Thursday, 26 July 2012

My SAGA army, the Normans

Yep, I have been bitten by the SAGA bug....not that I have ever played a game though; I have been infected by association. I should say from the outset that I do not in any way agree with the way the forces in the game work or are arranged from an historical perspective. A large part of my degree covered the society and culture of the period, how social orders came about and worked and the role of the more martial aspects of that society. Most books you will find will focus upon the battles and a few key figures, occasionally (and casually) mention that Saxon armies came in two distinct and easily divided parts (not right at all), and that is about it. When you look at the society as a whole from the bottom up rather than the top down it all looks very different. Saxon armies, and the later Anglo-Danish version, are organised in very feudal way; almost like groups of gangs from local areas grouped into larger geographical regional blocks. But this detail is beside the point, lets just say that the rules do not give much in the way of historic accuracy but it is still a rather cleverly devised game with much to recommend it. And when all is said and done how many wargame can really be considered as more than a game based upon a period?

I like the idea of the large skirmish / small battle games and these rules and army sizes suits the period brilliantly; period armies are almost always small and battles contained, sharp and brief! Hastings was a serious anomaly and a one of in many ways. With SAGA we can now fight the more usual clashes, the raids, the pillages and so on, something that interests me a lot. There are so many options and local historical precedents to inspire games you are spoilt for choice.

My intention is to build two forces, a Norman and an Anglo-Danish. I could have done Saxons against Vikings (Norse or Danes) as I live on the Isle of Sheppey (a direct translation of the Saxon name is Sheep Island, so I now live on The Isle of Sheep Island...I know, mad!) and there is a wealth of early period history to inspire SAGA games here. The Norse and the Danes both raided and settled on the island on several occasions, attracted by the Abbey there on occasion but more often than not to over-winter or take advantage of some good land. They also used the island as a base to raid  into Kent and Essex, Milton (by Sittingbourne) was a bigger and more profitable target at that time and was hit and threatened a lot. So local skirmishes against the Danes by a disgruntled local lord and island residents are logical for games, the locals perhaps supported by the higher Lord from Milton and his retinue. But I have always been interested in the Norman assimilation of the English shires, the landscape archaeology clearly shows that this was not as straight forward as most histories would have us believe. The minor Normans that were gifted estates were far from confident....or safe as the number of moated manor sites attest! Imagine you being the new Lord of the Manor, turning up to take over your new estate...outnumbered by the locals all of whom less than happy to see you....there must have been many localised mini or two big ones too. For me, the guy sent to Sheppey was taking a risk....good land, but isolated and surrounded by marsh and even swamp in those days. I would think that the new owner of Shurland Hall took a few looks over his shoulder and at twitching bushes after landing on the island; Kent may have struck an odd deal with William (Invicta....hmmmm) but the locals??? I can see there being some good scenarios for this period, and its something not so obvious as Viking raids. Hereward is a well known example, just think a little more locally.

I need to have this force finished by the 1st September, we are to run a game at the Minster Abbey fair, and I will post my progress here stage by stage. As you can see, the army has arrived and I can begin. My force is a full six point army and will have the warlord, three points of mounted knights (hearthguard) giving twelve figures that I will divide into two units of six, one point of eight crossbowmen, one point of eight spearmen and a point of twelve bowmen.

To face these Normans I will need to raise a band of locals led by a Saxon lord that didn't get to the battle...or the young son of one killed at Hastings perhaps? He will have a few close family retainers, a smattering of reasonably experienced men but a few more of the levy type, the angry locals! I am not happy with the term levy here. The Saxon system of military obligation meant that each area sent a number of troops to the lord when needed, and these were the same people sent each time so some experience was gained. Do not believe anything written about the period by American warned, they are ardent anti-Saxon and write awful histories!!!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

MHWC purchases new rules sets

Our club believes in making purchases on behalf of the members, the earlier post regarding the 1/700 scale ships being a case in point. But we do not just believe in buying things for events, we have bought club terrain and other resources for the members to use. Our latest batch of buys on behalf of the members are some of the new rule sets recently published. Rules sets are so expensive these days and it can be a real risk buying a set only to discover they are not for you; online or magazine reviews are not always spot on and can leave much out.

