The SAGA saga: models, bases and historical accuracy

Hi everyone,

Welcome to part three of the SAGA saga (quiet, you!)

As our own screaming eagle-faced enigma Cedric Ballbusch has mentioned a few times, one of the great things about historical games is that you aren’t tied to one manufacturer or range when it comes to choosing models for your game. I personally think that the only thing standing in the way of complete, terrifying freedom for those who want it in the realm of F&SF wargaming, too, is the community’s expectations and mindset… but that’s another discussion.

Anyway. There’s no copyright on history, and if you want to play oh, I don’t know… maybe SAGA? Then you’re in luck! There are plenty of options.

Today I’m going to talk about models, bases and historical accuracy: all things you want to consider when building your SAGA collection.

The early medieval Welsh were well-known for their poutiness and braided leather bikini armour.

Firstly, which company’s models should you choose for your grizzled band of dark age warriors? Probably the easiest choice, and the one I went with, is to grab a starter box of Gripping Beast’s official SAGA figures. They’re nice models and they’re organised into decent four point or six point warbands. If you come from F&SF gaming culture where third party models are shady territory, they also have that comforting official stamp of the game. What’s not to like?

Four point starter box of Scots, by Gripping Beast

Well, they cost a lot for historical models. And you might already be paying 25 bucks for some fancypants dice, right? This shit is adding up. Speaking of SAGA dice for a moment, I did intend to pick up the appropriate dice for my faction, to support the game and my FLGS, but right now I’m happy with my level of spending. The two starter boxes I bought were $70 AUD each, and the three books added up to $120 AUD. That’s $260 so far. So I’m making my own SAGA dice, using blank dice and a free PDF provided by Gripping Beast. I’ll put up a tutorial next time.

Admittedly I needed two starter boxes to lure my brother in, and I got excited and bought two expansion books because I wanted to be the Scots and then changed my mind to the Irish because the Scots were like, so mainstream; but assuming you went with just the basic book and a four point box of Gripping Beast Vikings, that’s $125 AUD for the  book and a usable warband. Not bad at all by F&SF gaming standards. About what I paid for 150-200 points of Infinity models, and a far cry from GW levels of top-hat-wearing lunacy.

What about the Beast models themselves? Well, I like them. They’re metal, like many  historical ranges, and in today’s world where a lot of companies are using CAD to create their models, they have that traditional, hand-sculpted look. I like that too, and I think it’s especially fitting aesthetically for dark ages wargame pieces. There don’t seem to be any doubles in my boxes, so it looks like there are a good variety of miniatures in each faction. I’ve needed to sand or drill the odd hand or cloak to remove casting lines or accommodate a sword-hilt, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary for metals. Oh, and they’re all one-piece, with separate weapons and some separate shields (mostly on the hearthguard). Nice.

There are alternatives though, like I said. For starters, Gripping Beast make some pretty popular plastics, too. If you want to, you can supplement or even build your warband completely with these much cheaper plastic models. Great for people who like to build and pose multi-part kits. Since many of the dark ages cultures you’re dealing with in SAGA were pretty similar in dress and equipment when it came to their soldiers, a box (with 44 minis for a little under 50 bucks) goes a long way. I saw a guy who made three whole starter warbands with two boxes of the Beast plastics, but unfortunately I now can’t find the link.

Gripping Beast’s box of generic dark age warriors.

The only downside to the plastics really is that if you don’t play some variation of Norse, Saxon or Welsh you lose out on historical accuracy. For example, the early medieval Scots and Irish nobles and warriors wore a sort of long tunic, and the worthless peasants wore pants. But all the GB dark age plastics have trousers on. So if you want Irish warriors with correct clothing, you need to buy the metals.

There are a few other plastics, too. Wargames Factory makes some dark ages sprues, for example. I haven’t seen them with my own eyes, but they look decent enough in pictures. Maybe not as high quality material as the GB ones (judging purely on appearances), but only 30 or so Australian dollars a box for 32 guys. Seriously, a dollar a guy blew my mind when I was first looking into SAGA.

You’ll be burning sheep and stealing churches in no time. Or maybe the other way round, I forget.

