Saturday 31 August 2013

The Saga of Lief Gunnarson


I'm on something of a roll with SAGA at the moment, I think.  Not only have I completed my Viking and Scots starter warbands, but I've started to build my Revell longship as well (more on that some other time).  Indeed, recently we played our first actual game of SAGA.  Here's how it went...

Clash of Warlords

For our beginning game of Saga, we decided to play the first scenario in the book: "Clash of Warlords".  Roughly speaking, this is a straightforward "last man standing" game.  Killing the enemy's chieftain without losing your own will give instant victory.

So, the forces were as follows:


 From left to right:
  • 4 berserkers
  • 4 hearthguard (front)
  • Leif Gunnarson, the warlord (front)
  • 4 warriors (back)
  • 12 warriors


 Front row, left to right:
  • 4 hearthguard
  • Macbheatha, the warlord
  • 4 hearthguard
Back row, left to right:
  • 6 warriors
  • 4 warriors
  • 6 warriors

The Game

Opening Moves

Not really knowing what to do, both my Vikings and the front line of my son's Scots advanced straight towards each other.  No doubt many threats and insults were exchanged at this point!

The first contact occurred when the end unit of Scots warriors (pale-rimmed bases) charged the Viking berserkers (dark-rimmed bases).  Neither of us really knew what to expect...

 ...but the vicious conflict left only a single man standing!  This was something of a disappointment for the Vikings; I'd really hoped that the berserkers would wipe out their enemies without all dying in the process.

The Fight on the Hill

Next it was the turn of the 12 Viking warriors on the hill.  They charged a 4-man group of thanes, hoping to punch their way through to the Scots warlord.

Vikings charge down the hill into a confused melee
Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Scots Thanes held firm and drove the Vikings back with 3 casualties.  This was not going as I (Leif) had hoped at all!

Scots warriors from the far end of their line then counterattacked.  Initially they were driven off...

...but the survivors regrouped and attacked again immediately.  The fatigued Viking warriors fell back, leaving some of their number dead behind them.

Finally, 4 of the Scots thanes charged up the hill and decimated the fleeing band of Vikings, killing another 3 of their number.  In one turn, my unit of warriors lost 11 of its 12 figures, in return for 5 Scots soer-chele.  This was not good!

In revenge, I took great pleasure in using the power of Loki to eliminate the remnants of the 2 groups of Scots warriors who had engaged so far.  However, while this would deny my opponent some Saga dice, such units wouldn't otherwise have had any significant effect on the course of the battle.

Kill the Warlord!

So far, each side had lost 11 or 12 warriors, but I had also lost 4 berserkers.  I was outnumbered and any moment the weight of the Scots army would swallow me up.  However, I had a plan.

I loaded up the battleboard with as many offensive capabilities as I could muster.  This wasn't as much as I'd have liked, but it would have to do - the Scots had exhausted their own dice in their last turn.

Firstly, Leif Gunnarson used his Determination, We Obey and Side by Side abilities to gather his hirdmen and charge the Scots thanes on the hill.  These were all cut down, though annoyingly they killed one of the Vikings in return.

This left the way open to attack the Scots warlord himself.  Even though they were tired after their previous combat, Sigurd, Thorfinn and Guthrum charged down the hill into the flank of the Scots line and attacked Macbheatha himself!  Sadly, I didn't have enough Saga dice dedicated to movement to permit Leif to join in as well.

It would seem that Macbheatha had been working out recently; he easily dispatched the 3 Vikings on his own (perhaps assisted by Bran, the dog?).  All his thanes were looking the other way, but a nearby Scots warrior leaped in front of a Viking spear that would otherwise have slipped past the warlord's guard.  So, 3 hirdmen down in return for 1 soer-chele.  This was becoming embarrassing!

Leif Gunnerson now stood almost alone on the hill - just a single bondi warrior was nearby.  With a cry of triumph and a fresh set of Saga dice on his battleboard, the Scots warlord now gathered his remaining thanes and charged the Viking captain.  So, let's see: I roll 5 attack dice (standard warlord profile), while the Scots roll 5 (warlord) + 8 (thanes) + how many?! (for battleboard abilities).  It would have taken a miracle for Leif to survive.

Alas, miracles were in short supply for the Vikings this evening.  Leif didn't even manage to take any of these foes to Valhalla with him.  Just as well that he helped to kill some thanes earlier in the game, then...


