Thursday, December 24, 2020

Painting Progress: Last of Moors and 4 Berserkers

The final eight miniatures of my 28mm Gripping Beast Saga army (with scratch banner)

My Moorish Saga army took me half a year to paint, but I am very proud of it. I know it won't win painting competitions, but on the tabletop I believe its pastel colors and patterns will be quite eye-catching. I finished the last of the army this past week when I completed the final eight foot archer figures. Not much of a climax to this project, but hey! I had been playing with the army for a few months already, so they were definitely the low priority, less important part. In fact, I will likely not use all 24 archer figures I completed. I will most likely field just one point (12 figures) of bow-armed levy in my 6-point Saga army.

Most of these figures had turban wraps around their helms - I particularly like how the stripes came out

Most of these figures had steel helmets with turbans around them, which was a change of pace. The eighth figure was actually a spearman that I converted into a standard bearer. Somehow, I had lost one of the separate arms in the Gripping Beast figures clutching the bow. Yet another reasons to NOT like figures that require arms glued to the bodies (though, to be fair, most of the Gripping Beast figures in this army were not like that and were "solid state." I didn't have anything that could really substitute, so I figured I would just paint up a guy hold a banner in case I ever need all 24 of those figures.

 The spearman standard bearer and his Photoshop created banner proclaiming Moorish "Tolerance"

I certainly won't miss painting patterns for awhile! I tried to keep the fanciness of the robes down a bit. Previous commenters on my blog had mentioned that not everyone would be able to afford a richly brocaded robe! So, fewer dots to do on robes, this time. I still did some on the turban wraps, though - kind of eyeball each figure to see if I felt he needed more. Same with the patterns on the quivers -- not everyone received one. I continued with my three different flesh tones to represent the diversity of the Andalusian ranks. 

 My four Viking berserker figures (using fantasy miniatures - 1 metal, 3 plastic/resin)

The banner was one of my usual Photoshop projects. I found a nice pattern I liked and placed a black bar across its middle. I pasted in the Arabic phrase for "Tolerance" -- a key idea of the Andalusian Muslim kingdoms. To further that, I created a border with alternating crosses, crescents and stars of David. Once you shrink the banner down to fit the figure, though, this detail becomes difficult to see. It's the thought that counts, though!

 My favorite of the four - I think he looks a bit like Rollo on the History Channel "Vikings" series

While I was finishing up the archers, I began prepping my first non-Moorish batch of figures in almost half a year. My Viking army is a frequent loaner request, so I decided to augment that with four berserker figures. I wanted to make sure that they looked WAY different than the rank and file Vikings. So, I picked up three fantasy barbarians at one of the Saga Game days at the Dragons Guildhall. Two of them have the ahistorical horned helmets that cartoons like to depict Vikings as wearing. Yes, I know Vikings didn't wear horned helmets, but they were just such cool, over-the-top figures that I couldn't resist. Their lack of armor and big weapons made me think that there would be zero doubt which figures in the army were the berserkers! The third figure was of a clear material, and seemed to be rising out of the ground. He was such a dead ringer for Rangar Lothbrok's brother Rollo that it only sealed the deal. 

This female fantasy fig has been in my unpainted lead pile for a LONG time! Love her tattoos...

I looked through my unpainted lead and found a female figure that would pass as a berserker -- short on clothing, like her male companions. I have decided that I don't like painting the plastic or resin or whatever it is that the barbarians are made from. The detail is softer and more blurred, in my opinion, than the crisp detail you see on a metal figure. The faces of the two Conan the Barbarian clones had very little detail. Very mushy. It only reinforces my preference for metal figures. Still, the bulging muscles and Conan physique of the miniatures were fun (and easy) to paint.

 These horned-helmted figures drew me to the blister pack, but their mushy detail detracts

Once I was done with the basic detail -- drybrushing their fur trousers and painting their leather -- I knew I would have to do tattoos. I am actually VERY happy with how their tattoos came out. I used my newest 10/00 brush and a dark, bluish-green. All four got tattoos, and I think this gives them a kind of unit integrity. Despite being drawn to the pack because of the pair of Conan figures, I think my favorite is the Rollo lookalike. I considered shaving off part of his fantasy, jagged axe, but kept it. I made sure I put lots of details on the clothing of the female berserker to offset the simplicity of her barbarian brethren.

 I do really like how the tattoos came out on these many times will people tell me Vikings didn't wear horned helmets, do you imagine?

