Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Crusading Clash - First Game of SAGA

A Syrian Emir prepares to lead his host to glorious victory over the Frankish invaders

Last week the Conscripts tried "SAGA: Crescent and The Cross" on the table for the first time.  I had completed a four-point warband of Crusaders back in the late winter of this year, and finished a four-point warband of Saracens to oppose them this fall.  It was time to get them on to the table for a showdown in the Holy Land, and last Thursday was the day!

Among our gaming group Byron is the only one who had any significant experience playing the unique "SAGA" rules, although he had not yet tried the "Crescent and The Cross". I was the next most-senior SAGA player - and I had tried it once, four or five years ago, with a game of Vikings vs. Saxons that my good friend Curt had hosted for me in Regina.  So safe to say that overall our group was still very new to the SAGA experience.

A view of the board at the beginning of the game - nobody wanted to touch the uneven ground in the wadi...the Saracens are on the left, and the Crusaders on the right.
And it is a unique gaming experience. SAGA fuses a basic and easy skirmishing system with an at-times-complex system of abilities and activations derived from a faction's "battle board".  Dice are rolled and allocated by players who must balance the use of the dice to activate the different elements of their warband with the use of special abilities that will help their warband succeed.  The "battle board" serves as a sort of dash board to command the warband.

Christian Knights move out...

Crossbows on the flank in cover, while stout spearmen hold the centre of the Crusader lines...

We lined up a very basic starting scenario, imagining a clash somewhere east of Jerusalem in the early 12th century. The victors would be the warband who gained more "slaughtering victory points" than the other. Sounds about right to me! Bill, Byron and Frederick played the Saracen warband, while Dallas, Mike and Dave V took up the Crusaders' cause.

Mounted archers ride forward on the Saracen flank.
While new to our group, I know SAGA is enormously popular in the gaming world, so folks reading this might chuckle that a pair of four-point warbands managed to occupy six gamers and one guy with charts. But given how new we were to the SAGA system, it worked out pretty well.  I certainly enjoyed watching the group planning discussions as the SAGA dice were rolled and decisions were made about which groups to activate, or which abilities needed to be used. Those decisions are the core of the game, and are where a lot of the fun lies.

Ghulams prepare to charge the Crusaders...

The Crusaders prepare to respond...
Bang! Lances are splintered, shields shattered etc...
The opponents opted for some careful missile fire early on, while maneuvering their Knights and Ghulams for charges to come later.  And charge they did! The Christian Knights crashed into the Ghulams on a couple of consecutive turns.  Blood spilled to the sand of the Holy Land as Knights and Ghulams fell in battle.  The Saracen horse archers, meanwhile, got the better of the Crusader crossbowmen, and the Crusader spearmen were not able to make much of an impression on the Saracen horse archers.

The forces clash! More fatigue tokens and fewer Knights are the result...

Ghulams holding the line...
The Warlord steadies his lines of Ghulams...
The Saracen players made the best of their battle board abilities, which seemed to me to be, in many cases, gambles of fate, which didn't always work out for them.  The Crusaders, for their part, tried to leverage their own powerful battle board, but found themselves restricted at times by the need to roll for "virtues" before getting access to some of the stronger capabilities.

Crossbows emerge to shower the Saracens with bolts...
But it doesn't seem to have an effect...
The Saracen spearmen stand ready, but were not required at the end of the matter...

In the end it was a narrow victory for the Saracen warband, and God was left to sort out the souls of the departed warriors...

I'm pretty sure we still screwed up some rules, but overall SAGA is a lot of fun. It is not (and does not try to be) an exacting or careful historical simulation.  It is more of a dramatic, story-driven clash. As I told the group last week, I have been wanting to play a miniatures game set in the Crusades for a long, long time, as the period is so fascinating for me. So it was a real thrill to finally see one happen! 

My terrier Spencer is exhausted from all of the gaming action, so he takes a nap on the floor :)

Hopefully we can try SAGA again in the future. In the interim, I'll try and bulk out the warbands a little bit, as six-point warbands would fill the table up a little more, and give the players some different options in terms of structuring their warband units differently (like a 12-model unit of warriors, for example).

Thanks again to everyone for coming out to play and try the new (to us) rules!

5 comments:

Peter Douglas said...

Great to see your lads on table Greg, looking very good! I confess that I have trouble with SAGAs mechanisms, which I find gamey. Have you looked at Lion Rampant?

Greg B said...

Thanks Peter. The game is a bit "gamey" but I found that to be kind of fun. I can see how it would not be for everyone, though.

I have a copy of Lion Rampant somewhere...

john de terre neuve said...

It is great that you finally got your SAGA troops on the table.

Maybe it is gamey but I have found after around 20 games I still am appreciating the nuance in the game. It is just a lot of fun. It takes a real long time to appreciate how to use the SAGA dice and BB. The fact that the movement, shooting and melee mechanisms are quite simple really lets you focus on the Dice/BB mechanic over the game play.

I have to say that I have played a few of the Osprey Skirmish games and I find them sort of boring, there is no C&C mechanism and the figures themselves contain all the tactical variability. Maybe it is just me though!

Anyway I think once you have 6 point war bands the choice you will have will increase and thus the decisions you can make will be more varied and challenging.

Michael Awdry said...

What a stunning looking game Greg.

Curt C said...

Yup, SAGA is very 'mannered' but I still think it's a hoot. Your stuff looks absolutely lovely BTW.