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How Frosthaven raised $12.9M and became the biggest game in Kickstarter history

This massive board game broke Kickstarter records despite launching during a pandemic.

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Frosthaven is a sequel to Gloomhaven. 

Cephalofair Games

Wrapping up with just under $13 million in funds from its Kickstarter campaign, an ambitious board game called Frosthaven broke through the overwhelming cultural and financial doom-and-gloom to show that, even in the worst of times, some people are still willing to drop $100 on a crazy tabletop game. That total is the third highest in Kickstarter history and the top mark for a board game ever. 

Designer Isaac Childres and his company Cephalofair Games announced the the campaign for Frosthaven, a sequel to his hit game Gloomhaven, last fall. No one could have predicted the current pandemic conditions that would coincide with the launch, which make the staggering total raised all the more remarkable. 

Frosthaven's Kickstarter campaign was delayed by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, but only by a week. It launched March 31 instead of March 24. Childres announced in a blog post that he wanted to launch the game anyway because he thought "people will need something positive in these times." He planned to make the campaign "one giant, month-long party." 

"It just felt wrong to deny people this celebration they've been waiting so long for just because of the possibility it would be mildly inconvenient or slightly less lucrative," said Childres in the blog post. He wanted to be accommodating with a low $1 cost to buy into the pledge manager -- meaning you'd reserve the right to buy the game at its Kickstarter cost. 

As it turns out, people were ready for the party Childres was throwing. 

A little game called Gloomhaven

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Cephalofair Games

Frosthaven is the sequel to Gloomhaven, which was itself a Kickstarter success story in 2015 that went on to become an immensely popular and critically acclaimed hit. Gloomhaven is best known for coming in a gigantic 20-pound-plus box and taking hours to play. It's a commitment. And, it's expensive at $140 for the base game (but occasionally on sale for closer to $120). But it's worth the investment of time and money if you enjoy deep fantasy worlds and tight, strategic combat.

I talked with Isaac Childres leading up to the launch of Frosthaven and asked him about the reason for the campaign in the first place, given that Cephalofair Games was now an established company. 

"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." 

Gloomhaven is a cooperative board game for one to four players in which you work together to beat up monsters. You also make decisions that change how the story and world progress. As you play, your characters grow and change in interesting ways and you save your progress from session to session. 

These elements combined to help Gloomhaven rise to the number one ranked board game on a popular social site for gamers called Board Game Geek. When Frosthaven launched, it had quite a pedigree. 

A month-long party

When I talked with Isaac Childress before the launch, he noted the effect of quarantine on board gamers in general. 

"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." 

Childres accounted for the former by working with the community to develop content you could play online. Fans could try Frosthaven using a program called Tabletop Simulator available via the popular computer gaming platform called Steam. The Frosthaven demo was developed by third parties and included six of the new characters from Frosthaven and a couple of demo scenarios. 

You can play demo scenarios from Frosthaven online. 

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

He also released a daily puzzle involving the new characters and tricky combat situations. He held contests to decide upcoming game content. Guest designers came in to create new scenarios. The Frosthaven campaign was designed to engage and reward the community with content they could participate in from home. 

Leading up to the campaign, Childres talked about the importance of this community. "It's exciting to see how invested people get in the project," he said. He also noted how third party products such as apps to help manage the accounting of the campaign had become important to the original Gloomhaven. "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."

With Frosthaven, Childres wanted to embrace the creative members of the community by making the art of the game available for free to those who wanted to make something out of it. He also reached out to various third parties to include content in the campaign itself. Offerings included a storage solution from Broken Token and a removable sticker set from Sinister Fish in case you want to reset your campaign and start over. 

As for the game itself, Frosthaven offered fans of the original more of what they were looking for -- a whole new story campaign, the same great combat, and 16 new character classes to enjoy. The game also offered a few enticing new elements -- a crafting system, town management, and different events as the seasons changed in this frontier town in the northern wilderness.

Plus, whereas Gloomhaven had mostly been the work of Childres himself, he now had a team working on Frosthaven to add more depth to the writing and more polish to the artwork. All of that was on display in the Kickstarter campaign.

Setting records

Before Frosthaven, the biggest board game campaign in Kickstarter history was Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5, which raised upwards of $12.3 million. Thanks to a late burst in funding, Frosthaven approached that mark with a few hours to go. 

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The Blinkblade is one of the cool new classes you can play as in Frosthaven. 

Cephalofair Games

To get it over the top, Childres offered backers a last-minute stretch goal. Childres has generally been against offering add-ons, extra game materials and figurines as part of stretch goals or enticements to spend more money. He's talked about offering the same, all-inclusive experience to everyone who buys the game. 

With the Kickstarter record in sight, however, Childres admitted he wanted the record in a campaign update. He promised to add a 17th character class if Frosthaven hit $12.4 million. The extra class wouldn't cost more or be a Kickstarter exclusive, just something for all to enjoy if the game hit a major milestone. 

It did. Frosthaven finished with $12.9 million, passing Kingdom Death: Monster and even the Pebble 2 smart watch to become the third-biggest campaign in Kickstarter history. 

Outlook

Given the coronavirus pandemic, the next question is whether the game will ship on time. If it stays on schedule, Frosthaven is due to reach Kickstarter backers in March 2021 and it should show up in stores that April. Childres said he hopes 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. 

I'm hoping Frosthaven will ship on time. As a fan of the first, I can't wait to dive into the sequel and see if it can live up to the lofty expectations set by its pedigree and its Kickstarter success.