I know some might have wondered, if this blog was dead, but no it is not. The reason for the lack of posts in recent weeks was the upcoming SAGA Grand Melee here in Germany. Or more precisely the mad idea to paint up a completely new army for it in the roughly seven weeks leading up to the event. Lets just say my Spanish got finished the night before the event, but that is something for the next post here.
So we were back at Oerlinghausen here in Germany, playing in the Saxon Longhouse and under the gaze of the Anglo-Saxon gods. This time my friend Martin accompanied me (he had been sick last year). My plan was not to finish worse than last year (5th place) which was a tall aim, to be fair, since I was completely unused to the Spanish, having played only one game with proxy miniatures with them and that was one of the more obscure scenarios from the Grand Melee, that did not allow to learn the army too well.
My army consisted of a mounted Warlord, three points of Heathguards (mounted), two points of Warriors (with miniatures for both the foot and mounted options) and one point of levies with crossbows.
Game 1 (Holy Ground) vs. Mutatawwi´a
Now I knew from the beginning, that this would be a very tough game. My opponent was Erik who was also my last opponent at Remscheid roughly two months earlier. Therefore I knew that he was a very experienced player, who knows the Mutatawwi´a inside out and plays them with great skills. His army consisted of a camel mounted Warlord, two points of Heathguards on camels fielded as two units of four and four points of Warriors. The later were fielded as two units with close combat weapons (one eight men strong, the other twelve men strong) and a twelve men strong unit of bowmen with a banner.
I did not want to offer his camels too many mounted troops, so my warriors were deployed as two foot units of eight. My Hearthguards were deployed as one unit of eight and one of four.
I started to play and things went down the drain from the first moment. I think I was still a bit drained from he previous weeks painting spree, for I forgot that one cannot score victory points on turn one. So my horsemen rode up the central hill without any need for them to do so. As a result one of his camel mounted units crashed into my large units of horsemen and with a combination of various Mutatawwi´a SAGA abilities both units were annihilated (with a net loss of four Heathguards for me). I also had to find that one of my best SAGA abilities (Reconquista) does not work against Mutatawii´a, since its effect is determined by the number of SAGa dice the opponent has on his board at the end of the orders phase, while Mutatawii´a generate extra SAGA dice after the orders phase.
My counter attacks the next turn did not go well, due to bad dice rolling. But when Erik got to act, he wiped out my other unit of Hearthguards and one unit of warriors for hardly any losses of his own. Victory points at the end of this turn were 8 to 4 in Eriks favor and when the next turn saw me lose my other unit of Warriors, I decided to capitulate. At first Erik did not want to accept (he wanted more kill points for a possible tie breaker at the end of the tournament), but when we explained, that only the quality (= final standings) of the opponents would decide any tie-breakers, he agreed to cut my suffering short.
Game 2 (Champions of god) vs. Mutatawii´a
This scenario was modified for the tournament. Ranged weapons would only be able to fire “S” distance. Mounted units would only be allowed to move “M”, unless they risked a taking a fatigue on a roll of “1” or “2”. This time I would play my mate Martin. He played his troops with a camel mounted Warlord, one point of horse mounted Hearthguards, two points of camel mounted Hearthguards and three pints of Warriors with close combat weapons. They were all fielded like that.
My army looked the same as it did during the previous game, except that my Levies were armed with javelins this time (I did not have appropriate minis, but Martin did not mind). To be honest, the game was a bit boring. I had already played a couple of games vs. Martin using his Mutatawii´a, so I knew by hard how he would play them. So I was able to make good use of my Iberia ability to keep my Hearthguards out of most critical situations. We both did not roll too well during the whole game, but Martin managed to roll even worse than me. After Martins last activation of the last turn I was 7 ½ points in the lead and decided not to do anything on my turn, not wanting to risk that lead and just bag the win.
Game 3 (Hurry [from the Gripping Beast forum]) vs. Anglo-Saxons
My opponent for this game was Jens and his Anglo-Saxons were led by a mounted Warlord plus a Priest to grant him extra SAGA dice. All his other troops were on foot and consisted of three points of Warriors (amalgamated into two units of twelve) and two points of Levies.
My Levies were armed with crossbows again, but this time only four Warriors would fight on foot, with the other twelve fighting mounted. This is also the way I would play my army for the rest of the tournament.
