Wild Frost (Opens in a new tab), a strategy card game from independent publisher Chucklefish, somehow escalates from beginner-friendly to unforgiving in a matter of minutes. I’ve never had Hearthstone or Magic Gathering Stage, but it’s hard for me to believe that even an experienced professional could plow through these piles of hateful snowmen and witches with ease.
The roguelike deck-building game world of Chucklefish (yes, another one) has been overrun by “wildfrost,” a climatic disease that has blanketed the world in ice. It is up to the player to fight the hordes of enemies until they reach the Temple of the Sun, where it is assumed that they will be able to put an end to this eternal winter. Between rounds, you can strengthen your commanders, recruit companions, and build Snowwell Town.
All roguelikes have some degree of randomness to them. Here, each round begins with choosing between three fur-clad leaders (because this is basically the Ice Age) with different abilities and plunging into your first battle. From there, a fork in the road could mean choosing between a raspberry-orange companion and a healing ingredient that can save you from the brink of death. The tutorial got me thinking Wildfrost would be easy, but after an hour or so, I realized that one missed turn could kill my entire team. Even playing my cards correctly wouldn’t necessarily suffice in the face of a dominant enemy. The only forgiving part is the tutorial.
At the beginning of each round, you place your commander on the battlefield and draw a six-card hand. Your leader acts like a king on a chessboard: if the enemy kills your king, the battle ends and the run ends. You can have as many companions as you want, but the moment they are fired, they are banished forever. They do not reappear on your deck. In a game where the enemy can quickly and unexpectedly gather an army of fighters, it is better to heal your army when you have the opportunity. Actions like rearranging units in the field or redrawing cards (with a fully charged “redraw action”) don’t cost time, so it’s important to measure when to use these resources to your advantage.
There are two ways to attack: directly with cards, and when the “counters” of your cards and companions run out. At the bottom of each card is a star-shaped counter with a number that specifies the number of extra spins a character has to wait for them to attack or activate their abilities. Characters may attack sooner with time-shortening cards or under specific circumstances written in their abilities, which can really turn the tide in your favour. Eliminating enemies before they have a chance to strike back means defending against fewer attacks.
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However, how important these choices are depends in part on luck. You have limited options to choose from companions, special abilities (aka magic), and new cards. Once I was able to take the second fight of a run with a half-injured team. I was proud to pull out the injured characters before they were kicked out so I could heal them and take them with me to the next battle.
The third fight threw this effort straight into the garbage. A boss with the ability “Barrage” that allows him to attack all characters in a row was able to KO my team before I could draw a single healing card.
This was not my first disappointment. Other times I lose the first fight in the run within a few innings. I wasn’t very good at Wildfrost, but I managed to lose.
Stacked enemy teams felt wronged, especially because I was at the start and didn’t have a lot of cards to use in my defense. I felt like a Yu-Gi-Oh during an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! When Kaiba suddenly summoned a horde of monsters at one turn. It’s also frustrating to technically have the cards I need without being able to play them when I need them – Wildfrost was my first taste of deck-building randomness, and in the demo I didn’t have many tools to loosen up. If you hate that RNG, I can’t imagine you’d bother trying to enjoy this run without a little bit of motivation in the progression system.
Although it’s hard, Wildfrost It makes losses seem like there’s a positive side to it because I can go back to town and fiddle with the new features and check how much I have to go to unlock new ones. Each action, such as using the mod bell or getting a new companion, unlocks new features in your city that can be automatically used in battle.
Wildfrost works like HadesReturning to the underworld means upgrading weapons and abilities so that you can go further from home. Wildfrost didn’t make me feel like I’d progressed too far, but the final game will probably pile on more powerful starting abilities pretty quickly. What felt extremely difficult for me will become more manageable over time. I only spent an hour with the demo, and that was enough time for me to make mistakes and learn from them, and I still got frustrated when RNG ruined my new plans. It bothers me whether I can win what seemed like an impossible round, but not so much that I’m sure I’ll be back again after launch.
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Wildfrost has the look of a “kids’ first deck-builder”, but it doesn’t. The card battle is easy to recognize and understand, with frequent reminders to use features you might otherwise ignore. Then the hateful snowmen appear.
You can still play Wildfrost’s Steam Next Fest demo (Opens in a new tab)but the final is not far away: it kicks off this winter.