Saga Classical Indians

The Classical Indians appear in the Age of Alexander book. Historically they did fight the Persians, Alexander and Seleucus. The Greco Bactrians could also run as a Seleucid list, earlier or later Greek settlements in the East might also run under the Greek battle board. In both cases the non-phalanx ‘Greek’ figures could be represented by Indian or Persian models. Geography makes any other match up tricky. The Maurya period (322-185 BC) was a period of stable government and the best guess is that troop types over this time would change little. If we move to the Gupta era (319 to 467 AD) and a Parthian list were to appear in a later antquity Saga book there could be opportunities. Pushing the envelope and lose the Chariots these Indians could fight Sassanids or even the Mutatawwi’a from Age of Crusades.

Geography or even the march of time is often given a light touch by Ancients gamers. A Classical Indian army was popular in the old WRG Ancients days as they could field longbows and two handed swords on the same model. The WRG rules treated these in the same manner as British medieval longbows and heavy cutting weapons such as the halberd so they were useful fellows to bring along. The counter attraction under almost any ruleset, including Saga are the expensive elephant and chariot models. In Saga a 4-horse chariot is the same cost as 2 foot hearthguard; the 2-horse is an equivalent to 2 foot or horse warriors. Elephants are not so costly as they could swap out for 8 warriors but in all cases the expense is going to be more than an army relying almost entirely on foot models. On the other hand the basic foot model is only going to need a weapon, some facial detail and a white kilt so would be quick to churn out.

Unlike many armies there is no host of Osprey type books with a pile of pretty pictures to follow. Duncan Head’s Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars is probably the most accessible source. The older Phil Barker edition is best avoided as it contains less information and makes little attempt to justify what it does include. Classical Indian art does illustrate battles and parades but as with some Western pieces it may show a literary ideal rather than what might be seen in life. Note that at this period the Indian Mauryan Kings were Buddhist as Porus may also have been. Many of the soldiers could still have been Hindu but best not go overboard on Hindu motifs in the army.

Gateway at Buddhist temple complex, Arch Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India. 3rd century BC to 1st century AD.

Book X Chapter 6 of the Arthashastra gives some idea of the tactical use of Elephants, Chariots, Cavalry and Infantry from around our period. Book II Chapter 30 onwards governs acquiring and caring for elements of the army. Chariots are defined as a range of sizes with the widest being 12 purushas, 9′ plenty of width for 4 horses abreast.

The Anabasis includes details of Porus’ army and the battle at the Hydaspes. It is not stated how many horses pulled the chariots but they were heavy and slow and less than effective due to the mud.

He then took all his cavalry to the number of 4,000 men, all his chariots to the number of 300, with 200 of his elephants and 30,000 choice infantry, and marched against Alexander.

Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian Chapter XV

Arrian’s Indica Chapter XVI also includes a description of Indian dress and of infantry weapons and shields.

The Saga Indian list options are in some ways relatively accurate as they encourage a variety of troop types. Not only in the actual models that can be fielded but with benefits on the battle board from having a mix. This fits in nicely with the Arthashastra and the Saga concept of the game being more about the story than strictly historical. It makes sense to field elephants, chariots and infantry. As the infantry are Levy there are likely to be quite a few of them. Only cavalry get a short shrift. A single unit can be fielded as Hearthguard or Warriors but they have no specific advanced Saga ability benefit. They have some attraction as only cavalry and light chariots fill the Warrior slot and 8 cavalry models will be cheaper to buy than the equivalent 4 light chariots.

Only half of any Saga army can be elephants (including the general) and only half of the units in an Indian army can have resilience (not including the general).

Elephants by Newline (Metal) Aventine (3D print), Aventine (Resin). The armoured Indian elephant is unlikely and may later be converted for Successor use.

A viable list would be 3 elephants (3 units), 2 heavy chariots (1 unit), 1 Hearthguard and 12 levy. If taken as a general an elephant costs 1 point but does have better stats than ‘your average’ elephant. Elephants are best used as single models rather than units because a single elephant can take 7 hits (6 as resilience) but a pair 8 hits (6 as resilience) in a single round. Also 2 units could both rest stripping 2 fatigue, a combined unit could only rest once per turn. If running a standard Warlord at 0 points with a single heavy chariot model an extra point is freed up.

Newline heavy chariots, the reins are strips of plastic from a document wallet.

Our Indians take a run out against Macedonians who move first sliding up the slow moving phalanx. There are 2 areas of swamp and sections of rough and also rocky ground. This match up will involve some careful dancing around as the elephants are vulnerable to sarissa but the cavalry do not like elephants.

The Indians move up their elephant line with the aim of knocking out the Macedonian archers. They hit home with hearthguard cavalry but the results are middling.

The Macedonians push the phalanx up against the Indian archers and chariots. Chariots are poor in defense but with resilience and buffs from the Indian battle board can hold out well. The Indian bow retreat into the swamp. It might be argued that they gain an additional fatigue for that. It depends on a if a retreat is a move (so they probably should take an additional fatigue.)

The Macedonian archers are getting slowly mashed but manage to hang on.

The heavy chariots also beat the odds and are still on the pitch.

The Macedonian archers are gone and the elephants move in on the phalanx.

The chariots are also off for an early bath.

It would be easier if the elephants were not so slow. One does not want to pile up the fatigue on them.

Some solid sarissa action and the Indians are an elephant down their Hearthguard are also off the field.

The Indians take out a unit of mounted Macedonian hearthguard.

