Friday, December 30, 2011

The SAGA of Ragnar Hairy Pants

Its a game of skill

My family got me SAGA and some Vikings for Christmas. I've been wanting this one for some time, since while I love Impetvs, I think Dark Ages need to be played skirmish style with warbands and of course a Warlord worthy of heroic sagas. SAGA is an interesting cross between a boardgame (of the European strategic variety - a big industry in itself) and miniature wargame. So you have a warband made up of individual figures, with stats, normal movement, command rules etc and you also use a game-board with a number of dice that you roll at the start of each turn. These dice allow you to use units, trigger abilities and aid in combat.

The allocation of these dice is it's own phase, which happens before the more traditional 'wargame bit' in the turn. I've played Chris W and Keith H at it so far and we all have the same reaction: "Beer and Pretzels". So I love it. A more complete review (by one of the playtesters) can be found here

Of course, warbands and Sagas need great warlords. So I've had to break out of the mold this week and try and paint properly. Painting figures to look good individually is not in my skill-set (I regard it as a vain waste of time tbh) but at this scale of battle I have to try! I think I did ok at least. The guy at the top is Halfdan (a GB Hirdman fig that I got as a bonus with the plastics) and he commands my Anglo-Danes. He has their characteristic big-bloody-axe and a dedicated shield-bearer to watch his back. The second fellow is the eponymous Ragnar Hairy Pants (he is close-cousin to this guy.) I got him as part of the SAGA gift. Flags are, of course, from Ray's excellent blog.

But enough of this unmanly fashion parade - Ragnar Hairy Pants thirsts for glory. Rganar Lodbrok always had to strive to not be surpassed by his sons and my Ragnar then has to go one better again to top his namesake! Due to my large collection of GB plastic Vikings, I easily had enough figs to field a couple of warbands. The starter size was recommended at four points for the first couple of games so I made two warbands - Vikings: Ragnar, four Hirdmen, four Berserkers, eight Bondi, eight Bondi. Anglo-Danes: Halfdan, 2 x four Thegns with Dane-Axes, 2 x 4 Ceorls, 2 x 6 Bow armed Levies. Unfortunately (for me) word on the SAGA forums seemed to be that Anglo-Danes struggled vs Vikings and were harder to play for a beginner. So I gave them to myself and Chris got to be Ragnar on his debut. One thing I love about this game is that it can be fought in a small space, in this case we used my kitchen table without any need to put a bigger board on top. Fair warning - the levies are un-painted. Just got them for Christmas, so no time.

My lord Ragnar had heard the womanish Christians would be indoors for Christmas. So he took some long-boats and marched us through the snows to find glory and plunder.

On the road to York we saw a large farmstead - promising food, loot and warmth.

We also found a band of local warriors, roused from their mothers' skirts.

Ragnar gave a hearty laugh: "See men, by Odin they fear us and cower behind farm walls!" Indeed, though Ragnar first thought them beneath notice, there were even Saxon peasants hiding in the farmhouse, bows at the ready.

Our band of warriors marched forward, Ragnar and his loyal Hirdmen in the lead. If the enemy's warlord fell - the rest would run and Skald's would sing our glory throughout the north!

While the locals were still trying to figure out how to defend themselves, Ragnar led us amidst them. He stabbed left and right with his mighty spear and the Hirdmen bashed with shield and rolled right over the Saxons in their path. This would have tired any man - any man but a Viking! Njord's wind was out our back and Frigg gave us her favour.

The Saxon lord made to attack us but when he saw half his Huscarls dead already, and Ragnar fresh and thirsty for more battle, his axe faltered and he was thrown back.

We saw his plan and how we jeered at his cowardice. Thralls on either flank, ready to wear us down with their arrows. While Ragnar was occupied, his Berserkers slipped the leash and charged those bowmen, only to be felled with their arrows.
Since the Saxon Lord lacked the courage to come fight Ragnar, Ragnar decided to loot the local farmhouse in case he ended up with arrows in his own back. The peasants put up a little fight.

There was no glory in that... but much satisfaction. The Saxon Lord realised his position was hopeless and shamefully quit the battlefield.

That was short and sharp - as befits our first game. 1. I deployed the Anglo-Danes as far forward as possible - do not do again. 2. The Vikings specialise in marching up and destroying things in short order - so have things ready to counter punch and have abilities saved on the board to help with this. I did under-use key abilities that might allow me to overcome even the Viking's abilities to throw off fatigue and others that can make even peasants a threat in combat. Chris could see possibilities with the Anglo-Dane battleboard so we switched armies and went another round.

Anglo-Danes on a hill, where have we seen THAT before?
Odin's blood! I almost don't believe my eyes - the Saxon Lord is hiding behind some levies and up on a hill. Coward!

He hopes to thin our ranks with arrows then have us exhaust ourselves climbing the steep slopes.

Well we have Njord's breath, Frigg's favour and... we have the watchful Odin to confound their archers.

So we march. Even as we come into bowshot, the Saxon levies find themselves stumbling and confused due to Odin's favour. They manage to shoot, but their arrows find no chinks in our mail.

Aha! Our Bondi are upon them! 

