Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 03, 2023
Frosthaven - A first impression

I did pledge for a number of board game crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Gamefound over the last few years. But I didn't participate in the biggest one, Frosthaven, the game that made $13 million on Kickstarter. But now that the game is being delivered to backers, I am checking it out via YouTube to see whether I missed something. After all, I could still buy it somewhere for about $250+.

Many hours of YouTube videos later, I have a good impression of what Frosthaven is, especially since I do own Gloomhaven, which Frosthaven is very similar to. But when trying to "review" it, I quickly come to the point where it turns out that the question "is this a good game?" is very different from the question "is this a good game for me?". Because Frosthaven in my opinion appears to be a very good game, actually better than Gloomhaven, a game that only just recently lost the top spot of the best board game on BGG. But Frosthaven, like Gloomhaven, is a lifestyle game. You can't just quickly play a game of Frosthaven. You need to make a conscious decision together with the people you want to play it with to play that game for a long time. It's a bit like starting to play D&D, not something you do for an evening or two. If you had a board game group that comes together every week, it would take you well over a year, if not two, to play through a complete campaign of Frosthaven. This is not something I currently would want to do, nor do I know people who would want to commit to such a thing with me.

I believe Frosthaven is better than Gloomhaven because the city phase in Frosthaven is much better than the city phase in Gloomhaven (while the scenario phase is very, very similar). Frosthaven begins in a mostly destroyed city, and with the loot you gain in the scenarios, you build the city back up. That is a great system, and very motivating. There is a lot more interaction between the city phase and the scenario phase when you have more meaningful decisions to make in the city phase, and it isn't just there to buy gear and get random city events.

The major negative point of Frosthaven is that it is an even less "new player friendly" game than Gloomhaven. There are even more rules to learn, more components to handle, more stuff to think about, and even the starting characters are more complicated. Just the basic Frosthaven box weights 31 pounds / 14 kg, which is 4 kg more than Gloomhaven. If you don't have a dedicated table just for board games, or one of those gaming tables where you can leave the game set up in the lowered section and put a topper on, you will spend many hours of your life just setting the game up and tearing it down after every session. And the scenarios are relatively difficult; that is to say that if you had never played any Gloomhaven before, you would struggle to win even the early scenarios. If you are a Gloomhaven veteran, you will find the game challenging after the first two or so scenarios.

So what would my buying recommendation be? If you never have played any Gloomhaven game, buy Jaws of the Lion. It is significantly cheaper, has a much better new player experience, and will make you a sufficiently good player to be able to play the other games. If you aren't bored after the 25 scenarios of Jaws of the Lion, you should probably skip Gloomhaven and go directly to the more fun Frosthaven. However, if you weren't necessarily looking for a board game for a group of players, but would like to have the Gloomhaven experience as a solo player, you will probably want to buy Gloomhaven digital. The only downside to Gloomhaven digital is that if you want to play Jaws of the Lion, you need to buy the full game plus the Jaws of the Lion DLC. Which still is much cheaper than Gloomhaven the board game.

My personal take on Frosthaven is that I can wait for Frosthaven digital. Seeing how Gloomhaven digital was a success, and that some of the code of Gloomhaven digital can be re-used, I consider it likely that at some point a Frosthaven digital will be made. I might have to wait to 2025 or so, there isn't even an announcement yet. But I don't have a group for this, and the digital version is so much better for a solo player: No time lost for setup and tear down, not having to master the complicated monster AI rules, no huge box to store, playing through a scenario much faster, and the whole being a lot cheaper.


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