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- Join Date
- Nov 2008
Frostgrave - Move Over Mordheim, there's a new skirmish minis game in town!
So, a thousand years ago or so in a standard fantasy world, there was a huge magical city called Felstad. It was the center of arcane research in the north, full of wizards and wonders and riches.
Then a wizard's experiment... got out of hand. In an instant, the city was frozen in ice, its inhabitants entombed in a frosty grave... (You see what I did there? :D )
Finally, after a thousand years, the magical storms are abating. And the city is thawing out.
That's where you come in.
You're a wizard, who's hired a warband of mercenaries, and you're aiming to plunder the city for magic, riches, and knowledge!
Problem is, you've got some competition...
Frostgrave is a fast-playing minis game with a strong campaign attached. It's been called the successor to Mordheim, and I agree with that assessment. It's produced by Osprey publishing, who have done a lot of work in the area of historical miniatures and wargames.
There's a couple of reasons it's awesome. I'll go bit by bit.
1. You don't need official minis to play: Yes, Osprey publishing has an official line out. But they really don't care what minis you bring to the table. And since it's set in a standard fantasy world, any minis will do. Moreover, the game doesn't get into race... So you can put down elven archers with dwarven infantrymen and the stats will be the same as they would be for humans. So if you want your all-drow band of thieves and necromancers, go for it!
Essentially, any fantasy mini in your collection is fair game. My current warband consists of a mummified queen and a bunch of repurposed heroscape and Tomb Kings undead. It's just flavor, but it adds that little customizing touch...
2. The wizard character creation system is both simple and deep: Ten schools of magic, eight schools in each. And the spells influence your strategy and tactics... Moreover, you'll only start with three spells from your school. Three more will come from the affiliated schools of your path, and two more from the five neutral schools left over. Yeah, you'll have an opposed school, but that's fine.
That's the deep part. The only other thing to do after that is figure out what weapon loadout your wizard will carry. Yeah, you're not a standard clothy squishy... think more Gandalf. You can throw down if you have to.
3. Simple and fast resolution: All you need to play is a single D20. Most of the fighting consists of opposed rolls; high roll wins, then use the result to figure out how badly your opponent gets messed up. Every fight's serious, too! Due to the spread of the D20, all but the heartiest troops risk getting one-shotted every time a weapon comes their direction. But that's fine, and I'll explain why later.
4. Clear goals: Every game of Frostgrave (if you stick to the core book scenarios) has the same goal; Navigate the perils of the ruins, grab loot counters, and get them off the board. Fend off your opponent along the way, or take them out to reduce competition. Mind you, each scenario adds wrinkles that you have to work around, ranging from eternally-spawning skeletons to giant frostworms to malfunctioning teleporter pads, but eh, that's life in ruined Felstad.
5. Magic that's both dangerous and useful: Spellcasting is by no means certain. Many of the spells you can start with are tricky to cast... The more power, the harder the roll. And if you fail the roll by too much, your casters lose a little Health. There is a way around that... If you don't like the result of the roll, you can sacrifice health to force the cast. And since every spell cast gets you a little experience, well... the temptation to fuel your stuff with the blood and pain of your wizard or apprentice.
And as you level up, you can spend some of those bonuses to lower the difficulty of a few spells... So eventually your wizard will be able to cast any spell you find, even the ones from opposing schools. Just not, y'know, quite as well.
6. Well-thought out levelling system: Every spell your wizard or apprentice casts in play grants your wizard a little experience. Every treasure retrieved is more experience. Personal takedowns by your wizard? Oh yeah, more experience. Add in scenario goals, and it's not uncommon to walk away from the table with 2-3 levels. Each level is a small bonus... A bump to one of your wizard's stats, or a decrease in the difficulty of one of his spells.
Your wizard is the only one who levels up... but his or her apprentice follows them, acting as a slightly worse version of the caster. Everyone else in the warband stays the same, barring any magic items you throw on them.
7. Your warband grows and shifts as the campaign goes on: You start your Frostgrave career with 500 gold, and 200 of that goes away right off the bat if you want an apprentice. (Spoilers: You do. Seriously, it's a good idea.) The remaining 300 can be spent to buy up to 8 more mercenaries, from lowly thugs and warhounds to highly skilled (and costly) barbarians and apothecaries.
Oh, and people can die. There's a chart you roll on after every game, rolling once for each of your models who got KO'd. Wizards and apprentices are pretty sturdy... they've only got a 10% chance of perma-death. But they also might rack up permanent injuries, or lose gear, or suffer other problems. Or they could be completly fine next game. It's up to the dice. Non-wizards are either dead, wounded enough they have to miss the next game, or fine and dandy.
You're limited to 10 people per mission under most circumstances, so what usually happens is that wounded folks get fired and more skilled mercs get hired to take their place. Who needs thugs when you can afford the sturdier and fightier treasure hunters? Sure, they cost 80 gold more, but they're faster and can dish out some serious pain if they have to.