A sarissa assault on the Raja’s elephant does not go so well. A key tactical issue here; sarissa have a +1 vs mounted and elephants if they have no fatigue themselves. So if defending against fatigued sarissas it makes sense not to strip their last fatigue.

Game winning moment here. The Macedonian Warlord is within charge range of the Raja. The Indians can buff their defense but have resilience 3 anyway so take him out for a final score of 20 to 15 in their favour. If the Warlord had moved ‘L’ away rather than stripping his own fatigue in the previous turn he would have been safe and the game almost certainly a draw.

The Indian board compliments the elephants and chariots as REINFORCED ARMOUR, GREAT SIZE and DYNASTIES all buff models with resilience making it easier to keep them on the field. Indians are capped at 3 elephants (including the Warlord) and half with resilience (not including the Warlord) this makes it hard to field both types of chariot if the full 3 elephants are on the pitch. Even with 1 as the Warlord the maths needs 8 units for 4 resilience and at 6 points that probably means some weak units to pad out the points. The heavy chariots are much like elephants with no missiles but a unit of 2 will throw down 12 dice and 2 automatic hits if it is charging in. Although elephants can move 3 times (adding up to L) without fatigue through careful use of the Indian board the chariots can do that in 1 activation rather than 3. A missile armour of 5 (compared to 4 for elephants and light chariots) also keeps them alive unitil they get into melee).

The light chariots are missile platforms so are perfect for NO WAY OUT (as are elephants) but do lack punch in melee. A unit of 4 light chariots will cost more than the Victrix Republican Roman army boxes that make an entire army for Saga so chariots are far from an auto-choice. On the other hand any Indian army should have at least 2 elephants.

The optimum Macedonian ability ought to be SLAYER OF KINGS as it allows all misses in a single melee to be re-rolled if the defender has resilience but it is a one-off advanced Saga ability. Compare this to VARIA that allows the Indian to re-roll 1 attack and 1 defense die in every single combat. While the Indian and Persian boards have clear synergies with their troops the Macedonian board still seems to be a collection of useful abilities that may not gel with their troop load outs. There could be a benefit in deploying some or all of their Hearthguard as sarissa when facing Indian or Persian armies where the cavalry might be less useful.

Saga Macedonians vs Persians

Thank you to Gripping Beast for providing the Age of Alexander supplement gratis, time to start working through the boards.

Greeks are relatively good value army builds in the recent Saga books as many similar models will work as Graeculi, Macedonians, Successors and Thracians. The major differences hinge around the use of shields and their shape together with helmet and armour differences that are less apparent at arm’s length on the gaming table.

The Macedonian board is rated 1 star so should be easy to play, the problem is choosing the right models to make the best of it. They need to get the painfully slow sarissa phalanx into action. SEIZE THE INITIATIVE allows 2 units to move a second time without fatigue but is going to chew up 4 Saga dice (or we obey and 3 dice) in total. It will at least get 2 sarissa units up to M (or M + S with a charge) in a turn without fatigue. Take another activation (and its fatigue) and a phalanx can get into melee with any pesky Persian shooting at L in the previous turn. It will, however burn a pile of Saga dice leaving very little for additional buffs and possibly nothing on the board to react with on the next Persian turn. Any 2-unit advance will also leave all other sarissa troops well behind. This is an incentive to only run 2 units of sarissa, either Warriors or 1 Warrior and 1 Hearthguard. If running Warriors there is some benefit to buying 3 points and deploying as 12s or 10, 10 and 4 (the latter hiding at the back). These are the sort of deployments that Scythed chariots are built for. Hearthguard cavalry are good and can also benefit from the SEIZE THE INITIATIVE double advance so 2 units make sense as does dragging along a unit of Levy. If not running 3 points of sarissa a single point of Warrior javelin (peltasts or hypapists) is a good buy to fill out the army total of 6.

The Persians are relatively easy to point up as the troops available gel well with the board. This game will run a late Achaemenid force with the option to take Greek mercenaries. These are tough hombres although they get no benefit from advanced Saga abilities. A unit of 8 is a good start. Greeks require an equal number of Persian cavalry so another point buys 8 Warrior cavalry. The Persian board has buffs for combined arms units so these are a must but are only available as Hearthguard. With the attractive missile buffs of the Persians a Levy unit makes up 4 points. To benefit from COMBINED ARMS the Persians need an equal number of infantry and cavalry. Units of Warriors are pretty squishy so another point of Hearthguard, as cavalry is the easy choice. A variant would be to buy 3 units of Warriors and run 2 as Greek and 2 as cavalry all of 6 figure strength. The final point will go into Hearthguard infantry or possibly 2 additional Hearthguard models and 1 scythed chariot. The scythed chariot needs to get into combat without a fatigue to be much use and generates no Saga die. It will be hard to get one in the right place at the right time, very tricky to get any use out of two. The Persians can field an elephant but look good enough without going down that path.

The Persians will be looking to grind the Macedonians down with missile shooting, taking advantage of the slow sarissa units although Persian mixed units are even slower (they both move and charge S).

Here we go, the Macedonians are first player. Terrain is 2 small swamps and an area of ruins. The plastic box lids in some images mark the edge of the gaming area.

The Macedonians put up a few buffs but advance cautiously. One unit of Hearthguard cavalry moves up the flank using manoevre. This proves to be a mistake as it stays out of the key parts of the battle being too far away to do any good.