All in all, I think these came out very nicely. Expect some more Viking additions from my painting desk before I start on the Carolingian army waiting in the wings. I have some more Viking archers primed up, and some unarmored warriors to go with them after the bowmen are done. Hopefully, I'll get more done during my two weeks of winter break. So, look for more updates soon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Viking Raiders Bedevil Cordoba Again

 Moorish cavalry charge down upon Jenny's Shield Maidens in Clash of Warlords

Majik ibn Battuta al-Waqaa shook his head and mumbled into his beard as his horse crested the rise. "Norsemen in the Emirate, again? Will fair Cordoba never be free of them?" he mused, watching Scirocco, his pet cheetah, sprint up the hill and stop beside him. Majik's force had been patrolling the borders looking for signs of the reported Viking incursion. A scout led them to this hillside where they could view the Viking warriors spread across the green fields like a stain. "Prepare for battle, defenders of Cordoba! Archers to me on the rise - spear to my right, cavalry to the left. We will send these pagans back across the seas, inshallah!" The men raised a cheer and hurried to their positions. Excited at the prospect of bloodshed, Scirocco prowled forward, yellow eyes locked on the enemy.

 Jenny's Vikings at bottom and my Moors deploy for a Clash of Warlords as part of the Yule event

After finishing our first game as part of the virtual Yule Saga Celebration, Jenny wanted another. It was still early on a Saturday evening, and we had not played Saga for a month or so at this point. Of course, that was the whole reason for the virtual Saga Ohio event. Players were supposed to seek out a game with someone in their "bubble" -- that they have regular contact with -- and make up for our COVID-cancelled, twice-monthly game days. We had just finished A Tale of Challenges from the Book of Battles, so we opted for a simple Clash of Warlords. Jenny reverted to her Viking list -- foot warlord, two 6-man foot hearthguard units, Shield Maidens, 8 Viking foot warriors, and 12 Viking Levy archers.

 Majik ibn Battuta al-Waqaa marshals his infantry to attempt to drive off Viking raiders again

I saw no need to mess with success and kept the Moorish list I'd been using -- mounted warlord, two 6-man mounted hearthguard with javelins, two 8-man foot warriors, and 12 Moorish levy archers. Yes, other than three of my units were mounted, our lists were nearly identical. However, our battle boards were very different. Facing the Vikings and their Odin battle board ability meant I would not be able to use my shooting much. I couldn't afford to have either of my two big strike units (javelin-armed mounted hearthguard) exhausted with three fatigue at the whim of Odin! It would have to be a game of melee, charging with my horsemen instead of skirmishing with them.

 The view of the brightly-colored Andalusian army from the Viking warlord's side of the table

Jenny placed a woods in the center of the board, along with her usual marsh in the center of my deployment area. I opted for a large, gentle hill on my right and a steep hill opposite that on her baseline. Although the steep hill was uneven ground, it wouldn't provide cover to shooting. I was first player and had to deploy half my units first. I marshaled my two spear units opposite the woods, with my warlord in reserve behind them. This left her guessing where my mounted would go. She deployed her archers close to the center woods, as I expected, supported on their left by a hearthguard unit and her Viking warriors. On her right was the other hearthguard unit and her Shield Maidens.

 My infantry spear line opens the game with an advance towards the center woods

I then placed the remaining three units to the left of my spearmen. The archers were on the gentle hill, flanked by the two units of mounted Moorish nobles. I planned for a sweeping movement on the left, which I began on turn one. The spear advanced towards the woods to root out the Viking levy. I sent the archers forward to launch a volley of arrows towards her hearthguard unit and one of the bearded warriors went down gurgling as an arrow pierced his throat. Jenny responded on her turn with an advance -- her archers into the woods, while her hearthguard advanced quickly, followed more cautiously by the warriors and shield maidens.

On the opening turn, my two units of Moorish cavalry swept to the left to outflank the Viking raiders

Perhaps Jenny was expecting me to skirmish with my cavalry this game, like I prefer to do. She was surprised when one of the hearthguard units thundered down onto her unit that had been wounded by the archers. I played my usual 1-2-3 punch for what I call the "Hammer Blow": Torrent of Iron to begin the charge, Wholehearted to take advantage of enemy fatigue, and Inspiration to get rerolls on misses in combat. The dice definitely favored the Moors, and her entire unit was eliminated. We took two casualties, and then immediately withdrew back to our lines using Perseverance. 

