I had my first games of Frostgrave with my gaming group this last weekend, and boy what a fun game! I’ve heard that this game is called “the spiritual successor of Mordheim”, but I’m here to tell you this game was way more fun than my memory of that game (and that was a great game). Very straightforward game but at the same time surprisingly deep for such a basic rule set, it was an instant hit with our gaming group. I’ll walk through the two games I played of Frostgrave, then I’ll talk a little bit about the game itself afterwards.
The game is pretty straightforward. It’s a small skirmish style game that really rewards (in a play experience perspective) a table that is rich in terrain. Below is a table we set up with some terrain we had from other gaming systems along with some new hills I created for an arctic scene, which fit perfectly in this setting.
This is the table we set up. Frostgrave normally is played on a 3×3 table. I happened to have a 4×6 Fat Mat (arctic theme), and so since we had 5 players at the height of the day, we set up a 2-game table with a big divider down the middle so two sets of players could play simultaneously. It worked out great. You can see the density of the terrain in the picture. The density is about right, but in future games I’d like to see some more verticality in the terrain. I’m working on some terrain pieces that should help with that.
The object of the game, in general terms, is to grab treasure out of the ruins of a city called Felstad, a city that was frozen solid a 1000 years ago but has started thawing. Many nasty critters live in this frozen ruin, and the magical city is still full of treasure for those brave or foolish enough to try to claim it. There are scenarios on top of the generic “treasure grab” motif, but they essentially add a layer of complexity above and beyond acquiring treasure (think objectives in other miniatures games). I used my newly made treasure counters for this game. Normally there’s 6 treasures that the opponents fight over.
My war band for the first game. Your war band is comprised of a Wizard, and his or her henchmen. The Wizard can come from one of many “schools” of magic. Mine was a “witch doctor”, who had poison and movement shenanigans spells. Your Wizard can also have an apprentice, which allows you to cast more spells each turn, which is pretty powerful. Wizards gain levels and experience, henchmen (called “soldiers”) do not. My war band members: front row, left to right: thug, war dog, witch apprentice, witch wizard, man-at-arms (2-handed weapon), treasure hunter, thief. Back row, left to right: archer, archer, thief. Creating a war band is quite simple, and the game actually encourages you to use models from your collection, not just their own brand (but their own brand are pretty quality miniatures and affordable, which is great). Each hired sword has their benefits and things they excel at, and are priced according to how effective they are in general in the game.
Once you’ve identified your war band, which you hire with your initial 500 gold crowns, you start a game. I’ve deployed my war band here on my edge of the table.
A picture of one of the custom treasure markers I created for the game.
The forces of Craig’s Enchanter wizard, with a custom Construct miniature he created himself. I love the creativity that this game has brought out in our gaming group.
Craig’s treasure hunter and war hound move up in an effort to get to some treasure first!
My witch doctor moves down off the ruins and closer to the enemy so he can move some treasures around by Telekenisis! I knew his war band did not have any ranged attackers, hence the very bold move…
My apprentice and a thief, hanging back to wait for the treasure hunter to grab some loot. The treasure hunter is up there on the piece of terrain with a green pool on it. The trees I got from Amazon (forget the brand), but based them up quickly and they really added to the ambiance of the board.
A close-up of the treasure-hunter, about to grab some loot!
A higher up shot of the field, particularly my side of the board. The wizard and apprentice hanging back just a little bit to support the soldiers grabbing treasure. My infantryman is hanging out behind a tree up near the enemy, debating on whether or not she wants to mix it up with his barbarian!
A big scrap erupts on the other side of the board. My Thief made off with the treasure that was on the pool, and the treasure hunter moves over to the right side of the board to contest a treasure the enemy treasure hunter was after! The war hound and treasure hunter fight my thug and treasure hunter.
The sneaky thief making off with the treasure!
When someone grabbed a treasure for the first time, the wandering monster table is consulted. On a certain result, a wandering monster appears. This one happened to be a bear (we only had an owl bear to proxy), and it showed up on my side of the table! The rotten luck! The bear heads towards the nearest player model…. my archer up on the ruin.
Back to the scrap on the right side of the board… my treasure hunter easily dispatches the war hound! My thug fails to damage his treasure hunter significantly.
During the game, all “creatures” (wandering monsters) activate in the same phase, called the “Creature Phase”. The bear runs up behind my archer, but doesn’t have sufficient actions left to attack him. They’re not officially in combat… yet…
“Hey Fred – I have this funny feeling something’s behind me…”
Back to the big scrap! The treasure hunter moves in and attacks the other treasure hunter, while the wooden construct lumbers ever closer to the melee…
The enemy treasure hunter kills my thug! And then picks up the treasure… summoning a wandering monster – this time a snow leopard – which shows up right behind them!
