Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Shield Maidens for Lagertha (and Jenny)

A Valkyrie leads Jenny's newest band of Shield Maidens
Ever since Jenny received her painted army from super-painter Ted Bender, she began toying with the idea of filling out her ranks of shield maidens with more miniatures. She plays Vikings using Saga rules and usually takes a point of the mercenary "Shield Maidens" unit. Although you receive only six figures instead of the normal eight for this warrior unit, there are some significant bonuses. The Valkyrie unit commander, the banner, large shields -- all make up for receiving two less figures.

My favorite figure of this batch was the strawberry blonde to the right of the Valkyrie
However, the thing that made her consider fielding them as ordinary warriors instead of the mercenary unit was the rock-scissors-paper of their effectiveness vs. other unit type. Shield maidens get bonuses in Saga against Hearthguard (their superiors) and Levy (their inferiors). However, they get no bonuses against other Warriors. Lots of armies use large numbers of Warriors and she wanted the option to field her ladies as ordinary warriors -- not mercenaries. That meant painting up two more figures, but then she caught the usual gamers disease and said, "Why not 10 more so I can field them as two units of 8 Warriors?" 

The figures came from various sources, but I think they look good together - nice variety!
Jenny acquired various figures to fill out her ranks (thanks, Keith and Don) and soon had 10 unpainted female Vikings. I offered to paint them up for her and she accepted. I decided to do them as one huge, uber-batch rather than two units of five so that it didn't sidetrack my Andalusian army much. Of course, the start of teaching online this school year and selling my house and buying a new one amplified the effects of taking on a big, new painting batch. It took me a lot longer to finish them than I thought, and my Andalusians have been sidetracked for a good 2-3 weeks now. Not Jenny's fault -- I wanted to get them done so she could use them in our Saga Game Days in Columbus and Dayton. My Andalusians were several painting batches away from being finished, so they wouldn't have been done by now anyway!

I am ambivalent about how Lagertha's blue and black shield design came out
I offered to paint the ten figures with Lagertha's (from the History Channel Vikings miniseries) shield design. Lagertha is the quintessential shield maiden, and her distinctive black on blue design would be cool on the tabletop, I thought. Honestly, I like how most of the miniatures came out, but I wasn't 100% crazy about how the shields did. Jenny said she liked them, so I guess that's what's important. I experimented with one figure and gave her strawberry blonde hair and really liked how it came out. I wished I'd been more confident and painted more that way. Oh well...another combination to add to my palette! So, the shield maiden interlude is over now, and Jenny has 10 more warrior women to fill out the ranks of her Saga army. I look forward to getting back into painting my Saga Moors (Andalusians), but am honestly not sure when it is going to happen with my busy schedule. Until then, enjoy these shield maidens -- and I apologize for the crappy pictures taken at a game shop prior to their first battle!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Count Drogo Clashes with a Crafty Roman Commander

Count Drogo, the Frankish warlord, urges his archers forward to engage the enemy
The monthly Saga Game Day at the Dragon's Guildhall in Beavercreek, Ohio, was moved up a week due to a conflict with another event. Nevertheless, six warlords were on hand to marshal their troops and wage battle. I brought Count Drogo, the bastard son of the Frankish king, leading a Carolingian warband. For the first time, my opponent was Bob B -- we had yet to play in all the various game days. He was fielding a "Last Romans" warband. On the other tables, Aaron J's Normans and Jim B's Vikings squabbled over loot in Feasting & Pillaging. Adrian ran his Anglo-Saxons against Jenny's Vikings in a variant Clash of Warlords where all uneven terrain was dangerous.

The deployment, with Franks in blue and Romans in purple
Bob and I were playing the standard Clash of Warlords. I loaded up the field with a medium sized woods on either flank and a field of scrub brush in my center. Bob placed a gentle hill in his center, but most of the terrain shifted towards my side when I rolled the diagonal "Method B" deployment. As first player, I wasn't sure how aggressively Bob would move his mostly mounted force. His army was definitely one of the smallest I have every played against, in number of figures. Besides his mounted warlord, he fielded the legendary unit Klibanophoroi 8-man cataphract unit (3 points -- half of his force value!). He also fielded two other mounted hearthguard units, one a 4-man horse archer unit with composite bows and the other a standard mounted unit. His remaining unit was 8 foot warriors with bows. 

