Behold the warband of Gaukur Trandilsson! This is a 4-point Viking army that I painted for Saga, the Dark Age skirmish war game. These are 25 mean, nasty, ugly-looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers. Father rapers! This week I want to introduce you to the rank-and-file warriors (or Bondi) in Gaukur's force, and next week we'll meet Gaukur himself and his elite hearthguard.
I've fallen pretty hard for Saga over the last few weeks. What makes it so good? In my view, there are two things. First, it is an extremely violent and deadly game. Once opposing units crash, they mutually annihilate each other like subatomic particles. Both sides are constantly rolling handfuls of dice and flicking figures into Valhalla. When you combine this with a simple but realistic mechanic for fatigue, the results are brutal. Soon you are left with a few survivors who fight out the climax in an agony of limping exhaustion. It's glorious!
|A Saga battle board|
But besides the flavour, there's another element to the battle boards that I enjoy. Many historical war games boil down to "advance to meet the enemy and then fight until one side breaks". Such games can be fun (especially when the lead is well painted) but there's not a lot of meaningful choice. And in my view, meaningful choice is the key to making any game truly interesting.
That's where Saga excels. The battle boards add lots of options, by giving your units access to special bonuses and devastating attacks. The game hinges on how each player exploits these advantages at the crucial moment. At the same time, the battle boards limit your choices -- if you roll poorly with your Saga dice, you may not be able to activate all your units. And thus, the player is always presented with fun but difficult choices that go well beyond "how far up will I move my troops".
Not that Saga is a perfect game. The rules for moving into combat are unnecessarily fiddly. Cavalry is not handled well. And the battle boards add a level of complexity to the game that make it hard for newcomers. But once all those Vikings start fighting and dying, it's all worth it.
Well, enough talk... here are the Bondi of Gaukur's warband...
All my Viking Bondi are metal miniatures from Gripping Beast. These are superb sculpts -- they contain lots of personality and interesting details. The most realistic touch is that many of the warriors wear hesitant expressions or carry their weapons in oddly tentative poses. They hide behind their shields and otherwise convey the idea that they don't relish the idea of having their limbs hacked off.
All my shields feature transfers from Little Big Men Studios, who have a line customized for Saga. I've never used transfers before (and I guess there's a part of me that thinks that they're cheating), but I couldn't be happier with the gorgeous patterns. I added some battle damage and cracks to the wood to give them a less pristine appearance.
My goal was to paint these Viking warriors in a historically accurate way. They favoured bright or embroidered clothes, and were concerned with cleanliness and personal appearance. Apparently, combs are frequently found in archaeological sites. So even if they're Dark Age warriors, there's no call to make them "grimdark".
Above we see that standard of Gaukur Trandilsson, the "Bölverkr" (or 'Bale-Worker', one of the epithets of Odin). From the Channel Isles to Iceland, so war-banner is more feared. Stay tuned next week when we'll take a closer look at Gaukur himself...
Thanks for looking!