Sunday, 22 April 2012

Battle at Alresford Creek - First SAGA Game.

(Game analysis by Rob A.)

The "Battle at Alresford Creek" was our first foray into the world of the new SAGA rules. Being unfamiliar with the rules we decided on a simple '4 point' per side battle with Anglo-Danes facing a raiding Viking force.

The quiet village of Alresford.

I received my copy of SAGA only a few days before and had not read as far as fatigue so a little catching up started us off. We were here to learn and critique the system so expected to take it slowly. Game play commenced around 1pm.

An ogre appears to be lost...

As the subject comes up a few times in the text below I'll explain about the dice here. Each cultural group has its own unique abilities which become available turn by turn based on the roll and placing of a set of special dice. The dice are six sided with three sides to the value 'c', two to the value of 'b' and one to the value of 'a'. Thus the rarer value 'a' tends to be required for the harder or less frequent abilities. The Anglo-Danish forces dice use a Sutton Hoo style helmet to represent value 'a', then a stylised white horse and Dane Axe head for 'b' and 'c' respectively. The Vikings use the runes for sun, birch and wealth as 'a', 'b' and 'c'.

A village elder looks on.


Viking Raiders (Mark)
Jarl Ragnar
1 unit of Hirdmen (4 x Hearthguard)
1 unit of Beserkers (4 x Hearthguard)
1 unit of Bondi (8 x Warriors)
1 unit of Thrall (12 x Levy)

Anglo-Danish Defenders (Robert)
Ealdorman Aescwulf
1 unit of Huscarl (4 x Hearthguard)
1 unit of Dane-axe wielding Huscarl (4 x Hearthguard)
1 unit of Ceorl (8 x Warriors)
1 unit of Gebur (12 x Levy)

The Anglo-Danish warband of Ealdorman Aescwulf.

I took the Anglo-Danish against Marks Vikings, we decide to both play the same, two hearthguard (one with and one without the specialty, that's berserkers for the Vikings and Dane-axe wielders for the Anglo-Danish / Saxons) plus one warrior and one levy unit giving us 4 points each. We were playing the ford / bridge crossing scenario from the rules which simply required us to get more points of troops across the river than our opponent.

The Viking warband of Jarl Ragnar.

Mark maintained his unit sizes as given (5 dice) but I decided to test out splitting them by cutting my warriors into two (and thus giving me an extra dice over Mark) but also splitting my levy so that I could provide missile cover at both crossings (levies not providing dice meant that this left me with 6 dice and 6 units against Marks 5 dice for 4 units). Possibly not sensible but it would test the rules of command which is of course what the dice represent.


The Vikings placed first (to the right in the picture below) and entered down two roads with warriors (bondi) followed by berserkers to the north (top) and warlord, hearthguard (hirdmen) and levy to the south. The Angles brought in 4 warriors (ceorls) and 6 levy to the north (I only wanted to provide a delaying cover action here) 4 warriors, standard huscarls (hearthguard) and 6 levies to the south to provide a good push and in reserve the warlord and Dane-axes in the centre in front of the church.

Initial warband placement.

Turn 1


Angles moved forward first. My first roll of dice heralded a constant problem in the form of a lack of helmets (I was to naturally roll only three helmets in the entire game, see note latter). Not really a problem this turn, all I wanted to do was get my troops up a quickly as possible, easily done getting my entire force to within striking distance of their intended locations.

The view from the Viking side of the river.


The Vikings followed suit. As can be seen in the next picture below, which was after my second move but before Marks he has seriously hampered his own success by blocking the berserkers with his warriors something I was able to take advantage of in the next two rounds.

Turn 2


In the north following my delay strategy the warriors entered but did not cross the bridge while the levies lined up to cover the expected attack. In the south the hearthguard strike out across the ford with warriors supporting their rear and levies to provide cover.

First moves over the river.


The Viking movement saw tragedy played out in full among the Norse lines. The warlord racing for forward outpaced the supporting hearthguard who could not quite make the ford, charged the forces gathered there on his own. The resultant bloody fray saw him come so close to completely wiping out the Angles but not quite however, in turn falling to their hail of blows (five hits only one saved even with the special rules four clean wounds kill even a warlord).

The first and last battle of Jarl Ragnar.