A Frankish warrior unit hurries towards to woods to engage the Roman archers
I deployed cautiously towards the rear of my zone, occupying the center scrubland with one unit of foot warriors with bow. The other foot archers were in the woods on my left. Both units of warrior spear were on my right, poised to enter the right flank woods where Bob's archers would end up going. Both of my 4-man mounted hearthguard units were held back in reserve in the center, as was Count Drogo. Bob deployed his two smaller mounted units in the center, while the Klibanophoroi were poised to circle the woods on my right flank. Seeing this, we hurried one of the warrior spear units towards the woods, hoping to be able to drive his archers out of it. We also wanted to get into the woods where we thought we would be safe from the Klibanophoroi.

Just as the Franks are about to contact the Romans, they scamper out of the woods!
I put two of my three Saga dice I rolled as first player into my Proelium section on the board (the third would go in on turn two), using the other on the advancing warrior spear unit. Bob sent his Klibanophoroi around the woods, while the horse archers galloped forward to shoot at my warrior spear before retiring. The foot archers also shot a volley at them, but (as a rarity in this match) I saved well, losing only one figure. When my warriors entered the woods on the next turn and advanced to within charging range, Bob pulled the archers out of the woods before I could contact them. Then he really surprised me by charging the Klibanophoroi into the woods. They came in with two fatigues, but that didn't matter, as he completely wiped out my remaining warriors (who'd taken two more losses from horse archery) to a man. I was stunned that a mounted unit could so easily charge foot in the woods. This was a legendary unit that cost him 3 points, though, so I guess they should be fairly powerful.

I think I was as surprised as my warriors when the Klibanophoroi charged into the woods!
Meanwhile, Count Drogo had ordered the Frankish archers out of the terrain and hurried them towards the enemy. We used Ardor and ordinary Saga dice to pepper the Klibanophoroi with four shots. Bob saved every hit -- even the four automatic hits I got from using Vinco and Domine on my board! He then withdrew the Klibanophoroi out of the woods (and out of sight) of my archers. His own archers advanced and shot at my mounted hearthguard on the left flank, who rolled atrociously, and lost two of their four figures. This encouraged Bob to send his own small mounted hearthguard unit to charge them. He had finally rolled well enough with Saga dice to use Strategos, so his unit had 12 dice to my 4. However, I used his fatigue to raise my armor class to a 6, and Bob rolled only one "6". Did I save that hit and drive back his charge? No, of course not! 

Count Drogo urges his troops forward to contact the elusive Romans
Still, Bob had exhausted his Saga dice and his surviving three hearthguard ended their turn within range of my archers. I spent all of my dice to power my two archer units -- Ardor, Vinco, Domine, Potentia -- every ability the Carolingian battle board had to improve its shooting. The Roman cavalrymen were wiped out to a man, and an additional shot savaged his foot bow unit, too. While my attention was focused on shooting, Bob was able to rest his exhausted Klibanophoroi and move them around the woods towards where my remaining Frankish spear and mounted hearthguard watched our right flank. 

"Fire!" Drogo roars, as the Romans are finally within range of Frankish bows
At that point, I decided to gamble. Knowing that his battleboard was empty, and that when HE charged, whoever they hit would be likely wiped out, I decided to charge him first. I loaded my battleboard up with my combat abilities -- Fortis (which gives me 3 dice and takes 3 away from him), Potentia (allowing rerolls of up to six misses), and for the first time ever, Damnatio -- which gives +1 attacks against the declared enemy unit. He would have 14 dice, minus the 3 Fortis would take away, giving him 11. I would have 8+3 = 11. But he had a fatigue, which I used to make my armor a six. So, 11 vs. 11, and I hit him on 4's (with rerolls of up to six misses), while he hit me on sixes. It should go my way, except the Klibanophoroi's pesky Resilience (1), which meant he could convert the first three casualties into fatigue.

Stung by a couple turns of Frankish archery, the Romans rally near the right flank woods
The Frankish nobles shouted their warcry and charged in! I rolled a total of 7 hits (probably one or two under average). However, Bob saved rolled 5's or 6's on four of his seven dice. NO CASUALTIES! Meanwhile, I had lost two killed (my saves remained abysmal). Since this as Turn 5, I was pretty sure that meant Count Drogo would lose this contest. On his half of turn 5, Bob killed the remaining two hearthguard with shooting and then withdrew as much of his force behind the woods as he could to avoid my shooting. 

