This last weekend saw the coming and going of another birthday for yours truly and I had planned to spend Saturday playing SAGA with old comrades down at the World Famous “Dog Pound” and the Los Angeles based “Dogs of War” group and Sunday with the family, a perfect weekend! Ahh plans, they never quite work…my co workers decided that for my birthday they would surprise me with my very own copy of the cold everyone on the set had that week! Saturday I awoke to that stuffy, achy feeling you get as it creeps up on you, not quite feeling like leaving the homestead. My main gaming buddy Steve had come over and he looked terrible, having had the “cold” for a couple of weeks before. We both felt crappy and decided that instead of carrying our misery down to infect the rest of the group we would just hang and practice our SAGA playing at my place.
Steve had commissioned a Byzantine Warband from a painter back east and was having trouble getting a handle on playing it so we decided to do a game or two with it against my Normans to see what strengths and weakness’ we could find. The Normans and Byzantines are historical foes with similar warbands, both having Cavalry and Bows used in slightly different ways as their main force with various infantry units rounding the warband out.
SAGA is currently one of my favorite “miniature wargames” rules systems as it is fairly simple in its rules and play, BUT extremely complex in the fact that it forces you to really lead your warband based on what is happening at the moment. Very true to life for Dark Ages combat on this scale at this time in my opinion. Now some players will have a problem with this as (like Steve) they are used to having looked at the charts, calculated the distance, moved properly, having stacked the dice in their favor, and can be reasonably assured of a certain result. SAGA does not quite work that way. Yes you do the all the regular things as above but when the execution of the plan comes you need to have the “right” SAGA dice to do it, and if you don’t you must as a commander modify those plans to fit the current situation and SAGA dice you have. There is an element of chess to the game and players who can think moves ahead for both their own troops and those of the opponent do well, those that cant die quickly. Add to this the sometimes extreme differences in your opponents warband and you can have a very exciting, interesting battle or for some a very frustrating and difficult match. Some people call this a Beer and pretzels game, hardly, at first glance yes, you can play it that way, have a few brews, as I tear you apart… I was frustrated at first playing SAGA but loved the concept and persevered until one battle the haze cleared and I “got it!” Now its just “polishing the sword” and on to battle.
Both of us being sick and really concentrating on game play and tactics I did not take a lot of pictures or keep a battle record but here is what I did get….
We both took little terrain hoping to exploit our Cavalry’s movement and bows power. I didn’t take any pictures of the battle but it was hard fought with both of us concentrating on learning the army’s and therefore helping each other to make the best moves. The Normans were on there way to a win when the Byzantines commander and his remaining Hearth-guard made a desperate charge at my Warlord and killing him won the battle! Thus epitomizing “battle in the Dark Ages” were the death of a single figure if important enough can lead to a victory as your forces leaderless melt away in desperation!
I still did not really shoot or write down the game as it happened but did take a few more shots as we went at it, still stopping to retake moves and figure out what the best game play would be during situations.
The second battle I lost the “setup” role and tried a bit different tactics with a large flanking cavalry force on the open right flank with bowmen anchoring the center and left. This caused the Byzantines to despair from the beginning! and use his first powerful turn to retreat his javelin men out of range. SAGA is very psychological in game play at times, this was a perfect example where my opponent was spending his SAGA dice unwisely because of my units actions and I wasn’t even losing figures to do it!.
Steve fearing my cavalry and bowmen on his flank pulled back on that side allowing me to push forward unopposed, you see this in the picture below.
He then decided to attack on the left with his powerful Hearth guard backed by his Horse archers, my Crossbowmen and levy Bowmen took them under fire as my smaller hearth guard cavalry unit counter charges to contact with them. The dice gods favored me and his cavalry soon died were they stood…..
Steve and his Byzantines were not finished yet as his Warriors backed by yet more support archers took on my victorious Hearth guard Cavalry and nearly pounded them into submission. At this point I felt my Warlord was in a dangerous position, since I had out pointed him so far in victory point it would be senseless to risk him at this late stage of the battle so he and his Hearth guard horse unit self activated out of range to the left. The Byzantine commander then as I figured launched himself and his Hearth guard Cav at what was left of my center Cavalry, destroying them. The game was now on its last turn and it was mine! I decided to charge his Warlord with mine just to seal the battle. His group had several fatigues, I rested mine off and self activated charging into melee….a hard fought melee with the Byzantine warlord finally going down…victory to the Normans this time!
A low key good time battle that we both learned a lot playing!
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