In the next turn, in my Wizard phase, my wizard leaps forward, behind the fog wall he cast earlier, trying to cut the enemy off in the ruin to the left, making off with a treasure! I chose to have my green archer shoot down at the barbarian, knowing full well the bear behind me might eat me that turn. I hit the barbarian but did no damage. And true to form, the bear ate my archer… GULP!
Moving my infantryman in to try to steal the treasure from the ruin!
My treasure hunter finally wins the battle and grab the treasure. The bear moves down off the ruin and towards my apprentice! AAAHHHH!
We call the game at that point as I had collected 5 of the 6 treasures. Here you can see the treasures I won and the casualties I took! It being our first game, we had a great time. We calculated experience and picked out hideouts and recruited new members of our war band and got ready for the next game.
My 2nd game of the day was with my buddy John. He was using an Illusionist, with a few crossbowmen, some thieves, a war hound, treasure hunter (can’t remember everything unfortunately!) but a really well themed war band with a french showgirl theme. I again had my same war band minus one thief, as he took a serious head thumping last game and had to sit this one out! I also summoned a zombie for this game from my wizard, and added him to my roster as I deployed.
This game was “Djini in a Bottle”, in which all the normal rules for a scenario apply, but one of the treasures, randomly, has the possibility of containing a demon. If you grab a treasure, roll a d20 – if you roll a certain value, the demon escapes and you have to deal with it! It’s a pretty nasty monster, and as you’ll see it really changed the dynamic in this game.
I didn’t take as many pictures this time, as I was moving faster in this game, but I did take a few key shots and thought I’d share them.
Here’s a shot of the table as John is taking his first turn. Love the density of the terrain – Frostgrave really shines when you have a lot of terrain. Next time I want to have more height and levels of terrain (like towers and bridges between them) to get a really deep 3D experience to the game.
A close up shot of my war band heading up, looking to get treasure. This time I was a bit wiser, and thought – I’ll have my Wizard go support one group and apprentice support another, but have them close enough to each other in case I wanted to do a Telekenisis of a treasure, then a leap spell from the other, in order to get a “double whammy” of treasure movement shenanigans in one turn. Keeping soldiers close to your spell casters is critical for this as you can activate up to 3 soldiers with a spell caster, as long as they’re 3 inches or less from your spell caster when that spell caster’s phase comes up.
On the other side of the board, the rest of my soldiers skulking about, making a beeline for some treasure.
Moving those guys on up…
Another shot of the board during John’s turn. He made his treasure hunters invisible, which was good for any ranged attacks while they moved up the board.
This was a really funny moment in the game. On turn 1, I grabbed a treasure, and it just so happened to be the treasure that was the Djini in a Bottle! The demon showed up and we both pretty much scattered, and made the objective to just get the treasure we could and get the heck out of dodge. It just so turned out that if we both played it really safe, we’d each get 3 of the 6 treasures. But was I going to play it safe? Hrmmm…. signs point to no. I saw an opening to have one of my guys (the infantryman) to Leap up the ruin to try to grab a treasure. So I leaped my infantryman, just into base to base with the treasure, but not grabbing it. Next turn, John’s illusionist mind controlled her, and so now he was standing by the treasure, ready to pick it up for himself! Well, I wasn’t going to let that pass, so I moved my apprentice up and Telekenesis’ed the treasure down off the ruin and away from my enslaved infantryman. The pic above shows the board state of all this treasure moving tomfoolery!
Well, me moving the treasure away from his mind-controlled warrior wasn’t going to work for John, so he decided he was going to “jump” my infantryman down to try to grab it. Well, turns out it was just over a 5″ fall, and by the rules, that’s a 10-point of damage fall…. yeah. Here lies the dead infantryman, attempting to steal back the treasure that I tried to originally steal from him… great times. Turns out over the course of the next few turns John did indeed get his hands on that treasure by mind controlling my archer and grabbing the treasure and running off.. but that is another tale.
So we wrapped up the day with 2 games under our belt and much fun had by all. I’ll go into my thoughts on the game, some house rules we came up with, and what’s next for our group.
