As discussed in the last article, I’ve been encouraged to resurrect my near-forgotten 28mm ‘Age of Arthur’ collection with the aid of ‘Saga’ Dark Age/Mediaeval wargame rules. I found the rules relatively easy to read and understand, but my sieve-like mind soon forgets such things and so I was grateful for the assistance of Mike, the Saga ‘Brettwalda’ in leading me through a couple of trial games.
They’re my toys, so I opted for the ‘good guys’ defending Britannia, while Mike got the hate Saesneg (Saxon) invaders. In Saga game terms, the Saxon Battle-Board is relatively straightforward, but the Britons have a special rule whereby the Warlord can ‘Galvanise’ units with the range of a Small Saga-Stick. ‘Galvanised’ units gain additional options and bonuses on the Romano-British Battle-Board, which means that preserving the Warlord and using him to influence other units might be more important than getting him to lead charges… More of that later…
We decided on six army points per side, so as Dux Bellorum, I spent 1 point on a unit of 12 bow-armed Levies, 2 points on two units of 8 Warriors and 3 points on three units of 4 Hearthguards. The British Hearthguards have the option of being mounted, so I put two units on horseback. The British Warlord may have up to two Hearthguard ‘Companions’ attached to his element, so I took those from one of the mounted Hearthguard units and combined the remaining mounted Hearthguards into a single unit of 6 figures. Combining units means that their greater strength gives them more combat-power, but also mean that you lose a Saga Die from the dice pool.
This army list gave me six Saga Dice – 1 for the Warlord and 1 for each of my five formed units.
In deployment terms, I decided to refuse my right flank, placing the poorer Warriors and Levies there, hopefully keeping the enemy at bay with arrows. My left wing, with the Warlord and Hearthguards , would be my main striking-force.
Brettwalda Mike meanwhile, spent 3 points on three 8-figure Warrior units and 3 points on three 4-figure Hearthguard units. He split one Hearthguard unit and used it to increase the strength of the two remaining Hearthguard units to 6 figures apiece.
Like me, Mike’s army generated six Saga Dice per turn.
Mike opted for a fairly symmetrical deployment, with the three Warrior units and the Warlord in the centre, with the Hearthguards on each flank.
Note that in ‘Saga’, the Warlord’s retinue is normally represented by a single large base, featuring the warlord and associated hangers-on. I don’t have anything like that for my Saxons, so the Saxon Warlord here is shown by the small group of figures clustering around a suitable leader figure and the Wyvern banner. For the British, I have a diorama of a Romano-British warlord (on the white horse) being perpetually mugged by a couple of Saxons.
Not knowing quite what to do, I started by placing Saga Dice in the top row of the Battle-Board, basically activating units for movement. I wasn’t quite ready to go for the more advanced stuff lower down the board just yet. With Saga Dice placed, I started activating units, starting with my Levy archers, who used one activation to move within range of the Saxons and a second activation to lob a few arrows in their direction, resulting in a satisfying First Blood for the battle!
With my first turn completed, the wily old Brettwalda immediately spotted an opportunity to knock out my main striking unit of mounted Hearthguards and immediately started stacking the Saga Dice on suitable assault bonuses. Dice placed, his right-flanking Hearthguard unit charged out to meet my cavalry head-on, deploying several bonuses from the Battle-Board as he does so…
The combat is hard-fought , though the Britons manage to beat off the assault and the sole surviving Saxon Hearthguard falls back. However, the British cavalry have suffered casualties and are now ripe for a second assault by the waiting Saxon Warrior unit…
Outnumbered two-to-one and with another stack of Battle-Board bonuses deployed against them, the British Hearthguards are destroyed and I will now be rolling one less Saga Die per turn. However, the strength of the Saxon Warrior unit has fallen below four figures, so the Saxons also lose one Saga Die from their roll.
Having learned a hard lesson from the massive Saxon deployment of Battle-Board bonuses against my Hearthguard cavalry, I use my next pool of Saga Dice to amass a stack of my own bonuses for more targeted strikes against the Saes. Lord Derfel’s Hearthguards (white star banner) are thrown against the Saxon warlord himself, closely followed by a unit of Warriors. The Romano-British attacks come within a whisker of taking the Brettwalda’s head (we need four hits to take him down and inflict three hits), but are both beaten off with heavy losses.
However, having positioned himself on the battlefield to achieve maximum command and control effect. Dux Marcus Dangerus suddenly finds himself dangerously exposed…
The wily Brettwalda is quick to take advantage of the Dux’s isolation and sends in a fresh unit of Saxon Warriors, loaded to the eyeballs with ‘Ferocious’ and ‘Sharp Blades’ bonuses…
In a bitter combat, Marcus Dangerus manages to beat off the Saxon Warriors (only 2 Saxons survive, so the Saxons lose another Saga Die), but in turn suffers the loss of both Companions.
The Brettwalda himself now steps in to apply the coup de grace (however you say that in Aenglish) to Dux Marcus Dangerus, who battles on manfully, inflicting some hits on the Brettwalda, but finally falls to the eternal Saxon muggers on his base. The shocked Britons can only look on in horror and disbelief as the Saxons cheer their warlord and taunt the Wealhas!
“Rally to the Lord!”
All too flippin’ late, the last fresh unit of Roman-British Warriors now charges into the fray and exacts revenge on the Brettwalda, cutting him down without loss. The left-flank unit of Saxon Hearthguards attempts to save their lord, but too are cut down! The pendulum of battle swings back to the Britons!
Things are now suddenly looking very bad for the Saxons. Their army is now only generating two Saga Dice – one for the sole surviving Hearthguard on the right flank and one for the last fresh unit of Warriors. The two other Warrior units, at two figures apiece, are too weak to generate Saga Dice. The Britons meanwhile, with four viable units still in play, are still rolling four Saga Dice per turn and have gained a distinct command & control advantage over the Saes.
Lord Derfel’s Hearthguards move quickly to roll up the Saxon right flank – he quickly dispatches the remaining Saxon Warriors near the village and then eliminates the last Saxon Hearthguard. The Saxons are now down to rolling a single Saga Die. The Levy archers meanwhile move forward to engage the last formed Saxon Warrior unit.
Having at long last rolled up the Saxon right flank (which was the original plan, after all…), the Britons move in to mop up the weak Saxon Warrior unit. The Levy archers meanwhile, take the reserve Warriors to task and launch an astonishingly accurate volley, cutting down three of the eight Saxon Warriors!
With the runic writing firmly on the wall, the Britons close in on the last Saxon Warriors, but the archers complete the task for them, eliminating three more Saxons and removing the Saxon ability to roll any Saga Dice whatsoever. The battle is won!
All in all, an immensely fun and informative first try of Saga! After a tentative start, the rules quickly became intuitive and straightforward once the Battle-Board was fully absorbed and understood. We still had time for a second leisurely game after this and with experience we could easily have played three games in a four-hour club-night, which lends itself well to fast-moving campaign play.
My sincere thanks to Brettwalda Mike for ‘letting me win’! I’m very much looking forward to more Saga.