I picked up Saga not expecting very much. Many skirmish-level games are (frankly) not very interesting - with little variation between the figures and not much in the way of tactical complexity. I was quickly bored by Necromunda or Mordheim, and their micromanagement of (not very impressive) equipment and (not very meaningful) levels of skill or toughness. Yawn.
An early medieval war-game designed along the same principles would be even duller. As Saga itself points out, just about every army had the same limited range of equipment -- a big round shield, a hand-weapon, and for the richer types, maybe some mail armor and helmet. Or a horse.
But Saga manages to transcend these limitations and become genuinely interesting and flavorful.
Saga adds complexity and flavor by giving each warband special abilities that reflect its doctrine and "character." It rations the use of abilities through its saga dice. Each six-sided "Saga Die" has three symbols of varying frequency. The common symbol appears on three sides. The uncommon symbol appears on two. And the rare symbol appears on only one. Every use of an ability requires the player to spend one or more die symbols. More useful or powerful abilities require that the player spend rare or uncommon symbols. So this adds resource management to the game. There's a big handout called a Battle Board, different for each army, that tracks these resources. You can see Steve's article on the Battle Board here.
|Odin: Norse War-God|
Movement, Shooting, and Close Combat follow pretty standard lines for a 28mm wargame. They use ordinary six-siders for attacking and defending. Better troops get more attack dice. A figure's armor makes it harder to hit. Then, finally, the defending troops may roll to save. The Saga Dice control and modify this basic behavior of models, giving more attack dice, changing armor rating, removing or adding fatigue, or whatever.
The fatigue mechanics are also pretty ingenious. Troops may collect fatigue points, which lets the opponent weaken them in various ways. You can make an enemy fatigued unit slower or less capable in combat by spending the points it has accumulated. Combined with Saga abilities, this can get pretty ugly.
Overall, it looks like a fun system, simple, with a lot of depth.