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.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Playing Saga 2 – Part 2

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

Turn 2

Vikings

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

Anglo-Saxons

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!)

Vikings

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

Anglo-Saxons

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.

Vikings

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

Anglo-Saxons

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!

Vikings

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.

Aftermath

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).

Impressions

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.

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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").