Monday, June 30, 2014

Review of Saga "The Cresent & the Cross" book!

For those who have been waiting this release it's been a while coming but I finally got my review copy of the English language version of the latest Saga supplement "The Crescent and the Cross" from those lovely guys at Studio Tomahawk and Gripping Beast!

After seeing the fantastic display stand at 'Salute!' this year I have been more than ready to read this "expansion".

Here it is - the Crescent and the Cross for Saga....

So, what goodness do you get in this new book?

Firstly, be under no mistake this is not just another expansion for Saga. It is not a collection of new battleboards and special rules for the new factions. This is in fact a COMPLETE Saga game in its own right. I was surprised at this. The whole of the Saga rules plus six new factions for a new era plus seven new missions.

No longer are we in the Dark Ages, this is post Norman Conquest, and the "west" turns it's attention to the Holy Lands.

Let's start with the summary from the book....

"On the 27th November 1096, Pope Urban II launched the Crusades, his aim to reclaim the Holy Land from the hands of the Muslims. From across Europe, Knights and commoners alike volunteered to join the military pilgrimages to reconquer Jerusalem. For three centuries, the Cross would face the Crescent in the Levant and also, with the invasion of the Moors, in Spain. Conflict raged between Christians and Muslims; Crusader States would rise and fall, the Military Orders rose to prominence and the ancient city of culture, Byzantium, was sacked. Eventually the armies of Islam emerged victorious in the Near East but were defeated in the West by the Reconquista in Spain. From these times, legendary figures emerged, men whose names have survived the passage of time, men like Saladin, Peter the Hermit, El Cid or Ben Youssef. Their determination and leadership shaped History in a way that still resonates today."

If that isn't enough to stir you to arms, what is?

The main book runs to 120 pages (yes, you read that right!) and is loaded with rule examples, information from our old pal Ragnar and a new character, Hashim Ibn Khalid Ibn Abad (right)...

The new guy on the block walks you through the rules with the wise insights of a more scholarly man.

Definitely more rounder edges than old Ragnar!

The first few pages of the book are an introduction to Saga, explaining the overall approach to the game and 'what you will need' to play the game and also covering 'the basics' - the terms used in Saga for the troops, the bases, formations and such.

This explanation is backed up with the last page of the book, which can be copied and printed with the rulers, tokens and even the dice markings to make your own Saga dice. (This new Saga has two new sets of Saga dice - though you can use standard dice and the conversion chart on this same page).

The new tokens (left) are required for some of the battleboards.

One thing to say at this point is that this book has a new layout, colour scheme and fonts from the original Dark Age game. Gone are the 'old scroll' effects and narrative. In is a more colourful and illuminated (no pun intended) approach. We are now in the very early medieval times with more scholarly works in the offing. Here is an example of what I mean...

As you can see, very different from "old Saga!"

I found as I read through that the narrative and explanations have improved in both being more clear and succinct and also in terms of getting the point across.

No longer are you left with some of the vagaries of the original Saga rules, all those points that were ambiguous or spread across various pages have been covered and the new layout makes it much easier to flow through from beginning to understanding the rules.

Oh, and to make the comparison over the size of this book. The "original" Saga rule book runs to 75 pages.

The Rules:

The Rules start on page 10 with "the Orders phase" and you immediately see the improvement in layout. The battleboard is annotated and explained and our helpful guide, Hashim, tells us that Saga dice are the key to the game in terms of guiding the strategy for the turn.

When you roll Saga dice and when you place them on your board are all detailed, with some bolder red text to make the important points are used. Hashim gives his overview on each section too!

Not only all this, but the end of the section (page 15) has a detailed walk through of an Orders phase to illustrate the points you have just read.

The Activation phase is broken down into movement, movement restrictions and contains pictorial representations of the points made (similar to those you see in rules like Flames of War)....

This really helps make points that might otherwise need several paragraphs read a few times to make clear (see left for an example).

At this point I really want to say how good the images are in this new book. There are a LOT of colour pictures of various scenes from battles that really help set the tone for the game.

As you can see from the example to the right, these really help the reader to feel part of the era and draw them into the game. If nothing else, they are a great source of inspiration for the painter. Hats off to the editor for getting so many beautiful pictures into this book!

The book then moves on to cover Shooting (I won't detail this area, but its all made clear) and our friend Hashim tells us maybe to use coloured dice to differentiate Attack and Defence dice. Nice touches that help the gamer.

As you move on, not only is the new layout and explanation of the rules much clearer, but all the extra rules that came mainly in "the Raven's Shadow" supplement have now been integrated.

For example combat now starts with "step zero" (as you can see from the image to the left).

This means that the rules no longer need the FAQs and supplements to clarify points.

