So many many games and suggestions for games end up being sent to me and its not often I take a punt on something without doing a little bit of homework first because with so little free hobby time its imperative that I spend my hobby pennies wisely and on things Im fairly sure will a) get played, b) be enjoyed and c) have some local gaming.
There has been a buzz lately about a game called Frostgrave for Osprey Publishing by Joseph McCullough. Yeah you know, the Osprey Games who are renowned for their Historical stuff. They’re worth checking out if you like that sort of thing and they can be found here:-
So what is Frostgrave all about? What’s the USP?
Well according to the blurb from Osprey Frostgrave….
Amidst the frozen ruins of an ancient city, wizards battle in the hopes of discovering the treasures of a fallen empire. In this fantasy skirmish wargame, each player takes on the role of a wizard from one of ten schools of magic, and builds his band of followers. The wizard’s apprentice will usually accompany his master, and more than a dozen other henchman types are available for hire, from lowly thugs to heavily armoured knights and stealthy thieves. Wizards can expand their magical knowledge by unlocking ancient secrets and may learn up to 80 different spells. While individual games of Frostgrave are quick and can easily be played in an hour or two, it is by connecting them into an ongoing campaign that players will find the most enjoyment. The scenarios given in the book are merely the beginning of the limitless adventures that can be found amidst the ruins of the Frozen City.
So lets take a look at the rule book itself…..firstly its reasonably priced and I think RRP is £15 but I managed to grab myself a copy for £9.50 delivered from Wordery via eBay. Its a solid hardback, full of well produced colour glossy pages, beautiful artwork, and a front cover that really evokes the feeling of the game. Its slightly smaller than most rulebooks which surprised me upon arrival but not a rulebook to be ashamed of that’s by any means. Its seriously well put together and laid out in a well thought out and simple way. Mechanical diagrams to explain rules are clear and concise and help the reader understand concepts quickly. The back is full of tables and free Warband lists to photocopy and use although the same materials are available via download and the Facebook community. The production values and quality of Osprey stuff is apparent through out the book.
My only complaint and it is a very minor one at that is that there is no Index linking page numbers to subject in this book but that is mitigated by having a fairly robust Table of Contents. Sadly again there are no page number to subject list so whilst you know vaguely where something is and it wont take you a massive amount of time you wont know exactly where it is.
At its core, Frostgrave is a low fantasy skirmish warband game akin to the old Games Workshop favourite Mordheim. I personally would say that Frostgrave is what Mordheim wishes it was but others may not completely agree with me there. At its most simplistic you pick a wizard, a school of magic, and a warband, and go completing scenarios (included in the book) and skirmishes against other warbands in a campaign based setting gaining upgrades and funds to spend on gear to improve your warband. That is it at a basic.
You have a certain amount to spend when setting up your warband, you can spend it on an apprentice to add more magical firepower, which is a suggestion I agree with strongly! Then there is a selection of other troop types, War Hounds, thugs, thieves, trackers, Knights, Barbarians, and many more. So many in fact you can even theme your warband. The way weapons are defined in this, and the types of soldiers you can hire mean you can use many of your existing models to play this game in no time at all. I had some old Celtos miniatures just sat around doing nothing so using them I’m creating a Celtic themed Warband. Going to the Brigade Model’s website to buy some more about £30 later I had a rounded out Warband full of character and a look and feel I was really happy with. I’ve also found that Hasslefree Miniatures make a range of Celtic looking minis that fit well with my Warband so my evil necro-Celts now have a Queen/ Witch riding her undead troll to push them forward. You can buy miniatures anywhere for this game; GW Empire are a good look, North Star Miniatures sell Frostgrave specific box sets allowing you to build upto 30 soldiers which would be more than enough for 2-3 warbands, Reaper Miniatures are a good source of Wizardly looking models, Hasslefree make great miniatures which work well too but this is by no means an exhaustive list of what is available out there to use.
What do I need to play?
Well Frostgrave isn’t that miniature intensive to get playing, nor does it require a massive amount of specialist templates and tokens. A pad, a pen, a warband of 8-10 miniatures and some d20 dice and you are playing. Everything else whilst nice is not a requirement to play. Yes of course you’ll need something to play on and scenery but you might already have some lying around from Warwhammer, Mordheim or Malifaux that you can repurpose.