"Well, that didn't work out like planned!" The Frankish nobles' charge caused no kills
As the final turn of the game dawned, I noticed that Bob's warlord had advanced far enough around the woods that my one of my archer units could draw a bead on his with a full advance. I used all of my dice to give them two maximized shots with Vinco and Domine, hoping that Bob's deep well of good saving rolls would run dry at this critical moment. After the first shot, his warlord was exhausted. The second shot (with Domine allowing me to replay Vinco for two more automatic hits) came up all misses. He still had to save vs. the two auto-hits, though. This time, the Roman warlord failed, and he fell from the saddle pin-cushioned. Bob tried to exact revenge on the archers with a Klibanophoroi charge, but I was able to use his fatigue to prevent him from making contact. 

The Roman warlord advances just a bit too far around the woods, opening him up to bowfire
It was time to count up points. Would the death of his warlord be enough to make up for Bob's lead? As it turned out, Bob score 15 points and I got 14. However, in Clash of Warlords, you have to beat the opponent by three or it is a draw. So, Count Drogo had narrowly avoided defeat against a very crafty Roman warlord. Bob played masterfully with his small, mobile force. He continually avoided my archery fire, keeping distance enough from me or using the terrain to mask his forces from my arrows. I was impressed. In hindsight, I made a serious mistake taking on the Klibanophoroi. I should have backed away to draw them within range of my archers. I think they are one of the few answers the Carolingians have against them. Even then, their Resilience (1) means they can take fatigue instead of hits till they're exhausted. If I face a similar legendary unit in the future, I will be more cautious, and make sure both archer units are in position to cover all approaches.

Jim B's Viking warlord takes control of a loot token in his battle against the Normans
In the other battles, Aaron's Normans swiped most of the loot tokens and defeated Jim's Vikings, 26-19. In the remaining game, Adrian's six points of Anglo-Saxon levy overwhelmed Jenny's Vikings. Jim B was his usual generous self and bought gift cards for all participants so we could go home with goodies from the store, in addition to the normal good time playing Saga. I picked up a new pin vice, as mine is getting old and stripped. Thanks to Jim and Adrian for hosting, and to Bob for a great, challenging game. Good times, as usual, playing Saga!

Adrian's Anglo-Saxons hordes about to overwhelm Jenny's sorely-outnumbered Vikings

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Saga is Alive & Well in Ohio

A historical refight at our Saga Game Day - Andy's Normans advance against Lee's Normans
Despite the fact COVID seems to show little signs of letting up, the Saga wargamers of Ohio were gathering (masked and socially distanced) at the Guardtower East in Columbus. Due to a couple last-minute conflicts, we dropped to eight players this time around. Half of the players got a second game in, as well. We had one brand new player (welcome, Lee!) and plenty of familiar faces across the table. I decided to give Count Drogo the Carolingian Count another battle this time around. I've been very successful with my Pictish army, but I felt it was time to change things up!

Count Drogo's Carolingians (at bottom) take on Jenny's Vikings in the Desecration scenario
 In addition to my Carolingians, we had two Norman armies, one Pagan Russ, one Viking, one Irish, one Anglo-Saxon, and one Last Roman army take the field, this Sunday. In the first round, Jenny asked for a rematch of her Vikings against Count Drogo. Apparently, the Vikings were back for another raid on Frankish territory. We decided to try a scenario from the Book of Battles. A week or so ago, I had posted on of the Saga Facebook groups asking which were the most balanced scenarios from that book. Behind Clash of Warlords was Desecration in 2nd place. So, we thought we'd give it a try.

Count Drogo's warrior spearmen advance on the right, intent on seizing an objective marker
In this game, each player places three objectives markers on their half of the table (only one of which can be in uneven terrain). The opponent is trying to destroy these, which then affects the "cap" a player can receive in massacre points against their opponent. If you destroy none, you can receive only 10 points, for example. But for each objective you melee (or shoot) and destroy, your cap is raised. This forces you to go on the attack, I feel, and so I examined our terrain to figure out how best to take one or more of Jenny's' markers.