The shock of the slaughter caused fatigue on both the Viking hearthguard and levy both in short range of the warlord demise. It also lost Mark two dice meaning he played the rest of the game on 3 dice.

The huscarl survives!

Back in the north the bridge attacking warriors roared their defiance and the threat of a (small) hail of arrows caused 'Intimidation' (Anglo-Danish ability stopping the Viking activation) to the Norse warriors who held their position, still blocking the berserkers behind.

Turn 3


The Angles move. The lone huscarl retreats but lack of available dice stop the warriors letting him through (they need to be removed from the ford as he cannot pass through the unit or else form a column to walk beside, not a good formation to receive an attack in) . The levies covered him firing into the enemy hearthguard for no real effect. On the bridge the gebur (Saxon levies) did rather better taking out two of the warriors with good Anglish bowmanship as they nervously approaching the other side. The warlord and the reserve huscarl seeing the weakened enemy position at the ford move across from their central location to take advantage.


The Vikings send a hail of arrows into the southern Saxon Levy killing two. This could be seen as a tactical error as had Mark fired on and killed my lone hearthguard he would have both denied me a dice and put fatigue onto both the warriors and the levy which were in very short range of him. Although to be fair I think he was expecting the hearthguard to cross the river and deal with that figure but unfortunately they had received a fatigue as a result of the warlords demise and I used that to slow their advance (reduce movement to half) letting him get clean away in my next activation phase. It was also a reversal on Marks original intention which was to fire on the incoming warlord and his Dane Axes, which he had second thoughts on when he realised the difficulty in actually hurting them. In the north more Intimidation keeps the Viking warriors at bay.

Turn 4


The Angle turn saw the warlord and his unit close on the ford as the warriors retreat to allow the lone huscarl back across supported by levy fire which reduced the Viking thralls (levy) by two. While at the bridge another hail of arrows drops a third warrior (all hail the mighty bow).


In the north Marks warriors (now reduced to five from eight) finally mount the bridge and charge the awaiting Anglo-Danish ceorls. Although only two could contact the very short range combat rule allowed both sides second ranks to fight so the Norse charged with four, before abilities even dice. He then played Heimdal to improve that by three more dice at an armour penalty but negated that by using the Asgard ability. The Angles valiantly held up but under that barrage still lost a man while the Norse saved all their received hits. The Angles disengaged.

Battle at the bridge.

At the ford the hirdmen reach the Angle bank but are not keen to leave the water and be surrounded by Angle units (warriors, the lone survivor huscarl and the warlord arriving with his Dane-axed huscarls).

Turn 5


Realising that the Vikings would not venture out of the ford where they would be surrounded and not wanting to risk making the warlord a single target (remembering the Vikings losing their warlord in turn one and that the rules only allow a unit to attack one unit and the warlord even side by side counts as a separate unit) I move the Dane-axed huscarls up to the ford edge to block the hirdmen (not having enough range to contact). Bad move - I should have held them on the ford until I was ready to attack and used the warlord 'side by side' rules. The gebur take out a few more thrall. The Angles in the north re-attack the bondi on the bridge but a draw was held and the attacking force had to disengage.

Ceorls repelled.


In the north the Viking bondi recharge across the bridge this time saving all their throws while the Angles saved only one. We both forgot to use the fatigue until too late but the results would have been the same. This meant both units would go into the next round with two fatigue each.

Fatigue accumulates quickly.

At the ford the hirdmen attack. The Dane-axes hit true killing a hirdman but the armour of the hirdmen (Dane-axe armed men lose a armour level to gain a +1 to hit) makes the difference with two huscarls falling. They fall back ready for the Angles turn.

The Anglo-Danish warlord - Ealdorman Aescwulf.

Turn 6


In the north things had come together with two helmets rolled on the Anglo-Danish dice allowing an 'activation pool' roll to increase dice. 'Noble Linage' was then used to change an axe dice into another helmet which combined with the already rolled second helmet allowed the ability 'Trapped' giving a fatigue point to each of three Viking units. One went to the hearthguard and another to the levies in the south while in the north one was placed on the warriors crossing the bridge. These warriors already had a fatigue when they entered the previous combat and a second from that contact and now received a third making the unit exhausted. This allowed me to play the ability 'Exhaustion' which removed two of the figures reducing the unit to three.

The bondi face exhaustion.

