ATTENTION: As you read this, keep in mind that I have high hopes for Frostgrave. There are great things about Frostgrave, enough of them for me to suggest people give it a try. Yes, I am saying play this game. That said, I must warn you: I am a contrarian by nature and even things I really enjoy are critiqued - it just is how it is in this brain of mine. I am fighting that nature and, to show my good faith, I ordered myself some Reaper minis to replace my current Hordes proxies. So, I am invested. I am ready to give this game a fair shot.
I have identified Frostgrave as the Monopoly of miniatures games. What do I mean? No two families ever play Monopoly the same way; no board game has been house-ruled so much. Now, I think a lot of house-rules for Monopoly come from poor reading skills, boredom, alcohol, ADD, or Uncle Darren’s need to cheat. I can see this game getting hundreds of house rules in hundreds of different variations. Frostgrave will exist in a multitude of alternate universes all similar but very much different. I am calling dibs of calling our universe FG704 (Yep, the first group in an area code should get to claim it!) Anyway, this game screams for house rules. I dare to say it necessitates house rules. Why? Well, Frostgrave reminds me of the games I made when I was in junior high. Those were great games full of twists and endless possibilities, but they also had unavoidable gaps that left a lot to the imagination and required frequent on-the-spot rule creation. I consider the comparison a compliment, a very tender compliment, while also being aware that it may be something someone else might not necessarily want associated with a published product.
To illustrate my meaning, let’s get into the Pros and Cons.
Cost of Entry - You do not need to spend much on this game if you have played other fantasy-type games, board or miniatures. The book is inexpensive anywhere you get it and the warbands are so generic your minis can be proxies from any fantasy board game or miniatures. I dipped into Hordes, Malifaux, Descent, Castle Ravenloft, Super Dungeon Explore, Shadows of Brimstone, and Zombicide.
Easy rules - The book is 134 pages, but the game’s rules end on page 47 and the book lay-out is very reminiscent of school text books so those 47 pages are not a wall of tiny text nor hard to understand. You will pick up the rules in one sitting, with a few errors made, and you will master it by the third game.
Terrain – This game is as in love with terrain as I am. Sort of like the girlfriend that laughed at all of your jokes, I think that is why I am still on-board despite other misgivings. Miniature games that require lots of terrain and make the players deal with the drawbacks of said terrain are the only ones that deserve to be called war games. That is my stance. This game gets a B when it comes to how it integrated terrain into the essence of the game. For perspective, I give Malifaux 2e an A- for terrain and I love Malifaux 2e, so Frostgrave did well here.
Random Encounters – I like the idea of monsters and wild animals cropping up in these ruins and them suddenly becoming a bigger problem than your opponent. I actually enjoy this aspect of the game over the Scenarios included in the book. The NPC Bestiary is a very welcome addition to the skirmish game and Frostgrave has a nice selection to choose from within their rulebook.
Spells – There is such a variety of spells and so many ways to combine them. So many possibilities and it makes your Wizard seem so powerful… if the spells go off. Grrrrr. Those spells do not go off that often. This is as good as any time to move on to my first Con.
D20 – Spells just don’t cast in FG704. I was able to pull off two Fog casts and a Poison Dart. That was it between Wizard and Apprentice in an entire game with them both casting each turn. It felt like a magic show on a street corner. d8’s or d10’s would be leaps and bounds better. I thought I disliked d6’s, but d20’s in a skirmish game are nonsense. None of the dice gods have ever liked me, but I must have slept with d20’s daughter and never called her back because my d20 rolls fail beyond what probability would dictate, catastrophically fail. 2d10 might have been a better choice. Possible House Rule!
Optional Rules - Really? This basic of a game and the designer thought it might be too overwhelming to include Critical Hits and Wounded in the main rules? They should have just been part of the rules.
