This game has some of the most baffling mechanics I've come across in tabletop. I played four sessions of Torchbearer with a group of TTRPG veterans, all of us looking for a gritty OSR game. Torchbearer has been the go-to name in old-school revival games, so we thought we'd give it a try.
There are some good ideas here: the "grind" mechanic keeps the game tense and keeps resource management at the forefront. The town mechanics seem deep and interesting as well, although they can sometimes stifle organic roleplay opportunities.
Beyond that, almost every aspect of this ruleset is over-complicated and full of contradictory approaches. Why are there two separate sets of experience points (Persona points and Fate points), that are earned separately and can be spent for mildly different effects? Why are there so many different types of PC abilities and traits (natures, wises, instincts)? Why are there exception to every rule? For example: every action in a dungeon costs grind time, every action except magic actions. And instinct actions.
I understand rewarding failed rolls with skill experience in order to encourage players to take risks. But this makes a LOT less sense in a system where every roll advances the grind clock, so your failed roll is always costing your whole party their grind resources, at least.
The fact that every "move" involves the whole party makes sense on paper, but immediately breaks down in play. There's no provisions for splitting the party, and doing so is mechanically punitive (each separate party's actions progresses the grind clock) and makes no narrative sense (why can't two separate groups act concurrently)?
All of these problems carry into the conflict resolution mechanic - my least favorite part of the whole design. Conflict scenes take multiple steps to initiate, and are full of arbitrary abstractions and limits. This alone makes it awkward to resolve quick conflicts - we found ourselves avoiding the conflict phase entirely when dealing with individual NPCs (instead we rolled them as skill checks to save time). Combat forces teams of more than 3 down to 3 combatants at a time (for no good reason) and abstracts the group's "hitpoints" into a shared pool. This is interesting, because characters are still knocked out of combat arbitrarily as these hitpoints are depleted.
Conflicts are forced down to 3 combatants at a time in service of the card-combat system - the player and the GM choose cards secretly and then reveal them simultaneously. This is a rock-paper-scissors mechanic that requires a matrix to determine the outcome, but that's not even the biggest issue. In every other RPG, combat actions are part DECISION (what your character chooses to do) and part RANDOMNESS (the roll of the dice). This system replaces the player's decision with a false choice - the card interactions are themselves ultimately random (rock-paper-scissors) and their outcomes require dice rolling - randomness on top of randomness. Another pet peeve of mine is the "conflict leader" - one player chooses the cards for the entire party, even while the consequences of those choices are visited upon their friend's characters.
Player flexibility and creativity can compensate for a lot of clumsy design in TTRPGs, but I'm truly surprised by the unanimous popularity of this system. My group has since switched to Forbidden Lands, a very elegant OSR game that much better accounts for the kinds of situations that emerge from roleplaying. Torchbearer feels like a boardgame without the board; narratively intuitive or satisfying actions will often be denied just because there are no provisions for them within the rules.