Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SAGA - A Gripping Miniatures Game

Ho-HO! Enjoy that pun in the title? No? What if I told you that the name of the company that produces SAGA is Gripping Beast; get it? Still no? To Niflhel with you!

SAGA rulebook
SAGA is a historical miniatures game wherein you play one of the various factions vying for glory and conquest in Dark Ages Britain: Vikings, Anglo-Danes, Normans, and Welsh. It's produced by Gripping Beast, but it's being written by this firm called Tomahawk Studios, which, I believe, is French. They've announced a supplement called Northern Fury, which will introduce the Anglo-Saxons, the Breton, the Scots, and the Jomsvikings.

Historical wargames are something I've just recently started playing. I started with Flames of War, and have been peeking at the Warlord Games games: Hail Caesar, and Black Powder. Previously my problem with historical wargames had been the disassociation with any regulation in scale, rules, or miniatures ranges. If I wanted to play a Viking skirmish game, I'd have to first decide on a scale, then find a ruleset (these two steps could also be reversed), then I'd have to find a miniatures range, and get people to play with me. Flames of War was the first to introduce me to a very Games Workshop model of marketing a hobby involving historical wargames. I had my miniatures, my rules, and they worked perfectly together. I know very little about the specific details of militaria (in any era/war), but with these games I don't have to. Now, thankfully, SAGA has joined these ranks.

To any heavy metal fan, SAGA seems like a no-brainer. A miniatures game involving Dark Age warriors slamming into each other with spear and shield, and performing heroic feats, all while retaining an (albeit slightly abstracted) historical authenticity should bring forth the legions of Amon Amarth-clad longhairs gripping paint brushes and fistfuls of dice. Though my hair be short, I too jumped at the chance to command heathen Vikings o'er the soggy moors of pre-Blighty Blighty.

Enough exposition, let's row our long ships to the game itself.

SAGA is super-easy to learn, and it's got one of the most unique mechanics I've seen in wargaming: the Battle Board. At the beginning of your turn, you roll a number of dice equal to the number of groups (or units) of warriors, or hearthguard (elite warriors) you have. Then you add two more for your Warlord, up to a total of 6. These dice are pip less, and instead contain certain symbols depending on the faction you're commanding. My vikings have Fehu as the 1, 2, & 3; Berkana as the 4 & 5; and Eihwaz as the 6. These symbols are then placed on the Battle Board corresponding to the various actions and abilities you can do.  For instance any of the symbols can be expended to activate a Hirdmen (hearthguard), Bondi (warriors), or Thrall (levy) unit, or even the Warlord (who gets one free activation a turn). They can also be expended to do things like roll extra dice, add attack dice at the cost of armor reduction (Heimdal), or reduce all enemy's armor values by one for the whole turn (an umlaut less Ragnarok). Most abilities can only be used once per turn, but others can be used as many times as you have dice to activate them with.

Viking Dice showing all three different symbols.
Though I'm in love with massive, large-scale, wargames, SAGA uses as few as 25 or as many as 73 models for a 6-point warband (your average warband). The majority of my gaming group have been playing with just the pre-built starter kits, which total up to 4 points, but we've taken to this game so hard that we're already looking to expand. You buy your army in 1-point increments. Spending 1 point on your army will buy you 4 Hearthguard, or 8 Warriors, or 12 Levies (your Warlord is free). Now, just because you buy 12 Levies does not mean that these commoners have to run around in a big mob (though it might be better if they did), units can be as small as 4 models or as big as 12. You only get a maximum of 6 SAGA dice (the activation dice I mentioned in the last paragraph), so it might still be a good idea to throw your units into bigger mobs to make sure that all your units (or most of them) are moving and activating in a turn.

