Monday, March 19, 2012

Battlefields SAGA Demo games

     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
      This whole game took less than an hour and a half to play and that was with players that were completely unfamiliar with the rules. The central component of the rules, the thing that makes them different, is the use of the battleboard. This is divided into fifteen squares, each with a specific rule in it. These rules can be activated by using the dice that each army rolls at the beginning of their turn. The player chooses which squares (that contain the various rules) he will use by comparing the result of the die roll with the scores required by the rule. This gives a satisfyingly unpredictable result. You can try to choose the exactly right rule , but if your dice are not kind, you might miss out entirely. The battleboards are tailored to the specific army; Vikings have rules that do not appear on the Saxon board and the same applies the other way about. This neatly creates an entirely different set of decision matrices for each Warlord. No fancy result-weighted mechanics here, these rules are simple and fast, the battleboard contains all the special rules each army needs.

     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

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. Looking forward to playing Saga.