Hello! Thank you for reading this product review on Brush and Boltgun.
For clarification, this is a review of two products, the SAGA Rulebook and the SAGA Viking Age Sourcebook, that were both released at the same time. You will need both to play Viking Age games, and therefore the review mixes the two products together without differentiating which book contains which specific rules. In general, rules pertaining to fatigue, moving, shooting and combat are found in the Rulebook, whilst those pertaining to battleboards, special rules and army selection are in the Sourcebook – Adam.
The new edition of SAGA was released last week, coming out on 12th February. Since the teaser trailer was released this has been my most eagerly awaited purchase, even more so than a number of Kickstarters I am waiting on.
The reason for this is simple, I love the original version of SAGA. Dave, Mike and I have played it for at least four years, if not longer, and it has never failed to produce close games that create a great story.
So, what is it, you ask? For those who don’t know it, SAGA is a skirmish wargame by Studio Tomahawk. Originally it was set in the Viking Age with expansions (called Universes) to cover the Crusades and post-Roman Britain. You can find out more about it here. Because the SAGA universes are all balanced and all the armies are matched, you can also play some ahistorical encounters if you like: Saracens versus Dark Age Scots, for example.
However, the historic match ups are probably the best way to play. Most recently, during our Hobby Guilt season, Dave had been finishing his Norman force. In support of this, we have played a few games where his Normans have taken on my Byzantines in Southern Italy, based on the invasions of Byzantine Italy by the Guiscard brothers. (As a former history student it hurts to reference Wikipedia, but it does give an adequate overview in this case!)
The SAGA Rulebook is cheap, coming in at £10. It is softback and slim, dealing with generic rules rather than any specific factions. It is split into a number of sections detailing the phases of the game and specific types of activation. Moves, shooting, combat etc. Throughout there is also commentary on rules and examples, to make sure that everything is easily understandable. I believe this is what is missing from a number of current rulesets on the market at present where the fashion is certainly moving towards excessive brevity.
The Viking Age Sourcebook is a meatier, hardbacked tome. At £30, this is much more costly. However, when you consider that this book contains all the rules to play 12 different factions, as well as individual colour card playsheets for all of them, it suddenly looks cheap compared to an army book from the current leading wargames manufacturer.
Both books are in full colour with glossy pages, covered in beautiful pictures of fantastically painted models. What’s more, they both also contain indexes, making it much simpler to find the rules you are looking for in the middle of a clash.
That’s all very well, but what are the new rules, I hear you cry?
Well, SAGA II has not altered core game mechanics to any great degree so the rules remain very similar to SAGA version 1. You could definitely pick up and play this version without too much effort.
The forces are made to be selected quickly: 1 point being equivalent to 4 Hearthguard (the best), 8 Warriors or 12 Levy (the worst). No matter which army these models are in, they still have the same statistics, which keeps things nice and simple. Some armies have equipment options that can alter these stats, but more on this later.
For those who don’t play, a brief summary of the turn sequence is:
- Generate a number of SAGA dice- dice which have pictures on- depending on how many units you have in your army*. Roll these.
- Plan your Orders by matching the pictures to abilities in your SAGA board. These allow you to move/fight (known as activations) or give you bonuses to particular activities.
- Carry out your orders by removing the appropriate dice from your SAGA board.
- Once you have run out of dice or carried out all the orders you want to, your opponent has his turn, starting at step 1.
*A big change in SAGA II is that the amount of dice you get are now dependent on unit sizes. In the past, warriors always used to generate Saga dice whilst Levy did not. In the new rules, Levy units of six or more models do, whilst you need four or more warriors. This stops battered units being unfairly useful or needing to hunt down every last skirmisher!
When activating units, one dice still allows one unit to rest, move, charge, shoot or fight. Units also still get one action before starting to accrue fatigue.
Fatigue is worth a mention in its own right as, along with the battleboards, it is probably SAGA’s most ingenious mechanic. It still works in the same way: units can move, shoot or fight more than once a turn, which is different to most other wargames. If they do, however, they starts to tire themselves out. Units can accrue a number of fatigue points, which are then healed through resting or special abilities, which gets them back into the fight!
SAGA II has changed fatigue slightly, unit types no longer influence the amount of fatigue they can accrue before being exhausted: that number is now three points for everyone.
There are also more options to both accumulate and use fatigue. The same options are available as they were in version 1.
