Thursday 22 November 2012

Heavy Gear - Mech Combat in 6mm - Cheap Fun

I've always liked the Heavy Gear game and universe - combined arms mecha combat where mechs are a believable size (not a target the size of a 5-storey building) and don't tend to fly through the air Silver Surfer style on jet hoverboards.  Tanks and infantry also play a significant role.

  The mammoth Soviet tanks from Brigade are quite nice and have a "Red Alert" vibe to them.

The game is fairly gritty, with weapons long ranged and quite powerful.  Two game mechanisms appeal to me - the "degree of success" where a good hit does more damage than a glancing one - and the "to hit" and "to damage" roll is merged elegantly together.  The second mechanism is the way mechs take damage - there are four states - light damage, heavy damage, crippled and destroyed. 
This does away with the ridiculous armour of Battletech (where you have to scour away dozens of "hit points" of armour before you can do actual damage) and retains a good balance of simplicity and detail.  Record keeping is practically non-existent but tokens do clutter the board up a bit.

I have a Heavy Gear starter set - $60 for a few size-8-font tiny B&W rules booklets, half a dozen "customizable"* 28mm mechs (*i.e. in a million pieces, frustrating to put together) and a tape measure. The tape measure admittedly is mildly cool but I don't think $60 was worth it....

So why don't I play this paragon of a game?  Price.  Dream Pod 9 rivals GW in its price structure and an "army" would set you back over $250. Given Heavy Gear is unheard of around here, plunking down half a grand for two armies to simply try a game is a bit to rich for my blood.

So I decided to see if I could play it for under $50....

Whilst Dream Pod 9 makes "fleet scale" mechs they are $2 for a 15mm figure - double that of other companies such as GZG. 

Whilst the GZG 6mm Dirtside walkers are among the nicest (and have a strong VOTOMS vibe) I wanted plenty of variety. So I went to Iron Wind Metals who make Battletech minis - their smaller battlesuits work well as mechs in 6mm.  Brigade were fractionally cheaper than GZG so I plumped for some of their British and Soviet tanks and support vehicles.

About $30 scored me two decent sized forces. I deeply regret painting the hovertank force blue. It's kinda a yick Ultramarine-y shade.

20/20 Hindsight
In my race to try to finish both armies in under 3 hours from start to finish, I sprayed black overcoat over the based minis.  The paint mixed with the still-wet PVA in the sand base to form a kind of tarry sludge. 

A bench grinder was an inspired idea for grinding the bases of 6mm infantry flat so they sat neatly on the bases. It made the job really fast and easy. I decided to got for 5c coins instead of washers which was easier to base as I didn't have to worry about the hole in the middle.

I also could have painted larger quantities just as easily - I had to wait for paint to dry before I could move on.  Next time I would paint double the amount of miniatures. 

I do a lot of 1:300/1:600 aircraft but this is only my second attempt at ground forces.  Basing is far more important than in 15 or 28mm.  You can see how my hasty gluing and spraying means the base of the mechs bulge up rather obviously.

The neo-Soviets came out OK.  The little power armours (2 to a base) on the right look quite cool - they have a MaK vibe to them. 

The Iron Wind battle armours scale well with 6mm and provide a huge range of mech types.  You could probably re-base plastic Mechwarrior clix but clix seem to be selling at a premium - it was cheaper to buy some packets of metal minis. 

The Project So Far
Total time 3 hours (base and paint); $18 of Brigade British, $18 Brigade Soviet, $12 assorted Iron Wind battle armours; 60c of 5c pieces for bases - total cost $48.60

Saturday 10 November 2012

Naked Miniatures - Should they be Allowed out in Public?

I admit I only sporadically play at my local gaming club, due to their overwhelming interest in Warmachine, but something I have noticed is the increasing preponderance of bare metal or undercoated miniatures.

 In wargaming, paint is needed to show details
 on models
Public vs Private
Now, if you choose to have unpainted miniatures in the privacy of your own home, that is fine.  But should unpainted minis be allowed out in public?

Unlike boardgames, miniatures and terrain are by default an integral part of our hobby.  There are many excellent boardgames or PC games for those disinterested in what is a defining aspect of the hobby. Many people are initially attracted to tabletop wargaming by interesting, well-presented armies and terrain. I notice bare metal minis seems to go hand in hand with toilet rolls, tissue box buildings, and books-under-tablecloth terrain; which does not get anyone excited about the game. 
   The Society of Undercoat and Bare Metal says:
"I only want to game, and I don't have the time. Why punish me for not having endless hours to paint miniatures!
Did they find time to glue and assemble the figures? Did they manage to assemble an army list, read the rules, and come up with a new strategy for that new (unpainted) unit? They even found time on game day to play for six hours... they had time to do everything except paint the miniatures.

