For the third week in a row, Dead of Winter hits the table at our weekly Saturday afternoon/evening gathering. So far, either we’re doing something wrong or we just haven’t found a good workable strategy to victory as each of the three plays we’ve had have ended in a miserable, depressing defeat for the colony. Yet, like masochistic Alzheimer’s patients, we chomp at the bit for the next opportunity to play. So while we may or may not be playing wrong, Plaid Hat Games has clearly done something very right.
Dead of Winter is a board game about survival; specifically, survival following a zombie apocalypse. Objectives thematically frame the game, with each player having a unique (and secret) objective to complete by the game’s end, as well as a primary objective shared for all players. On top of this, each round brings with it a crisis to be resolved, typically collecting X amounts of varying items committed to the colony’s survival. The aforementioned secret player objectives can (if you so choose) include a betrayal element. If you haven’t picked up on it, there’s a lot to keep up with while playing as far as what it driving the group forward. As if that isn’t enough, before each player’s turn, a crossroads card is drawn by another player, the one to your right. If the event is triggered during the turn, play is stopped and the player(s) are faced to make a decision between two brutal options. Everything about Dead of Winter tells the player that surviving after the fall of humanity is anything but happy fun-times.
The majority of the secret objectives and crises each round require you collect certain items, ranging from fuel, food, and medicine, among others. The items are on cards drawn from one of the locations a survivor can move to and search. A player can choose how to play these cards. Even while working together semi-cooperatively, we found that each player must make difficult choices in how they play their cards. A player may choose to use food cards to ensure the colony survivors don’t starve, play a card to assist with certain actions, or even hold on to them for their secret objective. The cards a player contributes to the crises are placed in a pile faced down. This is a great opportunity for the betrayer to sabotage the game. If the crisis for the round isn’t met colony morale goes down. Once morale hits zero, the game is over. The goal is to achieve the main objective before the rounds are finished or morale hits zero. As I pointed out, we haven’t quite achieved this yet.With crises popping up every round, you might think that gameplay will feel derivative of Battlestar Gallactica. Surprisingly, you’d be incorrect. The crisis element is familiar (as is voting betrayers off the island) but what the player actually does in their turn is markedly different. Each player gets an amount of dice equal to the number of survivors they control (2 at the start), and at the start of each round the dice are rolled. Players use the dice to complete certain actions during their turn. These actions include searching for items, killing zombies, or building barricades. Moving from the colony to another location, such as the gas station, doesn’t require to use one of these dice. It does require you to roll the exposure die. Rolling this die when you move or when you choose to kill a zombie can be pretty risky. Your survivor can instantly die by zombie bite, get wounded or frostbit. If you’re lucky, you’ll roll a blank side and your survivor is safe.
We got more laughs in the game from the survivors themselves. Each character has a special ability. Some are able to pick up multiple items in the locations. Others are stronger when killing zombies. My personal favorites are the drunk Santa, who’s only special ability is to exile him from the game to increase colony morale, and Sparky the stunt dog, who conveniently seems to be featured in every game we have played. Once we get going in a game and refresh our memories of the rules, it is completely immersive and it’s easy to get caught up in the story. Overall, we couldn’t give this game a higher recommendation. We’ll keep you updated on our progress toward survival.