SAGA: Age of Magic

Saga: Age of Magic is one of several expansions (known as ‘Universes‘) for Saga: Dark Ages skirmish battles, now in its second edition. (At time of writing, other Universes include ‘The Age of Vikings’ ‘Aetius & Arthur’ & ‘Age of Crusades’.)

To play you will need; The Core Rulebook, The Age of Magic supplement book, Battleboards (packaged with the relevant Universe book), three sets of dice (sold separately), a pool of d6 dice (around 18) & relevant miniatures. A Spell card Deck for the extensive grimoire is also available, but these are also reproduced in the Universe book itself, and are available as a download from Studio Tomawhawk (See link below). A ‘Book of Battles’ is also available, with scenarios, narrative play & multiplayer battle rules.

An example of the various ‘schools’ of magic available. in the spell deck.

Saga is ostensibly designed with 28mm in mind, but if the measurement system is scaled down by the right percentage (60% is advised by our resident ‘Tiny Saga’ expert, Jes Fairclough) then the system functions just as well for 15mm, and with the use of unit-based elements, could probably function at even smaller scales. Or alternatively, by extending the ranges, the truly perverse could play bigger.

Although Gripping Beast has recently showcased Undead and Pseudo-Dark Age miniatures intended for the system, AoM is completely miniature agnostic. It might take some imaginative juggling of existing collections to fit the requisite numbers for Saga, which are usually some multiple of Four, but generally speaking, players should have very few problems fielding any manner of bird, beast or warrior from Historical or Fantasy ranges.

3 Rackham Wolfen advanced up a stepped ruin.
A Great Kingdom patrol encounters the forces of the Wild (Rackham & Citadel by Lead Mountain Widow)

Saga AOM requires three sets of dice to play. Many gamers like to have army specific dice but as each board covers an archetype rather than a specific force, this would rapidly become far too niche & costly. For those who like to roll with custom dice, multiple d6 are still required for combat resolution. You can purchase the dice, or create your own using the images hosted on the Studio Tomahawk website. (A link is provided below.) Or you can use regular d6, using this system: One matching symbol on 3 faces, A second symbol on two sides, and a third symbol on One side.

Jade green Saga Order dice with white symbols: A tree, a hawk and a hammer
‘Order’ Dice

It should be said that although the Saga dice are named ‘Order’ and ‘Chaos’, this is in no way an indication of the alignment of your force. The motivations of your army are dictated by you. Indeed, the Masters of the UnderEarth section suggests at least two races often traditionally opposed to one another, on the same dice set.

Grey Saga Age of Magic Dice with Orange Symbols: A banner, a fire and a crowned skull.
‘Chaos’ Dice

The Basics

Saga (in any universe) is played using a small warband of maybe 30 or 40 models at most, divided into units (usually either 4, 8 or 12, although these numbers can change) and led by a Warlord. Generally, these units consist of either Hearthguard (your elite troops), Warriors (your line troops) and Levies (those who would probably rather not be troops at all.) Each army uses a Battleboard, unique to that faction, and a set of 8 custom dice. These dice are used to determine the sequence of activations and orders, and how many dice your army gets to roll varies according to composition or other factors. Each unit in your warband will potentially generate a Saga dice, which are rolled and dispersed across your Battleboard, either as Orders or Abilities which affect how your warriors act and react in the game, help generate more Saga dice, or more Magic dice.

A Reaper Liche summons Grenadier, & Midlam miniatures skeleton warriors in front of a stone barrow
One of the Undead Legion abilities allows the player to return casualties as freshly raised soldiers. (Reaper, Grenadier & Midlam, by Lead Mountain Widow.)

Where the AoM rules diverge from the standard is in the use of Magic (described below) and the introduction of several new varieties of troop type and associated rules: the creature, monster, the Lieutenant, flight and flying machines and so forth, which allows players to field anything from a phalanx of human soldiers, through to ravening swarms and clockwork helicopters. The suggested gaming area is 120cm x 90cm (48 inches by 36.) Models can be based by preference, so long as they fit within the applicable size restrictions for that troop type (so, for example, a basic infantryman’s base should fit within a 30mm square, but be no smaller than 20mm.) Saga uses four different units of measurement:

  • VS – Very Short (2 inches)
  • S – Short (4 inches)
  • M – Medium (6 inches)
  • L – Long (12 inches)

These can be measured using a tape measure or other device, but many players prefer to use rulers or sticks of the correct dimensions, which can be made using the measurements on the Studio Tomahawk site listed below.