4-point Viking warband
To talk a bit about the troop designations themselves: Your Warlord is a big boss; he's you. You command your warband, you get five dice in close combat, you need two wounds in one attack to die, and there's only one of you. Your Hearthguard are your elite units. The Vikings may call them Hirdmen, the Danes may refer to them as Huscarls, the Welsh name them Teulu, but the Normans dub thee Knights. They get two dice in combat, they're harder to kill, and they can be mounted (Normans), or become fur-clad bezerkers (Vikings). The Warriors are known as Bondi by Vikings, Ceorls by Danes, Priodaur by the Welsh, and Sergeants by the Normans. They are your basic warrior. They're easier to kill, only have one die each in combat, but are the mainstay of your forces. The Levies are the commoners; the Peasants (Normans) if you will, or the Thralls (Vikings), Geburs (Danes), or Bonnedig (Welsh). They never generate SAGA dice, they're the easiest to kill, and they only get one combat die for every three models you have in base contact with an enemy. However, there's a ton of 'em, and they are often armed with missile weapons. In fact, unless you're a Norman Warlord and you've given your Sergeants crossbows, they're the only missile weapons you can have in the army.

Combat is also very well-done, representing the defense and push of a group of warriors, while not worrying about what every soldier is armed with, or what each individual one is doing. You total up your dice, and then decide if you're going to stick any of these in defense. Defense pretty much gives you extra dice to throw to resist wounds. You throw a number of dice equal to the number of wounds your opponent caused plus any you stuck in defense in order to "save" and avoid damage. Every success negates a wound. If you decide to play cautiously, you must reduce your attack pool by half (rounding up). For every two dice removed in this manner you get one extra "save" (again, rounding up). This led to a bit of confusion amongst my math-ignored group of gamers, but once you get the hang of it, you're golden!

Game in progress... Though not from my group.

The score required to hit your opponent is determined by their rank in the army, and the saving value is just a 5+, regardless of what you are. Each wound received removes a figure, unless you're a Warlord in which case you need to suffer 2 wounds before you're gone. 1 does nothing (isn't even carried over), and 0 is worse than 1. 3 is pretty good, though.

Alright, enough of that. How did the game actually play out? Excitingly. The Battle Boards give the game a tactical nuance that many "skirmish" games lack. Often, you'll find your skirmish games becoming big scrums in the middle of the board, but with the Battle Boards, your maneuvering becomes more important. You can activate units more than once (though at the cost of adding fatigue counters to the units (which suck)) so how do you position your units to maximize the kerrunch the enemy will feel? Far from creating a boring jockey for position, the Battle Board also gives you special abilities that will help your defenses or your attacks. Each Battle Board is vastly different from each other, as well. The Viking one is very aggressive, giving you extra rounds of combat, or more attacks at the cost of armor, while the Anglo-Danish give you some great maneuverability and versatility in terms of how to use some extra dice you may get.

The game also contains mercenaries and special characters, like the Flemish, pictured here.
Combat is also not a sure thing. The nature of the game is to get into face-smashing range, and hail axes upon your enemies like the frozen rain of the north, but you can't just run in there with no dice on your board. Your enemies might stick their attack dice into their defense and reduce your Valhalla-sending abilities, or they might still have dice on their Battle Board that could activate a reactive special ability, thus luring you into a trap.

Like the aforementioned Flames of War, SAGA comes complete with a pretty big range of figures from Gripping Beast. Because the units are so generic, you can organize almost anything into the various types of the game. Only having to worry about levies, warriors, and hearthguard make it so that you don't have to worry about what type of Hearthguard-looking models you'll need (unless you want to, which is totally cool, and historically nerdy!), just that they look beefy, and are well-armored.

Viking SAGA Battle Board
Now, of course, every game has its bugbears (or j├Âtnar), and this one is no exception. Though my only complaints come from the learning curve of the game, and the speed at which the game travels if you haven't reached the apex of that learning curve. There are a lot of abilities, and you really have to study your Battle Board to get a hang of things. My first game involved me (already with some models) picking up the book, giving it a skim, and throwing down. My first couple turns had longer than average Orders Phase, and at that, I probably only used a quarter of the 15 different spaces on my board. There are also a lot of numbers flying around (though no real math like in games of Warmachine, which is real nice), and a few of those numbers are halved. And why can't gamers remember if halved numbers should be rounded up or down? I think every game designer should have a conference in Geneva and determine whether games (of any kind) will forever round their numbers up or down! In this one they're rounded up, but still...