What's this though? Beaten off by a horde of levies? The Saxons must have hidden warriors amongst these farmers. 
Our Bondi ended up at the bottom of the hill again, then shot full of arrows once more. The jeers of the Saxon Thralls would follow them to Valhalla. 

Curse those motherless Saxon Cowards! They've managed to lay a trap for the exhausted Bondi and slain two more! Actually - that's what we'll do too, call on Loki to curse one of those weakened units of Ceorls on the hill and send them to frigid Hell for all eternity. 

Our blood still boiled for vengeance. So in went the wild Berserkers. They saw to the Levies in short order and we now threatening the cowardly enemy Warlord.

Ragnar though, wily Ragnar, had carefully plotted that Warlord's doom. Berserkers were now at his back, the steep hill slowed his escape, and Ragnar and his Hirdmen were still fresh and ready for carnage.

The Raven Banner dipped and snapped as Ragnar's spear led the way uphill. To his credit, the enemy Warlord stood and fought. He was doomed though, the Norns had set his fate that day and without men to save him, he fell before Ragnar's spear.

That went much better, the Vikings definitely are more straightforward than the Anglo-Danes and Chris had some good tips for me on how to use their battle-board. I, on the other hand, really didn't learn much while being rolled by Vikings so was no good to him. However, what I think got them in the end wasn't abilities, it was movement, positioning and timing. So I think any Anglo-Danish defense, and they are the more defensive faction, needs to be somewhat mobile and responsive to the enemy advance. Round three is my, running Halfdan and his Anglo-Danes vs Keith as Ragnar's Vikings at the Cavs. I thought that four points made the armies a little too fragile so went with five: Halfdan, one unit of eight Thegns with Dane-Axe, One unit of eight and two of four Ceorls (two points worth split three ways) and the Levies. Vikings had Ragnar, four Hirdmen (all the figs I have for these, since all my Vikings are armoured), four Berserkers, and 3 x units of eight Bondi. Once again, the victory condition was the death of the enemy warlord.

The snows had thawed and my Lord Halfdan has set forth for revenge on that sacker of churches and molester of livestock, Ragnar.

It wasn't hard to find him, we just looked for smoke on the horizon and sure enough, there they were looting another church.

Halfdan sent the levies up on the hill and began to lure the raiders forth with arrows.

Ragnar took the bait and was almost on us with his whole force before we knew it! They had prepared talismans against our shooting but there was no need, the frightened peasants hit nothing as the Vikings strode toward them.

Those Northmen did seem oddly fixated on getting the archers though, no matter that the archers seemed largely ineffective.
The Viking Ragnar personally led his Huscarls around our flank. Halfdan kept pulling his men back but left the levies to shoot. Ragnar gave a signal and some of his Bondi rushed up the hill to kill the Levies but many escaped. Ragnar meanwhile had been delayed trying to cut down escaping Ceorls, he caught some but tired quickly in that process. Halfdan saw the opening he needed and our Huscarls began to march back toward Ragnar...

Here is Haldan's strategy: The Vikings know only bloodlust so the Anglo-Danes will fight them a little at a time and wear them out while, using the hill to maintain distance between most of the two warbands. Halfdan himself tempted the enemy Berserkers. Mayhap the Vikings could have given more focus to their berserkers and had them smash, fatigued but lethal, into Halfdan. They hang back though. Meanwhile, the the Saxon levies were giving good account of themselves and massively tiring the Vikings. And then the Danish Huscarls approached Ragnar.
His end, when it came, was swift. He took the heads of two of Halfdan's best men but Ragnar fell after his last Hirdman dies trying to halt the vengeful fall of a heavy Dane axe.

So three games of SAGA: Ragnar 2  vs Halfdan 1. I've loved every game and think Studio-Tomahawk and Gripping Beast have done an excellent job on this one. Not a 'serious' war-game but gives the right Dark Ages feel, with heroic actions, legendary warlords, and clunky command and control. 

Thanks for reading.


  1. Great looking game and figures!!! The flags look excellent!!!

  2. SAGA Looks awesome Jamie...I will get to work on some Normans :)

  3. Cheers guys.

    Jason - we'll have to get in a game SOON but too many games to play. Stephen has also ordered a copy and is also pondering Normans.

  4. Not refering to this post specifically, but the new interface is hell to find the posts you want. I'd recommend making a page where you have them all.

  5. Hi Annatar,

    Merry New Year. Can't imagine why I'd be slow this morning but I'm not quite following what you mean - The page with the posts in a single list is the same but I've added tabs to reorder that page by the main categories, is that the problem?


  6. Happy new year to you, too.

    I didn't end up on the "home" page, so that's where the comment came from. I've found it now, though.

  7. The game looks good Jamie, may have to relent.

    Do you need individually based figs for it or could you get away with groups of say 4 figs per stand?


  8. Hi Craig,

    I think you could get away with multibased. Some of the pics show that and this game isn't about ranks or formation or anything like that. The only ability where postioning matters that much is the one where casualties (to take the hit instead of the warlord) need to be from within 2" of him. I'm sure that could be equitably worked out on the gameboard.

    She is a pricey game, for what it is. I think it's fun and was really on the lookout for something just like it but you might want to try it out first? I'll email you some stuff I have on it so you have something more to go on. Always up for a game of it when you are next free for a go in Chch or maybe over a few beers @ DoD?