My review of Frostpunk

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Frostpunk is city building survival game set in an alt-history where the world is quickly plunging into a very cold ice age. Set in a steampunk-esk british industrial revolution people have fled north to tap into vast coal deposits in order to survive. This gives you some idea as to the thematic style of the game and art direction, but while many people will ooh and aww over the snow paths being formed by your workers or the huge automatons as they stomp through your city I want to focus on the systems and mechanics that make Frostpunk great and redefine the city building genre. Frostpunk is a frigid breath of fresh air for the city building genre. What makes Frostpunk great is that it takes the core systems of a builder game and interconnects them in a way that most games cannot. Let's take a moment and go over these systems. City building games are all about resource management. I like to break down city builder’s resources into 4 categories. -Physical Resources -Real estate -Citizens Needs/Wants -Conflict Resources Frostpunk’s physical resource system is perfect, not only for its themes, but its creation of meaningful resource allocation decisions. The physical resources in this game are coal, wood, steal, raw food, rations (or cooked food), steam cores and three types of citizens, workers, engineers, and children. A key game mechanic here is that some resources are extremely scarce, Steam Cores and Citizens. Steam cores can not be made or readily “mined” at the city, and there is a finite number in each scenario. The only way to get more is through scouting, but more on that later. Citizens are the same way, children do not grow up into workers, and workers cannot be trained into engineers, there is a finite number to each game, lose too many and they cannot be replaced. Also only some types of citizens can be assigned to certain jobs. For example only engineers can do research, and only workers can go hunting for food. This scarcity creates a lot of tension in the games other resources. For example, should you use the steam core to make a better coal mine or build an automaton, what would be the better use right now and/or in the long run. The next section is real estate. For many builder games this is more a question of where to build and less do I have room to build. Frostpunk makes this system a critical decision because at the heart of every city is the coal furnace to fight back the cold, the closer to furnace the better. Also the Frostpunk “city” is relatively small compared to other city building games. It can become a problem to find room for everything you need and you may soon find yourself cramming things into tight spots in a panic to get them built. We will now move onto the needs of your citizens. With Frostpunk’s survival theme keeping your citizens warm, feed and healthy can be a daunting task. The outcome of these systems and your decisions is displayed in two separate metrics Hope and Discontent. If hope falls too low and discontent too high you will have rebellion in the city and be removed from your position as captain or even be killed. So keep them warm, keep them feed, keep them healthy, keep them hopeful, and keep them happy! The last section I use is Conflict resources.In Frostpunk part of this is a researching system that unlocks new technology to overcome the games main conflict. Unlike in most builder games where conflict comes in the form of some sort of combat with light RTS systems for attacking enemies and building defenses, in Frostpunk there is no combat system. There are no military units or attacking enemies in the traditional RTS sense of the word. In Frostpunk the enemy is the cold and the scarcity and despair it brings. This segues into the four unique systems of the game Temperature, The Book of Laws, Scouting, and Event Decisions. These four systems in the game do what few other builder games do and that is tie everything together in a meaningful way. Frostpunk’s temperature system is the heart of this game, it affects everything. I cannot stress this enough the cold affects everything. When it starts to get colder the temperature creates tension in all of the systems. And it will get colder, from -30 or -40 C to average -60 and -70 C. In Resources it makes you need to burn more coal, build better houses and the colder your citizens are at their home or job the higher the chance they can get sick or even gravely ill and die. This creates a negative feedback loop that can, as intended and designed, make problems spiral out of control. Have to many people get sick and die, you then have less people to gather coal, less coal means your furnace shuts down and everyone freezes to death. You should have upgraded that coal mine instead of building that automaton. Getting cold makes your resource gathering facilities less efficient as well slowing down the rate you gather again causing another negative feedback loop. This makes the real estate next to the heater more valuable especially for buildings that are not as well insulated. As people get colder they will become more Discontent and raise the risk of revolt, if they have a protest happens people wont work, that means no one is gathering coal for the furnace so it shuts down and everyone freezes to death. Starting to see a pattern? To help fight the cold you pass laws with the Book of Laws to do things like, make children work jobs, thin down the food into soup to stretch how many rations you get from your raw food, legalize dueling to resolve fighting. This is where the morality theme really shows its self. The Book of Laws also has a secondary branch called Purpose, where you can enact laws to either start a faith that rabbit holes down into fanaticism with armed priests wiping dissidents. Or the other branch is an authoritarian system with citizen watch guards, prisons for dissenters and propaganda centers brainwashing people into servitude. Some of moral choices here are heavy handed but can be game changers. Early on you might not survive without child labor, but later on you might miss the bonus to hope for having put the children into school. Make the “good” choice to outlaw child labor and you may very well risk seeing your city fall to the cold in only a few days. Moral choices also come up in the last two systems Scouting, and Event Decisions. Scouting allows you to send a team of men, more than one if you research the ability, across an overworld map to points of interest. These places can have resources to gather or survivors to rescue. There may also be choices, like dismantle this site for more resources right now, or preserve it to send an outpost team to later and gather more resources over time. In the city random events will crop up as the Mob requests you make a decision and pass a law one way or the other, i.e. legalize child labor or ban it, or to respond to problems in the city. If too many people are sick your citizens will request you build a new medical post, if you fail to do so their hope will fall and discontent will rise, build the post in time and get a boost to hope. Some decisions are a slam dunk, others will come back to haunt you. You even have the option to ignore the requests at the risk of people becoming very discontent with you not listening to them. Over all they have done a brilliant job at adding more layers to the standard set of resources to juggle and tied them together in such a way that when things start to fall part they can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. The way the the game’s many complex systems interact with each other combined with the scarcity build into the very basics of the game and Frostpunk will have you questioning every choice and dreading every time a voice chimes up “the frost is coming people, stay warm.”


TL;DR the game adds more layers to the resource juggling of city builders in a great way and ties them all together creating a web of consequences adding a lot more weight to your decisions.

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