I'm sure that our inexperience with the rules (indeed, with Dark Age warfare in general) shows in many ways in this report.  Also, the terrain was just decorative - it had no effect on play - and the scenario was basic.  But...this was a really fun game and something we'll certainly play again.  I think there's a very promising future for SAGA, if not for Leif Gunnarson!

Wednesday 28 August 2013

SAGA: Macbheatha's Scots Warband


2 weeks ago, I showed my starter Viking warband and bemoaned how long it was taking me to paint up their opposition.  Well, I was so inspired by the positive responses that I have not only finished the starter Scots force who will face the Vikings, but I've also played my first game of Saga!  You'll have to wait a little for the game report though; this article will be used to introduce my second warband.

The Warlord

 Macbheatha is the leader of my Scots force.  He's accompanied by his faithful hound "Bran".  Unusually, he has scale armour instead of chainmail.

 Note that the Scots in my collection can be distinguished from my Vikings in several ways:
  1. The Vikings wear trousers, whilst the Scots have bare legs.
  2. Each force has a different colour of rim on their bases.  For the Vikings I used the same dark brown as for undercoating the bases, while the rim of the Scots bases are the same pale brown as the dirt's top highlight.
  3. Some of the Scots clothing is more highly patterned, whereas that of the Vikings tends to be a single block of colour.


This warband has 8 thanes in it.  Unlike the Vikings they're all just "vanilla" hearthguard, though usefully  they all count as spearmen for the purposes of the Saga battleboard.

I've used decals from Little Big Men for both the shields and the flags on all my figures.  Saga didn't originally have rules for standard bearers, but I'm sure they've been published as an update somewhere.  At least I have the option of using these rules if I desire.


Most of my Scots warriors have spears.  These are rather longer than those preferred by many Dark Age fighters, but they hint at the "pike"-armed schiltrons of later centuries.

I'm well aware that the modern notion of tartan is only a couple of centuries old (and highly contrived, at that).  However, it suits the narrative for these guys to wear patterned cloth, though whether the patterns would have been this form in the Dark Ages is anyone's guess.  Anyway, what I've painted isn't technically tartan (there aren't enough different colours), so there!

Like the thanes, my soer-chele (warriors) have a banner.  They also have a horn blower, though I'm not aware of any special rules in Saga for such equipment.  As far as I'm concerned, he's just a regular warrior - but slightly louder than average, I suppose.

Initially, I tried to paint tartan (sorry, patterned cloth!) on some of the cloaks as well as the tunics.  I soon found that the non-rectangular shape of most of these made the results come out very strangely, so they were quickly covered up with solid colours.  It's a pity, but I just couldn't do it to my satisfaction.


Once I finally got round to it, I've enjoyed painting these models.  Now my mind is full of plans for expansion: a small unit of cavalry and some skirmishers, perhaps?  What about one of the heroes of the age?  Or a bard?  I really fancy getting a group of monks as well, especially some armed brothers who've just had enough of the Vikings!  So many things I could do - and that's even before having played with them!

Sunday 25 August 2013

"Not-Star Trek" Ferengi Fleet


Amongst the major races in Star Trek, the Ferengi probably have the least known military capabilities.  Indeed, there are almost no canonical named spaceships and only 2 classes of vessel have been commonly mentioned in the shows, as far as I know.  One of these is a cruiser and the other is a tiny shuttlecraft, so there's not much data there from which to work out what the Ferengi's military capability!

D'Kora class marauder
2-seat Ferengi shuttle

Design Philosophy

I'm going to have to extrapolate a very long way from the limited amount of canonical data for this fleet.  Firstly, I will assume that they do indeed have a fleet, if only so they can protect their trade interests robustly.  So, let's see:
  • The Ferengi are clever (cunning?) and ruthless merchants.  Everyone in their society is always looking for a way to improve their wealth, so there's the first element of my philosophy: all ships will have at least some cargo space.  Either this is designed in from the start, or else the captain of each vessel has sacrificed some other system in order to make room for his trade goods.
  • In The Next Generation, a Ferengi cruiser is described as a near match in capabilities for the Federation ship Enterprise.  I imagine that, through trade or espionage, they have complete access to any of the common technologies present in the Star Trek universe.  This includes phasers (beam weapons), disruptors and shields (screens), but not the more exotic stuff such as cloaking devices, plasma torpedoes or fighters.

