Sunday, August 29, 2021

Trying Out 'Reign in Hell' Skirmish Rules

    Keith's demons scurry across the temple streaming with lava in our playtest of Reign in Hell
Our Sunday night gaming group played a miniatures game! Stop the presses!! For the first time since we've been back from our Covid layoff, we actually sat down around a table on a Sunday night to play miniatures. We had planned on doing so a couple times before, but ended up doing board games instead. So, when Mike S wanted to playtest "Reign in Hell" -- a new set of skirmish miniatures rules he'd downloaded from Wargame Vault, I was ready!

    We had a good turnout for our first Sunday night miniatures game in a LONG time!
I had briefly read through them and even watched a couple play-throughs on YouTube to familiarize myself with the rules mechanics. Keith had also read the rules, and even purchased a printed copy of them. So, we had three people having a vague familiarity with the rules and three who they'd be brand new to that night. Keith, Andy, and Mike had brought along miniatures suitable for the game. Mike had created a half-dozen 100-point warbands, so we selected one and began to root through their figure boxes for appropriate miniatures to represent our demons and such.

    Jenny's fearsome Leader charges into the midst of Joel's warband
The idea behind Reign in Hell is that the netherworld is in chaos. Different factions are fighting for control of it -- some to bring back its "glory days"while others to destroy it entirely. Each player's force contains a Leader and his lieutenant (known as a Devout). With out 100 point armies, we would also have 5-6 lesser demons. Each faction also have a Philosophy. For example, the force I chose was "Empty" -- a group that wants to see Hell destroyed and all of the demons and such return to Earth. Shortly after I had chosen all of my miniatures, though, my phone rang. My 83-year-old dad had fallen and the aide at the house needed help getting him up. This was not the first time this had happened on a Sunday evening, but luckily it hadn't happened recently. Since I was hosting, Jenny was able to come downstairs and take over my faction and play.

    I had set up the terrain for the table, but Keith brought along this awesome, Hellish centerpiece
I returned just as the six factions were ready to close and trade blows. Mike had told me that he liked the looks of the rules because they looked quick and bloody. I agreed. The combat system essentially has players rolling a number of six-sided dice equal to their Combat Value. If their value is superior to the enemy's, they need a 2+ to score a hit. If equal, 3+. If lower, 4+ still scores a hit. So, there are going to be LOTS of hits. Saving rolls are made only with a "6" on 1d6. So, yeah. Bloody! There are modifiers, of course, but that is the basic system. Interestingly, there is NO missile fire that we'd seen, yet. It's all about bloody and brutal hand-to-hand combat.

    Keith's demons turn to face the arrival of Andy's force - not the his blue 12-sided dice for each fig
When you kills an enemy model, you receive a bonus "Soul dice." You can either use it in a subsequent turn, such as in a combat, or you can save it for the after-game campaign bonuses your warband may receive. That is what had drawn Mike to the game, as well. He liked the idea of an ongoing series of games where your faction's models get stronger, die, change, etc. It had been a long time since we'd done any type of campaign on or Sunday evenings. I think the last time was when we played Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago back in 2018. I think it ran less than 6 times, as I decided I wasn't really a fan of the Frostgrave Magic & Combat system.

    Balrogs, Gargoyles, Succubi were all scored from our collections to field warbands for the game
So, how did our Sunday night crew like Reign in Hell? They seemed to be having a good time. The Initiative/Activation system is interesting. You roll one 12-sided dice for each figure in your warband. First, all 12's move, then 11's, 10's, and so on. The problem with a six player game is that is a lot of circling the table, "Anybody have any 9's?" and so on. I suggested that instead of bouncing from player to player (Player A moves one 12, then B, then C, and so on), the player who is first (A) moves ALL of their 12's. Then B moves all of their 12's, and so on. Then simply rotate player A clockwise on the next turn. That would save a lot of time of going back and forth in a multiplayer game, I think. And as an observer and not player, it seemed to me there was a decent amount of time between one player finishing their move and figuring out who would go next.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Character Models for 'Old Feud' Saga Battles

    8 characters I painted up for the 'Old Feud' Saga scenario -- all plastic, Reaper or WizKids
One of the three scenarios that I am using in the Saga Tournament I am running for the Advance the Colors is called "Old Feud." Each player is given an extra hero character that they must protect in the battle. Knowing that most players don't always paint up spare figures to represent the "Princess," "Counselor," "Mystic," etc. for their army, I wanted to have loaner ones available. So, I have been collecting these Reaper and WizKids figures over the last year for players to use.

I chose these miniatures not because I thought they were the best ones available, but because I like to support the local hobby stores where we hold our game days. So, these eight figures were purchased from both the Guardtower East in Columbus and the Dragons Guildhall in Beavercreek. Actually, I think one or two may even been purchased at Ravenstone Games, too. They are all plastic or resin - which is NOT my favorite material. I prefer metal miniatures. I think the detail on most non-metal miniatures can be "mushy" (not sharp and distinct). I think you can see that in these extreme closeups, below. Here the eight hero characters I painted up, in no particular order, along with who makes the figure in case you want them, too.

