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Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Frostgrave

Frostgrave, published by Osprey, is a small scale fantasy skirmish game built around a campaign setting. The game reminds me a lot of the old GW Mordheim, although it appears to be a lot more streamlined and simpler. You build a warband of around 6-10 models, which is lead by a wizard and his apprentice. As you play games, you'll collect treasure, gain experience, and over time, your wizard and his warband will become stronger and stronger. While it can be played as a standalone one-off pickup game, it will truly shine in a campaign setting.

The book clocks in at 130ish pages of full color, hardback goodness. In the table of contents below, you can see the exact breakdown, but you're looking at about 20 pages of game play rules, 20 pages of campaign rules, and a whooping 30 pages of detailed spells to choose from.


As mentioned earlier, the game is all about your wizard, and to a lesser extent, his apprentice. The wizard represents the player on the tabletop. There are ten different classes of wizards, each aligned to a unique type of magic:  Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumatuge, and the Witch. Each magic type has three aligned schools of magic, one opposed school, and five neutral schools. Any wizard can (with time) learn any spell, but  the further away from their class's basic school they get, the harder it is to use that magic.

Gameplay goes as follows:

  • Initiative: Warbands roll for initiative to see who goes first this turn.
  • Wizard phase: The wizard, and up to three mercenaries within 3", activate. An activation consists of moving, and then taking some kind of action, such as casting a spell or attacking in combat, or you can take the action and move afterwards.
  • Apprentice phase: The apprentice, and up to three mercenaries within 3", activate here.
  • Soldier phase: All remaining mercenaries activate.
  • Creature phase: Any creatures on the board not belonging to either warband activate using specified rules for AI.

All combat outcomes in the game are decided with a simple roll of a d20. For attacks, each player rolls a D20, adds any appropiate modifiers, and the highest result wins. You then take the winner's die result, subtract the loser's armor value, and the remainder is the damage the victim takes. Pretty simple, right?

There are only six basic stats to remember for each character, and every wizard starts with the same stat line.

  • Move is how far the model moves in inches
  • Fight is a modifier added to their combat die rolls
  • Shooting is a modifier to ranged attack rolls
  • Armor reduces the damage you take
  • Willpower provides a defensive modifier against spells and trickery
  • Health is how much damage a character can take before falling unconscious

In addition to the wizard and apprentice, you can also hire mercenaries to join your warband. These will be non-magic users and in comparison, fairly cheap and dispensable. In addition, they will not gain experience or improve as the campaign goes on, and will probably die often and need to be replaced. Examples of these hired hands include thieves, archers, knights, and apothecaries.

When your wizard or apprentice wants to cast a spell, simply consult the spell description for the casing value, and roll a D20. You need to meet or exceed the casting value for the spell to go off. For example, in the Elemental Ball spell below, you would need a 12 on a D20 for the spell to cast - a slightly more difficult than average spell, but it yields a ball of area affect +5 shooting strength havoc. Now that's what I call a fireball! This roll is modified by the alignment of the spell to your wizard's class - For example, an Elementalist only needs the 12, but if you are a neutrally aligned Necromancer as seen in the graphic above, it'd take a +4 penalty for a total of 16+ required!

Each wizard starts with eight spells - three from their own school, one from each of the three aligned schools, and two spells chosen from any of the neutral schools. Additional spells will have to be learned later through the campaign system.

In addition to the warbands fighting each other on the tabletop, there are rules for a wide variety of neutral monsters that will attack both players with their own scripted AI. You can place them before the game starts, or some of the scenarios in the book will specific which types, where, and when they appear. I can't wait to lead my opponent into a trap of freshly raised zombies!

The campaign system is pretty expansive, but still fairly simple. It's very reminiscent of role-playing campaigns with lots of charts to see what treasure and such you find. Your wizard (and by extension, apprentice) gain experience by casting spells, vanquishing foes, and collecting treasure. You can trade the experience in for increasing base stats, making spells easier to cast, or learning new spells. After each game, you roll on various charts to see what happens to any troops knocked unconscious. Hired mercenaries will often outright die, where as the wizard and apprentice have a better chance of surviving, albeit possibly with some long-lasting injury effects. In the event your wizard outright dies, you can choose to either start fresh with a new one, or have the apprentice step in and assume the wizards role, and hire a new apprentice. There are also rules for building up your base of operations, which gives some small benefits throughout the campaign.

I've gotten a chance to play four games thus far to try out the campaign system. I took Grey Seer Skitterscratch and his yet-to-be-named apprentice out vs Mike's Dark Elf warband.

I built the following warband:

  • Grey Seer Skitterscratch, the Summoner
    • Started with spells Summon Demon, Control Animal, Brew Potion, Leap, Summon Imp, Steal Health, Destructive Sphere, Crumble
  • Apprentice
  • Giant Rat (Warhound)
  • Clanrat (Infantryman)
  • Stormvermin (Man at Arms)
  • Jezzail Team (Crossbowman)
  • Jezzail Team (Crossbowman)
  • Jezzail Team (Crossbowman)

Clanrat (Infantryman) and a Giant Rat (Warhound) team up against his Squig (Warhound)

Stormvermin charges up the ladder to hit a Night Goblin Slave (Thug) and a Knight

My apprentice stealing some treasure, attempting to prove his worth to earn a name

The opposing caster coming up to rescue the knight
After our series of four games, I was able to bring Skitterscratch up to a level six. He can now summon demons on a 9+ (from a 12+) and skitterleap around the board on a 6+. I did manage to get the unnamed apprentice completely killed off, but Skaven lives are cheap, and it was a mere 210g to purchase a new one. Skitterscratch also managed to learn Mind Control, although its at a whooping 16+ to cast currently, purchased some magic gloves that help him cast better, and found a magic "crossbow" for one of the Jezzail Teams.

Frostgrave releases mid-July. A "Kickstarter-styled" preorder program going on over at Northstar just ended today, and expect to see it at Historicon as well for anyone who wants to get it earlier.

Want to join the conversation? Want to give Skitterscratch's Apprentice a name? Please sound off in the comments below, or let us know on our forum!

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