You can reduce a unit’s move using fatigue make it harder for them to hit you, or make it easier to hit them. However, there is now a new, dirtier use of fatigue. For two points, you can now cancel a unit’s activation completely. Tired of crossbowmen shooting at you? You can stop them! Enemy trying to run away from your charge? If they are fatigued they are going nowhere. This makes fatigue even more influential in the game than it was.
A special mention also goes to the Resilience special rule. Where in the past, a Warlord could cancel the first hit he suffered in a turn, he can now cancel any number of hits, in return for taking a fatigue point, up until he is exhausted! This makes him much tougher, but you also have to manage him more closely to ensure he can stay alive. Once you have exhausted him, he dies just as easily as a regular bondsman!
Moving, Shooting and Fighting
These sections have stayed fairly similar. For movement the only standout change is a limit on the manoeuvrability of cavalry (Mike will be rubbing his mailed fists in glee- he hates my Byzantine horse archers). Similarly, for shooting and fighting the core mechanic is the same:
- Generate the number of attack dice based on the unit fighting.
- Use any abilities or spend fatigue to modify the number of dice or to hit rolls needed.
- Roll to hit based on the armour of the enemy you attack (5+ to hit Hearthguard, 4+ for Warriors and 3+ for Levy. Told you they sucked!)
- Saving throws are 5+ against combat and 4+ against shooting.
All close combat is worked out simultaneously and both sides fight with all models.
The main difference to close combat is the rule Close Ranks. In version 1, you used to be able to trade out two attack dice in order to get a defence dice (in effect a free, extra, saving throw). This has gone, and now the unit being attacked has the option to Close Ranks instead. In return for removing half of a unit’s attack dice, their save goes up to 4+ in close combat. Much more simple and based on a few trial games, just as effective!
The defence dice exchange was a tactic I used to abuse quite regularly with the Byzantines, so I see why this has gone.
The rules have also specified when SAGA abilities and fatigue are used, each player takes it in turn to use one or the other. This was unclear in the original SAGA and we had house ruled this amongst our group. Fortunately, our house rules work in exactly the way as the stated rules do now!
As I said earlier, this edition hasn’t changed the points for army selection. What it has done is clarified the stats for various troops. In the past, a lot of equipment gave you +1/-1 to stats which stacked with other rules and equipment. Now in the Sourcebooks, each army’s troops are spelled out in a simple table, along with any special rules that you have.
In the first edition of SAGA, it was really just the battleboard that made armies different, but now there are definite, visible differences in troop types and equipment options and selection too. As all positive rules come with negative consequences too, this still keeps things balanced (e.g. two-handed weapons give you +1 to hit the enemy, but they also get +1 to hit you).
Your army’s lynchpin is still your Warlord. If anything, he has got tougher! He retains all the abilities he used to have, ordering units around, taking a massive beating before he goes down and having underlings throw themselves in front of him before he gets cut down.
There are also options for including Priests, Personal Champions and Bards in your force, to add some flavour and more options. Who doesn’t want their leader to be followed around by a minstrel singing his praises?!
Mercenary units have also been condensed from all other supplements, so my first port of call is to buy some Steppe Nomads to be Alans and support my Byzantines as mercenary horsemen.
More than anything, so many rules have been explained in great detail. SAGA used to be slightly open to interpretation but now all rules are clarified, examples given, and the ‘Scribe’ now explains in little text boxes any ambiguities or frequently misinterpreted rules as you go through.
This is still the game I know and love but it is now very streamlined rules wise. It is quicker to play and with fewer grey areas. You can still pick and deploy your army within ten minutes, and the battlefield size remains that of a regular dining room table (3ft by 4ft) !
Conflicts between battleboard rules are now generally forseen and explained in the sourcebook, although as more expansions come out I can see it becoming more difficult to manage all eventualities.
I realise the above may come over as a bit of hagiography and I am sure there will be some negatives that come apparent in time. In a vague attempt at balance, all I can say for now is that I don’t like Byzantines changing their faction name to ‘Last Romans’, and they have changed the colour of the SAGA dice I use.
Otherwise things are looking pretty rosy for the future of SAGA, which hints at a myriad of sourcebooks to be produced, including Samurai and Fantasy expansions. My bank manager awaits further announcements with trepidation!
If you have a SAGA force you regularly play with, are building, or want to discuss, please shout in the comments! If you have any other thoughts or queries please comment below too, and please consider following us on our other social media accounts: