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Sunday, 27 May 2018

Your First Miniatures Wargame II

Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City has proved to be both successful and popular, having sold many, many copies and worn awards, including an Ennie Award and the UK Games Expo award in 2016. The skirmish fantasy wargame from Osprey Publishing presented clearly written and presented rules with depth, but not complexity, an easy to understand  and develop set-up, and a relatively low level of investment by the hobby’s standards—just ten figures per warband plus the terrain and scenery. The end result was to make Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City a very accessible game, suitable as an introduction to the hobby as much as it is a lighter alternative to more formal and heavier battles.

Although a number of supplements have been published for Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, now Osprey Games sets sail very far away from the frozen city to a tropical paradise of constantly shifting jungle covered islands, hidden ruins, strange reptilian races and sorcerous snake-men, monsters out of time, and exotic mysteries. This is the Ghost Archipelago, a vast island chain, covered in the ruins of ancient civilizations, which disappears for centuries only to appear again in the far reaches of the southern ocean. When the Ghost Archipelago appears, pirates, adventurers, wizards, and legendary heroes all sail to its many shores in search of lost treasures and powerful artefacts. The Ghost Archipelago has reappeared and some of the descendants of those legendary heroes are drawn to the islands by their very blood! Their forebears drank from the fabled Crystal Pool that lies at the heart of the Ghost Archipelago and so gained abilities far beyond those of normal men. Their descendants possess only the weakest versions of these powers, but perhaps if they find the Crystal Pool and drink of its waters, they can become equal to their legendary ancestors!

This is the setting and set-up for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles, a separate campaign and expansion to the world of Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City. It is designed for use with 28 mm miniatures, ten per player, a twenty-sided die or two, and lots of jungle style terrain. As with Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, Northstar Miniatures manufactures figures specifically designed for use with Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles.

Just as in Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, players in Ghost Archipelago control bands, but here they are not lead by Wizards, but by Heritors. Their ancestors were the legendary heroes who drank from the Crystal Pool and each Heritor is capable of amazing feats of strength and agility and other powers by drawing upon the power of their blood. For example, Burning Eyes freezes a target preventing them from acting, Ironskin reduces damage taken, and Trickshot, which negates modifiers for cover and terrain. A Heritor begins play with five Heritor abilities and each has a utilisation number which is rolled over to use the ability. A Heritor is not limited in the number of times he can use his abilities in a turn, except that each time after the first, it gets progressively more difficult to use an ability and he suffers Blood Burn, losing Hit Points of damage each time an ability is used. So Heritors can be really powerful, but at some cost, and a player should be careful when choosing to push his Heritor’s abilities with Blood Burn.

In general, a Heritor gets better at using his abilities as learning new ones takes time. There is a greater sense of physicality to Heritor abilities rather than the arcane spellcasting powers of Wizards in Frostgrave. This is not to say that magic does not play a role in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago as each Heritor is accompanied by a Warden who will help the Heritor navigate through the islands. Dismissed as hedge-wizards and animists by the Wizards of Frostgrave, these spellcasters specialise in elemental and primal forces—they are Beast Wardens, Earth wardens, Storm Wardens, Vine Wardens, and Wave Wardens. The rest of a band consists of standard crewmen and specialist crewmen. The former are simple soldiers, whilst the latter are specialists such as Archers, Pearl Divers, Tomb Robbers, Savages, and so on. Many of these are nicely thematic and support the exoticism of the setting.

Mechanically, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago uses the same rules as Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, the same stats, and the same play set-up. Anyone coming to Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago from Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City will certainly find much which is familiar. It uses the same twenty-sided die mechanic, with players needing to roll higher than a target number, adding the appropriate attribute and a successful roll also determining how damage is inflicted, for example. 

Just like in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago, bands in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago are primarily involved in exploration and scavenging. Where the terrain in the far off city of Felstead is frozen and littered with ruins of streets and squares, the terrain in the isles of the Ghost Archipelago consists of steamy jungles, liana covered ruins, and so on (the rules suggest using aquarium terrain, which is nice advice). Each band has a ship which allows it to reach the islands and which can be upgraded to provide in game benefits. These ships do not actually appear in the game, although the boats each band uses to reach the shores do and the rules allow for battling over them when they appear. For the most part, bands will be competing and confronting each other over treasure, but every band is really hunting Map Stones. Collect all ten of these and a Heritor will have the complete map to the Crystal Pool and essentially won the Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago campaign. Truly the Heritor will have inherited his ancester’s powers.

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago comes with plenty of support in the form of treasure and strange artefacts, details of both Heritor abilities and Warden spells, eight scenarios, and a bestiary of animals, monsters, and strange races. The bestiary includes dinosaurs (Saurians) and sentient races like the Dricheans and Snake-men, and demons and aquatic species. Together, these both support the given scenarios and allow the creation of further scenarios. 

Physically, where Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City was swathed in blue and white reflecting its cold, cold setting, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles is green and tan, representing the lush jungles and the sandstone blocks of the ruins. The book is clearly written, but does involve flipping back and forth a bit to create characters and playing the game. It is liberally illustrated with photographs of miniatures in action and full colour, painted illustrations. These are all really evocative, suggesting how the game is played and providing inspiration.

Beyond the confines of Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles there is scope for expansion aplenty. Perhaps guidelines for handling crossovers between Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City and Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles since the two take place in the same world, exploring what happens when the Heritors find the Crystal Pool, setting sail aboard ships for naval combat, and so on. Although the same mechanics and the same set-up are used in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles as in Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, this new set of rules and new setting feels very different. It is not as arcane or as chilly, drawing things such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the legend of the Fountain of Youth, to give a more verdant and exotic feel, with less of a sense of ruin, but much more of the unknown, and with the inclusion of Heritors, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles has a more physical feel.