Sunday, September 21, 2014

A review of Saga: The Crescent & The Cross

Last week, while I was at Giga-Bites for the Saga tournament, I purchased the new Saga rulebook.

Saga: The Crescent & The Cross (abbreviated SC&C throughout this post) is the latest installment in the Saga family, but is a huge departure from the previous supplements.Where the other additions gave rules for new warbands to be used with the original Saga rules (abbreviated SDA throughout this post for Saga Dark Ages), this volume takes the world of Saga forward in time to the age of the Crusades!

What SC&C is and what it isn't:
  • It is not a supplement for the original Saga rules.
  • It is a complete, new, stand-alone set of rules for playing Saga in either the Dark Ages or the Crusades era.
  • It is not just the same old Saga with a different flavor.
  • It is an updated version of the Saga rules that incorporates the erratas and FAQs from SDA, and the rules in SC&C replace the rules in SDA.
The two Saga rulebooks, side by side.

Before even picking up the book, you'll notice two obvious differences. First, SC&C is a hardcover tome, unlike the previous softcover SDA rules and supplements. Second, is the higher price. The new book lists for $48, versus the $40 price tag on the original. (Spoiler alert: In my opinion, the book is well worth the extra money!)

The older rulebook for Saga is on the bottom.

As you begin to leaf through the book, you'll notice some other differences.

First is the page count - a whopping 120 pages! This compares to the 74 pages of SDA.

The tables of content show the difference in page count.

You'll also notice the layout - they've used a ton of photos, drawings and diagrams to illustrate this book. While this is one reason for the higher page count, I am all for it. I love seeing photos of beautifully painted models (and this book is full of them!) to inspire me and show me what can be achieved. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a photo and thought, "I can do that!" and headed off to my modelling cave to crank out a figure or piece of scenery.

Speaking of drawings, the book is full of magnificent illustrations by Peter Dennis, reminiscent of what you'd find in an Osprey book. One thing that caught my eye, is that some illustrations directly relate to the photographs of models. Check out the drawing of the Crusader on page 67, and look at the top right figure in the photo on page 66. Look carefully at the shield and pennant. Yep, same guy!

When it comes to the rules themselves, SC&C introduces us to a new teacher, and reintroduces an old friend.

Hashim Ibn Khalid Ibn Abad pops up whenever there's a particular point to stress, or to give examples throughout the book.

Ragnar, our intrepid guide from SDA, is back. For longtime Saga players, seeing his image means "Pay attention!" His presence indicates a place where the new rules expand upon or differ from the SDA. Frankly, even if I never get to play a game using the new warbands, the book is worth buying just for the streamlined and improved rules. (Who am I kidding? I am already planning a Spanish warband!)

Another addition is the use of red text to highlight important points in the rules.

The rules have been revised and expanded since SDA, and they are laid out in a more logical fashion than in the earlier book. For example, the section on attack rolls went from one long paragraph in SDA, to four paragraphs in SC&C that better explain exactly what happens in that phase of the melee. Terrain rules were laid out in two pages in SDA, but they take up four pages of SC&C. This expansion is another factor in the page count, but again, I think it is a huge improvement.

Example of the new terrain rules and teh older ones (left).

Perhaps the most important expansion comes in the section on Saga abilities, as the use of these abilities is arguably the heart and soul of the Saga system. In SDA, the Abilities rules took up one page, before going straight into a description of the various abilities. In SC&C you have a full three pages devoted to Saga Abilities, with a very detailed and useful explanation devoted to timing, i.e., in  what part of the turn sequence can you use each type of ability.

Another improvement is in the organization of the rules. To offer just one example: In the SDA rules, under Shooting, there is no mention at all that the defender can use his opponent's fatigue to affect the results. That fact is only mentioned in the Fatigue section. In SC&C, that information sensibly appears in both the Shooting section and the Fatigue section.