This argument makes the false assumption that players with painted miniatures have more leisure time than others.It kinda infers the non-painters are special in some way - they are the only ones with jobs, families, limited time etc. In fact, I notice those with busy lives and families seem to be the most consistent painters, ahead of part-time students etc. If you think about it, most people have a surprising amount of time to watch TV each night. If painting is that terrible a chore, there are also prepainted figures available, and professional painters. Modern dips and washes are fast and effective.  In fact it is quite puzzling as to why non-painters would reject the main aesthetic reason to prefer wargames over the many excellent boardgames or PC games that are usually vastly cheaper  alternatives.

 Counters such as these by Niko Eskubi are far nicer than unpainted metal

"I'm just trying out an army"
 If you aren't painting the minis, why stop there?  Why not simply substitute the miniatures for coins or scraps of paper?  I don't see how counters differ from unpainted lead. It would, logically, be a much cheaper way to "try out" an army. In fact good counters are more attractive than unpainted minis. Players are effectively paying hundreds of dollars for glorified counters...

"Who cares/it's just a game/it's for fun"
Just because something is for fun, does not mean there should not be certain standards, at least in public (club games, etc).  Well, I might find wearing pants in public hot and uncomfortable.  However I do wear them when out in public. In the privacy of my own house, I can wear whatever I want...  I have every Infinity faction in my shed - but only the two painted ones  go to the club....

"I just want to roll dice and play!"
That is an excellent argument for playing a boardgame instead.

"Expecting everyone to have painted is elitist! Snob!"
If you don't want to paint, why wargame with miniatures?  Being elitist would be expecting everyone to paint well. Painting flesh with a few other colours (undercoat, basecoat, wash) looks "painted." Details and drybrushing can come later - and are nice but not necessary.  Having minimum standards is not elitist or condescending.  I don't like people wearing pajamas and slippers into a restaurant (even MacDonalds) but I doubt anyone would call me out for that.

"People who insist on painted miniatures are killing the hobby"
I'd argue people who field unpainted minis are doing more to damage the hobby.  Players who paint are also giving up a chunk of their disposable income. They are actively working to make games interesting and attractive to newcomers and players alike.

"Fad" Games - Encouraging the Unpainted Masses?
Yes, I'm talking Privateer Press and Games Workshop "Hobby" here - games that promote the "latest and best" through an arms race of new codexes and expansions; designed to sell miniatures.

I often hear players of these games grouped around a rulebook saying "I'm going to get xy unit cos it has this awesome ability of z, and it will work really well with yz ability of xb warcaster."
The friend says "Man, that sounds cool - it should really pwn!"

They seem interested in the unit only for its gaming value (there are quite a few sculpts that most people agree are sub par, but feature in every army due to their gaming effectiveness). They have no real interest in the sculpt - it is simply a gaming piece. In fact the "unit card" that comes with it is probably more valuable to them. Perhaps they cannot be bothered to paint the miniature as it is soon to be overtaken as the "new best."

Since "units" tend to be 6-12 miniatures, time considerations for painting shouldn't be an issue.  These games also have points systems, so they can play a smaller, 500 point game while they are working on their other 1500pts of unpainted stuff. Despite this, these are the games you are MOST likely to see unpainted miniatures.

Bigs or Littles?
I often hear people dismiss smaller scale miniatures (6mm, 15mm etc) as being "too small" and "not having enough detail to paint." Since I have never seen an unpainted 6mm or 15mm miniature in a game I find this rather ironic. If the detail on 28mm mattered so much, why wasn't it painted?

There is no local FoW scene where I live, and I would be interested to see how this point applies to FoW, as it seems to be somewhat of a "fad" game as well.

Not a Blanket Rule
I know people new to the hobby have an initial period where they are playtesting things, learning to paint, etc but this initial stage is measured in months, not years. I know a 9 year old who painted half their Warmachines army to a very solid tabletop standard, and had the rest in various stages of completion, within weeks of starting.

Unpainted minis, unpainted terrain....  ...unpainted dice? The humanity!

