Friday, May 17, 2013

Varjazi & Basileus Review

The following notes are my initial reactions to the new SAGA release, Varjazi and Basileus.  The expansion includes three new factions and one swords for hire.  Hopefully, I can get a playtesting of two of the factions this weekend and a report.

Pagan Rus

Hero: Sviatoslav, Prince of Kiev - use more swords for hire units, and some unique fatigue penalties and bonuses.  Also only generates two SAGA dice, so his effectiveness bears testing.  

Unit description: Hearthguard and Warriors are all on foot, Levies carry javelins; uses the Viking dice

Abilities: If you are a defensive player, the Pagan Rus' abilities will appeal to you even more than the Anglo-Danes.  One ability limits all enemy movements and shooting to a S range.  Another ability can prevent a single enemy unit from taking multiple actions in a turn, therefore placing dice on that ability alone would prevent your opponent from activating a unit a second time.

Rus Princes

Hero: none

Unit Descriptions: mounted Hearthguard, foot Warriors and levy Archers, uses the Saxon dice

Abilities: Disrupts opponent's gameplay in a way not seen since the Skraeling battleboard.  One ability eliminates an opponents Attack Dice that have been accumulated through bonuses and abilities and requires them to attack you with the same number that you possess.  Other abilities radically change how you use SAGA dice to activate units.  This unit seems to be the trickiest to master since the Franks.  


Hero: Harald Hadrada, The Basileus

Unit Descriptions: Hearthguard are mounted and carry bows and spears, foot Warriors and javelin armed levies.

Abilities: The Byzantine unit is notable for the flexibility and diversity of units available.  If using the Basileus, Hearthguard cavalry may be upgraded to Kataphractoi and benefit from a higher armor rating.  Axe wielding Varangians may also be employed.  Warriors can carry spears or bows, which is useful with battleboard abilities such as Massed Archery.  This faction will benefit the player who likes a "little of everything" and knows how to arrange the lines to take advantage of the different troops.  My main criticism id that I would have liked to have seen some ability on the battleboard or for a hero that took advantage of the famous Byzantine deception and bribery - similar to that seen from the Scots.

Swords for Hire

Steppe Nomads - integrating mounted archers into a small skirmish game has been a challenge for many people who have been developing homebrew battleboards.  The fear is that the mounted archers can zip around the table remaining virtually untouchable.  The game designer's innovation has been to make the nomads similar to javeliners, except they have the option to shoot then move as well as move then shoot.  And while that ignores the historically known range and effectiveness of the recurve bow, it is an excellent innovation in terms of gameplay balance.  I definitely plan to use some of my Pechenegs on the table.

This set does not include the Angry Monks or Wandering Bard Sword for Hire units as some initial reports said.  Those are available as downloadable cards on the Studio Tomahawk forum, and in truth, would not fit in with the Eastern European scope of Varjazi & Basileus.   Containing three factions instead of the usual four is a slight disappointment, the package does includes a nice heavy stock full color folio that can hold multiple rulebooks and battleboards.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gripping Beast Dark Age Plastic Warrior Review

My review is simple - if you play a miniature game in the Dark Ages, buy them.  Forty figures for about $32 is a great deal, and the sculpting quality could shake even the biggest metal snob.  I purchased mine from Architects of War, great service as always.

Where and when to use these troops will be a matter of some debate at the fringes.  From the Bayeux Tapestry to the Viking hoards, we know the material culture of the elite class in the early Middle Ages.  For the poorer troops, it is a matter of speculation in many cases.  These are the men who worked the land of a jarl or a duke and picked up a sword or spear when called.  Not exactly the peasant rabble, but not professional warriors, either.  The models can conceivably by used from the Arthurian period into the twelfth or thirteenth century, but they are obviously intended for the Viking Age, the ninth through eleventh centuries.  Geographically, the ideal placing is northern Europe, but with some shield swaps and lighter/brighter fabrics they could work anywhere from Iberia to Byzantium.  For fantasy wargaming, these could fit on any fantasy table of your choosing, from Middle Earth to Westeros.

Each sprue contains five bodies and eight heads.  The left arm is fixed on all the bodies and the right arm is the one with weapon options.  That's understandable, but as lefty, I like to throw the occasional southpaw into my army, accurate or not.  (He's the expendable guy on the end of a shield wall). There are enough spears (seven) and shields on each sprue for all the bodies.  Other arms include one axe, one sword and one hornblower.  Also included are five hands holding slings, so you will need to cannibalize one of the spear arms to attach the hand.  The slings are a nice addition, as I have always intended to add them to my collection, but always cut them at the last minute in favor of something more relevant or menacing.  Also, a thin hard plastic sling looks more natural than the bendable lump on a metal figure.

I expect there will be some criticism for the lack of bows in the package.  I think the exclusion is a wise choice.  A good bow pose is fairly unique and not interchangeable with other weapons - look at the awkwardness of Wargames Factory's Dark Age Saxons and Vikings. Hopefully, Gripping Beast or Conquest Games is planning some plastic archers in the near future.

I do not have anytime to paint for at least a week or so, but here are five assembled bodies with a black wash.  I particularly like the head on the top left figure.  The fur lined helmet could fit in a Rus or Slav unit.  The slingers are headed for El Cid's army.