Tuesday 9 April 2019

Saga Age of Magic Review

Updating a firmly established ruleset can be fraught with difficulties. At the club many of us have pretty much abandoned X-Wing, Kings of War and Bolt Action after they jumped to v.2. It's difficult because often a group of people will invest in the same game, but when the game has a major version change not everybody may be prepared to upgrade. So there can be quite a bit of fragmentation amongst the available players.

Studio Tomahawk's SAGA v.1 was a game that was very widely adopted at the club. Almost everybody had it and the game was a firm favourite being played on a very regular basis.

And then came v.2. A few of us upgraded quickly, but a few folks didn't see the need. Fragmentation. Personally I believe the v.2 rules do improve on the original ruleset and help to iron out some of the inconsistencies that can affect any game. I've bought the new Viking supplement and have the upgrade pack for Aetius and Arthur (now called Age of Invasions). I won't be re-buying Crescent and Cross (Age of Crusades) though.

One of the big selling points of SAGA v.2 was the promise of different Universes. The existing supplements represent three such Universes. Games are intended to be played within a Universe. It is possible to play between Universes (e.g. Vikings against Picts), but Studio Tomahawk has warned that such games may not be balanced and there may be unexpected interactions between abilities and battle boards.

The fact that different Universes are contained in their own books also means that there can be a single rulebook for the whole game that won't become out of date as new Universes are published.

Studio Tomahawk has also released a scenario book (Book of Battles) that provides a range of generic scenarios that can be played across different Universes. Both the SAGA rulebook and Book of Battles are paperback and relatively inexpensive. Universe books are hardback and cost quite a bit more (AoM is approx. £30 at the time of writing).

Age of Magic (AoM) is a new Universe for SAGA v.2. The book isn't yet widely available but can be pre-ordered at Gripping Beast. I was lucky to collect mine at Salute on Saturday.

Each Universe book follows a similar design and they are all very nicely illustrated throughout with high quality photos of various figures and terrain. The AoM is a little different in that it introduces some significant changes to the basic rules and these will require a little explanation.

The basic premise of AoM is to allow SAGA to be used in a Fantasy setting. To be honest some battle board abilities in the more historical Universes can already be somewhat fantastical, but that's a discussion for another day! Of course, fantasy SAGA probably means that we will also see SciFi SAGA at some point as well. Who knows, we may also get a Pulp SAGA.

But rather than limit players to specific traditional fantasy factions (e.g. dwarves or elves), AoM has generic factions that can be used to suit the warband that you wish to field. There are six different factions: The Great Kingdoms, The Lords of the Wild, The Undead Legions, The Horde, The Otherworld and The Masters of the Undereath.

If you wish to play a warband that is composed of vampires and skeletons, then The Undead Legions is an obvious faction to use. But what about say dwarves. Well, you could decide to base these around The Great Kingdoms where their cultural and technological abilities may be the main flavour of the faction. Or you could choose The Masters of the Underearth with abilities that focus on a life lived underground. Really, the choice is yours and this makes the AoM very appealing.

It's also worth stating that Studio Tomahawk encourage the use of any figures that you have in your collection. There will not be an 'official' range that you need to stick to in order for your warband to be 'legal' with respect to the rules. Companies will no doubt start releasing figures for AoM, indeed Gripping Beast have already released undead miniatures for The Undead Legions, but you don't have to use them. I'm sure I'll end up buying new figures, but I have a mountain of zombies and skeletons from my days playing Warhammer and I've already started putting together a standard eight point warband.

This warband includes the following units:
Necromancer (Warlord)
8 Hearthguard (from the Oldhammer Nightmare Legion boxset) - 2pts
10 Skeleton Warriors - 1.5pts
10 Skeleton Warriors - 1.5pts
20 Mindless - 1pt
2 Giant Bats (flyers) - 1pt
2 Werewolves (quadrupeds) - 1pt
1 Skull Thrower (static War Machine) - purchased by discarding 4 warriors

Eight points? Well, the new rules introduce new troop types and magic. Both of which require points to be spent, so a slight increase in the basic six point game is needed.

As well as the now familiar hearthguard, warriors and levy; AoM introduces Sorcerers, Lieutenants, Creatures, Monsters and War Machines.