 Beyond the trees, one of the Viking hearthguard units stalks toward my line of Moorish spearmen

Stung, the Viking raiders then launched their own attack. The far left unit of hearthguard double moved and charged into the first unit of my foot spearmen. We closed ranks, attempting to wear down the Vikings, but it did no good. We missed all of our saves and lost five figures, recoiling backwards. I had thought about placing the a dice on an ability that gave my foot units 3 bonus defense dice in melee, but had decided not to, last turn. Ouch! That was painful, but then again, not nearly as painful as her loss of an entire 6-man hearthguard unit, I rationalized. 

 The gathering storm viewed from the Viking side as my units of Moorish cavalry prepare to charge

Knowing her right was wide open, Jenny moved up the Shield Maidens to cover the gap. My levy archers unleashed a volley on them. She responded with Odin -- exhausting them, but too late! Two of the shield maidens fell to our shots (our her unlucky save rolls!). Seeing the Shield Maidens down one third, my fresh 6-man cavalry troop hurtled forward. Unlike last game, when the Valkyrie survived the melee, this time there were no ladies left alive. We rode down all of them at the cost of two slain troopers, again. At this point, I was feeling very confident. However, what I didn't know, was that her victorious unit of hearthguard was about to embark on a string of melees and dice rolls that would earn them the nickname "the Unstoppables."

 The Viking hearthguard have smashed into one unit of spear, slaughtering more than half

These pagans unleashed their fury on my next unit of Viking spearmen. Despite closing ranks and three extra defense dice, we lost three men and had to fall back. At least they were still generating a Saga dice, being above four figures! The levy archers then targeted the Unstoppables, but they used our two fatigue to cancel the shot. The levy would try again next turn, and once again, cause no casualties. On her right, Jenny moved up her unit of warriors and charged my four remaining hearthguard who had eliminated the shield maidens. Although they lost three figures, they killed two hearthguard - a fair trade. Payback was coming, though, and the other Moorish cavalry unit charged in on our turn, eliminating the warriors to a man. Our casualties left me with two mounted hearthguard units with only two figures each.

 After successfully riding down a unit of Viking hearthguard, the victorious Moorish nobles pull back

I had one last gambit to try on my turn. I trotted each hearthguard unit forward to throw javelins at his warlord. I figured that if either scored a hit -- or better yet, two -- I would send my warlord forward to battle his in melee. However, all our hits missed. I simply didn't trust my die rolls to go one-on-one against a fresh enemy warlord. On our side of the board, his unit of Unstoppables was full strength still, but surrounded by two warrior and one levy unit. Turn six ended with no climactic final clash, and it was time to count up the points. 

 Overview: Viking hearthguard pummel the Moorish right while shield maidens try to hold their flank

I knew it would be close -- she had killed more of my hearthguard than I had of hers. However, I had completely eliminated her two warrior units (one being the mercenary Shield Maidens). In the end, the Moors were ahead on points 21-19. However, Clash of Warlords requires you to beat your opponent by three points or more to score a victory. This mean both armies withdrew from the battlefield to bandage their wounds.

The Shield Maidens attempt to hold their right fails as they are trampled by Moorish cavalry

The Unstoppables (Viking hearthguard) slam into and drive back another unit of Moorish spearmen

Moorish cavalry tries one last gambit to whittle down the Viking warlord with javelins, but fail

Closeup of the Unstoppables, who would have won Jenny the game had she not lost her Shield Maidens

Sunday, December 20, 2020

'Tale of Challenges' first of Saga games for Yule Event

 The climax of our Tale of Challenges: Moorish mounted hearthguards charge the Rus Shield Maidens

The gamers of Saga Ohio decided to host a virtual event and invited players across the world to take part in it. On the first day of the event, Andy S was gaming with his roommates on east side of town, while on the north side of Columbus, Jenny and I sat down after dinner to a game. The idea was for people to play Saga with someone in their "bubble" -- those that they have regular contact with. With most gaming areas in stores closed due to COVID, this would hopefully be a way for people to get in one or more games of Saga. The event was named Yule Saga Game Day Celebration (in honor of the Norse winter solstice festival), and would run from Saturday, Dec. 19 though Sunday, Dec. 27. So, feel free to join in - no matter where you are in the world! If you're not on the Saga Ohio group on Facebook, click here to join so you can post your photos and battle report on the event.

