Frostgrave Review

Frostgrave is a new miniatures skirmish game from Osprey Publishing and Northstar and I was lucky enough to get a game in. Since this is the Internet where we don’t let things like experience and qualifications get in the way of sweeping opinion, I felt that that single game was plenty to form a comprehensive review.

The premise is that Frostgrave is a ruined city somewhere cold. It is full of treasure and in your role as a wizard of one of ten schools of magic, that treasure is relevant to your interests. Sure there’s danger, and monsters lurking within those frozen ruins, but you’re cool with that because treasure. As a smartypants wizard (they’re famous for their intelligence, you know?), you decide that going alone is a terrible idea so you hire a band of mercenaries to help you. Enter the points balancing system. With your 500 starting gold, you can choose from an apprentice, archers, knights, barbarians, most fantasy class tropes are covered.

Here’s my elementalist wizard, Fil Fireflinger, and his crew ready to plunder the city:

Fil Fireflinger and hired swords.
Fil Fireflinger and hired swords.

You’ll notice that we proxied miniatures from different systems just to try out the rule set and there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. Of course, Northstar make a great range of miniatures for the purpose. Part of the beauty of the game from a hobby perspective is the character behind every miniature. You have leave to go crazy and personalise however you like.

When you’ve assembled your crew, you wait for a lull in the blizzards that wrack the city, and you make your move. Treasure tokens are placed around the board based on distance from one another which should be familiar from other miniatures games. Your goal is to grab as much treasure as you can and leg it out of the city before the weather turns again. Characters are (mostly) activated one at a time based on an initiative order defined at the start of each turn. Since each character has two actions, for example a move and spell/shoot/attack, you’re never waiting long for your turn to come back around. Our game had three players and you felt involved the whole time.

Your wizard can be quite the badass hombre if you manage to get his spells to work on their D20 roll. This guy can summon demons to fight for you, shoot bolts of arcane death from a ruined parapet, or create shields to protect the gullible fools he sent to their deaths brave warriors hired to do battle and carry treasure for him. There is a wide range of spells available, plenty for you to get into the character. Want a crypt-dwelling necromancer to call the dead into battle? You got it. How about a pyromaniac zapping enemies from afar? Sure. Wizards can dabble into the spells of other schools–at a cost–so you’re not restricted to a specific route.

Combat is based on a D20 system, meaning it can very much swing either way depending on the dice, and is utterly deadly. Don’t expect to charge into the centre of the board and drag fifteen treasure chests away without turning into a knife block and pin cushion. And don’t get attached to your hired swords. You will definitely want to keep your wizard alive though, and here’s where one of the real defining parts of the game comes in. Frostgrave is designed for campaign play. Treasure gives you experience, as does casting spells and killing other characters which allows your wizard to level up. Gaining a level can provide stat line increases, more spells or make spells easier to cast – ideal if your dice behave like mine. Now, there’s another reason that you want treasure. Treasure lets you buy stuff. Chances are, you’ll need to replace a mercenary or two for the next game, or perhaps your wizard has his eye on a shiny new staff of power. That’s where your money goes. Remember Necromunda’s campaign system? It’s a similar thing.

Our early-game setup. We soon learned that standing in the open in front of four archers drastically reduced life expectancy, although the barbarian charging across the bridge ignored that advice and declared that the last one to the treasure was a big girl’s blouse. We didn’t ask why some streets ended in a sudden wall or why a tape measure was floating in the fountain, as there was treasure to find:

It's safer behind these walls, boss!
It’s safer behind these walls, boss!

Getting the feeling that this has elements of the likes of Mordheim, Dungeons and Dragons and Deadzone? Good, because it does and they’re all great games. It’s the RPG elements that make this stand apart.

We limited the game to five turns and it was a close run thing. We all took casualties and all left the board with the same amount of treasure. As you might expect, things got messy when the outlying treasure was used up and we all had to brave the more dangerous chests in the centre of the city.

Cost of entry to the game is low. You need up to ten miniatures, a rulebook, some dice and a tape measure. Is it worth £15 for a rulebook? Hell yes it is. After the extensive experience of a single game, I’m giving Frostgrave a thumbs up.

Let me know what you think of the post. Here’s some life coming back into the blog and I’d rather write what people want to read! Have you tried Frostgrave yet?

 

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