The beauty of running your own podcast is that you can choose to break the rules at any time. For example, we said that we’d only review games at their most basic – no expansions. But this time, we’re reviewing
SAGA: Age of Magic, the fantasy supplement for the French medieval skirmish standout SAGA (second edition).
Listen to the Fortified Niche episode.
SAGA: Age of Magic is the one ahistorical supplement/setting/”universe” for the 2nd edition SAGA game. In it, you get the special rules, unit types and factions that you need to but fluff up into matching your favorite setting and army. Of course, the most immediate candidate for that is Warhammer Fantasy!
The Great Kingdoms – the faction you run if you want to put Karl Franz back on the table – offers a variety of mounted Warlord variants, one of which can stand in for a gryphon. Your levies get access to firearms, one of the legendary units is definitely meant to be a steam tank, and the legendary warband options let play the High Elves or a zealous military order. The other factions offer about as many options, including the bonkers Horde legendary warband, which lets you make an army of nothing but monsters (read: giants and the like).
Naturally, magic also appears in SAGA: Age of Magic. And wouldn’t you know it, it operates on a cut-down battle board system. Namely, you get one magic dice in general and then one per sorcerer. You can then roll any number of those dice to cast a spell. Your wizard gets three of those, chosen from the two spell school available to your faction. Each spell has three level of effectiveness: the most common dice result gets you the weakest version, the rarer result gives you the optimum version, and rarest symbol gives you the crazy powerful version… but then you also have to roll on Abuse of Magic chart. Yes, in SAGA: Age of Magic, getting Perils of Magic is very much a choice – only the potentially devastating results are random.
Of course, while magic can have some wild effects – like turning you sorcerer into a large monster – battle boards still play a major role. The advanced abilities make the faction design shine. The Great Kingdoms are all about buffing units close to heroes, making your heroes shine… and making the most of your shooting units to really bring some shotte to this pike. The Undead can bring back lost minis or activate 4 Warrior units at the same time while the demons/cultists/angels faction may just turn all of your attack dice into defense dice. Or you can play the Lords of the Wild and awaken a piece of terrain as a Titan under your control. If it it dies, it’s removed off the table. You can beat a copse to death in SAGA: Age of Magic – provided it doesn’t crush you first!
In general, there’s a lot of fun to be had mixing and matching your army concept and the units available to your faction. There writing in the examples may not be as evocative as it is in Xenos Rampant, but it opens the doors for you. After all, if the Horde doesn’t have to be orcs – as one of the legendary warbands show, it can just as well represent fantasy’s ever-present bands of bandits. Similarly, your human guerillas might just as well be The Lords of Hunt – it matches the skirmishing style of war such a faction would have. Plus, it’s fantasy, you can say that the land itself rises to smack the oppressors in the face. The funniest thing to me is that the underworld faction can depict both dwarves and skaven…
The biggest weakness of SAGA: Age of Magic is also the weakness of SAGA 2E itself: the book has no scenario or campaign rules. If you only have it and the main rulebook, you’ll only have access to the Clash of Warlords basic scenario with three deployment options, one of which is the dreaded checkerboard pattern. For all the good stuff, you’ll need to buy the SAGA: Book of Battles. This puts the buy-in at three books. This is edging into Dungeons & Dragons and 40K territory – not great!
SAGA: Age of Magic stands tall as a good alternative to rank-and-flank games dominating the fantasy battles genre. It’s also the best of the fantasy games that don’t care about flanks or formations. And I have no doubt that it plays faster than most, too. A damn shame about those scenarios though…