I've played a few games of SAGA before (most recently, here), but this time it's different. At least, it's slightly different, as we recently played our first game of SAGA Version 2.
There are a number of differences between v.1 and v.2, though overall the game is much the same. Others have reviewed these changes in depth, but here are some of the more obvious alterations:
- The way that the number of SAGA dice is calculated is more even: all units & heroes generate 1 die each (though levy and warrior units have a minimum size below which they don't count any more, so there's no point in hiding that 1-man warrior unit just for its dice-generating potential any more).
- Warlords/heroes are beefed up in combat, but cannot join with another friendly unit in a fight. All combat is therefore one unit against one unit.
- Melee is one entire unit against another. No more measuring to try to figure out which figures are involved and which are not.
- Movement is in a straight line; no fiddling around to measure weird curves.
- All the battle boards have been reworked and at least some of the abilities are quite different.
Overall, I think these changes make everything simpler and more consistent, but we have only just scratched the surface in terms of gameplay...
So, nothing terribly subtle here. We lined up 6 points of Vikings vs 6 points of Anglo Danes and threw a couple of terrain pieces on the table, then set to.
The initial clash between these well-trained & motivated fighters and their Viking equivalents was...bloody.
Elsewhere, a group of Viking warriors struggled against some unusually feisty Anglo Dane levy, who first dropped several of the Vikings with sling shots and then saw off the warriors' charge with minimal loss.
The remaining Anglo Dane hearthguards fought a war of attrition with a slightly larger group of Viking warriors. Over a series of clashes, each side would win their charge and cause a small number of casualties, only to be driven back in turn when the other side counter-attacked. Neither group was prepared to admit defeat and eventually they pretty much wiped each other out.
So, after a few turns, the situation was thus:
- The Viking berserkers still hadn't caught up with any enemies, though they were getting closer.
- In the centre, units from both sides were queuing up to fight each other.
- Both warlords were hovering just behind their front lines, looking for an opportunity to make a difference.
- There were lots of Vikings behind the wood on the left, but these hadn't made it into the fight yet.
Seeing a remnant of the axe-wielding Anglo Dane hearthguards retreating, the Viking warlord charged through the middle of the battle and cut them down. This was brave, but left him tired and horribly exposed!
Vengeful Anglo Dane warriors from their second line swarmed all around the solitary Viking hero. He fought to the last, taking 5 of the attackers with him, but the odds were just too great and the Viking leader fell to a well-aimed spear thrust.
Finally, the Viking berserkers arrived. They charged into the Anglo Dane slingers and slaughtered them, leaving just one shocked man from the levy. This wasn't without loss though: 2 berserkers fell as well.
In yet another tit-for-tat move, the reserve Anglo Dane warriors now attacked the depleted group of berserkers.
Knowing how dangerous these frothing loonies could be, the Anglo Dane warriors were boosted by a couple of battle board abilities: Like Rocks and Crush the Weak. Despite this, they still lost two of their own number before they killed the remaining Vikings.
So, one more fight before the end of the game? Anglo Dane warriors declared a charge on a slightly smaller group of Vikings.
Despite one of the Vikings declaring "Valhalla!", the defenders were wiped out. The few remaining victorious Anglo Danes were promptly shot down by the nearby Viking archers.
Having finished off the berserkers, the last group of Anglo Dane warriors then assaulted the Viking archers. The archers had the worst of it, though the slaughter was high on both sides.
At this point, the turn limit for the game was reached. As you can see, there weren't many survivors!
We counted up the "slaughter points" for casualties caused and it turned out that each side had exactly the same number! But wait - bonus slaughter points are also awarded for entire units destroyed:
- The Anglo Danes had lost a large number of men, but surprisingly only 2 units were completely eliminated (one of hearthguard and one of warriors). The other hearthguard, the other warrior and the levy unit all still had at least one figure left (and just one figure in most cases!)
- The Vikings had lost completely 2 units of hearthguard (including the berserkers) and 2 units of warriors (plus their warlord, though I'm not sure if he counts for these purposes).
Thus I declare that it was a (very) narrow win for the Anglo Danes, who have managed to drive off the seaborne invaders and defend their lands from pillage and ruin!
This game took just short of 2 hours, which wasn't too bad considering that we were learning and still referring to the rulebook on a number of occasions. We had enough time to reset and play a second game; this went much more quickly (and led to a climactic battle between the two opposing leaders, where the Viking was ultimately cut down by the heavily boosted Anglo Dane hero ("Lord of War" is a very powerful ability for this type of duel 😃).
So, what did we think of the rules?
- Once we were familiar enough with the basic concepts, we fairly rattled through the turns.
- Sometimes a great plan was stymied by not throwing the right faces on the SAGA dice. Of course, more forethought might have meant that a "plan B" could be followed instead...
- Similarly, melee (especially, but shooting as well, to a lesser extent) would produce unexpected results. The dice could be especially kind or unkind at times, though this isn't really different from many other games.
- Warlords can be very vulnerable if they become isolated from their bodyguards! Remember to use their free activation every turn either to move them to a place of safety or to engage the biggest threat.
- There were certainly some occasions where we forgot about free activations of all sorts (the warlord's personal activation, his "we obey" ability, the free manoeuvre for units more then 'L' from an enemy...). This can be frustrating when you realise part-way through your opponent's next turn that you didn't make all the moves you had planned!
- Overall, I think we enjoyed both tester games a great deal. We'll certainly play again, though I'll probably try to vary the scenarios a bit, rather than just using the single "pitched battle" setup that comes in the SAGA v.2 rules.