My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Falling Dominoes of the Mind

One of the reasons that I like to collect rules is because I have this nasty tendency of taking a bit from here and a bit from there and using it to tweak other rule systems. Sometimes when I latch onto a new system, I am amazed at how something reminds me of this other system, which is like this other system over there, and so on. Like dominoes falling in your mind.

Case in point was (some time back) finding a set of rules using Warhammer 40K figures and lore, but rules nothing like Warhammer 40K itself, in any of its incarnations. I started work on expanding it – largely because it covered only two army lists, one of which I did not have – but I kept getting tripped up over certain details. (By the way, the rules are the SciFi Company Action rules at Grid-based Gaming (but not always).)

The main issue was I did not know that these rules were heavily based on the Tank on Tank rules by Lock n' Load, which I was not familiar with either. So I didn't 'get' the concepts behind them. Thus 'tweaking' them wasn't working.

To make a long story short, Tank on Tank is listed as an introductory board game focusing mainly tank battles of WW II. It does, however, include infantry, artillery, anti-tank guns, supply, positions, and air power, so it is not tanks exclusively. Although there are stat lines for each counter, which seems to represent either a platoon or company of the unit type, they are not detailed stat lines like you would find with other WW II games that include tanks, like Flames of War, Bolt Action, or Tank! Actually, there are only three stats: range, defense, and movement. Interestingly there is no offense or firepower stat. (A variant does sort of add an offense stat, but it is more of a modifier. More on that later.)

So, a Panther would have a range of 3 hexes, a movement of 2 hexes, and require a die roll of 10 or more on 2D6 to be destroyed. A Sherman on the other hand, has a range and movement of 2 hexes and require a die roll of 9 or more to be destroyed.

Now, you may be wondering, doesn't the Panther get a bump in killing the Sherman because of its better gun? No. Whether firing from a Panzer IV or a Panther, it still takes a 9 or more to destroy the Sherman. I think this is largely because of the scale of what the counter represents. It is not a single tank, but rather a unit of that tank type. Largely the lesson of this rule set is concentration of firepower and that is reflected in the primary modifier to the die roll is adding the number of units that are firing upon the target. So, if I have two units firing on the Sherman unit (let's call it a platoon), you receive +1 per unit firing at it, with an additional +1 if one or more units are firing from the flank. (There are also terrain modifiers. You can download the rules for free if you want to explore it more thoroughly.) As you can see, putting more units on the target increases the chances of taking out the target. Killing the King Tiger, with its Defense of 12, is done by putting more firepower to bear on the unit, especially putting at least one on the flank, so you have a decent chance for a kill.

This started me thinking about the rules Ritter, Fusilier, Ein Ritter Spiel, etc. that I reviewed some time ago and played a test game with. The concept in those rules was to also bring multiple units to bear on a single target in order to achieve a kill, for example three musketeers firing on a single infantry unit will defeat it. I have always wanted to make a more modern version of Ein Ritter Spiel and it seems like combining these two offers an interesting, if simple set of rules. Ein Panzer Spiel!

Actually, I always think it is better to get the role of infantry right first, so I started thinking about the role of machine guns and rifles. How many WW II rules have you played and you thought that simulating the tactics of covering fire and maneuver just didn't play out in the rules? Bolt Action and Flames of War come to mind for me. (If I remember correctly it worked out fine with Hail of Fire though.) Bottom line though is fire and maneuver, suppression fire, and killing fire all need to be modeled out.

For example, you could create these rules to model suppression fire:
  • A machine gun unit will suppress the fire of an infantry unit for the remainder of the turn.
  • Two infantry units can suppress the first of an infantry unit for the remainder of the turn.
Now let's look at a corresponding set of killing rules:
  • A machine gun unit and one infantry unit will kill an infantry unit in the open that they both can target.
  • Three infantry units will kill an infantry unit in the open that they all can target.
Using this idea as a basis, I could see developing a set of deterministic combat rules based on the Ritter Spiel model. That said, I know that deterministic combat systems are not that popular. Everyone likes to model chaos by adding a chance element.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Saga – Comparing the Anglo-Danish Between Versions

My favorite faction in the the first version of Saga were the Anglo-Danes. The ability to have those Danish axes were what made it for me. (Of course, that was before The Raven's Shadow and the Norse-Gaels were introduced, which combined two of my favorites: the Danish axe and the javelin.) Other than the Vikings and the Aztecs (I made my own battle boards), they were the ones I played the most.

Naturally, given the cost of the new Saga: Age of Vikings supplement, many people are wondering:

  • Are there really significant changes?
  • Can I get away with just changing a few words on my current battle boards?
  • Do I have to buy it?
So, I decided to drill down and go through the Anglo-Danes faction information and battle board and see for myself. If you do not play Saga, and have no interest in Saga, you can probably skip this post.

Faction Rules

In the original rules, the Danish axe itself was a faction rule. Now it is lumped under the heavy weapons equipment rule. Note that the new heavy weapons rule is slightly different than the old Danish axes.

The selection for troops and equipment is exactly the same between the two editions.

Battle Boards

Basic Abilities

Huscarls had a minor word change that has no effect on play. Ceorls changed to Fyrd, but only had minor word changes that has no effect on play. Geburs changed to Great Fyrd, but only had minor word changes that has no effect on play. Activation Pool had only minor word changes.

Combat Pool was the only significant change amongst the basic abilities. In the old version it could only be played for Melee or Shooting activations, but in the new version it can also be played as a Shooting Reaction. This further reinforces the Anglo-Danes defense against shooting, as several advanced abilities do also. Combat Pool is still not an efficient use of dice, however.

Advanced Abilities

Let's start with the abilities that share the same name between versions.

Noble Lineage had two options in the original version. The new version maintains those two options, but if a Rare die is used, you are granted both options.

Intimidation allowed you to cancel an activation of a specific unit during the Activation Reaction phase in the old version. The new version is less powerful in that it effectively lets your opponent choose which unit is affected (by having you play it in the Orders Reaction phase), and it puts a fatigue on them (two if you used a Rare die) rather than canceling their activation. Given that there is now a general rule for canceling activations using fatigue, it makes me wonder whether you can still cancel that activation if they have enough fatigue (two or more). A close reading of the rule leads me to believe that you can.

Shieldwall now costs less, using two Common dice rather than one Common and one Uncommon, but the effects remain the same.

Unforgiving used to inflict an additional fatigue on the enemy, after the melee had finished. The new version inflicts it immediately, but no longer allows you to spend the enemy's fatigue in that melee. Given the ability for a Warlord to cancel a hit by taking a fatigue, this is equivalent to one extra hit on a Warlord. This is a great ability to use when you are planning to attack the enemy Warlord.

Now let's look at the abilities that changed names.

Trapped is now called Exhaustion (which ironically was the name of an advanced ability in the old version) and are the same.

Hard as Iron is now called Like Rocks. Hard as Iron used two Common dice and was used in the Melee phase. Like Rocks used a Common and an Uncommon die and can be used in both the Melee or the Shooting Reaction phases. The effects, however, remain unchanged. Again, this is another ability that increases the Anglo-Danes defense against shooting.

Stubbornness allowed you to gain one attack die, plus an additional attack die for every fatigue the enemy has, without spending that fatigue. It cost either an Uncommon or a Rare die. Determination gives you, for an Uncommon die, three dice (of any mix of attack and defense dice) plus one extra die (of either type) for each fatigue on the enemy unit.

Now let's look at the abilities that were dropped. 

The Push was a powerful ability that, if the Anglo-Danes won the melee, they could effectively take another swing at the withdrawing enemy. It was a bit of a gamble, as you had to commit to the ability before the melee was resolved, but it only cost a Common die.

The old version of Exhaustion allowed you to target an exhausted unit during the Orders phase, eliminating two figures in the unit in exchange for one fatigue. Although it only cost an Uncommon die, it had limited use because of the requirement that the unit be exhausted and you could not target a Warlord.

Last there is Lords of Battle, which sounds similar to the new Determination, but was more powerful at a higher cost.

Finally, let's look at the new abilities.

Crush the Weak grants you four attack or defense dice if your enemy is armor 3 or less, at a cost of a Common die. This seems to replace The Push.

Shock departs from the other advanced abilities in that it is one of two new abilities that are played during the Activation phase. Basically it allows a unit to charge and the charged unit cannot close ranks. As I am still unsure about the value of closing ranks, I am sure about how valuable this is as a counter.

Lord of War is the other, new ability played during the Activation phase. Given my playtest (last two blog posts) I can really see the power of this ability, all for the cost of a single Rare die. Being able to shed all of your Warlord's fatigue with a single die in addition to boosting the Warlord's armor to '6' (remember he is normally a '4' because of his heavy weapons) is really nice, even if it is pretty situational.

