I swore I wouldn't use child labor in Frostpunk 2… but then the kids went feral, formed gangs, and started having deadly knife fights in the streets

Kid ruffians
(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Once again someone has been stupid enough to put me in charge of a city, and once again my tenure as mayor has resulted in nothing but bloodshed, crime, misery, and death. And that's just the kids I'm talking about. The adults in my city aren't doing so great, either. 

The beta for Frostpunk 2 is available this week for anyone who preordered the deluxe edition of the city builder sequel ($70, yikes), and it allows for 300 in-game weeks of play which goes by alarmingly fast. On the slowest speed a day in Frostpunk 2 lasts for two seconds, so a month goes by every minute. You're also not starting from scratch this time: the city is already built and functioning with thousands of residents.

Want to zoom in close and see what all those people are doing? You can't. Gone is the grim pleasure of peering down at your individual citizens pushing through snowdrifts and constructing one building at a time. Now you select hexes for development and then watch as entire districts and the roadways between them are constructed in timelapse without your help. You're not really an architect in Frostpunk 2, you're more of a manager. "Dig up coal in this area using this type of extraction method" and "this district should have a food depot" is about as hand-on as you can get.

It's a pretty jarring change from the original. In Frostpunk 2 the entire city feels like it's being held at arm's length, and I didn't like it at first. I worried I wouldn't feel the impact of my decisions when my citizens are simply too tiny to see. But I gave it time, and after 300 weeks, I can definitely say that there was no need to worry. The scope and scale may be a lot bigger, but Frostpunk 2 still manages to make me squirm in a very personal way.

After I beat the original campaign of Frostpunk by slowly but surely becoming a fascist dictator who used brute squads to viciously beat hope into my residents, I had only the best intentions for Frostpunk 2. I wasn't gonna be a ruthless overlord this time. Rule one: no child labor. In the original, I put kids to work immediately, then started assigning them to dangerous jobs and made them work around the clock. Cut to me at my desk, staring aghast at the reports of their disfigurement and death for the rest of the campaign. Who could've seen it coming?

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Not this time! This time I'm gonna be nice to kids.

Instead of passing laws about children, I focused on other policies as I managed my city in Frostpunk 2, like using mechanized scouts to explore the frozen wasteland (the machinist faction loved that, but the tech-hating forager faction hated it) and using natural additives to enhance our food supply (the foragers liked that but the machinists wanted to use chemical additives). As I waded through my first handful of policy decisions that always pissed off exactly one half of the city, erasing the approval gains I'd made with my previous decision, I ran into a new problem: crime.

Kid vicious

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Crime was rising in my city and I discovered why: it was those damn kids. I thought I was doing children a favor by not regulating them, but no. Their parents are at work, so what did all those children do? They went feral. They formed gangs and began roaming the frozen streets. They found a bunch of knives and decided to have a 'rumble.'

Five of those kids got stabbed to death and dozens more wounded. There are parts of the city adults avoid now because of these roving gangs of knife-wielding toddlers.

Okay. Rookie mistake! I thought kids, unlike adults, might not immediately eviscerate each other if I turned my back for a second. I decided to pass a law about kids, but I wanted to make it a nice one so I proposed that school become mandatory—hopefully that'd keep these vicious tots out of trouble or at least contain their violence to the classroom as god intended.

The next problem: somehow almost nobody was on board with this sensible policy, preferring, I guess, to continue letting tiny murderers control our streets.

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Passing laws is the most harrowing part of Frostpunk 2. You pick the law you want to pass and then head to the council chamber where you invariably see that 10% of the members are in favor of it, 10% of them hate it, and 80% are completely undecided, even for stuff that makes complete sense like having schools. Your options then are to make a deal with one faction to win their votes, or strongarm the entire council into bending to your will, or just cross your fingers and hope the undecideds vote in your favor. These are all terrible options.

It pisses off absolutely everyone and brings you a few steps closer to being removed from power.

Making deals to secure votes is a nice idea except it always pisses off the other faction—and by the way, it's not long until the two factions in Frostpunk 2 become four, making things even more complicated. Plus, you're expected to live up to your end of the deal, which usually involves passing favorable legislation to the faction you're dealing with later. Don't come through on your end? More hatred for you and more trouble passing laws later.

Pressuring everybody works great, though, and it's easy: just click a toggle in the voting menu and almost the entire council will vote your way. There's definitely no downsides to this approach, except it pisses off absolutely everyone and brings you a few steps closer to being removed from power and thrown out of the city to die in the snow.

Law & Border

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

If you get a law passed, even a real controversial piece of legislation like my Hey Let's Have Schools So Tiny Gangs Don't Murder Everyone bill, that's not the end of it. Laws in Frostpunk 2 are almost never simple solutions. 

For instance, I was experiencing overcrowding and a food shortage, so I couldn't afford to let everyone immigrate into my city who wanted to. I passed a law that only "productive" outsiders could join my city, which meant I was, essentially, separating families at the border. Despite my best efforts, I'm once again sliding into fascism and treating children horribly. Thankfully, I was able to relax that law to keep those families together, but that made almost exactly half my population mad and now one faction is demanding I repeal it.

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

It wasn't long before the schools themselves became an issue. The forager faction decided that teaching kids stuff like math and history was stupid because we're all dying of cold and hunger, so maybe we should be teaching kids to hunt and other practical skills? 

Back in the council chamber, that made sense to me, plus the foragers were on the brink of revolt so I considered voting their way. The law was called "Family Apprenticeship" and stated that "All children must work alongside one of their relatives so that they learn the trade and continue the family tradition."

I mean, that doesn't sound so bad, right? It's just a law saying kids have to work. It's not like it's child labor.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.