Thursday, April 22, 2021

Moors Battle a Carthaginian Enemy from the Distant Past


    My Moors faced a new & dangerous opponent - Carthaginians from Age of Hannibal
Word had come to the court at Cordoba of a landslide high in the mountains that had exposed a hidden valley. Villagers in the area complained of raids by a strange people who plundered them, then retreated back into the valley. The emir was concerned, and ordered his trusted commander, Majik Ibn Battuta al-Waqaa to march his company to investigate these stories. Majik advanced cautiously, sending scouts on foot and mounted ahead of his forces. They found the raiders in a bleak area of hills, not far from the entrance to the valley. They wore bronze armor, some on foot, some on horseback. There were even troops riding atop an elephant! These were definitely a foe that Majik had never faced before.

I spent the first round of our initial Saga game day at the Dragons Guildhall helping pair up opponents, and answering questions from our newer players. It had been more than six months since we had met, so even the relatively experienced players were rusty on the rules. I had originally intended to record interviews for Saga Ohio at the game day, but the players needed my help with the rules more than they needed me pestering them with questions!

    Mike S examines his battle board as our armies are deployed for a Battle of Heroes scenario
As players were finishing up, my friend Mike S urged me to get in a game. He was playing his brand new Carthaginian army, having barely lost a slugfest with Andy S's Gauls in round one. To be honest, I was a little leery of taking my Age of Crusades army against what I'd heard were very potent Age of Hannibal opponents. I had not really read the Age of Hannibal book all the way through, but it is set up like the others. So, I figured that I could mull my way through things. I had already considered how my army would deal with an opposing elephant. So, it would be fun to see if my plans would bear fruit.

    A closeup of part of Mike's gorgeous, new Carthaginian army deployed for battle
Mike chose Battle of Heroes and wanted to use the "Considered" option. That meant we rolled or each of the five variants, one at a time. I won the first roll and was "first player" for terrain setup. I chose "Bleak Moor," which uses the standard setup method. I started with a large gentle hill in the center of the board, so my cavalry would have room to maneuver. Mike countered with a rocky area on my half of the table along the right board edge. I needed to place one more piece, so I chose a Marsh, but tucked it away on the far left hand corner of his baseline. He chose to move that piece a Medium distance closer towards the center, and so our battlefield was set.

Next, he won the deployment roll and chose "Vanguard." That meant we placed our troops in alternating groups, beginning with our mounted troops, then foot troops. He placed his elephant and mounted hearthguard and Tarantine mercenary cavalry on his left, facing the gap between the large hill and the rocky area. I placed my mounted hearthguard and warlord near my baseline, behind the hill. All subsequent troops must be placed within a Short distance of previously deployed troops. I walked my foot troops to the right, placing both foot warriors to the right of my cavalry, and finally the levy archers in the rocky area. Most of Mike's army ended up behind his mounted troops.

    I was worried about facing an Age of Hannibal army, as I'd heard their boards were very powerful
I won the next roll, too, and chose "Cautious" for game length. This meant our game would last only five turns (we were getting a relatively late start, and I figured that would help speed up our game). It also meant HE had to move first, and no unit could move more than one activation on turn one. I won the roll for "Special Rule," as well. I chose "A Dash of Nostalgia" because it meant his mercenaries would not generate a Saga die, and our warlords would generate two. Although it left him unchanged in total dice, it would give me one more. My Moors thrive on their maneuverability, so I could use the extra command dice. Finally, Mike won "Show of Force," which meant we'd be counting Survival Points and score bonus for getting a unit within a Medium of the opponent's board edge.

    Mike's Elephant had effective firepower with the "Eagle Eye" ability on the Carthaginian board
Mike opened the game by moving his elephant forward towards my archers in the rocky area. I noticed he had the "Eagle Eye" activated on his board with a Rare dice. Not only would this give him 4 extra dice in a shooting attack, it meant no cover bonuses for the target. Uh-oh. Oh well...there are 12 archers -- they can take a few casualties, I figured! I was surprised that he moved forward so aggressively with his four-man unit of mounted hearthguard, though. They were supported by a unit of citizen foot hearthguard, but I felt they were pretty vulnerable with an Armor of 4.