Factions

A Wild Warlord & a unit of Bipedal Creatures (Rackham miniatures by Lead Mountain Widow)

The AoM book comes with six Card Battleboards, each designed to work with one of the six ‘factions’ or ‘archetypes’, each of which fits a number of classic Fantastical or mythological tropes, and with a bit of lateral thinking, can be tailored to suit a great deal more. The various archetypes are broken down here:

The Great Kingdoms

The most obvious suspect here is pseudo-High Medieval, but any organized kingdom or empire would probably fit. Herein lies the potential for the more elitist kind of elf. The Great Kingdoms board favours defensive and missile tactics, but they are not without prowess in other martial forms.

SSM04 Shieldmaiden Warriors by Gripping Beast

The Wild

The emphasis here is on savage creatures, dwellers in woodland and jungle. We were immediately put in mind of the faction of the same name from the Traitor Son Cycle novels of Miles Cameron. Woodland, forest and jungle beings seem to fit here. Here also are rules for a warband made entirely of creatures.

The Horde

The Horde are predicated on charging and melee combat, though their name should be considered suggestive of style rather than numbers. This list allows for the use of War Chariots, or the Legendary War Monster: a huge creature with a firing platform. An interesting variant is the ‘All monster’ list, led not by a standard Warlord, but by an ‘Alpha’ monster.

The Undead Legion

Probably the most obvious archetype, although the list does cater for several flavours of deathless creatures, be they ravenous flesh eaters of the Carrion Realms, or the sun-bleached ambulatory bones of an ancient desert kingdom.

SUD05 Undead Legion Mindless by Gripping Beast

The Underworld

The demonic forces of hell and anarchy. If it has bat wings and a poor attitude, then it probably fits here. The eldritch, bat-winged, tentacle-faced monstrosities, the Avatar of a dark God. Unique to this faction, you can field an army entirely made up of flying creatures, and have it led by an Archdemon…

Masters of the UnderEarth

Those who carve out their careers in the tunnels, sewers and caves of your chosen land. Morlocks, stoic dwarven hosts & rat-men with a predilection for suicidal explosive devices would fit here, or any race with extensive use of firearms.

In some ways, this arrangement is very flexible, as each archetype contains multiple potential variations of a theme, and so long as it is evident what a model represents, there are few restrictions on what models you actually use. The inclusion of several sizes/types of Monster & creature means that there is no reason two armies using the same board should resemble each other at all. Each faction comes with a number of suggestions for the kind of army that might fit, and a lot of effort has gone into allowing for the huge variety of fantasy miniatures available today. Players may find that as certain unit types tend to be restricted to certain boards they have to think outside the box to field some combinations, but overall there is a nice mix of fantasy races/factions covered in just 6 archetypes.

Each faction can also have a unique item of themed terrain, known as Sacred Ground. This might take the form of a monolith, the entrance to tunnels, or a crypt, depending. Each terrain piece provides some special boon to the force using it, or a disadvantage to their opponent.

Magic

There wouldn’t be an Age of Anything if not for the Magic section. AoM contains 36 Spells, divided into Six Domains: Light, Metal, Earth, Death, Energy & Time. A magic user may choose three spells in each game during Army selection, the Domains of which are determined by their Faction. The unique (and frankly quite beautiful) Magic dice are used to determine just how effective each casting is: Minimum, Optimum, or the potentially devastating Maximum effect. This is not without consequence, as a fully powered spell requires the caster to test on the ‘Abuse of Power’ table, the result of which can vary from the mildly disconcerting loss of a spell to being reduced to an amniotic smear. As with Saga Dice, Magic dice can be proxied with standard d6: 1-3 as one symbol, 4-5 as a second symbol, and 6 as a third.

White Saga Magic dice with blue symbols
Magic Dice; Are these the most aesthetically pleasing d6 ever created? We think so…

Points and Army Selection

The Points system for Saga is straightforward: Your Warlord is free, and each unit costs a single point, with 8 points being about the maximum. Standard Saga has 3 troop types; Hearthguard, Warriors or Levies which can either be on foot or mounted (The cost of mounts is integral, as cavalry come with both upsides and downsides) and all warbands are made up of some combination of these troop types. Each point buys a set number of a given troop type, 4, 8 or 12 respectively of Hearthguard, Warrior or Levy, but units on the battlefield can be formed of up to 12 figures, so long as they are all equipped the same, and of the same type.

Where AoM system differs from ‘standard’ Saga is that certain models like War Machines or some characters are ‘purchased’ by removing models from other units. So for example, a Great Kingdoms Paladin (a special form of Lieutenant) will ‘cost’ 2 hearthguard or 4 warriors or 6 levies. Excess warriors can be shared into other units of the same kind. Likewise, units of ‘creatures’ (larger bipedal or quadrupedal monsters) can be bulked out by exchanging for other troops. There is a caveat that a unit of creatures can only have extra models recruited by removing models of a single troop type. Some lists also allow for a larger unit size than 12 (such as the Undead Legion Mindless.)

