Monday, December 9, 2013

Battleboards 102 - The Normans

Our small Saga group has been getting enthusiastic about the game lately and we're gearing up for an epic campaign (hopefully more on that later!). The campaign has me in a quandary deciding which army to use. It's an escalation campaign, and I've got the opportunity to actually get paint on my Anglo-Danes, but I can't help but think about answering the Duke's call and join his Norman knights... On that note, let's talk Normans!

Norman Shieldwall!

I really enjoy playing Normans and they have a lot of interesting subtle tactics and an interesting battleboard. I'd like to quickly run through the battleboard and get some discussion going over the strengths and weaknesses of the Normans. First off, lets have a look at the battleboard:

Dice: Any
Discard any die to activate a unit of Hearthguard or a Warlord.
Dice: Any
Discard this die to gain 3 Attack Dice (4 Attack Dice if a 6 is discarded). May only be used by a mounted unit. At the end of this melee, add a FATIGUE to your unit.
Massed Volley
Dice: 4 or 5
Discard this die. Until the end of your turn the range of your bows is doubled (i.e. 2x "L").
Dice: 1 or 2 or 3 or 6
Discard any die to activate a unit of Warriors.
Aimed Volley
Dice: 1 or 2 or 3 PLUS 6
Discard these dice to re-roll any Attack Dice that failed to hit the target.
Storm of Arrows
Dice: 4 or 5 PLUS 6
Discard these dice to immediately activate all of your units equipped with ranged weapons. They may only Shoot with this activation. No unit gains FATIGUE for this activation.
Dice: 4 or 5 or 6
Discard any die to activate a unit of Levies.
Dice: 1 or 2 or 3 PLUS 4 or 5
Discard these dice. Activate a mounted unit. If that unit engages an enemy unit with this activation, this enemy unit immediately gains a FATIGUE.
Dice: 1 or 2 or 3 PLUS 1 or 2 or 3
Discard these dice. If your engaged unit is mounted and is fighting a dismounted unit, immediately eliminate one enemy Warrior or two enemy Levies that are engaged in the melee.
Activation Pool
Dice: 6
Discard this die to roll two extra SAGA dice.
Dice: 4 or 5 PLUS 6
Discard these dice. If you inflict at least twice as many hits with your unit than it suffers in this melee, each hit it scored against an enemy unit becomes two hits.
Dice: 6
Discard this dice. If at the end of the melee the enemy unit(s) are forced to disengage, immediately activate for a movement one of your mounted units engaged this melee. This movement does not generate any FATIGUE.
Attack Pool
Dice: any
Discard one die to gain one Attack Die (two Attack Die if the discarded die was a "6")
Dice: 1 or 2 or 3 PLUS 4 or 5
Discard these dice. Activate a mounted unit for a movement. This movement gets an extra "S" movement distance and can be freely made through friendly models and units.
Dex Aïe
Dice: 6 PLUS 6
Discard these dice. Your Warlord gains five Attack Dice and may re-roll any failed to hit attack die. At the end of the melee, add three FATIGUE to your Warlord.

The basic skills on the left are pretty standard, so I'll leave those alone for the moment. Let's break this down into the categories Ranged, Cavalry, and Warlord.

Ranged Abilities
Massed Volley - This ability targets your Levy archers and doubles their range. Note that this does not work on your crossbows as they are not bows. This ability alone warrants having a unit of Levies in your Norman force. Being able to shoot from ages away will help break up enemy attacks and tough shield walls.

Aimed Volley - This is great to make every shot count. While this can be used with normal bows, I believe this is more effective for crossbows because they have a better chance of converting their hit into a kill. That having been said, this can be used in conjunction with Massed Volley (which activates in the Orders Phase). So you can have a Massed, yet Aimed, Volley of arrows!

Storm of Arrows - This is a great Activation ability that will allow you to activate all archery units twice in a turn (once for your normal activation, and once for free with this ability). It's costly (4 or 5 AND a 6 roll on the Saga die), but you may only need to pull it off in a single turn. I believe this will greatly serve a mix of bows and crossbows.

Cavalry Abilities
Charge! - Charge is one of the essential abilities for your mounted knights. Unlike many Norman abilities, this one is cheap by only needing to discard a single Saga die. It will generate three attack dice (four, if you discard a 6), allowing your smaller units to engage larger ones-and win. It is useful to add this with the other abilities below to help get big results.

Terrified - Terrified is an ability I use often because it not only activates a mounted unit, its also a guaranteed Fatigue that you can take advantage of during a melee in the same activation. It can help boost your armor or reduce your opponent's. Its an essential ability and one to use as often as possible before going into combat.

