Had a test game of Saga: Age of Magic. I was really looking forward to this book, and it didn't disappoint. It involves a lot more than the historical source books which tend to be largely explanations of the Battle Boards, and a few legendary units. And although there are only 6 boards, and not the usual 12, there is a lot more to this supplement. And it looks great, too.
The Battle Boards seem to represent concepts of warfare or fantasy archetypes rather than any particular army, so the player needs to decide what sort of concept fits their figures. This is usually straight forward if you have a typical fantasy army, eg, Wood Elves can be Lords of the Wild and Dwarfs can be Masters of the Underworld, but should also be able to accommodate more unusual factions.
I have an issue with the Otherworld list, because it doesn't quite fit squarely with the available troops I have from my Slaanesh collection; there are no Otherworld cavalry. So I will need to be a bit creative getting my Steeds of Slaanesh on the table.
There are a lot more troop-type choices than in historical Saga. Whereas with historical Saga there is not a lot to decide except for the balance between your hearthguard, warriors, and levies, this feels more like Warhammer with the number of different unit types. But they have done a decent job of keeping to as few extra rules as possible, while still offering the sort of array of choices you might want in a generic fantasy game.
There is a more granular approach to point-buying, too. There is still one point for X figures, but now you can spend half a point's worth of traditional troops to buy some of the new types. For example, you can spend 2 hearthguard, 4 warriors, or 6 levies to buy 1 Creature. You still can't spend 2 hearthguard to buy 4 warriors, or vice versa.
This is the Elf faction which uses the Great Kingdoms board. With my Warlord I have the traditional 12 bow levies, 2 points of standard-equipped warriors and 3 points of hearthguard. This would normally be a complete Saga warband, but AoM uses 8 points for a standard warband size. As you can buy 1 monster for 1 point and 1 Sorceror(sic) for 1 point, it's easy to see why they increased this. My monster is a titan (it's a tree), which means it's more heavily armoured than the average Monster, but it's also slower (move S). It should suit this largely defensive feeling warband.
To round off the force, I traded in 2 hearthguard for a Lieutenant. Lieutenants are heroes that don't generate Saga Dice. Each faction has its own flavours of Lieutenants. The Kingdoms has Captains and Paladins. Captains can lead troops with 'We Obey' like Warlords, and Paladins are Monster /Creature killers; their stats double when fighting those. So I bought a Paladin coz the Goblin warband is full of Creatures.
The warband generates a respectable 7 Saga Dice.
The Goblin faction use the Horde BB. Had they been a bit more shooty I could have used the Wild board, or had they been a bit more techno, I could have gone with the Underearth board. But as they're very mobile and I just plan on charging them in mindlessly, the Horde BB suits them best.
I put my warlord in a chariot which counts as mounted on a beast. This means he loses his We Obey and Bodyguard abilities, but it buffs him a bit, so I thought it would be a decent experiment to see how it panned out to have a warlord without the trademark warlord abilities.
I bought 3 points of Creatures coz I like trolls, and each Creature's five attack dice seemed like fun. I put them in units of 3 coz their 15 attack dice seemed nicely close to the 16 dice pool limit. I bought two units of Warriors, mounted, composite bow, and sold off 4 warriors, so I could have a unit of 12 which is the maximum size allowed. I bought a mounted lieutenant with the change. I bought a Sorceror coz it's fantasy, and 2 units of 8 mounted warriors. As I don't have Bodyguard for my Warlord, I didn't bother with any hearthguard. But that means the Sorceror, who also has Bodyguard, will need to watch his back.
The warband looks chunky with some nice big units, but only generates 6 Saga Dice.
We used the standard core rulebook scenario, and ended up with this after the goblins moved the wood on the right closer to them, to get it out the way.
The Elves used the other wood, and the ruins to mark their flanks, and planned to sit tight for a very defensive game. Meanwhile the Goblins lined up mindlessly planning to throw themselves mindlessly at the wall of Elves.
The Elf sorceror brought a quintessential array of spells, a heal, a wall, and a lighting bolt.
