Category Archives: Ronin Review

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

Ronin Review: Judge Dredd Skirmish Game

Recently I took a look at Mongoose Games Judge Dredd miniatures skirmish game.  The rules are free and available here.  I was expecting good things, as I am a big fan of Mongoose’s D20 system Conan role-playing game.  I think it really captured the spirit of Robert E. Howard’s world, as presented in the Conan stories.  This is something which the movies, while they have their good points, failed to consistently do.  But that is a discussion for another time.  I’m talking about Dredd today.  And by the way, how great was the recent Dredd movie?  The answer is very.

Anyway.

I wasn’t disappointed.  This game really captures the manic and satirical feel of the Dredd universe, and is an excellent – if simple – little game.  I was particularly pleased with the experience system for campaign play, which was one of the great things about Games Workshop’s now-defunct Necromunda and Mordheim games.

Speaking of Necromunda, after I read through the Dredd PDF, I couldn’t help but think that it would be a more modern and elegant ruleset for playing Necromunda than Necromunda itself.  But then this raises a question: why would you play in a knock-off universe when you can play in the original?  Judge Dredd had a huge influence on the Warhammer 40,000 universe and particularly on Necromunda.  It would be a bit strange to use rules designed for Dredd to play a game that is itself an imitation of Dredd.  If you did wish to do so however, or even just wanted to play a generic dystopian gang warfare game using these rules, the tools are all there: judges, mutants, punks, psychics and more.

The game is a simple D10-based I-go-you-go system where you succeed or fail at an action by meeting or exceeding a target number.  And that’s pretty much all there is to it.  Until your gang starts to survive a few battles and gain experience.  Then there is a good array of skills and special abilities to learn; a lot, but not too many.  The rules are well-written and clear, although there are an inordinate number of exclamation marks, making it feel as though the designers are very excited! about Judge Dredd! and robots! and apes! (and stump guns!)

A word of caution. Mongoose are historically an excellent provider of third party role playing products.  The writers of this game have designed a system that due to it’s simplicity seems fairly immune to game-breaking on first inspection, but they definitely wrote it with the idea that players are going to bring a certain role-playing element to the table.  For example, the campaign system provides in-game rewards for naming your minions.  If a minion-level model with a name survives three games, then he or she (or it) can become a hero and gain skills and experience from then on.  This instantly gave me visions of a certain sort of player cautiously huddling their minions in safe-houses for the first three games of a league, and then dropping five hero bombs on everyone else’s more balanced gangs.  This is always a danger with games that try to reward immersion with in-game bonuses I think, and I’m not certain how to overcome it.  People will either play to the spirit of the game or they won’t.  This is certainly not a deal-breaker for me though.

Oh and the models are nice too: charmingly disproportionate and comical in the way old Citadel models were.  In fact, it made we wonder if the style of the original Warhammer 40,000 models had less to do with unpolished 1980s sculpting methods, and more to do with 2000AD comics . . .