The Byzantines feature in both of the new Saga army books. In ‘Age of Vikings’ they appear as the ‘Last Romans’ . Each book has a different battle board and list options. The ‘Age of the Crusades’ book also features the Cilician Armenians who use the ‘Last Romans’ board from the ‘Age of Vikings’ book. The Roman dice from Aetius and Arthur are used, these are workable Roman dice labels (10 instead of 8 in case some smudge or mess up).
Choosing a Saga army depends not only on the list restrictions but on the battle board abilities. These often depend on a specific troop so not optimising that within the army build will affect what the army can do during the game. The 2 army books do overlap in dates towards the end of the 11th century so for want of a definition the ‘Last Romans’ might be before Manzikert (1071) and the Byzantines just after. This would allow the same model represenations to be used for both books. Saga is not especially strong on history but it is nice to make some effort to match up.
From a thifty viewpoint a good starting build are the plastic boxes ‘Byzantine Spearmen’ and ‘Mongol Cavalary’ from Fireforge together with ‘Arab Heavy Cavalry’ from Gripping Beast. For the period where the books overlap the spearmen would want kite shields not oval shields, both are in the Fireforge box.
The infantry are good to go as spearmen. With 25 bodies and 40 heads, 15 heads are spare for mounted figures.
The ‘Arab Heavy Cavalry’ have a wapping 20 bows to go round. Plenty to run up to 8 cavalry as bow armed, leaving 12 more to be glued to half the infantry. Cut the bows at the wrist and swap with the shield hand of the infantry. The best bows are those without armour on the shoulder as the armoured bow arms match with the cavalry armoured torsos. To get the infantry shoulder armour to match would require surgery on the left and right arms of the foot soldiers.
Since 12 of the infantry are now bowmen they will not need their shields and those 12 kite shields can go on the cavalry.
The ‘Last Romans’ list has warrior infantry so 24 foot warriors would be some with bows and others without. The Byzantine list only has mounted warriors so the 24 infantry would need to be levy. These could be spear or bow (or crossbow if the bits are to hand) but the Byzantine ability ‘mixed formation’ allows levy to shoot as if they had bows so sticking some bows into the spear levy unit and calling it all spear is not unreasonable.
The Arab Heavy Cavalry have the correct body armour and enough heads with helmets to work as Byzantines. There is a sticking point with the Arabs all having long robes. Traditional Byzantine dress would be slightly shorter coats with leggings more visible. This can be fixed by swapping the Arab Heavy Cavalry tops with the bottom parts of the ‘Mongol Cavalry’ box (who show more knee) and using the left over bits as Eastern light cavalry. The ‘Arab Heavy Cavalry’ box art shows warriors with long mail coats. Unfortunately this option is not available on the sprues, all the armour is for chest and shoulder only.
The ‘Mongol Cavalry’ sprue is also to be used for bow armed mounted warriors.
The models come as torso and legs so the Arab armoured torsos can be swapped onto these figures.
8 figures can be used as 1 point of warriors leaving the other 4 as more warriors, hearthguard (using armoured torsos) or as a warlord and standard bearer.
The Mongol horses are in 3 parts compared to the Arab 2 part horses. Both need some care in lining up and filling. The Mongol horse heads need to be correctly positioned and the Arab horse sides can slide out of alignment. The Arab rider legs fit well onto the Mongol horses but the Mongol rider fit onto Arab horses is not so good. The riders appear to be standing in the saddle rather than comfortably seated.
Adding up the numbers we have 7 points of ‘Last Romans’ (3 mounted hearthguard, 1 mounted warrior, 3 foot warrior) or 6 points of Byzantines (2 levy rather than 3 foot warrior units) allowing for building a warlord. The Armenians have yet another load out but can get by with 12 mounted hearthguard, 1 mounted warrior, 8 foot warriors and 12 bow armed levy. They need the bows to make best use of the ‘Last Romans’ board but this list does leave 4 foot spearmen unused.
Factoring in the cost of a warlord the price of 3 plastic boxes is about £10 more than the cost of the Gripping Beast 4-point Byzantine starter box for a net gain of 2 or 3 units. Being a set of metal figures all the assembling work would be considerably reduced compared to the work needed on the plastics. The oval shields in the starter box would be better as kite shaped for our historical slot but that is not a major issue.
The ‘Last Romans’ list notes recommend the army go large on missile troops and the 4 point starter box includes 1 warrior archer, 1 spear warrior a bow and a lance armed hearthguard unit as well as the warlord. One of their board abilities (massed volley) is to use 2 common dice to have all foot missile units shoot. This is of no use if the army only fields 1 such unit and of limited benefit if it has 2. The 2 warrior archer units could shoot individually on a common or rare die each, a more likely combination. A 3rd shooting unit, perhaps levy slingers, might make this option more attractive but even if enough eligible units are in the list the odds on getting them all in range at the same time are not good. Shooters are best in fewer, larger units due to their low chance of doing any good. Only half of warrior and levy models shoot needing a 4 followed by a 4 against warriors (1 in 4) or a 5 then a 4 (1 in 6) against heathguard. The odds get worse against targets in hard cover and improve against those with poorer armour such as other shooters. The Last Romans ‘indirect fire’ ability allows 1 shooting unit to fire without line of sight. The ‘disordering volley’ ability gives a bonus to large missile units in defence. Otherwise the board is not particularly rich in shooting benefits.
The Byzantine board has a number of options for units supporting each other. ‘Mixed formation’ allows 1 levy unit to shoot as bows it maintains the relatively high armour (4+) and melee ability (1/2 figures fight) of vanilla levy with some ranged fire. ‘Our comrades’ shields’ gives a defense bonus to foot units being close to friendly units without ranged weapons further encouraging the avoidance of giving foot levy bows. The ‘acolythus’ ability allows nearby 2 levy units to be activated on 1 dice giving some hope of moving that levy about. ‘Domestikos’ allows the Byzantines to change their dice roll results on alternate turns so getting those key combinations will not be as tricky as it might first appear.