The Ships

I don't know of any manufacturer who produces a range of Ferengi ships!  It's possible to find the D'Kora marauder from some sources, though these tend to be toy manufacturers rather than games companies.

For my Ferengi fleet, I've used Quellaris Federation ships from Kallistra's "Space Dreadnought 3000" range.  These have a vaguely "Ferengi" look to them, though note that I've cut off the oversized "cannon" protrusions from the nose and/or wings.  They will do fine for my purposes, though this might not suit a purist.

If you are interested, I've made my Ferengi SSDs available to download.  The file is in OpenOffice Draw format (.odg).

Manufacturer's DesignationPictureFull Thrust SSD
Q1 Quellaris Patrol Ship
Q2 Quellaris Destroyer

Q3 Quellaris Cruiser

Q4 Quellaris Battlecruiser

Q5 Quellaris Dreadnought

Q6 Quellaris Super Dreadnought

Games with Ferengi

To be true to Star Trek, Ferengi shouldn't be interested in concepts such as honour or self-sacrifice.  They can and will fight ruthlessly to protect their interests, but their values are most definitely not the same as those of other races such as the Klingons or Federation.  I feel that this is best handled by the use of appropriate victory conditions in a scenario, rather than by race-specific special rules.  In other words, it's really up to you how to use a fleet such as this in your games!

Thursday 22 August 2013

The Rules With No Name: High Noon


One of my favourite Westerns (indeed, one of my favourite movies) is "High Noon".  In this, Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of an about-to-retire marshal who is forced to confront a gang of 4 gunmen on his own, the leader of whom has sworn to kill him.

So, can I create a scenario for The Rules with No Name which captures some of the tension and leads to an epic finale?  Let's see...

The Forces

So, the numbers on each side are easy enough: 1 marshal against 4 gunslingers.  However, it's going to be tricky to balance this.  Also note that I've had to alter the appearance and names of the characters, if only to fit the models I have in my collection:

  • Marshal: This is straightforward. He's a legend and an upright citizen, so I'll use my Sheriff Roberts model.  Indeed, the skills he has are just fine, too: Tough should make him harder to hurt and True Grit will stop him from running away.  The only real difference is that I'll take away his shotgun.  Just one pistol should be enough, right?
  • Miller's Gang: Hmm, I don't really have the right models for this, I think.  How about I use my other generic baddies (Banditos) instead?  The leader is then Tuco, though he's possibly a bit too tough.  Maybe he should be a Shootist instead of a Legend (i.e. level-3 rather than level-4)?  I'll leave him as is for now.
    The gang is simpler: it consists of 3 Gunmen (level-2).  To keep them from being boringly identical, there's a rifleman, a bland pistol guy and a drunk.  It's not quite the same as the movie, but the drunk might help to even the odds a little by handicapping his own side - you never know!

Scenario Rules

  • Setup: The battle takes place in a town.  The gang sets up on one edge of the table, then the marshal places his figure anywhere desired, as long as it isn't in line of sight of any of the other figures.
  • Victory: When all the figures on one side are dead then the other side wins.  Simple!
  • Desperation: The marshal is heavily outnumbered and desperate.  He may take a free action at any point in the game, just as if he had been dealt an Action Card for the turn.  This free action may interrupt any other action; it will even trump the Legend Action Card.  However, the marshal may only take this free action once in the entire game.
  • Familiarity: The marshal knows the town very well but the gang are relative strangers to it.  If the marshal is completely out of sight of all gang members then he may use a Move action to move to anywhere else on the board, so long as he doesn't come into sight of any opposing figure at any point during this extended move.
  • Bystanders: If you wish to play with Bystanders then the Get Back Inside and Old Friend cards would be quite appropriate, I think.
We ran the game a couple of times to see how this scenario would work.  Here's what happened:

Game 1

Tuco's gang approach the town - but where is their enemy?
The villain and his 3 henchmen
Straight away, Rico (the drunk) activated.  He failed his "drunk dice" and passed out before anyone else had even moved.  For most of the rest of the game, Rico lay unconscious in the dust.  1 down, 3 to go!

The remaining bandits spread out as they ran up the road.  A passing loafer wandered out of the saloon and staggered drunkenly across the road, but this didn't inconvenience the gang at all.  Then, the marshal appeared across the street...

...and shot Tuco, who was in the lead.  The villain took a serious chest wound; he spent quite a while getting back to his feet while his 2 associates scattered and the marshal ran for cover.