The Persian Levy is in the ruins and the red shielded unit beside them are 8 Hearthguard with combined arms. Key Persian tactics are to use a use a mix of ONE VOLLEY AFTER ANOTHER on 1 shooting unit and double activating the other to put a hail of arrows on one unit at at a time. Shooting is quite random but put down enough dice and the effect will start to tell. In turn 1 they both have to squidge up a bit to get in range.

The Persian Hearthguard cavalry charge the Macedonian Levy and defying the odds lose a figure in melee.

The Macedonians use SIEZE THE INITIATIVE and shoot/poke with their sarissa on the way in to get up close and personal with the Persian Hearthguard. They melee twice and use CONQUERORS to strip their melee fatigues but 2 Persian models still stand. A benefit in always keeping some defensive buffs charged up on the battleboard.

Intensive Persian shooting and a spot of luck eliminates one Macedonian unit and throws fatigues on its nearby comrades.

The Persian infantry Heathguard are finally wiped out but a a Hearthguard on Hearthguard cavalry melee goes poorly for the Macedonians.

The Persians clear up what is left but at at some cost to their own Hearthguard.

The Macedonians jiggle around the 3 units they have left hoping to to wipe out the Greek mercenaries.

The Macedonian Levy now no longer generate a Saga die.

The Macedonian Warlord tries to wipe out the mercenaries and fails leaving himself within bowshot of the Persian Levy.

He is swiftly shot down. With only a single unit generating dice and a slim chance of doing any good without losing the last Macedonian Hearthguard unit to bowshot the following turn the game comes to a Persian victory.

What if the Persians had deployed first? This gives the Macedonian some foresight when deciding where to deploy the phalanx. The Persians have taken the chance to place another wood. This turned out to be more use to Macedon than than Persia.

In brief a close run thing but the Macedonians managed to run down the combined arms Hearthguard unit before it did too much damage. The Levy bow were partly neutralised by staying out of range and the Macedonians pulled out the advantage in the cavalry melees for an eventual win.

Lessons learnt include the benefit of dragging a piece of ruin terrain along with a a bow heavy army. Uneven ground and hard cover is no bad thing for bows. The Macedonians avoided going in after the ‘dug in’ bows but sarissas are not too bad in uneven ground on their board. The models only go S anyway so are not massively slowed and can still benefit from FAULTLESS MASTERY as it is not a phalanx ability. They can also still use their sarissa shooting ability from outside the uneven ground into it. The Macedonians do seem harder work than the Persians but that could be because of the difficulty in finding the optimum unit type loadout.

Sharp Practice at Steel Lard

Off to Patriot Games in Sheffield on 19th November 2022 for Steel Lard. The morning was taken up by a 4 player (2 a side) French and Indian War Sharp Practice game. Lovely terrain, the figures are Galloping Major. This was a relatively small scale affair. The models were mostly working in groups. Only 2 or 3 formations each of 2 groups came into being during the game. With small sized units and most of those being skirmish or light troops in cover a lot of the dice thrown had no effect. A unit of French Marines were, however, wiped out by long-odds missile fire. In the ACW and Napoleonic games previously described here there were big formations throwing out a lot of dice and consequent losses and shock building up. Here the pace was quieter with a lot of shots going nowhere. Close combat was more deadly but its a risk often not worth taking.

I commanded the boat on the left below. Both were full of 3 groups and a leader but it would be a push to cram them all in. Redoubt do some lovely period boats with rowers but how often would these get used in games?

The plan is to sail down the river, get out, burn down as many of the 5 buildings as possible and if there’s time find and rescue our commander’s lady friend. The British only have 1 man and a dog on the board. If the dog did not detect us in theory it is possible to do all that without anyone getting hurt.

Our luck went the other way and the boats did not get far before the dog heard our oars and the British cropped up all over the the shop. Time to get out of the boats but even that took longer than it ought to have done.

After some sorting out 1 house is on fire and the inhabitants of the other are heading for safety.

Our Milice think better of that, charge in and slaughter the lot. They later set the house on fire to rub it in. Redcoats have formed a good line behind the next fence making any further progress difficult.

Both sides settle into a firefight. Some of the British mission Indians break and run. Rogers Rangers dance about with little effect and our Coureurs du Bois loose off long range rifle shots with similar lack of result.

The end of game sees a stagnating firefight and the British decide to concede. They were 2 points lower in morale and in danger of breaking. Our French were not in a much better position and had only burnt 2 of the 5 buildings and failed to find the lady. On points I would have given it to the British.

The ‘winning’ French tactic had been to continually hammer the 2 badly hit British units (Indians and colonists) and see the British morale drop as they ran further away.

Rumour has it that the French also won the afternoon game,not that it really matters as long as everyone had fun (except possibly the British colonists).

Saga Age of Alexander Iron Man

October 30th 2022 at at the FIASCO show at Royal Armouries in Leeds saw an 8-player Iron Man tourney using armies from the new Age of Alexander book. I had been to an Iron Man before but back in the old Saga v1 rules days. The plot was roughly the same with 5 point armies all provided by the Iron Man and metal to boot; no plastic here. Age of Alexander had only been out a few days so these were new forces and we had little time to get acquainted with the battle boards.

First up my Antigonid Greeks face Gauls (from the Age of Hannibal book). The Sarissa and Phalanx rules have not changed from Age of Hannibal but the Successor battle board makes them easier to move about and better at shooting (stabbing at short range) than the Graeculi board. The Successor line is mostly phalanx with some levy on the end and Illyrian mercenaries in the centre. They are deployed to take advantage of the rough ground ahead of them. Illyrians are especially good against Levy but the Gallic Levy are deployed well away from them.

