02 March 2018

SAGA 2nd edition text and video review

Earlier this week I received a review copy of the new 2nd edition SAGA rules as well as the Age of Vikings army book. I have been looking forward to a new version of the rules pretty much since I got into SAGA as I got into the game late and that meant that a lot of errata, FAQ and rules were spread out all over the place. Factions were spread out over several source books, the core ruled had been updated a bit by the Crescent and the Cross book but you still had to buy the core rules for SAGA in order to get the battle boards etc. It was a mess, but it is a great game so people (me included) endured.

Now the 2nd edition of the game has finally arrived, bringing with it changes both big and small to the rules and to the battle boards. But before I dive into what's new I will describe the game and the main rules. For those familiar with the rules from 1st edition and who are only interested in the changes, you can scroll down to "What's new".

The game
SAGA is a small scale wargame, where players field, usually up to 6 units per side, or roughly 30-50 models. It's a game set during the Dark Ages, and you play as classic faction such as Vikings, Normans, Scots and Pagan Rus among others. It is a game where players use the IGOUGO turn system, meaning that one player acts and performs all his actions including movement and attacking with all his units, before the opponent has his turn. The game at its core also uses regular D6 dice to  generate results in combat. The charm of the game has been the easy and accessible rules, with standardized unit categories, movement ranges, armor saves and easy to understand and quick to put together army building aspect. The core game you could say is very simple. What makes the game interesting however, is the addition of the so called "SAGA dice", "Battle boards" and the fatigue system.

All units in the game cost 1 point, with the exception of the Warlord that is the leader of your war band. All units, including the Warlord also generate SAGA dice, 1 SAGA die per unit. SAGA dice are used on a battle board unique to each faction, you roll your SAGA dice and place them on the battle board to perform unit activations and/or unlocking abilities that can be used in your own or your opponents turn. This system of play has a nice resource management twist to it, and toying around with faction abilities on your battle board if both fun and satisfying as it completely replaces things like "special rules" and having to remember what those special rules are. Everything you need to know about your faction and its abilities is printed on the battle board.

Combat is likewise streamlined and easy to grasp. Warrior are of different unit classes. You have the Warlord, which generates 8 combat dice, Hearth guard (elite bodyguard to your warlord) generate two combat dice per model, regular warriors generate 1 die per model, and levies/peasants generate 1 die per two models. All units also have a fixed armor rating, with the warlord and hearth guards having armor of 5, warriors armor of 4 and levies/peasants an armor value of 3.

In combat units will generate a combat pool, and roll their attacks against the enemy armor. If you score a hit equal to or higher than the enemy armor you have inflicted a hit. Saves are generally performed by rolling a 5-6 across the board.  There is naturally a twist to the simplicity at play here as well, with SAGA abilities being activated during combat to pull off special effects, increase your combat value or decrease the opponents combat value. The defending player may also opt to sacrifice half of his combat dice in order to "close ranks", which increase armor value of his unit by 1 and also allows saves to succeed at 4-6 instead of a 5-6.

Another layer on top of this easy core rules, with increasingly complex possibilities, is the "Fatigue" level of your units. As you are allowed to activate the same unit multiple times, a unit can make several moves or attacks during a single turn. However, activating a unit beyond the first time will tire your soldiers and they will accumulate fatigue. Fatigue is used as a negative resource by your opponent, and can be used in combat to make your warriors weaker and their hits temporarily softer . which increases your armor value. You can also decrease the armor value of your opponent, you can cancel enemy activation by spending two fatigue points, or decrease the enemy movement range by spending fatigue.

Suddenly the easy and at first glance simple game, has turned itself into this highly enjoyable and complex enough game and placed itself amongst the games that I play the most.

The books 
What is important to know is that the game is divided into two parts at this time. You have the core rules, which are 50 pages long and soft cover. They are meant to be used as the foundation for all future releases regardless of theme. The main rulebook and the rules will be used for anything and everything. The rules are well written, well laid out and feature lots of summary boxes and reminders on each page. They read well, and are easy to grasp. The look of the rulebook is very nice. The only complaints are that the rulebook is soft cover, and will likely wear and tear around the corners, and also the fact that the rulebook only comes with a single scenario. 

The scenario, Clash of Warlords, is a variant of the scenario from the 1st edition core rulebook. This version has more victory conditions and random elements to increase replayability, but the fact remains that there is but a single scenario at the moment to be played. I think you can, if you have the previous releases, play scenarios from 1st edition books. Or simply come up with ideas of your own. A scenario book is said to be released shortly. With that said, the main rulebook goes for about £10 which makes it affordable.

