It is finally here. Frosthaven. The highly-anticipated sequel to Gloomhaven, the Frosthaven board game by Cephalofair Games shattered Kickstarter crowdfunding records. And now we can finally play it!
In Frosthaven, players take control of their own unique character, playing them through a campaign of scenarios centered around the frozen outpost of the same name. It is an epic, sprawling game that will have you upgrading the outpost, unlocking new characters, and fighting powerful foes at every turn.
I’m going to preface this review by saying that I have not played through every single scenario in the book, but I’ve played enough to get a feel for the game, including Scenarios and Outpost management. If you read through my Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion review, you’ll also know that I haven’t played through any of the physical version of Gloomhaven, only the Steam version. That being said, take everything I say from that frame of reference.
So bundle up and steel yourself against the frozen wastes as we dive into Frosthaven!
Where to begin with the Frosthaven board game? If you’ve previously played the Jaws of the Lion or with Gloomhaven, the base gameplay is going to be incredibly familiar to you. You will take control of a character, begin a character sheet, and play through Scenarios to improve that character and the party as a whole.
On your turn, you will play two cards; one represents the top-row action that you will use and the other represents the bottom-row action. When your place in the initiative order comes around, you’ll perform those actions, working towards the goals of the Scenario.
A lot of the time, the end-goal of a Scenario is to defeat all of the enemies. However, you’ll also want to be aware of gathering treasure before the Scenario is over so that you can build up your wealth to improve the Frosthaven Outpost and buy items for yourself.
As much as like the ‘minis on a map’ portion of the game, the Outpost Phase reminds me a lot of a board game version of Pathfinder’s Kingmaker. You’re defending the outpost and upgrading it, all while keeping meticulous track of time and resources. On paper it sounds kind of dull, but it’s that feeling of progression and threat that makes you want to do it!
Progressing through the campaign brings unlocks in the forms of new character classes, additional mechanics, and even random dungeon encounters. That’s right – you don’t even have to play the official scenarios if you just want to delve into a cavern that nobody has even done before!
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Frosthaven!
Opening the Frosthaven box was perhaps the most daunting unboxing experience I’ve ever undertaken. Right away you’re hit with a message to PLEASE WAIT and read this before doing anything else. And believe me, you’ll want to heed that warning so that you can get everything situated in the box for your first play.
But the organization of the game is honestly a really big selling point. Whenever you’re dealing with a game of this magnitude (of which there are few games to actually compare to), it’s important that you can find exactly what you need right when you need it. This is achieved through a combination of labeled tuck boxes, card dividers, layered inserts, and bags for all of the necessary components needed for each monster type.
Frosthaven has more components than you can shake a stick at. Between a miniature for every character class, tokens for everything from pipes to snowy trees, and hundreds of cards, Frosthaven is a masterclass in showcasing a premium board gaming experience. It’s like a Gamemaster’s ultimate dream of having tokens for everything you could ever need for a Pathfinder game, except you have it for a board game instead.
The Frosthaven board is definitely a miniatures-on-a-map kind of game, but it’s also so much more than that. Each scenario feels like a mini optimization puzzle where you’re trying to get in and get out as quickly as possible with the maximum amount of loot in your pocket. And, on top of that, there are scenarios that don’t just end when you finish off all the enemies; several have other objectives that you’ll need to complete to be successful.
It also helps to have a semi-balanced team of characters playing, although the game scales for two-players as well as for a full table. Each of the character classes has their own niche and role to play within the greater scope of the party. And that’s a benefit for taking command of one character; you get to really learn that character and become an expert in it, hopefully surviving long enough to do so.
What I really love about Frosthaven is that I can build my character in any way that I want to. Sure, there are definitely things that each character excels at, but you can buy available items to really shape them into someone unique to you. And that might be the edge you need to power through that tricky scenario!
Everything in Frosthaven seems to be covered in a blueish-grey filter, which really fits with the theme of ‘abandoned frozen outpost’. At the same time, this does make some of the components seem very similar. For example, stones and snow banks look similar enough where you almost might as well not even have different tokens to represent them.
That being said, the entire game exudes that high-fantasy feel that always seems familiar. At the same time, there’s plenty that helps the setting stand on its own merits, especially in terms of the character art. For example, one of the starting characters is Geminate, who is really a combination of two forms. The art is so strange and delightful, and unlike anything I’ve seen in other games.
The aesthetics support the theme in every way, with subtle nods to the climate with more furs and layered clothing. Add in the detailing to the cards and other components, and I really must commend the artistic talents for their exceptional job, so thank you to Francesca Baerald, David Demaret, Alexandr Elichev, and Josh T. McDowell.
So it probably goes without saying but if you liked Gloomhaven and/or Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, then it’s a fairly safe assumption to say that you’ll like Frosthaven too. I don’t think I’m venturing too far out of the realm of possibility on that one. There’s just so much overlap between them all that you can really hit the ground running and focus on the things that are new in Frosthaven.
If you haven’t played those games before, then you have a much higher learning curve out in front of you. Luckily, the early scenarios aren’t as complicated as the ones later one, so the game still does ease you in. Jaws of the Lion holds your hand a lot more in terms of teaching, but you still aren’t thrown everything all at once.
Frosthaven is designed for people who love tabletop roleplaying games as well. If you play Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, then you likely will find a chilly home with Frosthaven. The bonus is that Frosthaven‘s story doesn’t require a Gamemaster, so you can just focus on the scenarios and the downtime between them.
It’s a crunchy, grindy kind of game that really works best if you can find a group to dedicate regular playing time to it. Of course, you can always jump into random scenarios to teach people the game, but that can be a substantial time investment for a single play or two. However, that might spark their interest enough to make it a regular game night occurrence, so go for it!
As a whole, the scenarios in Frosthaven are tense. Like I mentioned above, there’s a delicate balance between completing the objective and completing the objective while getting all of the treasure. It’s easy to get in the habit of trying to push your luck for that extra bit of coin, but it could mean disaster for the group.
Also, since you’re not supposed to explicitly discuss about where you’re going in the initiative order, it creates some interesting situations where you’ll need to pivot your strategy because you’re going sooner/later than you thought you might. In a game of optimization, it can really throw you for a loop!
Overall though, Frosthaven evokes that feeling of old-school and new-school dungeon dives. And the game really opens up a lot more the further you go, as the enemies get more varied and you have to use everything at your disposal to dispatch them.
I’m always surprised at how balanced everything seems to be. Despite juggling many different classes, enemies, etc, the scenarios always feel appropriate to the challenge level.
Frosthaven: Your Year in a Box
That’s right – Frosthaven is an investment in your time. To really get a feel for the game and see everything it has to offer, you’ll need to commit to playing it semi-regularly with a group. But – if you can achieve that – you’ll find out why Frosthaven is worthy enough to top many ‘Best of’ board game lists.
We all saw it coming from beginning, but let’s make it official: Frosthaven earns the highly coveted Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness award! Frosthaven packs so much around its core mechanics that there will never be a dull moment and you’ll always have a scenario to play, even if you’ve already played through Gloomhaven and Jaws of the Lion.
You can pick up a copy of Frosthaven from your FLGS!
[Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Frosthaven from Cephalofair Games in exchange for an honest review.]