It all starts reasonably well, Gauls pushed back, favourable loss ratio although 1 Successor Hearthguard unit is down to a single man due to constant Gallic shooting. Seeing the Gallic board almost empty I buff up the Successor general and charge his Gallic counterpart. Statistically this should work out well but both generals end up alive but exhausted and the next player turn is Gallic. The result is to be expected.

Still the Successors has done relatively well up to losing the leader and managed to keep up the momentum enough on the opposite flank for a very narrow win.

Next battle saw my Spartans taking on Persians. The Spartans gain advantages from having large hoplite units keeping very close together. There are 2 such blocks here although the single unit of 4 models is little more than a dice generator. The blocks will break up with losses and charging into combat but it is not too hard to keep them intact for most of the game.

The Persian commander was less experienced and we both forgot which Persian units were mixed spear and bow and hence could shoot but only move ‘short’. Persian bowfire was relentless but the Greeks have an advanced Saga ability to take missile shots as if they were protected by light cover so are able to withstand it. The Spartans gain an advantage after combat if they lose a melee but as they never lost one we did not get to try it out. A Persian cavalry attack from the rear did not work out and the hoplite line plodded forward for another win.

The last battle sees me field another Successor army; Seleucids against Thracians. This army has the same battle board as the Antigonids but includes an Elelphant, cataphract horse and thureophoroi mercenaries. The Successor boards have 3 sets of enhanced Saga advanced abilities depending on the attitude of the general. I picked the same set in both Successor armies so as to minimise the new things to learn.

The Thracians made good use of hit and run, quickly putting 3 fatigues on my Warlord. They also managed to take out the elephant although with a little more effort expended. The Successor line plodded forwards and steadily took the Thracians apart.

A clear win here with much of the Thracian army off for an early bath. As much a case of bad Thracian die rolling as to my generalship, he deserved to do much better.

The final count was 3 wins. Overall tourney victory was based on the massacre points of each player and I came 4th out of 8. We had played 3 games each over 5 1/2 hours with a single coffee break of about 30 minutes included. Although there was a leader board and prizes (although not for me) the event was a case of moving around the toys and having fun rather than trying to be top of the leader board. Some mistakes were probably made with the basic and army specific rules but not enough to affect the games or the overall enjoyment.

Iron Man himself is available for similar events within the UK. Everything is provided, figures, rules, dice, markers and terrain. Gripping Beast provide the wherewithal to make this possible. A club or shop wanting top set up a similar event should track Iron Man down through Facebook. Here is an overall view of how it all looks:

Plastic Achaemenid Persians for Saga

The Achaemenid empire flourished for over 200 years and during that time there will have been changes in costume and styles of warfare. To keep matters simple this exercise will concentrate on the later empire that would have faced Macedonian pike phalanxes of Alexander III or Philip II. The Empire was pretty much shattered by Macedon although the satrapy of Cappadocia was bypassed and survived long enough to become a Seleucid, Pergamine then Roman client state and finally a Roman province in AD 17. The Gallic migrations that led to the establishment of Galatia occurred about 40 years after the death of Alexander. After that time Cappadocia came under Gallic influence. Livy (writing about 35 BC but probably with older sources to hand) describes the Cappadocians at the battle of Magnesia in 190 BC.

On the left flank, next the phalangitae, were posted fifteen hundred Galatian infantry and two thousand Cappadocians similarly armed —they had been sent to the king by Ariarathes;

Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 37 Ch 39

Some of the other Persian types could crop up as allies or levy in Successor armies also with increasing Greek influence over time.

For general ‘army building’ reading we have various Osprey titles, WRG’s Armies and Enemies and Duncan Head’s Achaemenid Persian army. Useful original coloured images are obviously less common although there are at least 2 good examples.

Below is a colourised view of the sarcophagus of King Abdalonimus [Ἀβδαλώνιμος] who was awarded the throne of Sidon by Alexander the Great. In some scenes (not the battle below) Persian and Greek figures are hunting animals together. The original colours have faded but were recorded when the object was first unearthed. Thank you to Dick Osseman who has hosted some good images of the original on the web.

Colourised rendition of the Abdalonimus sarcophagus hosted by D Osseman
This is the Alexander or Issus mosaic. Although dating to many years after our period it is assumed to be an accurate copy of a near contemporary picture.

From these and other sources we can look to Persians in trousers and bright patterned clothes. Greeks on the other hand will be bare legged although not necessarily in the buff.

The thifty gamer should go for Wargames Atlantic infantry and Victrix cavalry. The cavalry come in 12s so a general will need to be sourced from elsewhere. Armoured and unarmoured cavalry come as separate sets. An economical solution is to give 4 cloaks and make them the Hearthguard leaving 8 as Warriors.

The Victrix armoured cavalry sprue. The horses that come with it are not armoured.

The Wargames Atlantic sprue. 40 figures in a box allows 3 sets of 8 Warriors, 1 group of 12 Levy and 4 spare for spares, conversions or possible elephant crew.

These models match in size with the Victrix. Only the crescent shields fit with our period. The big squares and figure of eight styles are from an earlier date. The poses are middling but the variety is good. To get armoured and unarmoured spear and archer poses would require 4 different Victrix sets. Buying individual Victrix sprues would get round this if a supplier is found with all the variants in stock. The Wargames Atlantic heads are poor compared to Victrix except for the useful bareheaded Wargames Atlantic head. Fortunately the Victrix heads fit on these bodies better than those provided by Wargames Atlantic. The ‘bowl’ hatted heads are, however, most useful as that type of hat can be seen in 19th century photographs so can be used for generic Eastern levy after the end of the Achaemenid empire.

