I promised some initial feedback following my first two games of Saga: the Viking Age. Both games were played with four points, a bit small for Saga, but still good to get a feel of the game.
My first thought is how large a role dice play in the game. Not the Saga dice, which I'll get to later, but just general dice rolling. Most units, placed head to head, are going to be fairly balanced, first because there is not that much difference between the two main units (Hearthguard and Warriors) but that any advantage Hearthguard have is likely balanced out by numbers. Some math wonk can tell me what the odds are of eight warriors rolling a 5 or a 6 on a d6 versus six hearthguard rolling a 4, 5, or 6, but in game terms it felt like I could run a hearthguard unit into a warrior unit and have them win, then do the exact same thing again and have them lose. That's a randomness which could appeal to some but be off-putting to others.
The difference, really, is in the Saga dice, which for those who don't know are the special army-specific dice which are rolled each turn and then used to "empower" your army at various times. In addition to just simply activating units, the dice can do things like improve a unit's abilities in combat, remove small units of your opponent out of play entirely, etc. With unit vs. unit combat being fairly balanced, the effect of the special abilities can make a significant difference.
These abilities vary depending on the army and its shall we say stereotypical qualities. My Vikings, for example, had abilities that more often than not aided them in their offense, while the Scots seemed to have abilities related to defense and maneuverability. With the small number of dice being rolled (it's related to army size) we didn't see too many "high power" abilities being used, but I could definitely see the ability to re-roll misses and the ability to negate an opponent unit's shooting for one turn to become my "bread and butter" moves.
Because of the importance of the Saga dice, warlords become very important because they don't count towards the army's point total but generate two dice (the same as two whole units of warriors or hearthguard). A warlord is impressive in close combat, practically a unit unto himself, but losing twice the number of dice should he die will make you think twice about deploying him recklessly. Plus some scenarios revolve around preserving him.
I'm looking forward to seeing how the game plays out at six points, and what kind of difference that makes. I'm curious to see if levies have any real tangible value except to chip away at units before they get into close combat. And I'm curious about the different scenarios, which affect gameplay and strategy substantially, at least as it looks on paper.
The game has its downside, the top of which is the funky dice, or rather the price. For that matter, it isn't the cheapest game: the rulebook and a single set of dice (which only work for one army) will start you off at $60. But the game is very playable and fun, and doesn't take a long time to bang out a game. I played twice, slowly going through rules, and had lunch in there over a five-hour period. And there was a lot of conversation in there too, so it really probably works out to about an hour a game.
In short, I like it.