Humanity is on the brink of extinction as a devastating ice storm covers earth, destroying all life and sources of food and heat.
In Frostpunk, players take control of a settlement surrounding a large generator. The goal of the game is to survive the bitter cold and keep your population alive.
Over the course of the game players will need to manage food, sickness, death, heat, shelter, hope and discomfort levels while attempting to complete the goals of a chosen scenario.
Along the way players will need to juggle limited resources while making tough decisions and try to survive the plummeting temperatures. Based on the video game of the same name.
6 Ways To Lose, Few Ways To Win
Each game of Frostpunk begins with players choosing a scenario and following instructions on how to set up the map.
The generator is the centre point for your colony and is surrounding by a large hexagonal ice wall. Some missions being with a location tiles already placed, providing spots for resources and eventually buildings plus some points of the wall can contain drilling points for coal and wood.
Then payers must choose a society card which acts like a difficulty modifier for each game. Giving players the amount of citizens, resources and starting deaths. Obviously the higher number of citizens means players have more to work with each round.
Advisor cards are drawn which give each player a unique ability and each player drafts citizen cards which can be played with regular actions for a boosted effect.
Finally a matching scenario card is revealed, giving players a goal to work towards by a set round. These can have multiple outcomes and branch into separate paths.
To win Frostpunk, you must progress the goals on your scenario cards. The problem though is that not only is the goal a fresh challenge every time you progress to a new one but the end may not be in sight.
To lose though is clear and there are a number of tracks to keep your eye on throughout the game.
Food must be monitored, as each round a citizen type will be required to be fed. Failing to do so will cause a hunger marker to increase and can cause sickness and even death!
Sickness can be increased by forcing workers to perform tasks in the extreme weather. A token for each type of citizen will go up the track and during each round may flip over to a skull side or worse, kill off people.
Keeping deaths down is crucial too. If you have too many your settlement may deem you unfit to govern them and you can fail.
Heat is an important factor in Frostpunk and not only do you need to provide coal to power the generator but also make sure parts of your settlement are heated.
By heating the colony you can keep your people warm but at a cost. Each time you drop coal cubes into the generator you can heat the map. However each round you pull out the draw and reveal any cubes that made their way through.
These cubes are then placed on the stress track and if left unchecked can cause a reaction and an explosion of the generator.
Finally the hope and discomfort tracks. By making choices on event cards this can increase or decrease either.
Too much discomfort or no hope can cause ruin to your settlement.
There a lot of factors to keep in mind while playing Frostpunk and players will need to strategise and make tough decisions to ensure the survival of your people.
9 Phases Of Gameplay
Frostpunk is a tough game and it’s just a hard to learn as it is to win. With 9 phases to go through it can appear incredibly intimidating but Glass Cannon have provided a very detailed rulebook and super handy reference sheets and cards.
The dawn phase is where players pass the first player marker and advance the round marker. This can pass over tokens on the tracker which act as checkpoints for scenario goals.
The morning phase reveals a morning card, an event card which provides some small narrative text and decisions to make. These can range from gambling issues, citizen demands and food issues to problematic people and travellers reaching the city. These can give rewards and add new challenges to the game whilst also adding new dusk cards to the deck.
The generator phase gives players one last chance to provide fuel before making citizens sick, the players take cubes from the bottom of the generator and add to the stress track.
The weather phase gives players a weather card. This depicts how cold the world is getting. Advancing the cold marker and levels of heat needed for building types and how far your citizens can go before getting sick.
It also increases food from hunting huts and shows you how much your people have progressed on expedition cards.
The preparation phase is where players can choose an advisor and then sickness markers are resolved, possibly resulting in more death.
The action phase is where the bulk of the gameplay takes place. Here is where players take turns performing actions, assigning workers and managing resources until they have ran out of options.
The dusk phase, similar to the morning phase is where dusk cards are drawn. These act as consequences for choices players have made on morning cards and any laws they have enacted.
Hunger phase is where food is consumed and the hunger marker is advanced. If hunger has progressed too far it can result in more death.
