One of the most acclaimed war games to be released in the last twelve months is Gripping Beasts’ Dark Age Axe fest ‘Saga’. It has been so well received by the gaming community that the majority of the Saga brand has been likened to Hen’s Teeth. In the game you take control of your war band, made up of your courageous Warlord, his Hearthguard (his closest brothers in arms) ranks of warriors and levies pressed into fighting for their clan.
The game is written by Alex Buchel of Studio Tomahawk and uses a superb Battle Board and specialist dice mechanic to control your forces actions and reactions. Each race and faction has a unique battle board with individual abilities and orders for your troops that are activated by spending your order dice. The order dice have three different symbols on them and are tailored to the factions. The symbols or combinations of them are placed on your battle board and used at the appropriate time to act and react during the course of the battle. Now this may sound like an abstract idea to try and describe but it works incredibly well. I have been told that the game went through about two years of play testing and it really shows with the balance of the battle boards. There doesn’t seem to be an over powered faction that lays waste to all before it, and everyone who I have played against have said it is a beautifully balanced game. Add to this a very simple but well devised ‘Fatigue’ Element to the game and you have an exceedingly tactical game that can bring diversity to most games you play. Units accrue fatigue points while they perform actions throughout your turn. These can be expended by your opponent at optimum times to reduce your troops movement, make them easier to hit, make there opponents in melee harder to hit etc. Obviously this works both ways and there are even cheeky little battle board abilities that hit your troops with fatigue as an activated action, but do not worry, there is not a War band that cannot be put to the sword.
Obviously this is just a quick overview of the core mechanic, throw into this cavalry, bows, javelins, huge axes and the odd scenario and this really is a winner. The factions playable from the main rulebook are the Vikings, Welsh, Normans and Anglo Danes with four more battle boards in the first Saga expansion called Northern Fury. These war bands are made up of the Anglo Saxons, Bretons, The Scots and the mythical Jomsvikings. Again maintaining the balance of the factions is key to this games success and I am looking forward to carving up some of the latest factions at my local club. The game has received tremendous praise from the gaming community; it is tactical and engaging but with its simple and clean rules really is causing quite a stir. It is a 28mm battle game that feels like a skirmish endeavour that can accommodate up to four players fighting against each other. Rumour has it that when two legends in war game design were having a chat about what everyone was playing at the big castle in Lenton, it turns out everyone is throwing specialist Saga dice!
The guys at ‘Beast Towers’ have got it bang on with Saga, even to the point that rules books and the specialist dice used are being sold at a rate that from day one, supply has not been able to keep up with. This is a good thing. This is an indicator of how well the game has been received and what the general consensus is from the gamers who play it. Even if you are not a historical gaming fan, still have a go at Saga just to try out the mechanic. There is an air of narrative to the games I have played and these rules are very flexible. It won’t be too long before fan written rules pop up on the internet for genres such as Lord of the Rings, Greek Mythology or even the Wild West using these core mechanics from Saga, and again, this is testament to what a robust system we have here.
The latest in developments for the game have been a few named characters to use as mercenaries for some factions but more exciting are the Skraelings. (Commonly known as the First Nation or Native American Indians). That’s right; your Viking war band can raise hell in the North American territories defended by the tribes that are just as proud and war like as the invaders.
There have been a lot of games released over the last 12 to 18 months and there have been some superb offerings, but at the moment it looks like Saga is king of the hill. The models are great with a good choice for your war bands, the game is superb, and the company is very supportive of the gaming community. All this adds up to something a little bit special.