    'Hakon, Iconic Skald' from the Reaper Pathfinder Bones line of miniatures - one of my favorites

Hakon, Iconic Skald is a Reaper Bones figure from their Pathfinder line. This one is probably my favorite of all eight miniatures that I painted. Although he has a bit more equipment and weapons festooned all over his body than I would prefer, the pose is pretty cool. I love the axes in each hand and the enormous horn strapped to his back. I am happy with how the detail I painted on the horn came out. I think the face and hair came out great and the sculpting is about as precise as they get in this batch. I also liked how the bright colors came out - very Viking-like, with their love of finery. He could easily be used as "The Brute," "The Soldier," and even "The Counselor" or "Traitor."

    Although the photo is a tad blurry, this is my favorite of the two Muslim "Mystics" I painted up

I really like this figure's pose, though I think his head seems to be a bit undersized. Or maybe it is accurate to scale, but we are used to more big-headed, wargaming miniatures? Either way, I thought the darker colors that I used for his robe and tunic worked out really well. I also used some of my tricks from my Moorish army on this guy, such as the dark, blue-green turban with light blue pattern of dots. This figure is from WizKids' "Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures" line for D&D. He came in a pack of two with the other mystic you will see below. The black robe had nice folds that took the medium gray dry brushing over it to bring out the detail well. This will definitely be my choice of Old Feud character when I am playing in the scenario with my Moorish army. I wanted to paint up some characters that look obviously Muslim for Age of Crusades armies. Now that I think of it, a Christian army could use him as the "Traitor" character, too, couldn't they?

    Another WizKids figure from their D&D line, this axe wielding barbarian makes a great 'Brute'

Although just about every player will have an extra figure to use if they choose "The Soldier" or even "The Brute" option for their Old Feud character, I thought this WizKids "Human Barbarian" pack of two figures would work perfect if anyone did need a loaner for that hero. I painted him as a standard Dark Age axeman -- he could easily be a Viking or Saxon. You name it. His double-headed axe is a little more fantasy than historical, but Saga definitely veers in that direction, as well. This figure also illustrates the problem I see with plastic figures. Mushy detail. Look at his drybrushed leather kilt or skirt. It seems a little flat with shallow detail. And you can probably also see the mold line on the arm holding the axe. You may even be able to tell how the axe shaft itself is also bent from being inside the package. Though I don't mind using these Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures for special characters in an army, I would never use them to make up the bulk of an army.

    I re-purposed this Reaper Bones Black Dark Elf as the 'Princess' character for Saga's Old Feud

I was actually surprised by how few figures in the game stores I saw that would work as an appropriate "Princess" figure. Nearly every female figure either is tricked out as a warrior or they are an obvious sorceress. This figure from Reaper Bones Black line ("primed" black out of the box, supposedly) was about as close as I found. Although the figure is not supposed to be female, the clothes are obviously very regal and rich. The long hair was definitely very Princess-like. Yes, you can barely see the annoying pointed ears poking out of her strawberry blonde hair, I figured they would be hidden when I painted it up, though. In hindsight, I probably should have snipped or carved them off with an X-acto knife. I have a metal Foundry miniature already painted up that can be my primary princess, though, and this one can be the backup. I painted the skull and crossbones imagery in silvery metal so that it wouldn't stand out as much. I am moderately happy with the figure's blue-toned clothes. It's hard to tell in this image, but the cloak is a darker shade than the sky blue under-robes.

    The second figure from the WizKids D&D 'Human Wizard' pack painted up as a Mystic for Saga

This was the only figure I actually modified of these eight character models. His staff actually had a cross atop it. I thought that was very odd for an obviously Muslim or Arab-looking model. So, I snipped it off and left the rest of his strangely-shaped staff in place. Since I went for a dark look on the previous Muslim mystic, this one went with a lighter look. His robe is white, while his cloak, sash, and undershirt were blue to contrast. I like how the pattern I painted on the robe's hem came out, but I was less than happy with how the white looked after I washed it with my standard brown wash. I assume the sphere he is holding was supposed to be a crystal ball, but I painted it a gunmetal, steel color instead. I was hoping that would look suitably "mystical" enough, but I think it kind of gets lost now that I see it finished. In hindsight, I should probably have given him a patterned turban, too, to give him more splash. 

    This WizKids "Vampire" figure worked suitably well for a "Counselor," I thought

As surprised as I was at the difficulty in finding suitable Princess miniatures, I thought it was equally hard to find one to use as the Counselor. I was just searching for a figure in medieval noble-looking clothes -- not armored for battle. I finally stumbled upon this pack of two WizKids "Vampires" from their D&D Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures line. He had everything I wanted -- noble attire, a somewhat ceremonial looking sword, and a rich, flowing cloak. His head strikes me as out of scale undersized, though. Since I'd just finished painting my Carolingians in a green and red theme, I decided to echo it on this figure in case I use the warband for the Old Feud scenario. I added the hem pattern on the tunic and cloak to make his clothes look more fancy and wealthy. I don't see his high forehead as looking vampire-ish, so am fairly happy with the functionality of this miniature.

    This WizKids barbarian figure could easily double as a Viking berserker with his bearskin cloak

Although the elements of this pose are classic -- huge, double-bladed axe and bearskin cloak -- I think the casting of the miniature shows the flaws of soft, plastic figures. The detail is shallow, I feel, and doesn't stand out sharply. The mold line going across his left hand is annoying and accentuated by any washes you may do. This was the second figure in the "Human Barbarian" pack from WizKids' D&D Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures line. He is huge, and the axe being held aloft makes him look even bigger. However, you can't a more appropriate looking miniature for the "Brute" character in Old Feud! I probably should have spent more time on the bear cloak and made it look even more realistic. All in all, he came out acceptably enough for a loaner figure.

