During my late night internet procrastination runs, I stumbled upon a SAGA tournament in Copenhagen coming up. I’ve been eyeing SAGA for a long time, a miniature game with a twist of modern board game mechanics, what’s not to like? The best part is that it’s 28mm scale. Which is a joy to paint and that there are tons of miniatures to choose from.
My journey into SAGA started by buying the 25-man strong Byzantine starting force, painting about 8 dudes with spears, talking a lot about the game with some friends and then shelving the minis because of an upcoming Flames of War event that demanded more brushwork. This Danish tournament had no painting restrictions, meaning that if I could get my warband to 6 points, I was qualified to play. I had no experience of the game but managed to coerce a friend for a small 4 point battle, just to get a feel for the basics, how units move and shoot and so on. With just one game under my belt I was in no condition to actually compete. I set my expectations for the tournament to learn the rules better and hopefully not waste time of my opponents.
I looked quickly at the Byzantine Battle Board and wanted a unit of 8 mounted Hearthguard with spears and the javelin armed Psiloi Levies. This is to use the ability Strategikon to boost my Warriors in close combat and the Scouting to shoot with the Levy twice without fatigue. The rest of my force had to consist of the models in the starter Warband. Even if I bought some extra warriors and archers, I went with a third point of mounted Hearthguard but these used bows. They aren’t that good of a unit but I painted them and shelving a painted unit for more competitive choices felt shameful. Not that picking competitive units over good looking ones stopped me before, but with the current level of SAGA experience, army composition would not have mattered.
The Byzantines go to war:
1 Mounted Warlord, Dwelisarius the Fat
8 Mounted Hearthguard
4 Mounted Archers – Hearthguard
8 Toxotai – Warriors with bows
8 Skutatoi – Warriors with spears
12 Psiloi – Levy with javelins
Game 1 – Saracens – The Last Stand
Round one I played Tordenkugeln, one of the organizers and his beautifully painted all mounted Saracens. Looking at their Battle board, nothing there stood out as really good. Their abilities are totally random as well but apparently this has been FAQ’d. The missions was basically players bidding on how quickly they could annihilate each others forces, the defender was to pick favorable terrain but the attackers had an Endless Warband (destroyed units except the Warlord are recycled). Since I have a defensive faction I really wanted to defend, which meant betting something like 9 or 10 turns. My opponent picked seven turns making him the attacker.
8 Mounted Ghulams (Lances) – Hearthguard
8 Mounted Warriors (Lances)
8 Mounted Warriors (Bows)
8 Mounted Warriors (Bows)
8 Mounted Warriors (Lances)
The defender in this scenario can place up to two pieces of terrain on the table. I of course grabbed two woods hoping to fatigue his units as they went into assaults. During deployment I put infantry backed by mounted archers in the northern woods and my Toxotoi in the other southern woods. For some reason I put my 8 mounted Hearthguard and the Levy completely in the open. This kind of defeated my entire setup. Also there was this detail of my all my units started fatigues, something I’ve read about 4 times before deployment but it still managed to surprise me!
During the game, I quickly lost my troops in the open, that included my Hearthguard, warlord and the levy – all disposable chaff (no, not really). The Toxotai stood fast against repeated barrages from the mounted Saracen archery! In the northern forest, the Byzantine infantry supported by mounted archers, proved tough to crack for the Saracens due to the strong defensive abilities of my board. Shooting up my Toxotai didn’t work well because of the woods granting good cover saves. Because every charge against me triggered Support Archers as well as gave his mounted units fatigues, the Saracens only managed to kill the last Byzantine infantryman on the very last turn.
Result: A loss for my Byzantines.
Even though I lost, I had heaps of fun trying out my warband. The game was a nail biter to the end, but I really messed up by not sticking to the plan. I intended to take up defensive positions in the woods but for some dumb reason deployed my Hearthguard, Psilos and Warlord in the open. We talked about the mission afterwards and concluded that betting more then 8 turns is risky proposition for the defender. The attacker can mass his Warriors and Hearthguards into large units and throw them upon the defender without feeling the downsides of casualties as destroyed units are replaced. I think Tordenkugeln could have used his mounted Hearthguard more decidedly once mine were embarrassingly cut down. Even with those timid Saracen abilities, 8 Ghulams can still throw down fists full of attack dice.