Jenny ponders how to react to the Carolingian advance - she gets more and more skilled each game!
There were three pieces of terrain. A field in the center, a marsh on my left, and a woods on the right. I placed my forward-most objective in the marsh, guarded by my two warrior bow units. Jenny placed her forward-most marker in the woods, which she occupied with her levy bow. I sent a unit of warrior spear into that woods to seize it, backed up by another warrior spear. So, both of my warrior spear units were on the right and both my warrior bow on the left. Each was backed up by a small 4-man mounted hearthguard unit. The warlord stayed in the center to discern what the Vikings battle plan would be.

My Carolingian warriors charge and drive off Jenny's Viking levy archers - a key part of my plan!
Jenny placed her two 6-man hearthguard units opposite my center, with her 8-man warrior units on each flank. The levy bow were lined up opposite my right, where my main thrust would go. I immediately marched my two warrior spear unit forward on the right, while advancing and launching arrows against one of her hearthguard units in the center. 

My victorious warriors prepare to "desecrate" the Viking objective marker hidden by the trees
The Carolingian battle board has good shooting abilities. I used "Ardor" every turn, which allows a number of units equal to your "Proelium" (where I kept the maximum 3 dice all game) to move or shoot for fatigue-free. This means that if I activate my warrior bow with Saga dice (or the Warlord's "We Obey") I can then activate them again with Ardor, getting off 4 shots with no fatigue to me. And if I throw "Vinco" in, as well, one of those shots includes two automatic hits. And if I'm lucky enough to roll a rare flag die (happened only 3 times in the game), I can play "Domine" which allows me to duplicate Vinco and get another shot with two automatic hits.

The bitter end for the Viking thrust towards our closest objective marker
I've listened to a number of Saga podcasts and weblogs, and none of them rave about the Carolingians. However, I think they are very, very strong. This is not to brag at my success with them (only 2-0), but rather to point out that players must immerse themselves in the strengths and weaknesses of their army. I plopped those three Proelium dice on my battle board (two in turn one, and the final third one in turn two) and kept them there all game. This makes my Ardor movement more efficient (3 free moves) and my Vinco (2 automatic hits), Fortis (gain Attack or Defense dice equal to Proelium and opponent loses the corresponding dice), and Potentia (reroll misses equal to x2 Proelium) more effective. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I turn the Saga armies I play into "one-trick ponies." I never seem to use a good 1/3 to 1/2 of the advanced Saga abilities on my battle board. I seem to pick a good 3-4 and use them every turn. Or is it, I am simply choosing the abilities that work best with the way I have fielded my army? Maybe. It is hard to tell, but I feel I have been successful with my methods, so why quibble?

Andy prepares to teach Lee, our newest recruit, the Clash of Warlords scenario
Back to the battle! After dealing out damage to one of the Vikings' center hearthguard units, I hurried my warriors towards her archers. She shot them on her turn, but caused only one casualty. The warrior spear charged in and killed five of her levy at the cost of another archer. More importantly, this cleared the way for us to charge her forward-most objective marker in the woods the next turn. The warrior unit caused two hits on it, and she saved only one of those, so one of her markers was mine! In response, Jenny began to maneuver her hearthguard unit and warlord towards the woods which I had seized. I responded by attacking the archers again with the same warrior unit, rolling a phenomenal seven hits! Jenny responded with an even more impressive five saves, though. At this point, I had taken her levy unit down below wher it generated a Saga dice, so I pulled my warriors back to avoid her counterattack.

Andy's 8-man, mounted hearthguard unit prepares to turn the tables on their Norman foes
Jenny charged a warrior unit in the center against an "Odin"-exhausted archer unit closest to my objective marker in the swamp. She paid for her fortunate roll with the levy and actually lost the battle (to be fair, her warrior unit had been depleted to four figures from shooting previously), recoiling. Things were not going well for the Vikings. She had sent a counterattack forward on my right, but I pulled back out of its way. Her thrust at my center had failed. And now things were about to get worse. On each flank, one of my small mounted hearthguard units swept around the terrain to put them into position to charge.

In our fastest game of the day, Tyler studies how his Irish can best attack Anthony's Pagan Rus
On my left, my mounted hearthguard charged a unit of her hearthguard that had been depleted to one figure, and eliminated it. On my right, my unit of hearthguard charged an objective marker on her baseline. Both charges were successful -- the last Viking died, and the objective marker was taken. About this point, Jenny began to feel helpless against my shooting and my "Ardor" ability. She was in no position to take any of my objective markers and I had taken two of hers. She was losing on the Massacre Points that would decide the scenario. She did get revenge when a unit of 6 hearthguard charged in and massacred three of four figures of my mounted hearthguard unit on the left. Her warlord similarly charged the one who had destroyed the objective on the baseline, killing three of four there. I was fine with that, though, and withdrew both units on my next turn.