In the south the Angle warlord and two Dane-axed huscarls charge the hirdmen cutting them down to a single man.

The last surviving hirdman pushed back.

Then dusk fell across the battlefield...

...and night fell.

...well time ran out anyway. We were half way through the turn with Mark still to move. The victory conditions where the number of victory points on the opponents bank. Had we played out another turn (making it the full seven turns stated in the scenario) chances are that I may have been able to cross more points to the far bank than Mark, however if he had been able to complete this turn (6) and even without another turn he would most likely (Intimidation and other factors not considered) have reached dry land with his three warriors. As such we agree that he could claim a marginal victory, woe the Angle village.

I really enjoyed this game. The combination of dice and board not only gave each side a unique flavour to their offensive style it also stopped the armies being reducing to one tried and tested trick as however good a combination of abilities where the unpredictability of the dice neatly circumvented repetition. I had a couple of really bad dice rolls including the already mentioned only three helmets (value 'a' as detailed at the start) rolled in the entire game yet I could not ever say that the dice lost me the game, they may have lost me an encounter but the next one would be totally different. Mark actually lost nearly half his dice in the first turn yet through good use of the dice managed to keep his troops constantly moving forward. It made it harder but never impossible.
The twin ford crossing scenario is a common one and I have played it may times in various periods and at various levels and it so often has been reduced to a dice contest between whichever units were able to reach the targets first. This game never fell into that trap. The use of the board and the novel use of fatigue meant that every single encounter was different, not only different but that there was a constant ebb and flow of movement and reappraisal of the tactical position that kept both parties alert and actively involved even when not their turn.

The term fatigue suggests a slowing down and sluggishness in the game as forces wear down. Not so here in reverse the fatigue rules keep the game fluid. It is this even over the boards that really makes the games lively. With the ability of the enemy player to use your fatigue against you the player must constantly weigh the pros and cons of keeping or losing fatigue. It becomes a real danger but in a way that does not slow the game in the slightest, indeed it adds an even more exciting level to the strategy.

For a first play I found it very easy to grasp but with a great potential in skilled use. The game was never reduced to who had the better dice luck but on who took most advantage of the rolls provided. There was always an alternative you just had to recognise it. I mention as I played some of the mistakes made on both sides, mainly these are player errors and it is the players not the dice that will dictate the winners in this game. I for one am hooked.

Robert playing against Mark on the 30th March 2012.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Battle at Alresford Creek. (Part Two)

Battle rages across the village on the two crossings at Alresford...
Brother Thomas stands with 'Gwen' outside the front of Saint Cedds. He calls across to Brunhild to flee with her boy Aldin and the dogs.

Brother Thomas watches from Saint Cedds.

Ealdorman Aescwulf charges across the field to support his men at the ford. The sudden rush of the angry hirdmen of Jarl Ragnar has caught them unprepared and they are in danger of being forced back.

Dunstan and the supporting Ceorl retreat from the ford.

The force of the Viking charge is too much - Dunstan screams at the men behind him to retreat and allow Aescwulf to step forward with his huscarls. The Viking hirdmen pause a moment at the edge of the ford. They realise that the Anglo-Dane leader is fast approaching them with his bodyguard in tow and do not want to be surrounded if they step from the riverbank.

Ealdorman Aescwulf leads the fightback at the ford.

As the hirdmen decide to stand fast and await the inevitable clash with Aescwulf, the levy on both sides continue to rain arrows down upon each other. Two more of the Viking thrall fall to the ground. Ealdorman Aescwulf charges into the awaiting hirdmen and an epic battle ensues ending with hirdman Eyjolf going to meet his comrades in the 'corpse-hall' and two of Aescwulf's men slaughtered. The Vikings hold firm and the Ealdorman disengages to prevent more bloodshed.

 Has the battle reached a turning point?

Things are also looking bleak for the Angles on the north bridge - despite a courageous fight the Anglo-Danes cannot hold the might of the attacking Norsemen and are forced to retreat to the western edge of the bridge.

Anglo-Dane warriors put up a good fight but are forced off the bridge.

The Viking bondi are now fired up! Encouraged by the yelling of Rurik the Restless not far behind them, the Viking warriors make a second charge into the battered ceorls and the bridge soon runs red with the blood of Angles.

