My Thoughts on Saga

“I drink to your safe return in English ale.  I wish that it were English blood!”  with a hearty cheer from the surrounding villagers  the warrior on horseback swigs from a barrel of beer then smashes it to the ground.  The warrior is Kirk Douglas and this is a scene from the 1958 swashbuckling classic ‘The Vikings’.

Like many other historical movies from the fifties and sixties, The Vikings is a glorious Technicolor romp, which like Saga (the game of Dark Age skirmishes) has a grounding in history but doesn’t get bogged down in the detail. 

I’ve been gaming for a few years and always preferred smaller skirmish games to big battle games.  I’m not an early adopter, so Saga had been available for a couple of years before I picked up my copy.  I’d heard positive reviews and the relatively small starting forces didn't seem too much of a painting commitment to take on.

I convinced my friends to give it a go and we’ve been playing at home, using proxy models and primed models at first, but slowly building our games up.  We tried the game at 4 points, and are now playing 6 points each where the game really comes alive.  Good tactical awareness and forward planning become much more important, but the game is as fun and bloody as ever.

The rules of the game are simple and fun.  Reviews of Saga often talk of ‘innovative activation systems’ and ‘resource management’ and they’re right, Saga offers these.  But it’s not just one for statistics nerds; it’s also a set of rules which gives advantage to the player with the most impressive facial hair!  This mix of simple rules, supplemented by options on the battleboards creates a game which is easy to learn but where the tactics of a warband can take many games to fully understand. 

My choice of warband is the Anglo Danish, but since I have as much respect for historical accuracy as the makers of The Vikings film, they don’t look like Anglo Danes.  Just like the costumes of Kirk Douglas and his fellow Hollywood Vikings, the colour is cranked up to make the make the models pop on the table.  

Warbands don't contain hundreds of figures, so it’s possible to collect a number of forces.  Saga has many available making it easy to find a couple to recreate any pre-gunpowder period of your choosing.  I’m tempted to use the latest Roman rules to represent early republican Romans and refight some skirmishes from the Punic Wars (can I fit an elephant into my warband?), or even find a battleboard which I could use for a Samurai warband.

That's the story so far and I’ve already got some plans for the coming year. The Anglo Danes are fun but defensive, I need something fast or aggressive so an Irish warband with packs of dogs is likely to be next onto the painting table.  Until now I’ve only played single unconnected games, but there’s also the ‘Age of the Wolf’ campaign rules, which I’m planning to try out this year.  Maybe I need to start building some more terrain as well?

That’s my history with Saga and why I enjoy the game so much.  It’s about smashing barrels of ale and running headlong at the enemy, it’s about bright colours and glorious tales of victory.  The game doesn't claim to be a true depiction of life in the dark ages; what is delivers, like the Hollywood films of old, is fun, action, and a sense of adventure which will leave your head spinning. 


Author: Frugal Dave
Frugal Dave lives in the south west of the UK and can be found on twitter @thefrugalgamer.

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