Thursday, July 20, 2023

Saga: The One True King of Pictavia

I got to play my new Insta-Picts today! Although expecting a large turnout for our Wednesday Saga gaming at Silver Kings, we were only a hardy few as traffic horrors and household mishaps diminished our numbers. Instead of four or more games going on, we had just two. Dean had his Italiotes for Age of Hannibal and played against Ryan, a new member, who ran Jomsvikings for Age of Vikings. They were ably guided by Scott Appleby. The other game pitted my Insta-Picts against Dave Demick's Picts (Age of Invasions), which were a birthday gift to him from Kevin Smyth, who observed and helped in our game.

Our warbands were very similar except that I used The Dreaded Attacotti™, which cost 2 army points. I had the following:

  • 1 x Warlord
  • 2 x 4 mounted hearthguard with javelins
  • 1 x Warriors
  • 1 x The Dreaded Attacotti™
  • 1 x Levy crossbowmen
Dave had:

  • 1 x Warlord
  • 2 x 4 mounted hearthguard with javelins
  • 3 x Warriors
  • 1 x Levy crossbowmen
We played the 'Clash of Warlords' scenario. We both set up a lot of terrain because Picts love terrain. There were three large woods (which, come to think of it, exceeded the allowed number), a swamp, and a large field. 

I also placed as scatter terrain two mossy standing stones bearing Pictish symbols. I've had them sitting in a box for years (more of my treasures of darkness) and finally got around to painting them.

I've ordered a few more standing stones from a seller on Etsy because I do love me some standing stones.

Dave was the first player and moved some of his units forward. One of them was a warrior unit that went into the center wood. On my turn, I thought I saw an opportunity to make a coup de main with The Dreaded Attacotti™.

However, I flubbed it.

I had an initial dice-flood for my first turn because, as the second player, I can roll and activate three Saga dice before the first player goes. Since I didn't trigger any abilities in Dave's turn, I had three dice on the board and could roll the remaining five to get all eight dice activated (my warband only generates 6 dice max). I had several rare dice and a few uncommon. I activated the excellent Masters of the Field ability, but didn't trigger it. I activated and triggered Scouts, which I used to launch The Dreaded Attacotti™ into the center wood and to get my crossbows into shooting range. At this point, I held up because without Masters of the Field for the center wood, The Dreaded Attacotti™couldn't reach Dave's warriors for a charge (they were just outside of S range).

What I should have done is the following (forgive me, non-Saga players, this is IYKYK):
  • Activated and triggered Masters of the Field for the center wood (which would allow my foot troopies to move through without penalty).
  • Triggered Scouts to move The Dreaded Attacotti™ L into the woods and within M of Dave's warriors.
  • Triggered Swift as the Wind to charge into Dave's warriors without incurring a fatigue.
As it was, The Dreaded Attacotti™ got charged first. This is a big deal because The Dreaded Attacotti™ have an aggression of 3 if they charge, for an eight-figure unit, that 24 dice, which they can't actually use because the max is 16, so it's basically overkill. In defense, they less dreaded with the typical aggression of 1 for warriors. 

Because Dave and I were both playing Picts, we have the same tricks at our disposal. Dave triggered Masters of the Field, then Frenzy. His eight warriors threw 10 dice (and could re-roll any misses!), while I had 8 in reply. I took nine hits, but luckily saved 6 (because the dreaded Attacotti have tattoos of invincibility that save three hits on 6s). Dave took hits, too, and lost three figures. Being tied (three losses to three losses), Dave had to withdraw. I was down to five figures for The Dreaded Attacotti™. 

On my next turn, I triggered Masters of the Field for the center wood, rested The Dreaded Attacotti™to get rid of my fatigue from the last melee, and charged The Dreaded Attacotti™ into Dave's warriors. The result was not unexpected. 

I got 15 dice for The Dreaded Attacotti™ (because aggression 3!) and then used Ambush to fill it out to 16 (kind of overkill because Ambush added four dice and I needed only one more). Dave's warriors evaporated from the attack. I got off scot-free (Pict-free?) thanks to rolling 6s with my defense dice. I then prudently (or perhaps not) withdrew to the edge of the wood where I hoped (in vain) to rest and set up another attack.

Alas, Dave came back like gangbusters and smacked a fresh warrior unit into The Dreaded Attacotti™ as they attempted to rest and refresh. I had not withdrawn quite far enough...

The result was a disaster for me. Caught flat-footed, I lost another four figures and, IIRC, inflicted none—or at least none that Dave didn't save. (Dave had some pretty consistent magical saving throws.) My lone survivor of The Dreaded Attacotti™ withdrew out of the woods to stand bollocks-nekkid and exposed.