Generic – No races, no classes, no skills, no diversity of equipment. Cyril is a Thief. Cyril is the same as any other Thief and will always be just a Thief. It’s no better for Gus the Thug. He carries a Hand Weapon until his dying day. What is a hand weapon? It doesn’t matter according to the rules. What if it is a whip, spear, sword, axe, flail, mop, or rubber chicken? Does not change anything; if a weapon fits in one hand and swung at something, it has the same stats as anything else. This is good forpicking your miniatures because you do not need to find specific models, but it gets boring and frustrating in-game. This pairs with the next point regarding Warbands. Possible House Rule!
Warbands – This is where the RPG feel disappears. Your Warband never advances, levels-up, or even changes equipment. If Reginald the Sneaky and Sylis the Daring are both Thieves, they are same thing coming into the game and will remain the same until they are killed off by a Bone Dart or rabid Giant Rat. You might as well not name them. Give them a number like the Monarch does in Venture Bros.. Yes, you can give them a magical item that matches their normal item (magic dagger can replace starting dagger, magic mail armor for mail armor, etc.) but they can never equip anything outside their starting equipment’s type and they can never add to it beside a potion or jewelry. They will never get better at using said knife. There areno new skills or improved stats for the warband either. Who cares if Cyril made it through ten Scenarios? He still stabs and grabs treasure like the new guy. Why not have promotions? A very large opportunity missed here. Possible House Rule!
After Party – Rolling for treasure is awesome. What seems anti-climatic is after getting your gold and magic rings and scrolls and all that stuff, you just declare something bought or sold and it magically happens without rhyme or reason. You do some bookkeeping: erase an item off your page and add a number to your gold value. Or, you subtract some gold from your stash and now you magically have a kennel attached to your hideout (which appeared out of the mist), or you just happen to hire some drifter who just happens to be this awesome Marksman which is so awesome because your last one died ten minutes ago. There was an opportunity to have a post-fight RPG element (thinking something along the lines of Shadows of Brimstone) that would have created some fun moments. RPG elements would also create a balancing cost for advancement or making rash decisions. Why not make it the cost of your Apprentice riding back to town to collect new heroes, sell/buy items, oversee renovations? The Apprentice is absent from X amount of games while looking for said supplies or overseeing the job? It is cost with a benefit at the completition. Possible House Rule!
Turns – A game can go on-and-on-and-on. This is a frozen ruin; could they not have something about inclement weather or attracting ghosts if the warbands stay too long? 5-7 turns would have been fine for game length. Malifaux has a nice mechanic of 5 turns with a test at the end of 5th to see if there is a 6th turn. That might even be nice for press-your-luck moments. Possible House Rule!
Collecting treasure – If you are the only remaining one on the board you auto-collect. So, really, you just need to murder the other team and then you win. This does not seem like the fluff for Frostgrave where you are explorers and you stumble across another band and things get bad. Also, if the game ends and treasure is lying on the ground, why would it magically transport itself to town for you? It makes no sense; at least, make a spell the Wizard has to add their spell list and successfully cast to do this. To coincide with the Turn rule, why not make it mandatory to exit the board with the treasure to get the treasure? Also, if you finish the game holding a treasure but were not able to exit, have the fluff where the chasing ghost or oncoming storm made the warband question the need to hold onto a cumbersome treasure at the potential cost of dying, so you wouldroll for treasure as usual but pocket the gold value of the treasure only since Cyril chose life over that +1 two-handed weapon that he can’t use anyway. Possible House Rule!
I am sure I could find more Pros and Cons, but this is the general idea. The game has such great potential with the addition of house rules. If you are the type of player that wants the rules fleshed out or wants complexity, this is not going to be your game. I think this game is great for those in a group that can democratically vote for house rules and build a rich world using the seed that is Frostgrave. I even hope future expansions from the maker might add races and classes (sub-classes!!!!) and even skill trees. I am getting some Reaper minis in the mail soon and into the frozen ruins I will adventure again. I will be posting terrain pictures, warband builds, bat reps, musings, and townhall minutes concerning new buildings erected in town as well as new “laws” instituted in the land. Stay tuned and ideas, opinions are always welcome!