Sunday, 17 April 2016

SAGA Age of the Wolf - Review

I've now read through the new campaign supplement for SAGA and thought I'd offer a quick review and some first impressions.


I really like this! It's very obvious that an awful lot of thought has gone into creating the campaign system. I believe the supplement was probably written before Crescent and the Cross (C&C) and this does have a few implications though.
Of course, Age of the Wolf (AoW) is specifically aimed at the Viking period so doesn't include C&C warbands. Indeed AoW splits warbands into Eastern and Western factions. Pagan Rus are an Eastern faction so will never meet up with the Strathclyde Welsh for example (phew!). But it also means that the C&C rules for priests and most Swords for Hire (SfH) units are not included, which is a shame. The specific way that warbands are developed means that it may be difficult to include priests. I think a workaround may be to consider priests as a hearthguard unit and introduce them using the post battle fate table. We'll see what this means later. Warlord priests would require extra tinkering to fit, but I think could be done.
The only SfH units mentioned in the supplement are the original Jarl Sigvaldi and his Jomsvikings and the Steppe Nomads. But without too much effort I believe the rules governing their inclusion as mercenaries could be expanded to other SfH units. I suspect a FAQ on priests and SfH will be asked for by players.
Ok, time for a deep breath. Here's how the campaign works.
Each warband is led by a warlord. Warlords may be motivated by land (King's Domain), wealth (Dragon's Hoard) or reputation (Skald's Song). Starting warbands begin with 2 points of each resource and may acquire (or lose!) more as the campaign progresses. I think the rules concerning these attributes should have been more explicit in how they affect warband composition. But if I have understood things correctly from the roster sheet at the back of the book: land provides levies, wealth provides warriors and reputation provides hearthguards. A starting 4 point warband selects troops using its available resources, with each resource defining the maximum number of permitted troop type. For example, a warband can start with a maximum of two points of warriors with the remaining two points chosen from either levy or hearthguards. These can of course be split into smaller units. Since during the campaign units of levy can be upgraded into warriors and warriors into hearthguard, this isn't really a constraint. The maximum number of units allowed is 12. The rules state the campaign works for warbands between 4 and 12 points, but since 12 hearthguard cost 3 points a Bróðir of Man warband could, with enough campaign seasons, potentially include 36 points of hearthguard (this would need a lot of reputation points and is a bit extreme...)
Warlord generation looks to be a lot of fun. Once their motivation has been established, warlords are randomly assigned two traits. Traits are quite varied and range from Hard Ruler to Quarrelsome. Traits give warlords unique characteristics that can help them during the campaign.
[edit: it's worth noting here that one of the traits is Devout and allows the warlord to take a priest. But this is a special AoW priest and doesn't use the same rules as those introduced in C&C. The priest cannot be killed and must remain within VS of the warlord. No SAGA dice are needed to move him. A modified Devout trait could introduce warlord priests as described in C&C, perhaps rolling to randomly determine the type of priest the warlord becomes?].
Warlords also have an additional special rule to supplement their standard Resistance, Determination, We Obey etc. Special rules are also randomly determined and appear to borrow heavily from the rules given to existing Heroes of the Viking Age (eg. 'Bravery' allows the first point of fatigue to be ignored - just like Harold Godwinson). Specific Heroes of the Viking Age such as Harold are also allowed. A table provides guidance on their inclusion and describes their preset motivations and traits.
The campaign can include two or more warbands, but the author recommends 4 to 6 as being a good size.
Campaigns are split into seasons. The rules recommend six seasons, but any number could be played. At the beginning of each campaign season, warlords decide whether they will Raid (acquire wealth), Campaign (acquire land) or Defend (acquire reputation). If raiding or campaigning, players also select who they will target. This is now where things get interesting and demonstrates the depth of thought that has gone into the system. By cross referencing each players campaign actions on a table different types of battle are generated: raids, invasions, encounters, ambushes or pitched battles. Each type of battle is accompanied by a table that includes three different scenarios.
For example if Mighty Kyle's Norse Gael decided to raid my defending Anglo Danes then the table reveals that a Raid Scenario will be played. Raid scenarios are randomly chosen from The Escort, Harry and Burn (a new scenario detailed in AoW) or Sacred Ground. Note that the scenarios are weighted, so The Escort is selected with a d6 roll of 1 - 3, while Sacred Ground would require a d6 roll of 6.
During each campaign season, warlords can also strike alliances with other warlords adding extra spice to the mix.
After each battle there will be winners and losers - and possibly dead warlords... But this is all covered by two warlord casualty tables. Basically, if you win the battle but your warlord is 'killed', then in reality he/she probably only received a wound and can continue in the campaign. A losing warlord could be killed outright (or captured). If a warlord is killed they can be replaced, perhaps by a son who starts with the Blood Feud trait against the warband that slew his father! The rules don't actually state what to do if there is a draw. I suggest players should both use the losing warband table. That should encourage players to play for a win!
Dead levy, warriors and hearthguard are dealt with a little differently. For every four men killed, only one is actually permanently removed from the warband roster. Hearthguards benefit from a resilience rule meaning the first model removed from the battle is ignored. So to permanently kill a hearthguard, the warband would have had to lose at least 2 figures in the actual played game.
Victors are awarded extra land, wealth or reputation depending on whether they campaigned, raided or defended. The winner also receives a campaign point. Needless to say, campaign points help to determine the overall winner at the end of the campaign. But beware! More powerful warlords can gain campaign points just for realising their motivations, even if they lose a battle.
A lot going on? You bet! And there is more!!
At the end of each battle, warbands can recruit fresh troops (for free). Recruited troops must be added to existing units and no unit can include more than 12 figures (standard SAGA rules). So some thought needs to be given to the initial warband composition. Powerful warlords may at this point purchase a war banner. This is added to either a unit of warriors or hearthguard and follows the standard rules for banners. Warbands may only field a single war banner.
Warlords then roll on a fate table. Low scores could result in famine (loss of land), whilst higher scores could result in reinforcements added to existing units or forming new units. Interestingly, a favourable fate roll may allow a unit of levy to be upgraded to warriors or a unit of warriors upgraded to hearthguard. The fate table may also result in acquisition of land, wealth or reputation.
[edit: one option on the fate table is to recruit d6 hearthguards. Perhaps powerful warlords could instead recruit a random priest?]
Wealth is apparently easier to gain than land. If a wealthy warlord needs more land (perhaps to help satisfy his motivation), then he can spend 2 wealth points to purchase 1 point of land.
A warband may find itself attacked by a more powerful rival. In this situation the attacking player can dictate the points being played - yikes! But all is not lost. The weaker warband can hire mercenaries (including the previously mentioned Jomsvikings and Steppe Tribes) to pad out his force. Fortunately standard mercenaries cost only 1 point of wealth, no matter how many are required. But you only get standard foot warriors. Of course, mercenaries only stick around for the game they were hired to fight in. At the end of the battle they slink off from whence they came and so aren't added to any rosters.
[edit: Jomsviking Mercanaries provide one point of troops for one extra point of wealth. I think the same rule could easily apply to other SfH units without breaking the system (eg Angry Monks)]
There are even rules to cover situations where players are unable to meet up to play a game and so hold up the campaign. Danegeld may need to be paid by the player who isn't pulling their weight and the attacker takes 1 point of either land, wealth or reputation from his snivelling victim. Harsh!
The supplement includes five new scenarios that look like they will be fun to play even outside of the campaign setting. These include Forest Road Ambush, Harry & Burn, The Burgh, Scouts and The Hazel Wands.
So some final thoughts. It looks like a slim volume and costs £15. But as the above overview perhaps suggests, there's quite a lot in there. It's a very well thought out system and (other than the stumble with the link between troop types and resources), very well written and clearly explained. Yes it sounds complicated and involved, but once players start their campaign I honestly think it will energise dark age battles.
Should it have been published before C&C? Yes. But since it hasn't I'd have preferred it if some of the extra elements (such as the full rules for priests) had been directly worked in. Priests could have easily been awarded in the fate table for example. I would have also preferred that there was more inclusion of SfH units in the mercenary section. But these are minor quibbles really and Age of the Wolf is a solid supplement to a well established and much enjoyed game.
Now go and write your own Saga!
[edit: Here's a scanned copy of the roster sheet. At some point Gripping Beast will be making this available as a download]


