Northern Fury Previews

For those that read my review of Saga  know I really really like the game and as news broke of a new expansion with new factions I did a merry little dance ;)

I thought I would share with you the previews if you missed it on the Tomahawk blog. And yes before you ask I have just ‘borrowed’ whole blog posts (minus the French bits) for you all to read. So away we go…

Bretons

HISTORY

Britons in two waves of immigration from the 380s AD to the late 400s gave the region its current name of Brittany, and contributed to the Breton language ‘Brezhoneg’, a sister language of Welsh and Cornish. Brittany used to be known in English as ‘Little Britain’.

It was originally divided into 3 small kingdoms that were eventually merged into a single Duchy that resisted incorporation into the Frankish empire founded by Charlemagne. After expelling the usual Viking problem tensions rose with the increasingly powerful Normans to the east, culminating in the war of 1064 – 65. The ruler of the Bretons, Conan II put up a spirited defence against William until he was assassinated by putting on a pair of poisoned gloves (!), a plot probably hatched by William himself. Following this the two Duchies were united by marriage and William was able to attract a substantial Breton contingent into his army of conquest in `1066.

THE FACTION

The Bretons have a very distinctive method of fighting given they are not great hand to hand combatants – in melee the Hearthguards have an armour value of 4 and the Warriors 3, however this is more than compensated for in their other abilities.

Apart from the Levies (no surprise) the Bretons are all mounted and use a range of weapons and tactics to make the most of this.

The Bretons are excellent ‘hit and run’ fighters, using the speed of their horses and the deadly effect of their javelins to wear down a less nimble opponent until they can safely go in for the kill against the remnants left alive.

The javelin is an excellent weapon for the Bretons as it can be used as part of a movement activation.

The key skill of the Bretons is being able to avoid melee until they are good and ready – they have the ability to move all mounted units as the enemy do their orders, meaning they can evade before the enemy do anything in their turn (DRE-HOLL), and can also break from melee if they have no foot units themselves involved (WAR DRENV). If they do happen to get caught they can also shoot javelins immediately before resolving the melee (ARGAD). Add to this the rest of the abilities enhance their shooting and you have a force that is very hard to catch and can do enormous damage.

All these nasty tactics comes with a price though, and the Bretons are the only faction that will never benefit from any Attack Dice bonus during a melee.

And of course they can be very frustrating to play against! Unfortunately my opponents are all very calm and collected when playing, but I’m sure it would be easy to get an opposing Warlord so annoyed at failing to get grips with the elusive Bretons that he or she will do something silly and leave themselves open to a sudden devastating attack!

CONCLUSION

The Bretons are a very different type of faction in the way they fight and may take some getting used to, as always the board needs to be read and used carefully to keep them out of harms way and maximise their shooting until you are ready to go in for the big finish. But they are great fun to use and you will hopefully enjoy all the practice you may need to get the most out of them, I can highly recommend you give them a go.

Also Norman cavalry can be used (especially the ones holdins their spears over-arm) perhaps with more unarmoured figures, and that makes them an easy faction to move on to if like me you are a Norman fan already.

Anglo-Saxons

Historical Info

This faction covers the period from the late 6th Century which saw the Viking conquests of Sven Forkbeard, the settlement of Jorvik (York) in the 9th Century and the establishment of the Anglo-Danes.

The 9th Century saw the rise of the Kingdom of Wessex and by the end of his reign Alfred was recognized as overlord by the southern kingdoms while Athelstan became the first king to have a direct rule of what is today considered to be England.

Aethelbert and some of the later kings of the other kingdoms were recognized by their fellow kings as Bretwalda (ruler of Britain).

What’s the Faction like?

The Anglo-Saxons differ from other factions as they are rewarded for fielding large units, the battle board reflects and encourages this and there lies their strength and weakness. As long as a unit comprises 10 figures or more the entire board is available to use but once below the magic number 25% of the board is closed to them.

In common with their Anglo-Danish successors they have several defensive abilities but they are more balanced with regard to offensive options, unlike the Danes, the Saxon Ealdormen and Warlord can be mounted but do not have the Dane Axe option, they are a good faction to take if you already have Danes as they use the same Saga dice.

The faction has two heroes of the Viking age, Aelfred the Great and his grandson Athelstan

Saga abilities?

Two key abilities for units are Stout Hearts which keeps your troops in the fight longer by increasing its constituent figures by 2 or 4 for Saga ability calculations (so an 8 figures unit that uses Stout Hearts gets to use the abilities requiring 10 figures or more) and The Muster, this allows you to activate any unit of 10+ figures with any dice so in the early stages of the game the Saxons are very mobile and offensive. A Warlord specific ability is Bretwalda which increases his armour and lets him re-roll any failed defence die so you can be a bit more daring and aggressive with your leader, as a lot of games are lost when the Warlord becomes isolated and overwhelmed, this ability allows you to make that mistake with a reduced chance of being punished for it.

