Have you said to youself, “Gee, I love table top gaming and would love to get into war gaming like Warmachine, Hordes, Warhammer 40 and others but it just seems like the rules are so complex and having to paint and put together all those models seems so intimidating.” Well you, my friend, are in luck because Frostgrave exists!
Long ago, the great city of Felstad sat at the centre of a magical empire. Its towering spires, labyrinthine catacombs and immense libraries were the wonder of the age, and potions, scrolls and mystical items of all descriptions poured from its workshops. Then, one cataclysmic night, a mistake was made. In some lofty tower or dark chamber, a foolish wizard unleashed a magic too powerful to control. A storm rose up, an epic blizzard that swallowed the city whole, burying it deep and leaving the empire as nothing more than a vast, frozen wasteland. The empire shattered, and the magic of the world faded. As the centuries came and went, Felstad passed from history to legend and on into myth. Only a few wizards, clinging to the last remnants of magical knowledge, still believed that the lost city had ever actually existed. But their faith was rewarded.
After a thousand years, the fell winter has passed. The snows have receded, and Felstad has been uncovered. Its buildings lie in ruins, overrun by undead creatures and magical constructs, the legacy of the empire’s experiments. It is an evil, dangerous place. To the few hardy souls who inhabit the nearby villages, the city has acquired a new name, ‘Frostgrave’, and it is shunned by all right-thinking people. For those who seek power and riches, however, it is an unparalleled opportunity, a deadly maze concealing secrets of knowledge long forgotten…
Now that we are past the fluff, the gameplay itself is a lot of fun. Unlike Warhammer, Frostgrave incorporates RPG elements like being able to level up your Wizard, choose gear and spells that you empower as the battles continue. For example, I played a Witch who played a lot like a Witch Doctor. I chose my warband using the starting gold given to me and then did battle against a friend of mine who was a Necromancer.
For every spell successfully cast, for every humanoid enemy our wizards took down and for every treasure we acquired, experience was given to us. At the end of the match we tallied up up experience, leveled up, applied points to empowering spells, personal stats (like health and shooting score) or even learning a new spell! This aspect intrigued me more than anything due to the fact that every battle now mattered. Even our dead had to be tallied and then we rolled to discovered how much damage they took which ranged from death to just being knocked out.
On the battlefield are three treasure chests per players. For each chest the player receives a bit of gold and a chance at various magical items that help empower the player in future matches. One good chest might give you an enchanted bow that assists your main Spellcaster in being able to cast better which can turn the tides against another player who was given additional gold that he used to hire powerful units.
The combat of Frostgrave is fast and fun. As mentioned above, you first choose which school of magic you’d like to learn from, then you pick spells from an allied school, and neutral. Each tier of magic has various penalties to casting them according to which school of magic you choose. The schools themselves are unique and diverse from one another. There are Elementalists, Necromancers, Witches, Enchanters, Illusionists, Sigilists, Summoners, and more.
At first glance you’d think being a necromancer is much more fun than being an enchanter, but you’d be wrong. While necromancers can raise dead, enchanters can take their normal soldiers and turn them into hardened warriors and for each spell successfully cast, you get experience. So it can be terrifying to face a level 1 Enchanter one match and then find out he gained an extra level on you solely because of his constant buffing, which not only empowered his warband but also gave him experience.
You won’t always be facing enemy players. During certain scenarios offered in the rule book, there are plenty of chances for random enemy encounters to take place. This adds a second threat that your warband must face if they wish to grab the precious treasure. Vampires, Demons, Zombies, Skeletons, Constructs are just a few examples of the enemies that could appear.
In the game there is no restriction as to what kind of world your adventures take place in. If you wanted to pretend wizards were Jedi/Sith and your warband was composed of Rebels/Stormtroopers then you are free to! This adds an entire new level of fun to Frostgrave that I completely did not expect as I was so used to Warhammer 40k’s strict rules on using their licensed materials (for understandable reasons). While my friend used a traditional human army, I used various monsters such as gnolls, goatmen, goblins, and replaced my warhound with a giant spider. My warband was unique to me and if I were to attend Wargrave tournaments, I could easily point out my warband amongst the crowd.
Aside from the aesthetics, building your spellcaster and warband allows for a number of unique combinations. Personally, I throw my gold at cheaper melee units and a few good thieves who can travel across the map fast to snatch treasure with my apprentice at their side. Meanwhile, my main spellcaster is accompanied by two crossbowmen who rain bolts on anyone who gets too close. Crossbows may not be magical but they’ll sure as hell fire off every single time (whether the pierce armor or not is another story).
With matches only taking around 40 minutes to complete without any major distractions or off topic conversations, you can probably get around two to three matches in the time it would take you to do a single 1,000 point Warhammer 40k match. It’s a great game to play if you are short on time or want to try out a new strategy without having to invest tons of time.
Same goes for your character, if you lose a battle in a horrible way and half your warband dies along with gaining a permanent injury on your apprentice, you can easily toss out that character and start a new one. Granted at higher levels it might be better to simply roll with the punches, but for the first ten levels re-rolling isn’t so bad.
Frostgrave is a wonderful skirmish RPG that allows for immense customization and strategy. The short matches will be enjoyed by wargamers far and wide who are interested in sculpting their wizard exactly the way they love to play. With it’s cheap price of only $20 for it’s core rule book it’s almost begging you to buy it. I highly recommend this product to any lovers of tabletop wargaming who are interested in RPG elements.