I have been playing Normans for a while now so it seems a good place to start. My experience has been a little mixed to say the least so what makes Normans such a hit and miss force?
The Normans are a multi-use Saga faction. By that I mean they do not fix on one troop type or strategy.
Normans excel in cavalry Activation and melee abilities but also have some Shooting based abilities. So why are Normans not the "Uber" unit that crush all before them that I would hope they would be?
Firstly they are balanced with the other factions. Speedy troops need some checks to stop them running rings round infantry factions AND crushing them in combat. Is that all there is to it though?
Normans have the unprecedented ability to have their bows fire 2 x L range. This can really hit a slow moving or defensive enemy (one pinned to an objective say). To help with missile fire and bows in particular, the Normans get "Storm of Arrows", "Massed Volley" and "Aimed Volley" abilities.
The problem is that to use these requires five Saga dice. You are pretty much saying that you can't do anything else in the turn you use shooting. Therefore, you have to limit what shooting you do OR do no shooting at all.
As Shooting is pretty situational, I like to err on the side of caution and just on unit of levy with bows in a six point faction.
Normans without cavalry is really missing the their strength so the question is simple: Hearthguard or Warrior?
Hearthguard backed by melee abilities make one of the hardest hitting mounted units in the game. A unit of eight elite cavalry with activation and melee abilities can get activations, fatigue breaks and several extra Attacks. This helps in reducing the enemy more quickly than just standard Hearthguard while keeping any enemy missile fire to a minimum by speed of engagement into melee.
Warriors cavalry can be good for making up Saga dice - split a unit of eight into two blocks of four 'Saga point generators' on the board. Keep them close to your Warlord as a bodyguard and you have a decent little block of Saga points - just don't let enemy missile fire or fast cavalry get to them!
Warriors also soak up damage where the enemy can remove figures from the game. Jomsvikings can really reduce a small faction for example. Never take all Hearthguard to a tournament (again IMO!)
Warrior cavalry make good terrain and objective grabbers - providing a larger number of weaker stop-gap troops. Consider these useful in the "Battle at the Ford" scenario and pretty essential in "Sacred Ground".
In "Homeland" always be the Attacker (!) You can't take buildings with cavalry but you can clear them out with a big block of Hearthguard with good abilities - the aim of the Attacker is to win by clearing the Defenders out of the buildings by the end of Turn 6. Do not lose your Warlord though!
So where to place Saga dice and get the optimum abilities....
When rolling Saga dice, remember that the optimum roll of six dice will be three common dice (the shield), two uncommon dice (the helmet) and one rare die (the banner). You cannot guarantee to get a Rare dice though.
Lets look at what you can do with the Saga dice and why that affects your game strategy and tactics...
As an example I rolled six Norman Saga dice several times and usually got something like four Shields and two Helmets.
Applying this to abilities - you can see from the Norman battleboard "once-per-turn" abilities below that "getting" the "best" abilities is not easy.
Note: I haven't shown the "Dex Aie" ability as it costs two 'Banner' icons and is pretty difficult to get without saving a die from one round to another. There are better things for Normans to do with these "Rare" Saga dice. Also, I don't believe it earns it coin. I have only used it once and it leaves your Warlord in a terrible way (three more fatigues).
|Three shooting abilities and one melee one|
|'Gallop' is useful for speed and interpenetration|
|Four melee oriented abilities|
1) A lot of Norman abilities require pairs of dice - this eats into your usual allocation of six Saga dice.
2) Five of the 10 once-per-turn abilities require at least one 'Rare' (Banner) dice. In the example throw above I didn't get one! This limits what you can do and how well you can do it.
3) A number of abilities also require the Helmet symbol. In the sample throw I only got two of these. This cuts down further on your choices.
If you try and split your Saga dice into Shooting AND Cavalry abilities you tend to find you can't do everything you need to.
For Shooting, a levy unit of 12 men with bows would need at least one 'Helmet' Saga dice to activate AND another one of those to power up "Massed Volley" to get range of 2 x L (24 inches). In our example that is both of our 'uncommon' Saga dice gone. That leaves four 'Shield' Saga dice to ...? Basically to activate your Hearthguards or Warriors.