Overall it was great fun, the Byzantines got to do stuff on the table and my opponent was friendly and very helpful with the rules. As a true wargaming champion, Tordenkugeln supplied many of the painted armies at the event to draw in potential recruits.
Game 2 – Vikings – Sacred ground
The second game was against a nice dude borrowing some charming looking vikings. He was a total beginner like me. The board had some rocky ground in the middle, a forest and a field on the other side. This was not good terrain for my cavalry to fight in.
I envisioned putting my archers on the left flank, taking the left terrain piece from where they could support my push into the middle objective. The other big thing was to limit how much damage the Berzerkers could do to my mounted Hearthguard. This kind of worked out, as Psiloi with backed by mounted archery, took them all down with negligible losses. But the Vikings activated everything twice and quickly occupied two terrain pieces. All thanks to their excellent fatigue shedding abilities. I managed to clusterfuck my army into the middle, not being able to move anything because of the close proximity to his models. Since I didn’t put enough Hearthguard into the terrain, I lost the game but not before sending a great portion of Vikings to McFeast in Valhalla!
Result: I killed a lot more models, but lost the battle.
The really big problem was that I screwed up one of the activation rules. There is a rule that says a unit within S of the enemy must charge said enemy or forfeit their activation. The part I missed was, this only applies to the second movement activation. Bad news for my Hearthguard, who were behind my infantry, and they both were within S of the Viking Bondi. That meant I couldn’t activate my Hearthguard. As times turned desperate, I threw my infantry to death to pushed back the Vikings. But it was too late.
Had I freed my Hearthguard earlier, I could have sent them to the right flank to enlighten the blonde barbarians about the teachings of Jesus Christ at sword point. I felt the terrain setup punished my army somewhat, my valiant horsemen and archers would appreciate a hill in the middle as the scenario recommends. My opponent didn’t use his battleboard abilities too much outside of activations, so I probably should’ve attacked him much harder. But I brought a lot of Vikings down with my units so it was still fun.
Game 3 – Normans – Battle at the ford
Another historical foe, the dastardly Normans. I planned to set up near the bridges and shoot until I won. Hopefully I could eliminate the dangerous crossbows first. Crossbows could be a problem for my mounted units. My opponent’s army had:
4 Knights – Hearthguard
8 Mounted Sergeants – Warriors
8 Mounted Sergeants
8 Sergeants on foot
8 Sergeants with Crossbows
The battle started with my opponent charging on the left flank with the Warlord and 4 Knights, but mounted archers and the Skutatoi locked shields and drove them off. In the next shooting turn the 5 Psiloi and mounted archers took down the Warlord and his retinue! I guess this could not have happened if I played the fatigue rule right (i.e you can’t spend enemy fatigue to reduce their armor). With such an massive advantage on the left flank, I took pot shots on the right with my levy. They had 8 Hearthguard with Strategikon loaded backing them. My opponent still managed to cause damage on the left by eliminating my Skutatoi and 5 Levy. I therefore sent my Warlord over there for support and charged with my hearthguard on the right flank. In the last turn, I had plenty of models across and my opponent none.
Result: A sweet victory for the Romans.
In this particular battle, the levy activated once from the Warlord and once from Scouting, meaning they put out tremendous amounts of javelins in the air without taking fatigue. This proved decisive especially as the Norman crossbows quickly thinned the ranks of my Toxotai. Another thing wroth mentioning is that this was the only battle in the entire tournament where I found use of expensive Kontos ability. I think my opponent could have got more mileage from his Knights by putting them in one big group and then charging off. But had his initial charge been a little luckier things would have played out differently.
Stay tuned for the final part of this tournament report, where you’ll find out about the fate of the Byzantine re-conquista of the old Western Roman empire…