What is really great though is that the rules are all the pretty much the same as they are now, just clarified and illustrated in a better way. If you have the older Saga rules you are not going to find anything mind blowing here (the odd little tweak but nothing to great)

There are a few clarifications that some players may go "ahhh" at, such as the setting of base size ranges, the change to mounted movement fatigue in terrain and to which figures in melee get Attack dice. All useful stuff and the better for being clearly written down!

The point is made about which abilities are used fist in shooting and melee, again useful to have that clarified. It seems as if all those long forum posts about various issues have been tackeld and rectified head on with this release. Again, this is not a "Saga v2" rules release, it is more of a Saga V1.1 at best and more likely a V1.05 in my view. Tournament Organisers / Marshalls will I think be very happy to have a copy of these rules!

The rules on Fatigue are laid out clearly but are nothing new to the old gamer. Though as said, a slight tweak to cavalry if they end their movement with at least one figure partially in terrain they get a fatigue on top of any they might 'normally' get. This seems trivial but helps balance out the the big advantage cavalry has in maneuverability over the the foot slogger, and I think, especially helps games where tough cavalry tries to take on more skirmish based forces. All that terrain should have an effect on horse after all...(your view here...).

The section on Terrain clarifies the position on assaulting buildings and moving in and out of buildings. This was an area I think needed some attention, and again the designers have not skimped on tackling this area.

A new section, the Armoury, usefully groups together the rules that used to be found all over the old Saga books. Rules for Javelins, Crossbows and War Banners amongst others are covered here.

This section also includes the rules for new items such as composite bows and camelry!

Next up to be covered are the Saga abilities. This is important as it clearly shows the types of abilities and their reaction abilities. Each of the eight types of ability is detailed. Another clarification from various books that is most welcome.

The book then moves on to cover an activation phase example along with the table view of a small engagement (similar to the old Saga rulebook). This seems much more detailed than the original one and should really help get the flow of the game after the various types of activation have already been covered.

Mustering the Warband comes next. This goes from the Warlord down to the Levies you might be able to take.

New to this era are new units and characters. We have the Retainers such as Priests, Dogs of War units and 'Legends of the Crusading Age'. One important note to make is that although you can fight the old and new factions with all these same rules, you can't mix Viking Age Legends and Crusading Legends  between the two era's.

Its a common sense thing but the point is made clearly.

The Warlord special rules are then covered in a simple and clean style (see left).

Each rule is explained in detail.

Warlords can for example be upgraded (if your faction rules allow it) to a 'Hero of the Crusades'.

Examples of various Heroes are given, and a new mechanism is used to record their abilities which is worth noting. See the example below... Each character has a description, followed by a table (see below) with their Attacks, Armour and Saga Dice plus their special rules and where the rules can be found in this rulebook. Neat and tidy.

Factions and Battleboards:

The next part of the book (from page 66) describes each of the six new Factions. Each has an image and a description taking up a page. This is followed by a couple of pages of rules and an explanation of each Saga ability on each the battleboard. The factions roll on one after the other.  For those wanting detailed backgrounds then, like Dark Age Saga, you probably need to go off and check books and the Internet for more information. What you get is a taste of each faction. Along with all the images in the book you should be able to get your forces together onto the table ready to play.

Who are these factions? You have the Crusaders; Saracens; Milites Christi; Mutatawwi’a; Spanish and the Moors.

The actual battleboards will be separate sheets (as I don't have the hard copies I can't compare them to the previous battleboards).

I took a look at a couple of the boards back after Salute (see this link).

Here (left) is an example of the style of the boards looking at one of the other factions in this new release.... in this case the Milites Christi.

The battleboards now have the multi-use Abilities across the top, followed by the Faction name and any special rules (such as special rule tracks - see the Milites Christi board in the picture above - this is for "Piety").

The other ten once-per-turn abilities then follow on the bottom two thirds of the sheet. Gone are the well defined boxes and dark colour scheme of the Dark Ages!

The dice needed are also clearly presented at the top of each ability on the battleboard.

Two new dice types are used in the Crusades: see the example to the right...

One new item in the faction summary is something called the Faction Summary Chart (see left). This is a table that shows clearly the "stats" of each type of soldier available to your faction. It then tells you what page to find the relevant rules. A nice touch and very welcome.

The factions are all as distinct from each other as those in the original Dark Age game. The Crusaders have a mechanic of "Knightly Virtues", the Milites Christi have their "Piety" and the Mutatawwi’a have "Martyr tokens". I am not going to detail the rules and battleboards here as this can come after the game has been released.

Page 101 starts a section on "Dogs of War". These are special units that can be hired using your points allocation for each game. These are "all new" and should add a lot of flavour to the game. For example certain factions can make use of Bedouin Scouts (eight warriors who may be mounted on camels!), the Naffata (Turkish flame bomb throwers!), the Daylami (Persian javelin armed warriors) or Foreign mercenaries (similar to Flemish mercenaries on foot or slow cavalry if mounted). Add to this Turcomans, Turcopoles, fanatical Pilgrims (can add, through death, unused Saga dice back onto the battleboard!) and Troubadours and you have a lot of "slot in" flavour!