Summary of Battle Board

The Anglo-Danes still emphasize dumping fatigue on the enemy and benefiting from it (four abilities). Given that the core rules now give all factions the ability to spend enemy fatigue to cancel an activation and to slow their movement, those old Anglo-Danish abilities that did that had to change. As indicated above, I noticed that more abilities can be played in reaction (three) and more affect defense dice or armor (four).

The Anglo-Danes remain a melee-oriented army (there are no abilities that affect shooting, save Combat Bonus) that can hit hard and occasionally turtle when needed.

Heroes and Legendary Units

First off, full disclosure: I never used with any Heroes, Swords-for-Hire, or Mercenary units in the original version. It felt too .... Warhammer 40K to me. Maybe if I were doing a semi-historical battle, it might induce me, but I always felt the scale was way too small for using them. Just like I did with Warhammer 40K...

Harold Godwinson, Last Anglo-Saxon King of England

Being a super-Warlord, Harold used to receive one extra Saga die than your normal Warlord, for the cost of one point. That is no longer true. That is still true, except that it is two Saga dice now, rather than three because of the change in the number of dice that a normal Warlord receives in Saga 2. Further, Harold and his two brothers have all lost one in melee and shooting armor, while the brothers still have the same attack dice. The final ability allows the heroic unit to shed the first fatigue, with the difference being that in the old version it was only during your turn, while in the new version it is in both your turn and the enemy turn.

Basically the heroic unit is an understrength Hearthguard unit that still hits as hard as previously (six dice), but with worse armor. They can shed fatigue better, which allows you to turn rest activations into other types of activations, but overall they seem brittle.

Cnut the Great, First Anglo-Danish King of England

For your extra point you previously got one extra Saga dice, and but again, that no longer applies. Also, the ability to roll seven dice initially rather than six has also disappeared. Now, Cnut still gets three Saga dice (which is two more than normal), but loses the ability to roll seven dice initially.

For equipment options he can still be mounted on a horse, but if dismounted he must be armed with heavy weapons whereas previously it was optional.

On a personal level, Cnut is a better Warlord, as his Resilience is 2, so he will be very hard to kill, given a decent unit of Hearthguard to protect him.

The final ability is that he can use either the Anglo-Danes or the Vikings battle board. Originally, he could use both, splitting the dice however he wished each turn, but now he can only use one or the others, with all dice discarded off of the old board when switching to a new board. Definitely less powerful than previously, as it is easier to build up a battle board in the current version.


Well, as you can see, there were changes to the battle boards and to the legendary units, some changes quite significant. Honestly, I don't see you being able to 'patch' the old battle board to match the new. You might forego the changes, but it will definitely not feel like the new Anglo-Danes. It basically fights the same way as before, but gaming in Saga is all about finding those synergies between abilities. Now with the core rules allowing you more basic options than previously, there are even more synergies at play. Better to use the battle board designed for the new rule changes.

Would I go back to Saga version 1? The fact that I stopped playing the rules for five years hints at my answer. In a word: no.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Playing Saga 2 – Part 2

Picking up where I left off in Part 1...

Turn 2


The Anglo-Saxon Thegn charge was significant in that it reduced the Thralls to less than six figures, resulting in one less Saga dice for the Vikings. Fortunately I rolled a Rare, so I could roll two additional.

There was one die for the Bondi (to move) and two dice for the Thralls to rest, move, and shoot. I still had a die on Heimdall, added one for Frigg, and one for Loki. One die went into the Combat Bonus.

This turn was mostly about recovering. The Thralls were mostly dead so I wanted to see if I could pull the Thegns farther from the hill. I had them rest, then moved them to the left, throwing their javelins at the Thegns. They got three dice, plus one for the Combat bonus. I decided not to use their fatigue, as I could use that to blunt their charge next turn. I needed a '4' on the four dice and scored three hits, but two were saved. Finally, a casualty.

The Bondi move towards the right flank of the hill.

The Warlord rested, removing a fatigue.

The turn ends with the Vikings still having Frigg, Heimdall, and Loki active, and the Anglo-Saxons still having Truce active.

Turn 3


As I had posted Part 1 of this report before playing this turn I did not have the benefit of the wisdom of the Saga community. One reader, Antonio Carrasco, pointed out that in this version Warlords only produce one Saga die now, not two. Despite telling myself that I was going to play through slowly and doublecheck all of my assumptions, my eyes read right past this one! As I had been playing it wrong equally for two turns, I considered it a wash. But starting on turn 3, I decided to play it correctly.
I kept the die for Truce on the board and rolled FIVE dice. I got a Rare, so I spent it on Activation Pool and rolled two more. That left me with three Commons, two Uncommons, and a Rare.

Given that my goal was to use the Thegn as a force to harass the reinforcements I had the choice of wiping out the Thralls (who were no longer generating a Saga die) or going after the Bondi. I chose the latter. I wanted to shake off the fatigue, plus move, so I needed one Activation die.

I really did not want the Warlord to be able to regain fatigue, but losing two more figures on the Geburs meant that I would lose a Saga die.

I played Valiant Hearts as usual to boost everyone's unit size. I played Call to Arms to boost Levy to Warrior Aggression level. I paid for Unison so the two Ceorl units could activate. Finally I paid for two Great Fyrd activations for the Gebur unit.

I started the turn by playing Unison and moving the left Ceorl unit around the left flank of the hill, facing off against the Hirdmen on the hill and the Bondi below.

The second  Ceorl unit initiated a charge against the Hirdmen on the left side of the hill. This was a risky charge as the Anglo-Saxons paid for no melee bonuses, but the Vikings had three skills remaining. The Ceorl unit had eight attack dice and no bonuses. The Hirdmen had six attack dice and no bonuses. The Hirdmen had the option of using Frigg, which removes a fatigue or grants three attack dice. I wanted to save that for the Warlord, given that the Geburs had played Call to Arms. That left Heimdall, which lowers your armor but grants you five attack dice. I still wanted to save that for the Warlord battle, so the Hirdmen played no abilities.

The Ceorl unit threw eight dice, hitting on '5', scoring one hit, which was not saved. The Hirdmen threw six dice, hitting on '4', scoring four hits, two of which were saved. The Ceorls withdrew. Although they lost, I think the Ceorls got the better of the exchange.

The Thegns rested, then galloped left behind the hill, threatening the Viking Warlord next turn, along with the Bondi.

I had a choice to make. Does the Anglo-Saxon Warlord finish off the Thralls or does he ride with his Thegns? The idea of eight dice hitting on '3' was just too tempting, so the Warlord charged. He had eight dice and no bonuses. The Thralls had two dice with no bonuses. The Anglo-Saxons had no abilities and no fatigue was in play.
If the Vikings had decided to use Heimdall they would only have gotten only two extra dice as the bonus dice cannot exceed the base dice.
So again, the Vikings played nothing.

The Warlord threw eight dice, hitting on a '3', scoring eight hits, with four being saved. One Thrall remained! The Thralls threw two dice, hitting on a '5', scoring one hit, which was saved. The Thralls withdraw.

All that is left is the charge of the Geburs. Let's walk through the odds though. The first thing is that the Warlord's fatigue cannot be used in the melee. Each fatigue available cancels an unsaved hit, so it makes no sense to give him more. So the Geburs will have no bonuses. Worse, the Warlord can use Frigg to remove one of its own fatigue. The Gebur will throw seven dice, hitting on a '5', or on a '4' if the Warlord plays Heimdall. The Warlord, on the other hand will throw eight dice, hitting on a '4', or 13 dice if using Heimdall. So 14 pips versus 24, or 21 pips versus 39 if Heimdall is played.
If you are wondering what I mean about pips, it is how I calculate odds. If you throw eight dice and each die hits on a '4' or higher (three pips on the die; 4, 5, and 6) then you can multiple the dice by the pips per die (8 * 3 = 24 pips total) to get an idea of relative combat power. I find it an effective means to quickly calculate which is the better position. What do you use?
With the Warlord's Resilience (1) and Bodyguards abilities, it can absorb seven unsaved hits. Average results would produce about seven hits if the Warlord plays Heimdall, but only about five if it wasn't. So it makes no sense for the Warlord to play Heimdall. It is too risky despite that it would greatly increase the chance of wiping out the Geburs.

When playing solo, you have to ask yourself at times like these "what would a Viking Warlord, defending the objective, do?" Invoke Heimdall, of course!

The Geburs, however, are facing a high chance of destruction even if the Warlord does not play Heimdall, so the question is: should they even charge? The sacrifice of the Geburs would leave the Warlord likely fatigued and a number of his bodyguard dead, so really, they have to.

The Gebur have seven dice and no bonuses. The Warlord has eight dice and no bonuses. The Warlord plays Frigg, removing a fatigue, and Heimdall, lowering his armor by 1 but gaining five attack dice. The Gebur threw seven dice, hitting on a '4', scoring five hits, of which two are saved. Of the three unsaved hits, two are turned into fatigue and one Hirdmen is lost. The Warlord threw 13 dice, hitting on '4', scoring three hits, of which none are saved. Four Geburs remain alive and withdraw down the hill. (So much for assured destruction though!)


