...Or, "How to Build a Frostgrave Warband"
While I wasn’t heavily involved in the playtesting process, I did have the opportunity to play some Frostgrave while it was still in its relative infancy. At that point, the North Star figures were a distant prospect, so I turned to my good ol’ standby (and, in all honesty, the best part of the wargaming hobby) – kitbashing!
Rather than a blow-by-blow account of how I built each figure (which can be found here and here, in any case), this is more a guide to how one goes about putting together a warband for Frostgrave.
Here we have my first warband, with a slightly East Asian theme. The first big decision is what school of magic your wizard represents. While all 80 spells in the rulebook may be learned and cast by any wizard, each has certain preferences and specialities, both in terms of the spells within their chosen school and how they react to the spells of other schools. For example, a healer such as the Thaumaturge will find it much harder to cast Necromancer spells than, say, a Witch would. I opted for a Summoner (1), as I liked the core spells of the school – mainly the ability to bring a colossal demon to the game!
The second choice (and while it’s optional, it’s really a good idea) I had to make was whether or not to hire an apprentice (2). Apprentices are similar to their mentor wizard – they know the same spells (as the wizard passes down the knowledge) but aren’t as good at casting them. What they do offer is a second source of magical firepower, and a second-in-command that can help motivate your henchmen and hired swords.
To go into the spells I chose for the wizard (and, thus, his apprentice) would take a while! Suffice to say that I tried to strike a balance between utility spells (e.g. those that help the warband as a whole, or can be used to affect friendly figures), offensive spells (e.g. fireballs, summoned monsters, explosive runes etc.) and defensive spells (because keeping your wizard alive should be priority no.1!).
Next up come the henchmen – the warband’s soldiers. These mercenaries protect your wizard, loot treasure in scenarios, and generally make life difficult for your opponent’s warband. There are a number of options, ranging from simple thugs to knights, apothecaries and barbarian warriors. For a starting warband, the humble thug is a great choice. They’re cheap (and thus easily replaceable) and you get a decent number for your money. With 200 of my 500 gold crowns spent on an apprentice, my wizard recruited five thugs (3). Warbands are limited to 10 figures at most, so the 100gc it cost me to recruit these ne’er-do-wells filled up half of my roster and still let me 200gc for more talented soldiers.
While Frostgrave is set in the ruins of a frozen city, and line of sight is often limited, it would be reckless to discount the value of ranged combat, so I picked out two crossbowmen (4) to offer a bit of tactical diversity. Most of the ruins in the city can be scaled, so I planned on employing these two as snipers, keeping the enemy pinned down as much as possible and allowing my thugs to advance a little more safely. Finally, with my remaining 100gc, I splurged a little and bought a ranger (5). Armed with a bow and a sword, the ranger is a useful jack-of-all-trades, and exists primarily to act as a bodyguard for my wizard, keeping him out of trouble or (worst-case scenario) providing a speedbump to my opponents’ warbands or any of the wandering monsters that call the city home.
For my second warband, I wanted to play more on the themes of a mystical monastic order – hence the more consistent paintjobs on the models and the monk-like brown robes. Again, I started with a wizard (1) and apprentice (2), and chose the Elementalist school. This provides various elemental powers, and the Esoteric Order of the Blue Flame was born.
That done, I started to play with the theme I was going for – so we have the Novices (3), two thugs who represent the Order’s dogsbodies, the slightly more veteran Brothers (4) and the Senior Brothers (5). The Brothers are archers, and the Senior Brothers are men-at-arms – tough, reliable and well-armed recruits. This left me a little short in terms of numbers, as the men-at-arms are quite pricey (80gc each – the equivalent of 4 thugs!). I only have 8 members of this warband, which will put me at a bit of a disadvantage against some opponents, but it didn’t seem to fit with my theme to have a large party of mercenaries as with my first gang. Rather, the reclusive nature of the Esoteric Order is perfectly represented on the tabletop.
So, there you have my two gangs (so far) – one a balanced option that should be competitive in most scenarios, and one that is full of flavour in story terms but has a notable weakness on the table. In all honesty, I’m really not sure which one I prefer to play with – the balanced warband gives good, close games, but the flavourful warband is much more rewarding to use… well, when it wins, that is!