Monday, September 5, 2022

Mongol Horde's Victory Appeases the Gods

Mongol warlord Budokhan surveys the battle as his men compete to bring him the skulls of his enemies
The Mongol khan stroked his mustache as he watched the Polish raiding force hurriedly organize themselves into a battle line. His Ordu had caught them by surprise as they were attempting to desecrate his Jurkin tribe's holy site. Doubtless, this was in response to the Mongol's own raid last month. He barked out deployment orders for his Mongols and immediately the air began to reverberate with the sound of kettle drums. His standard bearer lifted the great horse tail banner and swung it back and forth to indicate which formation Budokan's Ordu should take. Rapidly, the well-drilled Mongol warriors formed into a great line, overlapping the Polish raider's compact mass.

    My Mongol army's first game would be against Dan N's Polish army, also from the Age of Crusades
So, here it was. My Mongol warband's first game of Saga. I had spent many months painting them, detailing their pastel robes with various patterns. I had individualized the horses, switched out weapons, and mixed the different poses of 28mm Curteys Miniatures. I had been very happy with how the army had turned out. How would they perform on the battlefield, though? I had chosen the Mongols because I thought it would be a challenge to play a horse archer army on a usually terrain-cramped 3'x4' Saga battlefield. Would this be the start of a long, learning curve? Or would my previous game commanding the Mongols in a remote, game played via Skype (which had ended in a win) be a harbinger of victories to come?

    Dan's Poles deploy in a compact mass, ready for the trickery of the wily Mongol horse archers
My Mongols' opponent was a historical one, Dan N's Polish army. Dan had played them several times at our monthly Saga game days at the Guardtower East. He is a gracious opponent, enjoyable to play against, and accepts the vagaries of a game often decided by dice with equanimity. I was looking forward to getting in a game against his Poles because they are one of the more rare armies that are fielded from Age of Crusades. I believe Andy S has used his medieval figures to field Poles once or twice, but otherwise, Dan is the only Saga Ohio member to field an army of them. He's painted them historically, researching the heraldry of Eastern European nobility and they look resplendent on the tabletop.

    'Wrath of the Gods' features three objective markers representing pagan idols
Dan wanted a chance to practice the Wrath of the Gods scenario which we will be using in the upcoming Advance the Colors Saga Tournament, Oct. 8, at the Clark County Fairgrounds, Springfield, OH. I am very excited about what appears will be an incredible turnout. Nearly 30 players have committed to play, with several "maybes," as well. Dan will be one of the participants, and he was eager to practice this scenario, which was developed by Joe M from the Northern Tempest Saga Podcast. Opponents seek to control three objective markers roughly in the center of the table. For each pagan idol a player controls at the start of their turn, they can force their opponent to remove one of their figures. Scoring is done with standard Massacre Points, so the goal is still to defeat the enemy army. No points are awarded for controlling the idols (other than what you receive from the figures you've forced your enemy to remove).

    Action opens on the Polish left - Mongol horse archers fire volleys of arrows, slaying many sergeants
Dan was first player, so chose a Ruins to deploy in his left center, while I responded with a large, gentle hill in the center of the board. He then selected rocky ground for his right center. I chose to "pass" on a third piece of terrain, and instead pushed his ruins back against the base line. Dan placed the final fourth piece as a marsh on my half of the table, near my center. Predictably, the Polish army deployed both of their units of levy archers in the solid cover, one unit in the ruins and the other in the rocky ground. Surprisingly, he had a unit of mounted sergeants (warriors) far to the left, poised to take control of the leftmost pagan idol. His two small units of mounted knights sheltered between the terrain behind the line of warriors armed with heavy weapons.

