Friday, 23 June 2017

Play test review of Frostgrave

Exit goblin, pursued by angry dwarf
This week I finally found an opportunity to play some Frostgrave, the fantasy skirmish miniatures game from Osprey. This has been out for a couple of years now, and is being hailed in some quarters as a successor to Games Workshop's Mordheim. I had been wanting to play Mordheim for some time, but with Frostgrave I was intrigued: unlike Mordheim, the focus is on a wizard and his apprentice rather some heroic types, although the concept is similar. The wizards are the only characters you can really advance in terms of experience - the rest of the unit, the soldiers, are along for the ride.

Each wizard comes from a different school of magic, ranging from Elementalist to Soothsayer to Chronomancer. This dictates which spells he can use, and the relative difficulty of casting spells from other schools. Apprentices function as back up wizards - they find it tougher to cast spells, but have access to the same magic as the wizard.

Beyond this, like in Mordheim, players recruit a war band using a budget of gold pieces. I hired a couple of trackers, a dwarf man at arms [see picture above] and four dogs/wolves. You don't have to buy the Frostgrave official miniatures from North Star; you can quickly get going with the miniatures you have. I found I was easily able to build a war band with the painted figures I had already. I would, however, recommend looking at the North Star ones, as they are very nice.

Also, the soldiers in Frostgrave are not differentiated by race - my opponent fielded a war band composed entirely of orcs and goblins, because the profile for an orc barbarian is the same as that for a human one. I actually quite like this - it means one's choice of figures gets even wider. My wizard, apprentice and dwarf all came from Reaper, my trackers are rangers from Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings range, while my dogs are wolves from the old Vendel fantasy range.

Frostgrave takes place in the ruined and haunted city of the same name. Like Mordheim, it has been destroyed in a mysterious cataclysm. The wizards that once ruled there, however, were among the most powerful in the world, and other magic users have now been attracted to the city in search of their secrets. Instead of warpstone, they are looking for magical loot in the form of treasure chests.

Orc archers, a wizard, and a squigg (dog stats)


The mechanics


I'm not going to go into great detail on the mechanics of Frostgrave. However, combat is very easy: shooting and melee are both determined using an opposed roll on a d20, adjusted for the Fighting bonus of the figures involved. Hence, a zombie has a bonus of +0, while a man at arms has +3. There are no poxy combat modifiers, other than for some weapons, like two-handed weapons or very light weapons. Damage is calculated by comparing your final fight score - if you were the winner - against the armour of the target. If your final score is higher than the armour of your opponent, you inflict damage. There are no separate rolls for damage.

As with generating new characters for an RPG, you are somewhat blundering around in the dark when building your first Frostgrave war band. I had no idea how mine would fare. It took us a while to get the table set up, for which I blame my busy schedule this week, and we completed our first game in about 3.5 hours. This was partly because we were learning the rules, so I would expect to be able to reduce this to three hours which fits the game neatly into an evening. I don't think it is something you could play in a lunch hour. It also looks to me like the game gets longer the more war bands are involved. A four war band game would probably take up most of a day, particularly if players were not familiar with the rules.

Orc barbarian - in red - is tackled by a mummy.


Game highlights


Tactically, it is a very interesting game. Having the wizards hurling magic around certainly adds something to it. I particularly enjoyed:

  • A goblin thug scuttling away with a treasure chest, while being pursued by an angry, heavily armoured dwarf [see picture above];
  • A frozen pond terrain feature, which had characters gingerly picking their way across it to reach a chest;
  • The opportunity for wandering monsters to appear - my Dungeons and Dragons iron cobra figure had the chance to come onto the field as a small construct encounter [see below];
  • My opponent's use of a mud spell to bog my characters down all over the board, creating all sorts of nuisance for them. It backfired in the end, however, when his goblin apprentice got too close to an angry dwarf, who unexpectedly charged him and cut the goblin in two with his axe;
  • The raise zombie spell, which I simply did not make enough use of - my wizard conjured one zombie before the game, who did sterling service all over the place, making mincemeat of several mummies (see below);
  • An orc barbarian being taken down by a dog - I was expecting my dogs to be rubbish, but with three of them on the table, they actually created all sorts of havoc.
We played the Mausoleum scenario, which has four treasure chests in close proximity to a mausoleum in the centre of the battlefield. It spawns undead every turn. Due to a shortage of skeletons, we used mummies but with the profiles of unarmoured skeletons. The war bands are trying to get off the field with as many treasure chests as possible. These are then translated into gold and magic items in the campaign phase.

Take aways


Iron cobra mixes it up with the goblins.
Tactically, I was defeated. I'm trying to analyse how this happened, what worked, and what didn't. My opponent Kelvin made very good use of three spells - poison dart, grenade and mud/bog, all of which created all sorts of problems for my team. My dwarf and the dogs created issues in turn for his orcs, and I did manage to take advantage of his goblin apprentice's overconfidence to eliminate him. But Kelvin got away with most of the treasure and his wizard was simply more effective than mine.

We WILL need some mud templates, since the battlefield got quite muddy and it was hard to keep track of where all the mud was.

My wall spell was only used once, but it DID work well, so I'll be sure to use that one again, although it is difficult to cast. It conjures up a 6" wall, which then stays in the game, with a 20% chance each turn of disappearing. In my case it was particularly useful as a shield for stopping enemy archers.

I didn't do enough to protect my wizard. My apprentice was removed early on by a poison dart, leaving me with one spell caster functional. Once he had picked up a chest and was trying to escape, he spent too much time focusing on moving (and wading through mud) and became a target for the opposition archers and wizard. This was not good. I'm now more familiar with Kelvin's war band and how it functions, so can adapt accordingly.

Campaign-wise, I think I got away with about 130 gold and a couple of magic potions, IIRC. This was not a particularly impressive haul compared with Kelvin's. However, in the post-battle casualty assessment, I had one dog dead and the dwarf out of action for one game with wounds, while K's goblin apprentice was killed outright. It will cost at least 200 gold for the apprentice to be replaced. A dog, by contrast, costs 10 gold.

Final analysis? I loved it. We probably took a little longer because we spent quite some time analysing our positions and setting up. In some respects, this is the sign of a good game, because it throws up so many potential choices. It was also very tense. I can see why it has achieved popularity. It is not difficult to get your head around, but there are plenty of sweaty palm moments, particularly once your men are fleeing with treasure chests for the edge of the field!

1 comment:

  1. I think my spell choice was good -- mud is amazing -- but the combination of me misreading poison dart, your misplaced dog, and the wandering skeleton killing your last treasure hunter is what won it for me, rather than any clever play on my part or tactical deficiencies on yours.

    I split my forces from the start and while I worked out that one of the chests was illusory early on, it took too long to turn around and get back to the other side of the table. Your wall didn't help!

    The final score doesn't reflect it but I felt the game getting away from me somewhere around the middle; even without the apprentice to help them, I think your dogs managed to take out a quarter to a third of my warband in two turns and it was looking a bit desperate from my end.

    You had two chests off the table at that point and I was about to get my second. I knew I couldn't grab any more chests so I decided to play for a draw and prevent you getting more treasure off the table; I didn't realise I would pick up any unclaimed treasure!

    Great game. I can't wait to have another go.

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