Fatigue takes its toll...

The battle weary men on both sides begin to feel the effect of the drawn out combat over the crossings - two more of the brave defenders are put to Viking sword and axe.

...and the bridge cannot be held!

The lone ceorl is desperate to stand his ground but cannot hold it alone. There is little the Alresford levy can do as they watch the Viking raiders make their way to the western bank of the river.

Ealdorman Aescwulf challenges the Viking hirdmen.

Back at the ford to the south another titanic struggle is about to unfurl. Aescwulf jumps back into battle with his Danish axe wielding bodyguard and tries to alter the course of the battle back in his favour.

A last desperate fight!

An Anglo-Danish Ealdorman challenging the three hirdmen to combat is more than the Vikings can resist - axes are raised on both sides and battle ensues! It is swift and bloody, no quarter is given by either side. Aescwulf proves his prowess in battle and Otrygg and Unnulf are soon making their way to Valhalla. The lone, battered Hrafnvartr is forced to concede ground and carefully backs off, wading through the shallow waters of the ford.

The last hirdman, Hrafnvartr, is forced back across the ford.

The desperate fighting has begun to weigh heavily all across the battlefield. Ealdorman Aescwulf wants to move on after the raiders but his men are weary. At the bridge crossing, two more of the bondi fall by the wayside, exhausted from their last exertions. The last three shattered bondi cross the threshold of the bridge onto the western side of the river. Even so, the last remaining ceorl is in no fit state to face them and oncoming beserkers - now apoplectic as their weapons are yet to taste blood!

The Vikings finally break through the spirited Anglo-Danish defence at the bridge.

The will to keep fighting begins to wane on both sides. Though the handful of bondi have made it across the bridge and are followed up by Rurik and his men, they soon realise the battle is approaching a stalemate - Ealdorman Aescwulf has repelled the attack across the ford further downstream. Hrafnvartr is in no condition to face a warlord and two Dane-axe hefting huscarl. The thrall bowmen on the east side of the ford are looking likely to retreat themselves if he does. The Viking raiders have come close to winning the day but it is not to be...

As dusk begins to fall across the bloodstained battlefield and the river clogged with corpses of the slain, Rurik orders for the unconcious Jarl Ragnar to be gathered up and returned to his longship on the River Colne. There will be no feasting tonight.

Ealdorman Aescwulf asks Brother Thomas to lead the surviving Angles in a prayer for the fallen. The Vikings had come close to over-running the small village and they had plenty to be thankful for despite the losses.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Battle at Alresford Creek. (Part One)

Dawn falls upon the quiet settlement of Alresford.

Frithswith and Wigstan with their pigs.

Frithswith and her son Wigstan are out feeding the pigs but something seems to have disturbed them. An almighty roar fills the air and then the unmistakable chink of mail armour, clattering swords and axes as the ground thunders with the rush of boots on earth...

Inga stands frozen. Hild the sow seems less perturbed.

A large, drunk and unruly band of Viking raiders charge down the two trails leading into the village from the east. Inga is momentarily frozen and clutches baby Aebbe with fear as the warriors charge past her and her huge sow 'Hild'.

 Ealdorman Aescwulf, standing next to Brother Thomas and 'Gwen'.

Alerted to the possible attack, Brother Thomas had jumped upon his donkey 'Gwen' to the nearby burh at Arlesford to warn the local Ealdorman Aescwulf of the impending danger. Aescwulf gathers as many men as he can muster in a short space of time. His eight loyal Huscarl bodyguard are joined by another eight warriors and these men split into two groups.

Levy and Warriors join their Lord and his Huscarl.

Six men from the village have also taken up their bows and spears. The force is further bolstered by the arrival of some gebur levy from the nearby town of Wifahoe. The hastily formed warband enters the village from the two tracks to the west, either side of Saint Cedds church.

The Warbands form!

Aescwulf sees his opposite number across the creek. It is none other than the fearsome Viking Warlord Jarl Ragnar, recently arrived in Essex from his homeland at Ulvik. There is a moments pause as both sets of warriors rattle their weapons and jeer insults at one another. With a rousing cry of "blóð ok mjöðr!" Ragnar raises his sword to the air and swipes it forwards.

Bondi and the Beserkers make for the wooden bridge.

