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Wildfrost manages to find some card-battling magic all of its own


A very colourful, to the camera action battle scene, with cartoon characters fighting wherever you look.
Image credit: Chucklefish / Wildfrost

Wildfrost is a new card battler and Roguelite coming at a time when neither are in particularly short supply. But to play this game is to fall for it a little, so we thought we'd sit down and try to work out why it feels so good to play.

Chris: Bertie! I know you love a good card battler, and so do I. I had felt like I was done, though, at least for a while. Like I'd played enough and they couldn't show me anything new. So it's weird that I'm finding Wildfrost so refreshing?

And what's weirder is that the thing I love most so far isn't a clever twist on the formula or a particular card. What I love is the presentation, specifically the animation. The cards just spring and bounce onto screen here, there's a lovely thick squashiness to them? It's 2D art but it's been animated and brought to life with such care, and that alone keeps drawing me back for another go. What do you reckon?

Bertie: Oh I'm all about that irresistibly cheery presentation. It's got so much HearthStone to it, which not only means it looks really nice but also that it feels really polished. Things thunk! And it's clean and behaves in a pleasingly deliberate way (although one slight aside: it annoys me I can't press Escape to go back in the menus - that tripped me up a few times.) And all of that reassures me I'm in safe hands.

An overview of Wildfrost. It's great fun - the game, not necessarily this trailer.Watch on YouTube

But I was looking for something else too: new ideas. I've played a bunch of these games and unless they think about things in a new way, they end up just dissolving into familiarness. And I'm really pleased to say Wildfrost doesn't - it's one of the things that really excites me about it. I actually found it quite confusing to begin with, because it looks like I should know exactly how it works, but I don't - it's close but yet far if that makes sense? And there are a few key mechanics here that really shake things up. Did you find it tricky to pick up?

Chris: I think the way I'd put it is that it has a lot of complexity that you really don't need to understand at first. I've been playing for a few hours and having fun, and I'm only slowly starting to really understand it, if that makes sense? Early on I was distracted by the fact that you could put cards on two tracks on the battlefield, but I quickly started to understand that there are sort of character cards you put on the board that all have their own quirks, and then action cards, like specific attacks, which you can just play from your hand.

The pace is really interesting, in that enemies all have timers that tick down to their attacks with each card you play. In this way it really feels like a classic roguelike to me, where there's a sort of clockwork world that you're playing against? And you can use snowballs to basically add more time to their clocks? This took me quite a while to get my head around, and I'm still not entirely sure it's clicked, but I love the fact that you can get stuck in and feel like you're making progress when you're still in the process of actually understanding what the game is?

The card game Wildfrost in action. There are two rows of colourful characters facing off against each other.
This was a tough battle! Note the boss character King Moko there - with 80 frickin' health, and 10 times five damage each time it attacks. That Moko is a beast. My characters are all on the left of the middle of the screen. Note my two acorn-based fighters in the bottom left and the 20-damage combo I've been racking up. The numbers at the bottom of each card are their timers. | Image credit: Chucklefish / Wildfrost

Bertie: I love the time element! That's what I think the whole game really revolves around, because you have those individual clocks you're watching tick down, usually until a boss does some kind of doomsday attack - or their minions unassumingly chip away at you - and you're thinking of all the things you can do to manipulate time in your favour. So you're snowballing enemies which freezes their clock for a round or two, or you're sun-beaming your own troops to speed their counters up.

And then, as you're doing that, you start to see the possibilities for combinations. More than any other card battler I've played, Wildfrost feels like a team game, in that the minions you have out there fighting for you, and the playable cards you're supporting them with, all seem built to play off of each other. For instance, I just had a character with the acorn ability, a kind of shield, and every time their clock ticked down, they'd attack and do as much damage as they had acorn shield. Alone, that's not so spectacular, but if I pair it with another character who buffs allies behind it with acorn shields every time it gets hit, then suddenly I've got something really interesting going on. And I find this kind of thing extremely pleasing on the brain.

It's hard, though, Wildfrost, isn't it? I'm not sure it feels like there are any 'trash' encounters in the game. They all have multiple waves and seem to culminate in a pretty chunky and challenging encounter. Have you managed to get very far?

There's a map that you progress along, with a choice of paths offering different upgrades - more character cards, more buff cards, potential charms, shops, money. And the shop works very like the one in Slay the Spire.

Chris: God, I'm nowhere. I keep getting cleaned out by the first boss. But I'm having a brilliant time, and I think it's these two elements we've been talking about: the quietly luxurious presentation, and the sheer amount of stuff to learn, all of which feels enriching as well as pleasantly baffling at first. I think I'm sticking with this one! How about you? Are you sticking around with it? And how far have you made it?

Bertie: I've beaten a couple of bosses in a row I think - I know, I know, I'm enormously talented! But I've also been wrecked something like three battles in, on a complete non-event of a battle, simply because I let my concentration wander. Wildfrost might look friendly but it isn't, believe me!

I think I'll stick with it, yeah. I always feel an obsessive kind of determination settle in to beat these kinds of games, so I won't feel fulfilled until I've at least been through it once. But there's a lot I'm still grappling with understanding: I'm only now learning how best to attach charms to things, which are like permanent buffs, and I don't really know what half of the buildings in the town hub do yet, or how they mix things up. So there's a lot to learn, and I like that very much indeed.


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