Friday, 12 February 2016

My thoughts on Frostgrave (having played a few times)

As most followers of this blog will know towards the end of last year I hit the phenomena that is Frostgrave big time. A considerable amount of time and money was spent sourcing and building my take on the frozen city and over the Christmas period I finished painting most of the minis I had acquired for the game.

Indeed since the end of November I have been fortunate to play around a dozen games in the frozen city. As of today I now have two elementalists in my Wizard's college (level 12 and level 5) who are very keen to explore the ruins further.

In this short posting I'll try and summarise what I think work about this game and perhaps some of the things that are missing/could be improved.

Having grown up with AD&D in my veins I was so excited about returning to the fantasy space. Aside from my keen interest in Fantasy Warmaster,  I really hoped this would fill that void missing from my old and distant RPG days. To a certain extent it has, the official range of figures are stunning,  and being unfettered by uniforms and paint schemes my fantasy figures can turn out in what ever clothes they want and nobody can say that this isn't right. These have been a joy to paint and the plastic kits are a great addition. I for one can't wait for the plastic Gnoll box to come out.

The building of my City has been a great journey and the praise received from both here on the blog and those that that have played on my boards has made me both proud and determined to do better.

So onto my thoughts of the game...

The casting of Wizards as the chief protagonists in Frostgrave is inspired. If I recall my old dungeoneering days everybody wanted a Wizard but the pain and of risk of getting him to the magical 5th level when he could cast a fireball spell often meant these classes became secondary to the prowess of a fighter or sneaky stealth of the thief.

Frostgrave delivers a whopping 100% on magic; the variety, versatility and sheer scale of the magic spells available coupled with the various schools creates a wealth of choice and different progression. The Magic seamlessly fits into the rest of the games rules (or should it be the other way round?) and as I have said delivers.

I do have concerns that the combat is over simplistic - ultimately any character can wipe out another on a single die roll. The 'spread' of a d20 allows for very little risk to be mitigated when you are planning your raids. I have found in the games that we have played the 'just go for it approach' has won as many times as the 'steady and cautious'.  Maybe I am being a bit unfair but perhaps with so few figures on the table a more complex approach could have been determined when it comes to combat.

I also feel that the range of henchmen is just too broad - why have a Man at Arms, an Infantryman, a Knight and a Templar. Much better to have a 'Fighter Class' that can pick and choose their weapons and armour. I also feel that aside from the standard stats there is very little 'character' in these henchmen. I have said in the past on various forums that I would want to see these classes develop - thieves should be better at climbing and sneaking, Barbarians should be able to go berserk, and Rangers track. How these manifest is up for debate but I am actively discussing this with one of my fellows.

Ultimately Frostgrave is a simple skirmish game, pitting one Wizard against another, with each intent on capturing as many treasure tokens on the board. Its great fun, full of humour and mischief, and a game can be turned around quite quickly. The progression of Wizards is brilliant - my high level Elementalist now only needs a  7 to cast that awesome bolt and the rest of his repertoire is building nicely.

However there is something missing in this game...and perhaps I am going back to my original roots ...and that is the unknown.

Without an umpire, games master etc all the players can see the lay of the land, they know what's on the table and they know that any wandering monsters will be both rare and random. There are no crumbling buildings or traps to watch out for, no hidden surprises, and to be blunt little narrative. Its at this point that I must admit that I have not played the Thaw of the Lich Lord campaign and this may challenge my assumptions.

My current thinking is that these games might indeed need a player to step up and become that games host - to create the scenario and adjudicate it on the board. For example the starting players don't know where the treasure is and have no idea what lies behind that wall.

Come October of this year I am planning on running a multiplayer Frostgrave game at BLAM. This will pit four Wizards fighting it out to secure a hidden artefact. The Winners of each round will then go into a final with the final winner being declared the arch wizard. To prepare for this I'll amost certainly have to create the Wizards and their parties in advance, this will give me the flexibility of starting them off at a higher level. As this progresses I'll post more thoughts on the blog.