Lieutenants are hero characters (similar to the warlord) that have their own characteristics and also a faction specific special rule. For example in The Undead Legions, the lieutenant is a Black Knight that can take a fatigue instead of another hero. So if the warlord used resilience to cancel a wound, the fatigue could instead be put on the Black Knight. Lieutenants are not purchased using points. Instead they are 'purchased' by discarding either 1 Creature, 2 Hearthguard, 4 Warriors or 6 Levy. Lieutenants may also be mounted. Details are provided in a handy table that is specific to each Faction.

Creatures represent figures that are generally larger and more imposing than a normal human, but still able to follow orders. This latter point is important as we shall see later. It basically means that they can take advantage of advanced Saga abilities on the battle board. Creatures are formed into units of 2 to 6 figures and can be either Bipeds, Quadrupeds or Flyers. Seasoned SAGA players will remember that a point buys either 4 hearthguard, 8 warriors or 12 levy. In AoM a point can also buy 2 creatures. So each Creature is effectively worth half a point. But there's more. An extra creature can also be purchased by discarding half a point's worth of other figures: either 2 hearthguard, 4 warriors or 6 levy. But there is an important restriction here that is tucked away in a box on page 15 of the book.

"it is forbidden to recruit a unit by removing a mix of several troop types"

This is an important rule to remember. If you want four Creatures in a single unit, you can only acquire them by (1) spending points, (2) discarding figures of the same type or (3) a combination of (1) and (2).

In SAGA v.2, standard troops have an exhaustion limit of three. So once a unit takes three fatigues, they must rest before the unit can be activated to Move, Shoot or Charge. But in AoM some units such as Creatures have a new rule called Imposing. This increases their exhaustion level from 3 to 4.

What would a fantasy game be without Monsters?! Well, in AoM there are three different types of Monster available: Behemoths (most aggressive), Titans (slow but better armoured) and Scourges (flyers). Each Monster forms a single unit and can be recruited by a warband for just 1 point! But not all factions are equal and the number of Monsters that can be recruited will depend on the faction that you choose to play.

So Monsters are big and tough. Behemoths have an Aggression rating of 14 (!), whilst Titans have a Resilience of 2 (meaning 2 wounds can be ignored for each fatigue taken). Like Creatures, Monsters are also Imposing meaning that they only become exhausted once they have taken four fatigues.

But, Monsters also have a new rule called Primitive. This means that they do not obey orders as well as other troop types. In game terms, a unit that is Primitive cannot use any of the advanced Saga abilities that can otherwise be used to activate a unit or enhance their melee or shooting. Monsters are tough, but they aren't overpowered and with a bit of thought, they can be overcome.

War Machines have previously made an appearance in other Universes (e.g. Age of Invasions), but in AoM there are now three different types to choose from: Static (e.g. stone thrower), Mobile (e.g. chariot) or Flying (e.g. a dwarf gyro-copter). Not all factions can recruit a War Machine and even those that do don't spend any points. At least not directly. In a similar way to Creatures, War Machines can be purchased by discarding other figures. But this time only 4 warriors or 6 levy may be discarded. As far as I can tell, this is the only way that a War Machine may be purchased.

The new troop types and different ways of purchasing them means that building an AoM war band will initially take a bit more effort than SAGA players are perhaps used to.

The final new troop is the Sorcerer. Sorcerers cost 1 point and are organised like heroes as a unit consisting of a single figure. Some Sorcerers can be mounted. But perhaps most importantly, Sorccerers can use Magic.

Studio Tomahawk has clearly put a lot of thought into the use of Magic in SAGA. There are six different realms of magic, each of which includes six different spells. Spells are fully described in The Grimoire found towards the back of the AoM book. Sorcerers from each Faction have access to two specific realms, but can only choose a maximum of three spells. Some Factions can recruit more than one Sorcerer, but if they do the same spell cannot be taken by different Sorcerers within the same warband.

Magic is handled in a way that fits in with the general feel of SAGA and introduces new dice. Like standard SAGA Dice, Magic Dice have symbols that represent common (1-3), uncommon (4-5) and rare (6). Each warband has a Magic Pool that determines the number of Magic Dice that are generated each turn. But unlike standard SAGA Dice, Magic Dice are not rolled at the start of the turn. Instead, they are rolled when-ever a Sorcerer wishes to cast a spell. Casting a spell is not an Activation, so a standard SAGA Dice isn't required to activate the Sorcerer that wishes to cast a spell.