Thoughts on the game
Frostgrave is, in my opinion, a stellar miniatures table top war game. It is elegant in it’s simplicity, deceptively complex in its depth and strategy, and is simply just fun. And when getting together with your friends, isn’t that what you’re looking for? It’s complex enough to be a challenge, and maybe its just me, but with all the other really complex war-games out there, isn’t it nice to not have to drill into pages and pages of rules to make sure you’re “doing it right”? This game will satisfy the new-to-tabletop-wargamer as well as the veteran gamer.
I’m not going to go through all the details of the game here – you can find those in many places at this point, and me rehashing them isn’t going to give you anything new. Instead, I’d like to focus on how my gaming group reacted to the game, and kind of bring it up a level in terms of overall sense of the game. Let’s go through why (in my humble opinion of course):
- It’s accessible: Frostgrave is a game that has a very easy learning curve. The rules are simple to grasp, there’s 1 die roll (head to head) to resolve all actions and effects, and the play is quick and entertaining. But don’t let the simplicity of the rules fool you – there’s plenty of complexity to be had. Once I got on the table I found that “my head was in the right place” – I was focused more on my strategy and the tactics than I was on the minutiae or semantics of the rules. Think about that. How many games have you played, as the casual gamer, that you just can’t remember exactly how it works? And you go look it up… and then you’ve broken the rhythm of the game. Our first game we were looking up the rules. The 2nd game we for the most part had them down pat. We were then able to focus on the fun.
- It’s economical: I don’t need to spend $100’s to get into this game. I don’t have to have a collection of 100’s and 100’s of figures. I can play with a war band of up to 10 models and with a fair number of monsters, I can have a good time with my buddies. It’s very approachable both from a financial and from a list-building perspective. As a busy dad and professional, it’s nice to know I can sit down with my buddies, having not played anything for a month or two, and feel I can pick this game up without having to do a marathon painting session the night before to be ready with the latest units, or have to spend tons of time preparing for the game. Compared to a lot of war games out there, you’re going to find Frostgrave as cost-effective as you want it to be. The rule book itself is only around $17-$20. So it’s economical from a time and budget perspective.
- You get to be creative: You’ve got plenty of choices, and more choices coming out in well-communicated updates to the product line by Osprey and North Star Military figures. They have great miniatures themselves, with lots of options for head and weapon swaps, but they also don’t get too bent out of shape if you use alternative miniatures. The creativity goes with the models and the list selection – its simple yet its amazingly complex and varied if you think about it. I dig it.
- It’s more than just war gaming: There’s a nice touch on the campaign system that it’s built right into the rules. It really feels like you’re kind of doing light role playing with Frostgrave. From leveling up your wizard to hiring henchmen and figuring out how to distribute your loot, the “after-the-game” gaming is just as fun as the “during-the-game” gaming. In short – its a lot of fun to watch your war band progress, and it leaves you wanting to play more.
- It’s just fun We had a blast. The group really enjoyed it. The games were fast, kept a good pace, and started several emails about house rules and what we wanted to do next, that very night. That’s a hallmark of a great game.
There’s more to it of course, but those are the key points to me. There’s also things to think about getting into the game. Here are some other observations that I made of the game, not just in terms of game play and mechanics, but general thoughts as well.
- Terrain. You’re going to want dense terrain. A lot of terrain. Games with light terrain are probably not going to be as fun.
- Archers (???) Not sure if this was just us or bad dice or what, but archers and crossbowmen perennially seemed to be low performers. I don’t recall my archers really having any material impact on the game. I wonder if it’s because the other player gets to add their fight? And intervening terrain? Not sure.
- Frostgrave seems to be a game that encourages and welcomes house-ruling. Our gaming group trolled the internet for what others are house-ruling, and we agreed with some, not with others. We agreed that critical hits seemed to be a bit over powered. I’m sure we’ll come up with others. But they are out there, so explore them.
- Treasure hunters are amazing. Don’t take my word for it. Try them. John’s threatening to have a whole war band made of treasure hunters.
- Snow-themed. It seems integral to the fluff, but I don’t think it would ruin the experience if you don’t have arctic-themed terrain. Though it does keep it in character. I made an effort to make some arctic hills and on a arctic Fat Mat from Frontline Gaming, I think we captured the experience well.
- Regular updates – it seems that Osprey and North Star Military Figures have a very full pipeline of new products coming out. I joined the “Nickstarter” to get the “Thaw of the Lich Lord” supplement (here), and I’m pretty excited about it. Looks like it ships in November. There’s also updates for Dungeon Crawls and monster pits coming out soon as well.
So there you have it. If you haven’t heard of Frostgrave yet, or if you’ve heard of it and haven’t taken the plunge, you should. It was wicked fun.
Thanks for reading and happy gaming!