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.

normans-vs-anglodanes-saga-1

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.

 

How I Refreshed My Hobby Mojo

Most wargamers hit a rough spot once in a while. I make this generalization based on regularly encountering articles like my own (including an excellent piece in the recent WSS 87), most of which list a similar set of problems: lack of interest, lack of time, time spent reading and thinking instead of doing, and lack of partners. Last month, I could have checked nearly every box on that list. In the past week, however, my enthusiasm for this toy soldier hobby of ours returned full force!

progress-vaderThe motivational drags had been many, I think. Work and family demands cut into my hobby time, so I made very little progress on projects. I found myself thinking about and planning new projects despite having very little hope of ever bringing them to fruition. On the gaming partner front, I’ve met several others since moving this summer, but none of their interests match up well with my own, so joint projects are unlikely. Nobody else seems interested in planning activities either, which puts all of the administrative burdens and disappointments in my hands. After several recent last-minute game cancellations, I even found myself flirting with returning to GW’s warm embrace. Though 40k didn’t seize my interest, it at least seemed to offer easy access to gaming.

The demotivation trend reversed this past week, though. I think the explanation is multi-causal. For one, the semester ended, and with it grading and lesson planning requirements, and my family went to visit the grandparents–meaning my available hobby time exploded. Instead of five-minute snippets spent blog trolling and day dreaming, I suddenly had hours for painting. Also, I met a few new gamers in the area whose interests more closely align with mine…and all it took was a TMP post. The meeting led to a game of Saga. I built a warband for Saga a while back, though I have not located the Saga gaming community I anticipated finding in my new area. The Saga game was good fun and the others expressed interest in playing again. Miraculously, Gripping Beast announced their new Aetius & Arthur expansion a week later, which activated a long-repressed hobby impulse. Finally, the last bit of motivation I need to get that Romano-British collection moving!

While important, these external changes were not the most critical. Instead, I credit an internal mindset adjustment. A short meditation based on a passage in Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Walk book triggered this adjustment. In the passage that struck me, Hanh observed that many of us spend our days running toward things in the future, but that we would be happier if we just walked through the present. I realized that I needed to change how I approached the hobby. In constantly dreaming up intense new projects, I was just ron-swanson-memecreating task lists that felt like work, and I never realized any of those projects. I was also so obsessed with planning future projects that I stopped taking little steps toward achieving them, preferring instead to perfect a master plan before going forward. Take my 15mm WWII Ardennes project for instance. That one has been on the agenda for about three years now, but I haven’t got beyond buying a few figures because I haven’t settled on the ur-ruleset, universal basing system, and the perfect complement of table terrain.

My big mindset adjustment has been to slow down and enjoy what I am doing right now in the hobby. I don’t need the perfect plan. I just need to focus on one or two things and gradually feel my way through them. First step? Order a pack of Battlefront’s rural roads so that I can experiment with making them appropriately snowy. One step at a time!

My key lesson coming out of this experience is that I need to enjoy the process, and not just the end product. If I totaled up all my time spent on the wargaming hobby, actual gaming would make up only a small fraction of it. So instead of plotting that incredible mega-game that I’ll never quite finish (and much less play, given the constant need to introduce curious conscripts to my preferred systems), instead I can follow my whimsy and build/paint what catches my interest for as long as it catches my interest. I have enough work to do at the office. Who wants to come home to checklists and impossible deadlines in an activity that is supposed to be fun? Not me! Thus this year’s top goal is to keep things simple and follow my energy, wherever it goes.

Now it is your turn, dear readers. Have you experienced a downturn in hobby mojo? Did you recover? If so, how? What tips can you share? How do you think we can best approach our hobby to maximize our joy?

beast-mode

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.

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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

Big Axe Update … or, Saga Project Complete

One of my new year’s resolutions was to keep my miniatures hobby (habit) in check by working small batch projects to completion before buying anything new. So far, it has worked. This post celebrates the end of my first bite-sized project — a six-point Anglo-Dane force for Saga!

Check out my earlier posts where I address my force list and painting palette here and here. All figures used in this project were from Gripping Beast. These particular models are metals, available here. The models were generally very good and required little clean up. My only complaint is that some of the hands looked more like mittens, and the weapons fit a little awkwardly in them.

These twelve figures will all represent elite Hearthguard troops in Saga. Four are swinging my favorite period weapon–the Dane Axe! Skilled wielders were reportedly able to severe a horse’s head in a single swing. I would hate to be clutching a little wooden shield with one of those axes bearing down. They also remind me of my favorite workout implement, the steel mace. Maybe I will channel some hearthguard action tomorrow morning…

I look forward to fighting my first Saga battle, hopefully in the next few weeks. After I do, I will put up a battle report with my thoughts on the rules.

Anglo-Danes, Round 2! A Saga Project Update

Eight more warriors rallied to the banner this week! More importantly, my warlord made his appearance too. That brings my total up to 16 warriors (two points), 12 levy slingers (one point), and my warlord. On the painting bench are 12 heartguard (last three points). Soon, we’ll march to battle!

I was happy with the shading on the “unofficial warrior leader”‘s green cloak. The accompanying photos are intended less as evidence of that shading (because they don’t show it well), and more as evidence of my need for a better camera.

All the warriors have a mixture of clothing colors. However, I took some advice from a TMP poster and maintained the same cloth color variety as with my previous batch of warriors, so the whole force won’t look like an obnoxious rainbow. The spear shaft color should help tie the whole force together too.

Almost there!

 

Swords, Spears, and Slings – A Saga Build Project

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.Anglo Saxon Warriors 3

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:

  • Warlord
  • Hearthguard w/ Daneaxes
  • Hearthguard
  • Hearthguard
  • Warriors
  • Warriors
  • 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.