The SAGA saga: Vikings versus Irish

Hi everyone, I’m back again, this time with a battle report for SAGA.

This was going to be a post about models, history versus fantasy, and basing, but after SinSynn constantly pestered me for politely requested a batrep, I thought hey why not? Since I’m one of the new guys, better get on the good side of the alien monstrosity early, am I right?
So I’m going to present a four point starter-pack battle between my Irish tribal warriors and Chris’s Viking raiders. I say “Chris’s Vikings” but they’re my models. He plans on collecting some Anglo Danes, being a big fan of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria (for some bizarre reason), but for now he’s using my Vikings.Hopefully this post will also help to illustrate the rules a bit, and how the game flows. I’m assuming you’ve read my other article, or something else like Von’s comments in his post here, and you know how SAGA dice are generated each turn and used to activate units, how armies are mustered and organized, and all that jazz. I’ll try and cover everything else as it comes up.

We played Clash of Steel, a basic head-on punch up. The first person to lose their warlord loses the game.

TERRAIN

There are rules for alternating the placing of terrain, but we were pressed for time so I set up before Chris arrived. I won’t assault your eyes with pictures of my improvised dark ages terrain and bare metal figures; I uh, only have a heavily graffitied cyberpunk cityscape to play on, and there was not even a green towel in the house to throw over some books, old school. So the terrain was stuff from my son’s craft box, like camera roll cases for standing stones and a paint rag for a swamp.
Here’s a map I drew that looks way better than the actual battlefield did.
And here’s a picture of the sort of terrain I imagine the battle was fought over.

Chris  eschewed my offer of using Ragnar the Unlucky (my Viking warlord model), and instead showed up with an ancient 1990s Wargames Foundry Viking I forgot existed (see below). He gave him the improbably awesome name of Bulvaar Tryggasson. So there you go, the Perry’s did make some Vikings – you just have to find them on the Wargames Foundry site instead of their own.

This guy is a great model and was, I believe, sculpted by the Perry twins way back in the days before Michael lost his hand. A fitting warlord. Not painted by me by the way, this pic is from the Wargames Foundry site.

These were our forces:

THE VIKINGS
  • Jarl Bulvaar (warlord)
  • 4 Hirdmen (hearthguard)- 1 point
  • 4 Berserkers (hearthguard)- 1 point
  • 16 Bondi (warriors)- 2 points

Chris organised his band into a unit of berserkers, a unit of hirdmen, and two units of 8 bondi. This will generate six SAGA dice per turn.

THE IRISH
  • King Diarmuid MacColl (warlord)
  • 8 Fianna (hearthguard)- 2 points
  • 8 Bonnachts (warriors)- 1 point
  • 7 wolfhounds + handler (warriors)- 1 point

I organised my models into a unit of 8 fianna, the dogs, and a unit of 8 bonnachts, for five SAGA dice per turn.

So this is where you can already see the factional differences coming through. Vikings have the option of fielding one four-strong hearthguard unit as berserkers. The Irish may field one unit of warriors (between four and twelve models) as wofhounds and a pack master. These are the same as normal warriors – they even count as having javelins, oddly enough – but they ignore uneven terrain and move L rather than M.
Oh, right, movement. I forgot to mention in my first post that all distances in SAGA are not actual measurements: they are range bands. VS (very short) is 2”, and is used for coherency and engaging in melee. S (short) is 4” and is how far disengaging units retreat, among other things. M (mushroom, no wait, medium) is 6” and is the standard move distance for foot troops, and the range of javelins. and finally L (long, now you’re getting it) is 12”. This is the range of bows and slings, and how far mounted troops move. So you can easily use a stick marked with the range bands, and if you need to change the scale to use 6mm models or something (heh, travel-SAGA), the rules don’t change.
So my dogs can move L and ignore uneven ground, which is pretty flash. Chris’s berserkers generate 4 attack dice per model instead of 2, but their armour is reduced to 3. Normally hearthguard generate 2 attack dice per model and have armour 5, so as you can see berserkers are deadly warriors but easy to hit.
This is probably a good time to discuss combat and attack dice then. When two units clash in melee, you roll a number of attack dice depending on the number and class of your models. All dice are regular D6s. Every die that equals or beats the target unit’s armour value is a hit. You then get a chance to cancel each hit by rolling a defence die – one for each hit your unit suffered. Any roll of a 5 or more is a model saved. So later, when Chris’s berserkers slam into my dogs, they roll 16 attack dice (4 per model), and the dogs roll 8 (1 per model). You’ll see what happens. The loser of a combat must disengage, moving S away from the unit that defeated them. If it’s a tie, then the aggressor must disengage. I’ve simplified it a tiny bit, but hopefully you get the idea.
Shooting is similar, except that shooting was pretty weak in the dark ages. More an annoyance than a real threat. Models generally roll less shooting dice than they do melee dice. To cancel a shooting hit you only need a 4 or better on your defence die. Mounted troops are easily driven away by shooting though, so they suffer a -1 penalty to their armour against it. I wonder if this is the same in Crescent and Cross, the later version of SAGA? Probably not, I’m pretty sure cavalry were more decisive after Hastings.
There are even more factional differences. The Irish didn’t have much chainmail to go around. Some of my warriors don’t even have shirts. The fianna aren’t much better off. Irish warriors have armour 3 against missiles, and Irish hearthguard have armour 4 against missiles. Normally warriors and hearthguard have armour 4 and 5 against missiles, respectively.All Irish units also have javelins. Javelins are missiles that only have a range of M, but they can be used for free at the end of every movement, instead of having to spend SAGA dice on a shooting activation. And using them in this way doesn’t generate Fatigue.