As the bandits advanced, the marshal retreated, afraid of being outflanked.  He kept moving in order to disrupt the aim of the rifleman, Cesar, though this restricted the useful actions that he could take himself.

While Cesar kept the marshal's head down (mostly), Santiago ran along the road to the cabin.  He didn't manage this unscathed, though: the marshal managed to inflict a minor wound on him as the bandit ran past.  Meanwhile, Tuco crept round the back of the Trading Post.

Despite his wound, Tuco managed to take an aimed shot at the marshal.  He rolled 5 dice for this and due to his Deadeye ability he would only need a 5 or 6 on any one of them to hit his target.  Of course, he missed...

The near miss rattled the marshal, however.  When Santiago began aiming at him from the other side, he decided to use his once-per-game free action.  Rather than remain in what was now a somewhat exposed position, he chose to charge Santiago, intending to beat him up in hand-to-hand combat and relying on his superior class and Santiago's wound to give him the edge.

The marshal was about 8" away from the bandit, so he rolled 3d6 for his charge move - and came up with 6".  Oops!  Santiago then took his shot at close range and killed the marshal with a single bullet.  Game over!

Game 2

Once again, Rico (the drunk) activated first.  However, he immediately sobered up and therefore could act as normal for the rest of the game.  Since I was playing the marshal, this was bad news!

The minions ran up the street looking for the marshal, while Tuco was a bit slower.

As Santiago reached the junction, the marshal stepped round the corner of the Dry Goods store, aimed and fired.  Santiago took a serious wound and fell to the ground.

Rico ran up to his injured comrade, but the marshal then aimed at him and shot him dead.  So far, so good.

The injured Santiago pulled himself up and staggered round the side of the Bank, while Tuco attempted to flank the marshal.  Meanwhile, Cesar traded shots with the lawman from behind the limited cover of a hitching rail.  This eventually resulted in minor injuries or grazes to both of them.

Tuco seized his chance when he was dealt 3 action cards in a single turn.  He leaped out into the street (1st action) and aimed at the marshal (2nd action).  Before he could use the 3rd one to shoot, the marshal used his once-per-game Desperate action to interrupt.  Quickly raising his revolver, the marshal fired once and shot the villain dead!  [note: we realised later that the marshal was Ducked Back at the time and therefore should have needed to spend an action recovering from this before being able to shoot.  That would have changed things somewhat!  Oops.]

With his boss dead, Cesar decided to move off the street and seek more cover.  However, he hadn't gone very far when the marshal drew a full hand of 5 action cards (i.e. his own character card and all 4 of the Legend, Shootist, Gunman and Citizen cards).  Looks like Cesar is in trouble!

The marshal aimed and fired, aimed and fired, then fired again.  He expected to kill Cesar straight away and then to use the remaining actions to deal with the pesky Santiago (who was creeping up behind him).  However, an angel must have been watching over Cesar that day: although he took one serious wound, the rest of the shots were just grazes that didn't really inconvenience him.

The injured Santiago then managed to catch the marshal from behind.  The bandit's lucky shot hit the lawman's gun arm, thus rendering him unable to use his weapon.

Seeing this, Cesar dragged himself round the corner and shot the marshal again.  Although he didn't kill him outright, he did hit him in the legs.  Since the marshal could neither shoot nor move any more, we called the game at this point; the 2 injured villains could have finished him off without difficulty (and playing it out would be more reminiscent of an 1980's 18-rated torture movie than of a classic Western...)


In hindsight, the marshal didn't really stand much of a chance in either game, I think.

The Familiarity special rule was fairly useless as there were too many lines of sight in my town.  Even if the marshal had gone out of sight round a corner, the best he might have achieved with this rule would be to move 2 sides around a building.  I was hoping that he'd be able to disengage completely and pop up somewhere else unexpected (thus forcing the killers to separate to search for him!).

The Desperate rule worked nicely, but didn't give the marshal enough of an edge on its own.

Perhaps the most obvious rebalancing change would be to alter the victory conditions, so that the marshal wins if Tuco is killed (rather than Tuco and all his gang).  This would make the bandits exercise some caution with their most powerful character and might allow the marshal to even the odds a bit before the final confrontation.  I think I'd also downgrade Tuco to shootist after all - and probably replace his Deadeye skill with something less combat-oriented.