Saga Sunday – Battle Report: Byzantines vs Anglo-Danes
It was a humid August evening when 6 point armies of Byzantines and Anglo-Danes faced off on the outskirts of Bewerden, to thrash out a disagreement over a spilt flagon, a mislaid haunch of lamb and the rights to baths with underfloor heating.
When Adam rolled for a random rule/event it left us getting double points for wiping out opposing units. This meant that the aim of the game was bloodshed on a grand scale.
N.B. if you don’t play Saga, we may use some terms in this report that you are unfamiliar with: Saga Dice, Battleboard, Fatigue etc.. Particularly Adam, he loves rules-y explanations which could otherwise be written much better as narrative. Anyway, we love Saga and have written a few posts about it that might help explain these things here and here. Whether you need to read them or not, we hope you enjoy the following battle report!
General Bryennios Phocas prepared for battle with the diligence of any 10th Century border-guard commander: starting by finding out what he had at his disposal. Until the professional Tagmata turned up, the provincial troops of the Themata forces regularly had to make the best of what they had. But, being noble descendants of Rome, he was sure his troops could see off these barbarians…
Now, usually I build my Byzantine force around a large core of foot warriors, both with bows and spears, and then supplement them with a Levy screen and shock lancers. Having packed the case a few weeks earlier and not checked what I had, I was quite pleased with the result: whilst I had less foot troops than I am used to, I had both of my cavalry archer units: Hearthguard and mercenary Steppe Nomads.
This meant that even more that usual the plan had to be to keep out of range of Rob’s combat units until I had weakened them drastically with bowfire. In virtually every combat I would be at a disadvantage through my lower armour values.
I also was wary (quite rightly, it turns out) of the large amount of slingers in the Anglo-Danish force. Cavalry in Saga really suffer against missile troops.
One last qualifier: we use the term Byzantine to refer to my army throughout. That’s because, historically, this is an army from the Byzantine Empire. In Saga, the correct term game-wise should be Last Romans, in order to differentiate them from an army in the Age of Crusades supplement. We don’t worry about that need here!
I’d chosen my force as a bit of an all-rounder. Two units of Levy with slings, two units of Warriors, two units of Hearthguard – one with two-handed weapons, and Warlord Wulffrith who was armed with a two-handed axe.
As the battlelines formed up, I couldn’t help but notice that I was quite heavily outgunned. While I had two units of sling wielding Levy, Adam had four chaps on horses with bows, a unit of Levy with javelins, a unit of Warriors with bows, and some Greek mercenaries on horseback… with bows. There were other units for hand to hand on there, but my issue was having an army of footsloggers that would end up looking like sleeping porcupines.
I thought my best bet would be to use the Warriors to shield the Hearthguard as they advanced, while the Levy provided some amount of fire support. If I’m honest, the amount of missile weapons was like a kick in the jewels. I’d not faced this many before and all I could think of was arrow-ridden bodies.
The battle begins
Going first is both a blessing and a curse in Saga. You get to redeploy a bit and queue up some reactions, but you are limited from carrying out too much offensive action…
The first turn began with Adam rolling his three activation dice. Once the activations started Adam’s tricky Greek archers leapt over the wall they were behind, and loosed a hail of arrows onto my Warriors who were providing cover for the hearth guard and leapt back over the wall. As two of my Warriors dropped, I thought that this would be fine, it’ll take me two/three turns to reach the enemy lines, so there’ll still be cover for the Hearthguard. His Levy also advanced and launched a salvo of javelins, killing only one of my Levy, so not affecting the number of shots I’d have on my turn. The final move was his mounted archers manoeuvring into the centre of the battlefield, which was a shame, as it meant more firepower heading at the bulk of my foot troops.
When it came to my turn all I could do was advance. As I didn’t roll any helmets, I couldn’t boost my warlord with Lord of War, so I kept him behind the Hearthguard, who in turn advanced behind the warriors. The warriors on the left flank advanced, while the Levy on the left returned fire, killing one of Adam’s Levy. The Levy on the right flank advanced around 4 inches so that they wouldn’t be in range to charge using one activation. With that the battle truly started.
The sky darkens under the hail of arrows
Now that the enemy were in range, I could get on with doing what I do best: peppering them with arrows. Rob’s poor warriors in the centre drew the worst of it, taking two rounds from the Archer warriors, whilst the Levy ineffectually swatted at each other at the other end of the field.