    Although this miniature looks more like a vampire than the other in the pack, he also looks sinister

One of the characters players can choose in the Old Feud scenario is called "The Traitor." So, I was looking for something sinister when I was perusing the packs of miniatures at the game store. This was the second figure in the Vampire pack from WizKids Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures. I decided to go with a dark purple and black them for this figure. Those are stereotypical "villainous" colors in Hollywood and I thought the color scheme came out great. I have to admit, though, I am not happy with the detail or sculpting. His hands are very awkward, and it is hard to tell where his sleeves begin and end. I did like that he had a sword -- we don't normally think of sword-wielding vampires. The weapon is long, curved, and relatively thin, so I think that works for a traitorous backstabber. The detail on the face isn't very good, I felt. He could use a more defined nose. Still, the colors and stalking pose will make him stand out very well on the tabletop. So, he will do.

What's next on my painting desk? Well, I am working on special "Saga Ohio" measuring sticks to add to the prize pool in the ATC tournament. I created some about a year ago for my Moors and Jenny's Vikings. Everyone commented how they liked them. So, I will do something similar for my players in the tourney. The original plan was to make a set for everyone who entered the tournament. However, the Advance the Colors convention director has given me the go-ahead to exceed 16 players. So, I will likely not get many more done than the 11 that I am working on now. Plus, school starts Monday, so hobby time is likely to be more scarce than this summer. Stay tuned to see, though!

Monday, August 9, 2021

Count Drogo Crosses to Britain's Shores for 2 Saga Battles

    Anglo-Danes Warlord urges men forward to confront the Frankish invaders to Britain's shores
We had 10 players at our August Saga Game Day at the Guardtower East in Columbus, OH. I was able to get in two battles, one against a relatively new player, and another against one of our most experienced. I was using a new variant of my Carolingian army. Count Drogo's new warband dropped one of the 8-man units of foot warriors and instead shifted those men into the ranks of my warrior bow. So, my army consisted of a mounted warlord, two units of 4 mounted hearthguard nobles, 1 unit of 8 foot warriors, and two units of 12 warrior bow. 

    Dave checks the rules in his game against Jenny, while Mike and Joe square off in Battle of Heroes
I'd made the change because I tend to have three of my eight Saga dice locked up in the Proelium section of the board, which enhances the abilities that I use. I questioned why I needed enough units to be eligible to roll six Saga dice when I have only five available to roll (the game limits you to 8 Saga dice, which are used for command and control). Plus, my archers are my main weapon that I use in this battle board. So, why not strengthen that arm? I would get ample opportunity to see if this change made them more effective on the day.

   Dave's Welsh warriors hurl themselves towards Jenny's Viking shield maidens at the bottom
My first opponent was a relative new player, Tim P, who had not played since version 1 of the rules. He was happy to get a chance to shake the dust off of his Anglo-Danish army. He fielded an all foot army -- warlord, two units of 4 hearthguard, 3 units of 8 warriors, and 1 unit of sling-armed levy. We decided to play Clash of Warlords to make the game simpler, and proceeded to set up the terrain. I warned Tim that I had a LOT of archery fire in my army ahead of time, so he could adjust his terrain placement, deployment, and tactics accordingly. 

    Tim's Anglo-Danish warband, right, deploys to take on my Carolingians and their upgraded bowfire
He placed a large woods on his left and a gentle hill on his right, while I placed rocky ground and ruins on my half of the table as "firing bases" for my archers. I explained to him how solid cover affects melee, shooting, and movement. In hindsight, I probably should have walked Tim through the Carolingian's advanced Saga abilities so he truly understood how lethal their shooting can be. Tim placed his slingers in the woods to his left and his foot warriors across his battleline as a screen for the hearthguard and warlord.

    Tim's Anglo-Danes didn't flinch and courageously advanced into the Carolingian bowfire
We had rolled "Method C" for deployment, which meant that our units began the game spread out, each more than a Medium away from its fellows. I quickly consolidated my lines using Maneuvers, and pushed my bowmen to the edge of the ruins and rocky ground. The spearmen guarded the right of my army, while both units of mounted nobles and the warlord were held back in reserve. Count Drogo's entire warband was set up to protect and utilize the bowfire of the archers, who I hoped would win the day. Tim advanced steadily across the table, even pulling his slingers out of the woods, knowing I was out of range and would be unlikely to advance to attack them.

    My dice were hot and the bowfire intense - here a unit of 8 warriors has been reduced to 2 figures
Once Tim's warrior units came within range, we fired double volleys at each of them. One of the best abilities on the Carolingian battle board is Ardor, which allows you to activate as many units as you have dice in your Proelium (which is usually three) to move or fire. This doesn't generate fatigue. So, after shooting them the first time with normal activations, they fire the second time with Ardor. I will also try to use Vinco, which inflicts extra automatic hits equal to half your Proelium (rounded up, so two), and Potentia, which allows me to reroll misses equal to twice my Proelium (six dice). If I was lucky and rolled a Rare, I will typically use that on Domine, which allows me to use one of my previously-used Saga abilities a second time that turn. Typically, I use it for Vinco for the two extra automatic hits.

