Monday, 16 November 2015

Game Review: Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord

Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich LordBy Joseph A. McCullough

Published by Osprey Games

“Thaw of the Lich Lord is a complete campaign for Frostgrave that will challenge both new and veteran players. Through a series of linked scenarios, players discover the existence of a new power in the Frozen City, one who was old when the great city was still young, and who saw both its rise and its disastrous fall. Warbands will confront the Lich Lord's minions, race against his agents to seize possession of mysterious artefacts, and brave the perils of Frostgrave in search of his lair. Eventually, they will need to muster all their courage to venture into the depths of the city and face the Lich Lord himself. Not all wizards will seek to stop the Lich Lord, however, and full rules for giving into his corruption and following the dark road to becoming an undead lich are presented for those who crave power and immortality above all else. While the campaign presents many new threats against which wizards and their warbands must test themselves, including an expanded bestiary, it also offers additional resources, such as new henchmen that can be recruited and unique magical treasures that can spell the difference between survival and oblivion.”

Thaw of the Lich Lord is the first of what I hope will be a line of campaigns for the fantasy skirmish game ‘Frostgrave’. These ten linked scenarios, building in difficulty and detail as the players travel through the cold, dark and dangerous streets of Frostgrave, tell a long, doom-laden story about the dreaded Lich Lord, his awakening, and his terrible plans for the city he has been frozen in for more than a thousand years.

To tell you the story of Thaw of the Lich Lord will no doubt ruin some of the surprises within the 64-page book. Suffice to say that from the atmospheric opening scenario, where the warbands have to fight during an ominous eclipse, through to the epic ending, the players will be treated to a story of legendary proportions.

The layout of the book is sharp and well presented. The full-colour glossy pages contain some wonderful photography of the quality miniatures available for the Frostgrave game, but the true wonder of the book is the amazing artwork by Dmitry Burmak. Dmitry’s art is evocative and perfectly captures the style of the Frostgrave setting, and really defines the look and aesthetic of the game. I really like the artwork and it helps set the mood and tone of the game.

The scenarios are what we’ve come to expect from Frostgrave’s easy and simple rules. The first scenario is a page long and they don’t get much longer. Each one tells a different story and as the game progresses the true intentions of the Lich Lord are exposed and the stakes get higher. As I said, I don’t want to ruin the story for potential players but if I had to choose my favourites it would have to be Scenario Two: The Battle on the River. We played this through a couple of times; just you try to run a fight on a frozen, icy river. I also really enjoyed Scenario Six: The House of Longreach, as you need two playing areas to simulate two areas of conflict, and the random magic portals make things incredibly interesting.

Not only does the book give you some great scenarios, you also get some extras for the Frostgrave game. There are new soldiers, the Bard, the Crow Master and the Javelineer, as well as the Pack Mule. New spells fill out the grimoires of the Witch and the Necromancer, and new Treasure gives new items for the warbands to battle over. New creatures for the bestiary include the Banshee, Blood Crow, Death Cultists, frost Wraith, The Ghoul King, Rangifer, Spectre, Wraith Knight, Zombie Troll and the dreaded Lich Lord himself. That’s ten great scenarios and extras for the main game; not bad for £9.99 (RRP).

The writing is functional and to the point – there’s no messing about and after a brief introduction the action begins. Although this is great as it allows players to simply dive into the action, I find it a bit of shame that the overall world of Frostgrave is not only unexplored but unexplained. Perhaps one day I’ll finally read about the rest of the setting and find out why the world is the way it is; I think this is my only peeve with the Frostgrave setting, but no doubt we’ll learn much more as the game goes on.

We played the scenarios over five nights and have already used the extras in our own games, but the one thing I came away with was this; Thaw of the Lich Lord reads and plays more like a tabletop roleplaying campaign than it does a wargame. I’ve played wargame campaigns that detail a situation and the resulting battles but never one that told an ongoing story. It’s a great way to play the game but it also makes me yearn for a Frostgrave RPG - the city is strewn with roleplaying opportunities.

Thaw of the Lich Lord is an excellent addition to the already excellent Frostgrave game. The scenarios are fun and creative, with extra rules here and there which are designed for the singular scenario but can be adapted to your own games, and the extra soldiers, spells, treasure and creatures are useful and quite welcome. Basically, it’s great fun and well worth the asking price. I look forward to seeing what else this game has to offer.

Highly recommended.

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