Have you delved into the wonderful world of miniatures yet? I don’t mean playing and admiring the ones that come in a game like Scythe or Kemet. No, I mean something like Frostgrave – a tabletop battle using miniatures and some kind of resource to guide your battles. No? Me neither! So, this review may be for you.
If you are a hardened miniature veteran, then the short version of this review is that, if you like Frostgrave, this new edition has tidied up the rules (likely as a result of your feedback), revised the spell list and added 20 cool new scenarios. The second edition of Frostgrave is fully compatible with all previous supplements, so is probably worth a try if you enjoyed the first one. Great! Go enjoy the rest of your day.
For the rest of you, like me, who are still a little unsure what this is all about, stick around for the next few paragraphs and I will try to gently welcome you into this captivating world.
Frostgrave? I’m Intimidated, But Curious
Frostgrave is a multi-award-winning fantasy skirmish wargame that came out in 2015 and has sold thousands of copies. Now there is a second edition with loads of all new scenarios. If you are new to the genre like me, this feels like a good place to start as it’s probably one of the good ones! Well, it won the 2016 UK Games Expo Best Miniatures Game, so that’s a good start.
The game can be played as a one-off battle, usually lasting 1-2 hours, or as part of a longer campaign. You can buy specific miniatures for this or use ones you have already from other games. Everything else you need, bar a pencil, some terrain props, dice and a tape measure, comes with this book. As such, I feel like this is the perfect gateway miniatures game.
OK, I’m Leaning In, But Still With My Arms Folded
First up, you need to create your wizard. There are ten different schools of magic from the time-manipulating Chronomancer to the Summoners who can open doorways to different planes of existence! At the back of the book is a Wizard sheet, which you use to build and track your progress. Either photocopy from the book itself or download from online. There are some really cool fan created ones too that add some colour and life.
Next you need to choose your name, “Jim the Pithy” for example. Go with whatever feels right to you, no pressure (although that name is not trademarked and available for general use). Then pick your type from the ten available. There is a clear explanation in the book for each. Each wizard starts with eight spells: three you pick from your own school, and one each from the other five. You add in your starting stats, which are the same for every starting wizard, so at least that bit’s simple. Then choose your starting items such as a staff or armour. Finally, you get 400 gold crowns – nice! You are ready to go!
Arms Unfolded, Slight Suspicion In My Eyes
Well, not quite. You know that gold I mentioned? Well, now its time to spend some of that by recruiting your followers. “Apprentices. Assemble!”
Come on, it would be foolish to go to war alone! And the recruiting is quick and fun! You can add an apprentice and some soldiers to create your own War Band. The Apprentice simply costs you 100 gold and you then pick their items. The soldiers are recruited based on their stats. Do you want ones that move further, that have stronger armour, or perhaps simply ones that are free! Get your band together and now you can hit the table. That’s it, I promise.
Suspicion Gone And Replaced With A Wry Smile
Well, once you have read the next 35 pages you are ready to start. I know, I know! I’m sorry. But every game has a rule book, right? And this is a whole new genre of games for us noobs. In truth, the rules are clear and flow incredibly smoothly. As this is a big hardback book, the designers were not restricted in trying to fit the rules into a few pages in a small fold out. The book is the game and, as such, there are 35 pages for a reason. Each part is clearly explained with gorgeous art and regular notes to ease you in.
It’s all pretty familiar too. Table set up, moving, turn order, how to use certain powers and spells, etc. There is nothing here that would throw anyone who has played a few board games. I daresay you’ll be ready to go in under an hour and could teach your friends pretty simply thereafter.
Ok, Fine. How Does It Play?
Well, long ago, the great city of Felsted fell into an icy ruin after one foolish wizard unleashed all kinds of hell by misreading the 35-page rule book and rolled two dice instead of one. Idiot. Anyway, many years have passed, and no one judges this Wizard – it’s complicated and we all make mistakes. Now Felsted has become Frostgrave, which is a way cooler name for a game, and the city is full of adventures. So, really, we should be thanking this Wizard. You don’t get anywhere without trying, right?
The book says you should begin by trying one of the first ten scenarios, but after that it encourages you to try all twenty in any order, in a campaign style. You need props for each one, but again the book says you could use painted boxes or stones from the garden. I think this book knows it’s for people like us who maybe don’t own hundreds of pounds of miniature terrain pieces… yet!
The set up and explanation for each scenario is short and simple, so if you have done a good job with the previous 35 pages you will be away in no time. In most scenarios, you are hunting treasure and when the last piece has gone, the game ends. Another way to settle things is if all players except one have had their entire War Band obliterated, in which case the last player can roll a die for the remaining treasure. The Wizard with the most treasure wins. In a campaign game, you just gain the experience and items, determine your own success and move on to another adventure.
I’m Warming Up, But I’m Still Unsure What To Actually Do!
Most of the game play mechanics will be familiar to board game fans, with only table set-up and movement being dissimilar. Each character has their own movement stat, which indicates how far you can move in inches (quite understandably, miniature gaming is still in imperial!) across the table. You are not moving across hexes here.
This sounds simple enough and, in truth, it is. The complications from the variations of the table set up are largely up to you. Each scenario gives you an idea of where to put the major features, such as a well, various buildings, monsters you may encounter and of course, the treasure. The rest is up to you. The book explains that Frostgrave is a dense labyrinth of buildings, walls and snow, the specifics of which are not important. All that is important is that you have a lot of whatever you are using to represent this. As such, when you are moving and exploring, you can’t just go in a straight line to the treasure. This is all about moving around corners, encountering new things and weaving your way through the scenarios like a child creeping around the house on Christmas morning.
The book says you should never be able to move in a straight line by more than a foot each time. Any piece of treasure needs to be at least 6 inches away from any other and 8 inches from the central treasure. One other treasure piece needs to be 6 inches away from the rest like the others, but also at least 9 inches away from the table edge. So, you need some space here. Maybe play on the floor if you don’t have a large table. Although the book does have rules for playing on a 2×2 ft table.
A Frosty Reception for Frostgrave?
By now, I hope you have a better idea of what miniature games actually are, and whether you want to try Frostgrave for yourself. I was intimidated at first, but quickly replaced that feeling with wonder and intrigue. I hope to go through each scenario to fully assess my feelings on miniature games. Nevertheless, after a few games, I’m certainly enjoying it. I am not sure whether I will become the kind of person with boxes of miniatures in the shed. Even though they look awesome, I probably won’t ever spend hours painting them. I just don’t have the patience and would rather play than paint. But I am glad I tried this.
Miniature skirmish games are a rabbit hole and obviously with Warhammer looking on at me with a seductive grin on its face, I know I am perilously close to something very big, time-consuming and expensive. But they are also fun, engaging, absorbing, and rich in so much story telling. These are all things I look for in board games! Any board game that sells itself as being an adventure or with free choices in a sand-box style environment excites me. However, most disappoint with their limitations of what board games can do. Even Lord of the Rings, Journeys in Middle Earth, which is one of my favourites, has massive limitations with the character abilities, the predetermined (albeit random) tile set up, but most importantly the time. Meanwhile, with Frostgrave, you feel like you are on a truly open adventure that really is up to you. Even if you do use parts from Scythe, stones from your garden, and an egg cup with water in as I did!