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,