I think the only major thing left to mention before we jump in is Fatigue, actually. This is SAGA’s way of handling morale. There is no running off the table in SAGA; instead, units that are activated more than once in a turn, that fight in a melee, or fulfill certain other conditions, gain a Fatigue token. This is a resource for your opponent to use. They can spend your Fatigue tokens to gain small advantages or disadvantages in combat (buff or reduce armour), or to reduce that unit’s movement from M to S (or L to M if they’re mounted). Obviously this last one is pretty neat – you can stop someone charging you if they’re more than S away! Each of the Fatigue effects can be used once per turn. Oh, and if you rack up too much Fatigue, you can’t activate that unit until you use the Rest activation, which takes any one SAGA dice and removes one Fatigue token. The danger zones for Fatigue, beyond which you can’t activate, are 2 for levies, 3 for warriors, and 4 for hearthguard and your warlord.
Right, everything else is pretty minor and can probably be covered once we get amongst it!
THE BATTLE
We roll for deployment. I win, and choose the side of the table with the standing stones. As per the scenario (Clash of Steel), I place my warlord within L of my edge. Chris then puts down his warlord within L of his edge. I then place my warriors, and Chris places his warriors and hearthguard, and then finally I place my hearthguard. This is how it looks:
We now roll a D6 to see who gets first turn. I win again.
I roll my five SAGA dice (2 for Dairmuid, 1 for the Fianna, 1 for the dogs and 1 for the bonnachts). I then assign them to spaces on my battle board. This is called the orders phase. I’ve found that five SAGA dice and four units usually means I can activate everyone once, and have enough left for a SAGA ability; or a couple of units once and enough left for two abiities. All Warlord’s have the Determination and We Obey rules, which means they get one free activation, and if a friendly unit is within S they can move that unit once for free. Handy.
I place my dice to activate the dogs, the fianna and the bonnachts this turn. My remaining dice I place on the Sons of Dana SAGA ability. I then activate the fianna to head straight at the heart of Chris’s force. They should be able to smash a comparable-sized unit of bondi right? I foolishly forget to use Dairmuid’s We Obey rule to get a free move for one of my units. I do use his Determination rule though, to move him up behind my fianna for free.
Actual Irish wolfhounds. May I be the first to say, holy shit.

The dogs hurtle toward the berserkers, who are kind of freaking me out on the flank. The handler throws his javelins, but the crazed warriors shrug them off. My bonnachts then move into the standing stones to await the hirdmen. Lastly, I use Sons of Dana, which allows me to make a mysterious shooting attack from any area of uneven ground. The book says it is boys (or maybe faeries…) throwing stones from hidey-holes. Rocks and darts fly from the bog, aimed at the elite Vikings. They bounce off the grim hirdmen’s shields ineffectually.

Now it’s Chris’s turn. He rolls his six SAGA dice and places them to activate his hirdmen, his berserkers, and both units of bondi. He also puts some dice on the Ullr and Loki abilities. The berserkers smash into the dogs, and there is a furious battle. Chris rolls his 16 dice, then uses his Ullr ability to get melee re-rolls. I roll my 8, we roll our defence dice, and at the end of it there is only one berserker left, with one tenacious dog backing away from him. Both units gain a Fatigue token.
Chris’s hirdmen advance past the bog on my other flank, and head towards the bonnachts flitting between the stones. The foremost unit of bondi charges my fianna, and learns that, despite their lack of chainmail, they are an 8-strong unit of fierce killers. Chris rolls his 8 dice and uses his Ullr ability again, granting his bondi re-rolls on misses. I roll my 16 dice (two per hearthguard). Even with his re-rolls, I kill four of his bondi and he kills only one fianna, so the Vikings disengage S, falling back away from their Jarl. Both units gain a Fatigue token. The other bondi unit sticks close to Jarl Bulvaar, and they indefatigably advance.
My turn two. I roll my 5 dice again, and place them to activate the bonnachts, the dogs, the fianna, and some dice on Bansidh Whispers and Children of Dana again. My dog charges back in, and both Chris and I roll terribly. There is a stalemate and the dog, as the attacker, is driven back again. Both dog and berserker now have two Fatigue tokens.
My bonnachts play hit and run on the Hirdmen, moving S (due to the uneven terrain) through the standing stones away from the Vikings, and then throwing their javelins. I use Bansidh Whispers to get shooting re-rolls, and kill one of the hirdmen. I then activate the bonnachts again, gaining one Fatigue token, and throw another brace of javelins, killing another hirdman. Then I use Children of Dana again, and this time the lads kill one of the hirdmen (much to his embarrassment). Chris has only one hearthguard left now, and one berserker.
My fianna charge Chris’s winded bondi, and wipe them out without taking any casualties. Dairmuid moves up towards the Viking Jarl, hoping to trap him with the fianna.
‘Shield Maiden’ by Charles Keegan

