Saints in Armor – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Good maps, large number of scenarios, high replay value, victory conditions are balanced.
Failed Basic: High complexity with fairly steep learning curve, unit counters are a bit small for easy reading.
Saints in Armor is a detailed, complex and highly involving simulation of the early battles of the Thirty Years War. The game play is “realistic” enough; one can easily imagine the players in “breast and back” armor issuing orders as young cavalier staffers push the counters around the map. Saints is the sixth game in the award-winning Musket and Pike Battle series from GMT Games. Starting with This Accursed Civil War, each game in the series has explored different conflicts in the “Pike and Shot” era of warfare.
The Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) was a war that involved almost all the great powers of Europe and several of the minor ones. At some point Spain, Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, and Sweden were all fighting, marching and counter-marching across Central Europe in a series of campaigns that involved both politics and religion (Catholic versus Protestant). Battles were decided by the push of the pike or a charge of pistol-armed cavalry. The war was so devastating that many parts of Germany did not recover from it for more than a century. Saints is set in the early part of the War, before the Swedish intervention (which is covered in another game in the series) when the Catholic and Holy Roman Imperial force had it pretty much all their way, defeating the weaker Protestant forces in several battles. This game examines six of those battles: White Mountain from 1620, Wimpfen, Höchst and Fleurus from 1622, Stadtlohn from 1623 and Lutter am Barenberge from 1626. Each of the scenarios has a set of special rules and victory conditions designed to balance the play and still represent historical accuracy.
The game contains three map-sheets, printed back and front, so each battle has its own map. There are 840 counters, representing infantry, cavalry, artillery and wagon units, leaders and unit status markers. The unit counters are colorful, with each combatant nation having its own color scheme, with various unit information (unit morale, unit type, name, etc) printed on them. However, the counters are on the small size (I had to play entire battles wearing my reading glasses, not something I normally must do to play games). Status markers (morale, pistols used, formation status, etc) are also colorful and much easier to read than unit counters. Also there is the Musket and Pike Battles Series rulebook of 26 pages and the 56-page Saints in Armor playbook that has the scenario set-up and special rules, plus player aid cards and a ten-sided die. GMT has, in a nice touch, included a number of plastic baggies to store the counters.
The scale of the game is one turn equals 20 to 30 minutes and one hex is 100 yards. Cavalry units are regiments or squadrons (200 to 500 men). Heavy infantry are regiments or brigades (400 to 2,000 men), while light infantry units are companies (100 to 300 men). Artillery units are batteries or double batteries (3 to 8 guns).
In each battle the player’s units are generally organized into left, right or center “wings” (in some scenarios sides only have two “wings”). These wings are the primary unit of play, as activations take place wing by wing, alternating between the players. The composition of the army’s wings is set by the rules of the game, and generally the infantry will be in the center with the cavalry on the left and right. The sequence of play is as follows:
Saints in Armor Sequence of Play
1. Initiative Phase
Players determine who will become the active player.
2. Activation Phase
Players alternate being the Active player until the all wings of each player have been activated or both players passed consecutively.
Sequence of the Activation Phase:
A. Preemption Attempt: The non-active player may attempt to interrupt that activation in order to activate one of his Wings first. If the attempt is successful, the preempted Wing will activate immediately after.
B. Orders Change: The activated Wing may attempt to change its orders status.
C. Perform Actions: Each unit in the Active Wing may perform only one action set by the limits of its order’s status, such as move, fire, reform or rally.
D. Close Combat: Units attack adjacent units
E. Continuation: The activated Wing may attempt to re-activate a second or even third time. When the activated Wing fails it’s “continuation” attempt or has completed its third activation this turn, or if the Active player does not wish to continue with the wing, then: If there is a Bypassed Wing, it activates. Or players determine the next Activation and, or if all Wings are done go to the next phase.
3 Rout Movement Phase
4 Marker Removal Phase:
Salvo markers are removed. Fired Artillery and Finished leaders are returned to normal. Leader Replacement Table is checked to determine the fate of Leaders removed from play.
Check for “Surrendering the Field” option.
If the battle is going to continue, advance the turn maker on the turn track and play on.
The sequence of play sounds overly complex, but once the players start to move through it, and play a few times they should develop a rhythm. Further, the unique sequence of play with the preemption and continuation rules is one of the reasons that the game has high replay value. Simply put, no game will ever play the same as any other game, mostly because the preemptions and continuations are randomly controlled by a die throw.
Another rule that adds greatly to the replay value is the orders change rule. Changing the orders of a wing is not automatic, but rather must be rolled for with various modifiers involved. In short, a wing cannot simply be ordered to “charge” but must roll for the desired orders to take effect.
Also interesting is the use of the Leaders counters. Leaders are special units that effect how the wings or the whole army may behave. A superior army or wing commander may decidedly turn the tide in his direction, whereas a singularly weak leader will soon lose control his troops and be pushed off the field. For example, an excellent Wing Commander has a much better chance of getting his wing to change orders than does an average commander.
The firing and close combat rules are pretty standard for games of this type, with fire from the flanks or rear of an attacked unit being more effective. Firing will affect an attacked unit by possibly breaking up its formation and maybe reducing its morale depending on how effective the fire was. Close combat is the real unit killer, as either the attacker or defender is bound to suffer severe damage.
Movement is also standard, with each unit having points that are used at different rates according to the terrain crossed. Movements can trigger reactions. The reaction rules are too complicated to go into here, but reactions add depth and intensity to the play, as the non-active player cannot merely sit back while his opponent maneuvers around the map.
The rulebook is well organized and indexed with plenty of helpful examples. The playbook is also excellent, with interesting historical background on the battles and the various leaders. The player aid cards are colorful and well designed, with contemporary art of the battles. The players will find themselves referring to both the rulebook and playbook frequently (at least at first) as they play through the various scenarios.
As to the scenarios; “Fleurus” is the best one to start with, being relatively small (25 units on the Protestant side and 22 on the Catholic side) and the play is balanced, which allows the new player to learn the system. “White Mountain” is best for solo play; in fact “White Mountain” if it was a standalone game would rate a “5″ for solitaire play. “Lutter am Barenberge” is the most balanced battle in terms of army size and quality of units and therefore the most even of the scenarios in terms of a straight-up fight.
The bottom line on Saints in Armor is that this game is not for beginners or the casual player. But if you are an experienced gamer, who has a deep interest in the time period or who wants an involving and satisfying game-playing experience, then Saints is for you. Do not be put off by the $69.00 US dollars price tag; with 6 scenarios and very high replayability, the game is a great value for your game-buying dollar.
Armchair General Score: 95%
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 4
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee working on games and simulations for training. He cut his wargaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He has Bachelors’ degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He just earned his Masters in European History and has decided to use all his education to play more games and bore his family.