There you have it! My complaints become null once you get the hang of the game, but even then, this game was ridiculously fun. It's historical in the bigger picture, but it doesn't weigh the game down with pedantry. After only a few skirmishes, this game has placed in my top 10 miniatures games (as you can see to your right), and with good reason. I can't wait to see what kind of campaign material comes out of this system, or even if they go ahead and do a mass-combat variation or (dare I say it?) add fantasy elements. Oh boy! My ax hand quivers with excitement!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Crappenin' Is What's Happenin'

So today I began priming some figures. I began by priming my viking SAGA figures from Gripping Beast in black, and it worked as it usually does. Oh! Did I mention that it was raining here in Vancouver? (when is it not, amirite?) Then I decided that I'd prime some Space Wolves because they're the vikings of the future. I knew I was going to use the Army Painter Wolf Grey spray, so I primed them white using the P3 primer (mostly so I can use it up and switch back to Citadel primer). Then after a couple hours I hit them with the Army Painter spray.


I guess I got cocky, or maybe it was because it was the first time that can was used, or maybe it was the rain, but my models came back in looking like they were Space Wolf-sized globs. I don't know what to say. I'm hesitant to blame myself, on account of the fact that I've been priming figures for 16 years, and know a thing or two about how to do that. I also doubt it was the weather, because I've been priming figures in Vancouver for 15 of those 16 years (hell... One year I even primed in Germany, in an area with similar climate).

Needless to say, I was pretty choked.

I threw the models out, then had to go into the trash to get them when I realized that after spending $45CDN on a box of Space Wolves it couldn't hurt to try and strip them. Normally I wouldn't bother stripping plastic models, as I'm worried about the stripper (no, not your mom) eating away at the material, but after griping about this fact to my friends at our SAGA game tonight, they suggested I use Simple Green®. I remember stripping plastic models back in the '90s and it turned out terribly. Therefore I never did it until now (I never had a primer problem since the '90s either... Well, unless you count the one (and only) time I used Armory primer... Don't use Armory primers). Tomorrow I'll go get some Simple Green® and attempt to strip the figures. After which I will prime them with Citadel's white primer, and give them a lighter coat of the Army Painter spray from way, way, further away.

I'll let you all know how that goes down.

In other news, I tried SAGA out for the first time tonight. Shamefully, my models were not painted, but they will be. Oh, and I won the game, so that's neat. Tomorrow I plan on posting a write-up (review) on the game, but I can tell you right now... It's gonna be a good one!

Alright, that's about it. See you folks tomorrow night!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Tonight I'm playing Dark Age, one of my favorite miniatures games. Here's my list:

Forsaken (St. Mary) - 750pts.
+ St. Mary - 130
+ Clergy Ann (2) - 120
+ Strike (2) - 140
   + Strike Leader - 75
+ Firestorm (2) - 90
   + Firestorm Leader - 50
+ Weaponsmith - 70
+ Field Medic - 55
Total: 730


Monday, March 5, 2012

Paints 'n' Stuff

In my Forever-Quest™(great name for an RPG, by-the-by) to find the perfect combination of paint, I've tried many various paint brands. Sitting firmly at the bottom is the Rackham paint line, but the rest I've tried jockey for top spot. Currently I'm enjoying Coat D'Arms' paint range, coupled with a smattering of P3 paints for flavor (their skin colors are particularly awesome), along with Citadel's metallic paint (the best out there), Foundation range, and the magical Washes they produce. Let's delve into the various ranges in some detail, ne?

