- By Simone Render
PLEASE NOTE: All prices quoted in this article are as at the time of publication. Actual prices of items available via Pandemonium Games' webstore may since have changed.
Wargaming can be an expensive hobby, especially if you play games where great historical or fantasy armies clash, or if you field mechs, grav tanks and other futuristic weapons of war in some sci-fi epic.
SAGA is different. It's a skirmish game with only a few dozen miniatures to a side, and instead of relying on hundreds of different creatures or vehicles, SAGA's variety and interest comes from its unique rules and style of play.
In addition to their extensive collection of metal miniatures, Gripping Beast manufactures a range of plastic miniature kits for both SAGA and their historical mass-combat game, Swordpoint. The two games use the same range of miniatures, and the minis themselves are highly customisable so, whereas a Swordpoint player might build 40 spearmen from a single kit, a SAGA player can take that same kit and build multiple groups, all uniquely armed and armoured. This flexibility is apparent in the SAGA Starter Boxes, which we'll cover later on in the article, but it really comes into its own when one buys a Gripping Beast Plastics (GBP) or Swordpoint kit.
Gripping Beast's plastic kits represent great value for money, but it can still be a bit daunting to know what to buy and how to get started when you are new to SAGA, so in this article I'll be looking at a couple of ways in which a new player can build a tournament-ready warband on a tight budget. I'll also be building a couple of warbands of my own based on this article, and I'll be uploading weekly progress reports as I go.
Option One: Building from a SAGA Starter Kit
Gripping Beast currently manufactures two plastic SAGA starter boxes, both including smaller selections of sprues taken from their larger Gripping Beast Plastics range:
The starter boxes nominally cover Vikings and Anglo-Danes/Saxons, but are generic enough that they can form the core of almost any infantry-based warband with minimal modification. Each box contains enough components to build a 4-5 point warband, including a Warlord and retainer. Pandemonium sells these starters for only R380, and with a bit of creativity and selective additional purchases, one can easily bulk this out to an effective 6 points force with unique characters and units for under R600.
I chose the Anglo-Dane/Saxon starter box. Anglo-Saxons are an interesting faction that relies heavily on bigger formations of warriors.
Each Starter Box comes with 4 sprues of unarmoured warriors (taken from the Dark Age Warriors GBP Box), along with a single sprue each of either Viking Hirdmen or Saxon Thegns, the respective factions' Hearthguard. The box also contains a leader sprue for the particular faction, as well as enough round bases for all the models. These are pictured below:
Saga round bases.
The 4 Dark Ages sprues equate to a total of 20 unarmoured bodies, which splits perfectly into one unit each of Warriors and one of Levy for a total of 2 points. Saxons benefit from larger units armed with spear and shield, so it makes sense to arm all 20 models identically. Viking and Anglo-Danish Levy typically use slings or bows instead. With 4 sling hands on each sprue there's more than enough to build a levy unit of 12 slingers. The remaining 8 Warriors can be outfitted with shield and either spears or sword and axe - there's one of each per sprue, for a total of eight.
Regular Warrior units could typically afford slightly better arms and armour than Levy, so it was common for these freemen to own a helmet in addition to their shield and weapons. The Hirdman/Thegn sprue contains 4 extra heads, all with helmets, making them ideal for use with the 8 Warrior models. I'm planning to use an extra 4 helmed heads for my Warriors and then just have a couple of my Hearthguard fight without their helmets. Having them wearing mail will still identify them clearly as Hearthguard, and the greater variety of heads should add a bit of visual interest to the units.
Speaking of Hearthguard, the respective sprues each come with 10 mail-armoured bodies. The models on the smaller leaders sprue are meant to serve as the Warlord and musician of your warband, but if one uses them as 2 additional Hearthguard instead for a total of 12, you can make 3 full units, with a distinctive champion in one and a musician in another. A Warlord can then be purchased seperately or proxied in from another Warband.
So far we've covered 5 points - 3 units of Hearthguard, along with a unit each of Warriors and Levy. We still need a Warlord, along with an additional unit of fighters. Pandemonium Games sells metal Warlords for R50 each, or heroes like Ragnar Lodbrok or Alfred the Great starting at R70. Units of specialist Hearthguard such as Viking Berserkers and Anglo-Danish with Dane Axes start at R120. Going with the unnamed Warlord, this brings the total investment to only R550 for a full 6-point Warband, or by spending the extra R20, the Warband can even include a great hero of the Viking Age as its leader.
Option Two: Share a Pair of GBP Boxes with a Friend
The second option is to buy Gripping Beast Plastics kits and assemble them to SAGA unit sizes. This is ideal if you and a friend both want to get into SAGA, or if you're building more than one Warband.
Gripping Beast manufactures a number of different plastic kits, including ones covering the late Roman army - ideal for Aetius and Arthur - as well as both Arab Infantry and Cavalry, which could be used for either SAGA Dark Ages or for the Crescent and the Cross. For our purposes though, we'll be focussing on the following three boxes:
Pandemonium Games currently sells each of the Gripping Beast Plastics kits for only R380.
I went with the Viking Hirdmen kit in addition to a box of Dark Age Warriors. The Viking Hirdmen sprue has a wide variety of weapons and other options, including a handful of Dane Axes, javelin shields and various other choices.
GBP03 Dark Age Warriors contains 8 of the same sprue of unarmoured warriors as the 4 included in the SAGA starter boxes. This allows us the option of splitting them equally between two warbands, or alternatively of building a large contingent of freeman and serf soldiers, such as an Anglo-Saxon force would benefit from. Each sprue includes options for sword or axe, spear and javelin as well as multiple slings, allowing the builds to cover Warrior and Levy units for most of the infantry-heavy factions.
Adding to this, we can purchase either GBP01 Viking Hirdmen or GBP02 Saxon Thegns. Each of these boxes includes 4 sprues of hearthguard models, along with 2 of the respective faction's plastic leader sprue. A SAGA starter box contains one of each, so again splitting the contents of the box between the two warbands, we end up with the same contents as included in the starter box, in addition to an extra sprue of hearthguard each.
Assuming an equal split, this nets each player a total of 20 unarmoured Warriors or Levy, in addition to another 20 mail-armoured miniatures that could represent either Hearthguard or wealthier freemen Warriors. Depending on one's build choices, each warband ends up with up to 5 points worth of Hearthguard, along with a point each of Warriors and Levy. The collection is rounded out with a Warlord and and either his bannerman or musician, for a final total of 42 miniatures per warband at only R380 each.
Sharing a pair of Gripping Beast Plastic kits with a friend is a great way to get started with SAGA, at very little cost. You get 7 points worth of Hearthguard, Warriors and Levy, giving you some strategic flexibility, along with a Warlord and a Support unit. As with the SAGA starter boxes, you can then build on that with one or two unique Hearthguard or Warrior units, a more distinctive Warlord and later on perhaps a Priest or Standard Bearer. Even if you decide not to though, your initial warband will be competitive and provide you with many great tabletop battles.
Just one final thing to keep in mind: The Gripping Beast Plastics and Swordpoint kits come with square as opposed to round bases. These are perfectly legal for use in SAGA, but it bears noting.