Lately, I’ve stepped away from playing big, time-consuming, games and instead have been enjoying lots of skirmish games. My favorite so far has been SAGA, made by Gripping Beast and Studio Tomahawk.
It’s a medium-sized game with 30-40 models per side. You can choose from many different factions including Bretons, Normans, Scots, Anglo-Danes, and of course, Vikings. There are also many others, and more being introduced in a new expansion coming out in May called Crescent and Cross. It will include rules for Saracens, which I’m jazzed about.
What makes this game so great? Vikings, obviously. Ok, honestly, it’s not just that you can play Vikings. But really, that’s all I needed to hear in order to try it.
Actually, what intrigued me about the game was the simplicity, the battle boards, and the dice. This game has a truly unique play style, without getting bogged down in overly complex rules that many games suffer from. It’s really quite elegant. Instead of equipping everyone with different weapons, giving them special powers, and carefully tooling your lists within a large points constraint, you get just 6 points.
Your Warlord is free. You then choose to spend your points on Levies, Warriors, and Hearthguard. Levies are the least experienced, and Hearthguard are the most. 1 point gives you 12 Levies, 8 Warriors, or 4 Hearthguard. Now, you don’t have to keep them in units as you’ve purchase them. You could take 8 Warriors and split them into 2 units of 4. Or, you could put 2 points of Hearthguard into a single unit of 8. As long as you have 4-12 models per unit, you’re good to go.
Each army has a unique battle board. The column on the left is for activation, the two on the right are for your actions.
Each faction has their own dice, although a few are shared between different armies.
These are partly what gives each army their own flavour. Each die has 3 different symbols that match up to ones on the battle board. You get one die per unit, maximum of 6 (Warlord gives you 2, but levies give you 0 because, well, they’re basically peasants). You roll and allocate them to the abilities you want, matching the symbols. Most actions need one die, some need two. Sounds kind of simple, right?
The trick is figuring out how to combine them into some nasty attacks on your enemies. You can also place a die on your board and keep it there until your next turn. One of the symbols is only on your die once, making it rarest, so it can be sometimes advantageous to keep a die or two on your board.
Additionally, each army has their own unique Warlords, called Heroes of the Viking age, that cost 1 point instead of being free. They have some cool abilities that the basic Warlord does not. You could have Ragnar Lothbrok leading your Viking army. What’s not to love about that? [I know what I’m spending some money on at Salute – Ed]
Some armies, such as my Bretons or Normans, are also mainly cavalry based. That makes them faster, but they lose a point of armor against ranged weapons. It provides a good balance, which I find lacking in other games. In fact, no one army is “the” army to have, so you can chose one that appeals to you without concern for competitiveness.
Different armies also have different weapons. Scots have spears, Vikings have swords and axes, Bretons have javelins, and Anglo-Danes have 2-handed axes. All things that lend to their flavour, without making the game overly complex. Everything you need to know about playing the game is in the main rulebook or on your battleboard. Although, each book has additional scenarios as well.
Right now, there is the main rulebook which provides 4 factions and battle boards (Vikings, Normans, Welsh, and Anglo-Danes) and three supplement books: Northern Fury (Anglo-Saxons, Scots, Bretons, Jomsvikinigs), Raven’s Shadow (Irish, Franks, Strathclyde Welsh, and Norse-Gaels), and Varjazi & Basileus (Pagan Rus, Era of Princes Rus, and the Byzantines). The Crescent and the Cross, which I mentioned before, is the latest supplement due out in May.
Gripping Beast also provides some nice and tidy 6-point complete army boxes that cost £50.00-55.00. Not bad for a little box that has all the models you need for an entire army! If that’s a little too much, though, they also have 4-point starter warbands, in the £33.00-64.50 range.
I got the 4 point Bretons starter and some additional blisters to fill out my army. But wait, you thought I was all about the Vikings? I was, I am, but I ended up being the last of my friends to start my army so Vikings (and my second choice Normans) were already taken. No sense in doubling up when I have more SAGA armies to choose from than friends who play it.
They’re fully painted now and I am taking them to Adepticon (in Chicago, IL) for my very first SAGA tournament! I’m very much looking forward to getting in some games with new people and seeing all the different armies, fully painted and in action.
SAGA starter sets and rule books are available from Firestorm Games starting at £10.80