Meanwhile, my crossbows and Dave's crossbows wound up in a fairly ineffectual firefight. We were both in light cover and hitting on 2s (3 armor and +1 for crossbows), but not getting a lot of casualties. To be fair, however, our shooting at each other was more of an afterthought with all the fighting in the center sucking up our Saga dice.

I did have one choice opportunity to inflict some hurt on one of Dave's mounted hearthguard units, which he brazenly advanced into crossbow range. I threw five dice augmented by three more from the Stalking ability and got seven hits. However, his magical defense throwing saved all but one.

Rather than punish Dave's impudence, I shot my bolt(s) and left him with his hearthguard in charge range and licking their lips at the chance to run down a few upstart oiks with crossbows.

On my left, I used Scouts to launch my mounted hearthguard across the swamp and right into the face of Dave's warrior unit skulking on the wood. I also put my one unit of warriors in line to support them.

Dave threw his other mounted hearthguard into my warriors and smacked them around a bit. I then went for a 1-2 punch against his now exposed hearthguard. I attacked with my warriors, who inflicted one casualty (I think), but got fairly well whacked themselves. I followed that with a charge by one of my hearthguard units. The result was the loss of Dave's hearthguard, but some fearful casualties of my own. My defense rolling foo was no match for Dave's attack dice foo.

Dave followed up on his turn by running his warriors in the center wood against the last defiant member of The Dreaded Attacotti™. I hoped to roll a lot of 6s in my defense, but no. The Dreaded Attacotti™ evaporated and my warlord took a fatigue in the shockwave.

Dave now used his remaining mounted hearth guard, the one that was primed to charge my crossbows, and ran them through the woods towards my now frightfully exposed warlord and launched a volley of javelins at him, inflicting three casualties, which exceeded his Resilience (1) because he already had a fatigue from the fallout of losing The Dreaded Attacotti™and Dave prevailed as the One True King of Pictavia.

As it turns out, the ability to ignore terrain for movement that comes with Masters of the Field only works for foot units. Dave could only have moved his hearthguard S in the woods, which would have left him well out of javelin-flinging range. But, c'est la guerre.

Even if I'd had one more turn (or even two), Team Me was in a dreadful state. The Dreaded Attacotti™ were gone, my one remaining warrior unit had two figures left, one of my hearthguard was reduced to half its starting numbers. I was reduced to generating four Saga dice, which isn't so bad (I started with six), but I had little puissance to project. 

Dave had two warrior units and his remaining hearthguard, plus his crossbows, which were engaged with mine in our desultory exchange. I might have taken out his surviving hearthguard with mine (I was six remaining to his three), but maybe not. Even if I did, I'd probably suffer more loss.

It was a great game and I'm eager to put the Picts in action again, preferably not against an opponent that has all the same moves.

Pictish Ponderings

I love this faction! They have some very good advanced Saga abilities that are tied to terrain. What can be troublesome to some factions is a definite asset for the Picts. You just have to make sure that you have a lot of terrain. As terrain placement goes, you're bound to get at least four pieces on the table, but can expect to place only two of them, or three if you're the first player and place the first piece. Any opponent wanting a clear table can place things like a large hill (high, open, no cover) or smaller things shoved out to the periphery. If you're caught on a table with no uneven or dangerous terrain, you're liable to get run over.

That said, some of the Picts' advanced Saga abilities are delightful.
  • Scouts lets you fly a unit across uneven terrain without penalty and a move distance of L. (I think we did that wrong in our game. The battle board just says "terrain," but the book specifies uneven terrain. This would prevent using it to cross something like a marsh or fen, which are dangerous.)
  • Masters of the Field is truly wonderful. You play it in the Orders phase and it makes one designated piece of terrain the special friend of your foot units until the start of your next Orders phase. Dave and I were running through the center wood and getting solid cover every turn. While a formidable ability, it doesn't confer the movement benefit to mounted troops.
  • Ambush and Stalking both confer additional dice for melee (Ambush) and shooting (Stalking) when your unit is within close proximity to uneven terrain. Ambush confers two additional dice in a ny case, but two more if near uneven terrain.
  • Secret Ways is one neither of us used in the game, but in retrospect, I might have benefitted from it. It's a "get out of Dodge" ability that can take you far away from danger—but only if you survive a melee or shooting attack. It can also be used for a dramatic redeployment of, for example, levy missile units who can trigger it if they're shot at by the other guy's levey missiles and go way over to where they can inflict themselves on units that can't shoot back.
  • Frenzy is spendy. It costs two Saga dice (rare + uncommon), is a charge activation, plus two bonus attack dice, plus the ability to re-roll ALL your misses. Dave used that on me at least once. Using it with The Dreaded Attacotti™ would give extra deadliness to its already formidable dice storm.
I have more Picts to paint, but the insta- part of it is mostly over. I have several bowmen that are painted, but need to be rebased. Others are cleaned and primed and will be needed to complete a unit of 12 levy bowmen. I also have a lot of unpainted lead. I could easily build out two 6-point warbands with the figures I have (almost) completed.