Here are the 4 Victrix armoured cavalry variants. There are bow cases for all the models but no arms with bows and no shields. The ‘no shield and javelins’ loadout below is probable for late Achaemenids.

Now the 4 or 5 Wargames Atlantic infantry; some may have Victrix heads. The round hoplon shields are Victrix spares as there are none on the sprue. Victrix spear infantry does come with the hoplon shields included. There are 2 figures with quilted jackets but the only difference is that 1 has a cast on left arm and the other does not. The unarmoured guy with no arms is the most useful as he can be made up as a spearman or archer. The archer with cast on bow could be sliced up and made into a spearman but the pose is not ideal for that. Enough bow cases are provided for all the infantry but only 1 in 5 has a moulded on bow. So there are not enough to model all infantry with bows (sheathed or in use). Luckily the Vicrix cavalry have ample spares.

With any Persian model there will be some tradeoff in details in the embroidery and making the patterns blocky enough to give a feel for a pattern at arm’s length. True scale decoration would just show up as tiny dots.

Saga Urban Uprising

Urban Uprising is a scenario from Book of Battles. It is not well-named as there is no uprising beyond a possible event from 1 encounter. The board below loosely represents a Greek colony in the Crimea about to be fought over by the Last Romans and Pagan Rus. The buildings stand in for periods from Roman times through to the modern day but are good enough for the period. Units cannot move into or through built up areas, only keeping to the streets and courtyards. The terrain layout seemed about the minimum to drive the game mechanics. The 2 forces set up and enter at opposite board corners. The 6 yellow crystals mark encounters that will be revealed when a unit is activated to move within ‘Very Short’ of each.

Neither full force fits on the table at set up. Units will be moving in on the first and second turns. The game takes place at night so there are no charges or shooting at ‘Long’. Units must stay within ‘Medium’ of each other or suffer a fatigue at the end of a turn. A unit can take a 4th fatigue this way and will be removed from the game. This all seems to imply that an army should be in a clump with no units more than ‘Medium’ from any other. More than 1 clump could exist but the owner would have an easy choice of which to pick as the main force. It quickly becomes apparant that units will be doing a lot more dice-free manoevre moves than usual due to the distance between set up points and almost all moves being at ‘Medium’ or less.

The Last Romans start with some serious problems. If their cavalry move ‘Long’ they are likely to take additional fatigue through being lost in the dark. Their missiles can only shoot ‘Medium’. Finally they do not have space to spread out so will be taking constant losses from the Rus FROZEN WIND ability. This would usually be mitigated by moving away from table edges and getting in close with the Rus so any use of this ability will hit both sides.

Both sides move on. The Last Romans come across some civilians that they need to protect so these are sent to the rear out of the way.

The Last Roman slinger Levy are attacked by the city guard. They take some losses but being Levy generate more than enough victory points to offset any loss. The Rus uncover a couple of monuments that need to be guarded. 2 objectives remain to be revealed.

The Last Romans uncover a vital road junction but their fatigue is piling up. Their board has no way to remove fatigue except by a single rest action for each unit.

Turn 3 (out of 6 or 7) and we finally have some combat. The Rus Warriors load up on Saga abilities and wipe out the Last Roman levy. Losing the Levy is not a big setback but it causes nearby Last Roman units to take an additional fatigue, a commodity that they are already knee deep in.

The Rus push forwards aiming to drive the Last Romans off the objective near their Warlord. The Last Romans strip what fatigue they can and load up on defensive abilities. There are not enough dice left to move the archers forward.

A clash of warlords follows. The Last Roman Warlord is destroyed with 5 hits. He could have taken 1 as a fatigue (up to 3) and then another 4 on the nearby Hearthguards. Taking it on himself left the Hearthguard with the possibility of a counter-attack on turn 7. The game ended on turn 6 with the Rus controlling 4 objectives and the armies dominating 2 table quadrants each.

The final scores on the doors are Rus 18 and Romans 16. If the Romans could have held the final contested monument and pushed a Hearthguard into the North West map quadrant they might have pulled off a win. The mass of fatigue they were racking up would have made this unlikely. Some nations will do a lot better in this scenario than others, cavalry and missiles are definately on the back foot. Movement is more important here than in many Saga games where the tactic of loading up on Saga abilities and charging in is unlikely to do any harm. The difference in style of play does make this one of the more interesting options in Book of Battles

Saga – Eastern Princes Warwagon Tactics

Only the Saga Eastern Princes list includes a warwagon. General opinion is that it is or was close to useless. The unit has been buffed twice since first described and there might, just might be some light on the horizon.

The latest errata reduces the warwagon cost to half a unit, it generates a Saga die and has determination. If the determination is the only activation taken up by the unit then in effect the army has a free Saga die for use elsewhere. This is the same cost:benefit ratio as a half unit of 6 levy but loss of a single levy figure will knock out the die engine. With resilience 2 a warwagon will hold out far longer than a single levy figure. The warwagon is still vulnerable to missile fire, 2 shooting activations from 2 separate units should rack up the 4 fatigue in a single turn and put the model back in the box. Eastern Princes do have the advanced Saga ability GALVANISED that if the enemy has 3 or more fatigues will strip their own fatigue. This is an ORDERS ability so is one of the few advanced abilities that will work on a mercenary unit. This could keep the model on the table longer. It is also specified that destruction of the warwagon only deals 4 massacre points. There does not appear to be an additional massacre hit for being mercenary.