Finally we come to the many smaller ranges of metal dark ages models you could mix and match. I won’t give a big list here because I’m lazy finding them is half the fun. I quite like some of the Crusader range though, for example. When I add some kerns (levies) to my warband I’m going to include some of Crusader’s Irish women and children throwing stones. Also the Perry twins made some sweet Vikings, Normans and Anglo-Saxons for Wargames Foundry back in the 1990s if you like the retro look, which I do. I need to get those berserkers.

You can even mix in the odd low fantasy model if you like. I used ‘Boudi’ from Hasslefree miniatures’ Fantasy Humans range as my warlord’s squeeze:

This picture is a good example of what Dave G calls my “Mr. Magoo method” of (not) painting eyes.

This is where it might be appropriate to pause, reflect for a moment, and decide how much of a fuck you give (if any) for historical accuracy. If your answer is “screw those dessicated nerds, I want this guy as my warlord:”

‘Wolf the king’ by Hasslefree miniatures.

Then might I recommend sticking to fantasy games? And some Electric Wizard?

SAGA is a historical game. The line they seem to take is that things that are contentious but cool (like crossbows at Hastings or Irish war dog packs) are included, but not anything that is widely agreed to be mythological or inaccurate (like horned Viking helmets). Except for the Revenants, which the designers included as “a bit of fun,” there has to be at least some historical evidence for something to appear in the game.

Ultimately how far you want to go beyond that is a matter of personal taste. I have a non-standard take on this as, while always being interested in a bit of a history, I have also always played fantasy games. So I’m not so opposed to blending the two. A bit. The more popular things like SAGA get, the more people like me you’ll see I think.

But traditionally of course, you want to be as accurate as possible. That’s all part of the fun. There are levels of accuracy though, and different ways of looking at history. It’s not too out-there to imagine a black or asian viking raider or a female warrior, for example. Historians these days generally agree that there was a lot more international travel in the pre-modern world than we previously thought, and women warriors are well-attested in the Norse SAGAS (I mean, sagas).

Fantasy gaming versus historical gaming. Also, proof that casting directors think Australians look more like vikings than actual Scandinavian people do.

The next level of historical deviance, and one at which many traditionalists are likely to balk, is relevant mythological creatures. I mean like Gripping Beast’s own Revenants, maybe a troll or elf, or SinSynn’s infamous grey alien Flames of War commanders (again, can’t find the link sorry). All of those fit the mythology of the time period in question, or at least our idea of it.

Personally I think this is all good, and we could have a really interesting discussion about it; but probably a light touch is best. Models that look like Slaine having a warp-spasm might be a bit much, if you know what I mean. They’ll stand out in a cartoonish way, which is not the aesthetic that historical games typically go for.

Another thing to keep in mind with SAGA in particular, and something that leaves it open to the sort of low fantasy infiltration I was just talking about, is that we really don’t know that much about the period in question. No-one alive today lived even close to the dark ages. You can totally nerd-out like Dethtron did and find out everything there is to know about anglo-saxon dyes, but “everything there is to know” probably isn’t all that much. I mean maybe there were trolls up in the mountains in those days? Or at least something/someone that made people think there were. Yeah yeah, probably not; but my point is that history is not necessarily as cut-and-dried as we often think.

Bases

Ah, bases. This is something I wish I had thought about a bit more before I based my models. Not that I’m not happy with what I did, but it could have all gone horribly wrong depending on my aims. SAGA has an open basing convention: it’s the number of models that’s important, not what sort of base they have. The models in the book are pictured on a variety of bases, and the ones in my two Gripping Beast boxes all have these flat disc-like green bases, 20mm(?) for foot models and 40mm for warlords. They are made by a company called Renedra and the historical community seems to like them. I thought they seemed pretty crap, to be honest, but once I’d glued my guys on and painted them up they really grew on me. They blend the model into the table nicely but are still quite stable.

But they’re round. Not many historical games use round bases as far as I know, so if you plan on using your SAGA guys for another dark ages game, such as Dux Bellorum, you may want to make sure that game doesn’t have strict basing conventions. Or buy some movement trays that are the right shape.

So that’s about it for this one. What do you think about fantasy models in a historical game? Would it annoy you to see “wrong” units across the table?

Until next time, have a good one!

James

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