Sunday, January 6, 2019

Feeding the ravens: Saga mass battle

I've been playing a lot of Saga lately, more so than anything else I've gamed since September. I gave Saga a miss in its 1.0 incarnation. Now that Saga 2 has been released, I've jumped into the deep end. I have two warbands painted and am completing another two with more ideas for other warbands to come. There's something satisfying about the game that makes it always a delight to play.

Everything in Saga is about trade-offs. There are no über-warbands or über-troops. Where a unit is strong, it has corresponding costs or weaknesses:
  • Javelin-armed troops are powerful (as I've learned to my joy playing Welsh), but have lower armor in melee, making them easier to kill.
  • Mounted troop types (I have mounted hearthguard and mounted warriors with my Spanish warband) move fast, but are more vulnerable to missile shooting—unless they're cataphracts (in the works for my Byzantines), in which case they're expensive.
  • Building larger units gives you advantages in combat, both in how many dice the units throw and in how well they survive taking losses. However, larger units will mean that you have fewer Saga dice for activations.
The three basic troop types (apart from hero/warlord) provide a good set of options for building a warband:
  • Hearthguard have the best combat punch per figure, provide a Saga die even if only a single figure survives in the unit, and have the best armor. But they cost 1 point per four figures and despite their better armor, they die pretty quickly. I've experienced melees where two 4-figure hearthguard units took each other out like the Kilkenny cats—only without even the tails being left. You need to use them judiciously. 
  • Warriors still have decent armor (typically 4) and also have numbers on their side. 1 point buys eight figures. A unit of 8 warriors throws as many combat dice in melee as a unit of 4 hearthguard. Hearthguard may be harder to hit because of their better armor, but Saga abilities and using fatigue against them can change the balance of armor. Even if the losses are even, a 4-figure hearthguard unit suffers more from three lost figures than an 8-figure warrior unit does. Eventually, losses will cause a warrior unit to stop generating a Saga die, but the unit will still remain in being and can melee or shoot with half its figures rounded up.
  • Levy missile troops are the bomb. At least that's what I think. They're not going to do well in a fight (though they can sometimes drive off their attackers), but they don't need to fight. They can torment their enemies from a distance. You may get only a couple turns of shooting, but that can whittle down an opponent. When they are hit, it's highly unlikely they'll be destroyed in one go. 12 figures (you should *always* have 12-figure levy units) are hard to kill. Even after getting thwacked a few times, there always seems to be a few still hanging on. They may not be worth using at that point—especially since they won't be generating a Saga die after getting chewed down to fewer than six figures. Nevertheless, a timely missile shot—even if it's just 2 dice—can turn out to be a game-changer.
The game

The players were Mike Lombardy, running his Irish, and me, running my Welsh on one side. Dean Clarke and Bill Stewart, on the other side, both ran Late Roman warbands from the Aetius and Arthur book (a.k.a. Age of Invasions).

This was the third time I'd played my Welsh, so I was feeling good about my options on the battle board. I've found that the Welsh suit my style of play very well. They've got some defensive reaction abilities, but they also have a very strong offensive or counter-offensive punch. They do well in rough terrain because they have a Saga ability that lets them move through uneven and dangerous terrain with no movement loss.

The Roman players were both using their armies for the first time. The Impetus rule for that faction is a little like trying to rub your tummy and pat your head. You have to activate Saga abilities that increase your impetus so you can activate abilities that use up impetus. You have to keep priming the pump or you're stuck doing just basic stuff, which can get you from here to there, but it lacks sparks.

We wound up with a lot of terrain in the center board, which benefitted us skulking Celtic types, but didn't do much for the Romans. It gave us stuff to hid in and behind, but which we could also burst through at full move if we played the right Saga ability. I got to use my Fogou Games ruins for the first time.

The men of the Tiber won the coin toss and deployed in an impressively tight, straight linear formation. We just kind of formed up in clumps higgledy-piggledy. Bill was opposite me and Mike and Dean faced each other.

My Welsh formed up against Bill's Romans
Bill had two 6-figure mounted hearthguard units, two 8-figure warrior units, and one 8-figure warrior bowmen unit, plus his warlord. I had two 4-figure hearthguard units (with javelins), three 8-figure warrior units (with javelins), one 12-figure levy bowmen unit, and my warlord (with javelins). I certainly had the missile advantage.

The Welsh teulu ready to rock 'n' roll
The Romans moved first, but with only four Saga dice on turn one. Bill didn't rush in and take the ruins. It would have required two moves for one unit. Instead, he used his four Saga dice and warlord's abilities to get the whole straight line moved up one M move.

On my turn I played my Children of the Land ability to move without penalty through the uneven terrain. I rushed a warrior unit into the ruins with the intention of making them sacrificial lambs to inflict as much pain and misery as I could on the Romans before they overwhelmed me. I got off my free javelin shot and took out one of Bill's warriors. I also moved up my bowmen out from the woods they were skulking in and took a shot at Bill's other warrior unit, which effected one more loss for him. The rest of my move was just shifting things in my backfield to support my forlorn hope in the ruins.

Sticking my chin out
Bill pitched in right away. He shot a volley of arrows at my warrior unit, but I escaped from injury. He followed that up with a charge by one of his warrior units. To my surprise, I won with no loss to my unit. Bill took four casualties and went reeling back.

Holding fast—like their descendents will do at Rourke's Drift
Bill's next attempt was to turn my left flank using one of his fearsome 6-figure mounted hearthguard units. I think he decided that doing a von Paulus and sending his units into a meatgrinder was a bad idea. 

