What follows is a run through of the 2nd edition of Saga. Your author is probably and possibly one of the worst Saga players on the planet but some attempt will be made to emphasise what makes this different to 1st edition.
Second edition Saga is published as a rules book with no battle boards or army guidelines included. There is an image of the Viking board, so although lacking the berserker rules a Viking army could be played out of the book. The separate Age of Vikings book contains force rules and battle boards for 12 forces based on the previous dark age books. Some old armies have been absorbed, together with just about all of their old rules and tactics. The Strathclyde Welsh for example are now just a Welsh army with all units except levies mounted, they do not have their own board. There are currently no rules for off-board units so all the old Strathclyde abilities of shooting from off-board and moving on units during the game are lost. Although the 12 new boards replace existing boards any serious Saga gamer should consider picking up the old expansion boards while these are still around for some potential game variety.
The existing Cross and Crescent and Aetius and Arthur boards are still valid. Cross and Crescent is being discontinued but the new core rules do include an image of part of a Crusader era board so something must be in the works. The Studio Tomahawk Saga 2 launch day publicity included a Tuetonic Knight against Prussian game. These could be new factions or existing forces re-worked. The final clue is that the ‘Age of Vikings’ supplement includes rules to use the Moors board from ‘Age of Crusades’. Aetius and Arthur is not sold with rules so might remain in print as it is. There is, however, a change in the way that dice work which could force the remaining original boards to the sidelines.
Each nation still has 8 dice, so no need to buy or sticker any more. Dice can now be kept on a board between activation rolls and these do not count against the dice generation cap. So if 2 dice are kept on a battle board and the army generates 6 dice in a turn, it can keep the 2 and roll the remaining 6 dice. One caveat is for abilties that require 2 dice, both dice must be placed and kept on the ability. It is not possible to place 1 die down and hope for the other to come up later. All of the 12 new boards except Carolingians have a basic Saga ability to take a 6 face score, discard this and roll 2 more unused dice. A similar ability does exist on some of the old boards but it is now specifically clarified. The 6 face is put to 1 side, it will not be rolled again that orders phase. The 2 replacement dice come from amongst those not originally generated by units on the board. The Carolignians have other dice re-roll powers and will not be bothered about lacking this ability. Some nations’ abilities do allow a rolled dice to be specifically rolled again or set to another face without rolling. Note there is no 6 order dice rolling cap. A force can roll all 8 dice, if it can generate them. A levy unit of at least 6 figures or a warrior of at least 4 generates an order dice, hearthguard units and warlords another 1 die each so generating 8 or more dice from an army is quite possible but no more than 8 dice will be rolled. The effect of these dice generation and re-rolling factors on the existing boards will be hard to judge. The aim seems to be to keep the dice moving around. A force generating a small number of dice can build up powers by keeping dice on the board, assuming the opposition gives them a chance to do that.
All units become exhausted after 3 fatigues, any fatigue in excess of 3 is ignored. Fatigue can be spent to aid or hinder movement or combat. In combat it can be used to increase or decrease armour multiple times within a minimum of 2 and maximum of 6. Fatigue and abilities are spent in strict IGO, YUGO sequence each player in turn. An example consequence would be the Viking Loki ability. This can only be triggered once but forces a hefty penalty on the opponent if they use enemy fatigue or their own abilities in a combat. It can make even an exhausted unit hard to beat but should be triggered at the beginning of combat as it will not retroactively effect any fatigue spent or abilities already activated. Exhaustion is not a massive deal, -1 on attacking to hit rolls and being unable to activate except to rest. So activate to rest, lose 1 fatigue and lose exhaustion. Then activate to move, as the 1st non-rest activation this will not generate another fatigue.
The Saga book contains only a basic scenario with none in the Age of Vikings book. A battle book is promised. It can only be hoped that the scenarios in that are more than the usual, ‘kill the warlord’, ‘rescue the captives’, ‘escort the baggage’ affairs. All games are better where some thought beyond ‘fastest with the mostest’ needs to go into winning. The single scenario provided has some variety in terrain set up and starting areas but otherwise is a simple ‘line them up and go for it’ appraoch.
Here the Vikings take on the Anglo-Saxons, a relatively historical match up, some of the clothing and shield designs may be off-piste. These are probably 2 of the simplest factions to play the aim being to get into the rules rather than explore sophisticated ability interactions. The Vikings have some good combat abilities. The Saxons rely on bonuses they receive from large units. The Viking plan is to build up a bank of good combat effects then roll forward and use them. The Saxon plan being to get in quick while their own units are still big and before the Viking can optimise their battle board. The terrain is the minimum allowed by the scenario set up rules. The rear 1′ section is out of play as this is a 4’x3′ game on a 4’x4′ mat. The Vikings have deployed well back except for a big levy unit in the woods, hoping to buy time to optimise their stored dice. The Saxons are as far forward as they can be aiming to get stuck in. The house is a ruin, the official rules for houses have yet to be published. The tiny blocks of woods are the required ‘small’ size, 6 figures might squish in, 8 at a push. The effect of these small terrain pieces is not their inherant cover but to slow units by forcing them to go round. All moves are in straight lines in Saga, no bending round the edge of poor terrain.
The Vikings are starting with a hefy 7 dice pool, hoping to get some good combat combinations. The downside of having a lot of units is that it is hard to move them all. The Saxons have 5 activation dice, relying in part on the occasional 6 score to roll additional dice into the activation pool. Having a small unit count did not prove a major problem. An army gets 2 free activations, the warlord and 1 unit within short of the warlord. A clarification to the Viking board says that a warlord is always within short of himself so until someone erratas it the warlord could activate twice without spending dice. The second could cause fatigue so that would not always be the best plan.
The Vikings start the show, throwing just 3 dice as first player. All rubbish but put on combat abilities just in case. The Saxons manage to get a unit of 12 warriors into the Viking levy in the woods hoping to eliminate them and have the Viking drop a dice. The maths was not thought through. All things being equal the warriors will hit levy on a 4, rolling 12 dice they might expect to hit 6. The levy close ranks, dropping half their own attacks but saving hits on a 4 (3 if missile armed), so half the hits get through, the levy lose 3 figures. It will take 4 turns at this rate to plough through a unit of levy which itself has a limited offensive ability. These calculations proved true in practice the 12 warriors (1 1/2 points) took all game to plough through a 1 point levy unit that was itself a limited offensive threat.
The centre saw the Viking berserkers plough into the 8 strong Saxon hearthgaurd but were unable to wipe them out, 1 figure remained throughout the game (and stayed out of the way after that). The Saxon warlord finished off the berserker unit. The Viking warlord then tried to finish off the Saxon warlord. Warlords do generate 8 attacks but have good armour, can take hits as fatigue (until they are exhausted) and pass another to a friendly hearthguard unit within short. This means that the average warlord on warlord combat is not going to be conclusive unless significant activation or fatigue effects are in play.
The second unit of Saxon warriors charge in and are able to remove the Viking warlord who is not within short of a friendly unit. Losing the 2 free activations for the warlord and the die for the warlord himself severley hampers the Viking player. For the rest of the game the Vikings try to shuffle forward but do not have the activation dice to get into combat. The Saxons finally destroy the pesky levy they have been hunting all game. A clear Saxon win. Note that several Viking warrior units took no part in the battle beyond generating activation dice. The Saxon levy was also left out of battle but as a levy unit that would be the best place for it.