At the time of writing, we are now six weeks on from the start of my Saga challenge and I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I have completed nine points of troops: eight of Carolingians and also a unit of mercenary Steppe Nomads!
That is three units of Hearthguard:
Five units of Warriors:
One Warlord and the mercenaries:
I have already discussed the Carolingians in depth here, and some tactics for using them here. I still haven’t managed to get a game with them, so can’t let you know if my plans were any good. However, this may soon change so watch this space…
Until then, let’s discuss the Nomads. These are a group of mounted warriors with composite bows (new equipment for Saga II- for those who have played the old edition, think javelins on steroids). This means that they have to get very close to be effective. Fortunately, they do move very quickly as well as having some abilities that enable them to manoeuvre more than other cavalry and gain more defence dice if attacked.
This all sounds good until you consider the Mercenary rules are a double-edged sword. You can get units that you would not be able to take, with special abilities such as the above. However, mercenaries cannot use any of the advanced abilities on your Saga board! This means that, for most factions, all you can do is activate them or add dice to their combat pools.
Therefore, whilst mercenaries are good for plugging gaps in your army (No good infantry? Hire some Flemish Pavaise Spearmen!) taking too many of them can either make your force play in a very predictable fashion due to them not being able to use advanced abilities, or cause issues where some factions rely on synergy between specific unit types and abilities to be successful.
So, taking mercenaries isn’t a no brainer. You need to know what you are using them for and design the rest of your army to compensate for the fact that part of it cannot benefit from all your weird and wonderful battleboard abilities. Also to be noted is that Saga limits the factions that can employ certain troop types, based on what was historically available to them. No Steppe Nomads for the Carolingians, then!
For me, I think I will use my mercenaries sparingly. They are quite characterful for the Byzantines, who did like to use mercenaries where possible and a variety of mounted tribesmen were recorded as fighting for them: the Cumans and Alans being two of the most famous tribes. However, the Nomads don’t really provide me with anything that I can’t have anyway! I can have cavalry archers with composite bows, albeit as Hearthguard rather than Warriors. The Nomads are slightly better shots (re-rolling 1s to hit), but get the same amount of shooting dice as four Hearthguard (4). The Hearthguard make up for this by being harder to kill and able to use my advanced abilities.
This points to me using Nomads more for thematic reasons, depending on the scenario, or when playing Mike, because he hates cavalry in Saga and I am a bad man.
Finishing the Carolingians leaves me with two full Dark Age armies completed, which is quite fortunate as it was just in time for my copy of Saga: Age of Crusades to arrive.
I have leafed through this new tome and am mightily impressed with the way it has expanded from the previous ‘Crescent and Cross’ version (the Crusade supplement for Saga I) to encompass a number of additional armies, attempting the difficult task of covering most European and Middle Eastern forces from the years 1095 to around 1250. Needless to say, at the Brush and Boltgun excitement is high; armies are being planned, Osprey books are being ordered for reference (Medieval Russians and Poles for me, to see which I prefer!) and battleboards heavily pored over.
However, being the lucky chap I am, I have already got a Crusades army fully painted. That’s right, those tricksy Greeks of the Byzantine Empire straddle both time periods!
There are some major differences to how the Dark Age and Medieval Byzantines play. That kind of thing happens after major military disasters and losing half your Empire (see Manzikert), but for the whole of both periods they remain, at least, a force to be reckoned with.
In my next article I will look at these differing forces and look at some of the units and options I have available for them for both supplements. But I hear Rob, Mike and Dave are offering me an opportunity to test my Carolingians, so I must be going for now!