To illustrate the large unit abilities, let’s take a look at Defenders of the Realm. For a single Saga Die, it gives two Attack or Defence Dice. But if your unit is made of at least 10 models it gives two additional Attack or Defence Dice, for a total of 4 dice. And that, for a single Saga Die.

Suggestions on playing them

During play testing we found that 3 points spent to field 24 Thegns gave 2 units of 12 which made them quite rugged when combined with Stout Hearts. The trick is to activate one unit and build all your Saga abilities around it for the turn rather than activate all units and get them worn down below the magic 10 too early.

Reviewer

Ty Grover-Jones, member of The Penarth & District Wargames club for more years than I can count with my socks off which is where I got enrolled by Mike Hobbs to help him play test the Saga rules prior to its publication last year.

Jomsvikings

Historical Info

We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow”.

During their existence, that lasted less than two centuries, the Jomsvikings took part in the endemic wars between the Scandinavian kingdoms. They are an enigmatic and intriguing group who according to the sagas lived a monastic-type existence in their home town of Jomsborg.

The Jomsvikings adopted strict laws with a view to increasing their fame and strength. No man older than fifty or younger than eighteen was allowed to be a member. No man must run from an enemy and each must avenge the other as his own brother. No one must speak a word of fear and anything of value was to be taken to the banner. Any who failed were to be expelled. They were thought to be great warriors and had few equals.

If a code of honour dictated life in Jomsborg, it is clear that it never ruled the relationship with the outside world as the Jomsvikings often served as mercenaries for whoever paid most, betraying their employer if needed.

Even though the Jomsvinkinga saga itself was the end product of much literary accretion and of marginal historical worth, their story calls out to us through the ages.

Overview

Your Jomsviking faction is led by a Jarl who will be supported by a core of skilled veteran fighters who are the Heathguards of your force. Less experienced recruits, known as Dreng (young lads) constitute the Warriors of the warband.

No Jomsviking would ever fight alongside a serf or a slave. Hence, the Jomsvikings are unique in that they don’t have access to any Levy troops.

All Jomsvikings have the option of being equipped with Dane Axes.

The faction introduces two new heroes of the Viking Age, Sigvaldi Strut-Haraldsson, Lord of Jomsborg and Vagn Akesson, fearless Brother of the Jomsvikings. Both these characters will strike fear in your enemies and bring plenty of flavour to your Saga games.

Saga Abilities

The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands, to fight the horde, singing and crying, Valhalla, I am coming

The Jomsvikings are driven by an angry, violent, or stern indignation referred to in game as – “WRATH”. Most of their Saga abilities depend on their level of WRATH. This level is tracked by a marker on a scale at the top of the Jomsviking Battleboard.

This WRATH level starts at 0 and will fluctuate throughout the game as some Saga abilities allow the opponent to choose between a given game effect and an increase of WRATH, whilst other abilities require WRATH to be expended.

The Jomsvikings prided themselves on their fighting prowess and their Saga melee abilities reflect this. “Hammer of Thor” causes a number of automatic hits equal to your current WRATH level or cancels that number of hits suffered by your unit, whilst “Holmgang” generates additional attack or defence dice equal to twice your WRATH level. However, the best abilities result in a decrease in WRATH, so you have to carefully judge when it is the right time to unleash your fury.

Tactics

“On we sweep with, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore”

The Jomsvikings certainly provide a challenge to play and are difficult to master. Like all the factions they have their strengths and weaknesses and in play testing I found them to be well balanced. Remember that SAGA is a scenario driven game and there are going to be some scenarios that are more favourable than others to your particular faction and the Jomsvikings are no exception to this.

Having no missile capability means that you can’t afford to sit back and soften up your opponent from distance. Likewise the absence of any “Levy” troops means no cheap mobile missile screen for your Hearthguard or Warriors who are vulnerable to shooting,

To help whether the storm the Jomsvikings have a couple of abilities that can be activated as a shooting reaction. “Pagan Faith” increases your units armour value whilst “Pagan Armour” reduces your opponents attack dice. You will find both come in handy as you try to close with the enemy.

The Jomsvikings are a faction that works best when used in a proactive manner. Like their Viking kin, they have some excellent close combat abilities but you need to build your WRATH level before being in a position to unleash them.

The key to playing with or against the Jomsvikings is managing their WRATH level. As their opponent you have to balance the trade off between allowing the Jomsvikings to use their abilities or build their WRATH.

Next Steps

“How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore of how we calmed the tides of war”

This is not a faction for the timid or feint hearted. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Jomsvikings are some sort of supped up Vikings, they aren’t. They require careful play and a steady nerve to achieve a successful result.

In play testing I lost more games than I won with them but found playing the Jomsvikings to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. The added dimension of successfully managing the WRATH level brings a layer of strategy that will be attractive to many players, whilst not impacting on the simplicity of the core game mechanics.

