Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Dragon Rampant or Saga?

Rather than add huge comments to my previous post, I thought I would start a new one to compare these two systems - it's a question that crops up time and again in various forums and has been mentioned a few times in the blog.

Let's start with some basics. Both games are designed for small warbands, around 30 to 50 figures per side I would say, depending on your chosen force. You can play on a smallish table, Saga in particular recommends 4x3, while Dragon Rampant makes no stipulation but from experience you can play on a typical dining table of 5x3. Both systems are easy to learn and after a handful of games you probably won't need the rulebook too much. Games will typically last an hour or so, once you are up to speed.

Dragon Rampant uses an activation system. Each unit has a score from 5 to 7 it has to equal or exceed on 2 dice to either move, shoot or attack. If a unit fails to activate because you roll under the activation score, your turn ends and your opponent takes a turn. Assuming you are successful and attack (say), you roll 12 dice (or 6 if your unit is at half strength or lower), with a score needed to hit the enemy, between 3 for the best troops and 6 for the worst. You then take the number of hits, divide by your opponent's armour and arrive at a number of casualties for your enemy. Combat is simultaneous, so your opponent does the same. Any side taking casualties tests morale, again a simple 2d6 roll, with deductions for each casualty suffered in the unit to date, comparing it to a morale value. You might pass with no effect, retreat and get battered (shaken) or rout. That's the game in a nutshell.

There are a dozen or so profiles to cover all troop types - Elite Mounted, Heavy Foot, Greater Warbeast, Light Missiles being examples. There are no lists as such, you decide which profile best matches your troops, make any upgrades, pay the points. As I said in my previous post, this works well in a low fantasy setting. If you think that an orc with a spear is the same as a man with a spear is the same as a dwarf with a spear, then you will enjoy the game. There is no racial differentiation in the game - no in built adjustments for the speed of elves, the doughty dwarfs, the tough hided orc, etc. You can emulate this to an extent with the profiles and the upgrades, but there is a limit to what you can achieve with the handful of profiles. Personally, I think it would work better with Lord of the Rings figures rather than Warhammer style play. At any rate you don't have to spend much to give it a whirl, it's very cheap on BooksEtc if you live in the UK, or as an e-publication.

Saga has less profiles! There are just four troop types in the basic game - Warlord, elite, regular and levy. The warlord is free, then you pay one point to hire 4 elite or 8 regular or 12 levy troops. The standard game size is 6 points, so you could have just 24 elite troops, or 72 levy, at the two opposite ends of the spectrum. Typically you will have about 40 troops. Once bought, you can field your troops in units of from 4 to 12. Each unit on the battlefield (not levy) generates a Saga dice, while your warlord generates two Saga dice. Having rolled the Saga dice you place them on a battle board, to determine which of your units are activated and any special features or powers they will use. These battle boards are designed to emulate different play styles - Vikings are aggressive with many combat bonuses, Danes are more defensive, Welsh are more of a skirmish force. There is an excellent primer that explains the basics far better than I could.

To play fantasy games you could just take the existing boards and proxy them for your own forces - I have seen the viking board used as uruk hai, the Welsh board used as Wood Elves, that kind of thing. Or you can download (free) the Fantastic Saga mod, which I detailed in this original post. There are additional troops types to cover beasts, war machines and a very basic magic system. The mod originally contained boards for Dwarves, Undead, Wild Tribes (chaos) and Elves, with newer boards for orcs and dark elves, plus plans for more. The battle boards in the free download will give you a very good idea of the kind of thing that the game aims to achieve.

The original set of Saga rules is not as cheap as Dragon Rampant, nor is it available in electronic format, but unfortunately you need a copy to understand the basic rules. Note that you need the original rule set, not one of the expansions. There is a newer version set in the Crusade era, though the rules are the same - it's more Saga version 1.1 than anything - from various reviews I have read this is an excellent book, but higher priced than the original dark ages book.

Game preference is a very personal thing. I enjoy both games and I have talked about them at length in various posts (click on the labels to check out my past ramblings). Neither of them will give you the full Warhammer Fantasy experience - these are small warband games, more akin to 40K with skirmish movement. Both can be used to emulate, in a simplified way, different fantasy races. Dragon Rampant is cheap, easy and quick to play. For my money, Saga offers a little more, even though it has a higher barrier to entry (note that £25 counts as expensive in historical wargaming!). The boards are designed so that each force plays differently, there is more tactical nuance, it really gives you something to think about each turn. I am happy to play both games, but if I was ever forced to choose just one, it would be Saga. Having said that, my best advice would be to try Dragon Rampant first, it's readily available and very cheap. If you find you still have a fantasy shaped hole in your life after that, then maybe look more into Saga.

8 comments:

Gordon Richards said...

One great thing that has been introduced in Dragon Rampant is Strength Points. The ability to now field Single Model or Reduced Model Units really makes an already flexible system even more so as you can scale down just as easily as scale up. I recently played a game with two 32 point warbands but each warband only had a dozen or so figures each (in case you're interested, my battle report is on my blog here http://ihavewroughtmysimpleplan.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/a-dark-shadow-in-hills-dragon-rampant.html). I'm loving the rules!

Old Fogey said...

Yep, though you could easily do this in Saga (or indeed any game). Don't have a unit of 6 berserkers, just have one model? No problem, your one model now has six lives and counts as six bods. Technically it's not doable in Saga because the rules allow for individuals fighting/not fighting in combats, but in a relaxed environment it would be fine.

joe5mc said...

Great blog post, good to see the games compared side-by-side.

Minijunkie said...

Thanks, this is very helpful!

Robert Singers said...

I've just received my copy of Dragon Rampant and have been checking out the cost of a new army from the Eureka 18mm fantasy range. It averages to around £17 (before shipping). That's a great price point for someone wanting to get into the hobby.

Lee Brady said...

I also like and play both systems but definitely prefer SAGA. There are issues with both games that will affect different people's enjoyment. One guy at my club refuses to play Rampant because he saw a game where one warband failed to activate a single unit for four game turns, while his opponant successfully activated everything. Bad luck yes, but it can happen. For me, the 3 inch rule in Rampant is an annoyance that I struggle to overcome. I can accept not being allowed to move within a certain distance of the enemy (just like VS in SAGA), but your own troops as well? Definitely something I like to house rule on since it just doesn't make any sense and spoils the game for me. The biggest problem with SAGA isn't really the game, but how some folks can get too hung up micro measuring distances to determine who can melee/shoot. Given the skirmish nature of the game, movement of troops should be fluid. Since a player's lumpy sand/pebble strewn terrain can dictate placement of figures It just isn't worth getting too hung up on whether all figures in a unit are within range. I much prefer the Rampant system in this regard - if one figure in a unit is in range then all figures in that unit are in range.

Old Fogey said...

Lee, you picked up on a couple of my main gripes with both systems there. After a couple of non-turns in Lion Rampant we house ruled that every player had a single activation re-roll per game, to avoid this kind of frustration. And yes, in Saga the idea that half a unit fights while the others stand at the back muttering "sorry, my spear's not long enough" is fairly petty. One for all and all for one should be the rule - makes for an easier game and makes more sense. Though some might argue it allows you to emulate flank attacks? Given that there is no stipulation on base sizes (to my knowledge) it is open to interpretation.

Old Fogey said...

Sorry, mis-type. We allow a single activation re-roll per turn. It does make missile troops slightly overpowered, so you could adapt it as required.

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