The Book.

AoM is a prime example of a quality hardback, filled with inspirational art and miniatures, and in that sense rivals similar rulebooks in the same price bracket.

The chief criticism of the Saga/AoM system is the steep buy-in cost for new players, and even for established players, at £40 just for the rules and potentially much more if you want to purchase all the relevant dice, before miniatures. It is however broadly comparable to other systems such as Age of Sigmar, where the rules are essentially free, but the miniature costs are much higher.

The battle-boards are perhaps not as hardwearing as they could be, and would benefit from swift lamination. They are also completely bare on the reverse, which seems like a missed opportunity, although admittedly this side will mostly be face-down. We had considered the possibility of printing out A4 copies of the superb faction art by RU-MOR from the book and putting them on the flip-side.

Faction sections of the book are headed by full-page images such as this one

Translation was overall very good but does throw up one or two issues. There are some mildly confusing uses of game terms in the body text. For example, one of the dice sets is called ‘Order’, which is also the term used for a phase, and the directions on the battleboards used in that phase.  Occasionally in the text, you will find bolded letters like VS or S. These represent the different lengths of measure, be they Short, Very Short and so forth. It appears that in some print runs, these letters read C or TC. Worry not, this is a simple translation error from the original French, where ‘Court’ is ‘Short’. Generally speaking though, we found any confusion will fade once the system has been played through a couple of times, though it does seem to be a system that can be slightly tricky to self-teach, but is easy to teach. We found the Age of Magic Facebook group to be particularly helpful in this respect.

Neither the main rules nor the AoM book sport an index, although they do contain a glossary.

Curiously, the various army ‘lists’ and quick reference guides for unit statistics don’t show how many dice a unit can generate. Granted this information is available elsewhere, but having all the details available at a glance would have been helpful.

The amount of variety in AoM that can be found in the six Factions is a boon to creative thinking. To demonstrate exactly how freeform Saga: AoM can be, here are two example Warbands.

First up, a Victorian Science Fiction force by Matt Houghton at Evilbear Wargames, which contains troop types suitable for several different factions or archetypes.

An 8 Point Great Kingdoms Force.
Two ‘Great Kingdoms’ Paladins.
Mounted Hearthguard
Paladins on foot
Chariots (Available to Horde and Undead Legion.)
A ‘Monster’ : Titan.
This could serve as a sorceror or other magic user
Static War Machines.
Creatures
Destruction Teams
These could serve as Hearthguard, or Horde Berzerkers (A more aggressive variant.)
Warrior units.
Each archetype has access to it’s own individual terrain piece, which can provide buffs and benefits.

With some simple adjustments to the measurements, SAGA: AoM is eminently suitable for other scales. Here’s our own Jez ‘ Wee Free Men’ Fairclough’s 15mm force. (A mix of Peter Pig, Bandua Wargames, Splintered Light & Copplestone),

Berzerkers!!!
3pts of Warriors
8pt of Viking Horde
Giant and Monsters
Champion – Hero – Viking War Mage

Saga is a comfortably established game system with a reasonable player base, so games shouldn’t be hard to source. The potentially steep buy-in cost may dissuade new entrants to the game, but many components can be proxied quite cheaply. Although the mechanisms are relatively simple once learned, the learning process can be a little awkward without recourse to explanation.

The Age of Magic book is a master-crafted example of hardback wargaming texts. Each thematic section is introduced with a wonderful piece of art representing that faction, and the whole is lavishly illustrated with miniatures from many different manufacturers. It is a slight aesthetic misfortune (in fairness, driven by making entry cheaper) that the core rulebook is soft-bound, but otherwise, the same quality is reflected there too.

As Saga doesn’t use proprietary miniatures, the sheer scope available from historical and fantasy ranges makes interesting army construction very easy. The relatively small miniature count lends itself to players who have Oldhammer collections, but lack the quantities needed to play a full game of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and it is no great feat to reconfigure an Age of Sigmar force to suit as well. So long as it is clear to each player what any unit represents, players should have no problem building an infinite variety of forces. Overall though, this is a fascinating system, simple to learn, but a challenge to master, with a huge amount of potential for experimentation.

The most recent FAQs for Saga and Age of Magic are now available on the Studio Tomahawk website.

https://www.grippingbeast.co.uk/ are the UK stockists for dice & related accoutrements.

Visit Studio Tomahawk for Dice images, Spell Cards & reference sheets in downloadable format.

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