With the Vikings only rolling four Saga dice, it hurt when they rolled no Rare, and thus could not play Activation Pool to get another two dice.

Loki was still paid. The Vikings need Frigg to continue to protect the Warlord. With no Rares and only one Uncommon (used by Frigg), there was not really much I could do other than pay for one Activation with the Bondi and put two dice into Combat Bonus.

The Warlord rested and used We Obey to have the Hirdmen rest. The Bondi then charged the Ceorls skirting the flank.

The Bondi had eight dice with two bonus dice. The Ceorls had eight dice with no bonuses. The Bondi rolled ten dice, hitting on a '4', scoring five hits, with one saved. The Ceorls threw eight dice, hitting on a '4', scoring five hits, with none saved. The Bondi withdraw.

This looks pretty bad for the Vikings. They have now lost two Saga dice and are down to nine figures while the Anglo-Saxons have only lost one Saga die and still have 18 figures. In terms of Massacre Points, it is 7 to 11 in favor of the Anglo-Saxons. (Massacre Points reflect the value of those enemy killed.) Can the Vikings hold the hill through turn 6?

Turn 4


At this point, Truce will never get played, as I have no more units with ten or more figures in it (or even eight figures, for that matter), so I removed the die. You never know when you will need that extra die. Also, because I no longer have eight figures in any unit, Valiant Hearts is no longer effective, so that "falls off" the battle board too. Although Unison can still be played, it is no longer usable for activating two units. Put another way, as soon as all of your units drop below eight figures, a lot of Anglo-Saxon skills either drop in effectiveness or simply are not usable any more.

I rolled four dice and scored no Rare, so that was all I was going to get. I rolled one Common and two Uncommons. I needed to attack with my Thegns against the Bondi and with my Ceorls against the Hirdmen. Looking at the Ceorls first, I needed an Uncommon to activate them (two if I wanted to rest first). I wanted to use Closed Ranks and Defenders of the Kingdom to increase my chances in the melee with the Hirdmen, but that would leave me with no dice. So if I wanted to attack with the Thegns, I would need to have the Warlord break off his attack of the single Thrall and move in range of the Thegns in order to given them We Obey, so they could charge. It seemed a little beneath a Warlord to chase down a Thrall, so I decided to break off the attack and support the Thegns.

I moved the Warlord to a S of the Thegns. The Thegns then used the We Obey activation to charge the Bondi. The Thegns had six dice and the Bondi had three dice. The Thegns used the Bondi fatigue to lower their Armor to '3'. Because the Anglo-Saxons played first and used the Bondi's fatigue, they could not play Frigg to remove the fatigue. So the question was: should they use it for three additional dice? As the Gebur had been decimated in the last combat, it was unlikely they would charge the Viking Warlord again, so it made sense to use it with the Bondi. I played Frigg and the Bondi received three additional attack dice.

The Thegns rolled six dice, hitting on a '3', scoring three hits, of which two were saved. The Bondi also rolled six dice, hitting on a '5', scoring two hits, none of which saved. Frigg was truly with the Vikings, despite the Anglo-Saxons yelling "Frigg!" at the result! The shattered Thegns withdrew.

It was time for the Ceorls to shine. These six brave warriors rested before charging the remaining two Hirdmen waiting for them on the hill. The Ceorls had six dice and the Hirdmen had four dice. The Ceorls play Closed Ranks, gaining five attack dice. The Hirdmen play Loki, gaining two attack dice to counter Closed Ranks. At this point the Ceorls had a decision: if they play Defenders of the Kingdom they get an additional attack die and defense die, but the Hirdmen get an additional two attack dice because of Loki. Is it worth it? As it stands, the Ceorls would gain 2 pips (1 die * 2 pips to hit) and the Hirdmen would gain six (2 dice * 3 pips to hit). But does the extra defense die offset the extra four pips? I don't think so. I can always save Defenders of the Kingdom for later use and build up the battle board, so my cautious Anglo-Saxon Warlord decided to withhold it.

The Ceorls roll 11 dice, hitting on a '5', scoring an amazing six hits, of which an even more amazing five are saved! Holy Loki! The Hirdmen roll six dice, hitting on a '4', scoring four hits, of which none are saved. The Ceorls are absolutely crushed and they withdraw.

The Anglo-Saxons have absolutely lost heart for the fight.


The Vikings are now reduced down to three Saga dice. Again, no Rare, so they could not play Activation Pool for another two dice gain. I needed to grant the Bondi an activation so they can rest. The Warlord could help the remaining Hirdman rest, while resting himself, so that left me with two dice for Saga abilities. Loki only requires a Common, and it is effective in making the Anglo-Saxons think twice about loading up the abilities in a single melee, so it got funded. That left a single Uncommon die. That means only Combat Bonus, Frigg, Asgard, Thor, or Valhalla. Frigg and Valhalla both grant three attack dice, but Valhalla also requires the loss of a figure, so Valhalla was out. The Combat Bonus only grants one die (attack or defense), so it is not as good as Frigg, so it was out. Thor, rather than granting extra dice, grants two hits on the roll of a '6'. It seems to me that when it is a choice of Frigg or Thor, Frigg is the choice. Thor is good when you can stack it with another ability to add dice (like Frigg), or when you are rolling a lot of dice to begin with, as it increases the chance of effect with more dice. Frigg it was.

The turn was very simple. The Warlord dropped one fatigue, as did the Hirdman, and the Bondi.

Turn 5


I really thought last turn was going to be the last. The Anglo-Saxons were also now down to three Saga dice. They left Defenders of the Kingdom on the board and rolled, getting a Rare thus allowing them to roll two more for Activation Pool. They were left with three Commons and an Uncommon.
I funded Unison, Select Fyrd, and Crash of Shields. The last was is more of a defensive measure, should the Vikings use their Warlord offensively next turn, as it would halve their attack dice.

I used Determination to rest with the Warlord. I then used Unison to move the Warlord to the same square as the Thegn, moving in 'front'.
Note that Unison allows you to move without generating fatigue. Unfortunately I read this wrong. My goal was to move then charge without generating fatigue. But the first movement never generates fatigue so the ability is intended to be used as a second move action, not a first. At least I think it is. Reading on page 30: "Keep in mind that only activations generate fatigue, and not movement or shooting which instead takes place due to rules or Saga abilities." I wish they had said "or non-Activation Saga abilities". It would have been clearer. Nonetheless, I treat it to be written as such, otherwise it does not make sense.
Using We Obey, the Thegns then rest to remove their fatigue. Finally, the Warlord charges the single Hirdman on the hill, gaining a fatigue in the process.

The Warlord has eight dice and the Hirdman has two dice. If I played Defenders of the Kingdom, the Hirdman could play Loki, granting two more attack dice, in addition to playing Frigg for three more. That suddenly makes it nine dice versus seven. The Warlord decided not to risk it. Meanwhile the Hirdmen played Frigg for an extra two attack dice.

The Warlord rolled eight dice, hitting on a '5', scoring four hits, but saving three. (Frigg!) The Hirdmen rolled four dice, hitting on a '5', scoring one hit, which was saved. The Hirdman goes down and the Anglo-Saxons have gained the hill!


So close! The Vikings are down to two Saga dice (with Loki still paid for on the battle board). Finally the Vikings rolled a Rare. Using Activation Pool and rolling two more dice the Vikings get two Commons and one Uncommmon. The Vikings fund Frigg, Heimdall and one Hirdmen activation.

The Warlord uses Determination to rest.

The Hirdmen then charge the enemy Warlord using We Obey. The Hirdmen have four dice and the Warlord eight. The Hirdmen play Frigg and gain three attack dice. The Warlord plays Defenders of the Kingdom, gaining one attack one one defense die. The Hirdmen play Loki, gaining two more attack dice.
The Warlord does not play Crash of Shields, as I read it incorrectly. It does not have the number of attack dice the enemy has, it reduces the enemy's attack dice by 1/2 the number of figures in the Anglo-Saxon unit. Thus, it is designed to be used by large units, not small ones!
The Hirdmen have nine dice. As their base dice were four, there was one excess die. They threw eight dice, hitting on a '5', scoring three hits, one of which was saved (even with the extra defense die). Two hits causes the Warlord to exhaust using Resilience (1) and his Thegn to die to Bodyguards. The Warlord threw nine dice, hitting on a '5', scoring two hits, one of which was saved. The Hirdman withdraws, looking at his own Warlord with a smile.

