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After the Queen is driven out of Saga, Princes from different regions engage in reclaiming the lands of her Empire. But in the eventual battles over the distribution of the land, the Princes look out for their own interests. Over time, the kingdoms continue to change hands. In the process, the Princes cunningly use the unique attributes of the various kingdoms for their own gain.
Fame and honor will go to the decisive rulers when the Queen returns to Saga.
I recently reviewed Spy by Uberplay games and remarked that while it was playable with more than two players; it was really best only with a duo. Id have to say the opposite about Saga (Uberplay Games, Wolfgang Kramer - 2004), another game in Uberplays small box series. Even though Saga plays okay with two players, it really shines as a multiplayer game, and I have to say that it is my favorite of the Uberplay small box series.
The theme is about players attack and defending castles, but the game reeks more so of a theme of thieving from one another and maximizing points. The mechanics are definitely different than any Ive seen in other games but are simple and allow for a decent amount of strategy. There seems to be a slight runaway leader problem, as Ive not yet seen a game where the person leading halfway through didnt win the game; but Im sure that different tactics would have precipitated a different ending.
Each player takes a different set of knight cards - each with a different symbol on the back. The twelve cards that compose the set are different for each symbol, but all follow the same pattern. They are made up of six different colored cards (orange, yellow, green, blue, red, and purple), with two 4s and one 1 of one color, one 3 and 1 of another, one 3 and two 2s of another, one 3 of a fourth, one 4 and 2 of a fifth, and one 1 of the last, giving the player three cards of each denomination from 1-4. A pile of tokens in denominations 1, 2, 5, and 10 are placed near the board. Six Kingdom cards, one for each color, are placed face up in the middle of the board. Each card has two sides, each with a different special ability. Then, one set of Knight cards not being used in the game is dealt out, with two knights defending each castle. One knight being dealt to each castle must be of that castles color, the other a different color; these two knights compose the defending force of that castle. One player is chosen to go first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.
A players turn consists of two mandatory phases and one optional phase. First, a player receives fame points (the tokens) equal to the amount shown on the castles that they currently control. The rules state that players who forget to do this lose out and dont get them. After this, the player must play one knight card from their hand onto the table into an attacking force. The player may start a new attacking force, or add to an existing one they own. The first knight played in an attacking force determines the color of the castle attacked by that group, and all subsequent knights must be of a different color (meaning that a maximum of six knights, one of each color may be in an attacking force). If the total sum of the knights numbers is higher than the defending forces sum in the castle being attacked, then the attackers win! The castle card is placed on top of the attacking force, which becomes the new defending force (no more cards can be added). The displaced defending force is returned to its owners hand, or in the case of neutral knights put aside in a pool of free agents on the side of the table. After this, the player may purchase one of the free knights, paying fame points equal to the value of the Knight card then placing it into their hand.
Each card has a special ability on both sides, so that players can choose between them, or just randomly decide which to use in each game. Here are some examples of the special abilities.
- One castle adds one to its defense, while another subtracts one from its defense.
- One castle gives the owner at game end five additional fame points.
- Several castles affect scoring at the game end, concerning attacking or defending forces.
- One castle allows the conquering player to recruit a free agent knight for free.
- Etc., etc.
When one player lays down the last knight card in their hand, the game is over immediately, and scoring begins. Each player totals their score, receiving points that are equal to the sum of their fame chips, plus the total sum of each of their defending forces, plus any bonuses from castles. Each player also subtracts points equal to the sum of the value of the knights in their hand. Whoever has the highest score is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The cards for Saga look very nice with good medieval-type drawings on them. Each knight card of the same color has a specific picture of a different soldier, making it easy for color-blind people to play the game, while adding to the theme of the game. The tokens are square rectangular tokens, each a different color, although constantly moving them around felt a little fiddly at times. Everything fit very nicely into a plastic insert in a small, colorful box.
2.) Theme: The theme is supposedly attacking others castles, but it just felt like thievery to me. Every time someone took someone elses castle, people moaned about stealing and made plans to steal it back. The theme is fine; it just doesnt really feel central to the game.
3.) Rules: The rules are in a ten-page folded booklet that is full color with several illustrations. There is an exact setup of castles and guards shown for beginners first game, which is helpful. The game is extremely easy to understand, with the only confusion being that players occasionally have a hard time remembering what each special ability does and what icon matches it.
4.) Castles: The castles all have unique special abilities, and one of them, the orange castle, is worth more fame points than the others. In our games, the orange castle is exchanged more frequently than most of the others. Yet other castles are just as dangerous - such as the green castle, which can cancel all negative points for a player or the yellow castle, which gives the player fifteen points for their defending force. Each castles special ability, if used in the correct fashion, can give a player a huge advantage at the right time.
5.) Strategy: And that is the heart of the strategy of the game - knowing when to take a castle, and which castles to take. Taking free agents is a double-sided sword, also; as getting the extra manpower is often necessary, but it gives the player an extra card which may cost them points at the end of the game. And how should a player maneuver their attacking forces? Should they quickly conquer a castle, or slowly build up several forces, taking several castles in a row? At first glance, the game seems simple; just take castles from each other, until one person runs out of cards. But knowing which castles to take and the correct timing to do it; thats the key to winning. I have noticed that if a player takes a couple of castles early on, and gets a lot of money quickly, its hard for them to lose. But I think with proper positioning, a player can overcome this early lead.
6.) Fun Factor: Its enjoyable to steal castles back and forth from each other, but its not devastating to the player whose castle is stolen, because they can easily get it back (usually). Its not a rip-roaring fun fest, but the game is enjoyable enough; and the mechanics are deep enough to make this a worth while game.
