Board Game Review: Chronicles of Frost

8/10 A game of strong mechanisms, enjoyable, and that appeals to my tastes.

Played at 1, 2, and 3 players.

Adventure into the frozen lands of Valskyrr where monsters roam and civilization is struggling to hold against the Mists. Chronicles of Frost from NSKN Games is a deck-building adventure game for 1-4 players. Players earn points from cards they’ve gained, completed quests, and defeated monsters, earning more points for retiring these into the Chronicle. After one player has completed both of their quest lines, the player with the most points from cards and everything in their Chronicle wins.

Theme

As an adventure game, you will go exploring the land, fighting monsters, develop new abilities, acquire new items, allies, and skills, and complete quests. The game does a decent job juggling these elements within its easy-to-grasp rules. Though only the quests and the backside of the hero cards offer much in flavor text, and the enemies are reduced to a small token with just a few stats. It requires imagination to be truly immersed in the setting, else the game leaves you out in the cold (get it?). Nothing clashes with the theme much, forcing the player to rationalize why this or that happened (except perhaps retiring a much-used item to your Chronicle for points but then no longer being able to use it), but this game won’t tell your story for you as with much larger adventure games like Eldritch Horror or Folklore: The Affliction. The location cards at least feature evocative artwork and are well-named. No generic “Plains” or “Mountains” here.


In terms of providing that “RPG-lite” experience, it’s pretty solid. You’ll learn several new action cards over the course of the game, gain allies and items, and ‘level up’ with new skills. Slowly gearing up to wade into enemies, or learning new skills that make activating extra powers gives that sense of character growth that adventure game fans often look for.


Mechanisms

As a deck-builder, CoF doesn’t break the mold, rather, it sits comfortably in molds set by previous entries into the genre, namely Mage Knight. Every Action card is split into two parts, the top one being a free effect for playing the card and the bottom requiring you to unlock it by one of several methods. Activating the bottom part is easier than in MK, but the effects are likewise similar, giving you attack points, movement points, scouting points (which can draw cards from your deck or help search through the location deck for new locations), currency to buy new cards, and a variety of other unique powers. To the game’s credit, actions, items, and allies all function slightly differently, even if the effects they offer tend to be the same. The map exploration feels like a card variation on MK, revealing cards in a grid as you explore the fringes of the map and discover locations to interact with and monsters to slay.

CoF is, thankfully, a deck-builder that leans much more on strategy than luck of the draw, in part because drawing more cards from your deck has never been so easy. There is also no randomness in completing quests or engaging in combat; you know whether you have what you need in-hand. I have found, however, a bit of luck regarding locations, as it’s a decent-sized deck and your quests may require specific locations you might spend turn after turn searching for. But if this problem worries you, just stock up on extra scouting points to dig deeper into the deck.

Late game display.

Components

The art, where it appears, is excellent. You might not wish for a full-size poster to stick on your wall, but it does the job of creating a more unique fantasy setting. The graphic design is clean, making the effects easy to understand. This is in part because of the game’s simplicity; there are only about 4 icons that do things. Everything else is information. No need for abstract arrows, frowny faces, or checkmarks. I especially applaud the search quests that show a grid of the map, and if you turn the card over, it shows the grid reversed in case you’re sitting “upside down” from the map orientation.

The cards are good quality and linen finished. Tokens are at a good thickness. If I had a complaint about the component quality, it’s the tiny meeples used as player pieces. Even if they didn’t want to include miniatures (and they’ve already made miniatures for the Mistfall series), a standee would have been better. The meeples merely function. I use a Reaper miniature in my games.

Rules, Clarity, and Balance

The rules standout as the biggest flaw of the game. The game isn’t too difficult to learn, probably because it’s actually a simple game, but you will stumble on some problems. There are typos, inconsistencies, and unanswered questions. The rules say with no uncertainty that your “hero area” is everything you own as a player, including deck and discard pile. But later, when describing how to retire cards, the hero area is described as differing from your deck and discard pile. There’s also no agreement whether hirelings are discarded back to the supply immediately when you use them or during the Cleanup Phase. The rules say both. There’s also contradicting rules on what the AI bot will do during solitaire play; buy a World Event card if it’s the cheapest on offer, or never buy one. Though the rules needed more editing, the cards are thankfully easy to understand. In terms of balance, my only suspicion is that the game might favor scouting too much. You can draw your entire deck towards the end of the game, allowing for big turns. Every turn. Anyone not stacking scouting will be at the mercy of the draw. But as long as all players know not to neglect scouting, things should balance out.

But that brings me to the other issue. Downtime. I’ve not even played the game at 4-players, and the downtime is noticeable. It’s not so bad early in the game when turns are limited, but once you reach the last few rounds, turns get big and complicated. Satisfying, but long. I think CoF is best at 1 and 2, still acceptable at 3. I don’t think I want to try 4. But as a solo game, it really shines. Not only are you free to strategize as much as you want on your turn, but you also can spend more time immersing yourself in the setting. And it’s a game that’s quick to set up and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s already become one of my most-played solo games.

Game end scoring.

Conclusion

It’s a shame that Chronicles of Frost didn’t see a wide release, and may never. It’s an excellent, compact deck-builder with a good balance between mechanisms and theme, a strong solo mode, and provides a satisfying experience. Recommended for adventure game fans and deck-building fans alike. Go grab a copy while you can.

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