Frost | Principal Platforms: PC (Version Tested), iOS, Android | Developer: Jérôme Bodin | Publisher: Studio des Ténèbres | Genre: Card Game | Year: 2016
At last, a video game whose art style perfectly contrasts with CelJaded’s! Yep, if there’s one thing that you can be sure to see in Frost; an indie card game developed exclusively for digital platforms, then it’s a lot of white!
Aside from being chromatically challenged though, Frost is notable for being a solitaire experience inspired by real world deck-building card games such as Dominion and its subsequent imitators including World of Tanks: Rush and Resident Evil.
The action, such as it is, takes place in the sort of post-apocalyptic setting that author Kurt Vonnegut made popular in his seminal novel Cat’s Cradle; a freezing world where tribes must now band together for their very survival. In the game’s ‘Classic’ mode you become a leader who must collect the resources needed to traverse the land in search of a mythical place called the “Refuge” whilst also trying your best to outrun the titular snow storm that threatens to consume all.
Every concept is rendered in card form with your own personal deck consisting of resources like Food, Materials, Survivors, and other gubbins such as weapons or even Ideas. Other cards stand in for the Regions that you must cross as well as the special events or obstacles that your tribe will run into along the way.
Also rearing its ugly head here is the time-worn mechanic by where a useless card (in this case representing Fatigue) is routinely dumped into your deck as play progresses. As with The Big Book of Madness, the inclusion of bogus cards makes thematic sense here because it’s important for the player to feel pressured.
Nevertheless, I’m generally not a fan of mechanics like these and whilst Frost does offer you the default option of Resting in order to remove Fatigue, I really dislike how it’s included in your starting deck. There are times when my first turn is skipped in order to remove Fatigue and that just feels wrong. Fatigue can also be incurred when activating certain cards that grant a random reward. Specialist cards like Supplies, the Gatherer or the Frigomancer are made very unattractive due to this foible and the same applies for when it’s time to scavenge.
Scavenging is a necessary evil early on when your tribe lacks the resources required to physically pass into the next Region. By discarding a Survivor card, players run the risk of gaining Fatigue or killing the Survivor (!) for a chance at discovering Food, Materials, or other Survivors. These random draws can be of critical importance and yet Fatigue or fatalities can quickly pile up before you have a chance to really get going. When you consider that Regions and Ideas are also randomly generated, it only makes sense to continue harder games when the first round conditions are beneficial. In short: you can expect to be pressing the ‘Restart’ button a lot.
Many things are governed by random elements in fact, even down to certain card abilities that have a percentage chance of activating. You can spend time building a Trap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything tasty is going to fall into it. To a degree this actually makes good thematic sense, but again it’s the element of chance here that can make formulating reliable combo chains and other tactics next to impossible. It’s this facet of Frost’s design that’s going to be the most taxing on your patience.
You lose the game when the Frost timer ticks down from eight to zero, and whilst the timer ticks up every time you travel onwards, it’s extremely unlikely that your deck will contain the goods needed to do this consistently. One one hand this makes the game remarkably tense and the designer’s unsubtle use of creepy music and jarring screen effects only enhance that tension further. Because of the reliance on randomization, however, Frost is a supremely difficult game to get to grips with and that hard time only continues to get harder as new cards and scenarios are unlocked.
Scenario play is more interesting than the Classic mode as in addition to collecting items or seeking out the Refuge, your scenario character will have goals of their own. The Hunter and The Meditator for example have simple objectives, but some like The Shadow and The Skeptic have quite involved missions with fresh patterns of play. Mixing this up further is the addition of character abilities that give each leader their own unique advantages and play styles.
The other thing about Scenarios is that they’re hard. Really hard. And it’s likely that most players’ luck and patience will simply run out before they can achieve victory in each one. Part of the problem here once again revolves around the game’s inherent randomness.
The developer has taken care not to label Frost as an actual deck-building game because of the false implication that you’re in any way building an engine out of the cards that you collect. Getting the cards you desperately need to make your deck work is a process governed by chance and smoothed over via careful play. You’re not so much building a deck as you are managing an ever-changing pool of resources, so there are times when defeat is going to be an inevitable outcome of drawing poorly and falling behind.
What’s nice though is that Frost’s intense difficulty is built up gradually as the player continues to finish games. By the time your card album is complete, you’ll have discovered all sorts of new tools including stacked resources, Charisma checks, and as the result of several free updates; cards for Pets and Weather effects. With this breadth of content comes a sharper learning curve, but the on-screen tooltips and instructional blurbs are usually on point in explaining exactly what you need to know about each of the game’s symbols.
Which brings us to Frost’s rather wonderful presentation. It’s certainly not one for photophobics, mind, but the all-white menus and eerie music do a near perfect job of immersing you in the setting. Also notable is the game’s artwork whose roughshod charm resembles the works of Quentin Blake quite nicely. Story threads are limited to whatever awkwardly translated text you see during splash screens, which is a shame, but the overall theme of the “Frost” meaning different things to different people is an intriguing one nonetheless.
Despite its light and addictively simple gameplay then, Frost is not really a game for casual players. The real meat is found in the Scenarios and yet the sheer difficulty and trial and error nature of that mode is likely to frustrate those who go in unprepared.
Nevertheless, I’m currently finding this to be an equally difficult game to put down. Whether it’s my intense fondness of card games or a hidden masochism that’s responsible, I’ve taken great pleasure in exploring the bleak and uncompromising world that Frost represents.
This will certainly not be a game for everyone, but if you’re intrigued by the theme or the thought of pushing your luck in a hostile card-driven affair, then you could do a lot worse than downloading the demo and giving it a try for yourself.