Jens put his barrel inside a wood in one of this corners protected by one unit of Levies and the priest. My barrel was left in a cornfield in the opposite corner, protect by my Warriors on foot and the Levies. All out other units were free to roam the battlefield. Having played about half a dozen games with Anglo-Saxons myself, I had a pretty good idea how to play this one and it worked out well. My Hearthguards managed to stay out of trouble and only picked those fights where they had an advantage, while my mounted Warriors kept harassing his troops. Pretty soon all his units were decimated enough not to be able to make good use of the Anglo-Saxon abilities anymore. Now the small unit of Hearthguards and Warriors would have to kill enough troops to open the way for my other Hearthguards and Warlord to administer the killing blow and take out his barrel. And they managed to open the way by the end of my pan-ultimate turn. It all went according to plan and looked like a decisive win.
But Jens had sent out his Warlord and a unit of warriors to destroy my barrel. Between my mounted Warriors javelins and the crossbow bolts my troops were pretty fast to decimate this force to the Warlord and five Warriors. But then my dice rolling got worse and neither my crossbow bolts and javelins could take them out. By the end of Jens pan-ultimate turn they had been in combat with my Levies and Warriors on foot for two turns, had only lost a further two Warriors and my troops were down to three or four Levies and one Warrior. Now I rolled bad on my SAGA dice and this put my between a rock and a hard place. I had too few activations to take out his barrel for sure, but with the few troops I had left, there was no chance for me to defend mine. So even if my attack went well, the best I could hope for was a draw, but there was a good chance for a loss as well. So I decided to have my Warlord and large Hearthguard unit attack his attacking force. They managed to secure my barrel, but by doing so, I had to forfeit my chance to destroy his. So in the end, the game ended with a draw. But this was the first game that I started to feel at home playing the Spanish.
Game 4 (Chance Encounter [from the Gripping Beast forum]) vs. Irish
Again this scenario had some modifications from the standard version. The cart would only get the extra defensive dice in close combat. The game would not end with a cart leaving the table. This would give the player two victory points instead. The opponent would get one more victory point each for killing the enemy Warlord or destroying the enemy cart. nothing else would be worth any victory points.
As I said, my troops were set up the same as last game. Jan my opponent had Brian Boru for his Warlord, Ulf the Quarrelsome as a Cuiradh, four points of Warriors and one Point of Irish Bloodhounds. Jan set his cart up on the road, while I tried to sneak my along one board edge. In theory the first turn was quite uneventful, except that the Jan used his Sons of Dana ability, boosted by some other abilities to have one of the woods kill five of my mounted warriors. Most of Jans troops operated in the centre where they slowly worked their way into my troops, but not enough to open a way for his cart. At the same time most of my Hearthguards and the mounted Warriors fought with his lone twelve men unit of Warriors on the flank with my cart. I have to say most of the game was dominated by the dice. Jan kept on rolling an hilarious amount of “5”s and “6”s while most of my rolls were mostly “3”s or less, also my SAGA dice rolled no rare symbols for two turns. When they did, Jan, who plays Spanish himself, made sure I could not take any advantage. This way I lost my mounted warriors and small unit of Hearthguards pretty fast, while Jans warriors on the flank had only lost five men. On the third turn Jan had this unit throw their javelins at my cart, two hit and I saved neither. They next turn saw me loose most of my other Hearthguards and Warlord. With only the Levies, one Warrior on foot and two or three Hearthguards left, I had no chance to push my way through to either his cart or Warlord, so I capitulated.
End of day one
So at the end of the first day, I had one win, one draw and two losses under belt. Not the way I had wanted the day to go.
At this time it also felt like a mixed bag to me. Lots of bad dice rolling and three games with opposing armies that were tough for me. The Mutatawii´a because they denied me my best abilities and made my cavalry weary of their camels. And the Irish in the last game where their large number of foot troops could make the best of the abundance of terrain which was a psychological drain due to the Sons of Dana ability, too. And the one victory, did not feel like one either, given that I was only able to net it due to the fact that I knew my friends style of play so well. So I ended the first day slightly frustrated and unable to tell, if the Spanish were a good army or not. Now it was up to the second day of the tournament to raise my mood.
