If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a bit of an explorer and have yearned to live in the snow-soaked boots of Antarctic explorers like Sir Ernest Shackleton or Roald Amundsen, then Jerome Bodin’s new deck-building survival experience, Frost, may just be what you need right now. Despite one minor caveat I have with the game—namely a lack of choice in the core moment-to-moment loop—Frost is a beautiful, and often times engrossing, card-based single-player board game that successfully captures the mood and tone of surviving in the icy tundra of the Frozen Lands.
The overall narrative is minimalist and delivered through sparse fragments of prose. This flavour text details your journey through the harsh wilderness in your bid to reach the Refuge; a safe haven where nature’s titular, bone-chilling enemy can never go. Accompanying the prose are some absolutely gorgeous, hand-drawn sketches that drip with frigorific personality. Jerome Bodin’s passion for this project shines through brightly, and it’s clear that this is a labour of love from a one man studio.
Both aesthetically and aurally, Frost is simply remarkable. The atmosphere of desperation bleeds through wonderfully. Ethereal, tribal chanting is juxtaposed with bitter, icy winds which gifts the whole experience with a genuine austere, perfervid tone. Fittingly, this icy sonic and visual texture holistically interlocks with the thematic feel the title tries ardently to emulate: the ascetic life of a tribe hellbent on surviving the glacial malevolence is as bleak as it is unyielding.
Gameplay-wise, Frost purely focuses on strategic resource management via card-based decision-making. The overarching aim of the game is to outrun the ever-encroaching frost that snaps at your heels and make your way to the Rufuge that is 20 regions away. You always begin the game 8 turns ahead of your unrelenting rival and every time you travel, you advance an extra turn ahead of the enemy that hounds you. Obviously, if the cold, calculating chill catches up with you and the frost’s counter reaches ‘one’ it’s game over, man. Similar to FTL: Faster Than Light, this constant looming threat that hangs over you helps imbue the experience with some welcome threat and tension.
You begin with a starting deck of 10 cards and these are made up of supply units, such as wood and food, as well as survivor cards. Each region has its own requirements and players must expend the correct resources in order to cross the region. Survivors have the option to be sent out to scavenge resources, but doing so risks losing a survivor as there’s always the small possibility of picking up a Death card. As you’ve probably already guessed, Death cards aren’t so good as it means you’ll permanently lose a member of your clan.
Other negative cards, like Fatigue, make their way into your deck as you make progress but they’re not quite as debilitating as the aforementioned Death card. Resting is an option, but takes up a turn, and this helps eradicate negative cards like Fatigue from your hand. Another option that is super useful is trading your materials. Certain regions offer the opportunity to trade supplies for equipment or Idea cards. Dependent on what they offer, these can be the meaning between wasting a turn and making it through by the skin of your quavering teeth.
At its core, Frost is a simple yet elegant card game that delivers short bursts of fun-filled strategy. The downside is that there is, at times, a distinct lack of choice as to what the player can actually do. There are times when you’ll feel a little strong-armed into making a key decision, mainly because it may be your only choice to get from point A to point B.
I’m not sure whether this is partly a fault of the genre rather than the actual title, though. At the end of the day, the more complexities you bolt onto a card game experience like Frost, the less accessible and more complex it becomes. Essentially, it’s a tough balancing act, and though the game errs a little too closely to the simplistic side, it does still harbour layers of complexity and nuance that helps to keep players engaged.
Fortunately, there’s one extra layer of delicious icing on this frosty cake: its progression system. There’s a surprising amount of unlockable content to be found in Frost. Every time you attempt the classic story mode—even if you die and fail to complete the adventure—the game will gift the player with an unlockable card or two, which is a really welcome addition that accentuates the title’s replayability.
Verdict: Though Frost may not be an experience for everybody, those who are into card-based strategy games should absolutely give it a go. Elegant, beautiful but somewhat limited from a gameplay perspective, Frost is still a pretty cool game that is absolutely worth checking out.
Frost is out now on Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC.