Monday, June 17, 2013

Review of Saga supplement Varjazi & Basileus

Having got my copy of the latest Saga supplement Varjazi & Basileus I wanted to give those who are considering purchasing an overview. I won't go into full detail of battleboards and history here. Mike Haught did an excellent job of covering the Pagan Rus Battleboard in his recent article so I won't go over that here either.

more SAGA!
So, what do you get for your money? The main booklet is 16 pages cover to cover, thin by previous standards. It also comes with a colourful folder that becomes a wallet for storing all your supplements and Battleboards. This is a nice feature that helps makes up for the fact that this book contains only three factions, one of those being a reprint of a magazine article.

However, those things aside, this supplement has the usual glossy, colourful and easy to follow style of its predecessors. My biggest issue is trying to pronounce the title which does not trip off the tongue (!)

The Battleboards are still nice and solid with clear text. There are no special features of the Battleboards (no Wrath or similar). I only spotted one minor typo on these boards (what's an ordres phase...?)

Gripping Beast Pagan Rus Warlord
The booklet gets straight to the Pagan Rus on page 3. These guys live in the area we now know as Northern Russia. The Battleboard abilities are summarised by Mike's article on the Sagatapestry here. The Hearthguard are called Varjazi, the Warriors are called Militia and the Levies are called Slaves. They have no special faction abilities other than the weapons they are allowed to carry with Levies having javelins. Troops have no mounted options and they are not allowed to use a Swords for Hire unit unless they take their Hero.

The Pagan Rus have one Hero available, Sviatsolav I of Kiev, Prince of Rus. Unlike other Heroes he only generates two Saga dice at the start of each turn though he can choose to forgo these and in his opponents turn cause two enemy units not to generate any Saga dice.
He can also intimidate nearby friendly troops in melee, if they fight well they shed Fatigue, if not they gain Fatigue.
Finally, he can make use of Steppe Nomad Swords for Hire up to the limit of one unit per Hearthguard unit deployed on the table.

Gripping Beast Rus Prince Cavalry
Next up are the Rus Princes of the Kiev region. They also have no special rules other than organisation. The Hearthguard are called Druzhina, the Warriors are called City Militia and the Levies are called Militia Archers. Warlords and Hearthguard are mounted and Levies have bows.

The Rus Princes may include Steppe Nomads Swords for Hire units.

There are no Heroes as such in this faction. There are some interesting upgrades though.

You can upgrade one unit of Druzhina Hearthguard to Malaia Druzhina (veterans) up to a maximum size of 8 models. This unit costs one point from your allocation for the game. They generate two Saga dice and are mounted with bows.Their veterancy gives them no armour penalty for being mounted. The unit gets the Determination ability normally used only for the Warlord. If the unit dies, all other units take one Fatigue. Look after these guys!

Also, if you have included a unit of Steppe Nomads, you can upgrade this unit to be Cherne Klobuki (the Black Hoods) for one point. They act as Warriors not Levies so generate a Saga dice but for abilities they count as Druzhina. For all other purposes they follow the Steppe Nomads Swords for Hire unit abilities.

The Battleboard abilities include: an option to increase your armour against shooting (Princes of Winter); Give you extra attacks in Combat if you have no fatigue (Grey Wolves) - an option that forces your opponent to think about whether to spend your fatigue or not; Potentially pushing an opponent back if they lose one model you your shooting (Under the Dark Skies); Reduce the enemies attacks to no more than your own regardless of Saga abilities used (Power of Steel); Making you Hearthguard invulnerable for a turn by sacrificing one Saga dice per model (Power of Blood); Eliminating an enemy unit of less than four models that is forced to disengage after melee (Winds of Despair); Allowing an elite unit to activate to include a movement with javelin throwing or shooting with bows and generating no Fatigue (Parting Blow), useful for softening up the enemy prior to a charge;  Boosting the effect of Saga dice spent from the Combat Pool (Hardened); Discarding all Saga dice for as many free activations as your units needed and adding bonus Attacks but suffering extra Fatigue at the end of the Turn (The Long Dark); Finally, being able to get a saving throw for the models you use to soak up hits on your Warlord (Bodyguard).

