Saturday 22 August 2015

Frostgrave – The State of Play

It is now just over a month since Frostgrave was officially released, which is hard to believe. So much has happened in that time, it is hard for me to process. So, I thought I might try and summarize everything that has happened, as much for my own benefit as anyone who might be reading.
Frostgrave officially launched with a pre-order campaign from Northstar known as a ‘Nickstater’. The various deals in the Nickstarter included the book and a load of figures, some of them official Frostgrave figures, others just great figures that could also be used. The Nickstarter raised just shot of £40,000 in sales, and, I believe, had about 1,000 participants.

The game officially went on sale on 20 July. It sold out in the UK about two weeks later, and in the United States about a week after that. A second printing is now all but exhausted and a third is on its way. I think it is safe to say that both Osprey and I have been a bit caught off guard by how quickly the book has sold!

In September, the mini-campaign Frostgrave: The Hunt for the Golem, which was originally given away as part of the Nickstarter will go on sale as an ebook. In November, The Thaw of the Lich Lord, a 64-page print expansion will go on sale. This will be preceded by a second Nickstarter which will feature a second set of plastic soldiers and a bunch of new metal figures.

I can say that I have now been commissioned by Osprey to write more Frostgrave material. There will be a second ebook mini-supplement in January and more beyond that, although I have been asked not to reveal too much about anything at the moment.

As for the rules themselves, the reception has been generally very positive. I think people have been most attracted to the game for three reasons. The central theme of magic and wizards, and the wide variety of spells to choose from; the openness of the setting that allows almost any fantasy miniatures and terrain to be used, and the narrative feel of the game that encourages storytelling and has an rpg-light feel to it.

The game has not been without its controversies though. Most of these have revolved around the campaign system and the potential imbalance between wizards of different levels. The single biggest controversy has been about wizards getting experience points for killing opponents. Some believe this too greatly favours wizards who feature more offensive spells. I understand the logic here. Certainly, a wizard with a powerful attack spell has more chance of getting experience points for defeating an enemy than one who does not. However, I have found that such wizards also have a greater chance of death. They have to put themselves in harms way in order to use their spells. That said, the play-testing I was able to conduct while working on the game is nothing compared to the thousands of games that will hopefully be played over the next year. The experience system is something I’m very interested in, and I hope to see a lot of reports so I can better determine if there is an issue.

On a similar subject, there has been a lot of talk about the lack of a 'balance system’ in the game, meaning some kind of rules that attempt to create an even game between two warbands of differing experience and wealth.  There are two reasons I didn't include such a system. First, I think, so far, most people greatly over-estimate the actual power difference between warbands. The difference between a level 1 wizard and a level 10 wizard is noticeable, but it is unlikely to dictate the outcome of a game. Secondly, I believe that the players in a given campaign are actually in a better position than I am as the author to determine if there actually is an imbalance and what to do about it. A lot of the power of a warband is situational. In truth, the spells you pick for your wizard, compared to the spells your opponent picks, combined with what scenario you end up playing and/or what random monsters you encounter is far more likely to effect the outcome of a given game than a difference in experience level or wealth level.

I do believe there is a potential problem with wealth level right at the beginning of the campaign. A couple of lopsided games to start a campaign can see one warband jump quickly ahead of the other – especially if the winner spends all of his money just on improving his warband to buy the best soldiers possible. This problem tends to fade away as a campaign continues, but can be very disheartening to a new player. I’m not quite sure what to do about this at the moment, but am continuing to think about it. In the meantime, once again, I think the players are probably in a better position to determine if this is actually an issue in their own campaign than I am.

A lot of people have already introduced house rules to work on these issues. I try to read them all. Some I contain very good ideas that I might want to incorporate into future supplements, or a future ‘Second Edition’ should I be that lucky. However, the game is still very young, and I don't want to be hasty about introducing rule changes unless I think they are absolutely necessary.

