limit the number of character allowed on the field. The loss of one ranked soldier doesn’t just signify their passing but weakens the entire team. Their role as tank, healer or support unit makes the rest of the group function easier, and a freshly hired recruit may not be able to plug into the unit’s lineup.


XComIt’s not just my own time or the concept of an ideal squad that makes each loss difficult to accept; it’s that I want to complete the game as flawlessly as possible. Anyone can make it by the skin of their teeth, but how many players run through without a single death? (Maybe everyone plays like this). It’s a self-imposed trophy.

When I reach a point where I understand the game’s nuance and mechanics, I will test myself with a legitimate playthrough. Instead of restarting a level upon a single defeat, I’ll play as the designers intended…letting my pawns fall due to lucky random critical hits, unorthodox attack patterns and miscalculations. This is oftentimes one of the more rewarding playthroughs, but it still difficult to acknowledge during an initial session, especially for games with steep learning curves.

Is it just me? Can you stand to see one of your generic units die? Are you able to sacrifice a beloved character to continue the true playstyle and narrative created?


Level Up, Friends!