Saga Eastern Princes

The Eastern Princes list covers the Kingdom of Kievan Rus, its successor states and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.   The Grand Duchy of Lithuania did not exist at the start of the Age of Crusades period.  A time when it would more properly sit as part of Rus or amongst the Pagan Peoples list.  This discussion will focus on the Rus part of the list as the Lithuanian troop choices are somewhat different and any figure choices there  should reflect a 14th century armour choice.  Hoping to get the most out of the figures; options here will be restricted to those that might work in the period 1000 to 1100 AD coincidentally overlapping the Saga Vikings and Crusades books.  The charactaristic features for any model would be the shield and to a lesser extent the helmet as these would be linked to the time period when they first came into common use.  Unlike Western Europe much of the armour and headgear in use in the East could be placed anywhere from the time of the Sassanid Persians to Africa in the 19th Century.

First step in getting Eastern Princes running is the dice, a new set for the Age of Crusades book.  As yet there is no template for the Pagan Peoples/Eastern Princes/Mongols dice so here is a printable Saga Eastern Princes dice template.

Saga_Eastern_Princes_Dice

It is unfortunate that these 3 nations that could historically face each other all share the same dice set.  Other plausible enemies from the book with different dice would be the Tuetonic Knights, Poles, Mongols and Byzantines.  The Volgar Bulgars are not in Saga but the Cuman list would work for them.

The Gripping Beast 4 point starter warband could be a better selection.  No complaints with the 2 units of mounted hearthguard.

2 of the Advanced Saga abilities require mounted units.  When running up to 6 points at least another 4 hearthguard models would allow more mounted units.  The 12 levy are equipped with bow.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with bow the list has the option of crossbow levy.  An attractive choice as crossbows are better against armour than bows and levy shoot at 1/2 figures, as good as warriors but at half the points cost. There is one upside to bow models.  The whole list could be run as Pagan Peoples using the bow troops as a unit of 8 Warriors.

The sculpting quality of all the models could also be better.  The bow armed levy need their bow hands gluing on, overcoming the advantage in metals over plastic in not needing any assembly.  The warriors and heathguard have separate spears.  The hearthguard have cupped hands and separate bow cases and quivers.  In the Eastern Princes army the hearthguard have no innate shooting ability but can achieve it through an advanced ability.  The warriors need their hands drilled out to hold spears.  All around the poses are adequate rather than dynamic.

Using plastic to expand the army.  Fireforge do Russian infantry in plastic which are clearly aimed at this time frame. Their dress and armour being similar to the Gripping Beast warrior models.  In the box are 3 shield types, round and kite (with round or squared top) together with an option for bow and double handed axe load outs.  For our 1000 to 1100 AD time span the round topped kite shield is the best choice.  Unfortunately there are only 10 of these in a box of 25 infantry.  The armour of the models would fit the period and beyond although the lack of unarmoured models makes the box less suitable for a levy unit.

There are enough spare heads to outfit a box of cavalry.  Possibly the best choice being Conquest Norman Knights (just swap out the heads) although the Gripping Beast Arab Heavy Cavalry (excellent torsos but robes too long) or Dark Age Cavalry (legs right but unarmoured torsos) could be pressed into service.

Eastern Princes are the only warband to feature a fighting wagon as a levy unit.  It is an odd creature with armour as good as hearthguards but is only 1 model albeit with agression 4 and determination 2.  Unfortunately it is also unarmed.  So it fights no better than levy but being unnarmed any defender is more likely to survive.  It can take up to 2 hits as a single fatigue until it is exhausted.  This gives the wagon a fair chance of survival if it enters melee with no fatigue, being able to survive 6 hits then fail on the 7th.  No sensible attacker would want to burn any fatigue it enters melee with as each is as good as it starting with 2 hits already banked.  The final kick in the teeth for the wagon is that it counts as a mercenary so cannot benefit from adavanced Saga abilities.  Those are the abilities that can really make or break a game.

There is no recommended approach to model the wagon except that the Age of Crusades book gives minimum and maximum dimensions.  Doubtless this is to avoid fielding a wagon unit that blocks off half the board.  The dimensions given are, however, an optimistic fit for a 4 horse wagon in 28mm.  This is the 28mm baggage wagon from Reiver Castings.  The horses and wagon base are metal but the body is a single cast resin piece.  The body required some filling but could be replaced by a scratch built cart on the existing metal frame.  The price is close to that charged for just 4 draft horses by other manufacturers.  The Warlord to the rear shows that this is a good size model.  To fit as a wagon in the Eastern Princes army either the 2 front horses would need to be left off or assumed to not exist for measuring purposes.

The Age of Crusades book does illustrate a wagon as a limbered baggage piece with a single guard figure.  Another approach is to follow the style of the earlier Gothic and later Hussite, Polish or Russian fortified wagon lagers with protected wagons and armed crew.  This representation uses the maximum recommended base and 4 figures from the Fireforge plastic set.  The wagon, mantlets, boxes and barrels are 3D prints from Irongate Scenery.

Moving back to the Age of Vkings book the Pagan Rus has very little in common with Eastern Princes except that it should be covering the same period.  The Kievan Rus were converted to Christianity sometime around 988 AD so are not necessarily pagan throughout the Age of Vikings book.  Troopwise they are based around infantry with no special weapons and levy with javelins.  The only overlap with the Eastern Princes being the warrior infantry units.  From a gaming point of view the Pagan Rus could be envisaged as a river based raiding party constrained by their boats from taking horses.  The later Kievan Rus being land based expanding or protecting their settled lands.  Looking for figure re-use only the 8 Eastern Princes warriors could step into the ‘Pagan’ Rus running as 2 points of hearthguard.  At a pinch Fireforge Russians could make up the numbers.

