SAGA: Dark Age Skirmishes

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.

Bretons vs. Vikings!
Bretons vs. Vikings!

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.

Battle Board

Each faction has their own dice, although a few are shared between different armies.

Breton Dice
These dice work for Normans or Bretons.

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

SAGA – The Review

Every now and then you come across a game that really makes you stop and pay attention. A game that has such clarity of vision and purity of undertaking that you actually feel like you’re in the presence of genius.

SAGA is one such game.

To fill you in, SAGA is a skirmish game set during the age of the Vikings on our fair isle written by Studio Tomahawk.

Just because I have to cover this; SAGA is a gorgeous little book. Glossy, well laid out, great photography but the artwork is just a little bit lovely and conjurs the same responses in me that Warhammer Fanatsy use to. It’s simply lovely.

But on to the game…

The fact that it’s a skirmish game isn’t what makes SAGA special. Or the fact that it focuses on the wars and events that led up to the Battle of Hastings. It’s the simple fact that the rules are a little bit genius.

For one thing SAGA uses a unique dice set that not only allows you to place special orders that’ll either boost a unit’s performance or make them more resilient to damage but activate your forces too. This rather elegantly represents the fact that your warlord is bellowing orders or strategies and so doesn’t have time to direct all his forces before the arrows start falling or axe heads biting.

The other touch of genius is the simplicity of the combat rules. Attack and defence. Easy. Shit warriors hace to babd together to deliver the same amount of punishment as good ones. Makes complete sense. But through in Fatigue and all of a sudden you’ve got an agonising decision to make as you’re constantly torn between trying to press the advantage but at the risk of tiring your men or using those valuable dice to help your men recover.

And, again, seasoned veterans can fight harder and longer than press ganged farmers and so fatigue doesn’t aflict them as quickly. But there’s fewer of them and being forced to fight a larger unit for longer is costly.

There’s something to be said for elegance in simplicity because it means you can get down to the task of caving in skulls. Which is sort of the point. That’s not to say that SAGA is a simple game. The tactical decisions that are at its heart see to that but where it succeeds where so many other games fail is that it keeps it all very very fun. And something the Games Workshop should remember when they write the next edition of Warhammer.

The rules also contain force lists, special characters from the pages of legends, and scenarios that allows you to plant your game firmly in a narrative which always does it for me.

But the cherry on top of this rather spectacular sundae is that the rules allow for just about any kind of models to be used with relatively little tweaking. So, all of a sudden, those random sci-fi models you bought at Salute now have a purpose which you simply cannot put a price on.

Go and buy this game or I’ll simply have to come to your house and slap you in your face.

It can be purchased from the fine chaps over at Gripping Beasts.