Byzantines for Saga part 2
Hello again reader, in my last article i talked about how and why I chose Byzantines to take to the Grand Melee and the thoughts behind the initial army build. In this post, I’ll talk about my play test games, what I learnt and the changes I subsequently made.
One caveat I’d like to make is that Saga is such a varied game what didn’t work for me might suit your playing style and work for you, and if it does please get in touch and let me know I’m always eager to learn new tricks and tips!
I’ll start with my lovely Cataphract cavalry, as I noted before the initial plan was for the bow armed hearth guard to move up first then have the Cataphract's charge now being able to use abilities like Support archers that require a unit to be within M. No plan survives contact with the enemy however and this one didn’t while it could work in practice I ended up using 3-4 dice to get the combo to work and for that many dice it simply lacked the punch needed for the investment.
It was this that made me re think my plans and start to play more as a slow moving wall of mutually supporting warriors with the cataphracts on a flank or behind ready to counter charge or roam out as the scenario dictated.
This is where I should talk about Kontos these are the long spears or lances Cataphracts used but in Saga it’s a rare and common dice ability that lets you charge and roll 1 dice for each model in base to base contact and on a 4+ it adds an automatic extra hit the enemy has t save when they roll saves. It sounds great and sometimes It can be, one particularly memorable moment was a first turn William the Bastard kill where I moved up and charged with Kontos and then got all 8 models (both units of hearthguard in one big unit) into the unit of 7 levy in front of William Rolled 7 hits with Kontos and another 8 with the remaining attacks killing them outright for 1 loss and then activated again to charge into William who had a fatigue on him from the levy dying which I spent to drop his armour to 4 so even if my opponent spent it to raise it back up id still hit on a 5+ (which he did) and killed him outright. This is the exception rather than the rule, in practice I found unless I was well within the 12” charge range of the Cataphract's it was difficult to get more than 4-5 models in base to base so was only generating 2-3 extra hits for the 2 dice, one of which being rare proved very situational.
So it was left to the rest of the army to pick up a lot of the heavy lifting, the 2 x 8 spear warriors backed up with 8 warrior archers proved a reliable backbone of the army. Abilities like Friendly shields and Mutual support allow them to maintain a tight formation and support each other even when i was attacking. For example in the Sacred ground scenario my opponent had take the center hill with 8 hearthguard and i was able to move the first unit of warriors up, then engage with the second and even though my opponent used Saga abilities I transferred the casualties with Friendly shields and was able to whittle the the defenders before attacking a second time to drive them off the hill.
You have probably gathered by now that the Byzantines are all about overlapping support and nothing really shines on its own, however in my opinion the one exception to this is the humble levy because of Scouting. Activating up to 3 units of levy for 1 uncommon dice is really powerful. The javelins are a weapon that activates on a move so they can run up shoot and then do it again and take no fatigue which catches opponents out. I rated this ability so good i very nearly dropped a unit of Cataphracts for a second unit of levy to enable me to run 3 units 9,9,6 throwing 26 shots for 4 saga dice. However time got in the way of this plan so I never got to try it and is pure theory Saga but i think it might have legs so i will be trying it out down the line.
No overview of the Byzantines would be complete without a discussion on Basileus. It's one common and one uncommon dice and allows you to activate as many friendly unit within L of your warlord as you like without taking fatigue but then your warlord gains one fatigue per unit activated. I cannot overstate how good this is it really allows the combined arms of the Byzantines to shine for example you could move both units of spear warriors forwards 6" then use Basileus to move them both again taking no fatigue and now having now moved 12". If that was into combat you could then use any breakthrough to bring the cataphracts in to exploit the gap or hit the enemy unit again all for 3 saga dice! You could soften the enemy up by moving your levy up for shooting, then using Basileus shoot again, before combining with Scouting to shoot a total of 3 times and ending with no fatigue. The combinations are endless however once you've got this pile of fatigue its then quite hard to shift it so try to save it for those moments when it will win you the game because remember once your exhausted (which is quite likely when using this ability) you can't use Saga abilities. It is possible to get two uses out of it per game practically by on the first occasion stopping short of exhaustion then using it again which will exhaust. (Of course you can rest however i found having the free warlord activation to get into a better position was more important).
I can say with total honesty the army i thought i was buying is not what I need up with but the Byzantines are a challenging and fun army totally different to anything else I've seen in Saga, master the tricks they have and you'll find it very rewarding but unforgiving.
In the next article i will talk about the Grand Melee its self and what i can remember of my games!
Author: James Blair
James Blair is a 30 something wargamer from Coventry UK. He has played miniatures games for over 20 years, is a passionate hobbyist and enjoys a wide range of games from Saga to X Wing. He also writes for the Konflikting Opinions blog. Having played Saga got 3 years it has become his favourite game with the Steppe tribes being his preferred faction.