To cast a spell, the Sorcerer rolls up to four of the available Magic Dice and consults the chosen spell. Each spell has three effects that increase in power. These are defined as Minimum, Optimum and Maximum. The most powerful effects being more difficult to achieve. For example, some effects require only a single Magic Dice with a blank symbol (meaning any die will suffice), whilst the most powerful effects may require a rare or even a rare and uncommon.

Why isn't the most powerful effect called Optimum? After all, players will want to cause as much carnage as possible. But casting spells may have unexpected results. A Sorcerer that uses the Maximum  power of a spell risks abusing his power and disappearing in a thundering detonation! A Sorcerer that does use the Maximum effect must roll 2d6 on the Abuse of Power Table. High or low scores will end badly... A player can choose how to spend their Magic Dice to avoid this unfortunate side-effect. In other words they can play it safe and select the Minimum effect, even if the Magic Dice could be used for the Maximum Effect.

Like other Universe books, AoM provides an overview of each faction. This details the troop types that are available, general rules for the faction (such as number of War Machines available etc) and Special Rules. One important Special Rule affects levy in The Undead Legions. With this faction levy are called Mindless and cost 1 point for 20 figures. The minimum size for a unit is 12 and the maximum is 24. However, unlike the levy in other Factions, undead Mindless can't be discarded to obtain other troops. Note that this latter rule is missing from the rulebook, but will be corrected in the FAQ.

All factions have a new terrain type available to them: Sacred Ground. This terrain is a small, high and impassable area that has special rules depending on the faction. For example, The Great Kingdoms Faction has a Memorial that allows the warband to re-roll (for free) a SAGA die during the Orders Phase - so long as a unit of eight or more figures is within VS and there are no enemy units within S.

Each faction also has Legendary Units and Legendary Warbands. Legendary Units are a little like the more familiar Mercenaries.  They cost a certain number of points (or require upgrade/downgrade of another unit) and have special rules associated with them. For example, The Lords of the Wild can recruit four Shapeshifters for 1 point.

The Legendary Warbands look very interesting. These represent two different variations of each faction with unique rules that define how the warband can be assembled. For example, The Horde can deploy Morrow Island. This is a warband that consists only of Monsters that includes a Monster
as a Warlord - Gulp! By discarding a Magic Die, the Monster Warlord can select other Monster units within L to temporarily remove the Primitive special rule. Nasty.

I would definitely like to see more Legendary Units and Legendary Warbands being developed. They can add new ways to play without publishing whole new factions.

Finally, there is a new Quick Reference sheet that summarises most of the new rules introduced in AoM. This doesn't replace the standard QR sheet, but will be very useful in games.

There are no new scenarios in AoM. Since we have the Book of Battles this isn't really unexpected, but some fantasy scenarios that make the most of the setting would have been fun. There are also no War Banners or Relics & Artifacts. Both are included in the Vikings Universe and would have been great additions to AoM. Perhaps they proved too difficult to balance.

So there we have it. AoM looks like a great addition to SAGA and will I'm sure encourage more folks to finally make the jump to SAGA v.2. Very much looking forwards to getting my first game in!


  1. Thanks for the review - really a great introduction to AoM. Looking forward to my own copy arriving soon :-)
    Br Thomas

    1. Thanks, judging by the number of hits on my blog after posting the review I think there's a lot of interest in this supplement.

  2. Some good points about fragmentation etc. My local meta (three old dudes) have barely played it since version 2 release. I love what they did with the version 2 though. Problem here in US is that no one wants to invest in all the books.... again. It's true you can buy just the rules, but that was pretty much really what version 1 gave you but with changes from Vikings to Crusades. They could have just done a rulebook without reinventing the wheel, but I do think they did a better job with the battle boards. Some of those wicked combinations taken out.

    The only place that the Saga tournaments get played here now is at Adepticon. Otherwise it's simply died. No more at the conventions down South, and the local brick and mortar stores have seen it flee.

    I was patiently waiting for their supposed Samurai book, or 100 years wars that is teased at through their photos in the rulebook, but instead they came out with magic. Really? Age of Sigmar, Freeblades, and the umpteen other things they are going to compete with. Maybe it will have it's niche among some players of Saga, but Saga here was first and foremost an historical game.

    I own the new rule book, the book of battles, and the Age of Vikings, and Crusaders, along with A&A, but even though I love it, playing solitaire isn't an option and it feels like the zombie apocalypse has happened in the Saga world around here.

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss and review.