MHWC members have all spoken about different sets of rules at meetings or on our club forum, many tempted but wary of the expense. So we took the top five sets that had raised interest and bought them to create our own mini members rule book library. This is what we have bought;

First up is SAGA, this rules really seem to have caught on....despite the heavy cost, £25 for a fairly thin book and four cardboard counter boards. The game seems to have countered any cost concerns but it seemed reasonable to buy a club set so everyone could see what the fuss was about for themselves given the interest.A test game was played at the last club meeting and looks to be a hit. There are a few concerns for some, it is a game first and historical simulation most rules to be fair but this set more so. That doesn't mean it isn't any good, one or two quirks aside it works well and makes you think. It uses sets of army specific dice to control possible actions and these can be £12.00 for a set of eight!!! This is an expensive hobby as we know but the costs involved in SAGA are very high for such a thin rule book. that said, the armies are small and with the rise of plastic figures can be very cheap, perhaps this balances things out? Just nine possible armies at the moment but I can see this changing, there are already a number of home spun variations to use the game mechanics with other periods appearing in the magazines.

I can see this becoming a bit of a club favourite, many already have figures that can be pressed into service and others, myself included, have embarked on an army since seeing the rule book. A wise purchase that has actually encouraged members to go out an buy their own copy.

Next we have Operation Squad Modern War. The WW2 version has been a great hit with the members and so all were very interested in taking a look at the latest offering. It works on the same principles, using a squad of figure with a one figure one man ratio, most forces use a dozen figures at the most so this is a really accessible game in these troubles economic times. The rules have been adapted to take into account the more varied forces involved in modern combat theatres and the weapons. Units are built using a points system but these units are nation specific and so you purchase from a given pool of nationally accurate options. This is another game that makes you think, you need to plan but also need to adapt in equal measure. Some find the rather unique turn sequence difficult to get the hang of but it does work and works well. I can see these being very popular, small units on a 4ft x 4ft table....what's not to like?!

Pike and Shotte is one of the more traditional 'big battle' sets compared to the more skirmish based rules we have bought. That said, many asked for it and so we were happy to oblige! This is a warlord Games publication, essentially Black Powder for the seventeenth century but with enough period tweeks to make it a stand alone rule set. If you have played Black Powder then you will take to this quickly, there is also a lot of info and arm details so plenty to help get newcomers to the period up and running quickly. List price is £30.00 but can be found on Amazon for just £19.50! Bargain!!! We have a few members that play this period and others that just enjoy playing it with other peoples armies, part of the joy of a club of course! This will get plenty of game hours at the club, the Black Powder systems lend themselves well to club nights, big games can be fought to a conclusion and a good game is had by all...except the losers of course but there is no helping some people.

Muskets and Tomahawks is an eighteenth century small battles / large skirmish set of rules for fighting in the wilds of the American Colonies; French Indian wars or AWI. Not every ones cup of tea of  course but the rules are well tested, the have been available in France for years, and they provide a great if not quirky game. Each side has their own victory conditions but these can be augmented by 'side plots' that can have a bearing on the result. Like its stable mate, SAGA, it does not need too many figures and so many people could run this using figures they already have....others, given the more skirmish orientation of the battles, may wish to splash out on a new force. I know one idiot who been bitten by the bug so badly he is going to do it in 40mm using Front Rank figures! I have no idea what come over me but they are fantastic models and quite reasonably priced....did i say me?.....I meant someone else that I have never met before.....Damn!! 

There is a Meeples & Miniatures pod cast about these rules that you might want to listen to given that the rules are quite expensive, almost £25.00 again, but you do get a set of cards in a sturdy plastic box. The pod cast is detailed enough to give you enough detail to make an informed decision....then go and look at the Front Rank 40mm web page............hmmmmmmmmmmm.......