Yes, that subtitle is a reference to The Cones of Dunshire from Parks and Recreation. In learning, setting up and finally playing Frostpunk: The Board Game, I was constantly thinking of and comparing it to The Cones of Dunshire simply because there is so much going on.
Frostpunk: The Board Game is a heavy, heavyweight and incredibly complex board game that requires an incredible amount of patience, willingness to learn and most of all, time. However, once you finally get over the incredibly steep (sheer even) learning curve, Frostpunk: The Board Game is addictive and infinitely replayable.
But to be clear, getting over the first hurdle is tough, and you will want to curl up into a ball, cry, and sleep. My mates and I did at least.
Frostpunk: The Board Game
Based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name, Frostpunk: The Board Game is set in a world overwhelmed by cold and storms. Outposts and towns exist thanks to the generator technology that keeps them (somewhat) warm but life is hard and cruel. Frostpunk: The Board Game pits 1-4 players against the game itself with players taking on the role of advisors to their outpost. Advisors need to monitor and manage health, heat, food and society through gameplay and decision-making. Frostpunk: The Board Game essentially tasks players with choosing from one of two or three awful options at every turn and hoping they can claw back some positive outcomes as they go. Win conditions are slim with most scenarios only successfully completed if you make it to the end of round 15…good luck with that!
Before you’re even able to start playing, Frostpunk: The Board Game needs to be set up. Now, the box says a game takes 120 minutes, but this is wildly inaccurate. It took two friends and me almost two hours to set the game up, as intricate and complex as it is. The rulebook and scenario book are incredibly helpful during this process, though we still found ourselves lost on many occasions. There’s just so much to set up and keep track of that even in setting up the board(s) you easily get confused.
There’s the hulking plastic generator and surrounding settlement, the sickness, population and hunger board, the heat board, the Dusk deck board and so on. For each of the nine phases in each turn, you monitor, change and reassess something to do with each of these boards in turn. When your citizens need to eat, you better have enough food or else they get sick and start dying. When they need to sleep, you better have enough warm places to lie down or else…they get sick and start dying. When you need to collect resources or build new structures…well, you get the idea. A huge overarching factor in your success with Frostpunk: The Board Game is how well you manage your population but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Just about everything you do and every decision you make affects the population in some way. And balancing keeping them healthy and keeping them alive are two very different things. We came unstuck because we just didn’t focus enough on keeping everyone fed and warm. Instead, we were aiming to construct buildings that are probably more useful in the end game. So, on more than one occasion…ok on every occasion, death and disease took us out at the knees. Sometimes it was because too many children died. Others, the citizens revolted and overthrew us. However, the best part about Frostpunk: The Board Game is no matter how many times we lost and lost tragically, the desire to go again and try to win never went away.
Thankfully, the game comes with a hefty scenario book with a multitude of games to play and difficulties to fail. Even the tutorial scenario which comes baked into the rulebook is obscenely difficult. If you’re not thinking five turns ahead at all times you’re going to end up freezing and starving to death. And while Frostpunk is designed for 1-4 players, it works well with any configuration. While playing solo, you control each and every aspect of the settlement and have complete autonomy, so the failures fall squarely on your shoulders. With some mates to play with, you each take charge of a different advisor, though we played co-operatively and could all agree to each decision that needed to be made regardless of whose purview it was. I can imagine it might get a bit more tricky if you all can’t agree but we didn’t have this issue.
I also tend to think playing with friends is a much more enjoyable experience overall because Frostpunk: The Board Game is so bleak and so crushing. When you play solo and it all goes to shit it can be a real kick to the nards but when you’ve got a few mates, some beers, snacks and shit-talking to go with the crushing defeat, it hurts a little less.
Even after playing Frostpunk: The Board Game for a number of hours, I’m still not entirely sure I get it. It truly is one of, if not the most complex and difficult board games I’ve ever played. It can be intimidating and even so obtuse that players might decide to quit and play something a little easier like Battlestar Galactica but I’d suggest persevering because in the end it really is worth it.
Once you get a handle on the game’s structure, the turns and phases (and you come to accept that sickness and death are inevitable) you start to learn how to game the system and maybe, just maybe make it to turn 15.
I didn’t. But maybe you can…?
Overall, Frostpunk: The Board Game is going to delight hardcore tabletop fans. It’s detailed, complex and most of all incredibly addictive. Fans of the video game are also in for a treat as it very closely resembles Frostpunk such that one of my players mentioned on numerous occasions how similar it felt. So, if you enjoy crushing, brutally difficult games, what are you waiting for?
Frostpunk: The Board Game was reviewed using a promotional copy provided by the publisher.