Let’s kick things off by acknowledging the original IP. I may not have dabbled in the PC version of Frostpunk, but if Greg says that the boardgamization of Frostpunk is flawless, well, I trust Greg’s judgment. And, just in case no one coined the term before, let it be known that we’re the pioneers of boardgamization! If you’re a die-hard fan of the original, you’re in for a treat with this adaptation. But fear not, newcomers, there’s plenty here to love.
Highly Immersive, Mature, and Morally Challenging
Frostpunk offers a boatload of fun, largely owing to its real-time strategy nature. You’ll oversee and manage your isolated colony, complete with buildings, resource scavenging, various types of workers, and a plethora of factors to control. Yet, what truly sets this game apart, much like This War of Mine, is its remarkable immersion and its mature, morally charged narrative.
No, it isn’t a campaign-driven game with a thick booklet of rules. Instead, it relies on a few decks of events, aptly named the morning and dusk decks, to weave an incredible atmosphere of survival and the constant struggle to make morally tough decisions to keep your colony alive.
The immersion factor here is through the roof, and the board game adaptation is just as thematic as the original. Similar to This War of Mine, Frostpunk doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of violence, hardship, and the weighty choices you must make to survive. Furthermore, you’ll often find yourself facing the consequences of your choices, thanks to additional event cards that reflect your decisions.
The Thrill of Exploration
In Frostpunk, your journeys to abandoned malls and hospitals, as seen in “This War of Mine,” are swapped for expeditions across snowy plains and mountains. This mechanic, combined with the tiles you uncover while clearing the snow around the generator, provides a satisfying level of exploration. It not only adds replayability but also immerses you further in the game. While there’s always a race against time and a shortage of available workers, sending them on expeditions is well worth it. You’ll gain not only resources and new survivors but also experience immersive events triggered when you reach specific milestones.
The Law is King
Other straightforward yet deeply engaging mechanics that align perfectly with the colony management theme are the laws you can enact within your community and the morale system that significantly influences gameplay. Whether it’s forcing children to work under harsh conditions, opening a public house, or constructing a fighting arena, each law you pass has consequences. The best choice depends on your colony’s current situation because being too generous and caring isn’t always the answer. Most introduced laws, along with other elements in the game, can alter your colony’s morale. You can also gain an advantage with the right mix of hope or discontent tokens. This system offers a transparent view of how your decisions impact your people.
A Well-Designed Engine with Ever-Present Time Pressure
Balanced gameplay and challenging scenarios with varying difficulty levels ensure you’ll keep coming back for more. The system for developing your colony while ensuring your citizens are fed and warm, all while managing expeditions, discovering new technologies, exploring the board, collecting resources, and so much more, creates a constant sense of urgency. Hard choices need to be made not just during events but also while planning and executing actions. The game’s engine is a satisfying, well-oiled machine.
Stunning Table Presence
A remarkable feature that can’t be ignored is the stunning table presence. This might be the first time when a predominantly white color scheme works so well for a theme. Usually, when one color, especially white, dominates a game, it doesn’t have the visual impact it should. Take Steamwatchers as an example. However, Frostpunk, thanks to the extra effort put in by the graphic and 3D designers, looks simply breathtaking. A fully developed colony, with its diverse buildings, deluxe resources, and miniature dioramas representing workers, easily ranks among the best-looking board games. Two months after receiving our pledge, we acquired the Frostbox, and while I initially had reservations about its whiteness, placing it right behind the playmat during a session suddenly made sense. It extended the main board and created an epic, frozen landscape.
Great Player Reference Sheets but…
One minor drawback is the lack of reference sheets that combine all four roles. When playing as a duo, managing four separate reference sheets can be cumbersome. It’s often more practical to use the rulebook until you’ve internalized all the steps. What would be ideal is at least one reference sheet that consolidates all four roles. Even better would be four separate sheets, each covering all aspects of the game.
The Heat Generator Is Simpler Than Expected
After playing Return to the Dark Tower extensively, our expectations for the centerpiece, which spawns cubes, were sky-high. I recall the heat generator being touted as a marvel of engineering, the result of hours of meticulous design by an experienced engineer. However, in practice, it almost always dispenses all the cubes, unless you carefully toss them to the sides of the hole or upgrade the furnace. Ultimately, the heat generator here operates in precisely the same way as the tower in Factory 42, for example.
Set-Up Is a Bit of a Chore
I can hardly wait for Laserox to release a proper insert and organizer for Frostpunk because the game’s only true flaw is its setup, which can easily consume over 20 minutes. Complaining is much easier than designing a solution, and I don’t have a perfect answer for how this could be streamlined. Nevertheless, the combination of lengthy gameplay, which typically takes around 4 hours, and a time-consuming setup makes Frostpunk a bit more challenging to get to the table as often as we’d like.
Despite pointing out some minor flaws, we can’t deny that Frostpunk is a marvel. It’s undoubtedly one of the standout games from last year, earning its place in our top 10 games for 2022. Its challenging and highly strategic gameplay, stunning visual presentation, and, most importantly, its immersive and mature atmosphere, make Frostpunk a true gem in our collection—a game we’ll return to for years to come. With that said, we rate it 8.5 scratches out of 10 possible, with Greg deducting half a scratch due to his responsibilities for setup. – David & Greg