Thursday, 2 April 2015

And now SAGA!

And so, on the 19th day of Einmánuður, Kraken and I departed from the true path and took a voyage into historical skirmish.

(On the downside: you get fewer Mutalith Vortex Beasts. On the upside: it's a lot harder for the creators to flush the entire fluff into a warp portal - not without some serious historiography at least)

What had caught my eye was SAGA, a Viking age skirmish game from Gripping Beasts. The basic rulebook incorporates everything from the Lindisfarne massacre to the Battle of Hastings, allowing you to play Vikings, Anglo-Danes, Welsh (yay!) or Normans. There are also expansion packs that add Irish, Anglo-Saxons, Scots etc.

SAGA historical skirmish game
I don't know why the whole word is upper case.
I think you have to shout it.

The game is reputed to be fast to play, simple to grasp and cheap to assemble (this will take some getting used to). I got myself a starter rulebook and Kraken agreed to play faster than I could say, "do you want to be the Vikings?"

Yes. Yes I want to be the Vikings. In real life. All of them, all the time. Kraken here in bold, or Hafhveðrungr in Norse. (that's very approximate, it means something like Sea Monster.) 

What follows is our first impressions of the game, rather than a full battle report, as we spent our time grasping the rules rather than taking notes.


In a small game, you get four points to spend on your army (four points! that's not even a Charmed Shield!).

Everyone gets a free Warlord and each point buys a unit of either 4 x Hearthguard (elite), 8 x Warriors (core) or 12 x Levy (cannon-fodder ... once they invent cannons). The numbers of the units can be mixed up, as long as they stay between 4-12, and each faction has free upgrades they can take (or are forced to take).

Naturally, Kraken took on the Vikings. Despite a pang of national guilt, I went with the Anglo-Danes, who are really just Vikings that took an earlier ferry.


  • Warlord with Dane Axe
  • 4 x Hearthguard with Dane Axes
  • 4 x Hearthguard
  • 8 x Warriors
  • 8 x Warriors


  • Warlord
  • 4 x Beserkers
  • 4 x Hearthguard
  • 4 x Hearthguard
  • 8 x Warriors

If you think these armies looks pretty similar, you'd be right - aside from the Dane Axe/Berserker upgrade, there is no difference between say, a Viking Warrior and an Anglo-Dane one. Their stats (which are are just four or five lines) are identical.

The real difference comes with the SAGA battle board - a faction-specific board that contains 15 different activations, buffs, hexes or other random stuff. It is powered by 'SAGA dice' that you roll every turn, as assign as you wish.

SAGA dice - Angle Danes
You also get to roll regular D6, don't worry.

You can't do anything without this battle board (you have to spend dice to activate units to move, shoot, fight or rest), but the other choices you make determine the style of your play. Vikings, for example, have a lot of combat-boosting abilities on their board.

The other point worth noting is fatigue - every time a unit is activated after its first one, or survives a round of combat, or is close to a friendly unit that gets destroyed (or gets hit with a special rules), they take a fatigue token.

That last one happened a lot - the Anglo-Danes seem to be quite good at slapping fatigue tokens on the foe. Very tiresome to fight them, or something.

This represents their courage and strength being ebbed away by the battle and makes them more vulnerable to damage (so you can stack the odds in your favour by continually fatiguing the same unit). They can remove fatigue by resting, or employing other special rules.

The Battle

We actually got to play two battles (told you it was fast). They can be scenario based, so we went for the simplest - Clash of Warlords: kill the enemy leader, sudden-death (or, by the end of 6 turns, the most VPs win).

SAGA battle report - Vikings vs Anglo-Danes
To save time, we used the same set-up for both battles.

Battle 1

I won the roll to go first and tried to play it canny - the Anglo-Danes have a number of special rules that allow you to chip away at the enemy's fatigue, so I held back and threw lots of fatigue at the Vikings.

And it was initially working - Kraken's units were getting loaded down with fatigue and he was having to spend a lot of effort removing them or else risk exposing his units to disadvantageous combat.

That meant I wasn't really moving forward, which is very much what vikings want to do. They've got no missile troops, and the selection I'd taken was very much for combat.

But then I nudged forward too far and combat began. On the receiving end of some of the awesome combat buffs the Vikings can deploy, my Warriors and Hearthguard got shredded.

I also got lucky, mind you! Given that it was a first time out, I didn't really know exactly what to expect from the combinations of abilities I used. Apparently Thor + Heimdal + Frigg = Perfect Storm. 

Meanwhile, my Dane Axes got left on the backline (I spent so many dice whittling away their fatigue, I left one of my best units stranded).

By the penultimate turn, however, I had managed to clear a path to his fatigued Warlord, and was able to throw in my own Warlord with some advantageous buffs of my own. Unfortunately, I whiffed all my attacks and failed to kill his Warlord, exposing myself to a counter-attack from his Warlord and remaining Hearthguard unit, who promptly made jelly of me.

1-0 to the Vikings

Battle 2

The second battle was faster, because we had a better grasp of rules, and also because I stuffed up quite dramatically.

Getting the first turn again, I decided to surprise the Vikings with a quick advance, smash the Warriors and roll up the flank. The first part went well enough, but the Viking counterattack took my forces apart (special mention to the Beserkers, who annihilated a whole unit of Warriors in a single turn, though they too perished).

SAGA dice - Viking
See these guys?
Don't mess with these guys.

My poor Warlord was once again left to fight off the combined efforts of a Warlord and his Hearthguard, and even though I'd remembered to bring his Dane Axe bodyguard along this time, it didn't stop him getting killed many times over.

Thor? He's in agony, you thilly thod!

2-0 to the Vikings - Hvítaaurr!


As a game: great fun. Really interesting working with forces that are superficially identical, but clearly have very different play styles.

The rules are simple (one dice to hit, one dice to save) but the battle board and fatigue aspect add a tactical dimension that can go as deep as you like.

Yes. Warhammer has you decide what you want to do, then roll a lot of dice to see if it works out for you (spoiler - not usually). Saga does it the other way round, so you roll your order dice at the start of the turn and then work out what you want to happen from that. I like it, it's much closer to a poker game where you make the most of what you have. The combat resolution step is more like Warhammer, with to hit numbers and armour saves, but it's very streamlined.

The fact that the battle board allows you to make reactions in your opponent's turn also makes the UGO-IGO structure less passive - you can actually make decisions, rather than just saving throws.

The question of balance in games is an interesting one, and maybe one for another post some other time. In brief, I think WFB isn't a well-balanced game, but I think that missing balance is much more in terms of how you approach playing it rather than the rules themselves. 

SAGA feels like a much closer battle of luck and skill than the average Warhammer game, which I like - gone is that miserable feeling of looking over your opponent's list and thinking 'well, I'll never deal with half of those things'. And if luck screws you over, you'll have time for a second game to make it back!

The fighting is brutal, but that makes for quick play. In a usual SkypeBoot, we could easily get in three games (or start playing lunchtimes - it's also really quick to set up).

On the particular battle: well, the first time was a learning experience; and the second time was my own damn fault for not learning from my experience. I think I'll stick with the Anglo-Danes for the moment - getting a taste of the battle board does make you eager to master it.

Heavily armoured close-combat elites with no shooting phase? I think I'm home. Heima, where the hearts of my enemies are nailed to the wall!

In short: I suspect the saga of SAGA is just beginning!

No comments:

Post a Comment