The Dreaded Attacotti™

I love The Dreaded Attacotti™, but I'm not entirely convinced that they're worth the cost. They seem to be pretty much a one-shot wonder. Instead of two warrior units, you have one, which reduces your Saga dice generation by one. I'm not giving up on them, but the trick is to get them in first and then get them out fast. In our game, I got hit first and even after a deadly riposte, I was exposed to much unpleasantry with dave's riposte to my riposte. Nevertheless, I think Kevin will be painting some butt-nekkid Attacotti for Dave's warband in the future.


The one downside to crossbows is that you can't use them for sustained shooting. With bows or slings you can shoot, shoot again incurring one fatigue after your shot, then shoot a third time with one fatigue your opponent can use to bolster their armor (or not if their goal is to let you wear yourself out) and get another fatigue after that shooting is completed.

With javelins, you get a free shot at the end of a move and then can do the above sustained shooting.

Really, if you have the Saga dice, you can try to bury an opposing units with missile fire—unless you're crossbows, who, like composite bows, need to do something else (i.e., move) in between shots. It not only wastes Saga dice, but incurs fatigue for non-shooting activities in between shots.

However, they do get a +1 to their shot, which can be nice when shooting at hearthguards, especially if they're javelin armed and start with armor 4. Just hope your opponent saves all the hits.

Future plans

As I mentioned in my post about the Insta-Picts, I've got a lot of Old Glory Irish figures that were completed for the same Pig Wars project that brought my Picts into being. I think that in addition to filling out my Picts with options, I'll get started on these to create a warband of Scotti (from the 'Old Friends, new Enemies' section of Age of Invasions).

I also have several Old Glory Saxons painted (but by "several" I mean at least more than one). Finally, I have "several" Old Glory Romano-Britons that have been cleaned and primed with many more as raw lead. 

When I started the Old Glory dark Ages Britain project way long ago, I wanted to do the four armies that fought and skirmished over the primitive landscape: Romano-Britons, Saxons, Picts, and Irish (Scotti). I see that I can easily do that now with Saga: Age of Invasions. That may be a direction to go so I can finally get my Old Glory figures out of the lead pile and onto the table. I'll paint them old school, i.e., no dip, to match the style I started them with. I'm not sure if that's more work or less.

Other old school features was using brass wire for spears and javelins that I hammered out on my venerable X-Acto anvil, which I bought back in the 70s. I have long-since gone to buying pre-made wire spears that require no banging. I'm not sure whether I'll go back to the anvil method or just use the pre-made ones. It's a bit OCD, I know. Michael Koznarsky will sympathize.

Also, if I focus on my Old Glory stuff, it leaves my Curteys Romano-Britons (just started) and Picts to languish in their own lead pile...

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Cast your lead upon the waters

Cast your bread upon the waters: for you will find it after many days.

- Ecclesiastes 11:1

The awakening of Saga from its COVID-induced hibernation has had the interesting phenomenon of bringing to light lots of forgotten projects that might otherwise have languished in the Garage of Despond indefinitely. Back in 2018 until (very) early 2020, Saga had been a going concern for me and a group of players at The Panzer Depot. I had warbands for Welsh (Age of Vikings), Spanish (Age of Crusades), and Lords of the Wild (Age of Magic). I also had several warbands in the works and more planned. 

Last year, Kevin Smyth reconnected with a couple friends from when he gamed at Escape Velocity in Tacoma in the 80s. They had been mostly disconnected from wargaming for decades, but with retirement they resumed their old hobby. They were enthusiasts of Saga and managed to lure Kevin into it. They started a Wednesday Saga game day once a month, which has grown to twice monthly now, at Silver Kings Games & Hobby in Tacoma. What started with a handful of players has blossomed into a veritable troupe filling the ample gaming space at Silver Kings.

As a working stiff (albeit from home), I was never able to make it to the Wednesday games, which start at 11:00 am and last till the last game is over, the wee men are back in their boxes, and the last game mat has been rolled up and put in its carrying case. However, being laid off in May (alas) has given me the time to make the 55-mile trek down to Tacoma twice a month (huzzah). Sadly, that won't last, but while it does, I'm making the most of it.

I sold my Spanish, which I built as a Lion Rampant retinue, but was able to do double-duty with it as a Saga warband. (My Lords of the Wild for Age of Magic were originally painted for Dragon Rampant.) I still had my Welsh and resumed my Saga career with them in games against Kevin and his Norse-Gaels, Mark Waddington and his Normans, and Bill Stewart and his enervating Anglo-Danes. 

