Ronin Review: SAGA

Hey everyone.  I finally got hold of my copy of SAGA, and I thought I’d do a quick review of it.  I don’t want to get into the habit of reviewing games that have been out for years, and have exhaustive reviews elsewhere.  But I think most of the people who read this blog are like me – not really historical gamers – and so may not have read much or anything about it.  Plus, what else is a blog for but sharing your thoughts?  So I’m just going to say a bit about how the game looks to me, and offer my thoughts on some of the (few) criticisms I’ve read.

Right, so firstly I can confirm that everything I’ve read online about the positive qualities of this game seem borne out.  The rules (not counting faction descriptions, scenarios and the rest) are short; about 30 pages probably. Compare this to, say, the upcoming behemothic 7th edition of Warhammer 40,000, which has some 200-odd pages of rules alone.  The SAGA rules are clear, consistent and look fun.  I read the book through once, and I feel confident that I understand how the game works.  This is much more than I can say for many other games out there.  It looks simple to play and well- balanced.

There’s something I’d like to mention that I haven’t seen anyone else point out: this book is quite funny.  It has that beer-and-pretzels feel that I associate with early Warhammer, and that I think GW still struggles to foist on their players now with mixed results.  For example, in all of the official SAGA scenarios, the rules state “Roll a D6.  The winner goes first.  In the event of a tie, the player with the most impressive facial hair goes first.”  Tough luck for shield maidens I guess!  And the brief background for the Anglo-Danish faction has this to say:

Huscarls of the prosperous Anglo-Danish kingdom were characterised by their use of the latest military equipment: long mail hauberks, the fearsome  Dane axe capable of severing a horse’s head in one blow, and, of course, the magnificent moustache.

Maybe I just really like cracks about facial hair, I don’t know.  But it gave me a chuckle.  The whole book has this rollicking, light-hearted tone which somehow befits a game about Vikings.

What about negatives?  I’ve heard people say the book seems a bit overpriced, and I’ve seen one blogger say they didn’t like the beer-and-pretzels feel.  To the latter concern I’d say it’s probably a matter of personal preference and of  how much you like that style.  But I’d like to emphasise that the game itself looks tight.  The tone of the rules should not be taken as an indication that this game requires something like a “gentlemen’s agreement” to play properly or competitively.  That’s not true at all.  It’s obvious that Tomohawk Studios have put a lot of thought into designing a game that is easy to collect and play, yet deep, and that can’t be won in the list-building phase.

The price is a different matter.  To be honest, I felt the book was a bit overpriced at $55.  It’s full colour, but it’s also quite slim and has a soft cover.  My editor’s eye picked up a few typos, which is unfortunate.   I personally think $40 would be a better price for what you get.  I suppose you get good quality card Battle Boards too, though, so maybe it’s fair.  Some people aren’t going to bat an eye, but my budget for games is not the biggest.

All in all I’m very keen to play.  I’m getting some money together to order some Scots and Vikings, and my brother is going to sculpt himself an Anglo-Danish warlord and start getting some troops together too.  Hopefully more updates soon…

All the best,

James

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4 thoughts on “Ronin Review: SAGA

  1. sinsynn says:

    I did a lil’ reading up on the game following one of yer initial posts about it.
    Seems like a good game. Solid reviews. The wacky dice for each faction seem a lil’ odd, but since you can sub in D6’s…meh.

    I do have one question- I’m gussing there’s lotsa 3rd party figs youncan use with this system, cuz the official figs seem just as expensive as any other figs out there.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey Sinsynn, yeah the Gripping Beast metals are not the cheapest as far as historicals go. But you can sub in any appropriate dark ages models, and there are quite a few out there. SAGA has no rules about basing other than “you can’t get an advantage from your base.” So they can be square, round, single or multiple models on a base, whatever. Wargames Factory makes plastics for around $30 AUD for 32 models. Crusader make some nice metals but I’m not sure on the price.

      Then again, the official Gripping Beast plastics are good-looking multi-part plastic models and you get 44(!) for about $40 AUD. So as you can see historical plastics are a far cry from GW insanity: averaging less than a dollar a dude. So I might go plastic.

      But honestly, I like the official models and I don’t like assembling multi-part kits unless I have to, so I think I’m going to pony up for the metal. Even a maximum-sized army – which I wouldn’t do because they’d all be peasant levies with bows – is only 73 models. A normal warband is probably going to cost me $100 to $130, $150 if I shell out for the dice as well. So that’s not much really if I spread it out over a few months. Gotta love skirmish games 😀

  2. kaptainvon says:

    Could you explain the Battle Boards and funky dice a little more? I’m vaguely interested in the ins and outs of SAGA as a system, wondering if I could adapt it to… my own dark purposes. >.> <.<

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Von. I’ll give it a go. It’s at the heart of the rules, so I’ll try my best to explain without having to tell you the whole system.

      Basically all troops are the same across all factions: warlords, hearthguard, warriors or levies. They might have some minor variations in weaponry but that’s it. The thing that differentiates the factions is the battleboard, which has two things on it: a collection of “powers” unique to that faction, and spaces for each of the troop types I mentioned above.

      Each turn you roll a number of SAGA dice based on the number and type of units in your warband. So the number you get to roll fluctuates during the game. The dice have nice symbols on them depending on your faction, but as Sinsynn said, there’s a conversion chart for using D6s. Next, you assign the dice to the spaces on the battleboard to activate units or powers that turn. Different units and powers need different combinations of symbols. Levies for example need rarer symbols to activate them than hearthguard, as they don’t take orders as well. The powers function as both the fluff and the crunch differentiating each faction, and having to choose between them each turn forces you to have an adaptive strategy to what’s going on. The dice are a resource that needs to be managed. Does that make sense?

      I’ve not seen, but I’ve heard in my travels of people adapting SAGA succesfully to much later time periods and to fantasy gaming, so what you have in mind looks to be a viable idea. People say it scales upwards well, too. It’s an interesting game in terms of scale actually. It’s designed from the ground up for twenty five to seventy three models in a standard game. So it’s somewhere between what I would normally consider skirmish and full scale battle. Perhaps you could say it deliberately inhabits the scale that Warmahordes has evolved into?

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