A few years back I was involved with a fantastic gaming group that played a lot of Games Workshop’s Lord of the Rings strategy battle game. Thinking about many of those afternoons and evenings battling in Middle Earth brings back some fond memories. The system created some of the most cinematic of my gaming experiences—I especially remember a lone hero beating back hordes of orcs at the top of a narrow staircase. I grew to love some sword, spear, and bow skirmish action.
Having painted a lot of 15mm WWII figures lately, I felt an itch to break out some chainmail-clad 28mm figures. We’re also moving soon, so I wanted to start a project that would port well to a future gaming scene. I hit on Saga pretty quick. It’s popular, quick, tournament-friendly, and set in a Dark Age/early medieval period that meshes really well with my Lord of the Rings collection. Finding a group who plays Saga, or who is willing to learn, should be easy. That’s all the encouragement I needed to start a new venture.
This post is an update on where I am so far…which is actually pretty close to the end of my initial foray.
Building My Saga Force
First comes the warband. Typical games pit two warbands against one another, each worth six points. First comes your warlord. He’s stacked with a few special skills and generates two Saga dice (what you use to activate units and abilities). He is also your best fighter. Three other classes of fighters are available for purchase: hearthguard (elite), warriors (regular), and levy (spear sponges). One point purchases four hearthguard, eight warriors, or twelve levy figures. Players can organize the figures they purchase within classes to form units. So, if I bought 24 warriors (three points), I could make any number of different sized units: two of 12, three of eight, etc.
This is my first warband. I chose the Anglo-Danish because their battle board and style of play appeared to align best with my conservative tendencies. This play style seems like a good way to learn the ropes. Here’s my first warband build:
- Hearthguard w/ Daneaxes
- Levy with Slings
That’s six points. I intend to run two units of eight warriors, one unit of eight hearthguard, one unit of four hearthguard with daneaxes, and the unit of levy. The levy don’t generate a Saga die, but the four units plus my warlord generate the maximum pool of six dice, which appears to be a magical force build requirement.
I envision fighting more or less historically, which means a boring shield wall. I plan to use the daneaxe hearthguard as my warlord’s bodyguard and heavy-hitting reserve. The three eight-man units will basically form a shield wall, and the levy will harass the enemy and try to avoid dying too quickly.
Adding Some Color
All figures pictured here are from Gripping Beast. In fact, all represent a mixture of plastics from their “Dark Age Warriors” and “Saxon Thegns” boxes. The models are terrific—very few mold lines, easy to remove from the sprue, tons of easy customizability, and great value for your money. My only complaint is that the slingers can look a little awkward. I advise experimenting with the different torso and arm options if building the slingers. Some of mine look like they were drafted straight from the village’s slinger amateur hour. I have no doubt they will perform appropriately.
All of my warriors are helmeted, though I used some of the torsos from the “Dark Age Warriors” box so that they are not all in chainmail. If I make a levy unit at some point, then I will use only the bare heads to differentiate. I also made a “leader” figure per each eight warriors. This is not necessary for Saga, but I wanted a few characters available when these figures inevitably see action in Middle Earth.
I base coated all figures in black. Next I drybrushed the chainmail in a couple of successively lighter shades. I painted the clothing a mix of different colors, everything in a three-up scheme. Some of the warriors also have hem borders in colors to set them off. I intentionally did not write down which triads I used so that each batch will have a different smattering of color. These boys shouldn’t be uniform. I did use a few common colors to tie units together, though. All spear shafts are in VJ Desert Yellow over GW Bestial Brown, for example. I pull the brush in long streaks when painting the yellow color in order to leave some dark brown streaks showing to represent the wood grain. The effect is subtle, and not especially eye-catching compared to some of the work I see on the internet, but it works for the tabletop. Painting these figures is fun and easy—just pick a few colors and go. You can’t really go too wrong.
The shields are white with a GW Skrag Brown border. I applied Little Big Man Studios shield transfers over the white. These transfers are amazing. They go on so easily and look fantastic. I could never achieve such detail freehand. Some of the transfers come complete with weathering and tears. If you’re painting up some dark age figures, do yourself a favor and order from LBMS—you won’t regret it.
A Cozy Saxon Village
One of Saga’s helpful features for the new player is its explicit terrain requirements. Players place terrain in a well-defined pre-game sequence, so one can easily calculate the number and type of terrain pieces necessary to meet any contingency. I already have most of the basics on hand, but a few more trees in 28mm (I usually game in 15mm) and a small village (two small buildings, one medium, and an animal pen) were needed.
You can see the fruits of my labor here. I’m happy with how it all turned out! The buildings, fences, and cart are from 4Ground, and I made the bases out of MDF. These structures look good straight out of the bag, but do take care to brush the teddy bear fur roofs with watered-down PVA or they will take on a disturbing Trump-like appearance.
The trees are also from 4Ground. I love them, as with most of what that company produces. They are a little on the pricey side, but they are a step up from my Woodland Scenics collection and come with pre-cut MDF sabot bases and trays.
Finally, the pig-roasting fire pit is from Architects of War, as are some miscellaneous farm animals not yet painted or pictured. I picked these up as the company was going out of business. I like the scenic items, but the company’s service was terrible. They happily took my money for a Gripping Beast special order, then never bothered to fulfill it. I’m still in arbitration over that one…
Look for more Saga here soon! I will post another short update or two as I finish my warband. If you are a Saga player, please chime in with tips!
I am looking to scratch an itch for some company-level WWII action over the next couple of weeks, so look forward to a few posts on that front too. Next weekend I will test out the Battlegroup ruleset. The week after I have plans to test a modified version of I Ain’t Been Shot Mum (IABSM)…we’ll see if it gives a more satisfying game in a system with so much potential.