Monday, July 28, 2014

Saga - Battle of Brunanburh mega-battle!

This past Saturday was the Saga mega-battle at Giga-Bites cafe, organized by Dave Parente. It was a scenario based on the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 between an Anglo-Saxon (and allied) force and an invading Welsh and Norse-Gael army. The battle (and scenario) are described in the Hail Caesar rules from Warlord Games. As an aside, one of the things I love most about historical gaming is the history. This is a battle I knew nothing about prior to this game, and I enjoyed learning about what really happened, almost as much as playing the game itself.

We (the Durand clan) had been looking forward to this for a while. I'd been able to get a couple more points completed for my Vikings, despite my arm injury. and Iya and Lucas both wanted to have a go with Saga and see what the excitement was about. (Iya had a practice game with Richard last weekend, but Lucas had never played before.)

In typical Durand family fashion, we went all in - turning up at Giga-bites in costume:

Papa Viking accompanied by Lucas and Iya.

My daughter crocheted the beard and helmet for me as a Christmas present a few years ago, and is the crafty genius behind all of our costumes. She just finished the tunic I am wearing on the morning of the big game. We did get some strange looks at the McDonald's where we ate after the game!

Dave sets up the field of battle!

In all, seven brave souls showed up with their various Saga armies, ranging from fully painted to unpainted (as you will see in the photos), and divided up as follows:

Aethelstan's Defending Army:

  • Richard took the defenders' right flank, with Breton cavalry and a small mercenary Viking force:

Richard's Bretons and their warlord (right rear).

  • Brian held the center, with his Anglo-Danish. (Unfortunately my image of Brian's assembled host is blurry, but I have other "action shots" further down.)

  •  Sean commanded his Anglo-Saxons on the left.

Sean's Anglo-Saxons, led by Aethelstan.

Total defending forces:
Breton mounted warlord
1 unit of 8 mounted hearthguard
Viking warlord
1 unit of 4 Hearthguard

Anglo-Danish warlord
2 units of 6 Hearthguard
1 unit of 8 warriors
2 units of  12 warriors

Aethelstan prepares to defend his kingdom against the invaders.

Olaf Guthfrithson's Invaders:
  • My daughter Iya took the Strathclyde Welsh cavalry on the right.
  • Dave commanded the center with his Norse-Gaels.
  • My son Lucas and I each had a force of Vikings on the left.

Lucas' and my Vikings.

Olaf's invaders:
Owen 1, King of Strathclyde
2 units of 4 mounted Hearthguard
2 units of 8 mounted warriors
Norse-Gael warlord
2 units of 8 warriors

Viking warlord (Lucas)
1 unit of 6 Hearthguard
1 unit of 8 warriors

Viking warlord (Henry)
1 unit of 4 bersekrers
1 unit of 6 Hearthguard

The left flank of the invading force.

We chose to use alternating activations, rolling for initiative and then proceeding in order, alternating between the assaulting and defending forces.

The first couple of turns were spent maneuvering, with some rather ineffective javelin-throwing, as the various warlords moved their forces into position.

Brian measures the advance of his Anglo-Danes.

Iya measures her cavalry advance under Dave's watchful gaze.

Vikings charge!

Anglo-Danes (top) advance into the center.

Following the first few turns of maneuvering, the battle devolved into charge and counter-charge, especially in the center as units were sent into the meatgrinder of combat.
Battle is joined as the Anglo-Danes attack the Norse-Gael.

Lucas' Vikings attack (and eliminate) a unit of Anglo-Dane warriors (bottom).

Sean rolls attack dice against Iya's mounted Welsh.

Iya's Welsh cavalry charges the Angl0-Saxons in the center.

Facing the enemy across the field of battle.

Lucas' Vikings hold the center after killing the Anglo-Danish warlord.

On the left flank, my Berserkers charged the traitorous Vikings facing them, managing to wipe out the enemy unit, but being destroyed in turn. The Bretons charged my surviving Viking warlord, and while they did not kill him, they managed to isolate him by killing off some of his remaining Hearthguard. On his turn, he bravely charged the enemy Viking leader, only to be cut down. (Proving the argument that painted figures roll better dice!)

Berserkers advance ahead of their warlord.

Bretons swarm my Viking warlord.

Death of a warlord!

In the end, after all the bloodshed, the victory went to the defenders! We tallied up victory points for enemy troops killed, and the final result was 43 pts for the victors, and 38 pts for the invaders. As the sun set on a very bloody battlefield, Aethelstan's forces held the field as the invaders retreated to lick their wounds and plot revenge!

Observations: One thing that I did not like, is that what is in my opinion one of Saga's strengths was somewhat missing in the multi-player dynamic. Saga's activation mechanic encourages, I'd almost say requires, players to interrupt their opponent's actions to prevent or modify their actions. Being engaged throughout the whole turn, rather than being able to "tune out" during your opponent's activations as in many I-go-you-go games, is one of Saga's best features. In the multi-player game, when the opposing general on the other side of the battle was moving, there was a sense of not being connected to the battle. Also, the turns (with seven players commanding eight forces) seemed to run a little long. I would love to try this again with just four players (two per side) to see if fewer player makes the game more manageable, and more interactive, like the two-player games are.

Having said that, I feel the game was a huge success! Despite the fact that I was the only general to have his troops wiped out to the man (!), I had a blast. The sportsmanship and fellowship exhibited by Dave, Richard, Brian and Sean is second to none, and Giga-bites has a terrific group of Saga gamers developing

Concentrated gamers.

In fact, Richard is organizing a Saga tournament for some time in September, and I am eagerly looking forward to that.

Iya and Lucas both enjoyed themselves tremendously, and we spent much of the ride home discussing what faction each of them would like to collect and play for Saga. Two new converts to the cause! :)

Next time, I'll share some photos of what I have been able to accomplish, in terms of painting some points for my Vikings, while only having one good arm. And hopefully, now that the brace is completely off my pace will accelerate. My goal is to have all 8 points of vikings painted (I currently have five, with my warlord, 12 archers and 16 warriors left to go) by the time of Richard's tournament. I also want to have at least 6 points of a second warband painted (probably Welsh or Anglo-Saxon) for one of the kids to use.
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