On my turn, I sent both of my 6-man mounted hearthguard units dashing forward. They tossed their javelins. Twelve shooting dice later, and extremely poor saving rolls by Mike, and his mounted hearthguard unit was eliminated. My levy archers tried to get in ojn the act and shot at the approaching elephant, but Mike had cleverly positioned a contingent foot warrior unit with range of them. With the "Blood Price" ability, he could push casualties inflicted on the elephant onto their "escorts." 

    The Moorish battleline prepares to advance against their ancient foes

The elephant lumbered forward into range of my levy with their composite bows. Their normal two dice were boosted to six with Eagle Eye and three of my levy fell, riddled with arrows from the elevated vantage point of the howdah. In the center, Mike saw the danger his foot hearthguard was in, so sent a citizen foot warrior unit forward to support them. However, Mike is an aggressive player, and saw that the hearthguard were also within a double move of one of my mounted units. Wanting payback for his dead cavalry, he ordered them in. I used his fatigue to raise my armor to 5. His rolls were poor, and the hearthguard were driven back with casualties. My Moors saved all but one of the hits he rolled, and were ready for the counterstrike.

Although I had my "Torrent of Iron" ability activated on my board, I guessed that I could destroy the Foot hearthguard with shooting alone. Majik waved his cavalry forward again. Javelins flew, and another of Mike's hearthguard units lay dead on the hillside. My levy were not having the same luck, though, and his elephant took only one fatigue from my sole hit (he considered it not worth playing Blood Price). My foot warriors, though, edged away from the elephant, making sure they were outside of a Medium + Short of the elephant. We were winning in the center, why jeopardize things with unreliable things like dice rolls?

    Majik Ibn Battuta al-Waqaa orders his cavalry forward to pepper the enemy with javelins

Mike began to furiously try to bring up the rest of his army, but the citizen foot warriors were exposed. On my next turn, I sent both units forward to shoot again, whittling down their numbers. I followed that up with a Torrent of Iron charge (my Moors signature battle board ability), which completely eliminated a third unit of the Carthaginians. On Turn 4, I switched targets to his elephant. He had advanced the pachyderm and crew towards my warriors, hoping to find someone he could charge (entering the rocky area to charge the levy he considered too dangerous with too little reward). 

    After each advance, Majik would pull back his cavalry and out of range of counterattack to rest up
The final volleys of the game flew. My levy, and both units of cavalry hurled their javelins at the elephant. He was out of range of his elephant escorts, and my multiple attacks quickly used up his Resilience. The great beast fell. At this point, Mike conceded the game, having only his warlord, the contingent warriors, and his Tarantine mercenaries (who had dashed back and forth, not sure where to commit themselves for most of the game) left to face my entire army. Unlike my last game, which I won with charges, this game my Moors triumphed with shooting. 

I know this was only Mike's second game with his Carthaginians, while I had played the Moors half a dozen times. So, he will get better with them. Still, I really like this army, and love the flexibility of my two 6-man, mounted hearthguard cavalry units. They can skirmish or be an armored fist. With Torrent of Iron inflicting a fatigue on the enemy unit when I close, it means I can raise my armor class from its vulnerable 4 to make them more survivable. I really look forward to playing more games with them!

    A look at the board at the end of the game

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

A "How to" Guide for Beginners for Painting Miniatures

Having painted miniatures for decades, I think some of us long-timers in the hobby forget how beginners may not know how to start painting. So, I decided to create this "How To" picture-heavy post in case it might be helpful for novices to see how one veteran, journeyman-level painter does it. We will be following painting a batch of 8 Dark Ages archers from start to finish.

Step 0: How big of a batch to paint?

When I began painting "armies" back in my teens (for Wargames Research Group Ancients rules), I thought that you should paint all of the figures at once. Over the years I have learned that painting all the flesh, all the armor, all the shields, etc., on dozens and dozens of figures can become mind-numbing. I know some people still paint that way, but I paint in batches. For 28mm miniatures, I usually choose 4-8 figures. Why that number? Well, I feel that is small enough that one stage for that many figures won't take too incredibly long of a session. However, it is more efficient than painting each figure individually. With acrylic paints, the first of the eight may be somewhat dry by the time you finish the eighth, allowing you to do multiple stages in one setting. I would certainly recommend beginners start out small, though.