Jenny's photos came out much better - here is her shot of my left wing of spearmen and cavalry

Jenny has been steadily trying out the various Norse options in the Age of Vikings. She had yet to play Pagan Rus, so she decided to try that warband out. I handed her the Book of Battles and let her thumb through it to pick one out. We ended up deciding upon A Tale of Challenges. In this scenario, each player alternates choosing from a list challenges in the book. They must choose a minimum of two up to a maximum of four. I chose First Blood, since with my Moors I should be able to strike quickly and at a distance. It is one of the lower point challenges of the dozen listed, awarding your three points if you succeed or penalizing you three if you fail. Jenny responded with "We shall leave only widows," a very difficult one that awards six points in success or penalizes the player six points if failure. To succeed, Jenny would have to ensure none of my units were at six figures or higher by game's end. I responded with another one I felt would be easy for my Moors to accomplish, "I will sack your home." To do this, I would need to have three units of at least 4 figures within Medium of her board edge at the end of the game. I misread this during the game as ONE unit of at least four figures. So, I ended up failing on this one due to not reading it closely enough! 

My warlord Majik ibn Battuta al-Waqaa directs the larger right wing of his army forward

Jenny responded with her second and final challenge, Invincibility. With this challenge (6 points success, 3 points failure), she choose a turn from Turn 3 on in which she must lose no figures. It says the player selects when to announce she is attempting it, which we interpreted as meaning she could actually chose NOT to invoke it. That ended up being the case because she never felt confident enough that she wouldn't lose a figure for a turn during the game. We ruled she didn't lose the 3 points because she never invoked the challenge. Perhaps we were wrong? My final challenge was "I will be your armor," in which I vow to my army that I will lose no more than 1 unit this game.

 The deployment of the Moorish and Pagan Rus armies

The deployment is fairly standard, and I placed a large gentle hill on the right flank. She responded with a marsh in the center of my deployment area. I countered with one on the right side of her deployment area. Two more woods followed, with me shoving one near her baseline and her countering with one in the center of the board. I ended up deploying one foot warrior unit on either side of the marsh, with the levy bow as close to the center woods as I could get them. A 6-man mounted hearthguard unit backed up each warrior unit, while my warlord, Majik ibn Battuta al-Waqaa began the game with the right hand side of the army. Jenny deployed her levy javelinmen and mercenary shield maidens in the center, backed up by her Rus warlord. On her right was her foot warriors, while on her left -- opposite the gentle hill (where she expected my cavalry to go) were two fierce, 6-man foot hearthguard units.

 The Pagan Rus levy were the victims of 'First Blood' - dealt by the Moorish cavalry's javelins

I opened the game sending my cavalry on the left galloping forward to toss javelins at her levy. We scored two hits, fulfilling the First Blood challenge on the first turn. I then pulled them back with Perseverance to where they started next to the foot warriors. Others nudged forward as best they could with Maneuvers. Jenny countered by sending the levy towards the cover of the woods and bringing up the foot warriors opposite my left up in support. The shield maidens also began redeploying towards the left where she felt she needed more strength. Wary of the reach of my mounted hearthguard, her own two foot hearthguard units edged forward only slightly. They would spend the early part of the game watching, and later Jenny admitted she was too cautious with them (as they represented half of her army points).

 A 'Blizzard' meant to protect the levy from the horsemen, did little to deter my Moorish spearmen

She was bold in using the harassment the Pagan Rus battleboard can throw at an enemy. She regularly used Long Winter to prevent shooting or charges at more than a Medium. Every turn except the sixth she played Frozen Wind to hit 2-3 of my units with fatigue. And she had Biting Cold (which freezes a unit in its tracks after it performs a movement, shooting, or melee activation). This had a big deterrent effect, preventing me from duplicating my first turn tactic of riding forward, tossing javelins, then falling back. She also played Blizzard on the levy, which creates an area of uneven terrain a Very Short distance all around them. She did this to protect them from a charge by my cavalry. However, my foot warriors were within a double move, so I sent them forward to drive off her javelinmen. They did so, reducing them to five figures, while losing only two. 