    Tim's hearthguard has reduced the Frankish warrior unit to 2 figures, but his casualties mount
I felt bad that my archers' shooting was so effective. We spent two turns mowing down his warriors, then switched to targeting his hearthguard. This was less effective, but still killed two men in his right-hand unit. His center unit had saved all hits and was still full strength, so I brought out my foot warriors to distract his huscarles. I hoped he'd charge them instead of my bowmen. He did so, and though they were eventually whittled down to just two men remaining, they did their job and allowed me to pour more bowfire into the Anglo-Dane hearthguard. My dice had finally cooled off, though, so it took a charge by one of the mounted noble units to finally finish them off the huscarles.

    Carolingian nobles charge to finish off the Anglo-Danish hearthguard, leaving the warlord alone
At this point, Tim realized the game was unwinnable. Rather than throw his last remaining figures into the fray, we decided to call it a Carolingian victory. My dice were VERY hot early on. Tim said he had fun, though, and hopefully he will be back for another of our Saga game days. He said it was nice to get his miniatures out again and test out version two of the rules.

    Andy, left, shows Todd the ropes in Saga, while Tim, front, studies the Anglo-Danes battle board
In our other four games, Jenny T was giving Dave W a Saga refresher. He had played with us a couple times before the pandemic -- and purchased the rules -- but we thought it would be good to give him a tune up "Clash of Warlords" game. He borrowed my Welsh and played against Jenny's Vikings. Todd, another new player showed up, as well. He borrowed my Moors, and Andy S took him under wing and set up a "Clash of Warlords" game with him. Jim R also made his first appearance since Covid, and he immediately challenged Bob B to a game. Bob was using his Last Romans, but Jim wanted to try something new. So, he chose to field Árpádian Hungarians from Age of Crusades "Old Friends, New Enemies." Our last game had Mike S and his Vikings squaring off against Joe M's "Anglo-Danes." Here were the results from Round 1:

  • Andy S's Anglo-Saxons defeated Todd's Moors in Clash of Warlords, 16-7
  • Jenny T's Vikings defeated Dave W's Welsh in Clash of Warlords, 24-13
  • Mike S's Vikings defeated Joe M's Anglo-Danes in Battle of Heroes, 19-17
  • Jim R's Árpádian Hungarians defeated Bob B's Last Romans in Clash of Warlords, "by a whisker" (they said)
  • Mike D's Carolingians defeated Tim P's Anglo-Danes in Clash of Warlords

    The Welsh warlord takes matters into his own hands and charges the Viking Shield Maidens
As a pleasant surprise, six of the players were eager for a second round of games. Mike S sat down with Todd so he could get in a second game. Jim R and Bob B had such good fun in their match that they immediately did a rematch. That gave me the opportunity to finally sit down for a one-on-one game with Andy, one of Saga Ohio's main founders. We had played only once before in a three-player game with Steve P (our other founder). We decided to try one of the scenarios that Adrian will be running at the Cincycon tournament, "Desecration" from Book of Battles.

    Swamps and a rocky hill divide the center of the board between Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian lines

I knew Andy's army was composed of six levy units (all "spearmen", i.e., no special weapons). They have a lot of very effective abilities on their battle board which allows them to fight like warriors and add attack or defense dice. Since he had no shooting, and that was my army's strength, I placed an array of terrain to slow down his advance. I wanted Low terrain that can be shot over and that provided no cover against shooting. So, I placed two swamps and one steep hill. This would complicate his advance to contact, which should provide me with more opportunities to shoot the Anglo-Saxons down.

Anglo-Saxon levy pour through the gaps between the terrain, blocking my nobles' path to the objectives

The fly in the ointment, so to speak, were the three objective markers we each placed. I would be hard-pressed to take any of them with my defensive tactics, while he should be able to get at least one or two. The markers act as a "cap" on your massacre points you total up for victory. If I took no markers, my maximum score would be 10 points. I was hoping for an opportunity to do a quick smash of one with my mounted nobles, so deployed them relatively forward in the gaps between the terrain. The archers also deployed forward, somewhat behind the swamps, while the foot warriors guarded the right flank. Their goal would be to hopefully race forward and prevent Andy taking the furthest forward of my objective markers in the right hand swamp.

    One unit of Anglo-Saxons has broken through, but has been shot down to 7 figures
It was not to be, though. Andy was first player and moved forward aggressively. He flooded into the gaps between the terrain blocking my cavalry's access to their objectives. One unit charged into the swamp and failed in its first attempt to desecrate the objective marker. They tried again and were successful, though. On my turn, I began my double volleys by my Frankish archers. My goal was to take his units below 10 figures. Many of the advanced Saga abilities on the Anglo-Saxon battle board are usable only by those with 10 figures or more. Our shooting caused a good number of casualties, but Andy immediately played an ability which makes each unit act as if it has two extra figures. D'oh - forgot about that one! So, our next goal was to shoot them down to 7 figures. Of course, then I figured the best bet is to take them below 6 so that the levy don't provide Saga dice. 

Frankish warrior spear on right plug the gap, but their charge causes fewer casualties than expected

The Frankish archers did a nice job of shooting down the first wave of attackers, but Andy immediately sent in his second wave. Much as I didn't want it, they stubborn Anglo-Saxons were going to close into hand-to-hand combat. One unit charged my archer unit on the left, but was thrown back. One good thing about warrior bowmen is they still roll 1 dice per man in combat (unlike levy archers). And a unit of 12 can cause some casualties! On the right, I sent in my noble cavalry to beat back a unit of levy that had broken through. We did, but at the cost of three of its four figures. At that point, I looked at the casualties each side had suffered. Andy had killed only 4 points of figures, so far. I had killed way more than my cap of 10 points. I figured that if I could hold him below 10 massacre points, then I could win.

