18 September 2013

SAGA demo impressions, Vikings vs Anglo-Danish

This weekend I also managed to play a demo of SAGA, Andreas was running a demo with his miniatures that he is painting up for the historical convention in Copenhagen which we are going to attend in November.

SAGA is a game from the French manufacturer Studio Tomahawk, who are also responsible for the Muskets & Tomahawks ruleset which I love. Interestingly enough M&T was their first game but it was not translated into English until after the success of SAGA. It is also very interesting to see how very different both games are.

Muskets & Tomahawks uses card activation where you activate all unit  types such as Regulars, Militia, Indians etc. SAGA uses so called SAGA dice that generate specific resources that are used to both activate units and pull off special effects on the "battleboard". SAGA is also a strict IGOUGO experience, where each player activates whatever units he can before the turn is passed to the opponent. Muskets & Tomahawks is slightly different where it is randomly determined by a deck of cards who's turn it is.

Two different but well working concepts from the same manufacter.

SAGA is the more light weight and pretty much "Beer & Pretzels" alternative. It takes something like 5-10 minutes to learn all the basics and how to use the SAGA dice and battleboard. The game mechanics are super simple, with all infantry moving 6". You hit opponents based upon their quality, for instance elite infantry are hit on +5 in close combat. Saves are always 5+. And  that is pretty much how the stats work.

It would have been a very boring and bland experience unless the game had thrown in the "Fatigue" and SAGA abilities from the battleboard.

Fatigue in this game is super important. As units can be activated multiple times, as long as you have enough activation dice, they will grown tired and accumulate fatigue markers. Upon entering close combat each player can choose how to use the opponents fatigue markers against him. You can for instance use enemy fatigue to increase the difficulty for the enemy to wound you (being to tired to hit you hard enough), or make it easier for your warriors to hit the enemy (making the enemy too tired to defend themselves efficiently). Fatigue is generated in combat and during activations, and lingers until the opponent chooses to use it against you. As such a unit can have multiple fatigue markers - and thus be in great danger if  the enemy pulls off multiple combos using the fatigue against you. Fatigue can be removed by resting, which is activating a unit and doing nothing.

SAGA abilities tied to yoru battle board are also connected to how much SAGA dice your force has. You get 2 SAGA dice for your Warlord, 1 SAGA die for each elite unit and 1 SAGA die for every two regular units. SAGA abilities are faction specific and divided into 15 categories and 3 columns. The first 5 abilities and column is where you spend SAGA dice symbols to activate specific units and pull off weak special abilities. This column can be used multiple times each turn.

The two other columns (10 abilities) are a bit more potent and you can only use them once per turn. These represent faction flavor, such as being favored by specific gods or being able to use historical fighting techniques such as forming shield wall. It may take some time to fully figure out how to best use the battleboard for your faction, but the resource management each turn as you allocate SAGA dice to the battleboard is to me very interesting and a great twist on a otherwise very simple core game.

The demo lasted less than an hour. I had abysmal luck with my dice, Andreas rolled great with his dice, meaning that his small 4 man unit of elite warriors was able to kill my 4 man elite warrior unit and a 8man unit of regular warriors. Just bizarre, but Elite warriors are really good. I was hoping I would be able to crush his unit with two of my own, but you activate and resolve one unit at a time so coordinating such an attack proved impossible.

Final opinion, SAGA isn't really a fantastic game - it's a very light Beer & Pretzels set of rules were most of the game variation comes from the different factions and battle boards rather than the core rules. I also think that SAGA is one of those games that you pick up for the modeling aspect - painting a warband of Vikings or similar is great fun (and the models look really good). The downside to me is the unjustifiable high price of the rulebook which is a stapled 80 page soft cover deal (same goes for Muskets & Tomahawks really - but there you at least got a deck of activation cards). And the SAGA dice are also very expensive and you need a new set for each faction. You can exclude the SAGA dice and manage by using regular D6 dice where you write down which result corresponds to what symbol on the battle board (but that’s a bit boring).
The core rulebook includes 4 factions, and you have to buy additional factions in expansion packs of 4 in each pack. These expansions are also very expensive and only include a few pages and a cardboard battle board. The miniatures are really the cheapest aspect of the game which is quite bizarre.

Having tried out the demo I have to say that I quite liked the interaction with the battle board, and will keep the door open for a SAGA warband of my own (probably Jomsvikings or a Slavic warband) down the line. I know I will have my hands full with the imminent delivery of the Empire of the Dead kickstarter so I want to finish one 28mm project before I dive into another one.Another thing that makes me lean towards getting into SAGA is the possibility of being able to use the same minis for Brink of Battle if I want a more serious game - so there would be no real loss or bad investment in this project.


  1. I love Saga it fits my gaming needs perfectly and was the first historical period i ever began collecting in

    Whilst i agree with your about it being more game orinentated than a historical simulation it is definitly a great starting point for a new gamer i imagine

    Side note though warlords get 2 saga dice and all other units get 1 bar levy who are the least experienced troop type

    I believe saga will be entering alot of other periods soon, i think arthurian and crusades are in the cards so more good stuf to come also keep an eye out for jugular the studio tomahawk gladiator game which is getting a big demo at their grand melee tournie this year

    1. Never heard of the Gladiator game coming up, but look forward to it as I have a collection of Gladiators but no one to play with. Maybe this new game will change that.

  2. You hit the nail on the head, it's very simple rules with the variety coming from the battle boards. To keep down the costs, make your own dice - buy blank dice from the web and mark them up with paint or a marker pen. Or download the symbols from the Saga website, print them on to label paper and them stick them to your dice. There's decent replay value with the different scenarios too, each gives you a new set of problems to ponder.

  3. Hi there, as someone who's never played saga, how many fatigue counters do you need ideally in a typical battle? thanks x

  4. I would say about a dozen for a standard warband to be on the safe side.


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