On the other hand, that's 100 gp gone if he rolls poorly on the survival chart, so maybe you want to try and keep him alive...
8. You get a base!: Oh, did I mention that you get an upgradeable base? After your first game, your wizard settles into Felstad and finds a free base. The type of it gives you a small bonus, and it can be upgraded with enough gold to buy more items and features that confer bonuses. It's a nice touch, very flavorful. Helps personalize your warband and wizard. A lot of the features help with out-of-game spells.
9. Out-of game spells: These are, simply put, spells that can be cast between game. They don't cost you health if you fail them, but you only get one shot of each spell between each game. (Well, two if your apprentice wants to have a go at casting them.) Most of them don't have much use in-game, so every one you choose is a spell you can't fire off in combat. On the other hand, they do things like call in demons (Which is a catchall term used for extradimensional creatures), create zombies or constructs, give you free experience, brew potions or scribe scrolls, or create extra treasure tokens to place on the table for your next game. They represent a little extra preparation between games, and it's a nice touch.
10. I wasn't kidding about this game being fast: I taught someone the basics in 10 minutes, he grabbed one of my sample warbands and we finished the game in about an hour. It was pretty much a draw... We both got off with 3 pieces of treasure, and a bunch of guys KO'd. It's rare I have a lot of time for wargames anymore, so anything that speed-plays and has this sort of depth is awesome.
It's not entirely perfect. There are a few flaws.
1. The experience system favors blaster types: When your wizard gets experience for personal kills, and it's on par with retrieving treasure, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that wizards focusing on offensive spells are going to advance quicker than illusionists or enchanters, or the like.
The easy fix for this is to eliminate experience gain from wizards personally KOing folks.
2. There is no default turn limit: If you go by the core book, the game goes on until one side has no more models left on the board, or all treasure is off the board. This can defeat the purpose of a fast-playing game.
The easy fix for this is to set a turn limit. 6-10 turns seems to be the common choice. We went with 8, and it worked pretty well.
3. There is no level adjustment system: As it stands, a 20th level wizard with a warband full of knights and marksmen and rangers can square off against a 0 level wizard with warhounds and thugs and archers, and the low-level guy gets nothing to compensate for the high-level wizard's advantage. Though this problem is mitigated a bit due to the randomness of the D20 spread, it's still a little jarring.
The easy fix is to give the lower level wizard bonus experience based on the level difference, so that he catches up quicker afterwards. The easier fix is for the local playgroup to agree not to play such mismatched games. It's easy as pie to stat up a new wizard and throw together a new warband for a newbie game. And honestly, differences of 5-10 levels aren't too major. Good tactics and the luck of the die help immensely, and it's usually not too hard to get at least one piece of treasure off the table.
4. All of the core scenarios are about grabbing treasure and running away: Yeah, this could get a little old after a while. Fortunately, Osprey's putting out new scenarios and books over the next few months. Also, the system is simple, and it wouldn't be hard to write up new scenarios.
5. Your wizard can die: Yeah. This is a thing. Magic is fickle, and arrows hurt. Your wizard needs to throw spells around if you wanna get treasure off the board, and a lot of the bonus objectives award taking risks. But... If you let him get KO'd, that 10% chance of death is always there... this isn't as big a deal if he dies in the high levels. The apprentice steps up and takes his place. (You're out 200 for hiring a new apprentice, but by that point it should be fine.) But at low levels, it can be the kiss of death.
I don't have an easy fix for this. Death should always be a possibility... without risk, the game loses its bite. That said, it could be frustrating as hell to spend 3-4 games building a wizard up, just to have to lose it all because your opponent got lucky with a fireball. This one comes down to your local players and venue, if you want to houserule it. I'm inclined to leave it where it is. It encourages tough decisions, balancing risk and reward... and those are the things that make a game memorable.
So yeah. 10 reasons to like Frostgrave, 5 to be wary.
I give it 4.75 stars of 5. Got a few issues, but nothing unsolveable and the game itself is a blast.
I'll be right here, if anyone has questions. :)
- Join Date
- Nov 2010
Re: Frostgrave - Move Over Mordheim, there's a new skirmish minis game in town!
I've not yet managed to give Frostgrave a try yet, though I've been meaning to (just haven't managed to get in to the FLGS yet on Frostgrave night), but one of your points I'd point out isn't exactly...true.
All that being said, Frostgrave does look entertaining.
- Join Date
- Nov 2008
Re: Frostgrave - Move Over Mordheim, there's a new skirmish minis game in town!
Ah, let me explain.
I'm not comparing it to Mordheim. Haven't played enough Mordheim to do so.
So it probably shares pros and cons with Mordheim. What I'm doing is listing what I like about it, and what I dislike about it.
I guess the title of the thread's a little misleading... I could change it, if needed.
And yeah, the game's a blast. There's some entertaining battle reports on youtube, that really show off the flexibility of the system...