So, I had a new strategy. Minimize my casualties, while continuing to wear away at his Saga dice. Soon, he was reduced to rolling four Saga dice. Then, down to three. He loaded up his Warlord with the "Bretwalda" ability, and I feared he was going to go charge Count Drogo. However, he waited a turn, and instead targeted the archers on the right. First, he sent in a levy unit to soften them up. However, we had cued up our Defensor ability, and the bonus 4 defense dice meant we weathered his attacks. Counting up the points at the end of his turn, Andy had destroyed only 6 points of troops. We skipped my final turn, as I was already at my "0 objective markers destroyed" cap of 10 points. We had withstood the onlsaught of the Anglo-Saxon hordes, 10-6! The results of the other second round games were:

  • Mike S's Vikings defeated Todd's Moors in Clash of Warlords, 13-9
  • Jim R's Hungarians defeated Bob B's Last Romans in Clash of Warlords
  • Mike D's Carolingians defeated Andy S's Anglo-Saxons in Desecration, 10-6

    Join the Saga Ohio crew at our first tournament at Advance the Colors, Oct. 2!
It was another great day of Saga, as the players continued their practice for the upcoming tournaments. The first will be held at Advance the Colors, Oct. 2. The second will be at Cincycon, Oct. 23. If you would like to make either tournament, please reach out to us and we can reserve you a spot!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

To Minneapolis, for a Weekend of Saga


    I packed up my Moorish Saga army and flew to Minneapolis for a weekend of Saga
After interviewing both Monty Luhmann and Rodge from Saga Thorsday for my own podcast, we began discussing how much fun it would be to schedule a weekend of Saga in the twin cities. I would fly up, Rodge would drive over, and we'd do two days of Saga with Monty's group and anyone else who wanted to come. We traded weekends that would work back and forth until we finally settled on the last weekend of July. I found a great deal on tickets, Rodge recruited a couple fellow Saga buffs from Wisconsin, and we talked Terry Doner from Chicago into making the drive up, as well.

    With my Moorish cavalry on my right wing, I deployed to face Monty's Ordenstaat crusaders
I got in five games over the weekend -- three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Since Monty's group was using this weekend as a chance to get in some initial games for their Age of Hannibal campaign, and the fact that Rodge and Monty needed to do their climactic showdown in their two-player campaign, we decided not to do a tournament format. It was a very informal affair. People matched up against opponents as they finished their games, much in the style of our old "Rolling Thunder" DBA tournaments. Since I was flying, I really could bring only one army. Monty and Rodge wanted to face off against my Moors, so I loaded up Majik Ibn Battua al-Waqaa and his warband and took them along.

Monty and Rodge's groups have played a LOT more Saga than our Ohio group. Heck, probably most groups out there have been playing longer than our Saga Ohio's two years. So, I fully expected to go up there and get my butt kicked. The only question was would I win any games at all? I may have a good Win-Loss record here, but nearly all of those I would be facing have competed in tournaments. Also, many have been playing Saga since Version 1. Interestingly, the twin cities group is more focused on matchups within "Age of..." books. Here in Ohio, we're willing to play any Age warband against any other. So, many of Monty's "Saga Storm" folks brought Age of Crusades armies, knowing that is what myself, Rodge, and Terry were bringing.
    After the first Moorish turn, my cavalry has moved forward, thrown javelins and withdrawn

I'm going to talk about all five battles in this one post, so there will be less blow-by-blow in these accounts than in previous ones. Also, in the interests of keeping these fresh in my head, I will actually start with Game #5 and count downwards. The more recent ones, I assume, will be most fresh in my head! As such, Game #5 was a rematch against Monty, who I also played the day before in Game #2. He used his same crusader figures, but instead of fielding them as Baltic Crusaders, Monty used the Ordenstaat board. This board represents the Teutonic Knights of the Middle Ages and their crusade against the pagan tribes of the Baltic region. Monty confessed he felt Ordenstaat was a weaker warband than a Baltic Crusaders one, but I think he wanted to give me a chance to face a new army (and -- spoiler alert -- a chance for revenge!).

Game 5: Moors vs. Ordenstaat

The scenario was one Rodge wanted to playtest called "Hallowed Ground." Each player can earn a single bonus point by having enough troops within Medium distance of the centerpoint of the board. Each round, the minimum amount of troops needed inside the circle goes up, so it forces the armies to meet in the middle of the board. I deployed half of my troops first, which consisted of my Levy archers in the swamp on my half of the middle of the board, flanked on their right by a unit of warriors, and backed up by my warlord. Monty then deployed his full army. On his far right were 4 foot hearthguard with heavy weapons. To their left were his levy archers. His warlord on foot was in the center of his army, flanked by a unit of warrior foot and another unit of foot hearthguard. In reserve were two units of mounted hearthguard. Monty admitted he hid them behind his lines to protect them from my shooting. I then completed my deployment, continuing to my right with another unit of warriors and both of my 6-man units of mounted hearthguard with javelins. I planned to skirmish aggressively with my cavalry, running forward to throw javelins and then pulling back out of the range of his counterstrikes, hopefully.