Therefore, concentrate on using your Cavalry to gain objectives. Then use a round of shooting if you can gain some advantage from it and finally get cavalry loaded up for move/melee when it is most advantageous.
I would not recommend keeping your Archers loaded up with dice as it seriously weakens your ability to move and get into effective combat. I don't find Shooting to be a very effective part of Saga. If it wasn't for the "Massed Volley" increased range ability of the Normans I doubt if I would even bother with it for the sake of the other (expensive) Norman Shooting abilities.
Keep two cavalry units close together to follow up when needed. One unit may take a thrashing so use the other to take advantage of it. Taking objectives or destroying key enemy units. If you can expose the enemy Warlord then take full advantage!
"Gallop" is great for a speed move or for getting a stronger force in front of a weaker one to really go out and get a kill. It also doesn't require a Banner icon dice to power it up(!)
"Terrified" can get an activation that forces a fatigue onto the engaged enemy unit. Useful and can even-out the disadvantage of using "Gallop" just before to move a unit up to 28 inches! (both sides would have at least one fatigue each at this point)
"Charge!" is a cheaper way of getting three Attack dice for melee but leaves and extra fatigue on your unit at the end. I usually do end up putting a spare dice into this as you can use ANY type of Saga dice - a rarity on the Norman battleboard(!)
"Stamping" is a melee ability that costs two 'Shield' Saga dice but IMO does not give much back. Killing one Warrior or two levy for two Saga dice leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Especially when you could get two more activations or a couple of Attack Pool dice for the same cost.
"Crush" is another melee ability that requires a "big hit" on your enemy in melee to got a benefit. You need to score twice the hits your enemy does to then double those hits. It also costs a 'Helmet' AND a 'Banner' Saga dice to power up. I have been close with this ability, but again I think it is expensive for an uncertain outcome. In our example roll (four shield, two helmet) you would not be able to use this one.
"Pursuit" is similar in my view to "Crush". Its effect is variable - 'IF you win the combat THEN....' and it costs a Rare 'Banner' Saga dice. You will probably find a better use for that dice. I have used this ability, but it is not easy to predict the outcome of a melee in Saga. I have seen "certain" results go the other way many times. If I can't think of a use for that rare dice I usually put it into "Charge!" and get four Attack dice for the cost of a fatigue at the end.
My Optimum force (6 point).
after a number of games my experience tells me to use....
4 points of Hearthguard in two blocks of eight (6,6,4 never quite does it for me unless it is for the Saga points)
1 point of Warrior cavalry in two blocks of four (one block of eight makes a good target and can't hit as hard as Hearthguard).
1 point of bow armed levy. Usually fielded in one block of 12 (they can soak up damage and are cheaper to activate in one block!)
I am sure other players will swear by Warrior crossbows. I have never seem them earn their coin in my list. You have to field them in one block of eight. I would rather be able to have two small Warrior Cavalry units to gain two Saga dice and act as bodyguards. In a pinch they can grab an objective or clear up a small number of levy.
The Normans can make use of two approached, but IMO they work best when you work on either/or.
A six point force with five points of cavalry and one point of levy bows is my optimum force. You have the manoeuvre and melee power but also can use the levy to soak up damage and keep back threats with long range bows.
The Norman Battleboard is by no means easy to make use of. To get the best out of the abilities requires a certain amount of luck in dice rolling and also a fair number of Saga dice. By the standards of all the battleboards that have come along for Saga, they are pretty hungry with Saga dice.
That said, by concentrating each turn to get the best from move - shoot - melee rather than a mix bag you should get some decent success from your faction. I wouldn't expect miracles, but you do have cavalry combat and long range bow fire to play with!
If you want to take a look at an earlier article I wrote about the difficulty of battleboards in terms of the abilities that require 'Rare' Saga dice then please see this link. After writing this article and going back to the earlier one, it doesn't surprise me that Normans seem to be a harder faction to use well and require a certain amount of "luck".
Thanks for reading through. If you have something to say or add, please go to the link below....