The new range of Jomsviking miniatures from Gripping Beast will certainly add to their appeal.

Reviewer

Wayne Richards (forum name Ceriath), Wargames Association of Reading. I have had the pleasure of knowing Alex and the Beastie boys for quite a few years now, initially through WAB. I believe that SAGA genuinely offers a new dimension to the hobby in that it successfully combines board game elements with figure play. The future developments planned for the game system are both innovative and exciting.

For more information about the Jomsvikings, there is a fabulous reenactement group called the Jomsvikings.

Scots!

Who are the Scots?

When you think of Scotland in the Dark Ages and the people who lived there during that whole period you would be forgiven for concentrating on the Picts as the only organised group, but living alongside them are the Dal-Riada

It’s believed that they originally came from Ireland and formed themselves into 3 or 4 large kindreds based on the West coast and islands of modern day Scotland, in fact it is argued that the Dal Riada were the first people to be referred to as Scots. During the 6th – 7tn Century the kingdom expanded until it came into contact with its neighbours which resulted in friction and bloodshed. At the battle of Degsastan in 603AD they were beaten by the Northumbrians and the kingdom went into decline for a while until it rose again and conquered the Picts to create the Kingdom of Alba in the late 8th Century.

It is this period when the Scots were lead by such kings as Kenneth MacAlpin and Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (Macbeth) that this faction covers

What’s the Faction like?

On first sight the structure of the Scot’s faction looks fairly standard, they can have a mounted Warlord or Hearthguard, but the majority of troops would be unmounted. It is these unmounted Hearthguard and the Warriors that give a bit of flavour and set the Scots apart from other factions. Traditionally they would fight on foot in close ranks using thrusting spears to wear down and disrupt the enemy attacks, whilst the levy would back them up using bows or javelins to further harass the enemy. In short the Scots are a defensive faction similar to the Anglo-Danes who delight in spoiling enemy attacks and wearing them down till they can counter attack and force a victory

Are there any good abilities?

The Scots have many abilities that are good defensively; they are excellent producers of defence dice which makes it hard to reduce their numbers in melee or via shooting but you’ll find that many of the abilities are only useable by unmounted Hearthguard or Warriors i.e. the spearmen blocks.

Whilst you would expect these blocks of spearmen to fight defensively and be able to roll lots of defence dice and shrug off fatigue, they also have a few tricks that can upset their opponents. One of these is the ability “Reach” this is an offensive ability used by spearmen blocks and it allows a unit to move forward and then make a shooting attack with a range of S, very nasty when used properly.

Another thing you’ll notice when using the Scots is the way abilities are designed to work together, some abilities generate extra Defence dice whilst other will then use these defence dice to generate extra attack dice, by using multiple abilities and really planning your attacks you can turn the momentum of the game in a single attack

Perhaps the nastiest ability the Scots have is one called “A Barrier of Spears” this allows you to potentially get an extra Attack dice and Defence dice for each figure in a unit, the higher your armour level the better chance you have for getting the extra dice.

How to Play Them

The Scots are not a faction for a new player they are difficult to master and require a good knowledge of the Battleboard if you want to win. If you are a player who plays Anglo-Danes and enjoys the style of play they give you then the Scots will suit you, however what’s different is the way the Scots are able to soak up punishment prior to making a decisive counter attack against a worn out enemy.

I tried many combinations of play when I playtested them, I used mounted units and levy to harass enemy units whilst the spearmen held the center, I tried large blocks of spearmen and slowly advanced, I even tried scattering small units around the table to support each other and each of these tactics worked to a lesser or greater extent.

However it took a lot of games to get used to the board and to work out how I should be using them properly, what I learnt is the Scots are a reactive faction, you have to let your opponent come to you and allow him to drive the flow of the game (well at least in the beginning) but there will come a point in the game when you suddenly play proactively and strike back at your opponent and claim the game. The problem is judging when to do that and I failed to judge it right a fair few times.

If you play against the Scots the only advice I can give you is to try and tempt them into combat whilst using missile troops to reduce their numbers. If you make them initiate combat then a lot of their abilities will be useless and then you can attack from a stronger position, again this is not always guaranteed to work.

Next Steps

Out of all the factions that being released the Scots are one that are really on my radar, I playtested them using my Welsh army (as they look similar) but I think I’ll be picking up a Scots warband in the near future. They are hard to play but really give you a different game to any of the other 7 factions I really like them

Reviewer

I’m Mike Hobbs (MikeH on the forum) originally one of the Saga Playtesters but now promoted to Saga Herald and co-designer of the new factions, I think both of these titles are only used by the big bosses (i.e. Alex and the chaps at Gripping Beast) as a way to give me lots of work to do in the support and development of Saga which I don’t mind a bit. I’m a long time member of the Penarth and District wargames club where you can usually find me every Thursday rolling dice with my good mates.

Hopefully this has whet your appetite for a bit of Saga I know it has for me :D

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