The Steppe Nomads eventually got to take an action and sprinted in front of the Levy facing them. They hit the levy on 3+ and got to re-roll any attacks that came up with a 1. What do I roll? Yes, that’s right, loads of 2’s!! Only one Levy tumbled down, painting a big target mark onto the cavalry right in front of the Danish army…
At first the seers thought it was a bad omen when the sky darkened, but thankfully it was just an outrageous amount of arrows. Moments later they realised it was still a bad omen.
This turn took a toll on the bulk of my fighting men and put my initial plans into disarray, while confirming one of my worries. It was going to be a hard-fought slog getting into combat with mobile horseback archers when all you have is your feet to keep up with them. Adam’s mounted Hearthguard charged my Warriors on the left flank, killing three, but losing three of their own – this was definitely something I could capitalise on. 5 Warriors vs 1 Hearthguard? No problem. Next turn he’d get his.
In the centre things took a turn for the worse as the Greek archers and the mounted archers fired a salvo into the Warriors, killing all but two of them, leaving my forces severely depleted. I’d moved my Warlord and heavy weapon Hearthguard to the right flank, in an effort to charge forward around the other side of the building, but this served only to keep them from doing anything useful. It was all going wrong in the centre. The seers were wailing!
Getting off lightly in Rob’s turn (I should have taken many more casualties from his shooting) meant I could get down to stripping away his Saga dice with a few well timed charges. My lone Hearthguard lancer charged the warriors facing him, aided by a well timed use of Superior Tactics; a Last Roman ability which highlights their balanced nature. They get two attack and two defence dice, and then get to choose whether the fifth dice they gain is attack or defence.
Obviously, as my goal here was to reduce Rob’s Saga dice whilst maintaining my own (I needed to kill two warriors and not die myself), my fifth dice went into defence! And he succeeded, taking out two warriors and surviving. Not bad for one man against five!
Elsewhere, I just plugged more shots into the enemy, dropping two Hearthguard and a few Levy, whilst failing to get my horse archers out of range of the angry slingers who had just killed three of them.
Well it all became a bit crazy for the Anglo-Danes at this point. I’d hoped to weather the fire a little better than I did, and it left me with some serious issues. the remaining four Heathguard in the centre charged the Byzantine mounted Hearthguard, only to cause no casualties and lose two of their own number. After the final warriors were slaughtered it meant that the centre was wide open and my force was scattered. After moving the Warlord and heavy weapon Hearthguard to the right flank the turn previous, they were now next to useless, and I had to move them back to try and plug the gap.
One thing that I did learn though, was how useful fatigue is. The Anglo-Dane Special Activation ‘Exhaustion’ means I get to apply three fatigue counters to Adams army, which I did, adding to units I thought I’d have to fight in the coming rounds. With the only way to remove them being to rest, it could have been handy to use up some of his activation dice this way.
The Levy did what they do best, slung stones at the Steppe Nomads again, killing another, and taking their kill tally to higher than all none-levy units combined. I started to think I should have taken six units of Levy instead.
My Hearthguard Horse Archers survival in the centre of the board was nothing short of miraculous. It made me appreciate quite how powerful the Disruptive Volley power is. Four defence dice is a massive bonus. Killing the warriors and driving off the Hearthguard was fantastic, but it was time to get out of the way. With a final volley they fled back towards their baseline, rapidly pursued by some chaps with big choppers.
The archers and Levy kept up their barrage of fire, whilst the nomads eventually limped out of range.
Outgunned on that flank, it was time to throw my foot Warriors (who had so far done nothing for four turns, not even activating) forward to drive back the Levy.
General Phocas looked around and was relatively happy with the battle so far, seeing no need to get directly involved.
The above two pictures say more about my last big push offensive than any written words ever could, but I’m writing them anyway! Actually, I could sum it up well if I could type the noise of uncontrollable sobbing. Watching four Hearthguard reduced to two by the mounted Hearthguard archers was a massive blow, and I felt the only thing that I could do was to send another unit of Heathguard as back up, and charge them again. They were bound to win on the second round!