But to play the game you will also need to purchase the army book "Age of Vikings", for two reasons. One reason being the army list and compositions, special rules and special characters that are described for each faction within this book. The second reason is that you will get the "Battle boards" with the army book. The Age of Vikings book features 12 factions and corresponding battle boards. The price is £30 which may seem a bit expensive with the main rulebook - but considering what you get in this release it is still much cheaper than the many soft cover supplements, main rulebook etc that you had to purchase for the 1st edition of the game. As a bonus, the army book Age of Vikings comes with a hard back and is of excellent quality. The army book lists all factions, their abilities, their difficulty/complexity level and also gives you advice on how to play with or against them.

What's new
It is inevitable to compare the 2nd edition to the 1st edition. There are lots of changes big and small. First of all, the battle boards have been redone to look like the battle boards of the crusade themed releases, with common abilities on top, and special abilities at the bottom. This separation makes it clearer for players to know how and when the abilities can be used.  The battle boards have also been rewritten, I have not studied them all in detail, but Vikings and Anglo-Danes that we play frequently had their special abilities heavily tweaked, changed or rewritten. Oftentimes the changes have been to clarify the previous wording, but real changes that impact how abilities work are also very common. Imo the changes have made the abilities more leveled, and you may be inclined to use more and different abilities now as opposed how it  played earlier where you focused on a couple of things only.

Big changes regard the generated SAGA abilities, Warlords have been reduced from 2 to 1 SAGA die, Levies have received 1 SAGA die. Both levies and warriors can also lose the ability to generate SAGA dice if they are reduced in numbers from combat losses.

Warlords had their armor decreased to 5 agaomst shooting, but the attacks have been boosted to 8! 

Movement for cavalry, and infantry, is a bit different than before. But the rules mainly affect cavalry, that have to move in a straight line when charging, and can only break up their Long movement into two Medium ranges, using the second range ruler to turn/change direction.

Fatigue levels for all units have been made a standard of 3 instead of having individual unit class fatigue levels. This will affect the game a lot. 

Fatigue and SAGA abilities can now most of the time not be played together, players have to decide whether they use SAGA or fatigue against their opponent. However, fatigue effects such as lowering armor or increasing armor is now cumulative and can be done more than once.

Combat now has a cap of 16 close combat and 8 ranged combat dice in your basic pool. You cannot exceed this number without combining SAGA ability combat dice. In general the rules have been made easier for players to keep track of how many attack dice you can roll.

Likewise the defensive bonus has changed completely. You no longer sacrifice attack dice to turn them into defense dice divided by half, something which I always thought was a clunky system.  Instead you declare that you as the defender "Close ranks", which mean that you roll armor saves on a 4+ instead of a 5+ result.

Without a ton of experience with 2nd edition under my belt at this point, I still think it is safe for me to consider the 2nd edition of the SAGA rules to be a good improvement of a great game. The rules have reduced a lot of clunky parts in the well oiled SAGA machinery, and the new tweaks are really to my liking.

I really recommend the rules if you are unsure whether or not to upgrade your game from 1st edition. I also recommend the rules to new players that want a fast paced, easy to learn game with a relatively small number of models involved.

SAGA 2nd edition - Core rules £10

- Author: Alex Buchel
- 50 pages full color, soft cover booklet
- D6 based combat

- Utilizes battle board and abilities that are unlocked with SAGA dice
- Unit activation with SAGA dice
- IGO-UGO driven turn structure
- 4-8 units per army with 4 to 12 models in each. 

- 28mm scale

SAGA Age of Vikings army book- £30
- Authors: Alex Buchel, Arnaud Lapeyrade
- 72 pages full color, hard cover book
- 12 factions including: Anglo-Saxons, Welsh, Normans, Vikings, Anglo-Danes, The Last Romans, Norse-Gaels, Irish, Pagan Rus, Scots, Carolingians and Jomsvikings

- 12 unique battle boards
- Rules for legendary units, historical heroes and unique items and relics

 Both books can be purchased through Gripping Beast




  1. Thank you for the review of SAGA II. I found it very informative.

  2. Thanks for the review, I've been thinking about trying SAGA.

    1. Try to find a group and get at least two three demo games under your belt before you dive in. I did not like it the first time I played first edition, but a few years later I tried it again more in depth and after that jumped in and bought two full armies (Vikings and Anglo-Danes). It's a great game, but a lot of the interesting parts revolve around the Battle Boards, so it is easy to overlook that in a demo game.

  3. This is the best review of the new edition on line bar none. thank you so much. i will invest in this new game!

  4. Nice, informative review. Thanks very much!


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