Publisher: Osprey Games
Release Date: July 20, 2015 (US)
Author: Joseph McCullough
Format: 136 pgs., Hardcover
Product #: FGV
ICv2 Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
Tabletop miniatures games are enjoying a burst of popularity lately, with an increasingly crowded field making it easier and easier to miss out on new and interesting titles. It would be a shame if all of the competition caused one to overlook Frostgrave from Osprey Games. For this fantasy skirmish game has some very intriguing and fun ideas that make it a worthy offering indeed.
Summary: Like its many forebears, Frostgrave is intended to be played with miniatures supplied by the players on tabletop terrain. In this case, the theme is an ancient ruined city, only recently exposed from an icy tomb that has sealed it away for centuries. Within are magical wonders and secrets that are the envy of every wizard, as well as untold dangers and very unfriendly denizens.
The game play is quite simple, with most player actions resolved by a single opposed d20 roll. All the familiar elements are here: rules for movement, fighting, shooting, building armies, and terrain. But Frostgrave adds a number of elements more commonly seen in roleplaying games. The true experience of this game comes not from playing out battles, but from watching your wizard develop over an extended campaign.
Originality: Generally, tabletop miniatures games are focused on two things: building ever larger and larger armies and throwing them against each other in slugfests to the death. Each battle thus exists in isolation. Victory or defeat has little meaning, aside from bragging rights, since every army is magically restored before the next conflict begins.
Not so with Frostgrave. For starters, the goal of the battle is rarely the simple annihilation of your enemy. Instead, your soldiers must comb the ruins for valuable treasures and artifacts--rewards that you then use to improve your wizard and his followers before the next battle. Win big and you’ll have a jump on your rivals. Lose big, and you’ll have a tough fight clawing your way back up.
Presentation: The Frostgrave rulebook is a 136 page hardcover book with full-color throughout. The book is quite a bit smaller than the typical miniatures game rulebook, being the size of other Osprey books. This is a welcome touch for those who are accustomed to carrying massive tomes to every game. The cover features dynamic and exciting artwork depicting a pair of wizards in heated battle, capturing the concept of the game nicely. The only fault I would mention here is how easy it could be to mistake this book for a fiction offering, rather than a set of gaming rules.
Quality: As one would expect from a company with Osprey's reputation, the physical manufacturing of the book is excellent. The cover is sturdy. The binding is good. The pages are thick glossy paper, and the illustrations are clear and colorful.
The text itself, sadly, could have been better. The rules for setting up the battlefield are extremely vague. Wording of the 80 spells is not always consistent. Some rules, as written, leave a lot of room for interpretation. While this is not a critical flaw for any experienced tabletop gamer, these could be serious obstacles for anyone new to the hobby.
Marketability: Considering the many alternative fantasy miniature games on the market, Frostgrave is up against a lot of competition, and it will be a challenge for it to attract attention. It does have a supporting miniatures line, but unlike some other games they are not required for play. This is both a plus--in that it allows players to bring their favorite models to the table--and a minus--as the models will be less of a draw to pull players into the game.
On the plus side, the entry fee for this game is significantly lower than most titles in its category. At $24.95, the book is much less expensive than many of its competitors, and being able to use your own models means you don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars before you even play the game.
Overall: By combining elements of roleplaying games and tabletop miniatures, Joseph McCullough has created a game that to some degree transcends both genres. The 80 different spells offers a high degree of customizability for players, even before they start "hiring" their armies, and the tactical options that these spells open up are vast and interesting. The straightforward game mechanics are easy to learn, and game play is quick with very little downtime. But the real treat of the game is the campaign element: watching your character develop from battle to battle based on your own accomplishments is where the real fun lies.
But, the game suffers from a very high "luck factor." Being based on the 20-sided die means that there is a much broader range of possible outcomes than one finds with more traditional 6-sided dice, and as a result a single lucky (or unlucky) roll can throw the balance of a battle one way or the other very quickly. A string of those rolls at the right moment becomes unbeatable. Even between games, luck can loom large, with random treasure charts leaving one’s long-term strategy somewhat to the whims of chance. There is also a significant "rich get richer" tendency to the game: the winner of each battle enters the next fight of the campaign with a significant advantage.
Despite its drawbacks, Frostgrave is easy to learn, fun to play, and its built in campaign mechanics makes it perfect for a small club or league looking to play game after game. For that reason, I give this game 3.5 out of 5.