Wednesday, November 27, 2013

SAGA: Historical Wargaming in the Time of the Vikings - Gameplay

I have a small confession to make. I started wargaming as a historical wargamer, not a space fantasy or steampunk or fantasy gamer. Granted, I was 12 and we were using rules written for adults with tables and indices and crazy accounting to be done, but we had fun recreating Civil War battles on our basement floor.

Since then I moved into Fantasy, then 40k, then Warmachine and Hordes, and various other small games along the way (Necromunda, Infinity, Dreadball, etc). These are all games I currently still play and they're not historical at all. One could definitlely make the connection that there is a lot of history involved as the backgrounds for the games, and the rules are certainly driven from various old historical games that the GW staff played, but they're not real history and there isn't really any real research or re-play of things that happened.

Getting bros to play a historical with me has been a rough ride. I do a lot of 'pushing' apparently to get people to play games so there is that 'ANOTHER GAME? GET OUT OF HERE YOU TERRIBLE TERRIBLE HITLER DOPPLEGANGER'. Add to that that it is a historical wargame and not sweet guns and magic and ALIENZ and it makes it next to impossible for me to explain it to bros. I'm not bitter at all?

Grognard - 'Old Guard' - ultra-hardcore wargamer (wargames - Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Mission, etc) Comes from French word that means "old soldier"
So my preferred time period is American Civil War; I really enjoy researching it and I'm a Civil War reenactor. That, however, would require painting hundreds of 15mm (another stumbling block - dudes don't like small minis) or less 28mm models. Plus a lot of people don't find the period interesting because mostly everyone uses the same rifles and there are really only three types of troops.

So instead I've found this game called SAGA made by a French developer Studio Tomahawk. It is a skirmish game set in the Dark Ages (Viking times). It should be more accessible because who doesn't like Vikings, ODIN, fighting to pillage villages, etc. Plus you can be the English people, French, Mongols, Byzantines, native Americans, etc etc. You don't just have to be a Viking.

The game is exploding all over the world right now with a lot of good feelings on the internet. There is a tournament for it at Adepticon!

So I've introduced the game and why I settled on it, so now I'll talk about why I'm really impressed by it. We'll talk about the system and background first and then we'll get to the actual prices.

SAGA is a very easy to learn and non-rules intensive game. Units have four stats: their armor value, number of shooting attacks, number of melee attacks, and fatigue limit. They're really straightforward and universal - so a Viking warrior has the same amount of attacks as an Anglo-Saxon warrior.

Six point starter from Gripping Beast
So how do we build an army? It is very easy. You can purchase the models like this:

12 Levies (peasants drafted into the army) = 1 point
8 Warriors (standard line troops) = 1 point
4 Hearthguard (elites) = 1 point
1 Warlord = Free

Warriors and Hearthguard give you one die to your starting pool each. Your warlord gives you two dice. Levies give you no orders, they're awful pieces of poop. These dice are used at the start of your turn to give orders. You can only have up to six dice per turn.

So if your four point army consists of this:
12 levies
8 warriors
4 hearthguard
4 hearthguard
1 warlord

You get 5 dice - one from your warriors, two from your hearthguard, and two from your warlord. You roll these dice to start the turn and assign them to your Battleboard.

Each box on your battleboard lets you either activate a unit or use some sort of boost on them. The yellow two columns on the right are limited, which means you can only use them once a turn. The tan colored boxes in the column on the left are able to be activated unlimited times per turn.

So you can see from each symbol that there are some rarer symbols (one per die) and more common symbols. Certain units like Levies are harder to roll the right dice to activate because they're just not as good at being soldiers.

So you assign your dice. In the above example the player has assigned two dice to hearthguard, allowing either two hearthguard units to activate or one unit to activate twice. He assigned one die to the levies so they can activate once. The three in the middle are special boosts. The warlord (top left box) doesn't have any die but he can activate once per turn for free.

Each activation the unit can do one of the following:

  • Move
  • Move, engage, and fight a combat
  • Shoot
  • Rest (remove one fatigue marker)

This isn't like 40k - your models only activate if you tell them to. So if you don't activate them they just sit there that turn. Perhaps they're afraid, readying themselves, or looking off into the distance.

Battle photo from Jay's Wargaming Madness.
Every foot model moves the same amount: six inches. This gets smaller if you move through rough terrain. If you move within 2 inches of an enemy model you must engage it (you're in melee now). Horse troopers move faster.

Shooting is easy. Levies are usually the only unit that will shoot, but depends on your faction. They get 1 shot per two models in the unit. They roll to hit vs the enemy's armor value: so three for levies, four for warriors, five for hearthguard. If they roll a hit the enemy takes a wound and must save it - roll a four or higher to save the wound. The owning player decides who dies.

Models can be based any way you like.
Melee is also simple. Both sides involved roll the number of attacks they have involved in the combat. Levies provide one attack per three guys. Warriors provide 1 attack per guy, hearthguard have two attacks per guy. Your warlord has an astounding five. Roll and attempt to hit the enemy's armor value (only one unit per side is involved in combat, except for rare times when a warlord attaches to a combat). Each hit can be saved on a five or higher. The side that caused more unsaved wounds wins the combat and the enemy must move farther than 2" from them.

Each time you activate a unit more than once per turn they receive one fatigue. Each time a unit participates in melee they receive a fatigue. Each time a friendly unit is removed from the game in melee within 4" of your unit they receive a fatigue. Levies can have up to two fatigue, warriors three, and hearthguard and your warlord four.

Warlords have a few key ways to survive: they discount the first unsaved wound against them every turn. This means you must do at least two unsaved wounds to kill them. They can also sacrifice nearby hearthguard or warriors to discount one wound. So if you have one warrior near your warlord the enemy must do at least three unsaved wounds to him to kill him.

Fatigue can be spent by your opponent to do various cool things:

  • Reduce his Movement from 6 to 4 or from 4 to 2 or from 8 to 6.
  • When shot at, discard one enemy FATIGUE from the shooting unit to gain one Armour.
  • In Melee, discard one enemy FATIGUE to gain one Armour.
  • In Melee, discard one enemy FATIGUE to reduce the enemy’s Armour by one. 

All these effects may only be used once during each Movement activation, or Shooting or Melee.

So how do I win the game? Conquer your enemy and fulfill the scenario win conditions. Most of the time if you lose your warlord you lose.

I've rambled on this post really bad so I'll hit some key points:

Easy game to learn
Small model count
Historical models are available in many many places and prices
Very easy to setup a narrative
Big damn heroes
Battleboard function is very cool

Battleboards are only available in rules, expansions, or Wargames Illustrated magazine
The game uses its own dice. They can be replicated using regular dice though
Historical games scare some people

In my next SAGA post I'll cover some of the books available, models available on the web, and show some typical battle forces.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know if they're working on any other time periods? Viking setting reminds me too much of neckbread Space Wolves players posting on B&C.