The second edition of SAGA and the first supplement (Age of Vikings) has been out for a few months now so I thought it was about time to check it out with a quick test game at the local club.
The 48-page softback core rules are beautifully produced and include photos of games being played in a number of ‘universe’ settings including dark ages, crusades, samurai and fantasy. The core rules are not playable on their own as they don’t include any faction lists so to actually play SAGA, you need at least one of the available supplements which currently include Age of Vikings (12 factions covering 793 – 1066 AD); Aetius & Arthur (6 factions c 410 AD); Age of Crusades (12 factions for 13th Century, out end of April). The core rules and supplements are priced at GBP 10 and GBP 30 respectively but locally them seem to be priced at AUD 30 and 90 respectively so for future supplements I would be tempted to order from Footsore in the UK as their modest shipping costs more than outweigh the currency conversion discrepancies with the local stockists.
Most importantly, the core of the game is the same so existing warbands will work fine and you’ll still be using the same SAGA dice and measuring sticks, although you’re going to need the new battle boards from the universe supplements. The overall process of orders and activation phases and dice mechanics for melee and shooting resolution are also the same, although some of the detail in the mechanics has been tweaked.
Overall almost every process in the game (orders, shooting activations, etc.) now has a much more precisely defined sequence in terms of who can use abilities, spend fatigue, etc. which removes a lot of potential ambiguity and situations where players can act without giving their opponent the opportunity to interrupt. The generation of SAGA dice is slightly different in that units of warriors will only be counted as long as they have four or more figures and units of levy now generate dice as long as they have six or more figures. Movement is different in that figures in unit are moved one at a time in a straight line and all figures must remain within VS of another figure from the same unit AND within S of the figure that moved first so you no longer get long lines of figures. Units with movement L have the option of moving M+M instead, including a direction change. More significantly, if a unit is in open ground and more than L from the nearest enemy and has not yet been activated this turn, they can have free movement activation (known as a manoeuvre) as long as they remain more than L away from the enemy and in open ground. This has the effect of reducing the number of turns it takes warbands to close into combat or seize objectives.
Shooting remains almost unchanged, although in the rare cases a warlord will be armed with a missile weapon, they now have four attack dice rather than two. The most significant change to melee as that you now only consider units being in contact and don’t worry about the exact placement of individual models so as long as some figures are in base to base contact, all figures from each unit can fight. This allows any number of figures to gang up on a single figure. Sacrificing attack dice for additional defence dice is now called closing ranks and works slightly differently but is not available to mounted units or units armed with missile or heavy weapons. Warlords now generate eight attack dice in melee instead of five. Levy units which don’t have missile weapons now generate one attack die per two models instead of per three models.
All units are now exhausted when they have three fatigue, rather than this being determined by unit type. Rather surprisingly, buildings are not covered by the core rules so you’ll need the forthcoming Book of Battles supplement to include non-ruined buildings in your games. The core rules now include composite bows as an equipment option which has range M but may be activated for free as long as the unit has another type of activation between each shot. Improvised projectiles, improvised weapons and unarmed units are now all possible but you’re not going to want to rely on them!
Warlord special rules are also a little different with the Resilience no longer allowing you to ignore the first hit but instead you may take fatigue to order hits. The ability to sacrifice other figures to avoid hits is now the Bodyguard rule but this now only applies to Hearthguard figures within S. The Side-by-Side ability has been removed so it is no longer possible for more than two units to be engaged in melee.
Those are the main differences in the core rules. In a future post, I’ll discuss the changes to some of the factions from the Age of Vikings supplement.
To test out the new mechanics, Rohan and I chucked some terrain on the table and played a 4 point game using the Clash of Warlords scenario from the core book. Rohan chose Vikings and took three units of 8 warriors and one unit of 4 berserkers. I chose Normans and had one unit of 4 mounted hearthguard, two units of eight warriors (one with crossbows) and one unit of 12 levy with bows. Both of us were fairly familiar with the previous edition but a little rusty, having not played for six months or so.
The Normans spread out across the width of the table while the Vikings bunched up on one table edge behind a wood . In the first turn the new Manoeuvre activation came into play right from the start with the Norman left flank being able to advance towards the centre to get into the action from an early stage while the Vikings made a dash for the woods.
In the second turn Norman missile fire was totally ineffective and without waiting for the spear armed warriors to provide support, the Norman knights used their Impact ability to charge the rightmost unit of Viking warriors, only leaving one figure from each unit alive. Being an impetuous fellow, the Norman Warlord charged in to kill off the last Viking warrior and there was much rejoicing. The celebrations were short lived however as in response, the sneaky Viking warlord used their Njord ability to remove fatigue from all units within M before charging the unit of berserkers forward to kill the Norman warlord and last of the Hearthguard in short order. Meanwhile the Norman crossbowman on the hill narrowly repulsed an attack from another unit of Viking warriors.
With all their mounted units destroyed by turn 3, the writing was already on the wall for the Normans, whose missile fire continued to be ineffective and when their spear-armed warriors finally reached the scene of the fight it was too little, too late.
The dice gods did not favour the Normans for orders (it took until turn 6 to roll my first banner symbol on my SAGA dice!) or in combat but none the less, it was still a good introduction to the 2nd edition rule changes and I’m looking forward to getting some more regular and larger games, hopefully including a campaign later this year.
If you are coming to SAGA for the first time then in addition to the core rules and at least one supplement then you’re also going to need some accessories too – measuring sticks, faction dice and fatigue markers which are available as official products or various aftermarket and DIY options. The core rules only include one scenario which isn’t a problem if you have previously bought the first edition supplements but will be rather limiting for new players until the forthcoming Book of Battles supplement is released.
For existing SAGA players, the new edition will replace all of the existing books except for Aetius & Arthur (there is an upgrade kit available for this) so for anyone who currently owns the whole set, that’s a fairly significant cost to replace them all. Personally, the streamlining of the rules, re-balancing of the factions, opportunity to use the same core rules for multiple historical and fantasy settings and the sheer quality of the new books means that I’ll be picking them all up. SAGA remains my preferred Dark Age rules and I love the prospect of being able to use them for samurai and mythological settings too.