    1. I think there were many requests for the fantasy supplement that may well have tipped their hand. I'm certainly interested in seeing what they release next, but don't feel compelled to purchase all of the supplements.

    2. It is maybe local deviation, but our local community of Saga players are glad to receive this book. Because at least half of us is a seasoned WH Fantasy players who shift from that to the Saga, then Age of S...r happed. So it is an opportunity to finally to move dust from our fantasy armies again.

    3. Lol, three old dudes! Well I'm an old Dude and I don't think that age has really anything to do with interest and commitment in gaming. I know a lot of "more experienced" gamers will become apprehensive when companies redo their rule sets and put one in the position of having to rebuy, rebuild, and rethink the game you have already spent hundreds of dollars on... Take games like Warhammer 40K, Flames of War where rules set are large, expensive, as well as the armies. The rules take a fair amount of time to master, it takes time to get your friends interested and then just as things start to come together, they come out with another version, sometimes very different or felt to be not as good, or some gamers are simply on a budget. Some companies do this simply to keep generating the revenue stream that they have become used to. That kind of stuff puts of many gamers and I quite understand it. It may just take a bit of time for those “old dudes” to come around, be gentile, help them, show them the reasons to change!
      Now that being said I was a bit put off by SAGA going to the new set but after an initial waiting period and playing a few test games I was convinced that the changes were not only for the good they did not really change the “flavor” or overall mechanics of the game. My armies were also not rendered useless just a bit different. I jumped in with both feet!
      I know plenty of US players who have purchased the new rules, I belong to a group of 10+ players who all have and half of the are now doing the “magic” thing!
      Where I live there weren’t any SAGA Tournaments so we put one on, over twenty players showed up! Check my report on www.HistoricalHobbies.com sometime YOU must take the bull by the horns when YOU want something! Others who came to our event later on put on other SAGA events!
      I do agree with you on the wanting the Samurai army supplement but I would suspect the “Magic” had a larger demand voiced for it and surely a greater marketability. I’m building a Japanese army and will just play it using an existing factions board until they come up with an official one!

  3. Great review there, thanks for sharing .... looking forward to getting the book and using my old top hat Choas Dwarf models once again

  4. Replies
    1. They certainly can, but there are restrictions on how many are fielded.

  5. Thanks for the overview. My old SAGA sparring partner is MIA unfortunately so I'm unlikely to buy any of the updates. Shame really.

    1. Cheers. I suspect AoM may encourage more uptake of SAGA so you may yet find somebody that wants to play.

  6. Thanks for the review, I'm keen to check this out.

    1. It's definitely fun to play, but there is a lot going on!

  7. Excellent review. Enough info to plan some painting before I get my AoM. Thanks.

  8. thanks so much for this. can you maybe mention some more legendary units apart from the shapeshifters? and a point of these guys will give you a unit of 8?

    1. I'll probably do an update after another couple of games. Only 4 shape shifters per warband.

  9. Thanks so much for the excellent review! I had a chance to look through the book at Adepticon and it looks amazing.

    Can you remind me what the base sizes for different units looks like?

    1. Creatures: Bipeds must fit within a 50x50mm square. Quads and flyers must fit within 80x50mm. No creatures base can be smaller than 40mm diameter.

      Monsters & War Machines: Must fit within a 150x100mm rectangle. It cannot be smaller than 60mm diameter.

      Although I'd also say that if your figures are already based, I'd not worry too much. I don't think AoM will be ultra competitive, so any reasonable opponent is unlikely to complain if the bases are a little too large/small.

  10. thanks for sharing your review, but as its a supplement and I neglected to get the main rules, it was fun to dive into someone else's first impressions!

  11. Great review, we have a fairly large saga community locally, but most have been unwilling or uninterested in taking the plunge and getting the second edition.

    This supplement had made me and a few others decide to switch over tho as we all have warhammer, age or Sigmar, Kings of war armies so it seems silly not to pick them up when we all have warbands ready to go

  12. Thanks for the review and model army. Any AAR on who it worked? I am trying out version 2 of SAGA for the first time and will use a similar army to what you create, but I think I will arm one unit of skeleton warriors with bows. Any idea where ghouls would fit in, maybe bipeds or mindless?

    1. No AAR yet but we've played quite a few games now and really enjoy the new supplement. There is a Legendary Warband that includes ghouls. Or you could simply play them as mindless. I have a new warband assembled that needs painting. A full AAR will probably appear once it's finished.