I have this serious problem where I absolutely love difficult survival/management games like Banished and This War of Mine but I suck at them. Really, really suck at them. That didn’t stop me from trying Frostpunk and now, thanks to its book of laws, I think I need to go lie down and hate myself for a while.
Frostpunk is a town building game set in a post ecological collapse where the world has frozen due to mysterious circumstances. Great steam generators were designed to provide the survivors with a hub they can use for heat but disaster struck and your colony is the last one left. To survive you must balance your colony’s need for heat, food, and Hope while keeping Discontent as low as possible.
Where Frostpunk sets itself apart from other town building games is its book of laws mechanic. Every now and then the game will prompt you to sign a new law like; Child labour, where you can allow children to work in the cookhouses and mines; Legalised Duelling, to allow people to blow off steam by shooting each other; or Prostitution, which seemed like a no-brainer. People need warmth, let them huddle up!
As you progress, sending out scouts to explore the various areas of interest on the world map à la Impire albeit with much more soul crushing. Near frozen children huddled to their parent’s corpsicles, ruined towns that are painfully similar to what mine is becoming, and sickly survivors that we can’t afford to care for are just some of the tragic scenes waiting out in the snow and at home isn’t much better as Frostpunk lets you click citizens and see their name, where they live/work, and their family.
Charlie London, the prototypical Londoner. He lives with his wife, two daughters, and son, and works at the coal pile. Lovely.
Less than a week later and little Jennie London is dead and poor Charlie still has to drag himself to the coal pile every day from dawn till dusk for the remainder of his family!
At the start you have access to various resource piles but those get used up pretty quickly and it becomes a juggling act of trying to keep the coal intake high enough to deal with the fluctuating weather while researching more efficient heaters, more powerful generators, better resource gathering buildings, and various story tech.
And while this might seem similar to the usual survival management fare, Frostpunk, like the developer’s previous genre foray This War of Mine, thrives on its ability to put you in the shoes of a survivor.
After a harrowing message from one of the other towns a large group of colonists wanted to head back to London but there was no way they would survive the journey and they would cripple us in the process. They gave me eighteen days to convince them to stay. In that time they graffitied walls, held rallies, and stole for the upcoming journey. The book of laws prompted me to choose between Order or Faith and I chose to recreate 1984, polar edition. Prisons were erected, guard stations and watchtowers popped up in residential districts while speakers were put in place in the work districts to remind everyone of their purpose. An event caused citizens to start burning books and I was given the choice to let them burn everything or to save the classics. I let them burn because it was the most sensible option at the time! I betrayed everything I believed in and signed in the law allowing guards to torture dissidents. I broke up peaceful gatherings and I exiled criminals. Hope had been replaced by Obedience.
To atone for my personal sins I built infirmaries and care homes, I made prosthetics for those crippled by my overzealous doctors, and I took in every group of refugees that I came across. The city swelled. The storms came. Even with the lucky find of an automaton and the creation of another our coal mines couldn’t put out enough to deal with our needs. To keep the sick from dying I put the generator on overdrive and fought tooth and nail to heat them. There were many cold nights.
When the Londoners finally decided they were leaving, I had my guards round them up and stop them for their own good. Many died in the riot and, as is fitting, not long after I was executed as a despot.
I got my review copy around midnight and I played until the sun came up, got some sleep, and started again when I awoke and I can’t think of higher praise.
The building mechanics are streamlined and simple, even newcomers to the genre will feel at home here but there is still room for mistakes and strategic planning for the veterans. The world feels cold with temperature drops icing the edges of the camera and workers carving huge furrows in the snow as they make their way through. When I was able to melt the snow away from my generator and finally warm some homes, I felt a jab of pride. I was a good mayor.