First Reading: Frostgrave Ghost Archipelago
Frostgrave (FGV from there onward) is nice small skirmish game with issues. One could think that if you are going to release a new basic set from the world, you will learn from mistakes of the past. Well, it did not happen. So Frostgrave Ghost Archipelago (GA) has all the same misfits we can find in the original game, with some major and minor changes. Author of the text has very nice wargaming ideas, however their executing by writing down the rules are poor. Which is sad, and it is one of the major reasons why I am not playing Frostgrave anymore.
So when friend came to me with idea to test Ghost Archipelago, I was in! I wanted to see how the Frostgrave 2.0 lookalike and then, I really enjoyed simplicity if not rules of vanilla. I am disappointed, again. When we go over poor writing, where a lot of rules needs a lot of explanation. It reminded you the history, where there was about 40 pages of Rules Question on Lead Adventure about the Frostgrave within week after release. So here we are again. Same shit in movement, same issues with spells; rules are not exactly explicit and streamlined. What a difference to rules by Mr. Mersey, Cartmell and Murton or Sfiligoi. You need a lot of jumping from page to page as chapters are not too much logically sorted, which can be my own taste. The greatest bonus of the book is the art by Dmitrij Burmak, which is absolutely stunning.
The basic system doesn’t changes, so no need to repeat it. Major changes are within the crew and the setting of course moving from frozen city to tropical paradise. I like that GA is going more low magic. There are that much cut, that the warden, the spellcaster of the game does not make too much sense use him in the game, as all five branch of magic are unbalanced crap. About four to six spells are of any use out of 30 of them, there is no reason to cast anything else. Stormwarden overpowers all other branches, that there is almost no brainer to go for something else, speaking competitively. So you will be spamming your +1 armor or +1 fight just to cast the spell and get XP. Remember the combat is about comparing two dice rolls with minor modifications. So those are not bonuses at all. So the best thing you can get from warden is, that he can take a bow to be your solo archer. Why, let me elaborate. In the GA you will get max eight crewmen, up to four of them be specialist similar to Frostgrave original henchmen and you will pay for them from 50 to 100 gold. Same as FGV. The other 4 are ordinary crew with thug stats and you can choose any melee weapon for them and shield if possible. We played very peaceful game, as we are mostly not about killing each other, but more about collecting, we set up the rule that every treasure will trigger random encounter. We collect two and three treasure tokens. I get 30 and magic item, friend of mine gets three treasures with 90gp. In FG you have got a lot of money from treasure. But not here. We have only one casualty on a crew member. However if you lose your specialist, not only you have to pay for him, but also you have to return to the mainland from the islands for 200 gold to be able to purchase one. If you get 50gp average per game, very soon you will have no specialist. Unless you play survival more than player killer, however you are still rewarded for killing the protagonists. So you have to very careful check you resources, including human ones. The last new guy is the heritor, who inherits (really?) some unnatural abilities. The issue is – there are some no brainers and more than 30 out of 40 are really not usable against the others. However instead of self pick, you can roll for randomizing. Heritor’s are using them different way, let’s say, that in some combos you will get sort of juggernaut-tank heritor, or plant loving weirdo. No balance if self picked again. I recommend for two picked up, to get the basic flavour and then randomizing. Thing is that you can roll Shadowfold and Catch missiles and those are almost the same!
Finally I have some issues with swimming and pulling into boat. If you are playing RPG, one of the main goal as a DM is to remove stupid rolls for simple daily task. And avoid frustration of the players due to possible chain of bad rolls. Here you can be really frustrated. You have to roll 5+ Will save with penalties for armor for swimming and if you fail you get dmg and losing your activation, and you need 12+Strength save to pull yourself into the boat. Its generally about 50% chance on absolutely flat bell curve d20 (S is generally +2). It means you can end in frustrating I am in water unable to pull myself into boat, failed that due to poor roll, I am drowning myself on another poor roll, oh and on my next pretty average roll, I am still not able to pull myself into boat. My recommendation? Do not employ boats or deep water.
So at the end I am quite happy that there are no walking machine guns like in FGV, however poor executing of the bright ideas, have to be Thumb Down. I cannot find positive reply for the question, why I have to spend my money on this? It’s not that much better then Frostgrave and there are plenty much better games there.