New Scenarios:

Finally, this section contains six new two player scenarios and one multi-player game.

The rules for setting scenery are included along with rules for Victory points and Endless Warbands (sometimes the enemy just keep coming!) There are no new factions with off-table units here but the rules are included for completeness - a nice touch, thanks to Ragnar!

Outside of the scenarios, the scenery selection is a little different (you select 1-3 items each then go on to pretty standard deployment from there). There is a limit on how many items you can place and this includes places like dunes, gullies and vineyards as befits the Mediterranean geology and climate.

Once terrain is placed you can then select (if you want) to try and move or replace scenery items placed by players (not mission dictated items!). The choices are much simpler that the old system. Here each player gets to choose and place then gets to move (if they are lucky) items up to M. A vast improvement over original Saga IMO.

Another clarification is made to Victory Points. This book introduces the idea of Slaughtering VP's and Conquering VP's. The type to use is determined by each scenario. Slaughtering VP's are awarded for kills during the game in the same way as the original Saga rulebook. Conquering VP's are awarded to units consisting of four or more models and points are awarded on the unit type (they are awarded for objectives in the scenario).

From page 110 onward, the six missions are....

. Champions of God (a 6 turn game to get Slaughtering Victory Points - 3+ more than your opponent and you win).

. Battle Twilight (a 6 turn game to get Conquering VP's based on table quarters occupied).

. Assault at Dawn (a 6 turn game that uses Fog of War "Unit Markers" to keep the actual unit on the table a secret until it is approached or revealed by the controlling player. The aim is to win by getting Slaughtering VP's, with a bonus for any unit markers still unrevealed).

. The Last Stand (an interesting one this as the game length is variable.  Players bid before starting for how long the game will take to wipe out the enemy, up to a max of 10. The lowest bid is attacker. The attackers units starts off-table and comes on in turn 1).

. God will recognise his (a 6 turn game that uses Slaughtering VP's but only for melee casualties. 4+ more VP's than your opponent and you win. Note: Warbands are "Endless").

. Captured! (an 8 turn game where one player is a Raider with the enemies captured Warlord. The Raider wins by leaving the opposite table edge with the prisoner. There are more rules around the prisoner and his Escort but suffice it to say it's a challenge for both players!)

. Brothers in Arms (an 8 turn game for two teams of two players, both players work at the same turn and try to get Slaughtering VP's. 6+ more VP's than your opponent and you win. Note: amongst some other special rules, if both players use the same type of Saga dice then they may exchange them in the Orders phase - exchange, not give!)

There you have it, lots more scenario's to expand on the original ones, if you have Saga already!

Finally, page 117 has an "Often overlooked rules" section as per the original rulebook. This is a handy look up page that would go great back to back with the Rules Summary Sheet (yes there's one of those!)

Here is the Summary Sheet ... in part.... (to the right)...  you can see that Melee step 0 is now there!

There are a few small typo's in a few headings where the original French language creeps through but it makes no difference to the rules).

There are some Credits at the end to those hardworking people who brought you the book and that is it.

another battle picture from the book - brilliant artwork all over!


There you have it. A run through of the biggest release for Saga since the original game caused a stir just three years ago!  This game doesn't just take the easy option and provide new battleboards, it is a whole game in a book but has taken the opportunity to completely clean up on the original game rules as well.

I would rate this product extremely highly and I think a range of people will find it useful....

New gamers can get all the rules and battleboards in one place.

Veteran players will like the cleaned up rule layout.

Those looking to expand into a new era for Saga will not be disappointed with the factions.

Plus there are seven new scenarios to play that will benefit old and new players alike.

The only groups that may worry about whether to buy the release will be those who want the cleaned up rules and scenarios (but don't want to have the new factions) or those who don't want to have to buy the original rules to get the first four factions (Vikings, etc) and then buy "The C&C" book to get the cleaner rules (...and scenarios and the new factions... hmm, really not seeing that group to be honest!)

I am not sure of the price point for this product yet, but in all honesty, I am more than happy to both expand the Saga-verse AND get a much improved rulebook AND get those new missions (without a new game to learn - thanks guys!)

It will also be interesting to see what happens at Tournaments - presumably the clearer rules of this new book will take precedence if there are rules issues? I guess it's for TO's to decide! As the number of "new" rules and clarifications are so small, it really should not be an issue - especially as Saga is very much a common sense "fun" level game.


For cleaning up the game and adding much colour I commend Studio Tomahawk and Gripping Beast and wish them well for "The C&C"!

Well, there's plenty to chew over in this new product and I am sure it will generate some discussion....



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