Saga is deeper than most games of its length, raising it above the filler category, and almost placing it in the medium-weight group. Its a game thats quickly learned but not so quickly mastered. I found that the two-player game lacked the interaction of a multiplayer game; but that either way there were many tactical decisions that could be made quickly. If I could only buy one Uberplay small box game, it would be Saga; because of its quickness and versatility. Kramer produces yet another winner, proving that he is the master of tactical European games.
Real men play board games.
Like Oh Pharaoh!, I was eagerly anticipating Saga as one of new line of games from Kosmos/Uberplay. With wonderful box art, and buzz as the best game of the series, I had hoped I might find Saga to be a personal favorite and a redeeming factor for this new multiplayer series.
The art is the first thing that gets your attention, both as you look at the box, and as you break into the components. The artist deserves a pat on the back for depicting lush environs for each of the 'Land' cards -- each of which is whimsical and gorgeous. And the warrior cards are well done too: each 'suit' color coded with nice looking colors, the knights illustrated with a stylistic interpretation of the 'Land' they hail from. All very well done.
The apparent simplicity of the cards alludes to the style of game; the majority of the cards are 'Knight' cards hailing from one of six 'Lands' (read, 'suits'), these will be played to acquire the second type of cards: the 'Land' cards of which there are six, one for each suit. possession of a land card awards the owner with bonuses unique to that land.
Players take a deck of cards: each deck has a mix of suits and numbers, with an equal distribution between all the decks. In other words, everyone has the hand, but where you 4, 4, 1 is in, say, purple, my 4, 1, 1 is in orange, etc. Knights for hire will be available as the game progresses, giving you a stronger hand, but also making it harder for you to get all your cards into the table -- an important part of the game.
For the most part players will be playing Knights to the table, one per turn, to form Attacking Forces in an attempt to win control of Lands. In order to attack, say, ForestLand (Green), you would need to start an attacking force in Green by playing one green Knight to the table area in front of you. On your next turn, you may add a knight to that same force, or a different force, or start another attacking force -- all this with a few catches of course. An attacking force may only contain one card from each suit, so the biggest attack force a player can mount is six knights, one for each of the suits. As soon a player conquers the Land, he takes the card from the present owner and puts it on top of the conquering force.
Conquering a Land is fairly simple and it is where the game gets a bit interesting. Each Land has a special ability it gives to the owner, as well as victory points that come in the form of turn-by-turn income. Each Land is defended by a force consisting of one or more knights. The strength of the force is a number which is the sum of all the cards in the force. At the beginning of the game, that force is comprised of 'dummy' knights from the unused deck; later it will be comprised of the whomever last won the Land. To conquer, a player simply needs to exceed the sum of the current defending force. Which, of course, means that the forces get stronger and stronger as the game goes along.
This leads to some thoughtful decisions: since each land gives different abilities, which abilities will help you the most at any given point in the game? If some one else is building an attack force in a given color, should you bother competing with them? If so, do you try and build a huge force and try and hold it for a while, or let them capture it first and then take it away from them? ;)
The game ends when a player gets rid of all the cards in his hand. Every card that is part of a defending force in a land is worth bonus points equal to the sum on the card. Penalties are levied in the same way on players who have cards remaining in their hand (so getting cards on the table, even if they don't conquer a land, is essential.) Many of the lands also give bonuses at gameend, making the last minute scramble to get certain lands very important!
The game does several things well, and several other things with dignified mediocrity. I have already mentioned the pleasant art, that is a distinct plus. One nice touch is that each land cards has two sides, and the side displayed in a playing is randomized at the start, so every time players play, there will be some variation in the tactics and stragies. The downside is that some of the abilities -- pretty much all of them, actually -- are rather pedestrian. I realize the designers were trying to create a tight and balanced game, but most of the powers are dull, and that doesn't help. The game looks great, but it is a numbers game. The game could have had no art at all, just colors and numbers and been just as functional -- in other words, there is absolutely no theme. The setting is well chosen, but not entrenched. And the game has one or two rule issues that would seem to break the game from time to time. (There seems to be no provision to reacquire cards you have already commited to a force. If that force can not win anything due to a slightly better sum by another player, that first player may be stuck with a bunch of cards he can not use again, which can create a chain where no force he can build will win anything at all!)
After all is said and done though, I actually kind of liked playing the game. With 3 or 4 players it is relatively quick and has some tactical play. But the game does suffer in a 2-player playing, and can be killed by one player tying up his forces in unwinnable positions. Probably too drily tactical for families, and aimed at the card-playing crowd than anything else, this game is merely 'good' without becoming anything more than that.
My group played this recently, and I'm sorry to report that almost all of us were underwhelmed.
The game looks very nice, and the rules are relatively simple. It should be a nice little filler game. However, the gameplay is so repetitive that everyone soon gets bored.
On your turn, you play cards to start an attack force or bolster an existing force to acquire control of regions. If you're the strongest in terms of numbers, you take the land. But once you do, your force cannot get stronger. This results in a game where all you do is put down a card on each turn, waiting patiently until you have a higher total than someone else. After taking that region, you move on to a different color and hope nobody takes your land from you.
There is very little strategy in this game. The small decisions are almost irrelevant. The six regions are almost equal, so it doesn't matter which one you attack. Instead, you play mostly based on the strongest cards in your hand. The game quickly turns into everybody playing one card at a time until a region changes owners. It's not exciting and it takes way too long, considering nothing new happens after the first few rounds. Oh well; there are plenty of other good card games that I'll just avoid this one in the future.