Save us from the fury of the Northmen

I’ve put my money down, I’m waiting for the book and I’ve done all the fiddly research we gamer types tend to do before we settle on something, so it’s official: I’m going historical.

Well, I’ve played in a few historicals as a kid, but the fantasy and sci-fi stuff always seemed more exciting. And then when I got older I felt a bit uncomfortable about the very idea of historical games. The closer to the contemporary era they get, the weirder I feel. It’s not a huge deal: if a friend said they had a couple of Flames of War armies and would I come over for a game I’d say yes.  But it’s enough to keep me from starting up myself when there are so many games that don’t make me feel… creepy, maybe?  Anyway these are complex issues with good arguments on both sides so I normally just avoid it all by playing games about space and/or elves. Which is cool.

So why the change of heart? I’m still trying to figure it out myself to be honest. The game I’ve chosen is SAGA, a dark ages skirmish game, and it’s sort of ambushed me.  Admittedly I’ve been watching a lot of the History Channel show Vikings, and I’ve been reading a great series of historical novels set in the dark ages, but it started earlier than that.

Like probably most of you reading this, I love mythology. I grew up reading all sorts, but for some reason my favourites were the Irish stories of Finn MacCool and the Fianna. These works were recorded by monks in the dark ages and really sparked a lifelong interest in the period for me. The Fianna stories were meant to have taken place in the 3rd century, so not far off the SAGA period.

SAGA seems to take some of the mythic elements that make fantasy and sci-fi games fun and applies them to historical gaming. Each faction has powers with poetic names, based in their history and culture, and these powers are activated during the game. So if you’re the Irish for example you might have a power named after the faerie folk that makes arrows and sling bullets shoot out of nearby woods to hit your foes. There’s absolutely no reason why a historical game can’t be presented in this way, and it really made it seem attractive to me, as an experienced F&SF gamer and a mythology buff. It emphasises the way the people felt and saw one another, rather than the dry military history.  And since the period is so long ago, I feel as though I’m fighting mythological battles with larger-than-life warriors rather than historical men who probably weren’t having much fun when the Vikings rowed up the river.

There are a lot of other reasons I chose this game too:

  • Vikings; and Fianna; and Scots (my ancestors).
  • The cheap cost and mulit-faction versatility of dark ages models. For $60 I can get enough appropriate multi-part plastic models for three SAGA armies. Three!
  • The challenge of a different sort of modeling and painting. How do I differentiate my Welsh from my Saxons from my Scots when everyone had a shirt, some pants, a round shield and an axe?
  • People play it, which is always good.
  • I haven’t seen a bad review. I especially recommend this one, which I have to say is one of the best reviews of a game I have ever read: thorough, useful, and not boring.

So there it is. I invite you all to join me on my journey into dark ages historical gaming (once the god-damn book arrives).

Have a good one,


9 thoughts on “Save us from the fury of the Northmen

  1. Dragons Claw says:

    Arghh the dark ages where the British kicked out the Romans smashed up all the plumbing and went back to shitting in the woods for the next 1400 years take that johny foreigner.

    I’ve got a love of history which is lucky because here in the UK we got it in spades I live right on top of Sutton Hoo

    And the oldest signs of habitation by humans in Europe is about 40 miles up the coast from me

    I’m also a fellow celt my middle name is McConville

    I’m with you on historical games I feel a bit funny about ww2 games but never had a problem when I used to play 100 years war I think it’s because a lot of people who saw ww2 are still around and I’ve never seen a ww1 game but I think the same would apply

    Hope you enjoy the game expecting bat reps and pics now 😉

    • beat ronin says:

      Yeah, there’ll be pics and bat reps eventually. Probably take me a few weeks to get and build the models because none of my local stores have any of the cheap Wargames Factory boxes at the moment. And I’ve got my brother lined up to play with me, before I take it to the monthly skirmish nights at the game shop. I told him I was getting a dark ages skirmish game and he just said “that’s a cool period. Can I be Saxons?” Which says it all really.

      Australia doesn’t have the wealth of archaeology of the UK unfortunately. If you know where to look there are sometimes aboriginal rock-paintings, or spear tips – there were some hand-prints at a waterfall near where I grew up. Some of the aboriginal stuff is 60-75,000 years old I hear.

      Other than that, it’s all just refuse from colonial days. And a glass bottle from the 1800s is not all that different from a glass bottle from the 1980s. My mate and I once found a rusty old cooking pot buried near a tree in his backyard, but really, how old could it have been? Our town was settled by white people in the 1830s.

  2. sinsynn says:

    You knucklehead- you didn’t include a linky to the game’s homepage.
    Lemme go Google.
    Be right back.

  3. sinsynn says:

    Well it looks like an interesting game, although the randomness of the Saga Dice kinda scares me. I know I’d get screwed, every time.
    I’m lucky like that.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey sinsynn, yes I am a knucklehead. I seem to have forgotten how to be a real blogger, with links and things (and fast replies to my readers). Although if I remember rightly the official homepage is nothing to write home about. And I know you at least like a game to have a good homepage 😉

      The SAGA dice seem to be the way they’ve developed to you know, actually make money. Historical games can’t rely on their players sticking to their company’s models, so they have to find other stuff to sell I guess. I mean it’s an innovative mechanic, but they took the opportunity to make the dice all pretty, and charge 20 bucks for them. I’m not going to begrudge them that though.

  4. Thuloid says:

    Ooh, that looks like fun. Affordable, as you say. I should probably take up some historical game or another, given that 2 large historical mini conventions are held here every year. It’s not that history runs that deep here (well, for the US it does, but that means back about 300 years), but what there is of it is very good for wargaming–French & Indian War, American Revolution, ACW all right here.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey Thuloid, now the American Revolution: that’s a cool period too. But yeah SAGA looks really fun. Like I said, I’ve never seen a bad review. I’m waiting for a couple of boxes of models now, and I’m going to start with Scots and Vikings. And then maybe build more pairs of factions until I’ve got four or six. That’s my personal mini-gaming project for the next year I’ve decided. That, and get back to some Infinity painting. I’ve got Asuka Kisaragi waiting and I just bought a 0.03mm pen to give her some yakuza tattoos…

  5. thuloid says:

    Nice thing about American Revolution is the scale–only a few battles of more than a thousand or so on a side, and many little engagements. Easy to game.

    • beat ronin says:

      I also think it has a nice variety of combatants – veteran regular soldiers, frontiersmen, tribal warriors.

      OK now I’m getting that creepy historical gaming feeling again. “Variety of combatants?” I mean people.

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