    End of my turn 1, with most of my horse archers withdrawing to about the middle of the battlefield
I deployed my entire army along the back edge of the battlefield, knowing we had the mobility to gallop forward and skirmish with the enemy from great distances. Dan's Saga dice were not kind to him, and he did not receive either enough Rare or Uncommon dice to set up his most dangerous counter-strike, "Terror of the East" (which requires two Uncommon dice). This allows him to interrupt one of my moves with a mounted charge. Still, his mounted sergeants trotted far enough forward to take control of the pagan idol on his left. Those brave riders would be my Ordu's first target. With a pounding of kettle drums, the Mongol army galloped forward. One unit of horse archers seized the pagan idol on my left. Another moved towards the central one, and finally, two converged on the Polish mounted sergeants. We fired several volleys with our composite bows. I was rolling very good with my hits, but Dan was rolling well with his saving rolls, too. Finally, once the sergeants had been whittled down from 8 to 3 figures left, the two units Mongol horse archers withdrew and raced back to our lines.

    Polish bravery is legendary, and his mounted sergeants charge into my battlelines to prove it
I did screw up on my first turn, though. I was supposed to move forward my heavy cavalry hearthguard far enough so that my unit using the "Bow and the Lance" ability would end up next to them. I hadn't, so instead of just two fatigue markers, they came back Exhausted. Dan immediately took advantage of that and charged his depleted unit of sergeants forward to take out that unit. He caused 6 of 7 casualties, while my Mongols killed one of his remaining three. On our next turn, we would shoot the remaining two sergeants from their saddles, but Dan's counter-strike had caused me to also lose one of my Saga dice. As proof that my die rolling was exceptional today, Dan's foot archers launched a potentially devastating volley of 10 attack dice, causing 9 hits. I had played "Evasive Maneuvers," which allows me to re-roll any missed saves. I didn't have to re-roll any dice. All nine dice rolled 4+, saving against what should have been a withering volley.

    Horse archers fire volleys at the Polish levy archers, hoping to provoke the Polish knights to charge
My next target was his archers that had rolled so well. Our fire was not nearly as effective, but we began a steady process of whittling them down. I left one unit of horse archers out near the central objective marker, hoping to lure his knights out to charge them. His army doesn't have a lot of movement ability that would allow them to retire back to their lines after a charge. On turn 3, Dan finally rolled enough Uncommon dice to leave his "Terror of the East" ability queued up. This meant I had to be very careful. I brought my large, 11-man unit of horse archers up to fire at his levy again, hoping that would do it. He didn't take the bait. It was only when I declared a charge with my heavy cavalry that he launched his own countercharge against my smaller, "bait unit" of horse archers.

   The Polish foot sergeants advance, while the knights ensure they can counter-charge through the gap
Dan admitted he made a mistake when he placed the figures into contact with the doomed horse archers. The Polish army has the ability to launch deadly mounted charges, and he slaughtered the remaining figures easily. However, the slain horse archers were not close enough to my heavy cavalry to inflict a fatigue on them. This meant my charge against his foot sergeants could hit home. The Mongol mounted hearth guard have the ability to charge into melee with deadly effect. So, I figured it was time to use that weapon in my arsenal. 

Mongol heavy cavalry rest after their charge, slaughtering 6 foot sergeants at the cost of one horseman
We rode down all but two of the eight figures, and then, of course, withdrew backwards using "Hell for Leather." The big 11-man unit of horse archers then stretched itself between the knights and the rest of the army, and poured shots into the Polish nobility. As usual for this game, we rolled an above average number of hits. This time, though, Dan failed miserably on the saving rolls and all but one of the knights toppled from their saddles with a crash. To me, this was the moment when the Mongols won the game. He had simply lost too many figures, at this point.

Polish knights thunder forward, slaughtering horse archers, but not stopping my heavy cavalry charge

I think the part of commanding a Mongol army that requires the most skill is how to manage the movement of your forces so that the bulk of them are able to withdraw out of range of enemy counter-strikes. As I began to lose my smaller 7-man units of horse archers, the big "hammer" unit of 11 had to take over the role of screen. The good thing is it is large enough to stretch across my front and cover the heavy cavalry and both the warlord and kettle drummer. Plus, charging an 11-man warrior unit can be daunting for enemies -- especially if I leave "Master of Men" queued up on my board. This ability gives 4 bonus dice (either attack, defense, or a mix) if the unit is within Medium of the warlord or kettle drummer. The one remaining knight simply didn't have the gumption to do it. Dan pulled him back and then brought out the other levy unit to help screen his dwindling forces.

