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Frostgrave and Carnevale – Two Skirmish Wargame Reviews

In the last couple of years, tabletop gaming has become more popular. A lot of people don’t have the space, budget or playing time for vast wargames involving hundreds of models, and smaller-scale, skirmish games have arisen to fill the gap. I thought I’d have a look at two such games: Carnevale, sold by TTCombat, and Frostgrave, produced by Osprey Games.

Carnevale (cover)Carnevale is set in alternate 1790s Venice. A magical disaster has resulted a portal opening in the sky over Europe, causing earthquakes and eruptions. Water has swallowed much of the continent and strange creatures and powers have begun to manifest themselves in Venice itself. As the city regains its position of influence on the world stage, small warbands of around 5-8 characters per side fight for control of the streets. TTCombat also sells a range of miniatures and terrain to go with the rules.

Frostgrave has a much vaguer setting. In an unspecified fantasy land, a frozen city called Felstad has started to thaw out, and bands of adventurers compete to steal treasure from the ruins. Each player controls a wizard and his warband of about ten minions. While North Star Miniatures makes models especially for Frostgrave, players are encouraged to use whatever seems right. One game I saw featured a team of Warhammer demons battling against a group of Redwall-style mice!

It’s also worth mentioning that Carnevale is a more adult game: the rules are more elaborate, and some of the backstory, which includes Lovecraft’s Deep Ones and their unwholesome mating habits, isn’t very child-friendly.

Frostgrave (cover)Frostgrave works on a simple, easy-to-follow system using twenty-sided dice (d20). The basic game isn’t hard to pick up: extra strategic elements are provided by the magic system and the choice of spells. Players will find that their wizard (and apprentice, if they pick one) take up different roles depending on the spells they choose. Some wizards will be like a mobile gun turret, while others will provide assistance and healing to their henchmen. Frostgrave’s most complex aspect is probably the creation of the warband before the game starts. Players can select minions from a fairly standard list of types (most are variants on marksman, swordsman or thief), and can choose their wizard’s spells from a wide range of disciplines. Spell selection is quite time-consuming, but makes a big difference as to how the warband will play.

Frostgrave’s real strength is its campaign rules. Wizards can gain experience between games and acquire new followers, equipment and even bases within the ruined city. It’s designed for a tournament, like Necromunda or Mordheim, and benefits from multiple successive games. I’ve heard that Frostgrave’s d20 system can lead to some rather random results, but I’ve not had a problem with this.

Carnevale (minis)Carnevale has more complex rules than Frostgrave, but this is balanced out by having smaller warbands. However, once you’ve got the hang of it, they all make sense.

Carnevale does have rules for further games, but they are simpler than Frostgrave’s. That said, the Carnevale rulebook provides several “stories” made up of linked games with an ongoing theme. Customisation of warbands is possible, but not to Frostgrave’s extent. However, it’s been out for less than a year, so it’s quite likely that further supplements will add new rules and combatants.

Frostgrave (minis)Carnevale really benefits from its immersive setting. With its canals, gondolas and masked combatants, Venice makes a darkly magnificent backdrop, and the various factions fit the location perfectly. Further, the game encourages extensive use of the setting: characters can hurl their enemies into the water (and then drown them!) and bound across the rooftops with feats of parkour. There’s something immensely satisfying in getting one of your guys to dispose of an enemy by jumping on his head from a great height or stunning him with a frying pan and shoving him into the canal.

Overall, both games are good fun and have good sets of rules (and some brilliant artwork). They both give gamers a chance to collect, paint and field entertaining warbands. Frostgrave has several expansions, and I would expect that Carnevale will get some add-ons too. Carnevale is a game for more experienced, probably older gamers. With its dark setting and more detailed rules, it feels more like a “wargamer’s game”. Frostgrave does have depth and sophistication, but is easier to pick up. Since they are both quite small-scale, a game of either will probably take about 1-2 hours. I would give both games 8/10.

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