One of the biggest board games in the world is getting a sequel. Frosthaven hit Kickstarter on Tuesday and, like its 2017 predecessor, the crowdfunding campaign is raking in millions — even in this time of widespread financial uncertainty.
Within a few hours of launching the campaign, Frosthaven had already been funded for over $3 million, from more than 20,000 backers. Now, less than 24 hours after the launch, it's been funded for over $5 million.
Frosthaven is the follow-up to the immensely popular board game Gloomhaven. Gloomhaven casts you and your friends as mercenaries in a dangerous town on the edge of the world. The core of the game consists of scenarios in which you control your characters as figurines and move them across a grid-like board to fight monsters. Besides being a critical hit, the $140 game is also famous for coming in a gigantic 20-pound-plus box and taking hours to play.
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The original Gloomhaven consists of almost 100 scenarios and you unlock more characters to play as you progress. Frosthaven will supposedly be just as big, with just as many brand-new characters to play as and enjoy. You'll also be able to import your favorites from the original or start with new characters. The Frosthaven Kickstarter has details on six new characters you can play when you start the game and teases 10 more secret ones to unlock throughout.
The escapism offered by the fantasy world of Frosthaven could come as a welcome relief for some. I talked with Isaac Childres, the creator of both Gloomhaven and Frosthaven, over Skype about the importance of board games for social distancing.
"We're seeing both ends of the spectrum where some people are bummed because they can't get together with their friends and play Gloomhaven," said Childres. "Other people are really excited because they're stuck and all they can do is play Gloomhaven with their family."
He noted that they're trying to accommodate both types of people with new free scenarios for the original game released online. He's aiming to post these scenarios once a week. The game is also playable digitally through software called Tabletop Simulator and these new scenarios will be implemented into that as well.
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As far as the Kickstarter launch of Frosthaven, it was delayed by a week due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Childres said on his website that the delay gave the team time to "get settled into this new normal a little more," but going ahead allows them to throw "one giant, month-long party." He also noted that the campaign will be accommodating for those trying to be conservative in their spending.
Childres noted that shipping fulfillment could be an issue on an upcoming expansion called Jaws of the Lion, but hoped that things will be better by December or January when Frosthaven is scheduled to ship.
"If there are problems, [we] just need to communicate quickly with backers about what those problems are and they typically understand," said Childres. If it stays on schedule, Frosthaven is due to reach Kickstarter backers in March 2021 and it should show up in stores that April.
Beyond offering more missions, more story and more characters, Frosthaven is also introducing robust mechanics for building and managing the town of Frosthaven itself. You did that to an extent in Gloomhaven with choose-your-own adventure style event cards you'd draw between missions. Gloomhaven also had a meter for town prosperity. You could unlock new items that your characters could buy and use in battle by helping the town improve its resources.
Frosthaven will go a few steps further. Winter will be harsh in the new northern setting, so you'll actively need to help fortify the town in the summer to prepare and you'll draw different event cards based on the season. Other new mechanics include crafting and alchemy.
Your time between the scenario missions will be much more full, but it sounds like the missions themselves will have largely the same structure. That's a good thing, as the tightly designed and highly strategic combat of Gloomhaven is what makes it such a great game.
Is Kickstarter necessary?
According to Childres, Gloomhaven sold over 200,000 copies and made startup publisher Cephalofair into a successful company. And yet, Cephalofair is returning to Kickstarter to crowdfund the sequel. Gloomhaven actually had two different Kickstarter runs. It was a small success the first time. Then word of mouth spread and Gloomhaven returned to the crowdfunding site — both to help fund more print runs and add elements of polish to the game based on further testing and feedback.
Getting feedback and gauging demand are both central to why Childres is bringing the sequel back to Kickstarter. "We are a successful brand at this point, but I'm still not at all sure about how many copies of this sequel that I should print," said Childres. "We sold over 200,000 copies of Gloomhaven. Should I print that many? If only 10,000 people want the game and I print 200,000, that's a disaster."
Childres noted that Kickstarter is a good marketing tool, but also called crowdfunding a great way to make sure the game is as good as it can be. "Kickstarter allows you to build a community," he said. "It's exciting to see how invested people get in the project."
Frosthaven will likely only be on Kickstarter once, according to Childres. He called Gloomhaven a unique circumstance with the way it blew up and noted it was a good learning experience. With Frosthaven, the team "should be able to get everything right the first time."
Embracing the community
Gloomhaven does indeed have a community of fans, both in terms of the reviews and discussion on a social board game site like BoardGameGeek (where it's ranked as the No. 1 board game in the world) and in terms of third-party content. Fans have made their own scenarios and creative content, but also several apps to help manage the more fiddly aspects of Gloomhaven. You can even find a video game version of Gloomhaven in early release on Steam.
Childres has fostered this community by making the art of Gloomhaven free to those interested as long as they agree to keep their content free as well. "I was more anticipating that people would create their own custom content like new classes and new adventures," said Childres. "I wasn't really expecting all of the app creations, but that turned out to be the biggest asset for people who want that type of thing."
Cephalofair won't be making board games that require a companion app (such as Mansions of Madness or Journeys in Middle Earth), but Childres didn't rule out making first-party apps as optional supplements at some point in the future. In the meantime, he's sharing Frosthaven assets with the creators of the popular helper apps in advance so they can have updates ready to go by the time the sequel ships.
I'm a big fan of the original and genuinely excited for the sequel, but for some board game lovers, Gloomhaven is just too much — both in terms of size and complexity. Frosthaven doesn't seem to mitigate that concern, in fact, it looks like it's leaning the other direction, so I hope the extra town-building and crafting mechanics don't bog down the surprising elegance of the first.
To draw in beginners, Cephalofair is coming out with Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion — a smaller, cheaper, standalone game designed to ease people into the Gloomhaven experience with fewer pieces and tutorial missions.
Between the two upcoming products, Cephalofair looks to be taking a balanced approach. One of the games looks perfect for those intimidated by the original, and the other is clearly aimed at gamers like me who, after hundreds of hours invested in the first, are still hungry for more.
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