One thing that has somewhat surprised me is the number of people playing 3 and 4 player games. While I designed the system to handle this, I assumed most people would be playing 2 player games. In many ways helps mitigate some of the perceived issues discussed above. Multi-player games tend to naturally help balance a campaign due to the extra chaos generated and the gang-up effect on anyone who appears to be getting too powerful. However, in the future, I need to give more consideration to what effect given rules and/or scenarios might have on a multi-player game.

In the main, it’s been really exciting watching the chatter and hobby activity that the game has generated. I love reading the back-stories that people have created for their wizards and their warbands. I also really enjoy seeing after-action reports. It is extremely gratifying to hear about people having fun in part thanks to my rules, and also these help inform my opinion on the game going forward.

Finally, I just want to thank everyone who has given the game a try. The support from the gaming community has been wonderful and a great encouragement to keep working on Frostgrave.


  1. Fan of the blog , really like Frostgrave was wondering about your warriors of Athena warband is there a certain set of rules you use with them?

  2. Are there rules for solo play? I saw your posts for solo adventuring in LOTR, so I was hoping you have some thoughts and/or literature on how to run solo in Frostgrave.
    I can't always find other players with my schedule and location.....especially location. I am in Charlotte, NC and if it is not GW or Privateer Press, you struggle to get games going with any regularity.

  3. Congratulations. Very excited to hear about future supplements! And will certianly be getting in on the second Nickstarter!

  4. Congratulations! You have done a great job, and have addressed a long-unoccupied campaign skirmish niche...

  5. I think a "desert" version of Frostgrave will be welcomed by many wargamers who have fantasy Egyptian/Arab figures and terrain.

    Some TMPers are also talking about playing Frostgrave in a jungle/Maya/Aztec/lizardmen setting.

  6. Hi, I'm really having fun with my first Frostgrave games.

    I'm using the ruleset for a Player Vs Game Master campaign, I mean: "A warband is exploring the ruined city for several days and things happens". For this prupose the only thing I miss is a inter-games event generator for achieving more narrative feelings ( Now I'm adapting some tables from Warhamer Quest or Songs of Deeds and Glory).

    I wonder if you will write something in that way.

    Thanks for your work and congratulations!


  7. So far the local group is loving Frostgrave, its really energized a section of the hobby. I have two games up so far and its inspired me to build some terrain. I've added you to my blog roll I look froward to seeing more.

  8. Alcock - I'm from Greensboro, NC (go heels!). There are no specific solo rules. It's something I'd very much like to work on, but just haven't had the time. That said, all of the monsters are controlled by a simple AI system, so it's really just about constructing balanced scenarios to make solo play happen.

    As for Warriors of Athena - I started out using GW Lord of the Rings system, which I think works really well for Greek Heroes. I have been toying with my own set of rules, but they are pretty raw at the moment.

    Captain - the 'frost' in 'frostgrave' is pretty much just flavour. There are not really rules for the cold and snow, so if you want to pick up the whole game and move it to another location, it's pretty easy to do!

    Paul - I hadn't really thought about it, to be honest, but I will now!

  9. Joe,

    The lack of rules for cold and exposure is one of the two criticisms I have read about Frostgrave (the other being the lack of detailed terrain set-up rules).

    Anyway I assume all the wizards and henchmen are adequately equipped to deal with the cold/heat/humidity depending on the setting.

    Even if there were climate-specific rules, I guess they will be applicable with minor adjustments: blizzard = sandstorm = tropical storm in terms of visibility and shooting, and crevasse = quicksand = mud in terms of mobility.

    Maybe a bestiary for each setting perhaps? :)

  10. Joe any idea when we might see a restock of the books here in the US of A? My Friendly Local Game Store has the book on order for me but no guess as to when they will see it. I have the Electronic version but I want the actual book as well.

  11. Adam - I have heard mid-September, but can't say for sure.

    Arjun - I have seen some weather rules that I think are pretty good. I considered adding such myself, but didn't think they were needed for the basic game. As for terrain set-up, I just wanted people to be able to set it up anyway they want, with whatever they have.