As new Saga universes appeared, I started thinking about my garage of wonder and all the treasures of darkness therein. I had a lot of Crusader Miniatures Carthaginians, Iberians, and Celtiberians from an earlier aborted Punic Wars project that Age of Hannibal was calling out to. With a lot already painted or half painted, it didn't take much time to get a warband together. I also benefited from a serendipitous find at our Enfilade! convention in May that netted me more Carthaginians and two Aventine elephants (whose story will be told in another post). I've been able to get a few games in with them as well. First with a single pachyderm:

And later with both:

I've also started dragging out the near-forgotten Wargames Foundry Macedonians I started in the 00s. There's more to do with them than with the Carthaginians, but they're in the works and I hope to field a Macedonian warband before the end of the year.

However, it's not just old figures. Last year, I bought some Curtey's Miniatures from 1st Corps for a Romano-British warband for Age of Invasions. They sat around for a long time before I started working on them last month. Also last month, I ordered some more Curtey's Miniatures recently to make a Pict warband for Age of Invasions. Curtey's are nice figures and I'm enjoying working on the Romano-Britons.

I also bought some Crusader minis for an Anglo-Dane warband for Age of Vikings. I've always liked the drama of 1066 and Harold Godwinson. Getting fatigued to death by Bill's A-Ds, spurred me to get some of my own. Their not really my style of play, which is more aggressively minded, but Bill put some hurt on me with his skillful repostes after I'd worm myself out bashing up against his shield wall.

However, just last week, I was browsing in a closet and found a box of painted and partially-painted Old Glory Picts that go way back to the 90s. I started a project back then for painting 28mm DBA armies for Dark Ages Britain. I bought several packs of Old Glory Picts, Romano-Britons, Irish, and Saxons. That project sort of morphed into wanting to make them for Dan Mersey's first (as far as I know) set of wargame rules, A Glutter of Ravens, that came out in 1998. Somewhere around 2000 (maybe), the minis I actually painted wound up mounted on single stands for playing Pig Wars

At some point in the last decade (or so), there was some interest in playing Dux Britanniarum by Too Fat Lardies. My interest was piqued when they released a supplement in 2014 for Picts, Scotti, and Irish. I accordingly started rebasing my Picts from their 3/4" x 1" plastic bases and put them on 25mm x 30mm Litko bases.

And then they sat. I had them tucked into a corner of my hallway closet in one of the cardboard flats that came with Bogart's UR food. I'd had the Old Glory figs in the back of my mind when I embarked on doing some warbands for Age of Invasions, but I went ahead and ordered the aforementioned Curtey's minis.

Running into them on one of the rare occasions that I open my hallway closet (it's scary), I was struck by the notion that right in front of me was an instant warband of Picts—Insta-Picts!

They just needed a bit of TLC and I'd have a goodly force.

Since pulling them out from the darkness into the light, I've been working away at them. Looking into various places where I'd stored partially painted Picts (PPPs) from years gone by. I also had to dig through my box of unpainted Old Glory Dark Age Britain minis to find another four crossbowmen to build out the unit of 12.

It turns out that exactly 12 were all the Pictish crossbowmen I even had in any state of completion. They were part of a pack of skirmishers that were a mix of javelins and crossbowmen. Out of 30 in the bag, only 12 had crossbows. I used some of the javelins for my Attacotti

Most of the figures only needed the basing completed. However, there were eight crossbowmen that needed to be painted from raw lead (after they were found, of course) and four Attacotti who were primed only. Moreover, I had to go old school with them.

My painting style has evolved since I painted the first batch of picts 20+ years ago. Now, I use a dip method with Minwax wood stain. Then, I did straight-up painting with shading, washes, and highlights. I also painted eyes—eyes! I hadn't painted eyes in years.

It didn't really take much effort to ease back into my older style, though I won't be going back to it except for painting out more Old Glory Picts (and some other Age of Arthur minis that I started).

Waiting in the wings are some Old Glory Irish, which I'll augment for Saga with some Crusader Irish slingers. Old Glory's Dark Ages Irish were pretty simple: Upper class warriors and lower class warriors. That divides well between hearthguard and warriors, but they didn't make missile troops. Hence the Crusaders minis.

I have fewer Irish completed for Pig Wars and many of them are the later Norse-Gael types with big axes. In the Arthurian age, the Irish were spearmen/javelinmen with lots of slings.

Also amongst the treasures of darkness is a Byzantine warband (The Last Romans for Age of Vikings) that I started pre-COVID and never got back to. Those are Crusader minis and, given time, I'll get to them as well.

It's been a great adventure resurrecting dead legions and getting them back on the tabletop. I'll post again about the Insta-Picts after I play my first Saga game with them...