Wednesday, March 13, 2019

SAGA: Book of Battles - Rules Review

When the second edition of SAGA was released, I was generally happy with the product.  It seemed like a much needed update to a game that had gotten a little bloated with rules and factions. I also liked the new structure, with a generic core rulebook and additional books for each age. As a Dark Ages player, this worked for me, and I'm still definitely interested in the rumored Fantasy and Samurai supplements.

However, one problem I had with the new edition was the lack of scenarios. The core rulebook only has a single scenarios - "Clash of Warlords" - which is an updated version of a scenario from the core book of the first version. While it was fairly easy to use scenarios from the previous edition, I was still disappointed.

That changed with the recent release of the new Book of Battles supplement.

The Book of Battles offers a set of different styles of scenarios for each of the various SAGA ages. It has not one, nor two, but five chapters, each devoted to a different game types: Skirmishes, Battles, Legends, Mass Battles, and (of course) Sagas. 

The Skirmishes chapter only has a single scenario - "Battle of Heroes" - but it can be modified in a variety of ways. There's a chart in the chapter with 6 categories. Players roll a d6 to determine Scenery, Deployment, Game Length, Special Rules, and Victory Conditions. 

There's a lot of little differences to each of the aspects of the scenario, which means a lot of replayability. 

The Battles chapter has ten scenarios with fixed set-ups, deployments, special rules, and victory conditions, but introduce new rules into the game like objective markers, entering/leaving the table, and baggage. Some of these scenarios are pretty flavorful. For example, in the "A Tale of Challenges" scenario, players will choose between 2-4 Challenges from a list. If the challenge is completed by the end of the game, the player scores a number of points. But if the challenge is failed, they lose those points. You may have lost most of your warband, but with enough completed challenges, the tale of your victory will live on!

Legends only has four scenarios, but they're larger, narrative driven affairs that are both somewhat unbalanced and far more complex than the previous two sections. They also introduced more special rules, such as buildings (and the various interactions units can have with them), obstacles, livestock, event tokens, and civilians. There are some good standards scenarios here; in "Catch Them All!" players will need to wrangle livestock while fighting off their opponents, and in "Urban Uprising" the warbands will need to navigate dense city streets while also dealing with random event tokens.

Mass Battles covers, obviously, larger battles on a 6'x4' table (as opposed to the normal 4'x3' SAGA uses) with multiple players. The three scenarios cover the necessities - one for team battles, another for a winner-takes-all hack-n'-slash mess, and the final scenario uses a deck of standard playing cards that players can use to secretly choose their alliance. 

Finally, the Sagas chapter has no scenarios, but instead allows players to modify their Warlord with various "domains" that give different skills and abilities that can affect either the Warlord or the units in the Warband during the game. These are bought using experience points that are earned during battles. So while it's not quite the intricate system that Age of the Wolf had in the first version, it does allow players to string their various scenarios together into a cohesive campaign. 

After looking through the Book of Battles, I can see why this book was separated from the main rulebook. It kept the main rules lean and easy to navigate, allowed this book to be expansive and detailed in its content, and let both books be affordable for players. I definitely recommend SAGA players of any era to pick up the Book of Battles at the earliest possibility. 

As an aside, I'd like to note some interesting details in the book - namely, the pictures of the miniatures. While there's no Samurai era pictures, there are a number that indicate some interesting hints about the others Ages we may expect to see. There are, of course, the already available Dark Ages, Arthurian, and Crusades eras on display. And it's pretty easy to spot the Fantasy images, with dwarfs, barbarians, and monsters. There's also a very obvious not-Jaime and not-Tyrion Lannister. What was new - at least to me - were images of late medieval miniatures (with all the fleur-de-lis, I'm guessing it's the 100 Year War) and hoplites with an elephant in the background, perhaps indicating an Age of Greece supplement. 

Whatever the case may be, I'm interested to see what SAGA has to offer in the future.

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