Stung by the charge of my spear, Jenny sent in her Shield Maidens to drive off my warriors

This established my left as the bloody ground where we would do most of the fighting. Jenny responded by sending double moving her Shield Maidens forward. They cut down three of my spearmen, who recoiled back towards our lines. They killed two of the maidens, though, and left them exposed with two fatigue at the start of my turn. As Jenny was holding onto a Biting Cold activation, I knew I would have to charge into melee -- shooting wasn't an option. If I moved up to shoot, she would freeze me after the movement activation and before the shooting. So, I launched them forward with Torrent of Iron. I used the first part of the activation to clear off the two fatigues they had and the second part to charge into the Shield Maidens (which inflicts a fatigue, leaving her exhausted). She closed ranks, knowing I was going to use her fatigue to raise my armor to 6 meaning she wouldn't be able to hit. With Wholehearted (which gives me two attack and two defense for each of her fatigues), I was rolling 18 dice. I also played Inspiration with a rare die, which meant I could reroll any 1s, 2s, or 3s in melee. All 18 were hits, not surprisingly. What was a surprise was that she saved 15 of those 18!

Moorish spearmen recoil from the fierce onslaught of the Rus Shield Maidens

The Valkyrie was the lone figure that remained, and she staggered back wounded towards her own lines. The early successes had been mine, but now it was time for the Pagan Rus to go on the counterattack. Her foot warriors bravely charged into my victorious cavalry. Shockingly, they killed three of the horsemen, driving my unit back. That hurt, because it dropped them below the threshold of four figures to accomplish the "I will sack your home" challenge. Things were only going to get worse, though. On my right, one of her 6-man foot hearthguard were barely within range of my mounted hearthguard unit. She double moved them into combat. With the fatigue accumulated in the second move, it meant we would be dead even -- 12 attack dice hitting on 5's (I used her fatigue to raise my armor). The die rolls were anything but even. My cavalry ended up losing four figures while she lost only one. 

 The 'tit-for-tat' war continues as my cavalry gallop into the Shield Maidens, seeking vengeance

At this point, I knew she was probably ahead on massacre points. My goal had to be to prevent her from dropping my remaining two units of 6+ figures (levy bowmen and foot warriors on the right) below the number she needed to fulfill her "We shall leave only widows" challenge. I was comfortably ahead of on challenges, so should win barring further disasters like this past turn. Majik stroked his beard, sensing victory could be won by withdrawing. I began to pull my army back towards my rear and left. My archers finally got in some shots, whittling her victorious foot warrior unit down. 

 The sole Rus survivor of the climactic charge was the Valkyrie - Jenny saved 15 out of 18 times!

Her foot hearthguard unit tried to do its part, charging my fresh foot warrior unit. We closed ranks, and used their fatigue and all of our defensive abilities to minimize the damage they inflicted. We survived, and continued to withdraw. On turn 6 (you roll to see if you will play a sixth turn or if it ends on turn five), I dashed my warlord across the field towards her baseline. I thought this fulfilled the challenge, but reread it the next day to see that Majik's ride into the enemy camp had accomplished little except liberating some fine beverages that the Pagan Rus were too uncivilized to enjoy!

 As the Valkyrie staggers back to her lines, the Rus hearthguard in the distance move forward

As it was, the Moors won comfortably on the strength of two successful challenges. Neither of Jenny's two challenges were successful. However, to prove to Jenny how well she had actually done, I counted up the massacre points. We tied on them at 11 to 11. Adding in First Blood (+3), I Will Be Your Armor (+6), and I Will Sack Your Home (-5), that gave me +4 more points. Jenny lost -6 on We Shall Leave Only Widows, and possibly (-3) more if you deduct Invincibility if never invoked. I would be curious to hear from those who know how that should be ruled. Can you choose Invincibility and then never invoke it? Or do you have to do so on turn 3, 4, or 5?

 The Rus warriors surprisingly drove off the victorious Moorish cavalry with a charge

Either way, we had a blast celebrating Norse Yule with a closely-fought game of Saga. It was so much fun, Jenny wanted to play another game in a rematch. But that tale is for another day...! I hope to read other player's battle reports that are also participating in our online event!

On my right, one of the Rus hearthguard units savages my other troop of mounted nobles

The Moorish battle lines draw back to the left and towards their baseline

Majik ibn-Battuta al-Waqaa with the spoils of his gallop through the enemy camp

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Armored Moorish Cavalry

28mm Gripping Beast Moorish armored cavalry to pad out my Saga army
Even though my Moorish Saga army has taken the field several times, I am still finishing up painting the last of the figures I acquired for the army. Here are the six mailed (and scaled?) cavalry figures that were included. They are 28mm Gripping Beast (I believe, as I bought them second hand). With this batch, my mounted contingent of 20 riders is complete. If I use all of them, that would likely mean fielding one group of eight as mounted warriors for Saga, and the other two groups of six as hearthguard.