21 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, Lee!

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    1. Thanks, I'm looking forward to setting up a campaign.

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  2. Great overview really want to get my hands on this now not played saga in awhile but this will really add to the game, shame about priests but glad to hear you get a unique warlord with traits!

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    1. Yes I think the warlord generation looks like a lot of fun. I think priests can be worked in, so long as all players are happy with it.

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  3. Thanks for the review. There's a lot to take in...for my poor brain, anyway. Sounds like a superb expansion to the core rules, though!

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    1. Thanks Gordon - I've corrected the typos now :-s I was worried it could come across overly complicated. But once you read the supplement through, it's actually quite straightforward - honest!

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    2. I'm sure it is...it's not your review just that I always struggle to take in anything properly on a screen. Once I have the printed book in my hands...and I will as soon as it's released...then I'm sure it'll all become clear!

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    1. You are very welcome, I hope it's useful.

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  5. Thanks for the review. Looks like I will be getting use from my new Anglo Danes sooner rather than later.

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    1. I'm really looking forward to seeing some reports of folks who start playing a campaign. I'll be suggesting we get stuck in at the club, but I know folks are currently Frostgraving.

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  6. Late to the party as usual, nice review Lee, I didn't realize it had been released yet. Might take a few weeks before it reaches the States.

    I buy all things Saga, but your review makes me want it now!!!

    Cheers
    Kevin

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    1. Thanks Kevin. It was available at Salute, but doesn't go on general release until May. Not sure why there's a delay but it's worth the wait!

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  7. Thanks for the overview! I am really looking forward to this

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    1. Thanks Duncan. As I read the supplement through in more detail I tinker with my review, so if you are unsure on something check to see if I've updated things.

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  8. Nice review. The book was written specifically for SAGA, not C and C, although very similar they are different games, hence it doesn't concern itself with some of C and C unique features. Of course players can tweak it to use with C and C, but I was going specifically for a Viking Age flavour... anyway, enjoy.

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    1. Thanks! Lord S has posted on the SAGA forum about some of the design decisions behind Age of the Wolf. I think it might have been useful to include some of these comments in the supplement. An existing SAGA faq encourages players to adopt C&C rules for Dark Age warbands so it is a little jarring to go back to the original rules. A few words in the supplement would perhaps have helped old hands. Still, as you say it is easy enough to tweak and to be honest, leaving out the C&C elements doesn't diminish enjoyment of the campaign. For me, Age of the Wolf is the icing on the SAGA cake and really helps make the game shine.

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  10. Are there rules for the Mongol Horde? :D

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    1. The rules cover the factions detailed in the original Dark Age rules and associated supplements. So no Mongols I'm afraid.

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  11. Great review, i'm sure this will be a system we will be trying at my club soon.

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