Ross is a writer, educator, and performer who lives and works in NYC. When he's not doing any of the aforementioned activities, he's playing video games.
Bundle up, because we’ve got the designer of Frost, Jérôme Bodin, on the line to shed light on the game’s creation and offer a handful of tips for braving its winter wasteland.
For the last couple of weeks, it’s been cold as polar bear balls where I live, so I’ve been holed up in my studio apartment playing my Switch as much as possible. Enduring the recent frigid “vortex” did, however, inspire me to pick up a new title from the Nintendo eShop, Frost. It — much like the hostile, icy landscape in which it is set — is harsh and unforgiving but in a truly rewarding way. It is a turn-based, deck-building card game that pushes the limits of human survival to its extremes. In it, the player races against time, using precious “Resource” and “Idea” cards to outrun the “Frost,” a deadly blizzard nipping at the heels of the game’s characters — poor nomadic souls known simply as “Survivors” — as they voyage to find refuge from the relentless snowstorm.
Take it from me, Frost has a fairly steep learning curve, and for those who aren’t familiar with the genre of deck-building/survival hybrids in general, its difficulty can feel intimidating at first, regardless of the fact that it has a tutorial and gradually teaches you how to play. Overcoming the challenge the game presents, on the other hand, is central to what makes it so gratifying. Hardship is a definitive theme in Frost, but so is the will to persevere against the odds by any means necessary, and that’s why it’s so painstakingly fun.
Being an unabashed self-preservationist, I reached out to Frost’s creator — Jérôme Bodin — to try and learn how to increase my chances of surviving. He was kind enough to give a greenhorn like me a bunch of pointers on traversing the game’s inhospitable terrain, so I figured I’d share them with you. After all, we gamers have to stick together (perhaps even cannibalize each other) if we’re going to make it through this cold, indifferent life, right?
Me: For starters, can you tell us a little about what inspired you to make a deck-building/survival card game? Did it have anything to do with playing card games when you were younger?
Jérôme: There’s definitely a connection with my childhood. When I was a kid, I used to make silly board games out of paper and cardboard, and I used the same process to create the first prototype for Frost. But to be honest, I was more influenced by my obsessions with existing deck-building games, both tabletop (Dominion) and digital (Dream Quest).
What gave you the idea to set the game in a frozen world?
The world of Frost — this frozen planet which runs on the schedule of a devastating and restless storm — has been on my mind for years. I’ve made several prototypes around it. The first one involved piloting an ornithopter (as in Dune). Another one was a time-management game. I absolutely had to create a game in this universe, but none of the prototypes I made seemed to give [sic] it justice. I’m not sure how the idea first came up, though. It just did. But, as I explain in the final scenario of the game, “The Author,” the universe [of Frost] is, somehow, a mirror of the more sensitive parts of my psyche.
Is it natural that I still haven’t beaten easy mode after a considerable amount of attempts or is the game just engineered to be that challenging? In other words, am I just bad at it?
Well, it’s a bit of both, really! The game is hard and is designed that way, but I expect new players to be able to secure their first win in less than ten games, less if they’re familiar with card games and deck-building games.
Can you talk a little about what creating the game’s minimalist art style was like?
I didn’t put considerable effort in inventing a new style, because I really wanted this project to be very personal. This is how I usually draw. I just spent some time finding the right color palette. I have several weak points as an artist, the biggest of them is that I lack a sense of good picture composition. For Frost, I had help from a close friend and an amazing artist, Frédéric Simon. Many times, he transformed my ideas into a rough sketch, so I would just have to draw the final version. This way, I could keep the unique identity of my hand drawing while mitigating its flaws.
What are a three or four basic tips that you would give to first-time Frost players?
Don’t buy too many Idea cards. It’s okay to spend some turns resting and buying cards, but when you land on an easy place, run through it to outpace the Frost. If you know you have the resources to go through a place, it might be smarter to wait and draw them instead of scavenging and taking the risk to clog your deck with Fatigue cards. As a beginner, aim for a balanced deck with survivors, material, food, and a few Idea cards.
When you play Frost, what are some of the cards that you try to pack your deck with?
From the start I like to play with as many Fire cards as I can have. Even if, as a designer, I know it’s not always the best choice!
If you had to pick between gambling for a resource to get a useful card by ending a turn or traveling, which would you choose and why?
Really depends on the Frost counter and the cards in my deck, but most of the time, I would travel.
Which scenario do you think is the most difficult and why? Which one’s the easiest and why?
I like the backstory of “The Tracker” scenario, and I find it very challenging because you have to be very focused and not make any mistake. I think “The Leader” scenario is the easiest; that’s why it’s the first one you unlock. The first few turns are challenging, but after them, it should be relatively easy to spare your family members.
If you had to guess, what are the odds of beating classic mode on hard?
Well, I have some stats for the game, so I don’t need to guess! Around 8% of players manage to beat the game on hard difficulty. It corresponds with what I intended while designing the different difficulty modes.
How much is luck a factor in making it through classic mode and the different scenarios in Frost? How much is skill a factor?
Luck definitely has importance in Frost. I can’t say otherwise; it’s part of the design. It’s more important in some scenarios than in others. On the other hand, expert players (including myself, as the designer) are closing to 100% win rate on easy difficulty and easier scenarios, even with the random factor. The more you play, the less luck is important.
Given how much of the game is dependent on chance, how challenging was it to strike a balanced system of probability in Frost?
As a game designer, I strive to analyze and fix things when I play. I’m decent with math and statistics, but I don’t find it enjoyable to spend my time on sheets and models. So the big challenge was that I had to play a lot to find the right spots, and also give special attention to the feedback early testers gave me. This is how I like to work, and it was very pleasant, but of course, it is not ideal, so I wouldn’t say the “balance” of Frost is perfect, far from it in fact!
What was your favorite aspect of the creative process behind the game?
If I had to pick one, I found it very stimulating to be able to come up with new ideas inspired both by the game’s universe and its mechanics. For new cards, I either thought about what would make sense in this world or what objects could be useful? Beyond that, I just thought about what cards could balance the system and make the game richer or more interesting.
What would you say to players who are turned off by the challenging nature of the game?
Sometimes I play Frost the same way my mom plays Solitaire. I find it relaxing to just move cards around, and if I lose, well it’s bad luck. Not all games are meant to be won.
Anything else you’d like to relate to our readers?
I take any opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to people playing Frost. I poured my heart and soul into this game, and it’s such a joy to know it’s played by humans around the world. So if you play and like the game, please let me know!
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer for Frost. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Jérôme also has an outer-space-themed, 4X-strategy game — Mini Gal4Xy — coming out shortly, so keep your eyes peeled for its release. Godspeed, wayfarers, should you be daring enough to venture into Frost’s beautiful yet brutal landscape. Happy trails and may our paths cross again soon!