The game can be played on a table from 2′ x 2′ to 4′ x 4′, which is good, as it can be played on most dining room tables. It does recommend nice dense scenery. Battle Systems Fantasy Terrain have recently completed a Kickstarter for some cardboard dungeon terrain which could be used if you were so inclined. Games Workshop Warhammer or Age of Sigmar terrain is also fully compatible as are some of the excellent Pegasus Hobbies ruined gothic church kits which i fully intend on getting a few of. Some more canny gamers keep a look out at boot fairs and in toy shops for cheaper terrain but at this time of year Poundshops and supermarkets are full of christmassy stuff which can be used for frostgrave scenery. It wont take you long to find some awesomely inspirational images via Google simply typing “Frostgrave Scenery” or “Frostgrave Terrain” and of course for the truly lazy you can always buy pre-painted, pre-assembled stuff from eBay.
Just some quick images to give you the idea……
You can make your scenery as complicated or as simple as you like. Chunks of polystyrene sealed and painted grey will happily suffice for ruined walls and broken down structures until you find or make better. Scenery should have a very snowy, frozen wintery feel and I was very lucky to pick up a great deal on some Christmassy looking snow covered pine trees from eBay. A great deal at £12.79 for 21 assorted sizes. They come pre based in a clump of snow so require very little effort to turn into gaming scenery. I was so impressed I ordered another 42! It is my intention to build up a few crumbling wizards towers, a graveyard, some ruined houses and some Celtic looking terrain to round out the look and feel of my Celtic inspired warband. I’m also on the hunt for some old scenery from GW or similar. Back in the day GW released a plastic fortress which I intend on using to build the city walls of Felstadt aka Frostgrave.
GW Plastic Fortress assembled.
GW Plastic Fortress components
So whats it all about then?
During each turn we have phases, first we roll for initiative. Each player roles a dice, highest has initiative and is the primary player for the turn. Then we have a series of phases in order, Wizard, Apprentice, Soldier, creatures (Random creatures, such as Undead and Demons and Yeti’s stalk the ruins of the city).
The wizard gets to go first, he is the focus of the warband after all, you can activate him and up to 3 soldiers within 3″ of him. Then the secondary player does the same, alternating at each phase based upon who won the Initiative roll at the beginning of the turn.
The apprentice phase is the same as above, primary player first, then secondary player.
Then the soldier phase you can activate any of your soldiers that have not gone yet, and the same with the secondary player.
When activated each figure can do 2 actions. move and move, move and fight, shoot and move. Then you have the normal expected actions, jumping, climbing (and falling)
Models have a few stats to keep a track of….. usually the higher they are the better. Movement (M), expressed in inches, Fight (F) which is a 0 or a number with a plus, +2, +3 etc again the higher the number the better the models ability to fight and attack. Shooting (S), which is the same arrangement as Fighting. Armour (A) which is a number again, Willpower which is a plus number as Fighting and Shooting, and lastly Health (H). So your model will have a “stat-line” as follows:-
The stats are simple to follow, you do not have to remember any tables to hit or wound or anything like that. It is all dealt with in one dice roll. Lets take an example…..
In a fight both figures roll a d20 and add their fight value to it. So we have a Thug who has a fight of +2 against a Knight who has a fight of +4 The thug roles a 6 on his d20 and adds his fight to that for a total of 10. The Knight rolls a 12 and adds his fight for a total of 16. The knight has more so he wins. The Knight then subtracts the thugs armour from the Knights total roll. The thug has an armour of 10 so takes 6 damage from his health.
Shooting works in the same way, though with modifiers for cover. I like to think of it as the opponents ability to hide or dodge against the archers aim. It is a nice change to the roll to hit, roll to wound technique, as the higher you roll to hit, the more damage it can potentially do implying a more accurate shot.
There is a nice mechanic about rolling natural 20s for critical hits doing double damage which can lead to great story telling moments! Its similar to the Crit hit mechanic in PRODOS’ Warzone Resurrection and AvP although in their case the lower the better with 1’s being Crits and Autokills.
Its a simple yet elegant system when used, and keeps the game fast and frantic. Weapons can alter the effects adding a plus or a minus depending.
There are rules for when a model is reduced to 4 wounds or less and is considered wounded. Models will have a -2 to all rolls, and can only do one action. A nice touch showing the reducing ability or an injured model and makes even an injured model an asset if the actions are simple. It also gives you a chance to heal your injured and keep them in the game rather than they simply cease being operational.
