Monday, January 27, 2020

Review: Ghost Archipelago- Osprey Games

Before we get started on this review, I want to be 100% upfront.  I have no intention of ever playing Ghost Archipelago.  You maybe asking yourself, “Then why did you spend money on this book?” 

I had three reasons:

1.       I wanted to support the local game store I picked it up at.  Most only have the big two to buy; Warmachine and GW games.  This store had FoW, Opsrey, and other niche stuff.  I wanted to support that concept in a store so I bought some of that niche content from them.

2.       I wanted to see how they handled Heritor’s and their powers and what separated them from Wizards in Frostgrave.  I wanted to add this information into my toolbox of wargame design ideas and concepts. 

3.       I wanted to see how they did warband creation, experience, and treasure placement as it seemed like an improvement and development from Frostgrave.  As I was trying to get a Frostgrave campaign going locally I figured these enhancements might benefit my efforts.  In the end, that attempt to get a new Frostgrave campaign going failed. 

Why would I want to play Frostgrave but not this version of it?  To be honest, as a person who lives in the Great White North, the setting of Frostgrave appeals to me more.  I already had a good stock of winter terrain from other projects, and I had just donated my jungle terrain away for space reasons.  Plus, I just wasn’t sold on the idea of Heritors.  They seemed to much like Super-Heroes and if I wanted to play Super-Heroes I had other games for that.   

So, now you know the context as I head into this review.  I have modified my normal review format going forward.  Since many of my general thoughts on the game can be found in my Frostgrave reviews I will instead try to focus on what is different about this game. 

Time to head into uncharted territory. 

Things I Like
Warband creation and management seems to be streamlined in this version of the game.  You are always assumed to be able to have 8 followers with you that are just basic mooks.  From there, you can upgrade up to 4 specialists IF you wish.  They have special abilities and skills to make them stand out.  However, they are still expendable mooks for the most part. 

The Warband is led by a Heritor who can tap into the magic inherent in his bloodline to performs spectacular feats.  This can be active, passive, or reactive.  Nominally, you can activate as many as you want but the more you have active at any one time the more likely you are to take damage from your blood literally boiling.  There are also still traditional wizards in this game, much like Frostgrave wizard’s.  However they are called Wardens and have different spells and disciplines.  These two are the main guys to earn experience and grow in your warband. 

With Frostgrave, Ghost Archipelago, and Heritor powers you have a wide selection of spells, powers, equipment, and magical items to fuel your own dungeon crawl or similar adventures for a long time. 

This game also uses the Treasure placement system promoted in Ulterior Motives and Maze of Malcor.  This is an improved system for treasure placement. 

Things I Do Not Like
The base system is pretty much the same as Frostgrave therefore many of the issues I found in that game are also found here.  I think the biggest is the swingy nature of the d20 combat and the lack of strongtactical options. In addition, my comments on the need for scenarios to keep the game engaging also applies.

Meh and Other Uncertainties
This game adds rules for unique terrain such as water, small boats, swimming, and other swampy/jungly items.  The addition of these features can add a new “depth” to the battles and make for some interesting challenges and tactical situations. 

There is a new Bestiary including tribal forces, snakemen, and other “jungle” beasts.    

 The game has 8 starting scenarios.  A good selection of scatter terrain is recommended, as are water based items.  That helps add to the flavor of the game but also provides ways to block LOS, set ambushes, and provide scenario specific detail. 

The campaign process post-game is also very similar between the two games, but with themed items for the Ghost Archipelago.

Final Thoughts
If you are a big fan of Frostgrave, but what to change up the theme; then this is a great product for you!  It reminds me a bit of the old alternate setting for Mordheim that were unofficial or homebrewed, except this one is official!  Other than a few tweaks to the warband creation, Heritors, and theme specific spells/treasure/specialist this game will deliver pretty much the same experience as Frostgrave proper.    

If you are just looking to change up your games of Frostgrave, then Into the Breeding Pits maybe a better option.  If you have a group that liked the original but are just looking to change up the setting, miniatures, etc, then Ghost Archipelago is a better path.  Alternatively I see no reason why a warband from Felstad could not travel to the Ghost Archipelago or Vice Versa.

I think the core critiques for Frostgrave apply just as much to this game.  To summarize:

·         Few tactical options
·         Swingy d20 combat
·         Replayability may be limited without new scenarios
That being said, it delivers on what Frostgrave also does well, just with a few hiccups along the way.

·         Campaign play and linked scenarios
·         Multi-player capable
·         Great flavor and setting
·         Lots of options for your warband

I would not be surprised if some of the small rules tweaks here make it into Frostgrave 2.0 that the author is working on. 

Overall, I am not disappointed I purchased it.  With all the content I have it will provide a good base and fuel for upgrades, options, etc for my own projects.  A good ad to my toolbox of wargame mechanics and ideas. 

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