I was fairly pleased with how the riders' cloaks turned out - nice fancy for the wealthy Moors
For these figures, the most complicated part of the painting process was their cloaks and saddle blankets. I wanted to give patterns as they would be the wealthiest and able to furnish themselves with the fanciest apparel and kit. For the most part, I think the patterns came out well. I think my favorite is the yellow cloak with the flowered-looking pattern with red and green. Honestly, I am running out of ideas for patterns so am glad that I am nearing the end of painting this army...ha, ha!

Three of the latest batch ready to ride into battle against the enemies of the Emirate of Cordoba
I try to do the horses up nicely, as well. I have a horse painting chart that I'd downloaded from the internet which gives the basic colorings for dozens and dozens of horse types. It certainly is a step up from my old way of doing horses -- three colors of browns, a black, a gray, a white - all painted in a fairly standard way. I think having this chart makes my horses more varied and also probably more accurate, though I wouldn't doubt a horse fancier somewhere would lecture me about this or that particular breed not being around in my time period or location! As long as they look good on the tabletop and add their own variety to a colorful army, then I am satisfied with the horses.

The rest of the half dozen riders, colorfully resplendent in their Andalusian finery!
As usual, I used a plethora of dots and speckled patterns on this army. When I put these six figures away in the box with the rest of the army, I did momentarily pause to marvel at the effect of all those colors and patterns. This may be up there in my top tier of colorfully painted armies during my miniature modeling career. Certainly, the long-since-sold 15mm Jacobite highlanders could hold their own against my Moors when it came to a fashion show. Few other of my armies are going to be able to claim so much extra effort put into them, though. I decorated the turban cloths with dots for most of them, and of course, put time into their shields. Speaking of which -- I hope you're sitting down -- I am actually thinking of trying shield decals for my next Saga army. I may change my mind, but they are so commonplace nowadays that I think my hand-painted patterns are actually beginning to hold my paint jobs back. Who knows? I may change my mind when it comes time to buying the decals...!

Galloping into action, the Moorish cavalry is ready to charge their emir's foes

A look at the shield patterns I gave this batch of Moorish riders

Monday, November 30, 2020

Check out my Podcast - Saga Ohio!

My Saga Ohio podcast is now live with its first episode!
After many pleasurable hours of listening to the Northern Tempest Saga Podcast while I paint, I decided to take the plunge and create my own Saga podcast. To me, it's the perfect accompaniment to a painting session. Joe and Jim's conversation is always funny and informative. They sound like guys you'd want to have in your game club. Plus, the "Saga talk" inspires you to keep painting. Once I'd run through all of their episodes dealing with Version 2 of Saga, I also started watching/listening to Saga Thorsday on YouTube. Rodge and Monty are like the Upper Midwest version of Joe and Jim. I particularly love their discussions of their own painting projects, dealing with long periods of no production, what inspires them to finish off that army -- great stuff!

I tossed the idea out on our Saga Ohio Facebook page, and got positive responses. Jim Beegan from Dayton was the most enthusiastic, so I invited him to be my first guest. I did some research and decided to use Cleanfeed for us to "meet" and record our session. The quality of the audio is superb. I am hosting my podcast episodes on Anchor, as their service is completely free. Plus, they push your episode out to other podcast channels, such as Spotify, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, and more. You download your audio file from your Cleanfeed session easily, and can then upload and edit it on Anchor's software. I ended up doing my editing on my MacBook in Garage Band because I wanted to "talk over" the intro sound effect. I then exported the file as an mp3 and popped it into Anchor. Boom...done! 

Click here for the link to my Saga Ohio page on Anchor.

I hope to do episodes once every two weeks or so. Local Saga guru Andy Swingle is slated to be my next guest. I'd like to be able to use the guest slot to eventually introduce all of the Saga Ohio members. I had a blast talking to Jim, and he was the perfect, easy-to-talk-to person to help me host my first episode. So, check it out, and stay tuned for more episodes!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tangle in the Terrain with the Pagan Rus

Moorish mounted hearthguard skirt the edge of a forest in an attempt to encircle the enemy
 Reining in his horse, the warlord Majik ibn Battuta al-Waqaa shook his head as he regarded the hostile lands all around his small force. A giant rocky hill loomed on the left, while a dark, tangled forest to his right. Ahead, where his army had to pass through to get home, were two more wolf-haunted forests. The howls of the packs roaming beneath the tangled branches made his cheetah Scirocco pace nervously, the delicate links of her chain scraping against the rocky ground. This was not the type of terrain that favored his mounted Moorish warriors. He prayed that Allah would see he and his men through, and that they could find a way to return home to Cordoba.

