Saga “Age of the Wolf” Campaign Supplement Review

Tomahawk Studios’ Saga has captured my imagination and attention lately. Last summer I finished a six-point Anglo-Dane warband before we moved to a new state in hopes of finding gaming partners through the popular system. I recently connected with a few other new players. When Age of the Wolf (AotW) released, we bought up a copy as quick as possible. While we have had a great time playing one-off Saga games, AotW‘s campaign system adds a whole new layer of enjoyment. Now my Anglo-Danes have names and histories! Their heroic deeds and unfortunate failures echo from game to game, and my collection is starting to grow again. With our first campaign season complete, it is time to deliver a short review of AotW.

Campaign Mechanics

AotW‘s system is highly abstract and asynchronous. There are no meta-maps to track, no wonky points values to move around, and no need to have every player in the room at once. While campaigning on a big map where territories grow and shrink is a lot of fun, my experience is that complex campaigns peter out quickly. I have very little time available for my hobby these days, so I appreciate the flexibility of AotW. Armies don’t march across maps in AotW, but the campaign adds some extra meaning to game outcomes, a little character to your warband, and a lot of motivation to keep building and playing. The system’s flexibility is also a major asset. Players can easily jump in to the campaign, drop out, or temporarily withdraw without disrupting play.

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Anglo-Danes catch a Norman supply convoy in a classic hammer-and-anvil ambush

In short, the campaign plays out over six “seasons.” In each season, each player chooses one action (raid, campaign, defend) and one target. Everybody’s actions are compared together on a simple chart that generates the types of games to be played in the season. The whole process takes just a couple minutes. Players are then free to schedule their own games at their convenience within the realtime limits agreed to by the group. Can’t play a game this month? No worries…just pay the Danegeld in money or land and move on to the next season.

The campaign is built around the saga of your warlord. A few die rolls at the beginning of the campaign generate unique skills and traits for your warlord that turn him into something akin to a “Hero of the Viking Age” character. For instance, Tostig Bloodeaxe (my Anglo-Dane warlord) his favored by the gods (and so may roll twice on the post-battle fate table and choose his preferred result) and has a blood feud with another player’s Viking warlord. Tostig also has a “Conqueror” ability that adds attacks to units within M distance if Tostig himself is not in combat. Your warlord’s warband will grow and shrink each season depending upon casualties taken in combat and the result of fate rolls between games.

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Anglo-Dane hearthguard clear the woods of pesky Norman crossbowmen

Campaign scores are based on your warlord’s accumulation of land, wealth, reputation, and campaign victory points. The first three are usually earned as a result of successful campaigns, raids, and defenses respectively, though there are other options too. For instance, Tostig can gain reputation and wealth if he slays his blood feud target in combat. Pursuit of these various types of points adds depth to individual games. Take our last game for example: though my warband won (leaving behind several burning Norman supply wagons), my opponent actually walked away with bigger gains in reputation and wealth because he fulfilled his blood feud by wounding my warlord.

I won’t go in to all the details of campaign mechanics here. If you want more of those details, you can check out an extended run-down at the Harold’s Revenge blog.

Warbands start at four points, and the composition is limited by the amount of land (levy), wealth (warriors), and reputation (hearthguard) that you warlord collects. Ordinarily, warlords start with two of each (land/wealth/rep), so may select up to two of each type of unit. Players receive limited reinforcements at the beginning of each campaign season. After games, warbands lose figures as permanent casualties at a rate of one for every four models removed during the game. In the post-game phase, some fate roll results deliver reinforcements or unit upgrades. I am still confused about how “units” in the campaign tracker and “units” in the game relate. Can players balance their units in games for optimal dice generation or pursuit of mission objectives, as in a normal game? If so, how does one track which campaign “unit” took casualties? I need to do more reading. For now, we’re letting players reorganize their warbands in game. We then track how many of each type of unit (levy/warrior/hearthguard) took casualties and let the player decide which campaign units lose models permanently.

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Rogbert the Handsome and his warrior meat-shields go in for the kill against Tostig Bloodeaxe, the Anglo-Dane warlord and unlucky target of a Rogbert’s blood feud.

 

 

So, after our first season, would I recommend purchasing AotW? YES! The system is straightforward and simple to manage. Although built for the 1066-set, it could easily be translated for Crescent & the Cross. Plus the price is right at less than $20. In all, we have already gotten a fantastic return on investment in this supplement.

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The crucial moment. Tostig desperately fights for his life at the top (he escaped with a flesh wound) while the elite Norman knights confidently ride in for the kill in the center…a little too closely to some Anglo-Dane warriors. The subsequent Lords of Battle assault devastated and exhausted the knights.

 

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A Middle-Earth Brawl

Sometimes I get the itch to break out a golden oldie. Today, that was GW’s Hobbit Strategy Battle Game ruleset. Years ago, I played LotR SBG regularly with a terrific group of gamers in San Antonio. I haven’t had a game since then, though. To help me scratch the itch, two local friends came over and claimed a couple of commands. That doesn’t sound quite right, but…

I set up a simple scenario that featured a large band of orcs, led by a ringwraith and his lackies, attacking a small village. The village militia, not wanting their homes burned down, turned out to repulse the raid. Nearby, a small band of rangers led by Aragorn that had been stalking the ringwraith decided this was their time to strike.

Each player took a different faction (human militia, rangers, orc) and received different objectives. The orcs scored points for burning down buildings and killing leaders. The militia scored by keeping buildings standing and breaking the enemy force. The rangers scored for killing the ringwraith and orc captains. The forces involved were large for SBG at around a thousand points for the orcs, and combined thousand points for the men.

