Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Welsh Warband in the Saga Tournament

Okay, now that I had my fun concocting the Chronicles of Culhwch webcomic, here's an "tabletop account" of my slice of the SAGA action.  

Each tournament session was divided into three rounds of gaming.  The first worthy opponent was my friend Scott, pictured above.  While here in the image below he is mustering his Norman warband:

From my brief experience with Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB)--and even briefer experience with SAGA--the Normans can be very tough to beat.  A Norman army/warband packs a lethal combination of heavy cavalry and missile troops (bows and crossbows).  Their typical tactic is to pepper the enemy with arrows and bolts; then when the enemy has been properly pin-cushioned, unleash a devastating cavalry charge to sweep all before them.  Their main drawback is that mounted troops don't get the benefits of cover, such as moving through the woods.

In our game, we never engaged close combat.  By the time our round of the tournament was over, about the time the above picture was taken, Scott was still doing a bang-up job against my Welshmen with the "...pepper the enemy with arrows and bolts..." part.

Round Two's worthy opponent turned out to be my friend Daryl and his warband of Anglo-Saxons.

Unlike the horse & missile-heavy Normans, the foot-bound Anglo-Saxons presented another challenge:  When clumped together in large units, they become stodgy defenders that are tough to break.

In the picture below, my javelin-wielding Welsh, have been driven back by one such Anglo-Saxon clump:

Prior to our game, Daryl and I had a discussion with other some other gamers on what makes SAGA so unique.  I liked his profoundly, succinct assessment of the system:  "Unlike other games, with SAGA you try to create epic moments."

Games like WAB have a basic combat formula, which goes something like this:  # of Attacks -- # of Saves = # of Casualties/Figures Removed from Play.

This is all fine & good, especially when dealing with large battles, because the formula's easy to remember and the game can move along smoothly.

But SAGA uses faction-specific battleboards (often referred to as "national characteristics" in other games) and "SAGA Dice" to provide players with temporary modifiers, called activations, you can dump on to your opponent--especially at a crucial point in the battle.

Here was one crucial moment in my game with Daryl:

While lightly armored, the Welsh can advance and throw their javelins at the end of their move.  A "free throw" so to speak.  Well I managed to get a couple of activations, like "Deadly Strike," which would have skewered most of the warriors in the nearest cluster of Anglo-Saxons.  However, Daryl responded with his "Shieldwall" activation to shelter his men from the rain o' javelins.

Even though I would have loved a different outcome (nothing personal Daryl!), it was a neat moment that illustrated the workings of the SAGA dice and battleboards. 

I also managed to pull off a few other Welsh tricks to slow down the Anglo-Saxon advance on the village I was suppose to defend.

Then I was able to get my warlord's hearthguard (body guards/elite troops) into action. Unlike my battle with Scott, this round saw plenty of up-close & personal combat.  

Despite my hearthguard's threat to the Anglo-Saxon flank, the clock had run out on us, and I lost too many troops to effectively hold the village.

Worthy Opponent #3 was Denise; who, by the way, was the winner of last year's tournament.

She was leading her Vikings on the usual seaborne rampage...

...while my Welshmen were to defend an unfinished fort against said rampage.  

The "unfinished" part proved to be my undoing. 

"Save us, oh Lord, from the fury of the Northmen," was a common prayer during the Dark Ages--and for a good reason.  The Vikings were firm believers in the "fast & furious" form of warfare.  That is:  They put everything into attacking.  Defense is for lesser breeds of men.

Oddly enough this makes Viking units somewhat fragile.  The trick for us lesser-breeds then, is to ensure enough of our warriors survive the initial onslaught.  In fact, I managed such a trick during this game.  Here, Denise's 4-pack of berserkers tangled with my hearthguard just outside the palisade: 

True, I only had one hearthguard guy left standing, but I did manage to put all of her berserkers on board the Valkyrie Express.

But despite the berserker departure to the hereafter, the non-berserkers remaining here on Midgard poured into the fort.

My Welsh warriors actually put up a good fight, but were driven back, leaving my warlord exposed to face his Norse nemesis. 

 In SAGA it's required, with few exceptions, for warlords to go mano-a-mano if they're within a turn's move from each other. I thought I had help from some of my surviving warriors.  However...

...Denise played her "Loki" activation--which she'd been saving the whole game--to mysteriously remove my three remaining warriors.  They either fled, succumbed to wounds, or came to whatever creative end one could dream up.

That certainly was a well-played epic moment.

The final curtain came crashing down when Denise's nearby warriors, to include a shield maiden or two,  dog-piled on to my warlord.

Notice how my bow-armed levies remained perched on the ramparts throughout the game?  Yeah, levies are cheap and plentiful, but can be hard to activate when there's more battle-hardened troops on the field.

Despite my short-lived saga, I had a blast playing SAGA.  There were enough epic--and even not-so epic moments to provide a tone and story arc for my SAGA-themed webcomic.

But win, lose or draw; I look forward to my next batch of SAGA games--and adding more Culhwch's Chronicles.


Zombie Ad said...

Looks like a fun tournament. I've played Saga a few time and it is an epic game and really does capture a heroic-saga feel

Ted Henkle said...

This was my first time playing and I really like the immersive feel of the game.