On Chris’s second turn he again puts dice on Ullr, Loki, and the activation panels for his berserker, bondi unit, and hirdman. The hirdman moves S through the stones but is unable to engage my bonnachts. The berserker engages the dog and Chris, taking no chances, uses his Loki power. This evil power allows him to immediately remove any enemy unit of 3 or less models from the table! The dog finally goes down.

Chris moves Jarl Bulvaar and his bondi forward, away from my fianna, and I am now in an unfortunate situation. King Dairmuid is looking very alone facing down the norse Jarl and a gang of bondi, and his loyal fianna can’t get to Bulvaar. The bonnachts are too far away to offer much help, and there is also a berserker closing in on Dairmuid’s left. Still, it’s not all bad. My fianna are close by so maybe they’ll make it in time?
It’s not so easy though. All warlords in SAGA are subject to a rule known as Warlord’s Pride. Codes of honour (and the necessities of inspiring leadership) demand that a warlord must charge an enemy warlord if he can reach. And King Dairmuid is now within reach of the hated norse reaver.
I roll my SAGA dice (now only four, because my dogs have been berserkered). I place one to activate my fianna, one to activate the bonnachts, and my last two on Seed of Ireland, a power that allows Diarmuid to cause 4 automatic hits in melee instead of having to roll. Leaving Diarmuid for now (because once I activate him, he has to charge), I try to wipe out the last hirdman with my bonnacht’s javelins, but fail. I then move the fianna, but can’t reach to charge. They hurl their javelins to no effect. Unfortunately I’m now out of SAGA dice for activations. Nothing else for it…
King Dairmuid charges Jarl Bulvaar, and Chris rolls well; even with Seed of Ireland, they grind to a bloody halt, neither going down. Warlords automatically cancel the first unsaved hit they suffer per activation, and they each suffer one, so they’re both still standing. As the aggressor though, Dairmuid is thrown back. It’s now Chris’s third turn.
He rolls his SAGA dice (now five because my fianna wiped out one of his bondi units), and places them… well it doesn’t really matter, because the first thing he does is charge right back in with his jarl to show the Irish what’s what. He also uses We Obey to charge in with his bondi. Once again they battle it out, and this time I roll well. Even with Chris’s re-rolls from his bloody Ullr power, Dairmuid holds his own… until the bondi arrive, and he goes down under a frenzy of spears and axes. The game is over; the Vikings have won.
King Dairmuid falls. I took this photo to prove that the battle did in fact take place. Not pictured: my slow-ass hearthguard.
AFTERMATH
Writing this out now, I am struck by the peculiar chess-like nature of SAGA. Warlords are strong, and you need their reliable fighting power; but they are also vulnerable if unsupported, and you have to keep a close eye on distances so you don’t end up being forced to rashly charge in, like I did. I really like the short distances and the emphasis on melee – the game is quick and bloody but surprisingly deep and intricate. You have to plan well each turn. This whole game took me and Chris about 40 minutes. I imagine a full six-point game would take about an hour or so.
There are so many things I could have done differently –  we are terrible at remembering We Obey and spending Fatigue tokens, for one thing. We’ve played a couple of games now and I haven’t yet felt that the outcome was influenced by anything other than my decisions on the table, and my dice rolls. If you are an avid listhammerer then I’d say SAGA may not be for you, as it pretty much completely lacks that element.
I really like the Irish. I think I chose the right faction for me. They have a good mix of light hit and run abilities and heroic single-combat focused powers like Seed of Ireland. The Vikings are just brutal: generating re-rolls, removing whole units from the table, cancelling shooting, all kinds of table-controlling havoc.
So that’s it for this one. Next time, like I said, I’m going to talk about sourcing models, basing conventions, and historical accuracy. After that I’m planning a tutorial on how to make your own SAGA dice using blank dice (in the mail as we speak) and a free PDF that Gripping Beast provides for this purpose.
I was going to buy proper SAGA dice. They look awesome, but I’ve already spent a lot for my meagre budget. It really helps to have them though. You can use D6s, but I find even after a couple of games it does my head in trying to convert them in the heat of battle. Chris seems to find it easier than me, but yeah… I need the dice.
Hope you enjoyed the report. Until next time, have a good one!
James

 

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