When I first looked up the schedule for the convention the first thing that caught my eye was the listing for a SAGA demo game. I had heard many things about the rules in the British glossy magazines but the descriptions always left me wondering just how the game played. Here at last was a chance to get my hands dirty (bloody?) and see how the rules really work. Jeff Przybylo and Dan Joyce undertook the task of studying the rules, gathering the minis, setting up the terrain and then answering a zillion questions from gamers eager to learn the rules. I must say they a stand-out job.
The central concept behind SAGA is that the battles were small affairs and, as such, there is little need for hundreds of figures on the table. What is needed is that the individual characteristics of each army is properly modelled. This is a subjective thing based upon the understanding of history possessed by the rules writers, to my mind, they have got it darn near spot-on. Vikings are aggressive and dangerous when charging, Saxons are steadfast and hard to move. Leaders are hugely important to the outcome of battle, no dry administrators here, they are in the forefront of the fight swinging a sword and crying "Havoc!" I found it all most satisfying.
for once, a slim rulebook
the games were presented using attractive terrain and well-painted minis
forces under these rules can number as few as sixty figures in an army
(at last I have found a use for my old DBA army of Vikings!)
historically many battles were fought across fords, the demo scenario reflected this fact, I missed the start of the first round but the players were moving along smartly and play was fast
the intervention of a Leader at the right moment can swing a fight
the second game with the troops in their start positions,
each daring the other to cross the river
note the Saxon leader positioned between his units (just to the right of the river)
right from the beginning the Saxons took the fight to the Vikings
the Saxon Fyrd cheer on the Thengs as they try to cross the river in the face of Viking Bondi
the Saxons are pushed back
until their Leader intervenes
and the battle swings back the other way
meanwhile a peasant watches impassively,
wondering who he will be paying taxes to this year
after a brief clash the leaders broke contact to rest and gather re-enforcements
back at the other ford the Danish axe-men were hewing their way through the Bondi
the Bondi fought well, earning their place in Valhalla
taunts were exchanged across the river while both sides rested and reduced Fatigue
a charge by the Berserkers killed many of the axe-men but saw all the Vikings fall,
two tired Bondi were all that stood to guard the ford
rested and refreshed, the two warlords threw themselves at their opponent,
this time they would end it
an overview of the situation at the end of the game, on the left the Fyrd cross the river,
and on the right the Warlords are engaged in a fight to the death,
that mob by the village are casualties - not an active unit
the Viking Warlord fiercely threw himself at the Saxon Leader
but, exhausted from the fight, he would eventually be carried off by the Valkyries
Another aspect that I liked was that having gotten a rule that you think is useful you can reserve it and leave those dice on the square for later use. Even though this is an I-Go U-Go system the fact that special rules can be invoked throughout the turn keeps both players paying close attention to the action. The battleboard also creates a time and resource management situation for the player as he may use all of his options winning a fight at the beginning of the turn only to find hinself in desperate need later on.
A third factor covered by the rules is fatigue. Units and Leaders gain fatigue as the game goes on. Eventually this will cripple a unit as they fight at half effect when they exceed their Fatigue limit. Fatigue points can be reduced by resting, they can also be "spent" by your opponent to reduce your armor of increase the difficulty you have in hitting him. Simply put, tired troops are at a serious disadvantage. The red "F"markers seen in the photos are Fatigue points that the units have accumulated. They serve as a ready visual reminder to both generals of the unit's status.
The extraordinarily fast play, anmd limited outlay of figures , makes this ideal for a campaign. Talk has begun already of doing as much.
I would heartily recommend these rules to anyone wishing to get into Dark Ages gaming, John