- by Simone Render
SAGA is a scenario driven skirmish game. Instead of commanding vast armies of units in formation, SAGA players field small warbands of loosely grouped warriors, with the scenario determining victory conditions, terrain, special circumstances and the like.
Like most skirmish games, SAGA uses dice to determine the outcome of various actions and events during the conflict. The SAGA dice described during the introduction are used to activate various abilities unique to each faction. Additionally, SAGA uses regular 6-sided dice (d6's) during combat resolution.
Saga Dice of the Viking Age.
Recruiting a Warband
SAGA warbands are built to a specific number of "points" as agreed upon by the players. A smaller battle will usually be built to 4 points a side, while a standard engagement will be to 6. Larger battles may go up to 8, 10 or even 12 points.
Warbands are called to arms by a Warlord. The Warlord is your heroic leader, of whom tales are told in the mead halls and town squares. During the dark ages warriors prized renown above very little else, and would go to sometimes insane lengths to prove their courage or skill.
Every other model you include in your warband will be taken from one of three "classes". These are:
Hearthguard - Elite professional fighters who go into battle for honour and wealth. They are usually the warlord's personal retainers and household troops.
Warriors - Semi-professional soldiers who fight for duty. During the Dark Ages these were usually freemen who owed military service to their land and lord.
Levy - Unskilled conscripts often pressed into service, levy are usually effective only due to sheer number.
Depending on the class of soldier you choose, each point you spend will purchase you a certain number of figures. A point spent on Hearthguard, for example, buys you 4 models, while a point spent on Levy gets you 3 times that number. The levy don't give you any SAGA dice however, while the Hearthguard does, in addition to being powerful troops able to best many times their number of inferior soldiers.
Some factions excel as small, highly skilled strike-forces, while others have an affinity for mass formations. Learning what the strengths and weaknesses of each faction are and how best to use or exploit them is a big part of the fun and challenge of SAGA.
Distance and Movement
SAGA simplifies measurement by defining 4 range/distance bands: Very Short (VS), Short (S), Medium (M), and Long (L). This allows the use of a set of templates as opposed to a measuring tape, speeding up play and reducing the potential for arguments over missile range or movement distance.
At the start of a battle, each player groups the models they've included in their warband into loose formations of between 4 and 12 models. These move and fight as a single unit. The larger the unit, the more powerful and resilient it is, but the fewer SAGA dice you'll have available to you, so as when recruiting warriors for your warband, forming your warband is a careful balancing act.
When moving a unit, every model that forms part of that unit must stay within a certain distance of another member of the same unit. Players are required to move models, or when taking casualties, remove models in such a way that this rule always holds.
SAGA Fatigue Tokens and Measuring Sticks.
SAGA Dice and Battle Boards
Each faction has its own Battle Board, which describes the various skills, tactics and defences unique to it. In order to use these abilities, the player must have the correct number and combination of SAGA dice symbols, in effect "spending" the results of the die roll to activate them.
The number of SAGA dice you have available during a game is determined by both the type and number of warriors you field - generally, the more skilled and experienced your warband, the more SAGA dice you'll have. SAGA dice are rolled at the beginning of a player's turn, with the resulting symbols being assigned on the Battle Board to activate the various abilities.
This "Orders" phase of the turn is the strategic heart of SAGA, setting it apart from the vast majority of wargames. The player carefully crafts her plan of battle before any action is taken, weighing up her options while trying to anticipate what her opponent might do. Symbols can be used to activate movement abilities, attacks or special abilities, or may be held in reserve to defend against whatever your opponent might have up his sleeve.
SAGA Battle Boards.
SAGA uses 6-sided dice to determine the outcome of engagements, with the number of dice used on attack (the Attack Roll) again determined by the skill level of the warriors involved. A mighty warlord rolls 5 dice during melee combat for example, while a unit of lowly serfs pressed into service contribute only a single dice for every three combatants. Every die roll that meets or exceeds the target's armour value is a hit, though the target still has an opportunity to avoid injury through a Defence Roll.
As battle wears on, exhaustion eventually creeps up on even the fittest, most capable warrior. Fatigue is the great equalizer in war. Skilled soldiers make stupid mistakes, or miss critical opportunities, and it is usually the side that can capitalize best on the exhaustion of the other side that wins the day.
SAGA models this reality with a simple, elegant Fatigue system. Every time a unit takes a strenuous action it accumulates a Fatigue token. The OPPOSING player may then spend accumulated fatigue to hamper the unit or gain an advantage. A fatigued unit might have its movement reduced at a critical moment, for example, or the opponent might increase one of his own units' armour during melee, turning the tide of the battle. Fatigue can be lethal, and learning how to manage your own Fatigue while exploiting that of your opponent's units is another unique and challenging aspect of SAGA.
The SAGA ruleset is deceptively simple. It is easy to teach and to learn, but mastering the SAGA Dice and Battle Board system, or the finer points of Fatigue - those are aspects of the game that will keep challenging you no matter how long you have played. Every faction is unique, requiring a different approach whether you play the faction or against it, and as you gain experience using a particular faction, you'll keep finding new ways to use and combine its Battle Board abilities or other unique mechanics.
SAGA combines some of the best aspects of resource management and worker placement games with a fun, easily learned tabletop skirmish game. The package makes for a fascinating, unique experience that challenges experienced wargamers and new players alike.
Simone is a writer, coder, and all-round geek. She has a fondness for 80's and 90's cartoons, and has been obsessed with tabletop gaming since she bought her first DandD box at the tender age of nine. When she's not scribbling down ideas for her own games (Someday!), she's probably playing somebody else's.