Finally the night phase is where players must provide shelter for their citizens. Anyone left without a heated place to sleep will fall ill.
As you can see, there is a lot to keep track of during a round of Frostpunk. However the majority of the game takes place during the action phase, where players will explore, build and harvest resources.
Real Time Strategy
With this being an adaption of a real time strategy game, how does it compare?
Pretty well actually. This feels like your playing a classic strategy game perfectly scaled down to work on a tabletop setting.
Aside from juggling a lot tracks and resolving event cards, players will have a lot of choice during each round.
They can explore the land, revealing tiles which can not only provide resources (wood, coal, trees, food spots, steel and steam cores) but can make citizens cold and sick. Every action you take is either heated or cold depending on how you’ve maintained your colony’s generator.
You can collect resources, up to 2 from each spot you place a worker.
Players can send workers on expeditions. On these journeys they can eventually collect rare rewards but at the cost of losing a unit for a while.
Workers can be used to construct buildings. The construction board holds all the building tiles available, each one with a different cost of wood and sometimes steam cores.
You can build shelters, hunting huts and sawmills, workshops, coal mines and more. There are so many options to choose from and players need to think carefully before the construction of each.
Not only do players need to carefully manage how they spend their resources but also when and where to build. You need to have hunting huts for food and medical posts to treat the sick but also spaces for buildings and what order to build in.
You can also send workers to use buildings, which all can be dismantled or upgraded to produce better benefits. Players can use sawmills to collect wood from trees, medical posts to cure the sick and more.
You can even research new technologies, create laws or build automotons, powerful workers that never get sick or need food but require coal to be used.
With limited resources, workers and the chance of getting sick a problem, players are both free to develop their settlement how they see fit but also must keep in mind the issues that will inevitably occur.
So Thematic It Feels Cold As You Play
Frostpunk is one of the most thematic cooperative games I have played.
The large generator model, which not only looks incredible on the table but actually is used to drop your coal cubes into. You feel the fear as you hear them tumble down to the bottom, praying none fall through to go on the stress track.
As you play the world grows colder and more heat is required. Storms come and destroy flimsy buildings like tents and those who neglect food, heat and the health of their citizens will suffer.
There are three types of citizens, workers, engineers and children. Workers and engineers can perform specific tasks while children cannot. However the game allows laws to be created such as child labour or the construction of fighting pits.
These laws you create can backfire though. The child labour law lets you get more work done but now children are getting sick and a dusk card may get drawn which informs you of riots and protests.
It may seem a little harsh and challenging to have all these factors to keep in line in order to ensure survival but it makes the game much more rewarding to win.
I wont sugar coat this issue that Frostpunk is a tough game to win. In fact my win ratio is significantly lower than my loosing rate.
However that’s what makes the game so good to play. Yes it is punishing and unforgiving but when you make it to the end of a scenario, it provides some of the most satisfaction from a game you could ever experience.
Some Darkness Before The Light
Despite my praise I cant deny that there are a few issues with Frostpunk.
First, its a huge table hog. Not only is the hexagonal board quite large but then you have multiple other boards plus stacks of cards and your resources to find space for.
Luckily there isn’t a specific board for each player but it still requires a large table to accommodate it all.
The game is a little tough to learn and despite the rulebook being well made, the sheer amount of phases, buildings, actions and boards to take in made it extremely overwhelming early on.
The issue with some scenarios is that the end goal isn’t clear until a certain card is revealed and unless your familiar with it you will probably have a low chance of success. Revealing a card in the late game telling you to gather resources can come at the worst possible time for you.
The game can go on for quite some time also with scenarios averaging between 2-3 hours minimum so make sure your prepared.
Despite it being available to play with 4 players all the resources, workers and effects are shared so this is dedicated co-op experience. It does however work exceptionally well as a solo game.
Frostpunk is a challenging and thematic game of survival.
It perfectly emulates both the feeling of classic real time strategy games and a bleak, dystopian world ravaged by a chaotic eternal winter. It’s hard to learn, better suited for small player counts and demanding but an incredibly rewarding game.