Let’s Talk About Frosthaven

Frosthaven. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you must be living under a proverbial rock. It’s simply impossible to miss. Nonetheless, we’re going to talk about it because there are people out there (like my colleagues) who don’t know anything about it, and because I’m just that excited for the proper sequel to Gloomhaven.

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What is Frosthaven?

Frosthaven is the standalone sequel to arguably one of the biggest board games out there, Gloomhaven (which we’ve talked at length about). Frosthaven isn’t due out until March of next year, but it’s currently raising money for production on Kickstarter and has raised $7.5 million since Tuesday March 31st. Even amidst the chaos of COVID-19’s economic influence, Frosthaven is vastly outperforming its predecessor’s crowdfunding campaign.

Frosthaven is a cooperative dungeon crawler campaign game that sets players out into the wilderness of the northern coast of the continent. The small outpost of Frosthaven is under siege from three mysterious factions looking to destroy the struggling outpost. You and your party of misfits are the only ones capable of assisting the struggling settlement and keeping it from its otherwise certain fate.

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Differences between Frosthaven and Gloomhaven

The core mechanics of Gloomhaven‘s card based cooperative dungeon crawler remain largely unchanged. The combat and character systems will remain the same and little more than a few new status effects. However, the loot and campaigns systems have seen quite a bit of innovation.

Frosthaven Buildings

In addition to the map of the Northern Coast on the campaign board, there will also be a map of the outpost itself. It’s here that over the course of the game, players will be able to construct new structures that have gameplay implications. Structures like guard towers and fences to increase Frosthaven’s defenses from the attacking factions of Algox, Lurkers, and Unfettered. The aspects of building up the outpost that excites me the most is that some of these buildings will allow your party to craft new potions, items, and equipment. More importantly, certain types of of new character classes can be unlocked as new shops attract new trades.

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Sample resources cards from the loot deck.

Loot System

The team at Cephalofair has completely revamped the loot system. In Gloomhaven, each enemy defeated (with the exception of summoned ones) drop a single piece of gold each. Collecting those pieces of gold was the main way of purchasing new equipment and aid your party with new potions, armor, or weapons. But in the harsh northern climates, money isn’t worth as much to your survival than raw materials and the knowledge of how to best use them.

For that reason, the loot system has moved away from gold and toward raw materials like wood, herbs, and ores. Players will now collect loot tokens from enemy drops that can be exchanged for random items or resources from a loot deck. The type of resources found in the loot deck will be specific to the current scenario. The collected resources can be used to construct new weapons, armor, potions, or even new buildings in Frosthaven. The move from gold to resources is a strong move both in terms of theme and adding variety to pre-existing mechanics. It will also require a lot more strategy and cooperation from the party in order to prioritize how these earned resources are spent to optimize a long term strategy.

Puzzles

Those familiar with Gloomhaven know that it has many hidden secrets in the form of puzzles and hidden runes. Those secrets tie back to a number of sealed envelopes containing some pretty great surprises. The original game had four secret envelopes in it of varying impact on the game. Frosthaven has over twenty of these sealed envelopes containing all sorts of secret buildings, items, and maybe even a class or two.

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Seasons

The world around players will now change with a cycle of seasons. Your campaign begins in summer and will transition into the winter after the first fifteen scenarios. During the winter season, shops will close, and Frosthaven will be bombarded with attacks. As enemies close in on the outpost it will be far more dangerous to depart on scenarios. This will force players to think ahead about how they should best utilize their time during the summer months. There will also be season specific event decks and I suspect that the winter deck will be less forgiving.

New Status Effects

Frosthaven will also be introducing three new status effects in addition to those that were present in the previous editions. Brittle, bane, and injure will be added as combat status effects and none of them are very friendly.

When affected by brittle, players will take twice as much damage the next time they’re hit. As hard hitting as that is, bane is even worse. Characters with the bane status will automatically taken ten damage if they don’t use a heal action by the end of their next turn. Both of these statuses have a high likelihood of dropping a character from full health to nothing in a heartbeat and will be the reason cards get burned more often.

Injure on the other hand is a much smaller nuisance on its own. While a character is injured, they are unable to use items until the end of their next turn. On its own, injure will likely only delay the use of buffs and healing items to another time. However, if injure is ever combined with bane characters will have to depend on each other more than ever for survival.

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Illustrations of various Unfettered enemies.

Where Gloomhaven and Frosthaven connect

For those who uncovered all of Gloomhaven‘s secrets, they’ll know that there are some tools and hints that will play directly into some of the puzzles in Frosthaven. While it’s difficult to speculate to what extent they will impact the next franchise entry. At the very least, I’m confident that Frosthaven will be loaded with Easter Eggs and nods to previous side characters, road/city events, and previous events.

