Available On: PC
Things were going well, or least as well as can be expected against an apocalyptic snowstorm, until the temperature plummeted another 40 degrees. “Snowmaggeddon” is a joke during brutal winters. But nobody’s laughing in the world of Frostpunk when temperatures approach -90 degrees, rendering most of the world uninhabitable.
In the last city my supply of coal dwindled to nothing as my geothermic reactor began shutting down. I watched a cascade of Bad News as my workforce grew sick, homes grew cold, and people began dying. I was forced to pass a law to enable emergency 24 hour shifts. Brave men and women operated frozen coal mines in the dead of night to give us the juice we needed. Some grew sick, and some were so frostbitten they had to have limbs amputated.
But the city survived. These harrowing moments solidify Frostpunk as one of the most memorable and emotional city building sims I’ve ever played.
Winter is Coming
“Frostpunk” is an apocalyptic take on the steampunk genre, which plays with steam-powered retro-future technology of the late 19th century. The sun has dimmed, and a never-ending winter blankets the Earth. A group of survivors flees London and founds what many believe to be the last human city, thanks to a large geothermic reactor that provides life-sustaining heat.
At its core Frostpunk is an elegantly designed eurogame, which is a genre of tabletop board games that denote resource management and worker placement. I have to manage coal, wood, and steel to produce buildings and keep them heated, as well as secure food for my citizens.
Buildings are constructed in a radial design from the reactor. Much of the strategy is concerned with which buildings should be heated, versus acquiring much-needed resources at the chilly edges of my territory.
Two types of citizens exist, workers and engineers. Only engineers can preform skilled tasks like researching new technologies and providing health care. But plenty of workers are needed to mine resources, cook meals, and hunt for food.
New citizens can be acquired as refugees or found as survivors out in the world by sending scouting parties. In the frozen hellscape outside the city resources can be scavenged and outposts established, but the primary focus is always on managing your own city’s careful flow of resources, heat, and people.
The Needs of the Many
The primary scenario, “A New Home,” features a battle of survival against the ever-increasing cold. It’s a delicate balance that works remarkably well. Every time I felt a calm over my current resources, a new event popped up to test my moral resolve. A mother with a sick kid needs extra supplies. Do I banish some drunken goons causing trouble or let them sober up? A desperate father wants to locate a lost child, can I afford to give him extra rations or leave him on a suicidal mission?
These events gave me emotionally compelling choices that highlighted 11 bit Studios’ passion for telling stories of humanity’s perseverance. Like their previous game, This War of Mine, the monochromatic art and haunting violin soundtrack create a somber, serious atmosphere.
I try to do the right thing, but it’s never easy. Accept some injured refugees and soon my infirmary was bursting, people were homeless on the streets, and my Discontent levels began to rise.
People are a tricky resource, as Frostpunk requires you to manage both Hope and Discontent. As the leader I’m given the option to pass laws to help manage both the economy and the emotional well-being of my people. The emergency 24 hour shift was critical at times, but I had to use it sparingly, as my Discontent would skyrocket. If it gets too high (or Hope drops too low) your people give you an ultimatum to turn things around.
About halfway through the scenario I’m given a choice between pursuing secular discipline or spiritual faith as the backbone to managing my people. Both paths offer similar results – a militant force that can quell dangerous dissenters, and avenues for your people to maintain Hope in the face of a bleak future.
A New Home takes a solid 10 hours to finish, with an appropriately epic climax that forces you to stockpile as much as you can in the face of overwhelming cold that threatens your well-crafted infrastructure.
Two more shorter scenarios are available at launch. The Arks forces your small, engineer-only population to construction giant four-legged automatons. The Refugees takes the opposite approach, throwing a huge population into the city and letting you deal with the political chaos and social unrest that entails.
Frostpunk is rated M for Mature with Blood, Mild Sexual Themes, Mild Violence, and Strong Language. It’s not rated M because of graphic violence or sex, however, but moreso the mature themes and issues you’re forced to deal with. The fanaticism of religion. The despair of the hopeless. The horror of discovered ghost towns that tried to survive, and failed.
It would absolutely make for nuanced, powerful talking points with mature teenagers (who also enjoy city building sims).
City and empire builders often take a macro-level management approach, but Frostpunk succeeds by intimately focusing on your people, even when your population balloons to several hundred. The razor thin balance of survival is perfectly emulated, and the frozen apocalypse provides an intriguing and appropriately harsh backdrop. Managing wood and food has never felt more emotionally satisfying.