Part three of Ken’s in depth analysis of a Wargames system you cannot afford to miss…….
This time I will just look at the first (even though it was published after Aetius and Arthur) of what Gripping beast calls their SAGA Universes, this gives a really good choice of factions for the dark ages from Anglo Saxons to Normans. Bringing together several of the supplements from version 1 of the rules and updating them for version 2.
This book is laid out in what will become the standard format for SAGA Universes, providing the information you will need to field one of the factions in the book, each with its own Battle-board. The 12 in this Universe being, The Anglo Saxons, The Welsh, The Normans, The Vikings, The Anglo-Danes, The Last Romans, The Norse-Gaels, The Irish, The Pagan Rus, The Scots, The Carolingians and finally The Jomsvikings. This book sets the format for each of the others in the series, first by setting the scene with an introduction and then covering each faction in its own chapter along with descriptions of each of the abilities on the included Battle battles the with finally, separate chapters Old Friends, New Enemies; New Equipment; Swords for Hire; Relics and Artefacts.
Each faction Chapter, introduces that faction by providing a short historical background and goes on to describe the Hearth-guard, Warriors and Levy along with equipment. For those that are armed with missile weapons, the range and how many can fire. Possible heroes for inclusion in your force and points cost are also covered. It is now that our friendly guide, Rangar, plays his part by leading you through the important elements of the battle-board and describes how they work. Below, I have picked out a couple of those elements from each board.
The Anglo Saxons: the battle-board for this faction puts an emphasis on larger units (10 figures or more) the abilities reflect this. Valiant Hearts allows you to count a unit as being two figures larger (4 if it is Hearth-guard) until the end of the turn and if you used a Helmet sign on the Saga Dice to activate this ability you may re-roll it and add it to your inactive SAGA dice. Defenders of the Kingdom gives the unit an extra Attack and an extra defence dice. And if your unit is 10 figures or more, one more attack and defence dice. Using the two abilities together can make an 8 man unit equivalent to 10 men and then increase the number of attack and defence dice by a further 2.
The Welsh: these have many advantages, with mad rushing charges and plenty of javelins to skirmish with (for those of a sensitive disposition regarding their ancestry I will not put their full description here). Our Land allows you to activate a unit to charge after an opponents movement activation has been resolved. Guerrilla is triggered by an enemy movement activation but this time allows each of your units within M to be activated to shoot at that enemy unit.
The Normans: These are the guys we know from 1066 with the cream as mounted heavy cavalry, providing us with not just Normans but also the Bretons. The main difference is that if you equip your Cavalry with Javelins that you are fielding a Breton War-band. Your Warriors can also be equipped with crossbows, a nasty weapon rendering shields useless. Charge, is pretty powerful giving you two extra attack dice (4 if a Flag symbol in the SAGA dice is used) additionally you may claim 3 extra attack dice providing you take an extra fatigue at the end of the Melee. Superiority, will allow you to remove a fatigue from an enemy unit to inflict two extra automatic hits.
The Vikings: What can be said about these peoples from Scandinavia, always willing to raid for slaves, booty and land. They also introduce another flavour to the game in the form of Beserkers, this allows one of you Hearth-guard units of 4 figures to be upgraded and instead of an aggression of 2, now have one of 4 in melees. These must be a popular army as my Battle-board had disappeared, fortunately I had scanned copies of these into my computer so that I was able to print and encapsulate a copy for myself. Loki, is very powerful as until the end of the current melee you gain 2 attack dice every time your opponent riggers a SAGA ability or uses one of your fatigues. Thor, inflicts an extra automatic hit for each 6 or more rolled on your attack dice..
The Anglo-Danes: These combine the Saxon and Danish military traditions and are the later Saxon forces that formed Harold’s army at Hastings, they may equipped with the Long-handled Dane axe. Shock allows you to activate a unit to charge and prevents the target unit from closing ranks. Crush the weak, will give you 4 extra attack or defence dice if the enemy unit has an armour of 3 or less.