    The excess metal has been trimmed off with an X-acto knife and the figs are glued to cardboard
Step 1: Cleaning the figures and attaching them to cardboard

By cleaning, I don't mean scrubbing them or soaking them in vinegar (like was recommend many years ago). I simply mean taking an X-acto knife and trimming off the excess metal underneath arms, legs, etc. Also, scrape away mold lines (these may be particularly apparent on flat surfaces like shields). Once the figure looks like (you feel) the sculptor intended, I then use ordinary white glue and affix them to a cardboard square. Why a cardboard square? Well, it allows me to write down colors that I plan on using, or even draw a mockup of a shield or pattern I intend to use.

    The miniatures have been primed with white paint (note the planned colors written on the cardboard)
Step 2: Priming the figures

There are a number of ways you can prime figures. You can prime them with spray cans, or as I do, with brush-on paint or primer. Honestly, I use simple white acrylic paint as my primer. These gives the colors -- especially lighter, translucent ones -- a good base to shine. It also gives a surface for the paint to adhere to easier. I use a large, stiff-bristled brushed and essentially scrub the white paint on, as you can see above. You don't need a solid white look. Remember, this is just a base coat to help your later colors shine and to let the paint affix to it easier than smooth metal. NOTE: There are a number of very good miniature painters who prime with black, rather than white. They use a dry brushing method (discussed below) so that any recessed areas show through black as shadows. I have tried this method and don't like the results, but it is a personal choice. 

    My 8 Dark Age archers have their flesh tone base coat painted and darker wash applied
Step 3: Painting the flesh tone

Many people feel you should paint a miniature from the lowest, most recessed area and build outward. In most cases for minis depicting human beings, that's going to be the flesh. There are exceptions to beginning with the flesh. If a miniature is depicted with an overwhelming amount of surface area in one type of material (let's say a medieval knight in plate armor), I may do that area first, instead. This is especially true if only small areas of flesh are showing. It may be easier to do the big area first, and go back and do the flesh after it is done.

For my flesh, I use a simple Delta Ceramcoat acrylic craft paint flesh tone. If this is your first step after priming, don't worry if you slop it over onto some of the armor or clothes. You're going to paint over that. So, you can use a bigger brush and do it quickly, just make sure it gets into all the recesses and doesn't pool too thickly. Oh, and be certain what is flesh tone and what is pants, for example. It's annoying to discover later that the pants are actually the leg and have to go back and redo steps. 

Next, I paint a wash of a darker skin color over the flesh area to sink into the recesses (between fingers, in eye sockets, etc.). I create and mix up a bottle of this wash so that I don't have to remix it every time I do a batch of figures. I use a simple plastic bottle purchased from the craft store. Into that bottle, I empty an entire dropper bottle of Vallejo Matt Varnish. The next step is the tricky part. You take a darker version of the flesh color -- I use a deep orange -- and add it to the plastic bottle. My formula is 10 drops of the color to an entire one of the tiny matt varnish bottles. I recommend starting with less and testing it out on a figure. Once you have your recipe set, shake up the plastic bottle and simply paint it on. It settles into the recesses nicely and gives a nice shadow effect.

    Next step is blocking on the major colors
Step 4: Blocking in the Major Colors

Now, we're really painting! At this step, I paint in the pants, tunics, etc., on the figure. If the figures are part of a uniformed army, then it is easy to pick out what colors you're going to use. If they are more irregular -- like these Dark Age archers -- I will use a variety of colors. It makes it easier to keep track of everything and ensure no duplication if I write down what colors I'm going to use ahead of time. I often will use faded colors for poorer, ordinary troops and brighter colors for nobles or elites. So, it is good to have a variety of tones in a particular color. I easily have half a dozen more more of blues, greens, reds, etc. For these figures, I painted just the pants and tunics at this stage.

    An example of how I do a dry brush
Step 5: Dry-Brushing the Major Colors

So, new folks may or may not know what I mean by "dry brushing." At this stage, you are applying a lighter highlight to the major colors you blocked in above. For example, if you painted a tunic a pine green, you may do the dry brushing in a light or pale green. Khaki is a great highlight for medium browns, light grays for dark grays, and so on. If your base coat above was already a pale color, then white is always a good choice.