Battlelines formed, Anthony's Pagan Rus (at bottom) advance upon Tyler's Irish
The points were going to work out in my favor. She could get no more than 10, and with two objective markers and lots of enemy kills, I would have a much higher total. Jenny rolled to allow us to play a turn 6, but she declined, and we counted up victory points. Count Drogo won 16-9. Jenny felt that the Ardor ability was way too tough, though I pointed out to her that "Odin" and "Loki" are similar game-changers on the Viking battle board. 

It was good to have my friend, Mike S, back and running his Last Romans again at our game day
The results of the Round 1 games were:

  • Mike D's Carolingians defeated Jenny T's Vikings 16-9 in Desecration
  • Tyler P's Irish crushed Anthony B's Pagan Rus 24-9 in Clash of Warlords
  • Adrian J's Normans came from behind to win Battle of Heroes against Mike S's Last Romans 10-9
  • Andy S's Anglo-Saxons defeated Lee P's Normans in Clash of Warlords

Adrian J's Normans, at right, advance upon Mike S's Last Romans in a round 1 game
A number of players had to leave after Round 1, so we ended up with only two battles round two. Tyler P got a rematch against Jenny's Vikings (who he'd fought a month ago), and Anthony's Pagan Rus took on Adrian J's Normans. I actually missed most of round 2 as I went outside to talk to Jim B. He works in the medical field and was on call and unfortunately got called and had to monitor an operation from his vehicle. I gave him a Viking warlord stand I'd painted for him in appreciation for all the gift certifications he'd given to participants in the Saga Game Days at the Dragons Guildhall in Beavercreek, Ohio. I was gratified that he seemed to really like the stand I'd painted and based for him. Hopefully, I'll see it across the table one day soon!

Never one to shirk a fight, Tyler P's Irish advance through the woods towards Jenny's Viking army
Round two's grudge match between Irish and Vikings was a complete and total bloodbath. Tyler plays very aggressively with his Irish, using their shooting ability to inflict lots of casualties on his opponents. Jenny gets better and better every game with the timing of win to use the "Odin" and "Loki" abilities on her battleboard. She held off the Irish and the two battled to a vicious draw, 23-22 in favor of Tyler. It was our only tie of the day, but considering that it was Irish vs. Vikings, it seemed appropriate!

The Irish warlord (at left) and Viking leader trade blows to decide the outcome of their battle

On the other table, it was another battle royale! Trying out the seldom (in our area) played Pagan Rus battle board, Anthony was giving the very skilled Adrian a challenging game. Time and again his warlord shrugged off attacks by the numerous Norman mounted troops. In the end, Adrian came out on top, 21-16, but both admitted it was a very close game. Learning a new battle board is difficult, which is why I tend to play the same one in streaks until I feel comfortable with it. Anthony enjoys the challenges, though, and if I remember correctly, has played a different army every month he has attended our Saga game days!''

Norman cavalry flow around the right flank of the Pagan Rus army seeking a weak point
For those interested in joining us, we have a schedule change for the Dayton-area Saga game days. Instead of the normal third weekend, our Saga Game Day at the Dragons Guildhall will be NEXT weekend, Sept. 13. Join us there at noon and play one or two games of Saga. We have plenty of loaner armies, so this is the perfect chance to try out a fun and challenging game. Honestly, that is one of the appeals of this game to me. I like trying to figure out how to field an army (composition and armament) and how best to utilize it on the army's battle board. Your success at Saga is not due only to good die rolling (which helps, as in all games), but also due to how cleverly you capitalize on its strengths and attack the enemy's weaknesses.

The Norman cavalry charge home against the Pagan Rus warlord in one of many attempts to slay him
I hope our Saga Game Days continue to have good turnout until that day when the whole COVID crisis is gone, and we can go back to gaming in person full time. Yes, wearing masks can seem a pain at times. But to me it seems like a small sacrifice to pay for the joy of in-person gaming and the panorama of Dark Ages army battling it out for supremacy on the tabletop!

Tyler's Irish warlord encourages his followers to charge into their Viking foes