21 August 2020

Review: Frostgrave 2nd edition!

Frostgrave 2nd edition is out today from Osprey Games. And I've been lucky enough to read through it a couple of times already (Osprey Games send me a review copy). I've also gotten in my first game, playing some solo Perilous Dark with a new warband. You can check the video out on YouTube or Twitch. Second Edition in action. 

I'm a huge fan of Frostgrave and I've been playing the first edition a lot - as shown by my collection. So how we gonna do this review? I've been asking people in the community and one thing popped up 'don't just review changes - write to people who don't know Frostgrave'. So experienced FG players might want to skip ahead to part 2 and part 3.

So that's what we're going to do. First part of the review is of Frostgrave as a game - what is it? What are the mechanics and so on. 

Second part will focus on the quality of the book, the look, the artwork, the fluff and so. 

Third part will focus on the changes between the two editions and the new stuff.

Part 1 - What's Frostgrave (2nd edition). 

The short pitch
Frostgrave is a tabletop skirmish miniature game for 28mm miniatures. Players control a wizard, an apprentice and up to eight soldiers. The goal of the game is to enter the ruins of a once fantastic magical city in search for artifacts, spell tomes and gold. Players go head to head in trying to secure treasures and complete objectives. The game also feature wandering monsters that players need to deal with. 

You can play one-off games, but the system is really written for campaign play. Lots of focus on leveling, experience and growing the power of your wizard. 

Creating a wizard - assembling a warband

The hero in Frostgrave is your wizard. This guy is the star of the show and players start off by building him. All wizards start with the same statline (more on that later) so not much to do here and there's limited gear to choose from. 

But Frostgrave is a game all about wizards - and there's 10 different magic schools to choose from with 8 different spells in each school. Each wizard will pick some spells from their primary school and spells from the others as well. And depending on spell and school they'll have various difficulties for casting. 

This part of the Frostgrave system is the most daunting and hard. With so many combinations of spells it can be intimidating to a new player. So what's my suggestion? Pick a cool model or concept and find a school fitting for that. Make sure you have at least one damage spell with range, one spell to summon a companion (there's undead, constructs, animals and so on) and at least one out of game spell (potions, scrolls, summoning). Other than that, just pick what you think looks fun. 

Frostgrave is really not meant to be played competitively and you'll break trying to unlock the most destruction / effective list of spells. 

The apprentice system is easy. All stats and spells follow the wizard, just a bit worse. They level up together as well, so it's real easy. 

A wizard will have 300 gold coins in the bank at the start for soldiers. There's lots of different types. You can bring some free soldiers (thief and thug), so even if you have a lot of bad luck  you'll always be able to field a full warband. 

So what does this gold buy? There's some standard cheap soldiers, better armed and armored than the thug and thief. There's also specialists (you can only bring four) that has either ranged weapons or heavy armor / good fight value. More on the fight  system later. 

But a thing about Frostgrave soldiers - experts are expensive, they cost a lot of gold. And you're paying for fairly minor buffs. This is great for balance in the game. 

My new starting warband had one standard infantryman (50gc) and three specialists: archer (75gc), crossbowman (75gc) and captain (100gc). The rest was free thugs. Lots of room to sink gold into better soldiers. 

The rules
Frostgrave use the d20 dice - and you only ever roll one dice at a time. Some rolls will be modified depending on stats. Fairly simple. Some people hate the d20 for having such a huge range of results - some people like it. Personally I like the randomness of it. 

Actions points, models in FG have two actions points. One point must be used on movement (or reloading a crossbow). That leaves one action for special stuff, spells or melee combat. 

Frostgrave have phases and these are important. A wizard will activate (and up to three soldiers close) - then your opponent does the same. Next is the apprentice (and up to three soldiers) - then your opponent. Last all remaining soldiers. For group activations soldiers need to be close to the spell caster. It's really powerful to be able to swarm opponents, but that will also bring your wizard closer to the enemies. Pros and cons for both.

Spell casting
This is important. This is what the game is all about. And it's really straight forward. Each spell has a target number depending on spells strength and affected by your Wizards school of magic. Roll a d20, see if you equal or beat the number. 

Wizards have the cool ability to burn health for a +1 on the dice for on a 1 for 1 basis. Giving them the chance to succeed critical spell rolls at the cost of their health. 