Stamping - Warriors and levies are easy enough to kill, but their strength is in their numbers. This ability helps reduce this advantage. I like to think of this ability as your warhorses biting, kicking, and trampling, something that the legend has it the Normans bred into their mounts.

Crush - Crush is always a bit of a gamble, but you can do things to help bend the odds in your favor. Use Fatigue (you can prime this with Terrified) on your opponents wisely, especially when you have none, to reduce their armor and increase yours. This will increase your hits and reduce theirs. Then combine it with Charge! and any dice from the Attack Pool to help add more odds in your favor. You need to pick your moment with this one, so if it is having trouble coming up, just move on. Don't get hung up on pulling this one off.

Pursuit - Pursuit does exactly what you would expect. It allows you to chase after a unit that is fleeing your combat. This is handy to finish the job. However, a devious Norman trick is to "pinball" your knights off a small unit and hit another more vulnerable target. This second activation doesn't add a Fatigue for the new movement, however I'm not sure if the triggering combat generates one.

Gallop - Gallop is an expensive skill in terms of Saga dice, but it not only activates a mounted unit but it also gives it an additional S (+4") movement. This gives your unit a 16" striking range. I would use this with a large group of mounted knights or warriors to deliver a death blow on the enemy. Alternatively you can use this over the course of a couple of turns to out flank a static line, like a shield wall or avoid ambushes by simply moving too fast.

Warlord Ability
Dex Aïe - "Dex Aïe!" was the Norman war cry at the Battle of Hastings, and it translates from Latin to say "God aid us!". This is a death blow ability. Used wisely it will win you a game. Used unwisely, your warlord is as good as dead. He will double his attack dice for the melee and will become a god on the battlefield, however he will end the melee exhausted. Once again, you can help even the odds by combining this with other Saga abilities, but make sure that when you do, you will either win the game or be able to totally shield your warlord while he recovers. It is expensive (two 6s), but it can turn a battle in an instant.

Foot Soldiers
I'd be remiss if I did not mention the obvious fact that the Norman battleboard pays no attention to the lowly dismounted, non-ranged warrior or hearthguard. It is a fact that a massive proportion of William's army comprised of dismounted men-at-arms, so it is perhaps somewhat odd that Saga doesn't give these troops much of a role. Or does it? Lets have a look at what these guys did historically.

At Hastings, the Anglo-Saxon shield wall was challenged, first by arrow, then by sword on foot. William was not foolish enough to take on a fresh shield wall with his cavalry. Besides the horses were slowed down somewhat by the marshy area at the base of Senlac Hill, so the men-at-arms rushed forward to beat open some gaps for the cavalry to exploit. This they did several times, back and forth, as the two sides wore each other out. However, it was the Normans that fell back, Harold's shieldwall stood firm. It would take a combination of trickery and foot and a combined-arms approach of foot assaults, point-blank archery volleys, and mounted charges to finally break the line. The Battle of Hastings would not have been won if one of these elements had failed. (more on the Battle of Hastings here...)

So how does this factor into Saga? Easy. Foot troops may not have abilities, but they have some excellent combined-arms uses. First, they are relatively easy activate, so you can put a die on the activation chart or use your warlord to shift them around when and where needed. You can double-activate them too, take the Fatigue and then rest them before committing them, if necessary.

Normans are excellent at trickery, and you can use your men-at-arms to push up the middle and free up your knights to maneuver around a flank or wait and see if the foot troops can weaken the enemy's position. They can also sit on an objective and collect points in scenarios like homeland and river crossing. They are also handy for clearing out buildings.

Perhaps my favorite use for foot soldiers is to split a unit of 8 into two units of four in order to gain (or ensure) an extra Saga dice. If I do this, they usually guard my crossbowmen, one unit on either flank, closing ranks in front of the ranged troops to screen them against enemy cavalry or javelins.

Simply put, Norman foot troops may not have any abilities, but your enemy will still need to deal with them one way or another. Use that to your advantage and you'll be glad you spent a point or two on them.

One trick I have yet to try (I intend to soon), is to load up on foot troops and combine all of my mounted knights into a single large unit. Because the foot troops don't have abilities, I can spend a few turns rolling up the best combination of Saga abilities for when I decide to commit my cavalry. In this way I'd be trying to emulate the Battle of Hastings in miniature!

Got any Norman tactics you'd like to share? Post them on our forum!

Thanks for reading,
Mike Haught

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