The core of Adrian's Pagan Rus - 8-man hearthguard, warlord, Shield Maidens
For what may have been the first time, Jenny and I stayed for a second round of Saga Gaming at the Dragons Guildhall during our November meeting. Six total players stayed (of our original eight), so we matched up against new opponents. It had been awhile since Adrian J and I had played, so we selected a table and began to set up. Adrian is one of the top players in our Saga Ohio group, having been playing the game longer than just about anyone except maybe Andy S. He racks up victories with regularity, too, and is also the one many of us go to for that rules question we aren't certain how to answer.

Two 6-man units of Pagan Rus warrior infantry creep around the edges a wolf-haunted woods
Adrian enjoys scenarios from the Book of Battles Saga supplement, particularly Battle of Heroes -- which randomizes Scenery, Deployment, Game Length, Victory Conditions, and Special Rules. Players roll 1d6 for each and can add or subtract one from the roll for a selection they prefer. As first player, Adrian rolled for "Hostile Land" (which makes all uneven terrain Dangerous) and "Sacrifice" (bonus if your unit is destroyed by some means other than melee...shooting, perhaps?). I rolled for the other three categories. I chose Unknown Land (which allowed Adrian to set our four terrain pieces), "Confusion" (resulting in a diagonal deployment), and "Pitched Battle" (5 turn limit, but I begin the game rolling 4 Saga dice and placing them on the board before his first turn).

Decisive moment - the Moorish Cavalry prepares to charge the Pagan Rus' toughest unit
As Adrian had switched from his Anglo-Saxons to Pagan Rus, he set up a death trap of terrain for my mounted units. Throw in the "dangerous" rule -- which I rationalized by saying the forests were wolf-haunted -- and there were LOTS of places on the board my mounted couldn't go. Knowing he has the "Frozen Wind" ability on his Pagan Rus battle board, I tried to spread myself out as much as possible. However, the terrain kept me constricted. Adrian is a master at devising a pregame plan for a Saga encounter. I had a feeling that my undefeated streak was going to take a lot of Kismet (Fate) to survive this encounter! Little did I know, Adrian had other plans for me to make it even more challenging!

After the charge, the victorious Moors have pulled back on the left to regroup, enemy eliminated!
Adrian's Pagan Rus warband was an interesting mix of troops. Besides his foot warlord, he fielded one 8-man foot hearthguard unit (his hammer), and one unit of mercenary Shield Maidens. The other 3 points were foot warriors divided into four units of six. These "penny packets" of warriors he kept hidden as much as possible for the entire game. They scurried into the woods whenever my mounted warriors headed their way. Essentially, they were simply Saga dice generators for the three main strike units of hearthguard, warlord, and Shield Maidens. I used the same breakdown as I have in my previous two games with the Moors: mounted warlord, two 6-man mounted hearthguard units with javelins, two 8-man warrior units, and one 12-man levy archer unit.

Adrian's final gambit falls short - Moors withstand the charge of his warlord and Shield Maidens
I deployed my archers in the forest on my right to cover the front of his army. In fact, due to his "Long Winter" ability on his battle board, they would shoot only once the entire game. Still, their threat kept his troops shying away from the center of the board, and made his maneuvers much more cautious than I would have expected. In fact, I thought Adrian played a very cautious game throughout, which meant we had about as few melees as I had in my first "Ambush" game with Jenny's Vikings earlier. I placed one of my warrior infantry units to cover the central gap between the marsh and rocky hill, while the second one supported it from a distance in reserve. I placed one mounted unit on the far side of the rocky hill on my left and the other poised to skirt around the marsh on my right. The warlord kept his distance from his troops in the center.

