Monday, 25 May 2015

Frostgrave Fantasy wargames in the frozen city Osprey Games by Joseph A McCullouch Review

Today we are taking a look at Frostgrave, a new game from Osprey Games written by Joseph McCulloch.  Osprey games you say? who are they? I am sure you all have heard of Osprey publishing, they produce fantastic historical books full of great pictures and detail.  Now they are expanding the gaming arm, and have a rather nice and growing selection of wargame rules, which is pretty useful as you can find a book to go along with any their historical sets nicely, take a little look at them here.

So what is Frostgrave about? well Osprey say....

Amidst the frozen ruins of an ancient city, wizards battle in the hopes of discovering the treasures of a fallen empire. In this fantasy skirmish wargame, each player takes on the role of a wizard from one of ten schools of magic, and builds his band of followers. The wizard's apprentice will usually accompany his master, and more than a dozen other henchman types are available for hire, from lowly thugs to heavily armoured knights and stealthy thieves. Wizards can expand their magical knowledge by unlocking ancient secrets and may learn up to 80 different spells. While individual games of Frostgrave are quick and can easily be played in an hour or two, it is by connecting them into an ongoing campaign that players will find the most enjoyment. The scenarios given in the book are merely the beginning of the limitless adventures that can be found amidst the ruins of the Frozen City.

So lets take a look at the book itself, its hardback, full colour glossy pages, full of beautiful artwork, and a fantastic front cover, not a rulebook to be ashamed of that's for sure, Ospreys great production is apparent through out the book.

At its core, its a fantasy skirmish warband game.  The closest I can imagine it to is my old favourite Mordheim.  You pick a wizard, and a warband, and go completing scenarios in a campaign gaining upgrades and funds to spend on gear to improve your warband.  That is it at a basic.  Does it do it better then Mordheim?  stay with us to find out!


There is no index, but a solid table of contents.  And so far unlike a lot of books I have found it easy enough to navigate via that as it is very well laid out.

The game can be played on a table from 2x2 to 4x4, which is good, as it can be played on tables.  It does recommend nice dense scenery.

The first thing you will need to do to create your warband to play is create your wizard.  He is your representative on the table top, and is free to create in warband cost.  There are 10 different schools of magic to choose from, all varied, and encompassing many classic archetypes, such as the witch, witchdoctor, elementalist, necromancer, chronomancer, enchanter, illusionist, summoner and more.  Each school of magic has 3 other schools considered aligned to it, 5 schools neutral to it, and 3 opposed to it.

When you construct your wizard you can pick 3 spells from your own school, one from each of your aligned schools, and 2 from neutral schools.

Each school has 8 spells, so with these combinations, you can come up with something tailor made to your style, and the chances are no to wizards will ever be the same.

You have a certain amount to spend when setting up your warband, you can spend it on an apprentice to add more magical firepower, which is a suggestion I agree with strongly!  Then there is a selection of other troop types, War Hounds, thugs, thieves, trackers, Knights, Barbarians, and many more.  So many in fact you can even theme your warband.  The way weapons are defined in this, and the types of soldiers you can hire mean you can use many of your existing models to play this game in no time at all.  Keep with us for an article all about building your warband coming soon.


The game uses a D20 system, which is different for this sort of game, and I like it, adds more variables in.

During each turn we have phases, first we roll for initiative.  Each player roles a dice, highest has initiative and is the primary player for the turn.  Then we have a series of  phases in order, Wizard, Apprentice, Soldier, creatures (yes random creatures stalk the ruins of the city)

The wizard gets to go first, he is the focus of the warband after all, you can activate him and up to 3 soldiers within  3" of him.  Then the secondary player does the same.

The apprentice phase is the same as above, primary player first, then secondary player.

Then the soldier phase you can activate any of your soldiers that have not gone yet, and the same with the secondary player.

When activated each figure can do 2 actions. move and move, move and fight, shoot and move,


There is the normal expected actions, jumping, climbing (and falling)
Models have a few stats to keep a track of..... usually the higher they are the better.  movement, expressed in inches, Fight which is a 0 or a number with a plus, +2, +3 etc.  Shooting, which is the same sort.  Armour which is a number again, willpower which is a plus number, and health.

The stats are simple to follow, you do not have to remember any tables to hit or wound or anything like that.  It is all dealt with in one dice roll.  Lets take an example.....