    The end of the game after Monty's last gambit - he has only four figures left on table!

I opened by marching my center unit of warrior foot into the Hallowed Ground. Then, both cavalry units galloped forward and tossed javelins at his leftmost unit of foot hearthguard, killing two of them. I then pulled them back out of range of his reserve mounted knights, making sure it would take them more than two moves to reach them. Monty countered by marching his archers forwards and shooting them at my foot who had advanced within the Hallowed Ground. He also edged forward his line, bringing one of his units of mounted knights to a closer position so they could charge next turn, but keeping them shielded from my cavalry. I responded on the next turn with another advance and javelin toss, which eliminated the two remaining figures in the foot hearthguard unit. Stung, Monty double moved his mounted knights to charge one of my cavalry units. A bloody melee ensued which eliminated all four of his figures and four of my six cavalrymen.

My counterstrike the next turn was to charge one of my foot spear units into his warriors who had moved up to support the archers. I played "Inspiration" from the Moorish battle board with a rare die, meaning I could reroll any 1's, 2's, or 3's. Ostensibly, I should get almost 8 hits out of that. Monty's dice were nowhere near as good as our first game, and five of his eight warriors went down, and they were shoved back out of the Hallowed Ground. Meanwhile, my own archers continued to pour fire into his Levy archers, whittling them down bit by bit. Monty next sent forward his foot hearthguard with heavy weapons to support his archers. He declined to go after my cavalry, which I had pulled back towards my baseline. He also chose not to send his last unit of mounted knights into my foot, seeing how I had "Forest of Spears" queued up and ready for his charge.

The opening stages of my second game with my Moors advancing towards the center and Terry's Mongols massed in one corner to strike
I poured in more archery fire, this time into the heavy weapons foot knights. I got very lucky on my two shots and Monty's luck continued to spiral down as the unit was entirely wiped out. Desperate, he sent his remaining foot knights on a charge across the board to my baseline against my remaining full strength unit. He did well, and killed 5 of the 6 figures, but my attacks killed 3 of his 4. This brought Monty down to four figures let on the board, and at that point, he conceded the game. Revenge was mine!

    Terry's Khan takes the 1st objective, but at the cost of two fatigue, leaving him vulnerable (I thought)

Game 4: Moors vs. Mongols

 My first game on Sunday morning was against Terry Doner, who'd brought his Mongols along for his Age of Crusades army. I was really interested to see how they performed since that is my next Saga army that I am painting. We chose to play "Ambush" from Book of Battles. His Mongols and my Moors would seek to attack and loot the three wagon trains marching across the center of the table. This would be interesting because the wagons are all but invulnerable to shooting (Armor 6, and counting as a Hero so you need 4 hits in one turn to take them out). My Moors had played this once before and we knew how useless shooting would be against the wagons.

    My 'Torrent of Iron' charge rolls miserably, and fails to kill the vulnerable Mongol Khan
Terry's army was all mounted, of course. It consisted of mounted warlord, mounted camel drummer, two 4-man mounted hearthguard, and three units of 8 mounted warriors. He was the first to strike at the wagons. He sent in a hearthguard unit which inflicted two casualties (fatigue on the "hero" wagon), but lost one, recoiling back. Surprisingly, the warlord followed up. He was able to finish off the wagon, but ended the turn with two fatigue. I took that as an opportunity and launched a Torrent of Iron charge on his warlord. This is my big strike, and when combined with Wholehearted from my board, meant that I was rolling 16 attack dice against his warlord. I also played Inspiration, allowing me to reroll 1's on my attack dice. I was sure that this would finish off his warlord, even though he had a unit of four hearthguard to use the Bodyguards rule and remove figures as casualties instead. Nope! Between my initial roll and my rerolling 1's, I totaled 8 ones on my dice throw. After his saves, he took only 5 casualties, which meant he ended the turn Exhausted and lost only two hearthguard from my hits. I had used two of his fatigue to raise my armor to 6, which meant he could not do anything to my cavalrymen. With my +1 from javelin, and lowering his armor one, I should have scored 10-11 hits -- not counting rerolls. It was truly a subpar attack, and had I been successful, the game likely would have progressed very differently.

    The midpoint of the game - my foot warriors have seized a wagon and the Mongols mass to steal it

As the other two wagons progressed across the table, one came within range of my foot warriors. They charged in and plundered it. The Mongols were having none of that and Terry immediately charged one of his horse archer units into my warriors and snatched it from them. I decided that it was time to start attacking his light cavalry, who were vulnerable in melee. I launched three charges into them, one by each of my cavalry units and the other by my remaining unit of warriors. He lost a lot of figures on that turn, but none of them his hearthguard or warlord, who were doing most of the fighting. He was also able to take back the center objective, which I had seized, and pulled back his depleted units on the wings. Terry retained possession of two of the three markers, while the third wagon continued its slow advance across the center of the table.

    Three Moorish charges kill more than a dozen of his light horse, and take back our objective
I had one more chance to even things up. I shot my archers and threw javelins at his hearthguard, hoping to destroy them with missile fire (their armor class against shooting is only 4). However, he had cleverly played Human Shields on his board, which allowed him to remove his casualties from the light horse who were hovering protectively in range around his hearthguard. My final act was to send my warlord against the final wagon. My rolls were subpar again in melee, and Majik failed to do four casualties. The game ended with losses about even, but Terry in possession of two objective markers, which gave him a comfortable victory. I had a blast playing against him and seeing how he played the Mongol battle board. I'm glad he's planning on coming to our Advance the Colors Saga tournament Oct. 2, so I can drink a beer and chat with him more.