Gripping Beast Byzantines
Finally, the Byzantine Empire came about after the splitting of the Roman Empire, giving them the entire Region around Constantinople. They survived into the 1400's despite attacks from all sides over such a long period. The Byzantine faction also have no special rules other than organisation. The Byzantine Hearthguard are called Kavallaroi, the Warriors are called Kontaratoi (spear and shield armed) or Toxotai (archers) and the Levies are called Psiloi.

Warlords and Hearthguard are mounted. Hearthguard may have bows but their armour is reduced to four points. Warriors may have spear and shield or bow (reduced armour for bows). Levies have javelins.

The Byzantines may NOT include Steppe Nomads Swords for Hire units.

The Heroes are are interesting in so much as whether you really want to take them! They contain the Basileus (Emperor) and Harald Hardrada, Captain of the Varangian Guard (yes, you know him, 1066 and all that). 
For one point you can buy the Basileus who has poorer armour and only one Attack dice, is mounted, does not suffer the need to engage enemy Warlord's and if he dies you lose the battle! In return for all this badness, he gives three Saga dice and may only field Hearthguard. He can either upgrade his troops to Varangians or mounted Kataphractoi. The Varangians have top armour and MAY have Dane axes but they suffer fatigue if they get to far from their leader. The Kataphractoi have top armour too, but suffer extra fatigue for further movements in a turn.

'Captain' Harald only gives one Saga dice but in return he can remove limited fatigue to generate Saga dice. He also gets to run with the Viking Battleboard as well as the Byzantine one. He can use his own Saga dice to be placed on either board. A neat idea. His Hearthguard (as the rest of his faction) must fight on foot and MAY have Dane axes. They also get top armour for all fighting. Useful!

The Battleboard abilities include: activating two units for shooting that can ignore friendly units in the way (Massed Archery); gaining extra Attack or Defence dice from a friendly unit within S distance (Strategikon); activating three Levy units at once (Scouting); support another unit that is in combat by making a shooting attack (Support Archers); gain extra Attack dice for combat by activating a mounted non-bow unit for movement (Kontos); disengage a much longer way from combat, win or lose, than normal (Withdrawal); trade losses in combat with a nearby unit - useful for keeping Hearthguard on the table by sacrificing Warriors instead (Friendly Shields); head off an enemy activation to attack your bow armed troops if there are nearby non-bow armed troops (Mutual Support); swap some fatigue between two of your non-levy units that are close to each other (Common Efforts); Finally, you can activate any number of units fairly close to your Warlord who gain no fatigue but in return he gets one fatigue per activated unit (Basileus).

Steppe Nomads - Swords for Hire
The last section in the booklet is about a mercenary unit that can be bought. These are the 'Steppe Nomads' Swords for Hire. At a cost of one point you get an eight man mounted unit of Levies. They get an extra S to their Movement (very useful) and are equipped with a short bow. The bows count as javelins and can be used at the start OR end of movement. They also get a bonus to their shooting rolls. A very nice hit and run unit!

There you have it. The thinnest of the Saga booklets so far with no extra rules or errata (unlike the Raven's Shadow). There are no new scenario's and disappointingly to me, no new version of the Quick Summary Sheet is included. This could have been updated by now with additions and clarifications from all the books and the feedback on the forums. It could have been printed on back of the new wallet if space was an issue. I would have to say that this purchase is not going to be for everyone. If you want to complete "the set" and/or have that nice folder, that conveniently stores all four booklets and 15 Battleboards then go ahead and buy this. There is nothing new or updated from the previous books to make you have to buy this one. The Rus make another interesting addition to the stable of factions to date. All in all, its great for adding more Saga factions, but is not essential.

The Saga 'wallet' folder
plenty of space for your goodies
The Saga folder has tabs that turn it into a wallet for holding Battleboards on one side and the four booklets on the other side. Its a great little feature and keeps everything all in one place. Great idea guys.

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