Game 5 (Village Pillage [from the Gripping Beast forum]) vs. Steppe Tribes
For this game I was matched up versus one of the three women in the competition, Kim (who also won best painted army) and her Steppe Tribes. They were led by a Priest Warlord and consisted of 4 points of Warriors (split over 6 units) and 2 points of Levies with bows (split over 5 units). I had deployed my Warriors on foot near the building that was to be defended and the crossbows in a woods near the centre of the table. All my mounted units were to roam freely on the board. Kim had set up her Levies around the building with all her Warriors (except one unit that always stayed near the Warlord) also in position to roam around.
So this one looked like a stalemate from the beginning. With the ability of the Steppe Tribes to shoot all Levies at once, if only they were close enough to the Warlord (which they were), I stood very limited chance to survive an assault on Kims building. On the other hand her Warriors lacked the staying power to push through my Hearthguards. And this is how it played out. All of Kims efforts to push forward were punished by my mounted troops or the crossbows, usually ending in the annihilation of her units. So for the whole game, I was able to contain her troops in her quarter of the table. But she always kept her Levies and Warriors back, so that I did not dare to attack her building.
Now I have to admit, that I never played with or against Steppe Tribes and only ever read them online once a couple of years ago. So I asked for a battle board and read almost to the end of the second column, but not wanting to hold things up too much, I stopped there. Right above the Wildcats ability. And this cost me dearly. For that one Warrior unit that had always lingered near her table edge now teleported to my edge and pillaged my building. All my mounted troops were just out of reach, even with the Iberia ability and the game was lost.
This was really the low of the tournament for me. It had been the first game were my dice had rolled well and also the first, where I felt really at home playing the Spanish, so to lose like that really got me down.
Game 6 (Clash of Warlords) vs. Jomsvikings
My opponent for the last game was Marco and this was the match-up (Jomsvikings vs. Spanish) that I always thought would be the most boring combination possible for this tournament. Marco fielded a regular Warlord, two points of Warriors and four points of Hearthguards. The later were fielded in units of five to six men with one six-men unit sporting Dane Axes. He played them in the very compact formation most Jomsviking players seem to prefer. The only really clash happened on the first or second turn, when one of his five-men units of Hearthguards attacked my 4-men unit. Due to the fact that they had to attack with a double move (and some unequal dice rolling) this ended with his unit being wiped out and me only loosing two riders. From now it became a slow war of attrition. With my Reconquista ability I pinned his Warriors half the game, essentially meaning that this Hearthguards had to move around them to attack. My horsemen always managed to get out of reach, while my mounted Warriors slowly took out his troops with their javelins. Together with the fact that I hardly ever granted him Wrath, this must have been one surely frustrating mach to play for him. Due to his Warlord always staying close to the Dane Axes there was no chance for me to take him out with a swift move. And he did not fall for any bait I threw him either, so in the end this was decided on points. Not the most imaginative victory for me, but one I urgently needed.
Results and famous last words
So how did it go in total. Well I missed my target position by a grand 19 places, finishing 24th out of 32 players. After really being unimpressed with my Spanish during the first few games, I really started to love them later on. I guess this goes to prove, that it is never a good idea to go to a tournament with an untested army. After the first day I felt a bit like it was all down to bad pairing, bad dice and maybe even a bad faction. But to be fair and with a week to let it all sink in… those might have been factors, but I think the biggest factors me not know my army well enough, and making a few mistakes in the first game. I sure would have been unable to turn everything into a victory, but some games might have gone better. And I also need to make a habit of learning even the more obscure battleboards before a competition like this.
When it comes to the Spanish. Had you asked me on Saturday, I would have dismissed them as a poor army. After Sunday that definitely changed and I already decided, that they will be the army I shall field next year. But I really need to learn to play them in a more offensive way.
Regarding the event itself. It was just as great as it had been last year and as much fun. Definitely one to attend again next year. The one thing I noticed was, that many of the warbands (all over, not necessarily the people I played against) were more optimised than last year. More stuff that I would label power combinations. But do not get me wrong. The general atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly and while I am growing ever more disenchanted by competitive play, this even sure is the exception due to the people playing in it.
So I am now going to leave you with some more pictures from the event and the archeological park. For those interested, here are the links to the pictures taken by the organizer Mirco from Stronghold Terrain and a video report by Tabletop Workshop (all in German except for the interview by Andy, the overall winner). [Yours truly managed to show up quite often during the video, including the interview starting at 3:40 mins.]