Armed with these conclusions the new warwagon plan is to activate it as little as possible and use its Saga die elsewhere. Where sustained incoming shooting is expected the model needs to be in the second line or behind cover but it can hold its own against a single shooting unit. If the warwagon can tie up more enemy activity than a single half unit of levy so much the better. Charging is off the agenda (specifically banned for the unit) but a weakened unit could hide behind the wagon, denying massacre points for being wiped out. The final decision is what to do with the other half point from the unit cost. Eastern Princes have abilities that benefit cavalry and hearthguard so any extra 2 (out of a purchase of 4) hearthguard will roll up.

As a rough plan to try it all out the Eastern Princes line up against Ordensstaat. Terrain is sparse, 2 regions of small broken ground and a large wood. The knights are on foot (no repeat of riding over thin ice as in Sergei Eisenstein’s film) to enable their levy to keep up and be ruthlessly burnt up by Saga dice buffs. The Eastern Princes hope to hit hard and fast with their cavalry then pull back to the infantry line if losses are high. The Ordensstaat will grind forward sacrificing their own levy without mercy. Their crossbow could inflict costly losses on the Princes’ cavalry if they are not ridden down too swiftly. Unless Saga dice are really tight the Princes will be using HESITATION frequently to block the knights NACH OSTEN ability for a free move of ‘S’ across the entire army.

The Princes move a single mounted unit around the rear of the Teutonic line. The Germans move most of their line forward and take out 3 cavalry with crossbow shooting.

The Princes slam in and wipe out the crossbow unit. DRUG is a powerful ability as it can added 10 combat dice from the Hearthguard to the Warlord here. It is not so easy to line up as it requires a support unit to be in place before the melee takes place.

Meanwhile the bulk of the German line slides forwards. The big peasant levy unit are not too bad at shooting and are kept up with the line to provide fodder for the Teutonic abilities that sacrifice their own models.

The Teutonic line spilts, some chase down the Princes’ Warlord. The rest aim for the weaker Russian centre. Without guaranteed use of NACH OSTEN the Germans are having difficulty shifting all their units. Sage dice being put to better use in combat buffs. The Princes’ cavalry is not as exposed as it appears because FEINT will allow a single mounted unit to move in the opponent’s turn. Getting away from declared charges and avoiding the fatigue hit for multiple moves.

Careful use of the warwagon restricts where the Germans can charge but by sacrificing an additional move they can go round the side, keep out of ‘M’ and charge something else.

The Princes’ Warlord comes over to help in the centre but is eventually caught and destroyed.

By game end the Germans are still generating 5 Saga dice. The only Russian Saga die is from the wagon. 2 Warrior units, both too small to generate dice cower behind it.

The Germans have already won but to see what happens the knights charge in on the wagon for the final turn. 2 Hearthguard models are well buffed up but bounce off. The Warlord then goes in but with no useful abilities left on the Saga board. He too bounces. The wagon has 3 fatigue, it can’t take another from the combat so holds in place.

As all the toys are out we give the battle another go but with the Princes’ cavalry staying closer to the main line and the warwagon up in front. The Russian levy archers are enough to neutralise the German crossbow and take the missile pressure off the warwagon.

This game ends as a narrow Russian victory. The warwagon even manages to get off some ineffectual shooting. The Russian Warlord is just off camera.

To conclude the warwagon could be a cheap Saga die generator. It has minimal offensive capability but might not be worth the enemy’s efforts to destroy it. Sustained bow shooting might be its Achilles heel.

Frostgrave with Dungeons and Lasers

Dungeons and Lasers is a hard plastic modular building system from Archon Studio in Poland. Sets to build dungeon layouts are available direct from Archon. In the UK their distributor is Warcradle Studios. A much wider range of Archon’s products have been sold through Kickstarter and Gamefound. These are only available while the various pledges are live. UK delivery will be subject to VAT, shipping fees and the vagaries of International deliveries. Items from previous campaigns do, however, show up on eBay.

The common floor structure is a block of 4 squares each of 3cm sides. With 28mm figures that would be about 2m each making a single block 4m x 4m, a good sized room in a real house. It is still a bit of a squeeze with 28mm models partly due to their integral bases. It would also be a tight place for a fight if the usual 3-seater settee, bookcases and coffee tables were in place. The Dungeons and Lasers room boxes are of 9 floor block equivalents (3 doubles and 3 singles) with enough sides for some inner walls as well as round the edges. There are 2 dungeon base sets. The core set only comes with the Gamefound campaigns and has an equivalent of 42 floor sections. The starter set is available at retail with 21 floors and a selection of props to dress the rooms and corridors. The core set (in the Gamefound campaigns) costs less than the starter making the core the smart buy. Multiple starters will load up on the extras but there is a limit to how many statues, chests and the like that anyone might want. The dungeon rooms come with door archways but no doors. It is no surprise that they have no windows. In the above ground rooms every wall has a window so to make up larger building rooms some of the dungeon walls and floors might be re-purposed for interior use.

There are too many room, roof and pavement options for anyone to realistically collect the lot so the question crops up as to how many sets are really needed? A single starter could be used by a role-play dungeon master to create 1 or 2 rooms on the fly. It is not nearly enough for even a small skirmish game. The set up below for our Frostgrave game proved adequate and was made from 2 1/2 core sets and 2 standard rooms.