Any Paintjob is a Good One
This is not to say it is ever OK to criticize someone else's paintjob. As a somewhat indifferent painter myself, I am painfully aware how much better other people are than me. However it is important to make an effort - I'd argue hauling out unpainted minis shows a lack of respect for the (equally busy, hardworking with three kids) guy who painted his. You should assume the other guy did his best. A poorly painted blob always trumps bare metal.

I think it is important to praise and reward those who do paint. Extra re-rolls for painted armies? Competition points for those who care about them? There is never a reason to be rude. 

Sharing a game is a social interaction. Forcing someone to share an unpainted army is like forcing them to share body odour on a bus trip. Friends will ignore it, but it doesn't mean they necessarily enjoy it. I doubt newcomers will be attracted to it. If you want to play without creating or painting, then boardgames and PC games are great options. If you are too busy to invest your time, you may need another hobby.   If a player turns up at a game with no dice, measuring tape, or understanding of the rules, odds are the opponent won't enjoy himself as much - same with unpainted minis.

I'd argue wargaming is more than simply ripping open some packets, pouring on superglue, and throwing them on the table for a few hours so they can can race home to watch Big Brother. If that is a person's style of play - fair enough. It doesn't mean it benefits everyone.

I put down my vast collection of unpainted minis as poor impulse control and obsessive aquisitiveness - but naked models in public? - that's going too far.

Friday 9 November 2012

A Fistful of TOWS 3 Review (1915-2015 Micro Armour)

As I continue to "down scale" I am venturing into 6mm.  I remembered trying A Fistful of Tows maybe 10 years ago - a demo ruleset with a strong design philosophy with a commitment to balancing playability with realism, and allowing fast turns with lots of units. Troop quality was important. Apparently there was a new version, so out came the credit card....

FFT3 is a mammoth tome. Choosing the spiral-bound version was a good choice.

The Shiny
The format is B&W with a colour cover. I picked a spiral-bound layout ($67 delivered from Lulu) due to the hefty size (also - spiral bound is great for laying rulebooks open or photocopying stuff).  At a jaw dropping 454 pages the size and cost are the two things that instantly stand out. However it is not a complicated game at all.  The actual core rules are 112 pages (or 25% of the book) with an additional 44 pages which are optional (combat engineering, choppers, airstrikes, airborne, amphibious, chemical and nuclear attacks).  The bulk of the book is from the 263 pages of "army lists" - orders of battle for pretty much every country's forces at brigade/regiment scale from 1915 to the present along with vehicles, infantry and weapon details for those forces, as well as detailed rules for designing your own.  This hefty tome is probably the most comprehensive resource of its kind I have come across and would be very useful for other WW2-modern games besides FFT3. There is a detailed appendix and a handy quick-reference sheet that helps keeps things manageable.

Britain always has quirky and cool armour
An impressive resource
It has stats on every significant weapon; from a Pak88 to a Hellfire missile; from a Messerschmidt Bf109 to a F-22 Raptor.  Tiger tanks are included as well as T80Us.  Soviet Tank Regiments from 1943 are detailed along with modern Stryker brigades; with troop types and quality. There are also rules to design your own, if somehow you find something not included. When you realise you are getting a set of rules as well as a 260-page reference book, in one, the $67 seems more reasonable. There is a cheaper $40 (!) pdf option (maybe for an iPad? - I can't imagine printing it out yourself...)

Core Mechanics
Do not confuse the size of the rules with complexity.  Whilst the most detailed FFT set yet, the game is eminently playable. Indeed, the core rules could be condensed from 118 to 30-40 pages easily as the authors tend to spell things out rather "wordily".  In fact, the earlier free "demo" version of FFT2 (an earlier edition) is 43 pages. The game plays fast and each side's movement can be completed in under 5 minutes.  Note: Each vehicle stands for a group of 3-6, and individual infantry elements are platoons; although the game can be played at 1:1 i.e. each element is a squad/vehicle, simply by adjusting cohesion distances and ranges. Activation is "attacker" then "defender" as per the scenario (or basically IGOUGO, which I am not a fan of) but the "overwatch/shoot-and-scoot" abilities allow some interaction in the opponents' turn. Wargames Vault has free demo rules of FFTW3, including enough to play WW2 or late 1980s NATO-Warsaw Pact.   In summary - it's actually pretty fast and simple to play.