    Majik Ibn Battuta al-Waqaa charges a wagon to seize the objective but fails

Game 3: Moors vs. Carthaginians

Both of my first two games on Saturday went quickly, so when Brent proposed we play a game, I agreed. It would be my third of the day -- a first for me. I told him not to worry about playing an Age of Crusades army. Instead, play what he wanted to play. He chose his Age of Hannibal Carthaginians. We decided to roll up a Battle of Heroes using the "Chaos" option (all random rolls for Scenery, Deployment, Victory Conditions, Special Rule, and Game Length). The most distressing roll for my Moors was Fog, which meant that no charges or shooting could be done from greater than Medium distance for the first three turns of the game. A key part of my defense against his two elephants would be shooting, and a good one-third of my missile power had been declawed.

    'Pincer' deployment meant both Brent's Carthaginians and my Moors deployed in two wings

We had rolled 'Pincer" for deployment, which meant we divided our army into two halves which were deployed widely-spaced from each other on our half of our board edges. Being the first to deploy (as usual), I split my army into two modular sections - each had a cavalry and foot spear unit. The first I deployed also contained my warlord (in the left wing), while the second half had the Levy archers (right wing). Terry put deployed his foot far forward on the wing opposite my warlord, with a unit of Levy slingers, mercenary Thureophoroi, and two separate elephant units of one model. On the other wing, against his baseline, he deployed his mounted troops -- mounted warlord and 16 mounted warriors broken into three small units of Numidian cavalry.

    Both wings of the army have joined up, with the cavalry having pulled back behind the infantry
On my turn, I sent the cavalry on the left wing forward to throw javelins at his mercenaries, killing two, then pulled them back towards the middle. The warlord and the foot on the left also move towards the center. My right stayed put, waiting to see what the Carthaginians would do. Initially spooked, Brent pulled his right wing back, but on subsequent turns sent it in pursuit of my left, which kept withdrawing to form a compact, unified formation, joining up with my right. He sent one unit of Numidian cavalry forward, while the other two and the warlord shifted to join up with their right wing. Of all the targets that my Moorish cavalrymen love to see lined up and within their move and shoot range, mounted warriors with missile weapons are their favorite due to their low armor 3. With 12 dice, I should inflict 8 hits on average, every turn. Both units galloped forward, hurled their javelins, and then withdrew safely behind the infantry battleline. The entire Numidian unit had been destroyed, and Brent's eyes widened and was obviously surprised. He was impressed with the Moors ability to skirmish and then withdraw to safety.

Brent gave me no more chances at his Numidians. He did send his slingers forward, hoping to squeeze in a shot through my lines at the cavalry. One of my warrior foot units chased them off, doing far fewer casualties than we should have (Brent made up for his bad roll with the cavalry and saved 5 of 11 hits!). I kept my spear units out of range of his elephants' charge, waiting for the fog to lift so I could attack them with missile fire. It was only a five turn game, though, and as we closed in on the final turn, I honestly felt bad for Brent. I had been skirmishing and withdrawing and he had yet to get a chance to charge any units into combat. I felt that I was comfortably ahead on points, so I decided to give him a chance to have some fun. It would likely result in both of us losing a unit or two, but would make the game more interesting for both of us. I know, I know. You can't feel sorry for the "enemy," but in the end -- as I told Brent -- it IS a game. So, let's have some fun!

    My "let's have fun" moment where my cavalry charged his mercenary Thureophoroi
The fun was charging his mercenaries with one of my cavalry units in a Torrent of Iron. As expected, we cut down all six of his remaining warriors. And, as expected, he charged one of his elephants into my cavalry unit and stomped it to pieces. The reason that I thought it would be okay to give up a 1.5 point unit for a 1 point one was that you get a bonus for destroying enemy mercenaries. Also, that would bring the elephants within the range of my archers. For my final turn, I shot and killed the elephant who had charged, and then shot the other one, as well. It came down to one final save. If Brent muffed it, he would lose the second elephant (and the game, certainly). If he saved it, then it would be a close match. He rolled the save and we counted up the points. I thought I would still be ahead, but was surprised that we actually tied, 20-20. It was a blast of a game, though, and Brent is a really fun opponent to play against. Sure, I could have hung back and likely preserved a victory. However, it is more important to me to have a good time and we had a gripping, satisfying ending to our game.

    My Moors after their first turn of advance, lined up against Monty's Baltic crusaders

Game 2: Moors vs. Baltic Crusaders

One of the promised games for the weekend would be my Moors' match against Monty's Baltic Crusaders. We had talked our way through how a game between them would progress on Saga Ohio Episode 12. So, it would be fun to actually play out the game and see how it would actually progress. Monty was the mastermind behind this weekend of Saga, and gaming with him was the reason many of us had made the trip. He is truly one of the hobby's great gentlemen. One of the things I did on the flight up to Minneapolis was to go back and re-listen to that episode of my podcast. We had told each other essentially what we would do, and it would be silly of me to forget all of that!