The Last Romans: represents the troops of the Eastern Empire known to us as the Byzantine Empire. This includes such famous warriors as the Varangian Guard and the Klibanophori. Strategos, allows you to put 8 dice on this ability that can be used as extra attack or defence dice to a maximum of 4 instead of triggering another SAGA ability, any remaining are discarded at the end of the turn. Frenzy, gains you two attack and two defence dice providing you take an extra fatigue at the end of a melee.
The Norse-Gaels: The forces of the island kingdoms of the North of England and those of the kingdom of Dublin. With Spill Blood, after a shooting attack or melee you can roll as many of your available SAGA dice and place them on you combat bonus. With this ability you gain 2 attack dice and one extra attack dice each time you trigger you Combat Bonus.
The Irish: In this case the Gaelic forces of Ireland, a patchwork of small kingdoms many of whom were raiders of the British coasts. In addition you are also able to field a unit of Irish Wolfhounds (trained attack dogs). Wail of the Banshee, gains you 2 defence dice and these get a bonus equal to the number of fatigue tokens the enemy unit has. Heirs of Mil is used to prevent enemy units targeting it by shooting or a charge if it is an area of uneven terrain unless they are within a VS
The Pagan Rus: These pagans from the Russian steppes were a mixture of Scandinavian and Slavic troops (the were the Varangians in Byzantine service). The Pack, is used in a shooting attack against an enemy unit, it gives you 2 attack dice for every unit with at least 5 models that are within M of the target unit. Khagani, gives a unit within S of your Warlord a mix of 3 or 5 attack and defence dice depending on the symbol on the SAGA dice used
The Scots: One of the many clans from north of the wall and still dominated by Celtic culture. Diversionary volley, activates a unit to carry out a shooting attack where you gain 2 attack dice and the enemy may not gain any defence dice. Reach, will allow you to activate all your units without ranged weapons to shoot
The Carolingians:The forces of Charlemagne that established the Franks as a major European power. This faction can also represent Franks from other periods, the Merovingians and the Capetians. This introduces an area of your Battle-board called the Proelium were some SAGA dice can be stored, When a SGA ability refers to this ability,it refers to the number of dice stored here. Vires is a good example, you may discard the dice stored on the Proelium including the dice that activated this ability, re-roll them and place them on your battle board. Defensor, gains you additional defence dice equal to you Proelium plus 1.
The Jomsvikings: Last and most definitely no least, this legendary faction. To measure up to their ferocious reputation Wrath is introduced and can be enhance from the Battle-board. For Armour of the Pagans, your opponent can choose whether you are allowed to increase you units armour by one or gain two Wrath tokens. Song of Steel is one of the abilities that allows you to spend Wrath Tokens, in this case you can activate as many of your units as tokens discarded (to a maximum of 6) these then count as being armed with javelins during this activation without generating a fatigue.
Old Friends New Enemies provides a way of linking four other factions from the other SAGA Universes namely The Germanic Peoples; The Lombards; The Steppe Peoples and The Umayyad Caliphate and which of the Universes they are taken from. This then shows any adaptions that need to be made and lists any of the mercenaries they can use. The Chapter on New Equipment deals with War Banners and the Swords for Hire details the use of many other peoples, who can uses them as allies and any special rules associated with them. This is followed by the final chapter Relics and Artefacts, again detailing who can have them and the effect they have within the game.
Most of my SAGA games have entailed forces from this book and will continue to do so, space does not permit me to cover every aspect (a complete copy of the rulebook would be needed for that) Likewise I have only been able to pick out two abilities from each faction when each have 10 available to them, but, and I don’t mind saying it over and over, SAGA is one of the best constructed and enjoyable skirmish games available today.
Esteemed writer for the Cardiff Tercio
Our thanks to Ken for yet another superb article. So much inspiration and so many superb scenarios. I’m loving rewatching The Last Kingdom at the moment and here’s a very accessible way of joining the hobby. And, talking of gaming, Firestorm Games opens on Tuesday! We have already booked the doyen of World War Two gaming , Don McHugh to put on a game. The barren spell is overall!