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.  

Byzantines

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.

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