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Frostgrave (Second Edition)

Frostgrave is a magical, fantasy world where duelling wizards and their warbands fight across an ancient frozen cityscape to uncover hidden treasures and perhaps find lost spell books. This is a world where danger and mystery lurk around every corner; where wizards compete casting spells from contrasting magical schools as they vie for tactical supremacy; and where summoned demons, raised zombies or animated constructs join in the fight. Frostgrave goes to places RPGs often fear to tread: player-to-player conflict with magic. The focus is the player’s wizard, their apprentice and the spells they cast more than their warband full of hired muscle; although retinues are important for lifting and carrying and to provide protection in a game where death, or at least permanent injury, are very real possibilities. I simply love Frostgrave as a concept, as a world and as a game. It has renewed my interest in fantasy skirmish wargaming.

This Second Edition from Osprey is a revised and expanded version of the multi-award-winning fantasy wargame designed by Joseph A McCullough. First thing to note is that it is a rule book rather than a boxed game. That said it is a rather nice hardback book where pages of well thought-out rules are interspersed with simply stunning art work by RU-MOR and Kevin Dallimore’s photographs showcasing some gorgeously painted miniatures from North Star Figures. This book is a joy to own and to thumb through. It features updated rules and a revised spell list, both honed by years of player feedback to smooth out gameplay, fix discrepancies or omissions and, above all, balance the 80 spells to make each one unique and valuable. In this respect Joseph A McCullough has done a fantastic job; gone are the days where only a selection of the spells would ever be cast.

At the heart of Frostgrave: Second Edition are the 10 varied schools of magic to which a player’s wizard and their apprentice can belong. These range from Necromancy to Thaumaturgy, from Elemental magic to Illusion or from Enchantment to Witchcraft. Each school has a set of eight spells ranging from the mundane, easy-to-cast and useful spells to the powerful, more dominant and harder-to-cast spells. Schools also have a relationship with each other that ranges from aligned to opposed and means that casting spells from another school is progressively more difficult. Thus mundane spells from your own school are easy to cast whereas powerful spells from other schools are much more difficult and sometimes impossible to cast. Each wizard and their apprentice start knowing only eight spells, three from their own school, three from aligned schools and two from neutral schools, but as they explore the ruins of Frostgrave they can find grimoires to improve their repertoire of known spells or improve their ability to cast already known spells.

What makes Frostgrave especially interesting is that these spells often interact with each other and the tactical situation. This means the advantage can swing between players as they defeat each other's magic. A typical gameplay vignette might be: A Necromancer and their henchman activate and move into contact with a treasure chest; spying the opposing wizard across the table the Necromancer successfully rolls to cast ‘Steal Health’ and after an unsuccessful Will roll the opponent suffers 3 points of damage, in turn healing the Necromancer. Meanwhile, the henchman reaches down to pick up the treasure, causing a roll that sees a pack of Giant Rats enter the table. Not wanting to suffer further attacks, the opposing Elementalist rolls to cast 'Wall’, causing an obstruction to erupt from the ground between the two wizards, blocking line of sight. Seeing this, the Necromancer’s apprentice rolls to cast ‘Crumble’ on the Wall but comes up short as it is an aligned spell that is slightly more difficult, but they choose to empower it by sacrificing Health to ensure it gets cast. The Wall crumbles into dust. Then the Elementalist’s apprentice rolls to cast 'Elemental Hammer' making their Barbarian’s weapon more lethal, with the intent that they now rush the Necromancer and strike them dead in the next phase….

Frostgrave is normally played on a 3ft x 3ft table with 28mm figures. North Star Figures produce an exquisite range of miniatures to support the game, each one matched to the artwork in the rules and the numerous scenario books. So if you see something in the book, you can usually buy the mini and paint it up for your own games. And on the plus side these minis are produced by a wargames figure manufacturer and so more 'reasonably priced' than you might get from a typical High Street fantasy games store. This makes the cost of entry for creating your first warband affordable. However, Frostgrave is model independent so you can use any fantasy miniatures to form your warband if you wish. Moreover, Frostgrave is fantasy-race blind: warbands are fantasy race independent, so tho' the official model protagonists are all human no-on will care if you want to use dwarves, elves, lizards or woodland creatures. It doesn’t matter!

However, the game is terrain hungry and suggests a comprehensive bestiary of creatures for random Encounters. It is best played with that 3ft x 3ft table cluttered with terrain pieces so if you (or your club) don’t have access to existing scenery and figures then the cost of entry will increase significantly. But remember that Frostgrave is figure, terrain and even scale independent; as you can see in our Board's Eye View, I play quite happily on a 2ft x 2ft table with 15mm miniatures and it works fine!

Frostgrave benefits from a richness of support resources: YouTube videos can teach you how to play and you'll find that there are pdf downloads of spell sheets and stat sheets available online. Also available for Frostgrave is a plethora of scenario books which you absolutely do not need to buy to play the base game. The core rulebook already gives you 10 scenarios to set you going and you can manage with just this and a little imagination. However, the paperback scenario books are as beautifully produced and illustrated as the core rules and add a greater depth and dimension to the game when you are ready to delve deeper into the world of Frostgrave. And if you're looking for further inspiration particularly when it comes to painting your minis, Osprey have published a beautiful hardback book: Wizard Eye: The Art of Frostgrave with lavish illustrations from artists Dmitry and Kate Burma, and a commentary from the game's designers. It's definitely worth checking out.

In conclusion, Frostgrave: Second Edition is a fantastic fantasy skirmish wargame that is well supported with supplements, bespoke miniatures and community input. It has a firm place on my wargames shelf and gets a run out about every fortnight: it was my most played game last year. Win or lose it always gives me a good game. I would recommend anyone give it a try if they have a chance, either at your local club or if you ever find it played (often in cut down form) at a convention. If you like it then you can always follow it up by creating your own warband. Equally, if you have a box of old D&D figures and terrain then I would also recommend that you buy the Osprey rulebook and give it a go as the entry costs would be low. Finally, if you already know that a fantasy skirmish wargames are something that appeals but don’t have other interested players around then I would recommend that generating a couple of warbands, some creatures and terrain will set you up for many a good game.

(Review by Paddy Green)

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