Saga – Book of Battles

The Book of Battles was promised with the 2nd edition rules release and nearly a year later is finally out.  The book is designed to work with the existing ‘Age of’ books and the upcoming ‘Age of Magic’ book.  Some of the rules specifically target mounted units that are not on a specified mount and refer to flying and teleporting giving some hints of what is to come.

A saga should be about stories and the existing battle system is little more than an excuse to fight it out within the constraints of a dice management system.  Book of Battles begins with a set of options for the existing basic scenario.  This is guided by rolling on dice tables or drawing cards.  The underlying system is not heavily affected and the changes would not justify buying the Book of Battles itself.  Thankfully the new set up cards are freely available as a Studio Tomahawk download so should not be seen as the incentive to get the book.

The only rules repetition from the basic book is the terrain set up system.  Baggage, livestock, civilians and objectives (which can be captured or plundered) are introduced but the main rules will be needed to look up some of their special rules.  The baggage rules are not the same as those used by the Eastern Princes army although one could get away with using the same model as the proposed base sizes do overlap.  New rules are also introduced for buildings (which infantry not cavalry can go into), dismounting (see buildings) and rivers.

There are 17 full scenarios proposed which roughly increase in complexity as you go through the book.  Some of these are slightly wacky others follow a traditional ‘capture this’, ‘guard that’ or ‘destroy the other’ format.  This will require the players to spend dice moving into position more than in the old ‘get there fastest with the mostest’ battle plan.  The final 3 scenarios are designed for 4 players either acting as teams or as a free for all.  These are played on a 6′ by 4′ table with modified terrain placement rules.  None of the scenarios are outstandingly clever, Flames of War is one of the best sources for clever and balanced scenarios. Another good source of thinking person’s scenarios are the Warmachine Steamroller scenarios (look at page 15 on-wards).

The Book of Battles scenarios should however work out with the proviso that certain forces or match ups might work better than others.  No guidance is given as to what armies or troop load outs to choose although the reader is warned that the scenarios are designed for narrative play and might require some thought in how to best achieve victory.

The book concludes with a limited experience system for Warlords.  By participating in battles they build up points that can be spent on new abilities for the Warlord.  If there is a disparity in experience between the 2 Warlords’ experience the low pointer gains army (not Warlord) bonus abilities for the battle.

It would be out of place to describe and analyse all the scenarios here; that would supercede the book.  Only the first and possibly simplest scenario will be considered.  One side has to get 3 baggage elements off the opposite long edge of the board.  The victory points are arranged so that the carting player will lose if neither player does anything. To get to a winning situation, ignoring other losses, at least 1 baggage element must have left the table and the other 2 not have been eliminated.

A cart starts at furthest distance of  ‘M’ in but would be better placed behind some sort of meat shield.  A cart moves ‘M’ on its first activation and ‘S’ subsequently during the same turn.  A Saga board is ‘6M’ wide so at 1 move per turn would take 6 moves to exit (this is a 7 turn game).  By going ‘M’ + ‘S’ then ‘REST’ + ‘M’ on alternate turns it could cover ‘4M’ in 3 turns, then another ‘M’ and a ‘S’, ‘S’ to push off on turn 4.  This expects there to be no terrain or enemy in the way; most unlikely.  The opposition will be looking to block off the carts or inflict enough casualties so they will win even if the carts get off board.  Inflicting casualties is regular Saga fair although some dice will be needed to get into position.  The attacking player is playing a regular Saga game with the exception of having more units to target. The cart player on the other hand will need to spend dice to keep the carts moving and to offer some sort of protection.  The carts generate no new dice but do get 1 free activation.  Any further moves or rests are going to come from the common pool.  An army with some means of distributing fatigue or reacting to moves might be a better cart protector.  The carts are mercenaries so do not benefit from advanced abilities but can use those that apply to the whole army.  Trotting out the Eastern Princes baggage to protect the carts would not work out as it does not move fast enough to keep up with the new carts.

Here we go with Anglo Danes escorting baggage with the Normans in the way.  The Anglo Danes are sporting javelin not bow armed Levy due to picking the wrong figures out of the box.  The standard terrain choosing system has been used resulting in 3 pieces of small terrain.  Things are already going awry as in order to maximise unit size and hopefully survival the Anglo Danes are running with only 4 Saga dice.  The baggage moves as far up as it dares.  The 4 priests make up a baggage element the same as the carts.

The Norman deployment seems poor as the levy bow block off the Norman mounted Hearthguard from the Anglo Danes.  Good dice rolling compensates and the 8-man Huscarl unit takes withering losses.

In the background mounted Norman Warriors face off against Anglo Dane Levy.  This struggle ties up both units throughout the game.  The Anglo Danes hoping and failing to kill enough Normans to drop their army Saga dice count.

With all his Hearthguard gone neither the Anglo Dane Warlord nor his baggage can take them as bodyguard losses in combat.

End game sees all the baggage eliminated.  The Norman Warlord duked it out with his Anglo Dane counterpart and lost.  He could have spread his losses with the bodyguard rule and survived but this would not have affected the game result.

The Anglo Dane did not roll a single rare face on his Saga dice throughout the game.  Almost all dice were used for movement, the remainder for defense.   This match up and army load out seemed doomed from the start.  Breaking into smaller units would have generated more Anglo Dane dice and probably got some of their better Saga abilities into play.   This would be at the risk of seeing combat units vanish even more quickly.

The scenario rules force the baggage side to move and get off the table.  If the victory conditions were changed to award victory if the baggage remained intact, all other losses being equal, the baggage side would tend to huddle down in a defensive box with baggage in the middle.  This would work as a game but it is not the same game as trying to get units off table.  A better Saga player might handle the baggage better but in this case the options were limited and the chance of success seems slim.