Tabletop Review: Dead of Winter

Article written by:
Mark Navarro
Author: Mark NavarroWebsite: http://awesomeburgerguru.blogspot.com/
Mark Navarro loves literature, film, sports, and writing. His comic books, video games, and his dog are his prized possessions.He is currently studying Alchemy and taking a minor in waterbending.

Details

Here we are again, the zombie apocalypse. At this point of the trend’s life cycle, a game has to have a gargantuan amount of innovation and entertainment to reel me in and keep me hooked. Dead of Winter does just that. It gets the zombie apocalypse theme and runs with it beyond the finish line and goes where no similarly-themed game, or any other game for that matter, has gone before. It is exploding with theme, and narrative. YES. NARRATIVE. Imagine that!

By the second round of the game, you will be yearning for your survival and it will begin to feel that the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you to the point that when you find food or medicine you are bombarded with choices. “Do I give this medicine to the colony to resolve the crisis? Do I use it to travel to the pharmacy safely so that I can find more medicine? Or do I lie and keep it in my hand because I need to hoard medicine to be the winning faction at the end of the game?”. Player choice is at the core of this game. It is what you will obsess on even when it’s not your turn as studying the choices the others make will smoke out any betrayers in your midst. Suddenly, the real threat to the colony’s survival is not the zombies, it’s the players themselves. And that is what brings the zombie apocalypse theme forward into the spotlight.

The game starts with all players choosing 2 characters for their faction, and randomly drawing a secret objective card. This mechanic is what makes the game “meta-cooperative”. The players have to collectively survive until the end of the game (all players win), while trying to fulfill their own selfish goals as detailed in their objective card (some players win); however, 2 players at most can be betrayers who want to destroy the colony from within. It can also happen that, at any point in the game, colony morale reaches zero and the betrayer has not fulfilled his objective (all players lose). Just be careful when going against the advice of other players when trying to achieve your secret objective because if you’re suspected to be a traitor, then you will be voted out of the colony left to fend for yourself against the harsh, zombie-ridden, winter wasteland.

Players take their turns rolling a number of dice corresponding to the number of characters in their faction and they will use the results to travel to surrounding locations and either fight zombies, search for items that the colony needs, barricade their locations for protection, or clean waste. Yup, a dirty colony reduces morale. It’s a dirty job but someone has to waste actions to do it.

Searching is of utmost importance because every round, there’s a new crisis that the survivors have to resolve. A shortage of food, a viral outbreak, urgent colony repairs, will necessitate the kinds of items that you need to look for. Players contribute cards from their hand face-down to resolve the crisis, and this is where a bit of detective work comes into play.

For instance, if there is a food shortage and 5 food cards are needed to resolve the crisis, and we flip over the cards and find 1 medicine card, well then there’s a traitor in our midst! And the cards have their locations printed on them, which adds to the strategy for traitors to hide or pass the blame, and for survivors to smoke out possible traitors.

Going back to the narrative quality of the game, event cards can also happen when a player searches a location. Event cards give a narrative of an event that happens at that location and presents the player with two, usually difficult, choices to make. More often than not, events can lead to you adding more people to the faction together with helpless survivors in the colony. This increases the actions or the dice you roll in a turn as well as burdens the team with more mouths to feed.

Additionally, the narrative is amplified moreso by the crossroads deck. As players take their turns, the player to their right holds a crossroads card which triggers an event and a choice if the active player does the trigger action. The action can range from moving to a certain location, controlling a certain character, or even yawning during the game. It’s very context dependent and I find it amazing!

Movement and combat is simple and quick, but made tense by the inclusion of the most unforgiving die I’ve ever rolled in my life: the exposure die. It is a d12 with 6 blank faces, 3 wound faces, 2 frostbite faces, and 1 bite face. If you move to a location or expend one of your action dice to kill a zombie you have to roll the exposure die. A blank face is good, a wound face puts your character one step closer to death, a frostbite face gives the character a wound every turn, and a bite face instantly kills your character unless you decide to roll again and hope for a blank face. If you don’t get a blank face, your character dies and another survivor in the same location gets bitten. A zombie bite can start a chain reaction of death that quickly depletes colony morale. Here’s the kicker, if you’re bitten, the player to your left makes the decision!

This means that potentially, on your first turn for the game, you can move and you can die. It happened with our game trial and it just… bites.

The base game offers multiple scenarios meant to be played like the first season of a TV show, there’s tremendous replay value to be found with the game especially if you have multiple playgroups.

I just wish that Plaid Hat Games put a little more effort into the box. There are a lot of components and all you get are plastic bags similar to what they provide with Summoner Wars. In fact the box interior is exactly the same as Summoner Wars. Sure they fit in the box but it doesn’t look organized once you open it up. Setup and packing it up is a chore in itself. And there’s a LOT of character and zombie standees, tokens, and decks of cards to sift through. 

Conclusion:

The game is all about story. It weaves event cards and crossroads cards together with what you’re doing to absorb you into something you can imagine as a dark soap opera. Comparatively, if Last Night on Earth is tabletop Resident Evil, and Zombicide is tabletop Left 4 Dead, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads game is Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Just like the popular comic book turned TV show turned video game, the real threat in the game isn’t the zombies, it’s the survivors and their own selfish goals. In closing, it’s very rare to experience a game that innovates the tabletop experience for the future and I’m glad I got to play it. Do yourself a favor and buy it, even if you wouldn’t be caught dead playing another zombie game.

   

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