    The beginning of the end: This 4-man knight unit would kill 16 figures on Monty's first turn

My first sign that things were not going to go as planned came during deployment. We were doing the tactical option of Battle of Heroes. Monty had chosen March Column, which has players dice during deployment. The high roller deploys a unit, then they dice again for the next unit. I "won" (read: lost) every single roll and had to deploy my entire army before Monty had to deploy a single unit. Please don't tell me the odds of that happening, because it was only going to get worse. Monty had deployed in a compact line, book-ended by foot hearthguard with archers and crossbowmen in the center. His mounted knights were in reserve behind his main battleline.

    The knights continue to pile on charges and kill twice their number of Moorish hearthguard
One of the things Monty had said in our podcast was that he would NOT go racing across the field, pell-mell, with multiple movements and multiple charges. Guess what he did? One mounted knight unit of 4 hearthguard moved, charged, and charged again. Aided by the lethal Crusader battleboard and its multiple "gain 4 attack dice" abilities, he wiped out my entire unit of Levy archers and four of one of my 6-man mounted hearthguard units. The two-for-one trading continued without letup all game. Monty's famed "blue dice" were simply lethal. Fortunately, the memories of his rolls are beginning to fade. Suffice to say, he saved when he needed to save, hit when he rolled to hit, and simply slaughtered my army in less turns that the game was supposed to last. The Moors fell victim to charges and Saga abilities that let him clear his fatigue and charge again. It was without a doubt, the worst loss I have ever suffered in Saga. Monty continually apologized for the uneven die rolling, but that's the way the game plays. I have always had what I consider "streaky luck," and my first matchup of the weekend against Monty had me on a cold streak and he on a hot one. Thankfully, he gave me a rematch on Sunday and my dice woke up and I was given a chance at revenge.

    In my first game of the weekend, my Moors square off against Rodge's Pagan Peoples

Game One: Moors vs. Pagan Peoples

I had been looking forward to playing a game against Rodge of Saga Thorsday, this weekend. I had NOT been looking forward to facing his Pagan Peoples battle board, though! This army represents the various Lithuanians, Estonians, and other Pagan tribes of the Baltic region who were targets of the crusades launched by the Teutonic Order and other Christian kingdoms in northern Europe. As Rodge had explained in Episode 13 of Saga Ohio, it is a surprisingly lethal and effective battle board. Rodge has honed its deadly edge through his run of victories against Monty in their two-player Baltic campaign. He has figured out how to maximize his six points into an army that would generate 9 Saga dice, if you were allowed that many. The battle board rewards small units, and I believe Rodge deployed his army as mounted warlord, one unit of mounted hearthguard with 4 figures, one unit of foot hearthguard with 4 figures, a unit of 11 warrior bowmen, unit of 5 warrior bowmen, four units of 6 levy javelinmen. 

    The beginning of the encirclement - Moors have already lost 1 hearthguard, 6 warriors, 5 levy
Why would you want to a unit of 6 levy javelinmen? Well, one ability on their board gives ALL units that shoot or melee that turn 2 bonus attack dice. So, let's say all his units shoot on any given turn. That is 12 bonus dice alone from one ability -- if they shoot only once each! Those 6-man levy units generate 5 attack dice - not insignificant. Plus, he has a BASIC Saga ability (meaning you can put as many Rare dice on it as you roll) that lets him activate three units for one die. Now, Rodge and Monty will tell you that makes them vulnerable to a cold streak on Rare dice. Well, Rodge did not start out on a cold streak, I can tell you. He rolled 1 of 3 rares on his first turn, and then on turns two and three rolled 3 Rare dice each! For what should be a 1 in 6 chance, he rolled more than twice that -- just under half his Saga dice rolled on turns 1-3 were Rares!!

    A depleted Moorish spear unit forms a wall to protect the cavalry against archers arriving in the rear
So, my first game of Saga on the Minneapolis weekend was a bit of deja vu of my Moors' only previous defeat at the hands of the Tyler's Irish. We were simply swarmed by javelin (and bow) men. I had kept my cavalry units back on my left baseline and advanced my foot warriors and levy forward. They were shot to pieces. Many of his attacking unit activated multiple times, meaning that they kept taking advantage with every shot of that +2 attack dice. When Rodge's Saga dice cooled off a bit on Turn 4 & 5, I counter-attacked savagely with my mounted hearthguard. I eliminated several of his units and began to whittle down his available Saga dice. However, at that point, he unleashed his hearthguard and warlord. I had expended all my energy and lost big numbers fighting his warriors and levy. When Rodge sent them in to mop up, all of my units were depleted. 

    Although Rodge has honed his army to prime effectiveness, he doesn't have them all fully painted yet! Note the warlord and hearthguard...
It was a hard-fought game. The Moors killed lots of his men, but in the end, we were simply overwhelmed by one of the deadliest lists in Saga in the hands of an experienced player. It will be interesting to see if the Pagan Peoples are "nerfed" at all in the upcoming FAQs and modifications (rumored to be out before the end of 2021). Although they are not #1 on the need-nerfing list (Peter the Hermit's Levantine Crusaders win that dubious honor), they are pretty high up there. 

Despite starting off with two quick defeats at the hands of master Saga players Monty and Rodge, it was a fun weekend. The people I played with were gracious and fun to sit across the table from. Thank you to Monty for organizing the weekend. Thanks to Brent for giving me a ride to the airport on Sunday, and Scott for buying my dinner on Saturday night. I truly enjoyed meeting everyone and had fun, even though my Moors' successes were limited. Hope to see you all again one day!