I charged the remaining two Hearthguard into combat with those pesky horseback Hearthguard in an attempt to soften them up. They died horribly while inflicting no casualties. My activation dice meant that I could charge the three remaining heavy weapon Hearthguard (after I’d used the Warlord’s free ‘We Obey’ activation to move them closer) across the walled field) into range.
They charged, foaming and frothing with rage. With the heavy weapons meaning they hit easier than normal troops it was bound to be enough. Sadly… the three heavy weapon Heartguard managed to kill one horseback Hearthguard, while two of their own died. The remaining Dane Hearthguard withdrew to the cover of a wide open field to await his demise in shame.
The Levy however…! Both units of Levy continued their run, losing a couple on the left flank to Adam’s Levy while they used two activation dice to finish off the lone mounted Hearthguard before he killed my lone warrior who was on the other side of the pond to the levy. With the Levy’s second action, they picked off a few of Adam’s Levy. The outlook for the final turn was bleak!
In my final turn it was all about trying to remove Saga dice from Rob, thereby reducing his ability to wipe out full units in the last turn and get extra points. To this end, my levy took up their and charged in to try and finish off their opposite numbers. Unsuccessfully as it turned out. The final heroic hearthguard archer also charged the levy, taking them below six models (and so taking away their Saga dice) and also adding a final fatigue to them and exhausting them. They wouldn’t be troubling me again- which was very fortunate as they are deadly!
At the other end of the board, my final spear warrior was unceremoniously beaten down by a horde of levy as my foot archers eventually wiped out the last surviors in the centre. It looked like victory, but a Pyrrhic one at best!
My final round was blessed and cursed. I had limited dice in which to do anything, so had to rely entirely on the Levy, and as the left flank Levy were exhausted, it meant that I had to concentrate on the right flank. I used my remaining two dice to fire a volley of stones at the Byzantine spearmen, then used the final dice to charge them and beat the remaining one to death. It was a fittingly glorious end to the Levy who had consistently been my best units on the table. The curtain fell on the long battle of attrition, and I could sense defeat hanging over me.
The battle ends
This battle is notable to me for a few reasons. Firstly, it didn’t end in total wipe-out by turn four for one of the forces, which I do tend to find with some of the more combative armies out there. The Danes are more about fatigue and wearing you down, whilst the Last Romans prefer to keep you at arm’s length and shoot you to bits. It still hurts but saving on 4+ against shooting is a bit more forgiving than 5+ in combat.
It was also notable as neither Warlord fought in close combat in this game. These massively destructive characters assumed roles more of Generals, commanding the troops and spreading additional activations around rather than getting stuck in. My Roman class must be rubbing off on the barbarians!
The last word has to be on my mercenary Nomads. A terrible game from them, but this is their first outing and they needed to get their Newly Painted Model Syndrome (NPMS as we refer to it) out of their system, so I am sure they will get another chance soon. At least they survived!
Regardless of the result, this was a massively fun game, which had massive swings of luck on both sides. In both cases, making the most of the Saga dice results that we ended up rolling was a massive brain-ache. I have definitely spotted a few battle-board combinations I will be looking to pull off in the future when the dice are better.
Well, it was a learning curve for me here and there’s definitely three main things I need to work on for next time.
The first – using Exhaustion more often. If I’d have managed to get into combat those extra fatigue counters on Adam’s troops would have been magnificent, allowing me to get lower to hit roles, or making my guys harder to hit. More use of this with more of point two, and it may have altered the outcome a little. With Exhaustion taking two helmet activation dice though, it’s tough to get.
As it happens, that leads me nicely onto the second point… Combat. I needed more of it. So much more! Next time more activation dice will be spent moving units forward were they can do more damage. The initial destruction of to units of Warriors flustered me, and I wasn’t sure which way to go from then. If I’d have just charged forward, there could possibly have been more blood on my blades. Or I could have died horribly nearer to Adam’s board edge, that remains to be seen.
The third thing – How good are Levy? Seriously, for me they stole the show. While two units of Warriors and two units of Hearthguard totalled a whopping four kills in total, the Levy managed twenty as they slung their way into the sagas. I thought they were exceptional, and now have an urge for an entirely Levy army… could I be bothered painting another 48/72 of them though? Probably not.
It was a great battle, and another that showed how varied the Saga games can be. I’m looking forward to another crack at the Byzantines in the future, where hopefully the tables will be turned!
Thanks for reading.
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