Combat and other stats
All characters have the same stats. There's Move, Fight, Shoot, Armor, Will, Health. Fight, Shoot and Will is written as a +0 to +4 for most, a bonus added to your d20 dice roll. So a free thug will get a +1 to his dice, and a knight that's expensive will have +4. 

Combat in Frostgrave is damn brutal. You're simple doing opposed rolls and add your Fight. Highest number wins (no attacking or defending) - draw might hurt both. You then take your roll (plus fight modifier) and subtract targets armor to get the damage. As most soldiers have between 10-12 armor and 10-12 health - a high roll will take them out really fast. So combat gets brutal fast. 

Will is used for defensive rolls against some spells. Fight is also used for rolling defence against a shooting attack (roll like in melee and add shoot stat). 

How to win?
Frostgrave has a standard head-to-head scenario. Five treasures are placed on the board. Warbands go against each other, game ends when all treasure is off the board or one warband is all killed. Simple. 

But the strength of Frostgrave is in the campaign! The rulebook comes with a whopping 20 different scenarios. Despite the normal hunt for treasures, there's specific goals in the scenario as well. And this is where Frostgrave shines - because suddenly you're not directly against the other warband. There's other stuff on the line.

The game is more about 'doing good for my own wizard', get treasure for yourself, gain xp and power for yourself. And XP is not gained in any way by hunting the other warband, but for securing treasure, objectives and killing NPC monsters. So the other warband is more a nuisance in this way, more than the actual target - perfect for a campaign game. 

The campaign
With 20 different scenarios in the core book, there's plenty of material for a long campaign. As you gain experience and explore, you will get better soldiers, your base will be upgraded, your wizard gets better at casting spells and know more. It's a joy to see a wizard grow. 

A word on balance: I haven't played 2nd edition that much, and the goal of it is to add balance - especially to a lot of the spells. I my previous 1st edition campaign we played 12 scenarios. Warbands had very different soldier types and approaches to spell casting. And even at the end the warbands weren't unbalanced and the games were still fair. 

Part 2 - The Art

The artwork from the first rulebook and all the expansions are amazing - full of character. For second edition the Artist aRU-MOR have taken up the brush. And the art work doesn't disappoint. There's a ton of full page, full color pieces of art, all telling a story from Felstad. Soldiers, monsters, spells, magicians - it's all oozing story. 

There's not a lot of written fluff in the Frostgrave book. It pretty much boils down to 'once was the biggest, brightest city, full of mages - the grandest place in the world. Magic messed up, covered it all in snow and now we loot the treasure a 1000 years later'. 

But throughout the book there's small snips of text, bits of tales from adventurers. There's lots of scenarios (not even counting expansion books and novels). All boils down to 'Felstad was a giant place, huge, larger than you can imagine'. And the artwork really adds to this effect, showing very different looking characters and places. 

Since the launch of first edition, Frostgrave have gotten a full line of miniatures as well. And the second edition book has a ton of photos of beautiful Kev Dallimore painting miniatures. Showcasing all the cool models in the line. 

All in all the boils down to a beautifully edited book, lots of color, lots of art and nicely setup. 

Part 3 - Second Edition vs First Edition

There's multiple reasons for the second edition, that's lined up by author Joseph McCollough right at the start of the book:
  • He's learnt a lot about game design. And both Maze of Melcor (expansion), Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago (stand alone game) and Rangers of Shadow Deep (similar base mechanics) add to Frostgraves rules. Some small but important tweaks are good. 
  • There's a ton of data after years of playing Frostgrave - especially in regards to spell balance.
Frostgrave 2nd is a clean-up of the original system. And besides the spellcard pack, non of the expansions packs are left obsolete. 

Changes to base rules
The soldier system have gotten a great update, inspired by Ghost Archipelago. First up the thug and thief have been made free, meaning you'll always be able to fill a full warband - even if you're down on cash after having your soldiers killed. 

I would have liked the war dog to fall into the free category as the thief and the thug. The dog has extra speed, and that's really good. But it cannot pick up treasure and it has less health. So I don't think we'll see many dogs these days (perhaps from the base upgrade though). 

Soldiers are grouped in normal and specialist. You are only allowed four specialists in your warband. This brings more balance between old and new warbands. Most ranged attacking soldiers are specialists. And some of the never used models like apothecary and javelineer are now standard soldiers - so this might actaully see some in warbands. 

The treasure hunter has gotten less fight (and he did have too much before with move 7 and fight +4). And some of the heavier soldiers have become more expensive. 