    If you look closely, you see the lighter highlights applied at this stage
So, how do you do it? Take a square tipped brush, as large as will work for the area you're dry brushing that won't cause you to slop it over onto every other areas. Dip it into the paint, and then scrape it across a paper towel or Kleenex tissue. I usually do this three times to ensure the bristles of the brush are coated with tiny amounts of paint. Take this brush and slide it lightly across the tunic or pants, aiming for the highest area that light would shine on - shoulders, knees, chest, back, etc. Dry brushing is a skill that you get better at as you paint more. Start lightly. You will need to replenish the paint on your brush, but always make sure you scraped off most of the paint with the towel. Too much on there and you get a big blob of the lighter color. If that happens, "erase" it with a clean brush and water.

    Now it is time for equipment like leather

Step 6: Equipment

Now it is time to paint some of the equipment - especially harder to reach things like straps, belts, and so on. I usually do a darker leather color as a base coat and a corresponding lighter one for highlights. Note that this isn't a dry brush. I paint this on full strength on top of the lighter color, leaving a solid outline of the darker color beneath it. I recommend picking out a palette of four to five leather colors, from a medium brown to a orange-like leather to a lighter tan. Arrange them from dark to light. Use the next shade lighter (or two shades lighter) for your highlighting, if that makes sense.

    Looking closely, you can see the lighter leather colors I have put in as highlights on the equipment

Step 6: Adding More Details

Next, you begin adding in bits of details. For example, I did the shoes or boots for the archers. There really isn't an exact order to doing this. You could easily save the shoes for towards the end. However, I consider it more like "clothes," so often do these before painting larger things like their bows, quivers, and helmets. Once again, I pick a darker base color and then dry brush a lighter highlight color.

    Start adding in more detail - here I have painted the shoes, boots, or leggings

    Shoe and legging highlights can be seen in this photo (hopefully!)

 Step 7: Weapons or Equipment (like quivers) and Hair

For the archers, I picked their quivers as the next part of the miniature to paint. Like I did with so much else on these figures, I also did a base coat and dry brush on these, too. I like to mix up my colors, too. Once again, if you are doing a uniformed army, you may want to make this equipment a similar color. However, for my Dark Age archers, I figured quivers are an individual piece of equipment. So, they can be a variety of colors, too - just the like the tunics, pants, etc.

At this stage, I also did the archer's hair. If historically accurate, I paint the hair colors in a variety, too. This can be a range from black to dark brown, medium brown, a mousey tan, blonde, and even auburn or orangish "red". Once again, I highlight the hair with a lighter color. Miniatures usually do a good job of giving strands of hair depth of carving on the figure, which makes it rewarding to dry brush.

    Here I have added in the base coat of the quivers

Step 8: Weapons

Continuing outward on the figures, it was now time for the bows. I use a medium brown even though I know bows or spears could be much lighter in color, too. For some reason, I like the look of brown wood. Like I did with the leather, I will do a full strength highlight in a lighter brown. I will put a line of this color where I think the light would shine on it. Same with spears. Less is more here, do just a couple streaks of color here.

    The bows were the next thing I painted on the archers

    Close up showing highlighting on the hair and bows

Step 9: Helmets, Sword hilts, etc.

I will often do helmets or sword blades or hilts towards the end of the painting. I recommend a two-tone approach here, too. My favorite base coat is Iron Wind Metals Steel. I paint the object in this color, and then either dry brush silver over it, or paint full strength silver or bronze. If bronze, I will even add in a tiny spot of gold as a highlight on top of that.

    The base coat of steel on the helmets of the archer

I think that at this point, beginners should get the picture of how I paint a batch of figures. However, I should touch on a few other points. Number one, I glue all equipment like shields or weapons on BEFORE painting. I feel the extra coating of primer and paint act as another coat of glue holding the equipment onto the figure while handling a game. If you glue a painted piece of equipment to a painted surface of a figure, it IS going to pop off. The only thing holding it on is the paint's adherence to the miniature, which is not strong enough.

    Washed, flocked and finished - my Dark Age archers!
After the figure is painted, I will usually give it a wash. Remember the flesh wash I described earlier. I do the exact same thing with brown and black. I mix up a bottle of brown wash and a bottle of black wash. Brown goes on flesh, light tans, and yellows. Black goes on browns, brighter colors like red, blue, and green. It also goes on any grays. I tend not to wash chainmail or other armored surfaces. I like them being brighter and not subdued. 