In the meantime happy adventuring in the frozen city...

Until next time


  1. I agree with pretty much all of that and we use two d10s in our games. I especially endorse the use of an umpire. We tried this and it really made the game come alive. See here:

  2. We are exploring a few options:

    a). Making random encounters more likely by reducing score of required;
    b). Making the creature appear from a random building rather than a random board edge;
    c). Modifying the treasure chart by introducing the "contains a pair of old socks" option;

    I suspect that some of your concerns might be addressed in the new campaign book that promises to introduce traps etc.

    My interest lies in people's experiences of the different wizard schools - are the Elementalist/Necromancer popular for reasons beyond their obvious link to older styles of RPGs? Can you be successful using the "weaker" schools etc.

  3. I also agree with much of what you say, though our small group has only just started playing. I think the intent of battle is to be quick & not drawn out. Just roll a 20 & bam, bye-bye victim...makes a quick game. I think the powers that be are listening with the release of Sellsword. We also have noticed the lack of wandering monsters & I think after speaking with a friend, we may institute 1 random monster per turn during the creature phase on top of the random treasure grab one.
    I am also a big Mordheim fan & as anyone who has played it knows, the fanbase created all kinds of scenarios for others..adding an NPC element to games is not far off, as the Lich Lord expansion shows.

  4. After only a few games I'm much of the same opinion. It's almost entirely about the Wizard, Apprentice and the Magic. From my, albeit limited, experience so far the 'soldiers' are almost superfluous. They are mere fodder for what I think essentially becomes a 'Wizard Duel' game. This, to be fair, is essentially what the game is about.

    However I have a feeling that Frostgrave, without the beefing up of the scenario system and soldier mechanics, is a bit of a one trick pony.

    It does have potential though, so I will persevere. Especially as I've a fancy new Apprentice somewhere in the post!

    As an alternative, I do recommend the new Advanced rules for Songs of Blades and Heroes (Ganesha games), which to some extent had the reverse problem - lots of character types and traits but limited magic. That's now been seriously addressed with the update!

  5. I only played a couple of games at an event but have to say I found it to be great fun with each game feeling very different from the one another, as the game really is about the wizard's I would be fine with only them progressing as worrying about trying to keep everyone alive might slow the game down.

    On the not enough wandering monsters I'm not sure the guy I played my first game against would agree as one took his wizard out with a straight 20 roll lol

  6. IN our last game we had one player controlling the beasties and determining where the treasure was hidden. Made the game much more interesting and challenging

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed the game but I agree it could do with a bit more depth to it. The individual troop types could do with some skills to differentiate the moment it just seems to be based around armour and weapon types but I'd hoped a thief, for example, would be able to do more thiefy things. More of a narrative approach would be good but it does need someone to do more organising which detracts from the simple ' match up 2 forces and off you go' approach.

  8. Good review!
    Have not played it yet as at our club over here in germany we are waiting for the german version of the rules to come out (simply because they will have all the ammendments, errata and FAQ explanations included).

  9. I think part of the problem stems from trying to appeal to both skirmish and tournament players who want a "one and done" game, and the D&D and campaign crowd who want a lot of character development over time. I usually tinker with different rules until I get a mix of things I like. Frostgrave seems to be a good system to use as the basis for mixing and matching.

  10. Frostgrave certainly isn't D&D.
    If you want it to be then you'll need to houserule it.
    There are several handy suggestions on-line.

    The Wandering monsters are infrequent, but once they show up on your baseline, you'll be glad there aren't more. As above you can houserule to suit your preferences.

    Adding an umpire can be quite interesting.
    Useful jobs for the ump' include:
    * Take charge of the monsters (replacing the rather simple robotic commands in the rules).
    * Manage treasure placement (with the potential to add numbers of "blanks" on the table.
    * If you like the ump can also take charge of the "after game" rolls - determining nature of treasure and state of casualties as and when they leave the table.