Setup and campaigning
The standard treasure setup has been changed (based on the Ulterior Motives or GA book). Now there's only five treasures (not six) and they're more close to the center of the board. 

The XP system was changed with Maze of Melcor and is now an integrated part of the rules. And the changes here really makes a difference for the game. First is a 300 XP pr game cap (which is still a lot, but sometimes the XP could run rampant). There's XP for failing a spell (that causes self damage) and extra XP for securing the central treasure (putting more gaming pressure on that). Also added XP for taking out wandering monsters.

Biggest and most important change is that there's no XP for taking out the enemy spellcaster - in first edition, this would bring you the most XP - so that was a goal. It's no longer a direct goal of the game. And this change bring the game better in line with the authors intention.

There's a few changes to the wizards bases. The best one in first edition was the inn, as you could bring one extra soldier with you for free, a real game changer (this upgrade would costs you 1000gc in Ghost Archipelago). Now it offers room for a reserve soldier number 11 (that's a backup if someone else miss a game due to damage). 

The spells have received a huge overhaul, a few spells are completely out. A lot of spells have been tweaked. The goal being 'every spell should be useful'. Truth about first edition is there were some 'must have' spells, because they were very good. 

The changes are too comprehensive to go over here. But overall it seems that LOS spells have been tweaked to be more balanced. Elemental bolt have gotten range for example. And poison dart can now give damage. So more schools have good LOS spells. 

Some were never really used like illusion soldier (that doesn't work good on the table) or fools gold. Now the first is a great way to get a melee bonus in combat and the second can make an enemy drop a treasure (and having to go back for it). 

Last to mention is leap - that was damn powerful in the first edition. Now it has a range limit, limited even more when carrying a treasure. 

Getting a real feel for the spells will take lots of games. But after a couple of reads the adjustments seems good. 

New scenarios and scenario setup
The way scenarios are described in the book have gotten a neat little twist - all scenarios have a 'requirements' line at the start. Pretty smart. Lines up specific monsters and terrain pieces. Brilliant, this was hidden in the wall of text in the old book. The overview here is quick to get. 

Part 4 - is it worth it?

The real question is: Does Frostgrave deserve another edition? Editions can either be concentrated on balance issues (adding tweaks) or completely rewamp a system (like it's often seen in GW eiditions).

Frostgrave 2nd is a mighty tome, lots thicker than the old one. Tweaks that's been tested through expansions are now implemented in the rules. Making for a better core game. And the spell tweaks makes for more interesting wizards. 

A game being five years old, keeping all expansions useable (with very few tweaks mentioned in the 2nd edition rules) - deserves a new edition. And this is a good one.

But besides tweaks the game comes with 10 extra scenarios! 20 scenarios in a base book is amazing. ... And for me it'll be a long time before I'm even trying them out - because first is a solo campaign in Perilous Dark and a PVP campaign with Forgotten Packs. 

Thank you for reading the review. I'm stocked for playing Frostgrave again and have a lot of FG in my pipeline. 

Want to discuss some hobby, share your work or get a mini blog? Try heading over to Discord, it's a great platform come have a look at Bloodbeard's Garage Discord.

I've already had my first game of Frostgrave. I stream my solo games on Twitch and upload the stuff to YouTube later. Check it out. 


  1. Excellent. Thanks for the review. FG has been on my radar ever since, but I've never got around to it. I'll have to introduce it to the guys here. See if I can't stoke some interest.

    1. It's a very nice campaign system for fantasy. And personally I love the frozen setting. Lots of atmosphere.

  2. “Frostgrave is really not meant to be played competitively and you'll break trying to unlock the most destruction / effective list of spells. “
    Tell that to the Facebook group over the last couple of days!

    1. Yeah... boggles my mind how some people are all over that. Lots of angry people as well: "My wizard just got useless". ... figured everyone would start a new wizard with a new edition.

  3. Great review. Just overflew it, but will certainly come back for a proper read.

    1. Please do Skully. And jump into the Discord if you want to talk some Frostgrave.

  4. Can I start playing frostgrave with the second edition or it's mandatory to have the first edition?

    1. First Edition is certainly Not mandatory. The Second Edition supercedes the first one.

  5. Hi there. I'm just now exploring the game. Is second edition good for solo play as well? Or is that better served with Rangers of Shadowdeep? Thanks

  6. Hey can we send you our new skirmish wargame we just published? Free of charge. We are also public school teachers. If so, hit us up at tlggamesllc@gmail.com we'd love to have you take a look!