As previously mentioned, some of the expanded rules and clarification that were missing in the original SDA, but were added in the Raven's Shadow expansion, are included in these new rules.

Two examples (of many):
  • The Melee phase now includes a Step 0 in which Melee/Reaction abilities are used.
  • Certain units can have optional War Banners.
Some other important clarifications relate to specifying base sizes for your models, and which models can contribute attack dice to a melee. Specifically, if any model is within VS of an enemy model, or in base-to-base contact with a friendly model that is in base-to-base contact with a foe, he's in.

One rule I take issue with is how disengagement is handled when the losing side cannot retreat. According to the new rules, if neither the losing nor winning side can disengage via a legal move, the Attacker is wiped out. The author himself says in the book that this "reeks of cheese." If even the author feels that way, I wonder why he did not change it. In this instance I can see, and will seriously consider, a house rule that when neither side can disengage, the loser (whether it be the attacker or defender) is wiped out.

A couple of new sections of the rules are worth noting:
  • Rules for using special weapons (bows, javelins, crossbows, heavy weapons, etc) are detailed in the Armoury, which conveniently keeps them all in one place. The Armoury also has rules for mounted troops, including those riding on camels!
  • The Priest, which as Ragnar helpfully points out can also be added to SDA games, adds rules for fielding a religious leader with your warband. He can be either an additional hero, or take the place of your warlord. I am eager to try these out in both SDA and SC&C games.
After you get through the expanded rules, you come to my favorite part of the book: the factions! SC&C gives us six to choose from (three for the Crescent and three for the Cross), while SDA detailed only four.

The factions are:
  • Crusaders
  • Saracens
  • Milites Christi
  • Mutatawwi'a
  • Spanish
  • Moors

The Muslim factions' battle boards.

The Christian factions' battle boards.

Following the factions is a listing of Dogs of War - units of mercenaries and additional troops with special weapons and/or abilities that can be added to your warband.

Six new Scenarios close out the rules, giving you more options for playing games of Saga.

In addition to the book, you get six beautiful full-color battle boards, one for each of the new factions, and a Quick Reference Sheet. The battle boards have been redesigned, and in my opinion the changes are all for the better.

The battle boards appear to be the same nice thickness of the boards that come with SDA, perhaps a tiny bit thicker. They have a matte finish, rather than the glossy finish of the SDA boards. They are a lighter color, which IMO makes them easier to read. Also, the abilities that are common to all factions and can be used multiple times per turn are grouped above the name of the faction, rather than down the left side as in the older SDA boards. This sets them apart very graphically, and screams "Treat these abilities differently!" The abilities that are restricted to once per turn are grouped below the faction name. I like the new battleboard layout a lot.

The older, shiny battle board is on the right.

SC&C includes a separate Quick Reference Sheet, rather than having it printed in the book. In my opinion, the QRS is the one glaring weakness in this product. The QRS is printed on a very thin sheet of glossy paper, like a page from a magazine. It would have been much better to print this on a card sheet, the same as the battle boards, to make it more durable.

There are some other small points that detract from SC&C, some small editing issues where the translation from French to English is awkward, and at least one case of a mistake in one of the examples (which is minor in that the mistake does not impact the point being made).

Overall impression: I was very impressed with SC&C. It is obvious that Studio Tomahawk/Gripping Beast not only heard what was said about the original version, but took it to heart. They made changes, not just for the sake of making the new book different, but with the intent of making it better. And they succeeded!

I give Saga: The Crescent & The Cross...


Nine out of ten Crusader shields!

The only things that kept SC&C from being perfect and earning the tenth shield, frankly, are the flimsy Quick Reference Sheet and the minor editing mistakes.

As previously mentioned, this book is well worth the price, and in my opinion is a must-have addition to the library of anyone who already has the SDA rules. And if you don't.... well, what are you awaiting for? SC&C is the perfect way to jump into the great gaming experience that is Saga.

'Til next time!
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