Frosthaven is the Highly Anticipated, Cardboard-Stuffed Sequel to the Board Game Gloomhaven

Prepare for 100s of hours of more card-based combat with boatloads of secrets to discover in the chilly, new land of Frosthaven.

I’m relatively certain PAX Unplugged 2019 was full of awesome announcements and great games to demo. In fact, some of the DualShockers staff was on the convention floor and will have some write-ups for you in the coming week. However, I was unable to pay attention to anything else because Issac Childres has finally pulled back the curtain on the upcoming sequel to Gloomhaven, the number one rated game on Board Game Geek. Somebody hold me, because I’ve watched the hour-long video of its reveal four times and can’t stop my personal hype train for Frosthaven. Let’s take a deep dive into Cephalofair Games’ upcoming masterpiece (I’m assuming).

Frosthaven is set in the lands north of the town of Gloomhaven. Importantly, this is not just an expansion to the base game. Frosthaven will be fully standalone; however, portions of Gloomhaven can be brought over into the sequel (more on that below). This means that while the design is obviously informed by Gloomhaven, Cephalofair can push the boundaries even more in design and content creation. If the hour-long video is a good indication, it appears the main takeaway was that we just needed more of literally everything.

For example, Gloomhaven‘s 16 characters always felt distinct from each other; my Scoundrel played completely differently from my friend’s Cragheart. Where the Scoundrel is quick and supremely deadly, the Cragheart felt more tank-like and used traps to deal with enemies. Frosthaven takes the differentiation in classes to a completely new level.

True, Gloomhaven characters felt different, but they still mostly had the same basic actions. Outside of some summon characters and a few other outliers, the actual mechanics everyone was interacting with were mostly the same. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Frosthaven. At least with the first six classes that Childres revealed at PAX Unplugged last weekend, they all will have their own unique way of interacting with each other and the hordes of monsters you’ll face.

Take for instance the Deathwalker. This new character was described as a shaman-like character who “ushers” people into death: she can then use their spiritual shadows to help her control the battlefield. It’s an intriguing play on the idea of summons from Gloomhaven and means that she’ll have to constantly manage her “resources” of dead enemy shadows. Pairing her with a devastating damage-dealer seems like an incredible option.

Most of the new characters have some type of new resource to manage. The Germinate is actually two consciousnesses fighting for control of one body. Each consciousness has its own set of skills, allowing you to swap back and forth between them as needed. One consciousness specializes in melee combat, while the other is a ranged attacker, making it a great class for anyone wanting to play a hybrid class. The Blink Blade sounds a bit like something from Prince of Persia when being described. He is able to speed up and slow down time at will through the use of time tokens: this means that you’ll need to appropriately manage your time if you want to deal the most possible damage.

The other three classes are similarly diverse, and these are just the starting six characters. Like in Gloomhaven, ten more characters are unlockable during the campaign. Gloomhaven did an excellent job of using the unlockable classes to really flesh out the game’s tactical depth, so I assume the same will happen in Frosthaven.

Fortunately, if you have a Gloomhaven character you absolutely love and can’t leave behind, you will be able to bring them forward to Frosthaven. In the reveal stream, it wasn’t completely clear if old characters will get updates to bring them in line with Frosthaven‘s new design choices; however, it’s a good move that will surely please fans.

You’ll also be able to bring Gloomhaven items with you to Frosthaven. This could be an important step for veteran Gloomhaven players, as the team is changing up how items work quite a bit. In Gloomhaven, you would just spend money to buy new items. With Frosthaven, money is less important and you will be using resources like wood and metal to craft new items. You can also use those resources to upgrade the town of Frosthaven.

Truthfully, the sheer number of options at your disposal is a little dizzying. Gloomhaven‘s 22-pound box was already stuffed to the gills with content, and Frosthaven seems like it’s going to have even more. I mean, the game even has a season system that will dictate when you can build town improvements and which event deck you’ll pull from when completing town and road events. It’s a frankly ridiculous amount of content.

And that’s not even considering what Childres described as an “Exit-like” puzzle game within the game that will come included. Essentially, Frosthaven will have a series of in-universe puzzles for your group to tease out that will play out over the course of the entire campaign. Again, Gloomhaven did this on a smaller scale originally, but Cephalofair looks to have completely outdone themselves here.

As a massive fan of Gloomhaven, I’m of two minds about this game. On the one hand, it’s everything I want: it takes everything the team learned from the original and fixes many of the problems, all while cramming even more content into the box. That’s awesome. I might never finish it, but it’s still awesome.

However, I worry about an even more complex game making it a tougher game to get to the table. Gloomhaven is massive, and just the setup takes 15-30 minutes for each scenario. There are so many rules for players to remember; it is not a game you can play casually. You need to have real buy-in to make the experience worth it. Does tossing even more in the box make it an even harder game to get into?

The obvious answer is probably yes. So, I suppose the better question is “does it matter?” Will an even deeper experience than Gloomhaven blow up Kickstarter and fly up the Board Game Geek charts? Will it have the community in a tizzy as people are desperate to grab their own? Will I drive around the greater area of my local metropolitan for hours looking for a copy?

Who knows? I assume the community will absolutely eat this up, but wonder if it can replicate the out-of-this-world success that Gloomhaven had. I also question its chances to be a massive mainstream success. I also don’t know if any of that matters. After all, Cephalofair already has a streamlined version of Gloomhaven coming in the form of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. If that game can attract the casual audience in a major way, then Frosthaven probably doesn’t need to have mass-market appeal. It just needs to somehow provide an even better experience than the number one game on Board Game Geek.

Personally, I’m absolutely giddy about the prospects for Frosthaven. I have reservations about how the game will do with more casual board game players; however, that doesn’t mean I’m not frothing at the mouth waiting to pick up my own copy. Frosthaven will be hitting Kickstarter in March 2020, and Cephalofair plans to have it on backer’s doorsteps in early 2021. That FedEx delivery notice can’t come soon enough.

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Ricky Frech

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