The Viking Warlord charged into the Anglo-Saxon Warlord, finally glad for the chance to settle this once and for all. Both have eight dice. The Vikings play Heimdall, gaining five dice, but lowering his armor by 1. The Anglo-Saxons play Crash of Shields, reducing the Viking attack dice by one. The Vikings threw 12 dice, hitting on a '5', scoring three hits, one of which was saved. The Anglo-Saxon Warlord dies. With his final swing he threw eight dice, hitting on a '4', scoring three hits, two of which were saved. The Viking Warlord takes one fatigue from Resilience (1). With the Viking Warlord victorious (I allowed for a Warlord-kill to end the game before turn 6, so it was a merging of the original One-Hour Wargames scenario and Saga's Clash of Warlords scenario.


Wow! Talk about decimation. Of the original eight Viking Hirdmen, there was one remaining. Only two of the Viking Bondi remained, from the original eight. Finally, only one of the twelve Viking Thralls survived. All in all, five figures remained from the original 25 figures, for 80% casualties.

The Anglo-Saxon side was equally appalling with 10 out of 33 figures surviving, for 70% casualties (but losing the Warlord).


Believe it or not, it was five years ago since I last played Saga, and it was with Aztecs versus Tlaxcalans. I really enjoyed playing Saga then, but my gaming group moved on to other games (mostly Rivet Wars) with faster setups and teardowns, and the ability to play more than one game per session, i.e. games that reached a conclusion faster. My online addiction did not help either.

So, I am going to give my impressions from two viewpoints: the current rules versus the earlier version, and the current rules for solo gaming, as that is a large part of my gaming given my temperament, time, location, and what rules I like versus what is popular nearby.

Current Versus Original

The intent of releasing another edition of the rules were to provide clarity and smooth off the rough edges of the older set. (I could be cynical and say it was to follow the Games Workshop model of always creating a new version to keep sales alive, but not today.) In that regard they succeeded immensely. Although there are some very minor issues where the French version says one thing and the English version says another, it is minor and it is being addressed in FAQs. I am good with that.

The original rules felt fiddly, and as people who had read a few of my reviews know, I don't like fiddly. Largely I addressed much of the fiddliness by going to a unit-sized grid, but I recognize that they did it too. A prime example is the simple change that an entire unit is now in melee, regardless of how close a figure is to the closest enemy figure. This one changed got rid of the need for micro-measurement, and thus any subsequent arguments, when it came time to conduct a melee.

Although there are still seven or so steps to melee, it think it is a lot clearer of what happens when. There are still a few things to be cleared up – one reviewer seemed to indicate that they think you can only choose using fatigue or Saga abilities throughout all rounds in Step 3 (tell me if you agree or not), but I do not read it that way – but the company seems more active in answering questions officially and they are already preparing an FAQ.

I think the single biggest change (as opposed to refinement) was no longer penalizing players for leaving dice on the battle board. This greatly increased the viability of small point games and rewarded planners over those who react each turn. If you were patient enough, you could build a battle board over a series of turns by adding dice and playing conservatively. It definitely adds a new dimension to gameplay, especially late in the game when Saga dice start becoming scarce.

Did I want to repurchase the game? No. If I thought I could get away with only buying the new rules, I would have. But I needed to know the changes to the Factions and battle boards, so I went ahead and purchased it all, and I am not disappointed with the results.

Solo Gaming

One of the things that kills solo gaming is hidden information. For example, managing a hand of cards, blind bidding, and hidden movement all work because having information your opponent does not have is a part of the play. In many of those cases, bluffing adds another element to gameplay. Keeping that element is extremely hard with solo gaming.

For example card hand management can be fudged somewhat by the solo gamer not looking at newly drawn cards until they are playing that side. That does not work very well, however, if the card play contains an element of reacting to cards played by your opponent. There is also using a blind draw of cards to determine which card will be played, but I am generally not an advocate for introducing additional random elements into the game. It can wildly affect gameplay and tends to feel like the player is erratic and, well, random. Sometimes it is interesting to play both sides randomly, as then it feels more narrative-driven, but random versus a player trying their best usually ends in a boring butt stomp.

I feel that with these types of game, there are two types of players: those who react and those who plan. Games that play well in react mode tend to do well with solo gamers. Essentially the more "information" that is revealed right at the moment the player must make a decision, the more the player will find it harder to subconsciously favor one side over the other. What do I mean by that?

Consider that in Saga, your options are driven by the Saga dice you have available to you, whether it is what you have just rolled when it is your turn, or what you have committed to your battle board. You may have a good idea of how many dice you will have when it is not your turn, but you do not know. You only get that information when it is time to roll. What your options are for your troops – who can act and who cannot, who will get a bonus and who will not – isn't revealed until you roll those dice and see what comes up. So planning beyond your current turn is hard, and beyond your opponent's turn into your next turn is harder still. Your information diminishes as dice are played and put back into the available pile.

Those are the sort of mechanics that lend themselves well to solo gaming: limited information until the point of decision making.

Now that is not to say that there is no planning. If you read this blog post all the way through then you know I used many Saga dice for abilities that I had no plan for using during my turn. When my turn came back around and those dice were unused, I was then left with a choice of whether to reclaim the dice and attempt to roll a better result, or keep them in place and use them to build a more complex plan for the turn. If often worked, and with some spectacular bursts of combat.

Is Saga a good set of rules for solo gaming? In my opinion it is mechanically one of the better sets of rules for solo gaming for those that were not specifically designed with solo gaming in mind.

Final Words

In many rules they talk about starter armies and introductory scenarios, and the emphasis is that this is a way station where you reside while you are learning the rules. But I think the gameplay with the new edition of the rules makes 4 point armies much more than something we do until we paint enough figures and "get to the real game". The subtlety of play when rolling fewer number of dice makes that level of play intriguing. For you veterans of Saga, I would like to hear what you think about it, should you go back and try it. Do you find the play trickier or is it my imagination? Ultimately, high point games get to that point of having a low number of dice also. It just takes longer to get there.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Playing Saga 2 – Part 1

I picked up the second version of the SAGA rules mainly because I had liked the original and also because I had heard that they had streamlined the rules and cleaned them up, making things a lot more clear than originally. I bought my copy from Dennis at On Military Matters for $19. I didn't think that was too bad. But then I saw that the "supplement", containing all of the factions and battle boards (none were included with the rules, as originally) was another $57, I figured I was not going to get off lightly for upgrading.

My goal was to play the rules straight, no modifications ... except one. I was going to convert it to a grid game. I cannot stand small measurements and fiddly geometry tricks, and the one thing I remembered about about Saga was that it had both of those elements. But first...

The Game Rules

Saga was previously a Dark Ages skirmish game system, but now bills itself as able "to recreate  battles between rival warbands during many periods of history and within fantasy worlds". Hmmm, that last part must have been added because so many of the fan base did exactly that, use the rules for other historical periods and for fantasy realms. As you look through the rules at the pictures too, you realize there are shots of fantasy miniatures and Samurai, but nothing extending into the gunpowder era ... yet.

Technically Saga is not a skirmish game to my mind. Although each figure represents a single person, figures are grouped into units and individual figures are not ordered separately. Each unit varies in size but must be from four to twelve figures in size. A warband is generally from 20 to 50 figures. So your miniature investment can be quite small, but not as small as a traditional skirmish game.

Warbands are built by spending points. For one point you can either buy four Hearthguard (the best fighters), eight Warriors, or twelve Levy (the worst fighters). A starter game is typically four points and a large game is eight points. In addition, each side gets a Warlord to represent themselves.
Saga uses special dice to allow units to activate and to give them special abilities, which serve as the "flavor" for the army and the period you are playing. Each unit generates a single Saga die and the Warlord generates two. Generally speaking you need one die to activate a unit once, in which it can either move, charge, shoot, or rest. So for a starter game, you will typically be getting six Saga dice, but using three for activation. (The Warlord can self-activate once for free each turn, and activate another unit once for free each turn.) So that allows you some flexibility to activate units twice (at a cost of fatiguing the unit) or to use the special abilities.

The battle board is what defines the special abilities a warband has available. Vikings have more offense oriented melee abilities, for example, while Anglo-Saxon seem more defense oriented and geared towards running larger units.

The Modifications

Measuring Distance

I decided to use a square grid, and given the physical size of the average unit of 28mm figures, a 6" square seemed just right. Given that the standard was also 6", that worked.

Saga has four measurements: Very Short (2"), Short (4"), Medium (6"), and Long (12"). Basically infantry move 6", cavalry 12", and units moving into, through, or out of terrain move 4". As I decided the square was 6", that made terrain slightly problematic. I decided that if you are moving S (for Short), you could only move one square orthogonally (the black arrows in the figure below). M (for Medium) can move either one square orthogonally or diagonally (black and brown arrows), while L (for Long) essentially moves two squares orthogonally or diagonally.

As all shooting uses the same measurements, they would count range the same as how movement is counted.

