REVIEW: 'FROSTGRAVE: GHOST ARCHIPELAGO--FANTASY WARGAMES IN THE LOST ISLES GHOST ARCHIPELAGO' HC (GAME)
ICv2 Stars: 3.5 (out of 5)
Posted by William Niebling on September 15, 2017 @ 5:13 am CT
Publisher: Osprey Games
Release Date: October 19, 2017
Game Designer: Joseph McCullough
Format: 144 pgs., Hardcover
Age Rating: N/A
ICv2 Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
A couple of years ago, I was delighted to discover a quirky little tabletop miniatures game called Frostgrave. This quick-and-dirty skirmish-scale tactical game successfully combined many of my favorite elements of miniatures games and role playing games. Two-and-a-half years later, Osprey has expanded the game in an entirely new direction with Ghost Archipelago. But how does the new book stack up against its older brother?
Summary: Like Frostgrave, Ghost Archipelago pits adventurous bands not only against one another, but also against an inhospitable landscape full of unpleasant monsters, traps, and magical pitfalls. The unique twist of both games is that victory is not determined by annihilating your opponent, but rather in surviving and making off with more treasure than your opponent can. Scenarios are linked together into on-going campaigns, and characters gain experience and acquire new abilities in a manner similar to a role playing game. This forces players to consider the long-term effects of risking their important characters, instead of the unrealistic all-or-nothing style of most miniatures games.
In Ghost Archipelago, the “heroes” are “Heritors”—heirs of mystical powers granted to their ancestors by the mysterious “Crystal Pool.” Leading a band of sailors and soldiers with their trusty spell-casting “Warden” by their side, the Heritors use their supernatural powers to overcome their enemies and the terrain as they seek the Crystal Pool, hoping to recover the full powers that they have inherited only a small portion of.
Originality: The Ghost Archipelago book opens with a warning that it is a completely seperate game from Frostgrave, with similar but different rules, and that players should take care not to confuse the two rules sets. But, most of these differences are simply a result of the shift from frozen ruins to tropical islands, including new terrain types, amphibious creatures, small boats to transport characters, new scenarios, and new creatures to fight. The Heritors, of course, have completely new powers, acting more like talented superheroes with superhuman abilities. The Wardens are very similar to the wizards of Frostgrave, and use almost identical rules but a different selection of spells.
The game rules themselves do have a small number of tweaks and modifications. Most of these are clarifications and updates, but there are a few significant adjustments. Characters are less likely to die from their wounds between scenarios and there is more treasure to be found, but wandering monsters appear more frequently.
Presentation: The presentation of Ghost Archipelago is identical to that of Frostgrave: a 140-page hardcover book with full color throughout. The graphic treatment is similar both inside and out, and both books feature the artwork of Dmitry Burmak, so they will look good next to each other on the shelf. Of course this is a mixed blessing in the store, as this small tome could easily be mistaken for a work of fiction or a role playing book, rather than a complete miniatures game.
Quality: Osprey has a well-earned reputation for producing quality books, and they have done so here as well. The hardcover is sturdy, the binding is good quality, the pages are thick and glossy, and the illustrations are exciting and dynamic. The rules themselves have been cleaned up from the earlier Frostgrave, with more consistent terminology used throughout and additional clarification text where needed. But, the guidelines for setting up the game table are still quite vague, and some rules and character abilities leave room for interpretation, which could create challenges for novice miniaturists.
Marketability: There is stiff competition for fantasy miniatures games, but Frostgrave has carved out a niche of its own. I often encounter other miniatures players who are familiar with the game and who either play it regularly themselves or know someone who does. It is likely that this fan base will extend to Ghost Archipelago as well, considering the similarities between the two. Both games also enjoy a very low entry point: The core rulebook is only $30.00 MSRP, and unlike most miniatures games, players are not required to purchase specific models to play as they can use any fantasy miniatures in their collection. Combined with the small-unit nature of the game, Ghost Archipelago is one of the least expensive ways to enjoy miniatures games.
Overall: I really like the way that Joseph McCullough has expanded the experience of Frostgrave in an entirely new and interesting direction. The interaction between the various Heritor abilities and the Warden magic creates a lot of tactical opportunities, and the campaign nature of the game adds a strategic element that is frankly missing from most miniatures games. The game is easy to learn and plays quickly with little downtime, and it’s fun to watch characters grow over the course of a campaign.
I was surprised that the rules do not provide for games played between Heritors and Wizards from Frostgrave. I think that it would be most interesting to see how their vastly different abilities and approaches to combat would interact with each other. Perhaps the versatility of a Wizard’s spellbook is too much (or too little?) for the raw power of a Heritor? Or maybe this is something that McCullough is saving for a future supplement…
Like it’s older brother, Ghost Archipelago offers a fast, fun, and surprisingly deep miniatures gaming experience with a built-in campaign system that makes players want to keep coming back. A relatively high luck factor may turn some off, but it’s still a good, solid game that all miniatures enthusiasts should at least look into. Like the original, I happily give this game 3.5 out of 5.
-- William Niebling