Eschewing subtlety, the orc commander rushed his force forward right down the center in a giant tidal wave of smelly evil. A giant scrum emerged in the center of the table. Unbelievable dice rolling and the decision to front-load the orc captains at point of attack led the town militia to collapse fairly rapidly. On the orcs right, the rangers burst out of a large forest to wipe out a small contingent of warg riders and pose a major threat to the flank.

The orcs isolated the militia’s right flank, cut down the militia captains, and surrounded the remaining men. In the center, the militia’s leader rallied a defense and joined in with the rangers to dent the orcs’ right flank.

Defenders Pocketed

Surrounded! (and doomed)

Seeing an opportunity, Aragorn plunged in to the brawl chasing the ringwraith. In a brutal round of combat (three attacks, three hits, three 6’s to wound), Aragorn smashed the enemy general.

We had to call the game soon afterward. The forces of men were a model away from breaking while the orcs still had around 15 models to go. However, in a classic wargamer move, the orc player opted to kill everything on the board instead of fulfilling his objectives. As a result, the forces of men decisively won in terms of victory points. Their keys to victory? Kill the ringwraith and die slowly.

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Aragorn (foreground) winding up to smash the ringwraith

 

 

This was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I always have a good time with the SBG rules. If I play the scenario again, I’ll shrink the forces to emphasize heroes, and maybe give each hero a particular task to accomplish. I should probably touch those orcs up at some point too. I bought them as a pre-painted lot off eBay. They look pretty good at gaming distance, except for a few of their bases.

First Saga Blooding – Vikings vs. Anglo-Danes

My new Anglo-Danes (build posts one, two, and three) fought to victory and glory this week in their inaugural battle! This was both proof of beginner’s luck and of the maxim that painted troops fight harder. The battle was also my first outing with the Saga system. I’ll say up front that I was really pleased with the game, but I’ll save details for later.

My friend invited me over to his place for this game. He had played Saga a few times, so he graciously showed me the ropes and eased me into the gameplay. A full report along with some great pictures can be found on his blog, so I’ll keep the details of the game short. I should note here that I really enjoyed his game board. It was a plywood top with sand glued on, finished with a few layers of thick paint and highlighting. The method is simple, but the effect was great.

 

Battle Report

We played 6-points using the Clash of Warlords scenario, in which the goal is to kill the opponent’s warlord. I took two points of warriors, three of hearthguard (four models had Dane-Axes), and one point of levy (slingers). I divided them up into two groups of eight warriors, one of eight hearthguard, one of four Dane-axe hearthguard, and the twelve-man slinger detachment. I lined the four larger units up with the big block of hearthguard in the middle. My warlord positioned himself behind the center with his four Dane-axe pals as a reserve.

My opponent brought a hard-hitting Viking list with four points of hearthguard (including berserkers) and two points of warriors. The Vikings felt like the yin to my Anglo-Danish yang. Where my abilities focused on loading opponents with fatigue, his focused on rapid fatigue removal.

During the game, my slingers put an end to the berserkers, though the single berserker who survived ranged fire took three models with him. On my right, one group of my warriors spent the game trading harsh words with a group of Viking warriors, though both

Insults

Trading harsh words on the right

were too busy watching the action in the center to enter the fight themselves. In the critical center of our battle lines, the Vikings carved through my troops. Fortunately, my Anglo-Danes dealt enough damage as they died that my reserve (four dane-axe hearthguard and my warlord) were able to finish off the Viking troops and isolate my opponent’s warlord.

 

Mustering his last two hearthguard companions, my warlord charged into combat against his hulking Viking opponent. My warlord escaped hits while inflicting four on his opponent. Surely it was the end—but no! Three of four hits saved on a 5+. In our second round of combat, the Viking luck didn’t hold. One of my hearthguard sacrificed himself for my warlord, and the Dane-axes laid low the mighty Viking raider.

I learned a few good lessons in my initial blooding. First, know your battle board! Each faction is capable of some effective combinations, but achieving them requires good dice management. I found that Lords of Battle and Exhaustion on the Anglo-Dane board are one of those combos. Second, play to your faction’s strengths. Third, plan ahead. If you blow all your dice and abilities on your half of the turn, your troops could be hurting in your opponent’s half. Fourth, some battle board abilities are more useful than others (see lesson one)—the combat pool, for instance, is usually an inefficient use of dice. Fifth, consider larger units of warriors. Saga is bloody and troops die fast—having more bodies on the field to absorb blows could prove useful.

 

Review

Overall, I really enjoyed Saga as a game. It is absolutely not a simulation of “Dark Age” warfare, but that’s fine. I didn’t expect it to be one…I hoped it would not be one. The basic mechanics are simple and easy to pick up—I had it all down within a couple of turns. The different battle boards and the randomized ability and activation availability created through dice rolling add a huge amount of depth and strategy to the simple system.

Final Combat 3

Good luck, boss!

Saga plays fast, which (along with its points system) makes it ideal for an evening game or a tournament. I finished my first game in under an hour-and-a-half, and that included a break to walk the dog.

 

I also liked that the gameplay fostered a narrative. With so much emphasis on warlords and scenarios, there’s a lot of character to enjoy. I can’t wait to pick up the new campaign system!

Finally, Saga involves a small up-front investment of time and money. The figure count is low and the terrain requirements are both minimal and clearly articulated. These factors make it easy to jump in, or convince others to do so. The low cost of investment also make Saga an attractive diversionary side game/project.

I strongly recommend Saga! Now I just need to study my battle board and find some players in New York…

First Hearthguard Charge

The Anglo-Dane Hearthguard’s First and Last Glorious Charge