Wednesday, April 17, 2013
New for SAGA: The Pagan Rus
I hope everyone heading off to Salute on the weekend has a great time, and spares a thought for those of us too far away to attend (sniff!). Apart from seeing lots of exciting new toys, I will miss the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers in the flesh.
As my little pre-Salute gift, I've written up a brief introduction to one of the new SAGA factions coming out at Salute in the special 'Varjazi and Basileus' expansion. This will appear on the Muskets and Tomahawks blog as soon as Alex Buchel has a moment to put it up.
I did some playtesting on the upcoming factions, and the one that I enjoyed the most were the Pagan Rus. Here's why:
The Vikings are the people who connect all the factions that feature in SAGA, and in the Pagan Rus we get the chance to field a warband drawn from the very eastern edges of the Scandinavian world. The name ‘Rus’ itself probably derives from the Norse term for ‘the men who row’. This warband represents the Scandinavians, mainly from Sweden, who traded, explored and conquered their way along the Russian river systems from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea from the ninth century until their gradual Christianisation during the eleventh. In particular, although it is disputed, the Swedish Rus are generally credited with founding the early medieval state of Kiev from the late ninth century. These are the warriors that the Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan encountered on the Volga in 921, describing them both as ‘perfect physical specimens’ and ‘the filthiest of God’s creatures’.
In SAGA terms, the hearthguard of the Pagan Rus are the Varjazis (Varangians), probably originally a sort of Scandinavian aristocracy, but increasingly likely to have become assimilated with their Slavic subjects over time. The warriors and levies of the warband are more likely to have been Slavs, and indeed the javelin-armed levies of the Pagan Rus are called Slaves.
The battleboard of the Pagan Rus is built around a strong theme of the brutal Russian winter, with abilities with names like ‘The Great Winter’, ‘Frozen’ and ‘Endless Wastes’. This is definitely a faction to go to town with snow effects on the bases of your miniatures.
According to Sun Tzu, ‘what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy’. Sadly, Sun Tzu never had the opportunity to play SAGA, but if he had he could have been describing the Pagan Rus. If you like the idea of messing around with your opponent’s treasured tactics, you will enjoy this faction very much. Whereas the Anglo-Danes are very good at thwarting the plans of their opponents, the Pagan Rus make their opponents suffer for them. They are a challenge to any enemy foolish enough to venture into the land of the Rus with warbands dependent on mobility and missile weapons, and I particularly like the way that their abilities can be used in combination with each other.
A good example is the Shooting/Reaction ability Cold Winds. For every 6 scored by an enemy’s shooting (or 5-6 depending on the die placed on the ability), the enemy unit takes a fatigue. To really ruin your opponent’s day you can then follow this up with Endless Wastes during your own Activation phase to kill a figure in every unit on the table for each fatigue it has. During playtesting I used this combination to brutal effect against a Breton warband, which is prone to creating a monster unit of twelve hearthguard. It charged in against one of my units of four hearthguard, threw lots of javelins, scored lots of sixes and wiped my unit out, but then suffered so many fatigues that it was exhausted, lost four figures during my turn from Endless Wastes, and then found itself being charged by one of my fresh units.
Another ability I just love to bits is called Fear of the Dark. For the cost of two 4-5 dice, this Activation ability targets an enemy unit more than M away from any other unit and instantly gives it enough fatigues to become exhausted. Follow this up straight away with Endless Wastes, and the fatigues cause casualties. So the solution when fighting the Pagan Rus seems to be to bunch up your units. However, if you do, you run the risk of the Pagan Rus warlord really losing his rag and using Eastern Anger, a kamikaze Activation ability that launches a shooting attack of six attack dice against every unit, friendly and enemy, within M of the Rus warlord. Including the Warlord himself!
Other abilities play on the weather theme by slowing the game right down. Frozen is a useful and cheap Activation/Reaction ability that prevents an enemy unit from activating more than once in a turn. The Great Winter reduces the movement of all units to S for a turn, which will create some tactical dilemmas for some Pagan Rus players. The ability certainly creates a level playing field against more mobile opponents, but it may make achieving victory conditions in some scenarios difficult for the Pagan Rus if it is overused.
That should give you a sense of what you are in for with the Pagan Rus – and I haven’t mentioned the abilities that increase armour in melee or increase hits against an opponent if they have any fatigue. In short, you will enjoy playing this faction a lot if you savor the prospect of using nasty battleboard combinations to upset your opponent’s plans. If you choose to suspend your disbelief at the apparent ability of the Rus to control the weather, and instead allow this faction to evoke images of swirling snow and the sound of wolves howling in the distance you will have a lot of fun.
So there you are! If you're at Salute, go and buy a copy of Varjazi and Basileus. And if you see the Angry Lurker or Ray slap them manfully on the back from me.