Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Frostgrave

Time for another review of something I like.

I'll say this right out - I haven't played Frostgrave. But I've read play report after play report, and it sounds fun. Really fun. So I bought it to check it out.

by Joseph A McCullough
Released 2015 by Osprey Publishing
136 pages
$24.95 Hardcover

Frostgrave is a campaign skirmish miniatures game. You build up a small band of figures and delve with them repeatedly. The system - and the game - is built around wizard-centric raiding bands exploring part of a partly-unfrozen lost city full of magical power and loot. The book covers a number of scenarios, including exploring undead-haunted areas, exploring a half-ruined library for valuable books of magic, and so on.

Your main playing piece is a wizard, a specialist in one of ten different schools of magic (ranging from things like Necromancy and Illusion to Enchantment and Chronomancy), plus an apprentice 10 levels lower than you. You pick your spells, hire your soldiers to bulk out your force, and head into the city after treasures. The treasures are tokens placed according to the scenario, and your goal is to get as many of them as you can to the edge of the play area to claim them. Also, to gain experience for your wizard.

What's interesting is that your wizard gains experience for casting spells successfully (or having your apprentice cast them successfully, personally killing things, and recovering treasure, plus occasional scenario-specific ways. But only your wizard gains experience. Your apprentices and soldiers do not - your apprentice improves in lockstep with your wizard, and your soldiers just don't progress. If you want improved soldiers, you need to replace the ones you have or hand them magical items that you find.

If you wizard or apprentice gets knocked out, you get to roll to see how badly injured they are. This may result in temporary injury, permanent injury, or death. Soldiers, same thing - 1-4 on a d20 and they're lost along with their gear, 5-8 they're hurt and need rest, 9-20 and they recover. This seems like it would nicely encourage risk (they're probably fine, even after getting mauled by a demon, stabbed by a rival's soldiers, or falling off a tower) without making it too certain.

Actions are pretty much move and fight (okay, a bit more than that, but not by a lot.) Fights are very swingy. Even casting spells requires a roll and success in casting is not certain. It's clearly a game of positioning yourself for possible success, taking risks, and then rolling to see how it goes. People who expect certainty and chess-like execution of moves will be disappointed at spell failure and their best fighter getting mauled from some bad rolling. But it does seem like it would encourage taking risks - playing safe isn't going to get you very far, and who knows, a good roll can change a lot.

The treasures seem generous, which I think is good. I've played competitive campaign play before and when it's possible to lose more than you gain in a delve or mission or battle the folks who have bad luck or less skills or both tend to fall behind and lack the resources to ever catch up. This game seems to be more like rewards ranging from "good enough" to "great" so you always want to take that risk that the delve this time will really kick your power up.

Another nice thing about it is that while there are Frostgrave minis, there isn't a direct tie from mini to stats. So you can substitute anything as long as it fits one of the soldier types. A barbarian with a two-handed weapon can be a barbarian figure, or perhaps an ape-man with a club, or an orc with a hammer, whatever. A war hound can be a dog or some other animal figure, a crossbowman armed with a crossbow, prodd, handgonne, etc. as long as you're okay with the listed stats being the stats.

The book is very attractive - nice pictures of well-painted mini, easy to read text on a nice background, enough whitespace for clarity but not too much. The monsters, spells, soldiers, etc. are well-organized and easy to copy spell cards in the back are probably the most useful tools for running the game.

My main complaint are the scenarios - there are ten, and little guidance to making your own. You're expected to play each one once, in whatever order you like, and not repeat them with the same wizard. Supplements with more scenarios have come out, but it feels so limited not having a generic scenario designer system built in. Perhaps a supplement has come out for that, but it felt . . . too close-ended for something as epic as "thawing city of lost magic" to have a ten-delve coupon book.

Overall: This was a good read and it looks really fun. Enough fun that I bought the book just so I can follow along better. And having read it, I'd like to give it a shot.


  1. Frostgrave looks really cool. I've seen some links (maybe I read the same pbp reports as you...probably from the links on this page).

    1. Probably.

      I'll bring the book to the next game if you want to see it or borrow and read it.

  2. This sounds pretty cool. I wonder if they were inspired by Ars Magica, which also centers around the wizards.

    1. You can probably find the author's contact info and ask. If Ars Magica is the inspiration, then what inspired Ars Magica to center on wizards?

      It's very Mordheim-like, but without some of the complication of needing to be collecting line-specific minis.

  3. Thanks for the nice review! Although I have long been aware of Ars Magica, I've never actually read the game (kept meaning too). GURPS was always my main game. That said, Frostgrave probably owns most to AD&D.

    1. You're welcome, it's a very inspired idea for a game and the summaries I've read make it sound very fun at the table.

      GURPS is my main game, too, but my long-running dungeon delving campaign probably owes as much to AD&D as anything else. I like the symmetry!


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