So what about VS (for Very Short)? Well that measurement is largely used to measure the distance between figures in order to maintain unit cohesion. If, through terrain and/or special abilities a unit is forced down to a VS move or shooting range it is deemed unable to shoot or move.

Unit Stacking

There can only be one unit per square, regardless of the number of figures in a unit. This makes it much simpler to sort out which unit can be an eligible target of shooting or changes. The two exceptions are charging and the Warlord.


A charge activation requires a unit move into the square of the enemy unit it is to melee. This is the second exception where a two (or more) units can be in the same square and the only case where a unit can be in the same square as an enemy unit. As the losing unit is required to withdraw at the end of the melee, there can be no case where a unit ends the turn in the same square as an enemy unit.

Warlord Positioning

Previously, the Warlord could semi-attach himself to a unit using the Side-by-Side special ability. In Saga 2 they have done away with that ability. A Warlord is a full-fledged unit in its own right. Because it is a single figure, I allow it to reside in the same square as another unit.

When a Warlord enters the same square as a unit, or a unit enters the same square as a Warlord, the player must declare whether the Warlord is in 'front' or 'behind'. What this means is that if a Warlord is 'behind' the unit, enemy units charging into or shooting at that square cannot melee or shoot the Warlord; they must melee or shoot the unit. By the same logic, if the Warlord is in 'front', the Warlord must be charged or shot at. If a Warlord charges a square containing a unit with a Warlord 'behind', the charged Warlord will automatically switch positions and be in 'front'.
Note that because units do not have facing, the position of 'front' or 'behind' does not change as the square is attacked from different directions.
A Warlord's position does not affect the friendly unit's movement or shooting.

If a Warlord in 'front' is charged and it loses the melee, the unit must withdraw from the square even though it did not fight in the melee. (Consider them being in shock at having lost their Warlord.) If a Warlord is 'behind' a unit that loses a melee, the Warlord must withdraw from the square.

Game Playtest

Although I have read a few articles about the changes, I really needed to give it a try for myself to see what changes were for the better and which were just fluff.


As I still had the table set up from my last game with Tin Soldiers in Action, I decided to play the same scenario from Neil Thomas' One-Hour Wargames, scenario #4: Take the High Ground.

The defender starts with two units on a hill in the attacker's half of the board while the rest move on the board from behind. The attackers enter the board, but very close to the hill. The goal is to be in possession of the two hill squares at the end of the game.

The Opposing Forces


The Anglo-Saxons are the attackers. I chose one mounted Thegns (Hearthguard) unit, two units of Ceorls (Warriors), and one unit of Geburs (Levy).

I wanted the mounted Thegns for their mobility. In hindsight that was probably not a great idea, as the hill squares are Uneven Ground, reducing all foot and mounted movement to S. But, as as I thought about it later, I could use them to cut off the reinforcements, leaving my other three units to deal with the Vikings on the hill.

The primary Anglo-Saxon abilities to use are Valiant Hearts, which allows units to count as if they have two more figures than they do, for purposes of other Saga abilities, and Unison, which allows two units of ten or more figures to activate on a single die. Using the first ability increases my eight-figure Ceorl units to ten figures, thus allowing them to use the second ability. In addition, there are a number of other abilities that provide additional bonuses to units of ten figures or more, so Valiant Hearts becomes a critical play each turn.


The Vikings chose two units of Hirdmen (Hearthguard) to defend the hill, with the Warlord. (The Warlord was in 'front', of course.) Coming to their aid was a unit of Bondi (Warriors) and Thralls (Levy). The Thralls were armed with javelins as I wanted to testing out shooting.

The idea of making the Vikings the defenders is that the Warlord was directing raiding operations from a hill when an Anglo-Saxon fyrd came up from behind, partially surprising them. The closest supports were a unit of Bondi and Thralls, so the Warlord and his Hirdmen must hold out until they arrive.

Turn One


It is hard getting back into the Saga mindset. I got six dice to roll, but after that, I sort of drew a blank on what to do next. I also forgot that the first player is only supposed to get half the normal number of Saga dice. Oh well.

I spent a Rare die in order to roll the remaining two dice using the Activation Pool ability. (Saga only allows you eight Saga dice to be in play.)

Valiant Hearts allows my two Ceorl units to count as ten figures for purposes of Saga abilities. This in turn will allow them to both activate using Unison. The Gebur will activate using the Select Fyrd die, while the Warlord will activate using Determination and activate the Thegns for free using We Obey. That leaves a lot of dice for special abilities. To discourage the Vikings from counterattacking off of the hill I chose Defenders of the Kingdom, Closed Ranks, and Crash of Shields to buff the troops in melee defense.

I moved all of the troops a single move and ended the turn.


Because the Vikings received no Rare die, they could not use Activation Pool, allowing them to roll the remaining two dice. Their options were a bit more limited, but that was countered by a number of new rules. You will notice that I did not allocate any dice for activating units (the three black boxes to the top and left) other than a single die for the Thralls.

The Warlord and two Hirdmen units do not need activations. I could have moved off of the hill, but as the goal is to defend it, that seemed a little like a bad move. Besides, in order to do that they would have had to perform two activations, one to move adjacent to the enemy and one to charge into them. (Adjacent units are not in combat. You must move into the enemy square to initiate melee. It is the only time that a unit may enter the square of an enemy unit and is the exception to the rule of one unit per square.)

The new rule in Saga 2, however, is that a unit can Maneuver, or take a free move activation, if it is: a) more than L away from all enemy units; and b) does not move to within L of any enemy unit. This makes it much easier to move reinforcing units, or those out of the action, as it does not require any activation dice in order to move them towards the battle.
Note that this is a normal move and not a move of L, as I accidentally took!
I decided to move the Thralls twice, in order to get into javelin range next turn, receiving a fatigue point (green marker) for taking a second, non-resting activation.

That leaves the remaining Saga dice for defense. Heimdall, Thor, Ullr, and Loki all give defense in melee, especially Loki, which will counteract the play of dice by the Anglo-Saxons.


Note: I did not cheat by using nine dice, I simply took a die from another set to show all of the action. Only eight dice were thrown.

I started by leaving the die on Defenders of the Kingdom. Although it is an Uncommon die, I could possibly use the effect this turn.
Note: this is the first real change I came upon in version 2. In version 1, any dice left on the battle board subtracted from the number of dice you could roll. Now, it simply subtracts from the total pool. So if you generate six Saga dice a turn, you can leave two dice on the battle board with no ill effects.
I rolled six dice and got two Rares, so one went on Activation Pool and the other on Call to Arms. If I played Activation Pool – the ability to discard the die but roll two more - I would have only been able to roll one die. So I played Valiant Hearts first, giving me that die to re-roll with Activation Pool.

Call to Arms grants Levies the Aggression rating of Warriors during melee. The Gebur were two activations alway from the enemy Warlord, so I placed two dice on the Select Fyrd ability to pay for their activations. I thought that using Truce would allow me to remove the extra Fatigue from moving twice before they went into combat, but later in the turn I re-read the ability and found it was an Orders ability, not an Activation ability, meaning I could not use it right before combat. Defenders of the Kingdom and Closed Ranks would allow them to keep stacking dice in a hope to kill the Hirdmen bodyguard and possibly the Warlord. (One can only hope!)

Unison would allow me to move my two Ceorls units and, again, the Warlord and Thegns could move for free.

I decided to have the Warlord use We Obey and order the mounted Thegns to charge the Viking Thralls first, in hopes of flushing out dice before my Gebur made their charge on the Viking Warlord. The Thralls cannot close ranks (which allows them to exchange attack dice for defense dice) as they have javelins. The Thegns had eight attack dice and no bonuses. The Thralls had four attack dice and no bonuses. The Thegns used no abilities in the melee, but did use the Thrall's fatigue to lower its armor to '2'. The Viking played Thor, which causes two hits for every '6' rolled.

The Thegn score eight hits, with two being saved. The Thralls score two hits (rolled a '6'), but both are saved. The Thralls lose the melee and withdraw. Both sides take one fatigue.

The Anglo-Saxons played Unison and moved the Ceorl units, both of them moving diagonally in order to flank around the hill, and to make space for the Gebur to charge up the hill. (Remember that M moves can move orthogonally or diagonally.)

Finally, I used Call to Arms to embolden the Geburs, one Activation die to move, and one Activation die to charge the Warlord. (As I indicated earlier I re-read Truce and realized I could not play it, so I went into the charge with one fatigue. 😒 ) The Geburs would normally have six attack dice, but under the effects of Call to Arms, they have twelve dice. The Warlord has eight dice. The Gebur played Closed Ranks, gaining five dice. The Warlord played Loki gaining two dice for the one ability the Anglo-Saxons used in the melee. The Gebur played Defenders of the Kingdom, gaining two attack and two defense dice, but also granting the Warlord two more attack dice because of Loki. The Warlord played Ullr to re-roll all missed attack dice. Finally the Warlord used the Gebur fatigue to lower their armor to '3'.