The Goblin wizard brought a Defence Dice re-roll, an Attack Dice bonus, and a charge range bonus, to help get those mindless charges in.
The spells in AoM are independent of the Battle Boards and can be made anytime during the activation phase, but don't count as activations. This would seem to make them very easy to use without contributing to the normal headache you get when planning your moves during the orders phase. They seem to be roughly on a par with BB abilities.
There are 3 levels of spell effect. The minimum effect is automatic (so spells can never be failed) but not too powerful. The Optimum spell level requires a lucky dice roll, usually requiring an Uncommon, or an Uncommon and a Common. The Maximum effect is usually very tasty but requires a decent dice roll (a Rare), and a roll on the Abuse of Magic table. The table is 2D6 and although the 6,7,8 is 'no effect,' the rest of the entries are pretty frightening. I feel that if you roll a Rare then it's going to be very tempting to apply the Max effect.
For the Goblins' first turn (only three dice in this scenario) I thought I would roll up with my composite bows and fire a few warning shots into the ruins. The Power of Steel allowed me to re-roll misses. And I moved a unit of trolls up, as well, in support. As it happened, the Elves managed to save all the hits. Why would I choose to attack the best defended unit on the board (the ruins give +1 Armour and +1 Save vs Shooting)? It's because I'm not very good at the game.
The Elves rolled their 7 dice and got this. The Kingdoms board is quite straight-forward with some buffs, bonus dice, and an interrupt. It doesn't have anything massively offensive, but seems like a decent, all-round, easy-to-use board. There's a good bit of inflicting fatigue on your own heroes, too.
The Elves moved their tree up a bit, but that was about it. They stacked their BB with dice, and then didn't do much, which is cowardly and shameful but probably tactically correct.
Also, the monster-killer Paladin, flew over the wood and landed just within charge range of the trolls.
The Goblins' second turn, they could roll their normal allocation of 6 dice. (They also had one left over from the first turn.) The Horde BB is pretty belligerent. There's a lot of reasons to add Attack Dice. I like the extra charge range ability and the one that removes a fatigue from a charged unit is nice. But again, a pretty straight-forward board, which seems to be all about the melee.
I had a plan this turn to get my Sorceror to cast a couple of spells at the beginning of the phase, so I used one of my Saga Dice to add 2 Magic Dice to the pool. The first spell, Rites of Battle, seems very powerful. It is a two dice spell, meaning I had to use at least 2 of my Magic Dice. Unfortunately I didn't roll the required symbols, and so had to make do with the minimum effect. I could have used more dice to increase my chances of getting the symbols I wanted.
The second spell was a one dice spell, but I had 2 dice left in my pool, so rolled both. Again, I rolled poorly and only got a minimum effect. Even so, that was enough to give my trolls enough extra charge range to get into melee. I stacked the spell's bonus with the BB's For the Horde! bonus (resulting in +S and +S to charge distance), which I feel should be legal, and it's a decent trick against unsuspecting opponents.
This is the melee. I feel like we probably got it mostly right, although getting Saga completely correct is more of an aspiration than a realistic ambition. We piled a lot of abilities into the melee and there were a decent amount of bonus dice and re-rolls. Because everyone had Resilience (2) however, no one died.
When the dust had cleared, the trolls ended up with 4 fatigue and the Paladin 3, so they were both exhausted. (The trolls had the new ability Imposing, which gives them a maximum fatigue of 4.)
Then my other trolls piled into the tree, followed by my Warlord. Again there was a lot of sound and fury, but because of the Resilience, no casualties. Getting rid of Creatures and Monsters in AoM is a lot like getting rid of Warlords in the historical game, even though they don't have Bodyguard, building 4 fatigues at Resilience (2) can take some doing. I haven't done the maths, but feel that leaving the fatigues on a Resilience (2) creature is usually more efficient than removing them for armour shifts.
So that was the end of the Goblins' second turn. A lot of abilities were poured into a few melees, and a load of fatigue built up, but there were no casualties.