I remember when Saga first hit the wargaming scene and the renewed interest it sparked in the Dark Ages period. After a couple of games I was inspired to get figures for the 4 factions listed (Viking, Anglo-Danish, Norman and Welsh), and then proceeded to play many games over the next few months, against many different players. I liked the simplicity of the rules; movement and combat were easy to work out, the scenarios were clear and decisive. I thought the lack of morale rules was strange, as was the use of fatigue, but the rules worked OK so I was happy to ‘refresh’ opposition units to gain combat advantages. The core mechanic, and real beauty of the rules, were the Battleboards. They gave each faction its own distinct flavour and allowed skilled players to tailor their actions to get the most out of the forces on the table. Even though I played numerous games, I tended to switch between factions, so I never truly felt I ‘knew’ the Battleboards well enough, and this is probably why I lost more games than I won. I noticed that ‘good’ players tended to favour a particular faction, one that they fully understood and could exploit efficiently. Interestingly after a year or so, my Saga gaming declined and it has been 2 or 3 years since I last got the toys out of their boxes. This was not due to dissatisfaction with the rules, but simply I had other projects on the go.
Well, the new 2nd edition of Saga has been released and I bought a copy at Salute this year. I’m not going to review the rules and highlight the changes made, because others have already done this and I don’t want to go back and re-read the 1st edition rules in depth. As I have not played Saga for a few years now, I hope my failing memory will allow me to judge the 2nd edition as (almost) a new player. The soft-cover base rule book (£10) is produced to the high standards expected of modern wargame rules, with plenty of informative diagrams plus nice photos and graphics. I like the use of explanatory text boxes to highlight key points, and the summary boxes at the end of each section. It was apparent that some changes had been made to clean up the rules. The movement is now specified as being in straight lines and the move of a unit is ‘mapped out’ by movement based on the first figure of the unit. This is fine but will take some time to get used to; the urge to move figures in a block manner may not be as automatic as previously done. Warlords are now single units that do not combine with others in combat, which seems clearer to me. I like the fact that Levy can now generate Saga dice. All units now have a fatigue limit of 3, irrespective of quality (not sure whether or not I like this). The combat modification process has been clarified, with attacker/defender taking it in turns to make choices, and this should nullify the debates that were previously common in games. Overall, everything appears fine. My only complaints are: (1) There are no rules for buildings! How can this be justified? Stating that such rules will be included in a future Battle book seems to me to be a cop out. In the 1st edition the building rules were simple and covered less than half a page, so unless the authors plan a multi-page in depth revision, then the rules should be included in the base rule book! My games always featured at least one building and the absence of this key bit of the rules is a bad omission. (2) The second criticism is the lack of scenarios. Rather than the single scenario given, I think the authors should have included the 6 basic scenarios from the 1st edition. Again, it stated that scenarios will be provided in the future Battle book, but I think the addition of a few basic ones in the back of the base rule book would have been appreciated.
I also bought the Age of Vikings hardback book (£30). Whereas the base rule book was good value, I’m not sure Age of Vikings was. Essentially what a gamer needs are the new Battleboards, plus the brief details required showing the faction composition/equipment. The rest of the material is fairly irrelevant. Based on my experience of 1st edition Saga, I have never played using legendary characters, elite or ‘mercenary’ units etc. Maybe some players like to change things up, but I have found the generic forces to be fine. The Ragnar text boxes for each faction may turn out to be useful, but I would have found some general advice on strengths/weaknesses/tactics to be more helpful. The cardboard Battleboards will obviously be used in every game, but the Age of Vikings book (although very pretty) will spend most of it time sitting quietly unused on the shelf.