Let’s be honest for a moment, survival games have been hammered to death lately. It started with zombie survival and moved through most genres, until now we see battle royale games using survival as a key mechanic. It’s therefore refreshing to see a developer be able to find a genre that has, as yet, mostly been untouched by the ever moving survival genre – in the case of Frost it is the deck building card game that receives the survival makeover this time around. So is this unusual mash up of genres any good or is it a Frankenstein that should have been left on the drawing board?
In Frost the aim of the game is to guide a group of survivors across a frozen wasteland, collecting food and supplies along the way. Each round tasks you with moving across 20 scenarios to reach safety and while that doesn’t seem like much, when dangers involve wildlife, other survivors and the ever encroaching frost, you can begin to see the difficulty in making this distance. The frost will be your biggest challenge, as for each turn that you don’t move forward it allows the frost to catch you by one step; do this 9 times and you die. The same goes for hit points; wolves will frequently attack and if you have no cards to defend yourself with you lose a point, with four points equating to utter death. It is this constant knowledge that death is right behind you that successfully gives Frost the tension it needs to be a good game and it works beautifully too as you find yourself analysing every move you make to ensure that you have done everything you can before moving on.
At its core Frost is a fairly simple one. You start the game with a deck built of four types – food, fuel, survivors and exhaustion – and to progress to the next leg of the journey you need to offer up the correct combination of cards to the play area. For instance your first leg may ask you to supply two food cards, while later ones will ask for larger quantities of more varied cards. Each move allows you various ways to present these cards or gather them if you don’t have them in your hand. You can spend a survivor card to scavenge for supplies and fuel, or alternatively spend others to purchase special cards that offer up various rewards like spears to fight off wolves or campfires to remove exhaustion. Some cards will also allow you to burn a certain amount of fuel in exchange for a larger selection. There are a huge number of ways to progress and at its core the game is designed so that you must ensure you have gathered all you can before moving on, lest you’ll end up struggling towards the end.
Frost is built on a simple mechanical system and is all the more elegant for it. The game hands out a brilliant tutorial that gets you up to speed on all the nuances very quickly, and as you play more you find yourself unlocking more and more cards to help deal with the harsh wasteland. I found that initially the entire experience is hard with a capital H, and you’ll easily find rounds are lost before you even make it halfway, running out of cards in your deck and being unable to offer up anything for the next step. In fact, there have been occasions where I felt the game had cheated me out of a win due to the random nature of the way cards are handed out. This difficulty does ease as you play more, but the element of luck with the way cards are drawn is not. I found this to be the most frustrating thing about Frost as the game itself is deeply strategic but lets itself down over and over again with random card drops.
By far the most frustrating thing early on are the cards that only offer up a chance at a resource. Often these give you just a 25% chance of collecting the resource you need whilst still asking you to sacrifice a hand in your deck to take the chance. More often than not you find yourself forced into taking the chance as you have no other way left to gather the correct resource; this almost never pays off though and you find yourself staring at the game over screen. It’s easy to see that these have been added to curb the dropping difficulty as you build your deck, but I feel they could have been cards that only appear after a deck reaches a certain size, rather than appearing in the far more difficult early games.
There are a few other issues with Frost too. Whilst the game looks great with wonderful hand drawn art throughout, the setting never changes despite a notification that the survivors have moved to a river or a tundra etc. It feels very static and can become tedious to look at – more variety in the settings would help tremendously. The game also feels fairly shallow after awhile, and even though it is initially very strategic, once you have built your deck up it then seems like Frost just gives up, allowing you free reign to stomp through at a whim.
These issues are a big shame as Frost is a mechanically sound game that could have been something special. Instead what we get is a game that feels like all the effort was made early on, with no thought placed towards the end game. It also struggles to drive any sort of impact in the survival stakes and instead leaves it to your own interpretation.
In all Frost is an enjoyable if initially very difficult game that comes crumbling down once you have built yourself up. There’s definitely some enjoyment here and fans of deck building will find the initial strategy very interesting, but survival wise it falls short by simply not giving you anything impactful to latch on to.