Thursday, 1 October 2015

Foray into Felstad



Frostgrave. There has been quite a buzz around this new fantasy skirmish system within our hobby, not least because it's supported by a tantalizing range of miniatures from Osprey Publishing and a North Star Military Figures






Here we go again, Tim and 'another new system' I can already anticipate my gaming friends. They may be right. I really should get that T-Shirt and wear it every time I game. 

I blame Sam Pate and Gordon Richards this time! Sam has been dropping not so subtle hints on and off since Frostgrave's inception and Gordon has been luring me in with a succession of gorgeous miniatures and scenery in his blog. Will I ever escape the persuasions of tabletop gaming aficionados? I wonder if there a support network set up for hopeless gamers? You know the type, "Hello, my name is Tim. And I have a Lead Mountain..."

Anyway, I detract. What I actually did this week was trudge down the hill to Sam Shed II, with a printed pdf copy of the Frostgrave core rules  - the printer is still cooling down - and my First Law warband ready to head into the frozen ruins of Felstad.

It was all a bit of a rush, especially for Sam, as I had surprised him by my sudden Frostgrave interest, suggesting we try out a game this week with only a day's notice. Even though poor old Sam had been evidently having a testing and tiring week by all accounts, nothing was going to stop him trying out Frostgrave!

With a suitable table set up and after a flurry of hasty roster and rule book shuffling we had our 'Wizard Sheets' pencilled in, with my First Law wizard, Bayaz - First of the Magi - acting as a Fire Elementalist and Sam using a suitable miniature from his extensive collection as a Thaumaturge wizard. 

The First Law advance into the ruins of Felstad
Both wizards were accompanied by an Apprentice and eight Soldiers of varying types. With this being our inaugural game we arranged a simple standalone scenario, scattering six 'treasures' amongst the ruins, and with our D20s in hand we opened proceedings with the Initiative roll and then followed by Bayaz starting his Wizard phase.

Having had the slight time advantage of looking over the rules a little more thoroughly, I immediately opted for a Group Move as Bayaz was surrounded by three soldiers that were 'miraculously' all within 3" of the Spellcaster. Sam checked the rulebook to see if I had just added another special Tim 'just another thing...' rule, and then satisfied, followed suit with his Thaumaturge and entourage of soldiers.

Then it was over to my Apprentice Stage. Jezal dan Luthar ordered another group move, heading towards a glowing treasure marker up in a suspended walkway. How was he going to collect that? With a Telekinesis spell of course! A D20 roll and the treasure token was soon floating 6" towards the smug apprentice. Sam's apprentice used his phase to manoeuvre himself and guide some of his soldiers into better positions, especially a couple of fellows lugging crossbows.

First Law soldiers searching the ruins
Next up was the Soldier phase, where we both advanced our remaining grunts deeper into the ruins. By the end of this phase, it was obvious that the next turn would most likely get very interesting!

The next turn got very interesting. Out came the spells, with Bayaz being on top of his game, comfortably winning the Initiative and successfully casting a devastating Elemental Bolt on one of Sam's crossbowmen. It rather surprised us both that with a good roll a lowly thug could be taken out in one action. Frostgrave was starting to be brutal game already!   

Sam's Wizard and Apprentice could be seen frantically thumbing through their spell books - they really should have revised in Wizard School a bit more. Probably explains why the D20 Gods were evidently out for lunch, with Sam's Spellcasters failing to do their thing.

The Thaumaturge's Apprentice with his supporting soldiers
There followed another three turn sequences where we both got to grips with game mechanics. It was all pretty straight-forward stuff, albeit with a wee bit of admin involved monitoring such things as character Health and spell affects. For example, Bayaz the Elementalist being in his, um, element, had managed to cast Call Storm early on so all bow and crossbow attacks were at -1 for the rest of the game.

Our earlier experience with the brutal consequences of some of the offensive spells was continued when it came to the shooting and melee combat. By the later stages of the game, my Apprentice, thinking himself OK with a reasonable 8 Health, (tis' but a flesh wound!), but was easily cut-down by one of Sam's soldiers in Hand-to-Hand, event though Jezal had support from the thug, Black Dow, who was also swiftly taken down!

Meanwhile, the warbands exchanged spells and ranged weapon fire, with Sam's Thaumaturge having a penchant towards his Blinding Light spell and Bayaz's First Law lads eventually managing to recover two treasures to win the game. By the end, there appeared to be a heavy blanket of snow over Felstad - or it could have been multiple sheets of rosters and spells with hastily pencilled notes covering the area!


Thoughts?

My natural instinct was to compare Frostgrave to the closest fantasy skirmish game I'm most familiar with - Songs of Blades and Heroes. However, it soon became apparent that any similarities were superficial. Frostgrave is designed to be a campaign-orientated game from the outset. Given the fierce action we experienced, the games should be quick and linking these into a campaign is at the heart of Frostgrave.

It's also all about the Wizards really, with the Soldiers being the grunts seemingly to be used as fodder more than anything else, although we've yet to confirm this without playing a campaign. This is the opposite of SoBH, where there is more emphasis on the individuals within the warband. Moreover, with SoBH - at least in the standard rules - magic and Spellcasters are optional. 

I was surprised to start thinking there were more similarities gamplay-wise with Saga than SoBH. Please bear with me here! With Frostgrave, you have the Wizards and a comprehensive list of spells to utilise, applying them strategically with the Soldiers playing the role of tactical conduits or support. Similarly, in Saga you have your Warchief and Battle Board with a list of abilities to be strategically applied, with the units in place of individual soldiers in this case. Makes sense to me at least.

Would I play again? Yes, definitely. Now we've had a quick introduction, I'm keen to play a short campaign to get a better understanding of Frostgrave. Although it does have a tough competitor in the form of Advanced Song and Blades of Heroes, which has an expanded magic system and is supported by campaign supplements.

Of course, I still have to complete our continuing In Her Majesty's Name campaign first, so this winter's snow and ice may well be shrouding the Battleshed in time for the next game of Frostgrave.