I was introduced to Saga a year ago by one of my war-gaming friends he in turn by another of our number. I had played Warhammer fantasy battle almost exclusively for nearly twenty years, and was at a loss when it changed to a very different set of rules and background that really didn’t interest me. Saga, however, did, one multiplayer game, Vikings, Normans, and Anglo-Danes, and I was hooked. I ordered what I needed, got playing, and it became my main game out of the three new ones I adopted over the year.
The first thing that struck me about Saga was how easy the rules were to pick up. After one game I felt I had a good understanding of how to play. Once I read the rulebook I felt I had grasped them pretty well, and could play without having to refer to it for every action I performed. Part of this was the freedom of movement and not having distinct phases, the latter being a new thing to me after playing quite a regimented game for most of my gaming life. I enjoyed that I could activate a unit more than once, but if I did so there was the fatigue mechanism to counter balance it. The short range for shooting surprised me at first and often led me to losing my levy unit, until I learnt how to play around it. However, one of the things I liked the most was how no units seemed over powerful, or invincible. I had come out of Warhammer where this had become the norm, and it had sapped my enthusiasm for the game. In Saga I liked that it was a group of men, all of whom could fight and be effective on the table, led by one superior but not god like hero, and all could die if used incorrectly.
The second thing was the battle boards and special ‘Saga’ dice. Each faction generates a number of Saga dice depending on the number of units they have on the table, which are used to activate units and the abilities on a battle board. A player typically starts with five or six Saga dice but can lose them if you lose a unit during the game. Saga is rarely about sacrificing units as you soon become limited in what you can do during the game. Each faction also has their own unique battle board to distinguish them from the next, and it is these that make up the fabric of the game. Different factions have different weapons and some can ride horses but these are not enough to make it more than a once in a while beer and pretzels game. The battle boards give each faction their own flavour and play style as well as an identity other than the historical type of warriors they represent. Anglo-Danes were my first warband, a defensive board that could pile fatigue on the enemy, boost armour, and cancel enemy activations. The board abilities also worked in tandem, I could add fatigue to units with one, and then with another gain a bonus in melee from that fatigue. My friends had Normans and Vikings. The Norman board is very aggressive in combat aiding the cavalry hearthguard with abilities to push them forward, to get them into combat, and trample the enemy underfoot, but also offering shooting abilities to support the warrior crossbowmen and levy archers. However, they have relatively little defensive abilities, and could not remove fatigue short of resting as an activation meaning they could do nothing that turn. Vikings however, do at the expanse of shooting abilities. They could remove fatigue, have some defence against shooting and lots of abilities to boost them in combat. These are three of the first four warbands and were more straightforward in their abilities. Subsequent factions and battle boards become more complex using an ability to support a second, or building on one to boost another to offer players a more rewarding game.
With these in tow Saga continues to be the main game I play. I look forward to each game, and nearly each one is a unique experience. All are fun and offer the chance to play both a laid back game that isn’t dependent on knowing a tome of rules and army specific rules, but also tactical and offering challenges in how you play and respond to your opponent and their battle board. Games are fought on the Saga dice rolled but won with how they are placed on the battle board.
Author: Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker lives in the South East of England, holds a BA in Ancient History, and has been wargaming for over twenty years. His interest in History spans from Classical Greece to the Modern day with a particular interest in the Medieval world. He has only recently (2016) got into historical gaming via Saga, and is on an adventure of new games and miniatures.