In a fight both figures roll a d20 and add their fight value to it.  So we have a Thug who has a fight of  +2 against a Knight who has a fight of  +4  The thug roles a 6 on his d20 and adds his fight to that for a total of 10.  The Knight rolls a 12 and adds his fight for a total of 16.  The knight has more so he wins.  The Knight then subtracts the thugs armour from the Knights total roll.  The thug has an armour of 10 so takes 6 damage from his health.

Shooting works in the same way, though with modifiers for cover. I like to think of it as the opponents ability to hide or dodge against the archers aim.  It is a nice change to the roll to hit, roll to wound technique, as the higher you roll to hit, the more damage it can potentially do implying a more accurate shot.

There is a nice rule about rolling natural 20s for critical hits doing double damage which can lead to great story telling moments!

Its a simple yet elegant system when used, and keeps the game fast and frantic.  Weapons can alter the effects adding a plus or a minus depending.

There are rules for when a model is reduced to 4 wounds or less and is considered wounded. they have a minus 2 to all rolls, and can only do one action.  A nice touch.

Being all about the Wizards spellcasting is an important part of the game, and with the amount of spells it should be!  Casting works in the same way, roll a d20, if you get equal or more then the casting value it goes off.  If you roll less bad things can happen! depending on the amount you fail by you can damage yourself.  You can also empower and boost your spells by swapping a health for a number to boost, q health for a 1 on the dice roll etc, so if you fail you can spend health to get it off.  I imagine the wizard straining hard to control the magical energies.

There is treasure to collect in the streets, dictated by the scenarios, and creatures roam the ruins too making the fights not just against the enemy warband.  I like that it adds something else to think about.

The normal winner of a standard game is the last warband standing, and all treasure and experience gets dished out for the campaign phase to upgrade your characters and spend on goodies.

The campaign is one of the best parts of this game, following your wizard and his soldiers through their adventures in the ruined city.

In a campaign game when your soldiers and heroes reach 0 health in battle they are out of action, and you roll on the charts at the end to see if they live, are wounded, or fully recover.  Permanent injuries can continue through the whole campaign, like smashed toes, blind in an eye, psychological scars, all sorts of things that add to your character, and all gained with a story.

Certain activities in battle grant your wizard experience that he can spend.  Every 100 points of experience give him a level, and for each level he reaches he can increase a stat, fight, willpower, shoot, or health.  he can also improve a known spell making it easier to cast, or learn a new one, again adding to the customisation of your wizard, you can make him adept at spells he knows, or a walking spellbook full of spells for each situation.

When you find treasure in the game world it can be gold, that is spent on upgrades and men, or perhaps something else, an artefact like a Grimoire, a potion, or a magic weapon or item.  There is a nice detailed section in the book on all the items you can find.

You can spend your gold on new recruits, or upgrade gear in between battles.  Or your base. Yes you actually get a base of operations, you pick between a selection and each one gives you a specific bonus.  You can then add upgrades to your base that provide all sorts of in game bonuses for you and your warband.  As the campaign progresses you can improve your base to provide all sorts of goodies.

There are 10 scenarios in the book, you roll at the start of the game to see which one you will play.  The book covers any special rules and set ups for each scenarios and the rewards available, with a nice bit of backstory behind each one.

There is also a large bestiary in the book for random encounters which features an impressive array of creatures.  Skeletons, rats, wolves, zombies, bears, trolls, demons, so many different types of creatures all adding the potential to mess up your day.

At the back of the book is a set of spell cards, and the roster sheets.  These can also be downloaded from the Osprey site.

All in all this book contains everything you need to build your warband, play a long campaign and have a great time with it.  Its a fantastic looking book, the artwork is beautiful, and it is full of stunning painted models from the northstar range created from this game take a look here and would be a fine addition to any gaming shelf.  However, the game contained in this book looks far too good for it to just sit on your shelf, it has an elegant play system, that is simple to grasp but with all the combinations available hard to master, and a deep campaign system to keep you and your group gaming for a long time.  The rules are clear and well written, and the book follows a logical path making it easy to read and simple to refer to.  I can not recommend this game highly enough, it gives enough details about the city, but not the world to allow all sorts of great combinations of models to be used in it, create and theme your own warband and wizard to your taste.  Tailor him specifically from many combinations to your own tastes.

Mordheim has always been my go to skirmish campaign game, and nothing has come close in all its time.  Frostgrave however topples it! and with the promise of more expansions to come it looks to become THE fantasy skirmish campaign game, and rightly so. Osprey and Joseph McCullough have put great work into this.  Go to Osprey and get your pre order here  It is a must have for any fantasy gamer.

 The King is dead, long live the King!


Stay with us here for more articles on Frostgrave.