Not only that, but prior to the release of Frosthaven next year, we’ll get the chance to play Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. The team at Cephalofair is acutely aware that a big box game as large as Gloomhaven can be intimidating without having played it first, especially at such a high entry cost. For that reason Jaws of the Lion will be coming to retail later this year as a smaller standalone campaign for a much lower price. As this has already been in development for some time, it’s possible that we’ll see some connections to Frosthaven in Jaws of the Lion as well.

But arguably the biggest selling point behind Frosthaven for existing players is the ability to mix and match character classes across all three games in the Gloomhaven series. The range of character classes across is what held my interest in Gloomhaven since its initial release and what keeps me playing now. As creatively as some of the classes in the original functioned, many of the Gloomhaven classes were classic RPG archetypes and didn’t allow Isaac Childres to truly show off his creative abilities.

The Scoundrel class was your typical rogue. She moves quickly, loots a lot, and can deal a lot of additional damage if she manages to get her target alone. The Spellweaver class is your typical mage who unleashes powerful spells at high costs. The Brute class is the fighter/warrior tank, etc. There are a few other obvious archetypal classes in the sealed character boxes, but for the sake of avoiding spoilers, we won’t discuss those.

Now that Childres has managed to set the baseline and proved that his team at Cephalofair can create a tightly designed gameplay experience with character classes and has a fan base that intimately understands how Gloomhaven works, Frosthaven has opened the door for Childres to get much more creative with his characters. The starting six character classes alone are wonderfully more complex than the previous set, without being overwhelming complicated.


geminate-1585689739095Harrower Germinate

The Harrowers are a species that most will recognize as enemies from Gloomhaven. They are a a disgusting floating mass of insects that have swarmed together to form a single entity.

Players familiar with the game know that your hand limit essentially acts as your character’s energy. Once your hand is empty, your character is exhausted and can no longer continue.

What will make the Germinate class so interesting to play is the fact that it is one Harrower with two consciousnesses, one skilled in ranged abilities and the other skilled in close combat. Each consciousness is represented by their own separate deck of cards. The Germinate’s hand limit is fourteen cards split up into two separate decks of seven; one for the ranged and one for the melee abilities. The Germinate’s class icon is printed on a number of its ability cards and whenever one of those abilities is used, players must switch decks, now utilizing the other Germinate form. If either deck runs out, the character is exhausted. Players will have to delicately balance their actions, switching between decks constantly or risk burning out too soon.

 

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Human Banner Spear

The Banner Spear class is one of the tank classes of the starting six and is an excellent example of how Frosthaven will be adding more puzzle elements to even the simpler classes.

She exists to rally the troops and in this case, does just that by using its ally’s positions on the board to gain damage boosts. Many attack cards that follow a non-traditional attack pattern (anything that’s different from attacking an adjacent target) have a small hexagonal pattern on the card to reflect the map. Spaces highlighted in red show players which spaces can be targeted by the ability. However, in the case of the Banner Spear, a green hex on the ability card will detail where allies can be positioned in order to gain damage and status bonuses. Using the Banner Spear will help promote a greater sense of cooperation between players while transforming this class into an absolute powerhouse.

 

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Frosthaven will have a wide range of ability types across all of its classes. Some of those are limited use persistent abilities.

While in play, these persistent use abilities will continuously grant bonuses to damage or damage resistance. However, they can only be used a certain number of times before the effect expires and the card is lost, accelerating the depletion of a character’s energy. The number of uses is tracked by advancing a token along a track on the ability card. If the token needs to be advanced after the ability’s use and there are no more empty slots to move the token to, the ability has been used up and must be removed from game play.

The Drifter class is our other starting tank class and has  managed to master the ability to move the token farther back along the track. Using certain powers will allow the Drifter to delay the expiration of persistent abilities, extending both the character buffs and overall energy. This will not only assist in keeping the Drifter on the board longer, but will also provide valuable aid to his allies.

 

Valrath Deathwalkerdeathwalker

The Deathwalker class will be the first Valrath class we see that isn’t a tank character, even the unreleased Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion has a Valrath tank. It will be really interesting to see a Valrath class that’s based more in magic than anything else.

The Deathwalkers manipulate shadows and bend them to their will for the purpose of both movement and attacking. There will be a set of tokens that are unique to this class that will represent the location of shadows on the board.

Deathwalkers will create shadows all across the board, including underneath enemies. The Valrath can then use her abilities to move those shadows across the board (as many as five space in the early game) and pop out of them for powerful attacks far away from her position on the board, keeping the Valrath at a safe distance. When it’s time to move, she can catch up to the party by teleporting to a space that already has a shadow on it.