The pieces come in a dark grey plastic that could pass for stone but lacks depth of colour. Some of the rooms above were primed then painted with GW Contrast paints. This worked but was expensive. A core set used up roughly 1 can of spray paint and 1 1/2 pots of Contrast. Here is the cheap solution. Prime then hit with a dip made from wood stain. Apply liberally so the stain soaks into the cracks then wipe off excess stain. The walls are supported on the connectors supplied for assembling the rooms. They are then painted and left to dry vertically. The stain will then drip down the walls creating staining just like damp going down a real wall.

The exact mix of the stain or dip is varnish and water in about the consistency of milk together with enough acrylic paint to darken the final colour. The varnish needs to be water not oil based. It should also be satin or matt not gloss and the darkest base stain available. The end results can be glossy at best but with a gloss base can verge on the dazzling. The picture illustrates that this is a messy process. The water-based stain will just about come out of clothes if washed quickly in hot water but best wear old clothes and not do this in the front room.

Here are the results. These are not as glossy as they appear in the photo but having a stash of matt varnish to hand is helpful in case of overly shiny results. The torches and mirrors here came with the starter set and were also part of the original Kickstarter stretch goals. There is a conflict between gluing decorations to the wall sections and leaving them loose. If these extra bits are loose it will be easier to stack and store the walls but it will take more time to set up the rooms. Having tried it out the best approach seems to be glue any wall decorations in place. This provides some variety in walls that would otherwise all be remarkably similar and avoids the bits falling over during a game. Obvious room scatter such as chests and traps can be kept separate and placed as required for the game.

The Frostgrave setup has rooms with Contrast paint and dip alone. There are 3 colours of grey undercoat partly explaining the difference in room colour and the sheer volume of paint needed get several sets ready. The drop in quality when not using Contrast is easily outweighed by the time and effort saved.

After all this we got a 5-player game of Frostgrave in action at the club. Each player started at a separate entrance with the aim of picking up as much treasure as possible then getting out through the portal at the far end of the dungeon. Frostgrave is a simple system; it has been further developed into Stargrave and Silver Bayonet. There are several Frostgrave books, one is specifically aimed at dungeon battles but it is not really required to play. There is not enough difference between Frostgrave 1st and 2nd editions to make buying the newer edition essential. The game did lend itself to players holding place at key junctions so they could move forwards and grab more loot while those held back were losing time and money. The wall spell is especially effective in dungeons although we did increase the chance of it dissipating. The game came to a conclusion when the first player escaped the dungeon. We then counted up loot and experience points. From a decision making point of view it was closer to moving toys around on the living room carpet than chess but it got the dungeon out, looked good and entertained the troops for the evening.

Pulp Alley Tomb of the Serpent

After a break painting up models and playing boardgames time to make some effort on the toy soldier front. Tomb of the Serpent is a campaign set of scenarios for Pulp Alley. Rather than going through them all in detail its heads down for a rush through using the solo rules to see how far one can get. Here we get through 4 games and reach part way through chapter 3. Doubtless mistakes were made with the rules but what are rules for if you can’t break them?

Our heroes will be from the St Trinians films with the Headmistress, Flash Harry, 6th and 4th form girls. The ‘shock’ ability of the 6th former reflects her feminine charms. The 4th formers are a gang and are not going to last long. We assume that they run off and will be back in time for the next episode.

The adventure begins somehere in the home counties with a key artefact hidden down the well at table centre.

Our hero and heroines are gathered around the well. Miss Fitton is going to climb down it while the rest of the gang try to keep out of trouble. This was the 2nd go at the scenario both using 4 rather tough ‘faceless’ enemy models. In the initial run through the ‘faceless’ gained 1st move, ran in and clobbered the girls around the well. There was no chance to recover and it quickly all went down the pan. Not wanting to set it all up for a new game the experience was put down to ‘planning’ and the new St Trinians strategy is to try and stay out of close combat range.

The solo player does not usually block hits so a lot of damage was taken on both sides. There also seemed little benefit in that side taking on the minor plot points beyond denying them to our heroines. Two solo ‘faceless’ were sent off after those plot points regardless as having 4 tough enemies going against our small group by the well was not going to work out well. Only 1 character can be in the well at any time throwing the problem of how to get back out when an enemy is standing by the top. This was approached as needing a successful dodge to get out and slide past.

This game saw more movement as St Trinians stay out of the way and concentate on whittling down single enemies by shooting. Eventually they down all but one and the relic is retrieved from the well. There was however rather too much rolling off and recovering from brawling as despite there being 5 plot points only the central well plot point was worthwhile fighting over.

For game 2 we move to North Africa (Libya or Algeria judging by the buildings). One of the 5 dubious individuals scattered around the board may give valauble information leading to our team finding another artifact. When a suspect is successfully interviewed a reward card is drawn from a set of 7. The mysterious cultists have turned up again and we both start from corners of the board. The cultist gameplay is easier here, try to block the girls from getting to too many of the plot points too quickly.

St Trinians get to 3 of the 5 suspects but only achieve limited rewards. There will be some game benefit but no clue as to the next artifact. Most of the school party are already down as the Head Girl tries for just 1 more cosy chat. Alas the cultists are too many and she is knocked down just as the Gendarmerie show up to sort out the mess.

We hear rumours of the artifact showing up again at a dig out in the desert. The gameplay is much the same, 5 plot points with 7 possible rewards one of which will be the artifact.

The cultists are not so strong this time and our league triumphs. The green guys look beefy but are little more than animated brocolli and go down easily. The cultists come out the worst from shooting and our girls break through Flash Harry finally uncovers the artifact hidden inside a lecturn.