Citadel Miniatures' paint

This glorious paint range is marred only by its number of different colors (soon to double if rumors can be believed), and their quantity. Their coverage is good, their metallics are the best I've ever used, and their palette is familiar. The size and shape of their pots has been a point of contention ever since the 1990s, and anyone who looks back and thinks the discourse was in any way civil and thought-out they have the rosiest of glasses on. Suffice it to say that their newest pot design is smaller than the 1997 paint pots and possibly the smallest of the water-based acrylics (definitely the smallest pots out of any I've tried), but if it's what's in them that counts, then they're worth getting. The pot forms a seal around the edge, and though the oldest pot of paint I have in this format is a four, or five, year old Foundation paint, I can say that it's not dried out yet. Something I cannot say for their screw-lids that terrorized GW gamers from 1998-2003.

As I said before, their metallics are the best I've used (Reaper comes close, but we'll talk about that later). Boltgun Metal is such a full metallic. Compared to the other metallics I've used it goes on smooth, it covers like a dream, and it's very receptive to dry-brushing and washes/inks.

Another weapon in their arsenal are the Foundation paints, a series of 18 paints that have a high pigment, and are thus designed to cover better than their regular line of paints. In fact, they often cover in one coat. A downside to this is that they often have a pastel-y look about them, and they aren't well integrated into the rest of the Citadel line of paints. I've been using these paints since they came out (2006/2007?) and I've yet to find a seamless transition of mixing to go from a Foundation base, to a Citadel highlight. That being said, yellows and reds are much easier to paint, and if you're doing an orcish or goblinoid army, you'll find their greens to be the hugest time-saver.

Speaking of time-savers, their washes are fantastic. Though they have bred in me a laziness in my painting procedure. Why just before I sat down to write this review I was working on finishing up some Dwarf Thunderers for a Warhammer army I began when the latest incarnation of the Dwarfs came out (2005?) and I got fed up with the skin so I just based it with the Tallarn Flesh Foundation and hit it with an Ogryn Flesh wash. Bam! Done. That being said, it looks fine, and it's painted to a tabletop standard that I'm not ashamed of, but it's not my usual flesh routine. Still, there's something to be said for finishing one part of 10 figures in less than a half-hour. Though they may seem like an "easy button" to painting, when used by cleverer painters, I've seen them work wonders. Don't underestimate these washes (or the people that use them). I'll never use an ink again.

Coat D'Arms

These are the hardest paints to get a hold of in Canada (well, I can really only speak for Vancouver), but I'm currently obsessed with them. I liked the old Citadel white-capped hexagonal paints that I started painting with in '96. It may be nostalgia, but they had a fair amount of paint (17.5ml, which dropped from 20ml in the '80s or so I heard), and they had a smell that is recognizable even to this day (a pleasant one). So, when I found out that the company that produced Citadel's paints in the '90s (HMG paints) still produced the same colors with different names (and an extra half-milliliter) I was pretty excited.

The labels are plain, and the bottles are missing five sides, but the classics are all there. I even tested out this theory and put Goblin Green (still same name) to the test. I found an old goblin from the Warhammer 4th edition boxed set that I painted 16 years ago, and painted some of Coat D'Arms Goblin Green onto the skin of the figure. It matched perfectly.

Now I've heard that the consistency varies from batch to batch, but I don't know about that. I mean, I haven't bought doubles of any paint, but I'm hopping onto Coat D'Arms bandwagon pretty late in the game, and I figure there'd be more variance in that case, not an exact match to a 16 year old paint job.

Their metallics aren't as great as Reaper's (and surely not as great as Citadel's), and the skin colors aren't as good as P3's. They're hard to get, but they have three lines: Fantasy (the old Citadel paints), Military, and World War 2 (which I've used to replace my Vallejo paints).

Vallejo Model/Game Color

Vallejo paints have a bijillion different paints spread out over a quadrillion different paint lines. Alright, I exaggerate, but seriously. I've only tried their Game Color range (a Citadel imitator, complete with all the colors Citadel got rid of, including the ones that they added since the switch from HMG paints), and their Model Color range (a range that has every damned shade of every damned color the human eye can see).

I'm excited, greatly, by the sheer amount of different paints they produce. If it's a color, they make it, and it comes in 20 different shades. This makes picking a color-scheme a dream. It also makes it a one-stop-shop for paint.