Once the figure is washed, I finally pop it off of its cardboard base. I then use either two part epoxy or tacky glue to affix it to its base. I use bases from Litko Aerosystems, but MDF or even plastic are good materials to use, as well. To affix the flocking, I first paint the miniature's base with a 50/50 mixture of white glue and brown paint. While it is still soaking wet, I dip the base in a tub of Fine Brown ballast from Woodland Scenics. Once this dries, I paint the base with a 50/50 mixture of white glue and water (which I keep pre-mixed in an old glue bottle). While wet, I dip the figure's base in a brown turf colored flocking from Woodland Scenics. 

    Another look at the flocking method I use, and the placement of the tufts and flowers
At this stage, I give the miniature it's first spray clear coat. My favorite brand is Testors Dullcoate, though a less expensive Krylon Flat clearcoat can be used at this stage. Once dry, I will paint on irregular splotches of full strength white glue. I sprinkle (not dip) the Woodland Scenics Blended Green Turf onto the glue. Once all the figures have their grass, I add in commercially purchased "tufts" of taller grass or even wild flowers. All that is left to at this point is one final spray of Testors Dullccoate, and the figure is ready for the tabletop!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Let the Game Days Begin!

    Byzantine cavalry charges Crusaders, who were in abundance in our first Saga game day in 2021
During the pandemic, most of us missed out on face-to-face miniatures gaming. Losing our twice-monthly Saga game days was a big blow to a lot of us, so we were eagerly looking forward to their resumption. I had a feeling that the turnout at our first game day of 2021 would be big. Even though the game days at the Dragons Guildhall in Beavercreek, OH, tend to be a big smaller than the ones in Columbus, I kept getting word from more and more players who would attend. It was exciting.

    Keith and Daniel engage in a Norse-Gael civil war on one of Jim's new Winter boards
First, the "next generation" -- my friend Mike Stelzer's son Jason and his two cousins Daniel and Thomas -- said they'd be attending. Mike was in, as well. Next Andy said he'd make his first ride over from Columbus for the Dayton game days. Of course, our hosts Adrian and Jim would be there, as would Jenny and myself. A new group of Saga players starting up in the Cincinnati area said a couple of them would make. Michael Cooper and Ted H brought their Age of Crusades armies. At the last moment, three of my regular Sunday night gamers decided to come. It would be Allen and Mike W's first games of Saga, while Keith had played a couple times before when Jenny coached him through a couple learning games. When it was all said and done, 18 players participated on our April Saga game day -- our best ever turnout!

    Jim and his Viking army deployed on one of his gorgeous new terrain boards
Jim was busy setting up the terrain on his brand new terrain boards that he'd created as a pandemic project. they looked amazing -- each was a thick, two-sided foamcore board. One side had a river cutting across the center (for "The Crossing" scenario in Book of Battles). The other had a flocked surface, with each themed for a season. There were Winter boards, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Each board had its own set of terrain to go along with it -- all of the choices from Saga terrain rules. So, each set included rocky ground, ruins, forests, fields, hills -- you name it! The terrain was similarly themed for the season, so the winter boards had a frozen-looking marsh with snow on its edges, snow-dappled trees -- it was incredible!

    Mike Stelzer's newly-painted Carthaginian army saw its first action at the game day
Since Jim was busy, I decided to pitch in and help with the matchups. First order of business was getting the brand new players paired with a good, experienced teacher. Jenny volunteered to teach Allen, and Jim had previously agreed to play against Mike W and coach him through it. Mike S had finished his Carthaginian Age of Hannibal army, so I matched him up against Andy and his Gauls. Pretty soon, we had everyone paired up and playing a game (except me, as we began with 17 players). My original plan was to circulate around the room and do Saga Ohio podcast interviews. However, things were too hectic with the relatively new players needed help on rules questions and getting their games underway.

    The Carthaginian's first opponent was Andy's Gauls - masses of warrior infantry ready to charge
It was great to look around and see eight games of Saga progressing. The armies were a nice variety, too, with Vikings and Crusaders being the most popular. We also had our first Milites Christi army on the table, along with two Norse-Gaels, Anglo-Saxons, Last Romans, Normans, Romans, and of course, the Carthaginians and Gauls. I moved around the room taking lots of photos, writing down the matchups and scenario choices. As games finished, I recorded the scores or outcomes for the groups that didn't total up the victory points. 