The Gebur rolled 19 dice, needing a '5' to hit, scoring eight hits. Three hits were saved, but five go through. Three of those are turned into fatigue because of the Resilience (1) ability, leaving two as Hirdmen casualties (the Bodyguards ability). As there were two Hirdmen units within S of the Warlord, I decided that each unit take one loss.

The Warlord rolled 12 dice and could re-roll misses, hitting on a '3'. Seven hits were scored. Two are saved, leaving five figures removed. Because the Warlord canceled three casualties from Resilience (1) and two from Bodyguards, it suffered no casualties, so the Gebur had to withdraw.

The only thing remaining for the Anglo-Saxons to move was its Warlord. As it cannot charge the Viking Warlord (the hill slows his charge from L to S), he moves behind his Thegns.

To be continued in Part 2...


So far the adaptation to a square grid is going well. No micro-measurements to see if I was just in or just out of range for a charge or whether the figures were within coherency.

The Saga rules cleaned up the charge rules quite a bit, making them less fiddly. Also, the melee rules now flat-out state that all figures in a unit fight in the melee, so no more micro-measurements to get every figure in and to count how many qualify. Great change! Plus, it means that my square-to-square fighting fits their intended combat model of entire units fighting entire units.

So what are my first impressions? They made a lot of improvements to the rules by using terms consistently throughout. They thought through some of the rough bits and smoothed them out so the game flows better. The game still has the same "roll the dice and see what battle plan the Gods have blessed" feel to it. Great for players that don't like planning in advance and even better for those that do. It provides you far more variety to your plan than, say, a five-card hand in a Command and Colors game, where you typically play one Command card and one Tactics card (for those using that new mechanic).

The charge of the Anglo-Saxon Geburs was instructive as to just how hard a Warlord can be, if sufficiently backed up by his Hearthguard. Although I did not really expect to kill him on the first charge, I actually had no idea of how it would play out until I started calculating the odds. As it turned out the Viking Warlord had an additional special ability he did not even use, which would have allowed him to roll an additional five attack dice, at the expense of lowering his armor to '4'.

The charge of the Thegns was also instructive, in that it showed just how brittle the Levy really is. Not that they were not brittle before, but in version 1 Levy units would not generate Saga dice, so their loss was pretty inconsequential. Now that they do generate Saga dice – but only if they have six or more figures in the unit – they really are no longer throwaway troops.

Speaking of which, in version 1 Warrior units would continue generate a Saga die even when it had only a single figure in the unit. This would lead to players running away with the unit and hiding it in some corner, like in many Command and Colors and Memoir '44 games. Now, a Warrior unit no longer generates a Saga die if it is less than four figures. (Hearthguard, however, still generate a Saga die with a single-figure unit.) This changes the play from hiding the crippled units to using them until the bitter end. There is one scenario rule, however, called Massacre points, which yields an extra point if a unit is completely wiped out. But given that an eight-figure Warrior unit yields four points if seven figures are killed, but only five points if the unit is wiped out, it incentive to hide the last figure is not that great.

All in all, a pretty fun game. It is going slow primarily because I am blogging the turns, but also because I am checking all of my assumptions about the rules and reading the rules as I play. I don't want to form any version 1 bad habits.

One final note: you may wonder why I converted these rules to a grid. As I get older I have found it easier on my back and temperament to use grids to regulate movement. I think that free movement is over-rated and leads to rules bloat as you have to write so many words to cover the contingencies. As a simple example, all of the unit coherency rules go away when you say "all figures in a unit must placed in the same square" and "a unit may not split into multiple units nor merge with another unit".

Finally, I have recently had issue with my back and ribs. Damn, getting old is a pain! Now when I twist to the left or right, or rise up too suddenly from a chair, it feels like someone has landed a blow on my right side ribcage. So using a grid and a small game space has helped me continue gaming.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

One More Square and the Impact on Engagement

Last post I described a battle using the Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) rules with a scenario from One-Hour Wargames (OHW). I posted notices in various places and it has led to some good discussion – primarily with the author of TSIA – about scenario design.

In my last game I was trying to be true to TSIA while also being true to the intent of the scenario in OHW. The issue for me was that OHW's scenarios have a few assumptions built into them, mainly that you are using the rules published in OHW. So when deciding to use the scenario with another ruleset, the first thing I had to consider was how they differed, to see if the scenario needed to be adjusted. As I outlined in the previous post, the time scales of a "turn" are significantly different between the two rules, requiring an adjustment in the scenario length for example. What else might need to be adjusted.

The author of TSIA recommended some changes, one of which was to adjust the board to 8 by 8 squares. One of the tenets of OHW is to provide "practical tabletop battles for those with limited time and space". Although I was certainly not space limited when playing that scenario (I played it on a 3' by 3' section of a 6' by 4' table), I often do play on a smaller table and so I was trying to keep to the spirit of OHW. Nonetheless, it got me to thinking. What would have been the impact of adding one additional square (6") to each edge of the board?

Adding a Square to the West Side

The focus of the scenario is on the two hill squares. Control of these squares trumps all else in the scenario.

Given that this was a horse-and-musket game, these were the key squares to attacking and retaining control of the hill. Because of musket range, only the squares marked in red could attack the hill.

Adding a column of squares to the west side of the board would have done little in altering the dynamics of the scenario, in my opinion. I understand the desire to avoid the "wall-to-wall" troop effect and by having six units and a board six squares wide, you would think that adding squares to the flanks would alleviate that. It would not. The "wall-to-wall" effect was a function of the scenario design calling for the entry of six units onto the board on turn 1.

Had there been an additional square to the west I probably would have shifted the light infantry from a position on the east, approaching the woods, to the new square created on the west flank. This would still have resulted in wall-o-wall troops, just shifted left one square.

I do not mean say that the addition of the square would not have had an effect; it just was not going to have an effect on trying to get the troops to space out. As long as the focus was on specific squares, troops would naturally cluster around those points. Adding a square to the west would have allowed more firepower to bear on the western flank's key control squares, potentially dislodging a unit and allowing an attack on the hill.

Adding a Square to the East Side

Given the range of the musket (one square for full fire, two squares with skirmishers) the east side was largely out of play. Throwing a woods on that flank ensured that side was going to swing around onto the east side quickly and easily in order to attack their opponents in the rear.

If the east flank had been extended a square, presumably there would have been woods in the same positions in the new column. If there had not been, you would have essentially been negating the presence of the woods in the first place, which would have been a violation of the spirit of the scenario.
Note: because square grid movement in TSIA counts the diagonal the same distance as the horizontal and vertical, moving around obstacles is very easy in TSIA. So positioning a woods on the flank would have presented no obstacle to movement, and thus to time, unless the woods were also present in the new column of squares.
I see no value in adding a square to the east, as it leave more of an area out of play. This is a function of the scenario having the terrain objectives offset from the center.

Adding a Square to the South Side

Adding a square to the south, where the French attack from, modifies the dynamics of the scenario quite a bit, and this was my main objection to changing the board size. Let's start by looking at the decisions the French Commander has.
Note: when I rate rules I have a category called Engaging that represents "do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?"
The key determinant on the French Commander's decisions is whether the enemy units on the hill have already activated this turn or not. You can actually break down the French Commander's thought process using a truth table.

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Bet Allies Will Move First (Turn 2)
Bet French Will Move First (Turn 2)

A. In this situation the Allies will not get to fire on the first turn as the French are off the board, but because they act first on the second turn they will be able to take two Fire actions before the French can act.

B. In this situation the French are forced onto the board where they can be fired upon, and then have to withstand an additional two Fire actions in the second turn before they can act. This is the worst situation for the French Commander.

C. If the Allies move first there is no firing, as the French are off of the board. If the French then move first after coming on the board they can act without any fire from the Allies first. This is the ideal situation for the French Commander.

D. This situation is only better for the French as they would get two volleys into the Allies on the second turn, but that is after they had received two from the Allies on the first turn.

So the French Commander's decisions are strongly influenced by the firing potential of the Allies before he can act with full firepower with his own units. Let's look at this in detail.

When the French turn to act occurs, they have two actions available to each unit. Each action can be either Move or Fire. (There are more actions, but these are the two we will only concern ourselves with at the moment.) The Move action will allow the unit to move one square in any direction, as long as the square is unoccupied. The Fire action will allow the unit to fire at full potential into any adjacent square, or to fire weakly at any square up to two squares away (given some limitations on line of sight, which we will ignore for now).
To understand the firepower potential, each Allied unit will get to throw 6 dice for each Fire action if at a unit one square away, and 1 die for each Fire action if at a unit two squares away. Each French units firepower potential is 3 dice and 1 die, respectively. The differential in dice is not due to unit quality, but due to possession of the hill.
For the first action, the French have no real choice; they must take a Move action to move onto the board. For the second action the French can either take an additional Move to get adjacent to the enemy on the hill or they can take a Fire action and fire weakly at the enemy (about 1/3rd of the firepower of a full volley). Which should combination of actions should they take?