The StuG wanted his cover save...
Movement & Terrain
 Troop quality is all-important. There are 7 levels:  Poor-Marginal-Fair-Average-Good-Excellent-Superb - which is surprisingly precise for a game using d6.  The game uses a Warhammer 40K "cohesion" range which varies from 2" (poor) to 8" (superb).  Terrain rules are quite comprehensive, but like FoW, vehicles must make a terrain-saving throw (say 4+ for average troops) if in difficult terrain or they can only pivot in place.

Detection references a simple chart that considers if the target is in cover or stationary, and if the target is a vehicle or infantry unit.

Infantry tend to dominate in built up areas and can be deadly in close quarters against unsupported vehicles
Units without stabilised guns or early 1st gen missiles may not move and fire; units that do not fire in their turn may go on "overwatch" and interrupt and fire in an opponents' move, or "shoot-and-scoot" - i.e. interrupt, fire, then retreat half a move.

Most weapons need a 3+ at close range, 4+ at effective range, and 5+ at long range, modified by the firing unit's troop quality. Rate of fire is likewise affected - poor troops fire more slowly, superb troops can pour in extra rounds.   Units in cover get a "cover save" against any hits - say 4+ if in a town.

Vehicles have two arcs - front and flank - and different armour values against kinetic or HEAT rounds.  For each shot that hits, roll 1d6 equal to the weapon penetration - target armour. Close or long range modifies penetration by +2 or -2.  I.e. a KV-1 (Pen 5) vs a Pz.III (Armour 4) at close range gets 3 dice.  If any 4 or 5 is rolled on the d6, a quality check is made (only 1 maximum, no matter how many 4 or 5s are rolled).  A '6' on any die destroys the target.
 Say for the 3 dice rolled, the KV-1 gets a 2, 4 and 5. It forces the Pz.III to make a single Crew Quality check. Units who fail a CQ check are destroyed.  Superb troops need only a 2+ to pass; average troops need a 5+. Better troops are much, much tougher and more resilient to incoming fire.

Most units have both anti-vehicle and anti-infantry firepower.  Anti-infantry firepower works the same way as vehicle combat, but each extra hit modifies any quality check by -1.  Even an infantry unit passes the quality check, it is suppressed which means it will have a negative modifier when it fires next.

Infantry units can get into close combat - withe the non-moving player firing first; sides alternate firing until one side is destroyed. Infantry tend to maul unsupported vehicles in close combat as they always count as having a flank shot.

Artillery rules are quite slick and fast - barrage markers are placed in 2" cohesion. Scout units can place 2 markers, and normal units one.  A dice is rolled for accuracy (modified by observer skill) - if it passes, the barrage has full effectiveness. If not, it has reduced effectiveness.  An "area fire problems" roll is made which could result in the barrage marker "scattering", a fire mission being cancelled or counter-battery fire hitting the artillery unit. Rolls are then made for units under artillery markers, modified by the number and size of guns involved in the barrage.
Summary: Pretty simple, consistent mechanisms. Troop quality matters. A lot. 

 Combat Engineering rules are an interesting inclusion.
[Picture: Sgt Rupert Frere RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
Other Stuff
FFT3 is very comprehensive. Besides the "basics" there are rules for helicopters, airstrikes and AA.  Combat engineering (mine clearing, bridgelaying, demolition) is also covered, as well as amphibious and airborne assaults, chemical warfare, and the limited use of small tactical nukes. 

There are scenario generation and campaign design ideas and tips, as well as a "battle generator" that allows you to roll random battles on a chart that considers the last battle you fought. For example if your last battle was an "encounter" you are more likely to fight a "hasty battle" next; if the last fight was an "encirclement" you are more likely to roll a "breakout" scenario next time.  I think this is a great feature - I wish more games had it. Missions are random, but are likely to progress logically from the previous mission.

There is a comprehensive section for designing and point costing vehicles. I am toying with making some "mechs" and using FFT3 for near-future sci fi (although I believe the authors are working on an official sci fi variant and have indeed previously made the free game Railgun 2100 based on the older FFT2.

I also like how the game isn't too heavy on chits or markers; - "suppressed"  "overwatch" "quality check" and barrage markers could be easily made; I intend to use the cheap coloured tiddlywinks supplied by EM4.
Summary: Great campaign and scenario ideas - a broad toolbox all aspects of modern warfare from chemical weapons and engineering to gunships

At $1.50 for 50, I don't know why you'd bother to make your own counters, ever.

