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Wildfrost is a Brutal But Insanely Clever Deckbuilder

Wildfrost is one of the best card battlers in recent memory despite its brutal difficulty curve and slapdash approach to deckbuilding.




Wildfrost Review

Developer: Deadpan Games & Gaziter | Publisher: Chucklefish
Genre: Strategy | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Deckbuilders have quickly blossomed into one of the most satisfying strategy subgenres in all of gaming. After publishing one of the best turn-based strategy titles in recent memory with Wargroove in 2019, Chucklefish is back to feed another corner of the market via Wildfrost. This deceptively colorful roguelike takes smart cues from its predecessors while going the extra mile to distinguish itself as one of the best in its class.

As the title implies, Wildfrost takes place in a frozen tundra where all survivors have had to adapt to increasingly harsh conditions to live. Those who were able to overcome the frigid cold established a settlement called Snowdwell, and this hub village is where every run begins from. Snowdwell starts out completely desolate, but by besting challenges (e.g. Get a 3x kill combo, Use X ability on 20 enemies, etc.) new buildings will start to appear that offer everything from new starting pets to new items and companion cards that can be gathered in the wild. It’s a clever way to soften the blow of losing a run and gradually trickle out new content that keeps the game dynamic.


Image: Chucklefish

There’s only one tribe (class) to recruit from at first, but two others are eventually unlockable by accomplishing certain feats. Much like Slay the Spire before it, each tribe comes with unique cards to collect, gameplay mechanics to learn, and strategies to master. Each has its strengths and offers completely new ways to play, so while winning a run with one tribe might seem impossible at the moment, you might have more success with another.

At its heart, Wildfrost is a challenging deckbuilder that requires careful planning and a fair bit of trial and error. Players choose a randomized leader and a set of basic attack and magic cards at the start of every run. After winning a battle, new cards can be collected from treasure chests, ice blocks, and shops. It’s up each player to build a deck of cards that complement each other along their journey.

This style of deckbuilding has its ups and its downs. On the one hand, there’s a great deal of agency in choosing the strategy you want to roll with. Wildfrost allows for aggro builds, poison builds, control builds, and even unique risk/reward types like sacrificial builds. On the other hand, it can be seriously frustrating trying to get the cards necessary to build up the ideal deck during a run.

Each treasure chest and ice block only offer three card options, and the game doesn’t base the output on the cards you currently have–it’s completely random. That means despite going for a poison or control build, you may only collect half the required cards to build a truly formidable deck. In this way, Wildfrost relies heavily on chance. Instead of simply being dealt a bad hand, an entire run can be ruined simply because the card types in a deck are mismatched (by no fault of the player).


GIF: Chucklefish

Incredibly demanding boss encounters make deck optimization even more crucial, especially when facing them for the first time. From the heart-pounding music to the smart placement of support units alongside the boss, these encounters truly feel like an event and are always make-or-break moments during a run. Developer Deadpan Games manages to make the bosses just powerful enough to evoke dread while not making them seem so impossible that players immediately want to give up. This balance keeps things engaging on repeat playthroughs, as does having a healthy variety of bosses to discover.

One of Wildfrost’s greatest strengths is undoubtedly its art direction headed by Gaziter. Playing through a game that takes place entirely in a world of snow and ice could’ve easily grown tiresome, but the varied environments and cute card art make it work. There’s a clear progression from the snowy tundra of the first stages to the icey caverns and beyond, and the interactive pitstops along the way help add flavor to the world.

The card themselves are nothing short of adorable, and it’s always a pleasant surprise to discover a new one in a shop or treasure chest just to see what the design looks like. I genuinely began to feel attached to some of my cards on longer runs as if they were party members in an RPG, something that I’ve never felt while playing a deckbuilder before. The card design is simply that great.

Wildfrost combat

Image: Chucklefish

In the end, Wildfrost has a lot to offer fans of the genre (especially when playing on the Switch’s touch screen). After nearly 15 hours there are still plenty of cards to unlock, boss types to encounter, and hub buildings to max out. Combat requires ingenuity and resourcefulness, and despite luck playing a larger role than some may like, the result is an undeniably fun and varied roguelike. Here’s hoping content updates can continue to flesh out what’s already a strong foundation for years to come.

Brent fell head over heels for writing at the ripe age of seven and hasn't looked back since. His first love is the JRPG, but he can enjoy anything with a good hook and a pop of color. When he isn't writing about the latest indie release or binging gaming coverage on YouTube, you can find Brent watching and critiquing all manner of anime. Send him indie or anime recommendations @CreamBasics on Twitter.