    In one of the teaching games, Jenny coaches Allen on aspects of the Viking army and battle board
Here were the results of the first round games:

  • Bob B's Baltic Crusaders defeated Jason S's Last Romans in Clash of Warlords, 24-20.5.
  • Andy S's Gauls defeated Mike S's Carthaginians in Battle of Heroes, 21-17.
  • Thomas M's Crusaders defeated Michael C's Milites Christi in Clash of Warlords, 32-24.
  • Adrian J's Anglo-Saxons defeated Ted H's Crusaders in Clash of Warlords, 24-9.
  • Daniel M's Norse-Gaels defeated Keith F's Norse-Gaels in Clash of Warlords, 29-20.
  • Jenny T's Vikings defeated Allen S's Vikings in Clash of Warlords, 22-18.
  • Mike W's Vikings defeated Jim B's Vikings in Clash of Warlords (no score).
  • Dave E's Romans defeated Aaron J's Normans in Clash of Warlords 19-13.

    Fanatic pilgrims of Thomas' Crusader army pull down the Grand Master of the Milites Christi
I had a fun time watching the games in progress, giving the novice players some tips, and taking pictures. A couple players were concerned that I wasn't playing, but I told them that I would jump in on the action in Round 2. It was just good to see everyone and admire the armies that looked so good on Jim's new terrain boards. Most of the games were taking a bit longer. The players were a bit rusty on the rules after so much time off. The two teaching games were going even slower, of course, but that's fine. The ultimate goal is to interest the new player in Saga and make sure they understand what was going on. My friend Allen told me afterwards that he enjoyed it and plans to attend our next Saga game day at 11am at the Guardtower East in Columbus, May 2.

    Jason S's Last Romans await the onslaught of Bob B's Crusaders
Due to the length of the games, we had fewer second round games than we might normally. There were only three games -- two of them involving new players. A Dayton area player and friend of Andy's wanted to get in a game. He borrowed my Viking/Anglo-Danish army and fielded them as Jomsvikings against Andy's Gauls. Good matchup -- fanatics against fanatics, haha! And almost as soon as they finished, Michael C and Thomas M played a rematch of their Milites Christi vs. Crusaders. I tried to help arrange a couple other matchups, but a lot of players were kind of worn out and ready to head home. So, I sat down to play my first game against Mike S's Carthaginians. I was a little leery, as some have told me that the Age of Hannibal armies were more powerful than the other historical ones.

    Mike S rolls the die against Andy S in their Age of Hannibal "Battle of Heroes" scenario

Here are the results of the second round games:

  • Thomas M's Crusaders defeated Michael C's Milites Christi in Clash of Warlords, 43-40.
  • Andy S's Gauls defeated Taka's Jomsvikings in Clash of Warlords (no score given).
  • Mike D's Moors defeated Mike S's Carthaginians in Battle of Heroes (no score).

    Mike W gets some pointers from veteran from Jim B in his first game of Saga
Jim Beegan proved his generosity again by buying gift cards to the Dragons Guildhall for all the attendees. He does it to support the store, but it is an incredibly nice touch. I saw most of the attendees busily shopping in the store before they left. I picked up some terrain for the interior of my 28mm MDF Brewpub that I built a couple years ago. They had a small selection of 28mm plastic miniature boxes, but being a "metal guy," I just couldn't force myself to buy one of those boxes. 

    Michael C's Milites Christi seize the high ground in a Crusader civil war with Daniel M
I will write up a separate report detailing my Moors' battle with the Carthaginians. Suffice to say, my army's victory was a perfect ending to a great day of gaming. It was amazing to be back playing Saga, again. The turnout was awesome, and a tribute to how the game's popularity is growing in this area. I look forward to a repeat of the great turnout in two weeks in Columbus!

    Michael C and Thomas M had such a good time in their game they immediately played a rematch!