Army & Equipment Lists
As I said before, this is huge, and very detailed. I like how all stats for a weapon or vehicle fit on a single line of text.  I can't vouch for the accuracy of them - but vehicle stats can easily be altered to reflect your opinion using their build-it-yourself rules.  I'm considering using it for near-future sci fi and making up hover vehicles and walkers.

In the army lists, I like how at the bottom of the regiment details, it shows how many "stands" or individual troops you need; allowing you to easily know how many minis you need to buy for that particular combat formation, making it easy to plan your purchases, i.e.
British Armoured Infantry Battalion 1980s+:  2 Scorpion, 2 FV432 Mortars, 2 Spartan w Milan OR 2 FV432 + Milan teams, 9 IFV, 9 infantry stands

A huge (450+ pages), expensive ($67) rulebook; but its exhaustive orders of battle covering pretty much every army, weapon, troop and system information WW2-2015 would be of value to most modern gamers regardless of the rules themselves. The rules are simple and play quickly despite their wide scope.  I think the main issue with FFT3 is that the rulebook is a significant investment, not really a casual purchase, and $40 seems frankly ridiculous for a pdf. However the plethora of demo rules available means you can decide if the gameplay is for you before investing.

+ Fast turns, playable - get lots of models on the table, finish in a reasonable amount of time
+FoW-ish level of complexity, whilst delivering a deeper, more tactical game
+Points system allows some balancing to be done for "pickup" games
+Sensible cohesion/command rules
+Emphasis on troop quality
+ Immense 260+ page resource for orders of battle and weapon and vehicle stats, WW2-present
+ Design and modify equipment and vehicles
+Comprehensive "toolbox" for WW2-modern wargaming
+Campaigns, scenarios well catered for. I like the "battle generator" for campaigns
+Try before you buy - WW2 and Modern demos

Recommended? Quite impressed - admittedly I only have the rather bland Cold War Commander (a ripoff of GW's Warmaster/Epic rules) and the turgid 1980s-billions-of-charts WRG rules to compare with (I haven't tried Spearhead). Don't be put off by the size of the book - it is 75% army and equipment lists - FFT3 has quick, intuitive gameplay, allowing heaps of models to be handled relatively easily; and has a focus on troop quality. Recommended.

Saturday 3 November 2012

SAGA 28mm Dark Ages Rulebook Review

I've had my eye on this for a while but had been put off by the "buy in".  I know the Gripping Beast minis cost pale in comparison to GW fare, but two small starter warbands combined with the "specialty" dice ($84 x 2) and the rulebook ($35) are a significant investment when no one locally plays it.

My starter minis have been caught up in the Maelstrom Games mysterious "stock reduction/move" (which is looking more and more like a Ponzi scheme) so my playtesting has been limited to proxying some LOTR minis.

 A slim but well-produced and very practical rules set, with lots of examples and summaries

The Shiny
I was a little surprised how thin the rulebook was - when I initially ripped open the packet I thought it was only the battleboards (of which 4 were included). Softcover, it actually weighs in at 75 pages - full colour throughout.

This is evidently a set of rules that has been carefully playtested, and created by gamers, for gamers.  It is easy to read, and includes not only a quick reference page, and photocopyable measuring sticks and tokens, but lists a section on "often overlooked rules", has a solid index, and plentiful examples of gameplay.  In fact rules are summarised at the end of each chapter making this rulebook very easy to read and use. One of the best laid out, user-friendly rulebooks I have come across in a long time.

Army Building
This is dead simple - for 1pt you get 4 Hearthguard (elites); 8 Warriors; or 12 rather rubbish Levies (the horde option). Most armies are 4-6pts and range from 20-70 miniatures. This applies to each faction. Factional differences are shown due to different options in battleboards.

Whilst the battleboard mechanic is a great idea, I disliked the $18 custom dice, especially since a normal d6 would have done the job just as well...

The Battleboard (Orders Phase)
SAGA is a game, not a simulation.  Whilst without the ridiculous rules cheese of say Malifaux or Warmachine, the game hinges on good management of the "battleboard" to enable heroic actions from myth and legend. Each unit generates a "SAGA dice". These are rolled at the start of your turn. Various dice combinations can be used to activate SAGA abilities.  SAGA abilities differ between factions - some can be activated more than once - and SAGA powers can be combined to create powerful effects.

Managing SAGA dice and your battle-board is a mini-game in itself. The rulebook provides good examples of how this works.