Frostgrave is all about the Wizards and we’ve barely touched on them yet. Your spells and spellcasting is an important part of the game, and with the sheer amount of spells to choose from it should be! There are 10 different schools of magic:- Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumaturge and Witch. Each school has its own flavour of magic and other schools spells will be complimentary and others opposed.
Casting works in the same simple way as combat does, you roll a d20, if you equal or exceed then the casting value then the spell is successfully cast. If you roll less bad things can happen! Depending on the amount you fail by you can damage yourself. You can also get bigger effects to your spells dependant on how successful your attempt to cast is. This is particularly important in Summoning Spells when larger more ferocious demons and bigger Contrcuts can be created/summoned and bound to service. Wizards empower and boost thier spells ensuring success or pushing the level of success into the next bracket of success by swapping an amount of his/her health for a number to boost. Spend 3 health and take 3 damage for an extra 3 on the result. This can become really important when dealing with the level of failure or success as taking 1 damage to add 1 on the dice roll etc can be the difference between success and failure or the varying degress of success. Doing this I imagine the wizard straining hard to control the magical energies.
There is treasure to collect in the streets, dictated by the scenarios, and creatures roam the ruins too making the fights not just against the enemy warband. I like that it adds something else to think about.
The normal winner of a standard game is the last warband standing, and all treasure and experience gets dished out for the campaign phase to upgrade your characters and spend on goodies.
To Campaign or not to Campaign?
The campaign based stuff is one of the best parts of this game, following your wizard and his soldiers through their adventures in the ruined city.
In a campaign game when your soldiers and heroes reach 0 health in battle they are out of action but not becessarily dead, although in Frostgrave even death isn’t the encumberance it used to be. A player would roll on the charts at the end to see if they live, are wounded, or fully recover. Permanent injuries can continue through the whole campaign, like smashed toes, blind in an eye, psychological scars, all sorts of things that add to your character, and all gained with a story to tell.
Certain activities in battle grant your wizard experience that he can spend. Every 100 points of experience give him a level, and for each level he reaches he can increase a stat, fight, willpower, shoot, or health. He/she can also improve a known spell making it easier to cast, or learn a new one, again adding to the customisation of your wizard, you can make him adept at spells he knows, or a walking spellbook full of spells for each situation.
When you find treasure in the game world it can be gold, that is spent on upgrades and new members of your Warband, or perhaps something else, an artefact like a Grimoire, a Magical Potion, or a Magic Weapon or Item for a member of your warband. The rulebook contains a detailed and almost exhaustive section on all the items you can find whilst treasure hunting in Frostgrave although during a campaign I’m sure you could come up with more items as you delve deeper into the crypts and dungeons of the city. Thats part of the beauty of this setting…its all pretty exhaustive but there is so much scope for expansion and home brewing scenarios and new equipment and rules. The world really is your oyster.
You can spend your hard earnt gold on new recruits to replace the old, lame and injured, or upgrade your war gear between battles. As you progress you will need a base to send your raiding Warband out from. Yes you actually get a base of operations, you pick between a selection and each one gives you a specific bonus. You can then add upgrades to your base that provide all sorts of in game bonuses for you and your warband. As the campaign progresses you can improve your base to provide all sorts of goodies.
GW’s Mordheim has always been a solid go to skirmish campaign style game, and whilst others have tried to dethrone it nothing has come close in all its time. Age of Sigmar has a skirmish element but that seems to have been a massive flop with most Warhammer players going back to older versions for their gaming. Frostgrave not only gives Mordheim a bloody nose it but steals its lunch money, slips on some shades and flips it the bird as it walks away! Not long after release the first expansion for Frostgrave was announced and even spoiled in the back of the main rule book. The Thaw of the Lich Lord comes to the gaming table this month and North Star Figures have been running a Nickstarter to generate interest and give players/backers the opportunity to buy everything they need at great prices. I backed this project and now have all the goodies plus the new book arriving shortly, giving me time to complete my Celtic Necromancy Warband before I jump into a cultist Summoner warband and eventually into my daughters Frozen inspired Warband. With the promise of more expansions to come it looks on a regular release cycle and further Nickstarters from North Star Games Frostgrave looks set to become THE fantasy skirmish campaign game, and rightly so. Osprey and Joseph McCullough have put great work into this. Go to Osprey and get your order here although eBay and other avenues are open for ordering. It is a must have for any fantasy gamer.
The King is dead, long live the King!