Thursday, 26 July 2012

My SAGA army, the Normans

Yep, I have been bitten by the SAGA bug....not that I have ever played a game though; I have been infected by association. I should say from the outset that I do not in any way agree with the way the forces in the game work or are arranged from an historical perspective. A large part of my degree covered the society and culture of the period, how social orders came about and worked and the role of the more martial aspects of that society. Most books you will find will focus upon the battles and a few key figures, occasionally (and casually) mention that Saxon armies came in two distinct and easily divided parts (not right at all), and that is about it. When you look at the society as a whole from the bottom up rather than the top down it all looks very different. Saxon armies, and the later Anglo-Danish version, are organised in very feudal way; almost like groups of gangs from local areas grouped into larger geographical regional blocks. But this detail is beside the point, lets just say that the rules do not give much in the way of historic accuracy but it is still a rather cleverly devised game with much to recommend it. And when all is said and done how many wargame can really be considered as more than a game based upon a period?

I like the idea of the large skirmish / small battle games and these rules and army sizes suits the period brilliantly; period armies are almost always small and battles contained, sharp and brief! Hastings was a serious anomaly and a one of in many ways. With SAGA we can now fight the more usual clashes, the raids, the pillages and so on, something that interests me a lot. There are so many options and local historical precedents to inspire games you are spoilt for choice.

My intention is to build two forces, a Norman and an Anglo-Danish. I could have done Saxons against Vikings (Norse or Danes) as I live on the Isle of Sheppey (a direct translation of the Saxon name is Sheep Island, so I now live on The Isle of Sheep Island...I know, mad!) and there is a wealth of early period history to inspire SAGA games here. The Norse and the Danes both raided and settled on the island on several occasions, attracted by the Abbey there on occasion but more often than not to over-winter or take advantage of some good land. They also used the island as a base to raid  into Kent and Essex, Milton (by Sittingbourne) was a bigger and more profitable target at that time and was hit and threatened a lot. So local skirmishes against the Danes by a disgruntled local lord and island residents are logical for games, the locals perhaps supported by the higher Lord from Milton and his retinue. But I have always been interested in the Norman assimilation of the English shires, the landscape archaeology clearly shows that this was not as straight forward as most histories would have us believe. The minor Normans that were gifted estates were far from confident....or safe as the number of moated manor sites attest! Imagine you being the new Lord of the Manor, turning up to take over your new estate...outnumbered by the locals all of whom less than happy to see you....there must have been many localised mini or two big ones too. For me, the guy sent to Sheppey was taking a risk....good land, but isolated and surrounded by marsh and even swamp in those days. I would think that the new owner of Shurland Hall took a few looks over his shoulder and at twitching bushes after landing on the island; Kent may have struck an odd deal with William (Invicta....hmmmm) but the locals??? I can see there being some good scenarios for this period, and its something not so obvious as Viking raids. Hereward is a well known example, just think a little more locally.

I need to have this force finished by the 1st September, we are to run a game at the Minster Abbey fair, and I will post my progress here stage by stage. As you can see, the army has arrived and I can begin. My force is a full six point army and will have the warlord, three points of mounted knights (hearthguard) giving twelve figures that I will divide into two units of six, one point of eight crossbowmen, one point of eight spearmen and a point of twelve bowmen.

To face these Normans I will need to raise a band of locals led by a Saxon lord that didn't get to the battle...or the young son of one killed at Hastings perhaps? He will have a few close family retainers, a smattering of reasonably experienced men but a few more of the levy type, the angry locals! I am not happy with the term levy here. The Saxon system of military obligation meant that each area sent a number of troops to the lord when needed, and these were the same people sent each time so some experience was gained. Do not believe anything written about the period by American warned, they are ardent anti-Saxon and write awful histories!!!


  1. Some great local background there. Finally got my Anglo Dane and Saxon warbands painted and on the table last weekend. Saga is a really enjoyable system which owes a big debt to some boardgames, but that's a plus in my book. I can now turn my attention to painting the Bretons. Can you tell me where you got the Norman dice - I can't seem to find them in stock anywhere, even at Gripping Beast?

    1. Hi PC,

      Well done with teh painting...I have a shed load to do all of which has a deadline! This silly hot weather has not helped, paint dries too quick and I get miffed.....not good endings there.

      as for the Norman dice, I got mine from Red Knight Wargames in Ramsgate. Michael tells me he had a real run on them so get in touch quick!

  2. Thanks - funnily enough I had contacted Michael earlier in the week and he was expecting some Norman dice in yesterday but they never arrived. There goes my motivation to paint the Bretons, but like you say given the weather it's probably THE weekend of the summer to give up on the painting and do the annual barbie...

    When I get around to posting a write-up on my Vikings getting slaughtered by my son's Anglo-Danes, I'll let you know. Cheers, Norman