A friend recently asked if I wanted to give Osprey Games’ skirmish game Frostgrave a go. I like to pride myself that I’ll give any game a try once, and a lot of reviews tout it as the ‘new Mordheim’. I remember playing a lot of Mordheim back in my teenage years and loving it, so – despite the use of dice instead of cards – I decided to see what it was like.
First of all, the character creation for your characters is superb. With ten different schools of magic and eight different spells for each school, you are free to pretty much create any wizard you want. The rest of the crew is rather more set, where you hire a model with set weapons – for example, a man-at-arms comes with a shield, sword and leather armour, and there’s no way to give him additional equipment – but this actually suits me. I like that the focus is on your wizard and his / her apprentice, with the rest of the crew just being the hired grunts who can easily be replaced.
Right from the start, I had a very certain idea for my wizard. Enter Helena Gabrielle Wells (+1 bonus point if you recognize the name reference), steampunk chronomancer!
A time-traveller from an alternate steampunk future, chronomancy in Helena’s time is amplified by clockwork machines. While usually chronomancy is restricted to short jumps, time skips and slowing or speeding the passage of time, these steam-powered machines amplify their powers and allow mages to travel freely throughout time. Regrettably, Helena’s time machine broke upon landing in Frostgrave, stranding her in the frozen city. Technology in the city is rather less advanced that that in Helena’s time, and so repairing the machine to amplify her powers and let her travel home is no small feat. To this end, she has gathered together a crew of mercenaries and hired swords, buying their loyalty with worthless clockwork baubles and trinkets – when you can create steam-powered machines, it’s easy to impress people who think that a crossbow is cutting-edge tech. She leads her men into the ruins, searching for items that she can repurpose to repair her machine. The alternative is to be stuck in this time – forever.
Thankfully, Helena isn’t alone in this endeavour. The only other person in her machine when it malfunctioned was her apprentice, Juliette Fforde. You can’t actually purchase guns in Frostgrave, so the explanation behind her pistol – when she casts her offensive spell Elemental Bolt, it’s actually her firing the pistol. The chance to fail represents the scarcity of anything she and Helena can repurpose as ammunition, and the fact it’s a magic spell is just how the residents of Frostgrave see it – in a realm of wizards and magic, one more sorcerer pointing a metal wand that shoots sparks and fire is hardly uncommon!
Finally, I needed some minions – expendable hired swords who could accompany my mages into the ruins. After looking through the list of mercenaries you can hire, I realised that my old Lord Of The Rings models would be ideal here…
Going from left to right: three Barbarians, a Thief, three Men-At-Arms, a Warhound, two Knights and a Templar. I can’t afford to hire them all straight off the bat, of course, but they’re ready for if things go well!
The rules seem quite easy and straightforward too, with everything being dealt with by the roll of a D20. Our games so far have been a bit swing-y, where the warband who took the lead early on suffered suddenly in the late game. The range of spells is great, though sadly it does seem that it’s faster to ‘level up’ your wizard by using offensive spells, despite how many great buff spells there are in the rules.
Finally, Frostgrave scratches an itch I didn’t even realise needed scratching – character creation. Back in my teenage years, I played a lot of Inquisitor, Mordheim and other GW specialist games, and one of my favourite elements was creating my own characters. Writing their backstory, their motivations and their desires was an integral part of each game for me – I still fondly remember Arbites officer Inara Hardin from Dark Heresy, or my assassin Mack in Mordheim. It’s not something I’ve done for years now, but with its stripped-back profiles and campaign-focused gameplay, it’s something that I’ve found very easy for Frostgrave. I didn’t realise how much I missed it until I started thinking, ‘Who is my chronomancer? Why is she in Frostgrave?’, and the desire to create my own character came flooding back.
I’ll do a write-up of a battle next time I play Frostgrave – it’s a very narrative game, and so should work well for write-ups. In the meantime, I’d better get back to painting the warband…