We travel south further into the desert to a remote oasis. The cultists are involved in some sort of a ceremony and look a tough bunch. The weather is poor restricting vision to 12″, which will help sneaking up but hinder any long range sniping. If the head honcho cultist by the altar passes 3 challenges then the bad guys win. Our gang have to stop that and capture at least 1 more plot point. The plan is to concentrate on shooting at the cult leader and drop his health so he has less chance of finishing his evil incantations. The girls are not especially good at shooting but they are worse at hand to hand. We dig deep into our campiagn rewards and hire a gunman to help out. He is a little overdressed for the desert in riding coat and bowler but at least he will not get cold at night.

Things start badly with the cult leader winning one challenge then getting a free pass on the next. Luck then changes, the leader is forced back (using dodges to avoid some hits) but takes damage. He is down, gets up again and then goes down and stays down. A clear win.

The next scenario in line requires our leader to pass 3 tests on 3D10 (needing a 4+). She whiffs one so will play another scenario in this chapter and not move on with the campaign.

Silver Bayonet for Flintloque

Having languished for some 20 years in their boxes the Flintloque figures find another route to the table with Osprey’s Silver Bayonet. Their other recent trip out being with Muskets and Tomahawks. Silver Bayonet is a very simple gaming system and 10 figures a side should be more than enough. The system is set in the Napoleonic Wars but would run for any horse and musket setting from the end of the pike and shot period until the proliferation of breech loading rifles. Gamers command ‘historical’ forces with a 3rd monster force run by the game system. With nothing being strictly historical the Flintloque nations fit in well and being large models work with the various Games Workshop style gribblies. Games of both systems involve roughly the same size forces so some of the Flintloque scenarios could be easily adapted for Silver Bayonet. There are a selection at Orcs in the Webb and more scattered through the Alternative Armies digital archive. The challenge is to track down those with the more interesting play value. ‘A Stroll in the Park‘ has the makings of a Silver Bayonet adventure after a few changes in force compositions.

There is little shockingly new in Silver Bayonet. The key combat factor is the use of 2D10s and needing to equal the target’s defense. The 2 dice are classed as either power or skill. If a hit is achieved the score of 1 die (usually the power die) is subtracted from the health of the unfortunate target. A basic soldier has a health of 10 so if hit has a 1 in 10 chance of being down in one. Models that survive gradually get better during a campaign and one of the best early buys is to increase that health to 11, effectively giving a model 2 wounds and negating the chance of an instant kill. There is no penalty to losing health above 0 except that fewer hits will eventually force an early bath. The twist in the tale is each player has a small bank of spare dice (usually 2 each of power and skill, plus 1 monster die). A player can use each spare die once as a re-roll or an attempt to reduce any damage. A common hit number is 14 so if 10 is rolled on the power but 1 on the skill (total 11) it is a good call to re-roll the skill hoping for a 4+ and a possible kill. In the case of 10 skill and 1 power it is probably not worthwhile spending a spare power die as the damage caused will be 4-10 but 1-3 will still miss (assuming 14 to hit). The spare power dice (only) can also be used to reduce damage, best saved for when those 10 score hits come in. There are very few modifiers to firing; skill, movement and cover, nothing for aiming and a rifle is no more accurate than a musket but has a longer range.

A typical Silver Bayonet scenario has the players moving on from the board edges with something bad in the middle. Objectives on the table will give an advantage in taking down the monsters or spawn more bad things (probably a mixture of both). The monsters are hard to put down, many are immune to just about any damage. Special weapons or ammunition overcome these immunities but you need the right tools for the monster of the day. The scenario set up should have some of the right kit hidden on the board although you can still end up with the right figures with the right kit but in the wrong place. The book scenarios have no end condition but do offer experience points for fulfilling objectives such as killing things, finding things and rescuing things. There will come a point where both sides realise that they have either achieved the optimum point score or that further losses would achieve nothing so both retreat off the board. When played as a campaign models improve a little between games so staying alive is a win. With the monsters being well-hard it pays to let the opposition wear them down a bit then finish them off (monsters and opposition) then get out of dodge.

Gameplay involves dicing for who goes first. The first player acts with half their models, then the monsters (with a basic automation), all the 2nd player’s models go then the remaining 1st player’s models. Going first can be an advantage as they can get out of the way of the monsters, allow the 2nd player to get mauled then clear up with their remaining models.

Of the 10 scenarios in the book we have played up to number 8 while trying to keep experience logged and used for a campaign. The plot was slightly hampered by losing the roster sheets after scenario 6 and having to resort to an earlier saved copy. None of the characters have massively increased in skill although there has been an experience gap that has led to the British being granted some extra game experience to keep up with the French. 2 games comfortably fit into a games night (just over an hour’s play in each) including set up and take down of the table and figures. Playing as a campaign is a definite benefit as it gives an incentive to cut and run if things seem to be going as well or as badly as they are likely to get.

There are certainly some problems with the rulebook. Most of it is fluff but the actual rules seem to be only detailed once but not all in the same place. This makes tracking down a particular rule tricky as the book lacks a comprehensive index. For example there is a section on the monsters, most of these have a list of special powers. Those are listed in another section and may modify standard rules scattered throughout the body of the rulebook. The monsters and traits sections are just about in alphabetical order. Some, however, are out of sequence causing some severe frustration: Inspiring is at the bottom of page 151 but indefatigable is over the page at the top of 152.

In summary a simple system that gets games played although it lacks the depth of decision making of some other games; such as the card system in Muskets and Tomahawks.