Looking for the soft underbelly
I decided that I had to get ballsy at this point. The Welsh don't defend well—despite my warrior unit's survival in the ruins. At his first opportunity, Bill would charge my hearthguard behind the ruins to my ruination. Fortunately, I rolled a dragon on the Welsh Saga dice. That meant I could use the very nice Wild Charge ability. I supplemented that with the Deception ability. The upshot is that I added four dice to my attack for wild charge (in addition to getting +1 on my dice for charging with javelins). Deception let me discard two attack dice to gain four additional defence dice. There were no other Saga abilities used by Bill or me. No one had any fatigue to use. I was rolling 10 dice looking for 4s, bill rolled 12 dice looking for 4s. (Had Bill been attacking me, I would have 8 dice looking for 5s against his 12 dice looking for 4s—and no additional defence dice.) I came out just ahead. Bill lost three figures, I lost two. 

Knowing Bill's hearthguard weren't defeated and seeing Dean's hearthguard looming just beyond, I decided to withdraw my surviving two hearthguard to prevent them getting slaughtered.

A rare moment of caution
The turn also saw the demise of Bill's other warrior unit. I shot my bowmen twice, both times scoring 5 hits, not enough of which Bill managed to save. It was a pretty hot dice turn for me.

On turn 3, Bill attempted a main strike against my bowmen: revenge for his warriors. I had a Saga die on the Evade ability of my battle board. I placed it there on turn 1 figuring that I would get to a point where buggering off rapidly was my best move and I wanted to have it available. However, I really had no place to bugger off to. Bill's warband came in and smacked me. When the dust settled I was seven figures fewer and hunkering down.

Bill then sent his warlord in to fight mine. At this point I wanted to invoke the run away rule, but I found out that not only was that cowardly, but the rules don't let warlords evade from warlords. Bill had one fatigue from moving + charging; I was fresh as fruit. We also both had hearthguard within S distance so they could die for us. I used his fatigue to up my armor to 5 and we rolled off even odds: 8 dice looking for 5s. I suffered one casualty, which I took from my hearthguard. Bill suffered three, which he took as fatigue and two dead hearthguard. And he scurried back.

One the other end of the table, Dean and Mike had been fighting their own little war. Mike was getting the best of it, having taken out two of Dean's mounted hearthguard. At this point it looked like certain loss for the Romans. We were already very much ahead in points. We decided to play out our half of turn 3 and see where we were.

I got two dragons on my Saga dice roll. I was reduced now to generating just six Saga dice, but I had dice still on my board, so still eight dice in play. I set up what I hoped to be a chain of events against Bill's hearthguard and warlord:
  1. I removed my warlords fatigue.
  2. I moved up a full unit of warriors and took a javelin shot at Bill's hearthguard (to no effect).
  3. I charged in with my hearthguard against his three surviving figures.
  4. I used Wild Charge (+4 attack dice), Combat Bonus with a dragon die (+2 attack dice), Deception (-2 attack dice, +4 defence dice).
When the fighting was done, I'd lost two figures, but eliminated Bill's hearthguard unit. Then I charged his warlord with mine. Bill already had two fatigue from earlier in the turn. I got +1 to my dice for attacking with javelins, so we were 8 dice each looking for 4s. I took one hit, Bill took two, which ended him.

The end
That same turn, Dean lost his warlord to Mike. The Romans decided Wales wasn't worth the effort.


It was a fun game—for Mike and I. I'm really liking the Welsh. They're kinda brittle because the javelins reduce their armor in melee. I've found that they die quickly if I'm not careful. The key is to maximize the effect of their javelins and to not get caught standing by a charge. The one-two punch of Wild Charge and Deception is a nice combo for a crucial attack. Adding Combat Bonus dice to that is just gravy. If you can use your opponents fatigue to increase your armor, all the better. It's a good riposte style warband.

Bill got to use his beautiful newly painted Late Romans for the first time. Every army needs to get bloodied; they just more so this game. The local ravens had Italian for dinner.

Bill's lovely Romans
I got to use my Fougou ruins. I bought them online from Fogou Models in November. They came quickly and are very, very nice resin castings. They're a lot of bits and pieces that can be arranged in multiple ways. For this game I used the Osric's Outhouse set. I'll use the Farmhouse later.


  1. Looks like a fine game! Really loving those Fougou ruins. Great choice!

  2. Great batrep, thanks for making the effort :-)

    I haven't played new Saga, I remember a lot of complaints about javelin troops being overpowered, was that fixed in an faq or is there still an issue?

  3. I whole hearty agree with you David on Saga2
    Fun and fast wargaming rules.
    I have five warbands to date and planning two more.
    Look forward to see you again in May.

  4. Great looking troops and terrain, David. I've yet to try v.2, but only played the original version a few times so it'd be all new to me anyway :)

  5. Well played David - another triumph for the "Welsh Wizard"! You certainly got the "gloss" off of the new warband for me. The new Roman commander, replacing the late Inepticus, has decided that Wales is a nice place to visit but he doesn't want to live there. I really like SAGA2 even though I have yet to win a game or even threaten to win one.

    Speaking of levy archers, I've just finished a unit that can, in a pinch, turn the ravaged Romans into pre-ravaged Britons.

  6. Nice AAR and pics. Are you using the errata available for version 2, it cleans up the javelin shooting etc.


    1. We are. Javelins are still powerful, just not as powerful. The erratum tamed my Spanish jinetes, who have an advanced Saga ability that let's them activate once and keep moving as much as they want. When they could chuck javelins after every move, they were killer. Now they just move around looking good.

  7. Nice looking and fun sounding game,I think 2019 will have a big dark age element,both your Welsh and your unfortunate opponents armies look super !
    Best Iain