Players using the Dealthwalker class will need to be planning several turns ahead in order to optimize her abilities but if done correctly, she’ll be the group’s key to victory.

 

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As one might expect, the Necromancer class is focused on summoning minions onto the board, but in order to do so, the Necromancer must inflict damage upon herself. Many of the Necromancer’s abilities will control her summons on the board to inflict damage either directly or by sacrificing them. On her own, she’s rather weak so players controlling the Necromancer class will need to rely on summoning creatures to act as her barrier between her and her enemies.

The Necromancer is also as close to a healer class as the Frosthaven starting six are going to get. By (again) inflicting damage upon herself, she is able to restore some health to adjacent allies. She only has two starting abilities that allow her to heal herself and neither one of them come free. The Fell Remedy ability will allow the Necromancer to restore three health to herself, only if an enemy dies that round. Her only other self healing ability is Flow of the Black River which will restore one more health than there are summons on the board. You’ll have to summon a lot of creatures in order to make Flow of the Black River very effective, but you’ll have to decrease your health in order to summon. No matter how players build their Necromancer, they’ll be walking the razor’s edge.

 

pic5283912Quatryl Blink Blade

This is the class that I am most excited for, perhaps because I’ve always enjoyed the quick classes.

In the lore of Gloomhaven the Quatryl are a meek race who are excellent engineers and utilize technology to make up for their lack of physical strength. Gloomhaven saw the Quatryl race primarily as race of support class, and while they’ve arguable been interesting classes, they spent the least amount of time in the spotlight. I believe that the starting Blink Blade class will change that.
Each of the Blink Blade’s ability cards have two forms, fast and slow. Naturally, the fast abilities have a lower initiative value and go earlier in the round while the slow abilities have a higher initiative and go later in the round. This feature alone will make the Blink Blade a highly adaptable character, allowing him to subvert enemy initiative and select from twice as many abilities during a round.

There is a catch. The Blink Blade must spend a token in order to use the fast abilities. These tokens can only be generated by using slow actions. This will significantly limit the class’ ability to spam fast actions and force players to plan their actions ahead of time, setting up for a flurry of fast attacks and kills two to three rounds on.


 

There’s an exciting range of class availability in terms of both play style and experience levels. New players will likely have an easier time jumping in by starting with the Drifter or Banner Spear class. The remaining four starting classes seem to be more catered tho experienced players who are familiar with the need to balance powerful attacks with hand and health management. However, all six classes are leaning into the more puzzle-esque nature of Frosthaven‘s core mechanics and I’m thrilled to see the series play to its strengths.

 

How to dive in and start playing

As excited as we are, Frosthaven won’t be able to hit our tables until March 2021 at the earliest. However, that doesn’t mean  you have to miss out on the fun. There are already a few ways to start enjoying the franchise.

For starters, Gloomhaven is still widely available online. Upon it’s initial release, it was almost impossible to get but it’s regularly in stock now. If you’re social distancing and have a player or two already at home, I can’t think of a better way to spend all of the additional time.

If you’re among the few who have finished the beast of a game and unlocked everything, don’t forget about the Forgotten Circles expansion. It’s not as clean of an experience as the core game, but it does add a new character class, status effects, and a wider variety of scenario objectives.

For those who own Tabletop Simulator on Steam, Frosthaven has a few scenarios available to play now using any of the starting six Frosthaven classes, the four Jaws of the Lion classes, or any of the classes from the original. Cephalofair is updating the scenario list on a daily basis to include daily puzzles featuring various Frosthaven classes to get some early experience with them.

If you don’t own Tabletop Simulator, there are print and play options available. Childres is currently running the forth community driven campaign entitled The Blacksmith and the Bear. A new scenario in the campaign will be released each week and at the end, players will get to vote on the next direction of the story using an online poll. Print and play versions of the character cards for both Frosthaven and Jaws of the Lion are available. The same scenarios are also available on Tabletop Simulator for those who prefer the digital version.

 

 

If you’re interested in either Gloomhaven or Frosthaven you can back on Kickstarter here. Should you choose purchase Gloomhaven through the current Kickstarter campaign, you can expect to receive the first game, expansion, and associated accessories delivered in July. Frosthaven is currently scheduled for delivery to backers in March 2021, but may experience delays due to COVID-19s impact on manufacturing. If you’d like to avoid Kickstarter altogether, Frosthaven will be available via retail following the completion of its Kickstarter fulfillment process. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion will be available for the first time on retail shelves this coming July.

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