My complaints don't seem to be shared by the masses, who go absolutely bananas over these paints. I find them watery. This might make them attractive to pro painters who want some flawless blending, but if I want my paints watery, I'd like to do it myself. Many of the colors I've used had terrible coverage. And while the eye-dropper tops may seem like a good idea, it's just one more thing that can go wrong, such as when three of the paints I bought had split droppers. This led to paint spewing in every direction. Forget about if they ever clog.

Their metallics are nothing special, and they still use inks, which are the poor-man's washes if you ask me.

Privateer Press Paints (P3)

These paints were not only designed by Mike McVey (the genius who designed my favorite Citadel paints), but they're still manufactured by HMG, and so cover, smell, and are put in the same pots as Coat D'Arms.

I really like these paints; in fact, I used to use them exclusively (except for their metallics and inks). The coverage is a little better than Coat D'Arms, but not as good as Foundation, and they have a healthy mix of shades and colors (not as big as Vallejo, but bigger than Citadel). Therefore I smatter my Coat D'Arms pains with shades that don't exist in other ranges. Particularly of note are their browns, greys, and skin colors (all kinds of skin!). Colors to avoid: pink, greens (they don't cover well), and their metallics.

Their metallics are similar to Coat D'Arms now, but when the range was first released, they had quality issues out the wazoo. I chucked all my initial P3 metallics, and have only re-bought Pig Iron and Molten Bronze because I heard that the metallics had a re-do, and those were the only two paints with the new black labels. They're now on par with Coat D'Arms (which isn't anything special, metallic-wise).

Now that Citadel invented these fantastic washes, I don't find the need to use inks anymore, and even if I did, I don't think I'd use the P3 inks. They're in strange shades that I'm not used to, and while their painting articles are some of the best I've seen, they seem to use the inks in rather arcane ways that I'm not used to. I'm not saying they're bad inks (at least as far as inks go), they're just not what I'm looking for.

Oh! Before I move on, I should mention that they've ingeniously organized their paints into bases, and highlights. So the paint titled Khador Red Base, is meant to be mixed and highlighted with the paint Khador Red Highlight. GENIUS!

Reaper Paints

Admittedly I've only tried their Master Series paints, but I like 'em! They have a similar method of organization to P3, but they take it one step further, literally. They have triads of paints which go along the lines of a shade, base, and highlight of any given color. My favorite triad is the drow one, which is the best match to the almost black-y/purple-y drow skin. Their colors cover pretty well, and they have a diverse range of them. As I said in the Vallejo section, I'm somewhat mistified in the attraction to Vallejo, and wonder that if they were better at marketing their paint range, Reaper could take the top spot for a widely-available Citadel substitute. They're not well-known to the general gaming public, though and it's partially because they're not widely available.

Their metallics are second only to Citadel's, in that they don't seem as "full" as Citadel's metallics, but they're better than anyone else's and they have a decent quanity. I've never tried their inks or their HD (high density) line, which is supposed to be a competitor to Citadel's Foundation, so I can't say much about them, but I think these guys are a great company, in general, and their paints are nothing to sneeze at.

They're packaged in dropper bottles, though, which I've griped about in the Vallejo section. What's unique about their bottles is that they have tiny pewter skulls inside them that act as agitators when you shake the paint. Oh man, the genius is too much!

Rackham Paints
They're so terrible, I can't find any pictures on Google...

These are terrible. There's a reason they're no longer produced. If you see them, don't buy them, and surely don't put them to your models. Rackham were the biggest perpatrators of false advertising I've ever seen in gaming. There's no way the Rackham studio used these things.

So there you have it. Those are my many opinions on paint. Right now, I'm using a smattering of Coat D'Arms, P3, and Citadel with a few Reaper paints hanging out on the periphery. Though it may sound like I'm a shill for Citadel Colour, I actually really do like them, and recommend them. As I stated, my only complaints lie in the amount of colors and the quantity they come in (12ml).