Jim B, left, teaches his friend Mark the finer points of Saga in a first-round game
Adrian began with a tentative advance in the center with his hearthguard hammer unit, his warlord, the Shield Maidens, and one supporting warrior infantry unit. The other three crept forward on the flanks, though the two on his far left darted back into the woods when my mounted hearthguard galloped around the marsh on my turn. Majik ordered the left flank cavalry unit around towards the right, as I planned to sweep around on that flank to attack his center and rear. When one galloped forward to hurl javelins on turn two, Adrian sprung his "trap." Having played the Pagan Rus, I knew about "Biting Cold" -- which freezes an enemy unit after any activation. What I didn't realize was that my free shooting activation with javelins on a movement was a separate activation. Thus, I could move up, yes, but not shoot.  
Second round action: Bob's Crusaders tangle with Jenny's Vikings in the woods

Majik stroked his beard and gazed across at the burly Pagan Rus warlord with new respect, "Hmmm..." One of my mounted hearthguard units was hung out to dry, frozen, and facing his Shield Maidens. Knowing his cavalry would be left within the maidens' charge range, Majik ordered a warrior infantry from the center to support them. Shield Maidens, in general, don't like to sully themselves against warriors, receiving no bonuses against them. All that succeeded in doing was pinning a giant bullseye on them for his hammer unit. The hearthguard double moved forward, laughing off the extra fatigue as they eyed all the melee abilities Adrian had lined up for them on his board. I forget how many dice he ended up rolling, but he fueled it with a succession of abilities, beginning with "Wrath of the East," "Blood Feud," "White Wolves," and "Black Bears." In the end, he inflicted 20 casualties and also had five bonus defense dice. The warrior spear disappeared under their flashing axe blades. However, Adrian chose not to charge the frozen cavalry unit - having used all his Saga abilities in that melee. He did pull the hearthguard back a move, leaving them with two fatigues.

Toward the bitter end of a slugfest - mounted Crusades charge Vikings on foot
Both of my cavalry units galloped forward to toss their javelins at the murderous Norsemen. Of course, "Biting Cold" stopped one unit from throwing, and the other's shooting rolls caused only one kill. To make him think twice about using the hearthguard again, I played Discord for the first time. This requires me to place a fatigue on any three of my units, but I get to choose three of his to place on him, as well. His hammer unit entered his turn Exhausted. I thought he would charge with either his Shield Maidens or Warlord, but he played cautiously, and loaded me up with as much fatigue as he could with Frozen Wind. 

Consistently difficult opponent on Saga Game Days -- Jenny's Vikings (with new measuring sticks!)
On my turn, it was decision time. Shooting was not going to win me the game (again!). I played Discord again, exhausting his hearthguard once more, and then charged in. I played both "Torrent of Iron" (my bottom right corner "alpha ability" on my board). This gives me a +1 on all attack dice, in addition to "Inspiration's" rerolls of any ones on the dice. He reluctantly closed ranks, which turned out for the best for him as I manipulated the fatigue to give me armor of 6 -- which meant he couldn't hit me as an Exhausted unit. I also made his armor a "2", so that I scored hits on everything but 1's (and rerolled those!). Needless to say, I hit with all 12 dice. The moment of truth came and Adrian passed on only five of his saves, which meant he lost seven figures -- the entire unit! His hammer was broken!

The next turn was the final one - Turn 5. Adrian knew he was down on points. Of his two remaining major weapons, he trusted his warlord the most. He sent him in to charge one of my cavalry units (the victorious one had actually pulled back to stay out of any charge ranges of the Rus). The warlord killed four of the Moorish riders, but Adrian has played Saga enough to know that would still leave him short on points. He sent the Shield Maidens in, as well. They were unable to cause any casualties, whereas we killed one of them. Adrian conceded at that point, but I played out my final turn to see if we could rack up any shooting kills. Par for the day, our shooting was poor and the score did not change. Majik pulled off a narrow victory, 9 1/2 to 8. 

In the other battles, Bob's Crusaders continued their slugfest run. He and Jenny played Clash of Warlords, with the Crusaders outlasting the Vikings, 26-22. In the third battle, Jim B had also switched armies. He commanded Vikings against Dave E's Romans. They ended up in a 24-23 tie, with the Romans up by one point but not enough to avoid a draw. It was a long day, but fun. With COVID getting worse all throughout Ohio, who knows? It may be our last chance to enjoy some Saga fun on the tabletop for awhile. Crossing our fingers, though, and we can meet again on the first Sunday of December in Columbus!

Here are the results of the Round 2 battles:

  • Mike D's Moors defeat Adrian J's Pagan Rus in Battle of Heroes, 9 1/2 to 8
  • Bob B's Crusaders defeat Jenny's Vikings in Clash of Warlords, 26 to 22
  • Dave E's Romans and Jim B's Vikings fight to a tie, 24-23, in Clash of Warlords