Going back to the truth table, this is what the firepower potential of the Allies looks like if the French take two Move actions on the first turn. (French firepower potential is in ( ). As it will be at one square the second French turn would consist of two Fire actions.)

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Allies Move First (Turn 2)
12 (6)
24 (4)
French Move First (Turn 2)
11 (6)
11 (6)

Now let's compare that to the truth table if the French take one Move action, followed by a Fire action on both turns 1 and 2. Again, this is the firepower potential of the Allies. (French firepower potential is in ( ).)

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Allies Move First (Turn 2)
2 (4)
4 (4)
French Move First (Turn 2)
12 (4)
14 (4)

Just looking at the change in the tables shows you that the decision the French Commander makes has a tremendous impact on the game and its pace. (It also shows you how much of a gambler I was.) This example also shows why I rated TSIA a 5 out of 5 in Engaging. Such as simple decision – do I Move/Move then Fire/Fire or do I Move/Fire then Move/Fire – can result in drastically different odds and outcomes.

Now, let's add a square to the French baseline. When the French unit acts its first action will be Move, just as it was previously. It must enter the board. The second action, however, cannot logically be Fire as nothing is within range. If the French Commander decides he does not wish to move into range of the Allied units, then he would Pass for the second action. But why would he do that? The firepower would only yield 1 die per Fire action. Hardly enough to be concerned about. So on turn one, rather than having a decision on whether the second action should be Move or Fire, leading to radically different potentials for turn two, you have no real decision. Further, on turn two the French Commander's decision is also pretty much set. Being one square away, the choice is to Move then Fire.

So, what does that extra square gain you, the players? It actually leads to fewer real choices. It may be more realistic, in that the outcome of who moves first on the first turn results in less drama, but it is interesting that the simple addition of a square essentially delays the action, thus delaying the opportunity for the player to make real, meaningful choices.

Are your scenarios engaging? Have you made decisions about timing, terrain placement, and force disposition that leads to more or less engagement by the players? Is adding that extra square (or subtracting it) really as simple as just giving all your troops a little more elbow room?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

TSIA and One-Hour Wargames

If you don't play games with your miniatures often you are less likely to want to paint more of them, reducing that lead, plastic – and in my case, wood – pile. I needed to get back in the saddle and game, having spent too much time recently gaming on the computer and watching old television shows on Amazon Prime.

I wanted to introduce a couple of gamers in the area to Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA), but I needed a scenario. As I have a limited number of units per side (I was going to use my wooden Napoleonic miniatures for the game) I needed a scenario with a limited unit count. I knew that Neal Thomas' various rules tend toward that idea, so I started looking around in his books for ideas. I cracked open One-Hour Wargames: Practical Tabletop Battles for Those With Limited Time and Space (OHW), looked through the scenarios, and settled on Scenario 4: Take the High Ground.

Take the high ground is a simple scenario. Side A starts with two units on the board, on a hill, closer to Side B's baseline. Side A's remaining four units start off-board. Side B's six units also starts off-board. Side B moves first, with all six units coming on the board on turn 1. Only the on-board units of Side A can move on turn 1, with the off-board units coming on the board on turn 2.

The objective is to hold the hill at the end of the game, after 15 turns. Whoever holds the hill wins.

Translating the board to TSIA is easy as OHW draws their maps on a three square by three square grid, each square representing a 12" square area. As TSIA uses 6" squares, each OHW square thus contains four TSIA squares. Here is the table for the scenario.

The Allies (British and Spanish) are Side A and the two on-board units are British Line Infantry, on the hill. This view is from the South (French / Side B) side.

I decided that I wanted to try and have the units in the scenario match more of what the units were painted as. As it stands, it is a bit of a stretch as I was using Prussian Landwehr as Spanish Militia units. (Actually they look passable ... except for the long coats, caps, and the yellow cross on those caps.) So, against all sound judgment, I decided to try the following order of battle.

  • Allies
    • British Infantry (Ace of Hearts)
      • Commander in Chief
      • Two British Line Infantry units (Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets, attached skirmishers)
    • British Cavalry (Two of Hearts)
      • British Light Dragoons unit (Light Cavalry, Superior, Professional, 6 figures, carbines, sabers)
    • Spanish (Ace of Diamonds)
      • Spanish Line Infantry unit (Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets)
    • Spanish Militia (Two of Diamonds)
      • Spanish Militia Line unit (Infantry, Inferior, Amateur, 16 figures, muskets)
      • Spanish Militia Light unit (Light Infantry, Inferior, Amateur, 12 figures, muskets, skirmishers)
  • French
    • French Infantry (Ace of Clubs)
      • Commander in Chief
      • Four French Line Infantry units (Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets, attached skirmishers)
    • French Lights
      • French Light Infantry unit (Light Infantry, Average, Professional, 12 figures, muskets, skirmishers)
    • French Cavalry
      • French Gendarmes unit (Heavy Cavalry, Average, Professional, 6 figures, sabers)
So, the French had a quality advantage, but the British had a (slight) numerical advantage (although they were equal in unit count) and an advantage in command count (giving them more cards and thus a greater chance to move something first).

I also needed to change the scenario somewhat as TSIA and OHW are on two different time scales. In OHW an infantry unit move 6" per turn (one TSIA square) and can either move or fire. In TSIA an infantry unit gets two actions per turn and can either move one square or fire in each of those actions. Effectively, two OHW turns is equivalent to one TSIA turn. So I halved the scenario length of 15 turns to 8 turns.

The next issue was the turn sequence. OHW is a traditional IGO-UGO and TSIA uses card (random) activation. The scenario called for Side B (in this case, the French) to move first, allowing only the on-board units of Side A to move on turn 1. At first I decided to partially honor that sequence:

  • Turn 1
    • Activate all French units
    • Activate all on-board Allied units
  • Turn 2 through 8
    • Use cards to determine activation order of all units on both sides
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that TSIA's card activation also represents more than just who acts first. It also injects a fog of war that can result in units not acting in a timely manner. Consider the opening situation.

Infantry units with muskets have a one square range. If the unit has attached skirmishers then the unit can fire one additional square, but only with a single die. So the French unit has a choice:

  • March on one square and fire with one die, or
  • March on two squares
Note that this choice leads to how well the British can retaliate. If the French move one square and fire with one die, the British only get to retaliate with a single die for each Fire action. (They cannot risk advancing off of the hill as the French units would simply swing around the flanks and capture the hill.) However, if the French move two squares, the British retaliate with two full volleys.

Looking at it with random activation, if the British activate first, they will get no fire (as the enemy units are off of the table). If they activate after the French do, they essentially get the same choices as they would with IGO-UGO. So, using random activation allows you to simulate whether the attack is being launched with surprise or not. (If the British activate first, it is a surprise French attack; if the French activate first, it is not.)

For this game I decided to go with the TSIA activation method rather than a modified activation method. You will see the impact of that decision later.

As only one Allied command can act on turn one, the chance of some surprise was high, as they only had one command card while the attacker had three. But the reality is closer to the odds being 50-50 as it really only mattered whether the French Infantry command moved before or after the British Infantry command.

Game Preparation

To prepare for the game I laid out the command cards (four for the Allies and three for the French), created a cheat sheet to remind me which card belonged to which command, then wrote out two casualty rosters, one for each side, so I could mark off hits and keep track of stats. That would minimize markers on the field (in theory), as I have to use several hits per figure. (I am using six figure units, counting for 12 soldiers.)

I did not have one commander figure per command, only one Commander in Chief for each side, so I decided to use just one Commander. (I need to make more proper Commanders and Generals.) I was okay with that as both the commands and the board are small. It meant I had to keep everyone except open formation units within 2 squares of the commander. Not very hard on a board six squares by six squares when your command radius is five squares by 5 squares!

I also decided not to re-read the rules before playing. I did that intentionally because I wanted to see just how much of the rules I have retained from the last time, how many of the details of the rules were memorable, and where the rough spots were. A ruleset is more likely to be played after a break if its rules are memorable.

Turn 1

The British Line drew the first command card, so they had to move first, indicating that the defender was surprised. As there was nothing for the units to do, they passed.

The French Lights moved onto the board in open order, heading towards the woods. The French Cavalry moved cautiously onto the board, covering the left flank of the light infantry. They could have moved four squares, but they only moved two. The French Line moved straight onto the board two squares, heading for an assault on the hill.

No strange moves, although I did consider what I could do with the road movement for the unit on the road. I had to look up the road movement rule, as I had never really used it in any previous game. Basically each move action allows you to move up to three squares with infantry, but you end the action disordered. It did not really seem worth taking the disorder so soon, just to get off one volley.