Activation Phase
Units can be activated by spending SAGA dice.  Elite troops are easier to activate, ill-disciplined levies are the hardest.   An activated unit may move, shoot or rest. Resting gets rid of a fatigue token.
Units can be activated repeatedly in a turn, as long as there are SAGA dice available to do so.

This is very standard. Troops move a standard range and stay within cohesion range rather like 40K.  Uneven and impassable ground have typical events. Units that move or activate more than once accumulate Fatigue.  

 This Breton starter warband is $118 including SAGA dice - expensive for a "historical" game - the buy-in is disturbingly similar to GW products
Shooting & Melee
Ranged units can engage others within range and LoS.   Levies & Warriors get 1 dice per 2 models; Hearthguard get 1 dice per model.  Attackers and Defenders can use battleboard abilities. Attackers check their rolls - each roll that scores above the enemy "Armour" level scores a hit.  Defenders then can roll a dice each hit. A 4+ cancels the hit.  Cover cancels hits on 3+.  Melee works in a similar manner - however elite troops and warriors have even stronger advantages over levies and combat is more lethal. Units who take the most casualties in melee will retreat. Each unit in melee gains Fatigue.  As units are lost, so too are their accompanying SAGA dice, reducing the capabilities of your warband.

Besides the battleboards, I found this mechanic the most interesting.  Units may accumulate fatigue - levies and warriors may accumulate 3 whilst elite hearthguard can accumulate 4.  Once a unit reaches its limit it may not be activated except to "Rest" and fights with only half the usual dice in melee.

But this isn't that bit that interested me - it was the ability to "spend" an opponent's fatigue points!
If fighting a fatigued opponent, you can "spend" one of their fatigue tokens in order to increase your armour; or you could use an opponent's fatigue to reduce their movement distance. The fatigue system provides a simple but interesting risk-v-reward resource that adds depth to SAGA. Fatigue tokens are the only tokens used in the game (a nice change - most new games have a million tokens and unit cards cluttering up the table).

Other Stuff
The core rules encompass 35 pages - the remaining 40 include miscellaneous rules such as your Warlord (a heroic character who generates extra SAGA dice and is very powerful in combat); faction rules for Vikings, Normans, Danes and Welsh; stats for "named" heroes like Harald Hardrada or William Duke of Normandy; a list of all SAGA abilities, six standard scenarios as well as a scenario for a 3 or 4 player battles. 

Armies with more elite troops are cheaper - this Anglo-Danish force costs $50 - without the $18 SAGA dice

SAGA is simple game, with two clever mechanisms tacked on - the use of the "battleboard" and "fatigue" introduces another level of tactics and resource management, whilst not complicating matters - always a good design point.  A game for heroic actions rather than a strict historical simulation, SAGA lacks a morale system and as the game is scenario-based, there is no reason not to suicidally sacrifice your units to accomplish objectives.  The faction-specific battleboards provide the ability for some fun meta-gaming and heroic actions without the over-the-top cheesiness or "he who knows the most rules wins" of Warmachine or Malifaux.   The rulebook is nicely presented and very gamer-friendly - one of the best I have come across lately.  I'm not a fan of having "special dice" (especially at $18 a set) and although you can convert your own it seems more trouble than it is worth. I also found the cost a little daunting - one 28-man starter army was $100 which is much steeper than the usual cost to try a skirmish wargame*

The game seems to cry out for a campaign system where warbands can battle for land and renown, and perhaps gain "experience" and abilities - I notice there are quite a few home-grown campaign systems springing up on the net.  An "official" campaign is possible, as  Gripping Beast have already published two supplements, each introducing 4 new warbands, so the game seems solidly supported.  Dark Age raids are ideally suited to skirmish gaming but it is rumoured that Arthurian and Crusades versions in pipeline.  SAGA seems a solid club game and a good introduction to historical gaming, and I can see it attracting new players to historical gaming a la Flames of War.

Recommended?: Certainly.  The battleboard and fatigue mechanics are great, and I think both historical and non-historical gamers will enjoy this one. I'd like to see a campaign system supplement; but all in all, a good intro to Ancients/Dark Ages gaming.

*Bulk plastics: If you used Wargames Factory plastics and did a bit of creative kit-bashing you could make warbands for much cheaper.  At 32 minis for $20, if you shared buying 3 boxes of say Fyrd, Thegns, Bondi or Huscarls with a mate, and mix and match body parts a bit, you could both end up with 48 minis for $30 - a much cheaper proposition.