I’ve said it before in my reviews, theme is not essential for me to enjoy a game but like many gamers, certain themes do draw me in more than others. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, and fantasy. Maybe it was all that Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and Dungeons and Dragons in my youth, but I find myself drawn to board games with these themes. Aside from these, I’m also always looking for something new and different.
This brings us to The Coldest Night from Indie Boards & Cards. This cooperative card game has 1-4 players stranded in a run-down, abandon lodge during a night-time blizzard. Players are freezing and so they start a fire to keep warm. They will have to burn items they find in the lodge and keep it going to stay alive until sunrise. Sounds easy right? Read on to find out more!
It’s important to note for The Coldest Night setup that you shuffle the kindling deck into three piles and then place one of the 3 the fire dwindles cards at the bottom of each pile. Every player is dealt 3 cards.
Each kindling card will have a heat and ash value (heat range 1-4 and ash range 0-8) and Frostbite cards will have a Frost value ranging from 3-9.
The game is made up of 3 phases and starting with the first player:
1. Frostbite Removal Phase: if the current heat value of the Fire Pit exactly matches the Frost Value, it’s removed from game.
2. Main Phase: a player can either Feed the Fire or Scavenge. To feed the fire, a player can play a kindling card from their hand if the ash value is equal to or less than the total heat value of the cards in the fire pit. To scavenge, a player draws three kindling cards and can keep or distribute them to other players.
3. Clean Up Phase: the clean up phase consists of 3 steps. During The Fire Dies Down step the rightmost card of the fire pit is removed from game. After removing the card, the player checks for frostbite if there are fewer than three cards in the fire pit, if yes, then they draw a frostbite card. Lastly, the player draws a kindling card and play proceeds to the next player.
End Game: all players will lose if the fire pit contains no kindling cards and if there are no more frostbite cards to draw. Players will win if the kindling deck is empty and no players have any kindling cards in their hands.
I stated in the intro that I don’t need a game to have a strong theme to enjoy it, but I did enjoy that The Coldest Night does a good job from start to finish to support the theme. This game is one of survival and if the fire dies so do you all. I believe making The Coldest Night a cooperative game thoroughly supports the theme and makes logical sense that all players must work together to survive.
The feed the fire mechanic is solid as well. It makes The Coldest Night more thinky than simply throwing random cards into the fire pit. I liked that players had to pay attention, plan ahead, and ideally communicate with one another to optimize their chances to keep the fire going. It’s important for all players to be conscious of and plan their turns efficiently to be sure the next player can play their kindling cards and if not scavenge.
Unfortunately, that’s all the nice things I have to say about The Coldest Night. Overall, the game is punishing. The kindling deck is only 50 cards and most have low heat and high ash levels. There are 9 kindling cards that include boons but most have conditions that are difficult to meet. There are 3 target cards that allow you to remove a card from the fire pit of your choice but these are the only advantages you can gain. There are 13 other kindling cards that include obstacles which had bad effects when added to the fire.
Throughout The Coldest Night, you may draw up to 3 of The Fire Dwindles cards. These cards are immediately played to the fire pit which should generate groans. These cards have a 0 ash value which is a non-factor but also have a 0 heat which makes it very difficult to play kindling cards after since most cards have high ash values. Almost every time after a Fire Dwindle card was drawn someone gained a frostbite card.
Another punishing mechanic of The Coldest Night were the frostbite cards. First, we loathed the end game mechanic if this deck ran out especially since this deck was only 10 cards deep. Second, the frostbite effects are debilitating like you don’t draw a kindling card or have a hand limit of 3 cards. And even worse you can only remove frostbite cards if the fire pit heat value exactly matches the frost value at the start of your turn. So, it’s likely that you will carry these cards over multiple turns.
The last negative is that luck is significant to the gameplay. Card draws will not always go your way and The Coldest Night has no ideal balancing element to help remedy this except the kindling card boons. Again, those might help offset a bad run of low heat and high ash level cards, but you cannot rely on Boons since meeting the conditions to gain them is easier said than done.
I will say that The Coldest Night is a highly thematic game with the feeding the fire mechanic that keeps players engaged from start to finish. My group and I like challenging games and I should note that we never won this game. At the end of the day though, The Coldest Night was a more punishing experience than fun one.
Final Score: 1.5 Stars – A highly thematic cooperative card game that feels more like a chore than a game.
• The fire dwindles
• Frostbite deck
• Luck is a factor