    Viking battlelines get ready for the clash in Jenny & Allen's teaching game

   Jim B's Vikings with their winter bases await the approach of Mike W's Vikings

    Opposing Jim's Vikings were Mike W's (borrowed from Keith's extensive miniatures collection)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Saturday's Change of Plans: "Tune Up" Game of Saga


    Change of Plans scenario with the Viking deployed at top and my Moors at bottom
With the return of Saga Ohio game days only a week away, Jenny felt she needed a tune up game of Saga. She wanted to brush up on her Viking battle board and familiarize herself again with the mechanics of the game. I needed no arm twisting to play Saga, so we pulled out the terrain and armies for some Saturday night Saga instead of our usual two-player board games. 

    Jenny's Vikings once again invade the Emirate of Cordoba defended by my Moorish army
I tossed her the Book of Battles to pick out a scenario, and she chose "Change of Plans." This game has three separate scoring rounds -- massacre points after turn 3, survival points after turn 5, and conquest points at the end of turn 6. It is one of the scenarios Adrian was thinking of using for the Cincycon Age of Vikings tournament (Oct. 23, 2021). Neither of us had played it before, so I agreed that it would be good to try it out. Jenny was using a new, hearthguard-heavy Viking build (five points in units of 6, 5, 5, and 4 figures, along with her usual one point of levy bows). 

    The Moorish warrior foot open the game with an aggressive advance towards the Viking woods
For myself, I wanted to see if my two units of 6-man, mounted hearthguard with javelins unit could switch gears from skirmishers to battering rams. We have a lot of Viking armies in our Saga Ohio group, and the Viking battle board has the "Odin" ability that can Exhaust a shooting unit. Since I also have a Levy bow unit, I normally try to tempt Viking opponents to use that ability on them instead, freeing my mounted to do their usual ride up, throw javelins, and retire behind the lines of warrior infantry. I knew Jenny was on to my trick by now, though. So, my new plan was to use them in primarily a melee role when facing Vikings. Would they be survivable enough? This was my test run.

    This will NOT be celebrated over horns of mead - Viking hearthguard repelled by Moor warriors
I set out a large, gentle hill in the center right of the table to free up maneuver space for my Moorish cavalry. Jenny jacked that up quite nicely with a pair of marshes bracketing it -- one on her side of the board and one on mine. She had a forest on her right, set up in perfect position for her levy archers to enter and use as a stronghold to unleash volleys of arrows from. Deployment in this game is by each player alternating units. I began with my own Moorish levy archers in the center swamp on my deployment area. Since Jenny had complicated things on my right, I decided to switch my main attack to the left. I put out a cavalry unit like it was going to the right, but planned to move forward aggressively on the left, instead.

   My cavalry countercharge came up equally short, causing no casualties on the exhausted Vikings
I opened the game with my two units of warrior foot advancing a full move towards his levy's woods. My levy scooted up to the edge of the swamp to be able to target anyone on my soon-to-be-refused right wing. I placed used one of my three Saga dice (as first player) on "Forest of Spears," in case one of her units of hearthguard double-moved to attack them. Jenny must have had this in mind. She began her turn with a volley from her archers which caused 3 casualties on the warriors on the left. Very good rolling on her part, and below average on mine. It was as if I had read her mind, because Jenny then moved up one of her 5-man hearthguard units once, and then a second time to charge them into the depleted spear unit. We closed ranks, played Forest of Spears, and ended up taking no hits. As if that wasn't insult enough to the Norsemen, she didn't save one of the hits I put on her, so she actually lost a figure and recoiled.

    My warriors screen my recoiling cavalry while the other unit advances into the woods

That was the opening I had been hoping for -- one of her units ending with two fatigue on it (one for the second move and another for the combat). I was VERY fortunate on my command die rolls in this game. On turns 2 through 6, I rolled at least one rare dice each time (one or twice rolling two). This allowed me to use the Moors' primary melee ability, "Torrent of Iron." My warlord Majik Ibn Battuta al-Waqaa waved the left hand unit of cavalry forward, while his pet cheetah Scirocco watched with hunter's interest. As we hit home on the chastened Viking hearthguard, we inflicted a third fatigue, making them Exhausted. This meant they were -1 to all melee dice. That is what my Moorish cavalry are looking for, and we used their fatigue to raise our Armor to 6. That meant she couldn't hit us, and we essentially had free strikes with no chance of casualties. In my excitement at getting what I wanted, I forgot to play "Inspiration," which I had cued up on my Moor Battle Board. That allows rerolls of any 1's on my attack dice. And I rolled a LOT of ones! Still, with the +1 bonus from javelin and lowering their armor, I scored 5 hits. She saved all of them. Five rolls of 5+ on a 6-sided die!!