The invaders seem more interested in what is ahead of them and ignore the terrified village folk and the plunder within the buildings. The warband looks to be formed of Ragnar's personal hirdmen, a band of tough and grizzled looking bondi and a rabble of bowmen. A fearsome looking group of four beserkers led by Rurik the Restless are not far behind. Both groups make for the two crossings of Alresford Creek!

The second group of raiders charge past Frithswith's abode.

Aescwulf orders a unit of Huscarl and warriors towards the ford. The levy from Wifahoe lines up at the river bank, drawing their bows. Siward begins to dig fresh graves for the invaders corpses. He pauses a moment as he spots the legendary Jarl Ragnar in the distance. "Perhaps one of these graves will be the next home for that heathen" he thinks...

Siward's view from Saint Cedds graveyard.

At the wooden bridge further along the creek to the north, a small band of warriors quickly rush to protect the way across. Though the defenders here are few, the Viking bondi seem impressed at this show of bravery and hold back for a moment as the clearly drunken beserkers work themselves up behind them.

The Viking bondi pause...

The remaining levy from Alresford form a line along the bank and notch up their arrows. The four warriors slowly make their way across the bridge, hurling abuse at the invaders all the way. Back at the ford the Huscarl make good progress with the band of warriors near behind. Wading through the shallow waters they are half way across when they are stunned to seen Jarl Ragnar charging directly at them!

Jarl Ragnar falls!

In his enthusiasm, Ragnar has left his hirdmen too far behind. As he plunges into combat with Aescwulf's Huscarl he is alone. The first combat is brief but bloody. By the end of it there are three Huscarl corpses floating down the creek. To his suprise, one last Huscarl, Dunstan, remains and watches as the Great Ragnar drops unconscious from his wounds!

Tired and bloodied, the brave Huscarl Dunstan faces the shocked bodyguard of Ragnar.

A mob of Viking bowmen trade arrows with the levy on the other side of the creek. A storm of Viking arrows carry across and two of the Wifahoe men lay dead. Inevitably the wounded Dunstan is soon forced back by the enraged Viking bodyguard, though it is clear they are visibly shaken.

Hirdmen Eyjolf, Otrygg, Hrafnvartr and Unnulf force the defenders back.

Despite his valiant efforts, Dunstan is forced back to the west side of the creek. Four of the ceorl attempt to assist him but the Vikings are too strong. Bowmen on both sides continue to put withering fire into each other midsts.

Dunstan and the warriors behind him cannot hold the angry Vikings!

Spotting the danger, Aescwulf calls on his Huscarl and turns towards the battle at the ford. Shouting their war-cries his bodyguard hoist their double handed axes and begin to charge toward the desperate fight...

Ealdorman Aescwulf and his bodyguard.

Meanwhile, further along at the bridge crossing, the face off between the two sets of warriors continues.

An overview of the battle.

The Viking bondi are held back on the southern edge of the bridge. A combination of intimidation and incessant arrow fire raining down on them causes the attack to falter for a moment. Two of the bondi slip away from the fight, whether this is through fear or drunkeness is not clear to this day.

A frustrated Rurik belows his dissatisfaction at the bondi blocking his way!

Rurik the Restless, the beserker leader, begins to scream at the slow moving bondi who are now effectively blocking the way onto the bridge, blocking the way to blood, glory and dead Angles!

The Alresford levy shake in fear as Rurik's angry shouts are heard across the creek.

Finally the bondi, urged on by Rurik, unaware their Jarl has fallen and fearful of his wrath, charge across the bridge, clattering sword and axe onto the hapless Anglo-Danish warriors.

The bondi charge the Anglo-Danish warriors defending the bridge.

Within moments the course of the battle has changed. Taken by suprise, one of the Anglo-Dane men lets his guard down for a second and is soon sent to the next life by a Viking sword!

Will the Anglo-Danish defenders hold back the raiders?

To be continued...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Quiet Day at Alresford Crossing.

Brother Thomas takes in the morning air.

Brother Thomas steps from the village church of Saint Cedds at the small village of Alresford in Essex. Distinctive only for its two crossings of the nearby Alresford Creek, an old wooden bridge and a shallow ford.

Alresford with its two river crossings.

Despite the apparent calm, Brother Thomas senses something is not right. The quiet morning peace of Alresford is about to be shattered.

To be continued...