Monday, March 21, 2016

SAGA: A Review and Summary

SAGA:  A Review and Summary

SAGA is a Dark Ages skirmish system that encompasses the time period from the Viking plundering of Lindisfarne in 793 to the battle of Hastings in 1066. It is fast, furious, dramatic, with simple mechanics, but also a great deal of subtlety. Subsequent expansions to the rules expand the time period and scope to include the Crusades and even Russia. I was personally introduced to the system at Historicon 2015 ...... my son and I have been hooked ever since. My primary periods for gaming reside in the horse and musket era, especially Napoleonics (emphasis on complexity and realism), but I have been seriously looking at the Ancients/Medieval/Dark Ages period as a side period (emphasis on fun).

Norsemen advance against Anglo-Saxons


Rules and battle boards are included (with the expansions) for the following factions: the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Anglo-Danes, Welsh, Irish, Scots, Pagan Rus, Crusaders, Bretons, Byzantines, Moors, Saracens, and more.


My copies of the original SAGA and the expansion Northern Fury


As you can see, there is a ton of variety that can be gamed with SAGA and a player can really shoot off in many different directions. I personally prefer the classic matchup of Vikings vs Anglo-Saxons. SAGA can be played with any miniature scale ( my warbands are all 15mm), and basing is per figure.

SAGA was originally intended as a scenario-based system, and several are included within the rules.  SAGA is also a natural system for tournament play as well, with most games consisting of warbands making up a number of "points." More and more tournaments are popping up in miniatures conventions around the world.

The organization of a warband

SAGA is a system in which a player controls a warband, which is made up of several units. A unit, depending on its classification (hearthguard, warriors, or levies) contains a certain number of figures. Each unit costs a point. An opponent fields a warband with the same number of points. A warlord is required and does not cost any points. The warlord is a unit in itself, with the ability to attack and defend.  For example, a unit of warriors contains 8 figures and is worth 1 point, while a hearthguard unit contains just 4 figures for 1 point, but these figures have higher capability.  So a warband can be fielded with a variety of figures, but the point total should be the same for both sides. Most battles are fielded with either 4 points or 6 points to a side. So a warband can typically contain as little as 17 figures in a 4 point game up to about 75 figures per side in a 6 point game. A typical 6-point game requires 40-50 figures on a side.  Here are two examples of a warband in a 4 point game:

A Viking warband can consist of a Warlord (free), 2 units of hearthguard (4 figures each for 2 points), a unit of warriors (8 figures for 1 point), and a unit of levy archers (12 figures for 1 point). Total: 4 points. 29 figures.

An opposing Anglo-Saxon warband could consist of a Warlord (free), 2 units of warriors (8 figures each for 2 points), and 2 units of levy archers (12 figures each for 2 points). Total: 4 points. 41 figures.


A typical Anglo-Saxon warband. In front, 1 point of levy archers. In back, from left to right, 1 point of hearthguard, 1 point of warriors, and another point of warriors. In the rear, the mounted warlord looks on


A player is free to field whatever types of units he chooses, as long as the points are equal for both sides. Six-point warbands are as large as the rules cover, due to the number of strategic dice that are generated for the battle board.

The battle board

The battle board is unique for each faction. This is where the bulk of the game's strategy occurs; a mastery of the battle board is critical for success. The battle board also contains much of the game's historical flavor. For example, the Viking battle board is loaded with offensive capabilities, while the Anglo-Saxon board is much more defensive in nature. This forces the player to fight each faction along similar lines as the faction's historical performance.

Specific dice for each faction (quite expensive if purchased, but in fairness, the rules cover a "do-it-yourself" guide for marking the dice) are rolled and used on the battle board. To summarize, the dice determine what skills or unit activations on the battle board can be used each turn, and the player has to assign the dice to skills accordingly. This is quite subtle and the system rewards the player that can think ahead and assign dice to powerful skills that can be used later in the game.

The game turn

The activated player rolls the dice for his faction (the number of dice is determined by the number of units on the table--levy units do not generate dice while warlords generate 2 dice). After the dice are rolled, each die is allocated to specific skills or actions on the faction's battle board. 
The activated side than Moves, Shoots, or Rests. If a move results in closing with an enemy unit, then melee is calculated at that time. All actions for each unit occur before another unit can be activated. Multiple moves for each unit can also occur, if the dice are available. The dice on the battleboard determine how many units can be activated, or what special skills can be used in shooting or melee.

When one player has finished activating as many units as possible, the opposing player then repeats the activation process for his units. After both players are finished, that is the end of 1 turn. The dice are then rolled for the next turn (there is an option to leave dice on the battle board for the next turn, but these dice are subtracted from the total number of dice that the player can roll for the next turn).


Battle board dice


The concept of Fatigue is also used for units that move multiple times in a turn or are engaged in melee. Fatigue points are used by an opposing player to negatively affect a unit. Be careful with Fatigue; it'll bite you in the butt.

Each unit has an armor rating and a number of attack dice for shooting and/or melee. For example, in order to "hit" a hearthguard unit, a 5-6 must be rolled due to its higher armor. A hearthguard unit rolling against a warrior unit only needs 4-6 in order to hit. Also, a hearthguard unit rolls 2 attack dice per figure as opposed to only 1 attack dice per warrior figure. After special skills are added in and "hits" are determined for each side, saving throws occur in order to cancel out hits. Figures for both sides are removed from the table. The unit that took the most casualties must then retreat out of melee. As units are eliminated, the available dice total drops for each turn. This in itself eventually causes one side or the other to be ineffective for the rest of the battle. Another way for a battle to be won is to eliminate the other side's warlord. A warlord is a powerful unit in itself, but beware the risks. A lucky hit that eliminates the warlord will immediately lose the game for a reckless player.

In summary

SAGA, for me, is a great skirmish system to just have fun with. Who doesn't enjoy bashing Vikings up against an Anglo-Saxon shield wall?  It is simple, fast-paced, but with enough flavor and strategy (especially with the battle board) to ensure a very competitive game. The system is not intended as a pure simulation. It is totally intended as a fun skirmish game with a minimum amount of required figures. I give it a thumbs up !  I may even have a closer look at those Crusaders and Saracens as well......