    Moorish warriors, after repelling an attack from hearthguard, charge into the levy bowmen
Now, it was OUR turn to be chastened and back off. She cleverly used my cavalry unit's fatigue to cut down my ensuing retirement move to a Short distance. My mounted units have only an Armor of 4 and are very vulnerable to both shooting and enemy charges. So, I pulled the depleted warrior unit out into a screen in front of the cavalry. Interestingly, Jenny was NOT playing "Odin" from her battle board on my levy archer's shots. She was being canny and saving it to unleash on my cavalry when they tried to toss javelins and then retire.

    My warlord Majik ibn Battuta al-Waqaa waves the Moorish cavalry forward to charge again
Determined to save her levy and eliminate the threat of my Moorish spearmen, she brought a 4-man hearthguard unit forward to charge the threat. Once again, my warriors closed ranks. We each caused two casualties, which meant her hearthguard bounced off my warriors again! My turn 3 was probably my best of the game. My warlord galloped over to the cavalry, exhorted them, and ordered them in against this new, double-fatigued hearthguard unit. Inspired by Majik's words, or intimidated by Scirocco's yellow stare, they redoubled their efforts and this time did not fail. It also helped that I remember to play "Inspiration" this time (which I needed, as I rolled a lot of ones again!). The Vikings were eliminated and we once again suffered no casualties due to their exhaustion from Torrent of Iron. 

    The Moorish warriors have driven the archers out of the woods and await the Viking counterattack
One of the nice mechanics of Saga that simulate morale is when a friendly unit is eliminated, their comrades within a Short distance receive a fatigue. This included the archers, who were then charged by my warrior unit advancing on them in the woods. We hurled them back cutting their numbers nearly in half, but they caused two casualties on my spearmen. Knowing this was the turn 3, when we would count up massacre points, Jenny brought up her other 6-man hearthguard unit from the center and charged those warriors. This was Jenny's best melee of the night, and she killed all but one of the warriors, sending the survivor running headlong from the woods.

    Another Viking hearthguard unit charges Moorish warriors, this time slaying all but one
Once again, though, the Vikings had accumulated two fatigue with their second move and the melee. Once again, the Moorish cavalry were waved forward (the right hand unit this time). Four Vikings were cut down in another Torrent of Iron. If I had not been so successful in rolling at least one rare in each of my turns except the first, I doubt my charges would have been nearly as successful. Still, we did our usual, and pulled the victorious warriors back towards our lines after their charge.

    And the inevitable response to a double-fatigued Viking unit: Torrent of Iron cavalry charge!
It was at this point that most of the fighting was done. Jenny brought her archers back into the woods and caused a couple casualties here and there. My own archers were ineffective all game. I pulled back the bigger unit of warriors towards my lines. Survival points would be counted on turn 5 and I wanted the +1 they would score for me for generating a Saga die. Jenny considered coming forward with her two, undamaged hearthguard units (one of 5, one of 4), but seemed demoralized by the charges of my cavalry. I knew that I was ahead, and since we were counting survival points, had no plans on making potentially risky charges on fresh troops.

 Situation at the end of the game - my battered warriors withdrawing knowing victory was in hand
After turn 5, which saw only arrows flying, she and I decided to call the game. She pointed out that I could move across the centerline with my two cavalry units and my warlord to score a lot of conquest points, while she would have to double or triple move to get across. The handwriting was on the wall, and it was in Arabic. The Vikings withdrew from the field, chastened. I consoled Jenny, pointing out that she punishes other players in Saga Ohio regularly with her Vikings. She has a system down using them, with the Loki-Odin combination hamstringing many armies' strengths. My advice was to be patient when facing armies that can use your fatigue as effectively as the Moors. Do single moves. Play the long game and advance steadily across the table, sweeping them toward their base edge until they run out of room to withdraw. I am reminded of my early years playing Ancients when I would lose what seemed 9 out of 10 games against my regular opponent, the late Larry Connor. It was those bitter lessons he taught me that made me a better player, though. So, my advice to fellow Saga Ohio players is, if you are selecting opponents to play, beware of Jenny! Hell hath no fury...