Thursday, 23 April 2015

Saga

"Look at all of those little Vikings!"

[Yes, they took me about a month to paint.]

"But where are their horns?"

[sigh]

Saga is a miniatures game designed for fighting skirmishes between the Normans, Saxons, Vikings, and a variety of other cultures ('factions' in Saga terminology) during the European Dark Ages.

One of the first things you need to know about any miniatures game is how many models you'll need, and what amount of space you need to play in. Well, Saga armies consist of between 25 and 73 models, usually weighing in around the midpoint of the two extremes. Table-wise, you'll ideally want a 4x4 foot table, which isn't too much to ask for.

When you buy Saga, you'll receive a rulebook and four battle boards (more on those in a moment); you need to collect your own models, which will look better painted than unpainted, and come up with some terrain to fight over (a few model trees, books under a green cloth for hills, and so on). Most players collect 28mm models, but you can use cheaper 15mm metal or 20mm plastic models if you prefer. As with pretty much all miniatures games, collecting your gaming pieces can be a hobby in itself, and painting and modelling is a pretty relaxing way to spend you time. But it does take time…

Is Saga worth this time investment? Definitely.

The movement and fighting mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward and can be picked up easily. You move your units freely across the table, measuring up their maximum move distance, and try to beat your opponent in combat. Simple. When a unit is activated, it can move and then fight, shoot or rest as required; combat is a tried and tested system of roll to hit (depending on your opponent’s armour), roll to save, remove the remaining casualties. This all ticks along nicely.

What makes Saga a stand out miniatures game is the way that you control your units: most miniatures rules allow you either complete control over everything your models do, or limit them arbitrarily based on a dice roll or card play. Saga delivers something very different: Saga dice and battleboards, which make you 'build' your actions over the course of one or more turns of the game. These make you think more about what you're doing and planning as a player and you'll interact more with the game and your opponent because of this… increasing the fun element of the game, and that's why we all play, eh?

Battleboards are specific to each army: the Normans have a different board to the Vikings, for example. Any action your units can carry out in the game is shown on your battleboard, from activating a unit to take a basic action, through to special combat advantages and ways to scupper your opponents plans. Having different options for different armies pushes period flavour to the fore.

Saga dice show you what options you have on your battleboard during each turn. The number of Saga dice you roll depends on the number of units you have left, and each face of the die has an icon on it matching those on your battleboard’s command options. At the start of your turn, you roll your Saga dice, see which icons turn up, and then select your battleboard options by allocating matching dice and icons, making choices when an icon appears on more than one command. These dice have icons rather than numbers, and are purchased separately (you can all use normal six sided dice, but they're not as much fun). The Saga dice force you into command decisions and sacrifices every turn. I like this a lot.

Once you know your army's strengths and weaknesses, battle tick along very smoothly: there's a great balance between 'game' and 'battle', as you'll need both good tactics and careful use of your dice resources to win the game. I've been struggling to get the best out of my Welsh army for a few years now, as they rely on hit and run tactics that are far more subtle than I ever manage; conversely, I fare reasonably well with an Anglo-Saxon army, as they are more defensive and react to their opponent's moves better.

Saga has a few expansions offering new armies and battleboards, and there is also a medieval/Crusades version available, with the promise of more armies and battleboards to come.

Conclusion: Saga is an enjoyable, player-interactive miniatures game, with a definite feel for making the Dark Ages seem ‘different’. It's well worth the investment in collecting and painting a war band for.