Macbeth, King of Scotland, in charge of the Baggage? There must be something tremendously valuable if the king himself is leading the escort. Gold, coin, exotic spices maybe? Possibly a supply of vintage wine traded with the Norman Exiles? Whatever it was, this was The Escort scenario for SAGA.
The game was initially planned as a taster for a chap at the Falkirk club who was looking to start playing SAGA. However, his order of Anglo-Danes still hadn't arrived before the game. By chance, one of my regular opponents (Jamie) stepped in with his Anglo-Danish instead.
The Escort scenario is one I'd been wanting to play for a while. In fact, it's the only one from the SAGA core rulebook I hadn't played. This was mainly because I never had the suitable baggage sections available - or painted - until now.
Not only that, King Macbeth himself had regally strolled off the paint table so it was the chance to try out the Heroes of the Viking Age optional rules.
|Foreground: The Baggage for the Escort Scenario from Gripping Beast. Background: King Macbeth keeping his eye on the valuables!|
For Scots warbands we have the option of King Macbeth - the 'Last Celtic King of Scotland' and Kenneth Mac Alpin, King of D'Alba.
Of course, opting to field a 'hero' rather than a generic warlord for your warband has its pros and cons. On the upside, the heroes all come with their own unique abilities adding a slice of character and distinction to the games.
The penalty being that fielding a hero means you lose a warband point, therefore in a standard game you'll only have five points to spend on troops.
|King Macbeth (Gripping Beast)|
King Macbeth comes with three abilities: Hero of the Viking Age (generates three Saga dice), Norman Exiles (a single unit of mounted Hearthguard may be upgraded to Norman exiles) and Great Ruler (As long as Macbeth is still in the fight, six Saga dice are always drawn at the start of the turn).
Of course, it's best to check with your opponent if they are happy for you to field a hero.
|King Macbeth shouting commands|
As for the scenario, it's pretty simple. The defending warband has to escort the baggage from one end of the long side of the table to the other. If two (of three) sections of the baggage mange to make it, the defenders have got away with it. If the raiding warband destroys all three baggage sections the raid is a success, otherwise the game is counted as a draw.
Interestingly, each baggage section acts as if it were an independent unit activating like a Hearthguard and cancelling the first hit like a Warlord. They move Medium, roll three attack dice in melee and cannot be targeted by SAGA abilities.
For this standard six-point game, we firstly chose the composition of our warbands and only then diced off to see who'd choose to be the defenders. Fortuna was with me as my Scots rolled to defend - which was a bonus considering a Scots warband have strong defensive abilities.
|Left side: Anglo-Dane raiders have their sights on the baggage|
The game itself proved to be interesting. In that, I mean quite a tactical exercise. Mistakes were made - I forgot that the baggage had to be 'activated' before moving for a couple of turns and only later in the game concluded that the three independent section did not have to stick together in one long column! Luckily we had a slightly longer table than recommended for this scenario so any early issues were balanced out.
That said, my strategic plan - such as it was - was to try an lure Jamie's Anglo-Danes away from the baggage by presenting a few juicy targets - a lightly armed unit of archers, and a couple of small units of warriors and Hearthguard. Surely, he won't take the bait?
He took the bait! With Macbeth's Great Ruler ability I knew I'd still be rolling six SAGA dice even with unit loses. All I had to do was get the baggage moving!
Whilst he was busy concentrating on annihilating my taunting units, (they were particularity adept with the Celtic insult and mooning the opposition), my full unit (12) of warriors, including a Standard Bearer (can activate to remove a fatigue marker), started to swap positions with the baggage. Angling in from the flank to shield the loot from the raiders.
|Left: the 'bait' units off for a spot of taunting|
Jamie made good use of the Anglo-Danish Trapped ability, where he can add a fatigue marker to three enemy units of his choice. This proved a useful tactic for him. My archers didn't even mange to get a single barrage in before they spent most of the game flopped on the ground wheezing, thoroughly exhausted!
It had a similar impact on my Hearthguard towards the end of the battle. I really hate the trapped ability! Almost as much as playing against the Jomsvikings. But that's an old story.
With only me fielding a hero I didn't think it unbalanced the game. Although I wasn't losing any SAGA dice as I lost units, I was still 1 point down force-wise and crucially for this scenario at least, I needed to use up activations just to get the baggage moving.
In the end, the Anglo-Danish realised too late they'd spent far too long going for glory, trying to smash my 'bait' units, and let two of the baggage sections slip away.
A unit of Danish warriors did manage to capture one section, but the fight had gone out of the raiders by then after witnessing their warlord slipping off to attack a bunch of pitch-fork wielding peasants with their carts, only to be skewered by one of them!
All in all, another thoroughly enjoyable game of SAGA and an interesting scenario. Hopefully I'll finally have the Swords for Hire on the table soon. Maybe even a Wandering Bard. After all, King Macbeth now has most of the loot safely tucked away in his fortress.