The book -
In addition to being able to stabilize my car on the ice, this hefty volume contains over 600 pages, and covers every bit you may need to run, play, and thoroughly enjoy the game.
The contents remind me a bit of the 1st editon DMG - tables (not necessarily tables in this case, but info) about a multitude of different details. This book goes further than that original DMG did in some places - for example, it provides a ton of advice and snippets for new players and Loremasters. The world is colorful and vibrant, with a plethora of details for building your own game.
The game -
One of my favorite things about SAGA is what it is NOT - it is not a compartmentalized fully standardized follow the dots from A to Z system. It is more like an old school game - when the game master (Loremaster) has all of the info there but needs to use their own imagination and mold the saga with the players. Unlike a lot of modern RPGs, which could easily be coded into computer programs with their very specific rules, SAGA more has information, guidleines and basic rules. Your imagination is the limit. The mechanics are very simple (and I would put this as an entry level game for mechanics - I will discuss those later), but Loremasters and players are given a ton of information, NOT led by the nose. It does require imagination, and development time.
The possibilities for character creation and development are extensive and customizable. Interestingly, character development is very gradual - no get-rich-quick schemes here, really more of a slow burn. It does seem to make it more worthwhile, at least to me (and works best with a somewhat steady or ongoing group). Various tools are used to add unique flavor to the game - I really like use of the karma scale, and resultant good and back luck. The idea of knack for a character's innate talent, story points (plot twists) as the loremaster and players develop the saga together, advantages and disadvantages, character social classes, customization options (anipeople, line of animal speech spells), technomancy (technology meets magic). I could go on and on. There is so much style in SAGA, and it all comes together during play. The different 'player' levels, which they get to based on how much XP they have earned for their characters, naturally allows players to try more difficult or intricate character ideas as they get a better idea of the whole system.
The mechanics -
The basic role is just that - basic. You roll x d20s against a target number of y. The more dice you rolled that are y or higher, the better you succeeded. Generally if you got no successes, you failed. 20s are counted as a success and re-rolled, for potentially more successes! Or more pulls (1s) which each remove a success. If you have more 1s than successes, you botch. That is bad :). It is a very simple mechanic. The combat and spell systems are intuitive to understand and flow. Usually the number of dice you are rolling is based on a primary or derived attribute (say strength) plus a skill (say climb). All attributes have a value of 1-10 and skills of 0-10. That's basically it (there are a few bits added, and some advanced rules you can add later, but that is really all there is to it). Character creation is by points, which puts people on a more even footing to start.
The critiques -
On the flip side of not being factory standardized, there are judgement calls - somehing that used to be in RPGs a lot but not as much anymore. I like that they are back, but it can create some disagreements at the table. While most people like to game to have fun, bewre if you are gaming with people who like to argue.
The mechanics are incredibly easy, which I like. Combat flows very smoothly, especially at low levels (at low levels, another retro idea that I enjoy, one shot kills are a possibility). At higher levels, though, there are a number of factors that help protect characters (and villains) from one shot kills (they still occasionally happen, but much mroe rarely) - armor, magic, higher stats. The system is still easy, but combats take a lot more time at higher levels. I don't mind exactly, but it is a point I wanted to make (for running SAGA at cons, for example, it is better to use starting level characters).
Character creation is a process - there a wide variety of possibilities so starting characters can be extremely customized. I found this gives me more of an attachment to the character. Then comes along that one shot kill possibility, at times :). I very much enjoy the character creation process, but it is more involved than a lot of other RPGs (and takes a bit more time, and general Loremaster approval).
The finale -
This is my favorite RPG. I have been gaming since the late 70s, and tried quite a variety of games and genres. This one keeps me coming back as often as I can. I play with my family, with my friends, at cons. I still play other games, but you can be sure I comparre them to SAGA.