Review: Saga – The Crescent & The Cross

Rating: 5 stars

Saga was originally released in 2011, and met with almost universal praise. It quickly became one of my favourite games. It was followed by three expansions which ultimately gave the Dark Age gamer something like 16 different factions to choose from.

Whilst each faction has been exhaustively play tested, it is inevitable that some issues with the rules have arisen over that past three years.

DSCF0351This new The Crescent & The Cross rulebook, whilst being tailored to a new period, also incorporates the previous FAQ and gives, if you like, a second edition of the Saga rules, presented in a full colour hardback book…and what a presentation: beautiful illustrations from Peter Dennis, or colour photographs of painted models from manufacturers such as Gripping Beast, Perry Miniatures, Crusader Miniatures and Fireforge can be found on every page. It makes for a book which is almost worth having for eye-candy value alone, but this would be missing the true value of the book, which is the game itself. (Not forgetting the fact that the book also comes with six battleboards and a quick reference sheet)

Saga is a Warband, or Retinue style game, where players command forces of between 25 and 60 (ish) models separated into units. Typical forces consist of a Warlord plus either four or six units, dependent upon the size of game you are playing.

Units are separated into Hearthguard (elite warriors), Warriors and Levy. These units normally consist of four, eight or twelve figures respectively. One change immediately apparent is that standard base sizes have now been introduced for each type of unit (foot/mounted/warlord).

A game of Saga is normally scenario driven (there are six two-player scenarios in the new book, plus one multi-player). Play is divided into turns, with each player turn consisting of an orders phase and an activation phase.

In the orders phase, the player rolls a number of Saga dice (these can be standard D6, but usually have symbols on them, dependent upon the faction) and then place these dice on a battle board. This board provides different options, not only to order different types of units, but also to give them different abilities, depending upon if you rolled the correct combination of symbols on your dice.

In The Crescent and The Cross, the graphic design of the Battle Boards has been completely redone, to reflect the different period setting of the new book. It’s also worth noting that not only are they now single sided, but they also appear to be on thicker card. It seems they listen to their players…

DSC_4818

Once orders have been placed, the activation phase starts. Units can be activated to move, shoot or rest. A single unit can be activated multiple times in the same turn, but may incur fatigue when doing so.

Movement is measured using measuring sticks, rather than inches or centimetres. The units are Very Small (VS), Small (S), Medium (M) and Long (L) but equate to (roughly) 2”, 4”, 6” and 12” respectively.

Movement rules (especially when moving into combat) are quite prescriptive, as who can fight in melee or shoot can be limited, depending upon model position.

Both shooting and melee combat follow similar mechanics: the number of models eligible to attack is determined; this then generates a number of attack dice. This dice pool can be altered by Saga abilities and the use of fatigue (by both the attacker and defender). The dice are then rolled and need to equal or exceed the armour value of the target to hit. The defender then rolls his defence dice, and must roll 5+ in melee or 4+ vs shooting in order to prevent casualty removal. Note, there is no moral in this game; units can fight to the last man, but it is usually in a player’s interest to remove dwindling units from harm’s way, as losing units can deplete your pool of Saga dice.

DSCF0359Fatigue plays a part in Saga, as units that take many actions can accumulate fatigue (denoted by markers) and these can be used by your opponent to give him combat bonuses. Fatigue can be removed by resting. Indeed, some people describe Saga as ‘a game of fatigue management’.

The rules go on to describe the effects of terrain, the armoury (note, War Banners are now part of the main rules) and spend some time on the application of Saga abilities, as how and when Saga abilities are applied can be vital to the game.

The book then describes how you muster a warband, and describes each unit type in detail. It’s worth noting that this new version introduces Priests as a single model for your warband – these can be used in Dark Age Saga as well as this new edition.

There are six new factions available in The Crescent & The Cross; Crusaders, Saracens, Milities Christi, Mutatawwia, Spanish and Moors. As you would expect, each army has its own set of special abilities.

Crusaders are the only European force that could potential field a force entirely on foot. They can have warrior units armed with both crossbows and bows. Their Levy units are better in close combat than others (gaining one dice per two models instead of one dice per three)

However, Crusaders have a limited pool of abilities based on Virtues. They can acquire additional virtues during the game and each of these then unlock certain abilities. Unsurprisingly, this is balanced by the fact that the abilities are quite powerful, and most give melee bonuses – one of the initial abilities causes Pilgrims (Levy) to fight as if they were warriors in melee, which could be quite nasty in and of itself.

Saracens have mounted warlord and hearthguard, and all their warrior units may also be mounted. All mounted units (except the warlord) can be armed with bows. Several of their abilities revolve around rolling 2D6, but used in conjunction with ability (Vision), they can prove to be quite powerful.

Milities Christi do not use Levy, and all their warrior units can be mounted (warlord and hearthguard must be mounted). Any foot troops can be armed with crossbows. They also have a unique mechanic called Piety which can offer bonuses to some of their abilities. The majority of their abilities relate to melee, so expect to see lots of mounted charges!

DSCF0355The Mutatawwia, like the Milities Christi, do not use levy, and also are the only faction that have access to troops mounted on camels.  They use abilities which require models to sacrifice themselves to use, but these generate tokens that can then be used reinforce other units. Also, abilities that cost models do so instead of dice, so this faction only has a single ability which needs a dice combination in order to activate, meaning that their abilities are more readily available.

The Spanish also have a mounted warlord and hearthguard. Their warriors may also be mounted, but would prefer to avoid melee combat. However, their mounted units are very easily activated and are ideal for harassing the enemy. Many of their Saga abilities actually interfere with the opponent, rather than benefitting themselves, making them an annoying faction to fight against.

Finally, the Moors are a very similar force to the Spanish they would normally be pitted against. Again, many of their abilities are reactions used to interfere with their opponent but have some nasty surprises – including the ability to cause their opponents units to fight for them.

As befitting the era, most factions will have at least part of its force mounted – an immediate difference from Dark Age Saga, where the majority of units fought entirely on foot.

The book then goes on to describe a number of mercenary units that are available, including Fanatical Pilgrims, Tucoploes, Bedouin Scouts and even a wandering Troubadour!

The book rounds off with a number of scenarios, which can also be used with the Dark Age factions.

The original Saga seemed to create its own mini-revolution in miniature wargaming. This book whilst taking all the rules and FAQ clarifications is much more than merely a second edition – it takes the game into a whole new era. You do not need the original game to fight battles of the Crusades using this book, it is completely stand alone, and thus potentially opens up Saga to a new audience to whom Dark Age combat simply didn’t appeal.

DSCF0353However, all the factions (as far as I am aware) are compatible with the Dark Age factions, so if you really want your Milities Christi to fight some Vikings, you can (I can see some interesting tournaments in future…)

Overall, Saga: The Crescent & The Cross is a great addition to the existing Saga system, being both a brand new game, but of almost as much use to existing players. It’s a well written, beautifully produced book. The one improvement would be the addition of an index…

Saga is one of my all-time favourite games. This book brings us into the medieval era via a conflict which is exciting, more overlooked than it should be, but perhaps not the most PC in current times. It promises good things for the future…and I can’t wait to bring my warband of Milities Christi to the table.

You can order Saga: The Crescent & The Cross from Gripping Beast

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