  12. Great stuff, Joe, I'm very glad to hear you have been commissioned to create more content for Frostgrave, it's good news for both you and the gaming community...and congrats too!

    I think it's an excellent idea not to make changes to the core Frostgrave rules until there has been a year+ of community play, that's if any changes are needed at all. It can take a long time for a gaming community to get used to and understand all the nuances of a game.

    In terms of more content;

    1) I know you have included special rules in scenarios for monsters with ranged weapons, but it would be good to see the basic AI for monsters to include actions if armed with ranged weapons.

    2) More Magic Weapons, Magic Armour, Magic Items etc is always fun

    3) More spells

    4) Throwing Weapons

    5) Rules for Demi Humans (I know we can simply use a Human stat profile for a Demi Human, but it is always fun to have small differences expressed in the stats for things like this)

    6) The ability to have a warband sergeant, who gains experience and increases his stats etc (maybe gains skills/abilities and can carry 3 items and also activate up to 3 soldiers within 3" like the Wizard and Apprentice can, to reflect his leadership ability)

    7) Give special abilities that have slight game effects to further differentiate the soldier types (i.e. Rangers have no movement penalties over rough ground etc, etc)...maybe these could be earned by way of experience, although it would probably be better to simply include them as standard for any given soldier type.

    8) More soldier types for Wizards to hire

    9) More weapons types

    10) More options for expanding your base

    11) Expanded Bestiary

    12) A list of weird magical battlefield effects. Frostgrave is a magical place where magic seems to be unstable to me...having a table to roll on that would give a chance of random magical global effects during gameplay could be fun...similar to environmental conditions I guess.

    I guess with all these things, record keeping DURING gameplay is a pain, record keeping OUTSIDE of gameplay can be an immense amount of fun.

  13. I'm coming up to about 30 games now and I'm still not convinced there is any major balance issues...

  14. Well, Mack. You'll definitely be seeing some of those!

  15. Great to see all the excitement this game is generating.

    I'd love to see more decisions for the between game action. More options for your "base" and more difficult decisions: making it harder to sell items for a good price, making it harder to buy things you need (markets up near Frostgrave would be spartan I imagine), and tough decisions - your wizard can do A, B or C. Choose one! Things like that. I'm also a fan of Shadows of Brimstone, and love how that game handles character development between adventures. Supposedly this will be getting a big boost in a few months with the Expanded Frontier Town.

    Go heels!

  16. I'm thinking about reskinning the game a Stargrave; turning it in to an Inquisitor28 style game. The wizards become Psykers, the spells become psychic disciplines and the henchmen get renamed with Gothic sci-fi style titles. This is partially because I have a lot more grim drak minis than fantasy ones :D

  17. Euan, I think that could work really well. You'll probably need to come up with some new weapon types to give a bit more variation to shooting weapons.

    Xander - I know some people have already written some house rules to do just that. I don't know Shadows of Brimestone, but I might have to check it out.

  18. Just about to play my first game - will have to be Junglegrave and it's the figures and terrain I have. Genuinely quite excited. So thank you.
    I think I would like there to be an advancement for the soldiers as well, not as fast or important as wizard advancement - to build up a proper crew. Say start with basic unarmoured thugs and thieves and use experience gained to equip them and improve their skills

  19. Haven't gotten to playing it yet, but I'm impressed with the rules. As an RPG gamer first and a wargamer second I'm really intrigued by the possibility of playing with 3 or 4 people. I think part of it is that my wargames--Warmachine and Guild Ball mainly--fit my 2 players for ~2 hours time very well.

    This game, both in style and niche, seems like it will slot better into the time that I have with RPG gamers or even boardgamers where a more typical gathering is about 3 or 4 people. That and the much, much simpler rules (or at least minimal number of exceptions) lend this well to such groups.

    I'm very excited. Thank you for sharing your design thoughts.