Thursday, March 3, 2011

Memories: "Saga" Minigame

In my last post, I wrote about an old campaign map I'd drawn just after high school and how it was inspired mainly by Robert E. Howard's Hyboria world, the backdrop for the Conan stories.  While scanning the map and then putting it back into the folder I store it in, I came across the "key" to the map, a little document I wrote that describes each country and lists the names of both the political and the religious leaders.  When I came to the more Scandinavian-sounding countries (Finway, Scandia, and Frisia), a flood of memories washed over me and I immediately remembered a game I hadn't thought about in more than 20 years: Saga, Age of Heroes Minigame, by TSR. 

This game was originally published in 1981 and written by Steve Marsh, with the cover illustrated by Bill Willingham.  It was part of a series of eight minigames that TSR produced in 1981 and 1982, each of which was sold in a little plastic hinged boxed that contained mini D6s and counters. I still have mine in the original plastic box, and just about had a heart-attack a few minutes ago when I opened it to take out the booklet to scan the cover, because half of the little counters dropped all over the floor. 

I received this game as a gift from my mom probably sometime in 1983 or very early 1984, but the thing is, I never played it back in the day.  None of my friends had the game and they didn't seem interested in playing these minigames.  They only wanted to play AD&D.  So, it's primarily sat, neglected, amongst my small game collection, and over the years, it's weathered seven moves across the country. 

I think finally around 1986 or so, I did convince my sister to play it with me (it's playable with 2-6 players), so I punched out all the counters and unfolded the map and we got down to business of slaying monsters, accumulating treasure hordes, recruiting other heroes to follow us, and establishing kingdoms. 

The basic gist of the game is that you are a Viking "hero", attempting to perform deeds to gain glory and ensure that your memory will live on in the glorious songs and stories ("the sagas") of the age. 

I have to be honest that I don't really remember much about the actual rules and gameplay, but I do remember all of the really cool Viking flavor in the rules and the map.  The game had tons of cool Viking names for the heroes and the "jarls" (followers), and also cool monsters like giants, trolls, witches, ghosts, and drow.  Drow!  I knew that the game was made by TSR, who made D&D and therefore the D1-D3 modules where I'd first heard of drow, but seeing them here in the context of this quasi-historical Viking type game made me reconsider how I thought of them.  I had always assumed that Gary Gygax had just made the drow up, until reading an editorial by him in Dragon magazine wherein he mentioned that he'd read about them in an old book of Fairy Tales.  But for some reason I never expected them in a game based on Vikings.  To me, it somehow made them cooler, and I remember doing some research at the library and figuring out that they were basically the equivalent of the Svartálfar. 

A lot of the background descriptions in the game booklet ended up influencing the Scandinavian type countries in the campaign map I posted a few days ago, and caused me for a short time to go through a sort of "Viking phase."  Oddly enough, years later when I scrapped that old campaign map and re-created my campaign from the ground up as the World of Samoth, I didn't include any Viking-type countries.  At that point in time, I felt like they were too "childish" and clichéd.  

I kind of miss having those kind of countries in my world now, but I can always save them for the next one.


  1. I only have one of the TSR minigames ("Vampyre" - which I've never played) but seeing them brings back fond memories of The Good Old Days. I was recently(-ish) considering picking up some of the others ("Revolt on Antarres" and "They've Invaded Pleasantville" spring to mind) but it's really "Saga" that interests me the most. I'm fairly certain that it's that cool Willigham cover (Willingham is D&D circa 1981 to me) and that excellent map/game board that do it for me.

    Thanks for reminding me to check on those eBay listings I was watching... :D

  2. I came here searching more Saga stuff because I'm thinking of starting a Hellfrost (Savage Worlds) campaign, but using Saga's map. I had most of these minigames and played most of them. Saga was pretty great (at the time, anyway, haven't played it recently) for exactly the reasons you said. Revolt on Antares, Saga, Viking Gods, and Remember the Alamo were my favorites. Looks like BoardGameGeek has the map image!


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