    My large horse archer unit screens the rest of the army, while pouring withering fire into the knights
By this point, I think Dan was feeling a little of the frustration of facing such an elusive foe. Doubtless, he was probably also frustrated by my consistently above average dice rolling. I was rolling well not only on shooting, but also in melee and on saving rolls! To add insult to injury, on the turn after he removed my third Saga dice due to losses of horse archers, I managed to go on a ridiculous run of Rare rolls which allowed me to use Activation Pool to stack my board with all 8 of my Saga command and control dice! Dan accepted it all with grace and shrugged off my apologies as unnecessary -- saying he was making good rolls, too.

    The Polish warlord rides to his doom, hurling himself upon the swarming Mongol horse archers

I think this was what lead him to strike his final blow of the game, though. He brought out his warlord and queued up his board with all of his deadly melee abilities. The warlord charged gloriously into the horse archer screen. Proving that he was having good rolls, too, the warlord cut down 9 of the remaining 10 Mongol horse archer! However, he ended up Exhausted, and stuck within range of my own warlord and heavy cavalry unit. It was only a decision in how to eliminate him. Loss of his warlord would seal the game, but if he took down an equal number of points, the score would still be fairly close. So, I used "Predators," which gives composite bow to my heavy cavalry. They galloped up, fired a volley, and the heroic Polish general fell to the ground. Meanwhile, another unit galloped over to his remaining two foot sergeants and slew them with archery, as well.

    The battlefield at game's end - the Poles with 2 units left, while the Mongols are also depleted

It was a good, hard-fought game. I felt like I was in control for most of it. I felt fortunate that I had to worry about his "Terror of the East" Activation/Reaction ability only once. If he'd rolled his Saga dice well enough all game long to have it queued up nearly every turn, I think the game might have turned out differently. Still, a charge during my turn by his mounted troops would likely end up with that unit also being either destroyed or badly damaged by my other units pouncing on the charger. 

    At left, Mike C maneuvers troops against Jim B in a Jomsviking civil war, while Dan N deploys
I felt that I did an okay job managing my moving forward and back with the Mongols. I took the suggestion of veteran Chicago Saga player Terry D how to organize my 4 points of mounted warriors. I used three units of 7 figures and one of 11. Typically, I would send forward two units against my selected enemy target. One of the smaller units would go up first and fire at the enemy. Then, the larger unit would go up and shoot, as well. That was typically when I would play "Short Range Volley," which forces the target to re-roll all successful saving throws against that shot. As amazing as it may seem, it is the ONLY shooting ability on the horse-archer heavy Mongol battle board.

   Jenny coaches two tables of relatively new players, from left Todd S, John B, and Randy W

We had a great turnout for the first week of September, too. Our game was only one of six. We had a dozen players show up, three of them relatively new. Thanks to Jenny T for shouldering the teaching duties this week. My Mongol army would NOT have been a good army to learn Saga playing against! Here are the results for the six games played:

  • Jim B's Jomsvikings tied Mike C's Jomsvikings, 29-28, in Wrath of the Gods
  • Mike D's Mongols defeated Dan N's Poles, 26-15, in Wrath of the Gods
  • Joe M's Gauls defeated Dave E's Romans, 22-16, in Wrath of the Gods
  • Adrian J's Anglo-Saxons defeated Karen C's Vikings, 24-25, in Wrath of the Gods
  • Randy W's Vikings defeated Jenny T's Eastern Princes, 25-14, in Clash of Warlords
  • Todd S's Anglo-Danes tied John B's Vikings in Clash of Warlords

    At left, Joe M and Dave E square off, while Adrian J prepares his assault against Karen C's Vikings
I highly encourage interested Saga players to show up for our tournament at Advance the Colors. A number of sponsors have promised prize support, including Gripping Beast, Badger Games, Game Table Adventures, and Jarl's Workshop. Saga Ohio will also be providing SIX painted warlord stands as prizes, too, with warlord, standard bearer, and musician or pet dog. If you are interested in attending, please contact me ahead of time so that I can have the appropriate number of tables set up. Hope to see you there...!