Turn 2

The Spanish Militia Lights moved in open order two squares straight ahead towards the woods. (I remembered that Amateurs get two actions only if performing the same action, otherwise they get only one action.) The Spanish Militia Line was on the road and could move quite some distance, but I again decided to move conservatively as I did not want to end the movement with Disorder, and I could not Move once and Rally with the second action as the unit is Amateur.

The French Line got the jump on the British, further showing the surprise that the French had! I start with firing on the left at the units on the hill. I remembered the basic formula was 0.5 dice per figure with muskets. I believed the hill halved the firepower, but I had to look it up to be sure. (I was right.) So each unit gets three dice, needing a '6' to score a hit.

The first French unit scores two hits when I remembered that I didn't really remember the rules on how units gets disordered (other than by moving through terrain in close formation and by using road movement). I remembered that there is a Tenacity check, and it occurs after firing and before close combat, so I decided to check there. Yep, units suffering casualties from firing check tenacity. If they fail that check they become disordered and if already disordered, suffer from desertions. Simple.

The second volley from the first unit only produced a single hit, resulting in three hits on the British unit in the left square of the hill.

Moving next to the unit on the road, it fired at the right British unit on the hill in order to soften it up. It's two volleys produced two hits.

Now I remembered that attacking in close combat against intact units that are not isolated is a rather painful proposition, as adjacent enemy units can support the defender. So unless I wanted to attack both British units on turn 2, I needed to continue to wear them down and potentially deliver the killing blow with my French Cavalry. So I continued with the fire, but get no more hits on the British Line on the right square of the hill. It had a total of two hits.

So, time for Tenacity tests. I remembered them, but decided to double-check everything just to be sure. The only thing I really forgot was whether the target number was to roll equal or lower or roll lower than the number of figures in the unit. (It is equal or lower.) Both British units passed.

The French Cavalry was next to move, so I decided to immediately launch a charge on the east end of the hill, hitting the British Line.
Note: it may sound a little crazy that I launched a charge so soon. It was. I initially had rolled too many dice for the French fire. I calculated three dice per volley and two volleys, so six dice. I then rolled six dice twice for each unit, stupidly not realizing I had already accounted for the two Fire actions! By the time I had made the French Cavalry move, I realized my error, re-rolled the original casualties and moved on. Of course, I did not re-examine my decision of charging with the cavalry until I started calculating the odds...
I had to look up the Close Combat Test. Basically roll 1 die for each unit and on a 1-2 the French Cavalry is disordered and on a 1 the British Line is disordered (it had a tactical advantage, and thus a lower chance of failing the test). The French Cavalry gets disordered!

The British Line gets first strike (defensive fire), getting 10 dice, hitting on a '5' or '6'. The British completely whiff! Not a single hit! The French Cavalry get 6 dice, scoring a single hit. The cavalry wins, driving the first British unit off of the hill.

This is a big decision for the cavalry though, as now it can take the position. Note that it cannot take a breakthrough against the second British unit as it did not inflict more hits than the enemy unit had remaining. (I did have to look that up.) Taking the position leaves it in a vulnerable position, but denies the enemy from simply marching right back onto the square.

Disorder has the effect of requiring one action to remove it, but if you don't, you can still move and fight. The problem comes that your combat dice are halved, and failed tenacity or close combat tests will result in desertion.

I decided to have the cavalry take the position.

The French continue their momentum with The French Lights moving next. They decided to push through the woods, denying them to the Spanish Militia Lights.

The British Light Cavalry take a conservative move and station themselves by the Commander and the shaken British Line. Finally, the British Line get to activate. The retreated line swung to the west side of the hill after rallying off the disorder. The Line on the hill had a choice: throw two dice for each volley at the cavalry or five dice for each volley at the infantry at the base of the hill. I decided to hammer the French Line on the west end, hoping to create a weakness in the line. The British scored two hits. (The French passed their Tenacity check.)

Note that three cotton balls represents a units getting off two volleys, two cotton balls represents one volley, and one cotton ball represents firing skirmishers.

Turn 3

The one thing about random activation that some people like (and others hate) is when a unit gets the last move on one turn and the first move on the next. It essentially looks like a "double move" and it can be a powerful game changer.

The British Line, after activating after the French Line in the previous turn, activated first in this turn, granting the British four actions before the French got to act. The unit on the hill again attempted to pound the French at the end of the line, hoping to create a hole, but failed to score any hits after two more volleys. The second Line unit scored one hit with its one volley. The French handily pass their Tenacity check. A great opportunity lost!

The French Line immediately retaliated. The unit on the road moved further down, skirmishing with the Spanish Militia on the road, to no effect. The two French units on the left at the base of the hill fire two volleys each at the British on the hill, while the third fired one, then charge, led by the Commander. Amazingly, the British failed their Tenacity check, causing them disorder. Both the French and the British passed their Close Combat checks, however.

The British, despite being down 25% in manpower and disordered, inflicted as many casualties as the French inflicted in return (both scoring two hits). Although it is a draw, the French had their Commander attached, so they win. The British retreat, losing five (!) to desertion, leaving them with a single figure, so the unit disintegrated. The French take the hill.

The Spanish Militia continued to push down the road, with the Militia Lights covering their flank. Unfortunately, because the troops are amateur, they can only perform one type of action, and in this case it is Move, so they cannot Fire at the French on the road or in the woods.

Unfortunately for the Allies, the French Cavalry activated next, so they Rally. I consider charging with them, but even inferior amateur troops are not that bad in close combat, especially if they are not disordered. First, they would have to pass a Close Combat test. Granted, the militia fail on a '1' through '3', but the Cavalry fails on a '1' or '2', so the Cavalry has a substantial chance of failure too. After that the Militia roll 16 dice (or 8, if they had been disordered), needing a '5' or '6' to hit, so they would inflict about five casualties on the six figure cavalry unit. No thanks. The Cavalry stay put.

I had really wanted the British Cavalry to go before the French Cavalry, as I would have charged the latter while they were disordered. But now that they aren't, I would have to wait for another opportunity later in the game.

All of the remaining units fire to no effect, leaving this the positions on the board at the end of the turn. Things look bad for the Allies as they are down one of their best units and the French are in full possession of the hill.

Turn 4

The British Line again gets first activation and fire up the hill to try and dislodge the French Line unit there, inflicting a hit, but with the Commander not a casualty the unit does not need to check tenacity.

I swear I shuffled despite the order of the first two activations being the same! The French Line at the base of the hill started pounding the British Line, scoring four hits before one of the French units declares a charge. Meanwhile the French on the hill fired down on the Spanish and pound them with four hits also. Finally, the French on the road pound the militia for two hits.

The British check tenacity, failed, and were disordered. The Spanish passed, as did the militia.

Both the British and charging French passed their close combat tests. The British whiff their defensive fire (they are really terrible in close combat!) and the French completely wiped out the British with six hits.

At this point I bring the scenario to a close. There is no way that the single Spanish unit is going to hold off three French units, much less retake the hill. On the East flank two French average, professional units face two inferior, amateur Spanish units. The Allies have lost.

I need to rethink this scenario, especially the quality differentials. Maybe I should use the points system...


The first issue was wanting to match the units' paint jobs to historical performance despite the scenario not calling for any quality differentials. That is why I should always listen to that little voice that says "play it straight until you understand the dynamics, then you can start changing it".

The scenario practically assumes that you will lose the two units on the hill, or barely hold on, so the units coming on-board as reinforcements have to be equal to the task or re-taking the hill.

Secondly, if you are going to use different quality troops, using the ones that cannot fire and maneuver as your reinforcements and the ones that can fire and maneuver as your static defensive troops is a pretty stupid move. Had the militia been on the hill they would have been able to fire twice despite being amateurs. Had the British marched on, they would have been able to march forward and fire a volley on turn three.

Finally, not using the French then Allied activation sequence on turn one ensured that there was not a fair chance for the Allies. If the British activated first, they lost two Fire actions and ensured that the French would be right on them starting on turn 2. If the French activated first they had the choice of moving slowly and skirmishing, not being in a prime position on turn 2, or marching aggressively on turn 1 and gambling that they would activate first on turn 2. By leaving it to chance there was a 50% chance for a tough decision for the French versus 50% chance of a no-brainer, can't lose decision; by forcing the French to activate first there was a 100% chance of a tough decision for the French.

Clearly I need to replay the scenario with the quality of both sides being equal (as their are no real quantitative differences), even if not all units are of the same quality. Paint jobs be damned!

Another consideration is to have one single command per side as these armies really are pretty small. That would not only make the game feel more IGO-UGO, as was designed for the scenario, but you could still use the random activation to see which side activated first. So you get a little of TSIA and OHW's turn sequence.

Do the ratings I gave TSIA still hold, especially in the Unobtrusiveness (5 out of 5) and Heads Up (5 out of 5) categories? Yes.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").