Dead of Winter was one of the MUST HAVE games at GenCon 2014 this past summer. Everyone was talking about it. It was in everyone’s hand. We saw it everywhere. My husband and I, though, had received the game a week before arriving at GenCon and were not surprised to hear all the praises being sung of it’s awesome game play. First impressions, the game looks spooky and dark, when in reality, it is spooky and dark. Dead of Winter is a zombie game set during the grueling months of winter and you need to find a way to survive. This game is part of a series being put out by Plaid Hat Games called “Crossroads.” These games are meant to test the survival skills of players, as well as their ability to work together for the good of the group and survive. It’s an intriguing concept, successfully executed with Dead of Winter.
Designer: Johnathan Gilmour, Isaac Vega
Published by: Plaid Hat Games
Year Published: 2014 Rough Game Time: 100+ mins
Players: 2-5 Suggested Ages: 13+
Type: Co-Operative, Hand-Management, Action-Point Allowance
What’s the Story, Morning Glory?
You and the other people in the colony you’ve established have survived the zombie apocalypse, so far. You’ve set up a secure camp and are setting in to endure the long hard winter. Zombies are still plentiful in the streets, but you have to make sure you keep your colony stocked with food, ammo, and other supplies. Along the way other survivors will find you and you need to figure out if they can stay or if they must go. But watch out. . . there could be someone in your midst who is so embittered by the apocalypse that they are seeking to destroy everything and everyone. Will you survive the Dead of Winter?
What’s in the Box?
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Colony Board
- 1 Exposure Die
- 30 Action Dice
- 1 First Player Token
- 2 Track Markers
- 5 Player Reference Sheets
- 25 Starting Item Cards
- 54 Objective Cards
- 10 Dual-Sided Main Objective Cards
- 24 Secret Objective Cards
- 10 Betrayal Secret Objective Cards
- 10 Exiled Survivor Secret Objective Cards
- 30 Survivor Cards & 30 Survivor Standees
- 6 Location Cards (Police Station, Grocery Store, School Gas Station, Library, Hospital)
- 120 Location Search Deck Cards
- 20 Police Station Search Deck Cards
- 20 Grocery Store Search Deck Cards
- 20 School Search Deck Cards
- 20 Gas Station Search Deck Cards
- 20 Library Search Deck Cards
- 20 Hospital Search Deck Cards
- 20 Crisis Cards
- 80 Crossroad Cards
- 25 Wound Tokens
- 20 Helpless Survivor Tokens
- 20 Food Tokens
- 20 Noise Tokens
- 20 Barricade Tokens
- 6 Starvation Tokens
- 30 Zombie Standees & 30 Zombie Tokens (for when you get overrun with zombies)
- 60 Plastic Standee Stands
How To Play or Not to Play, That is the Question
I had to forego my usual way of explaining how a game is played, because there is just so very much going on in this game. So I adopting a different approach instead of spending page after page going over each step of this game that you really just need to play in order to learn how to play it.
In Dead of Winter each player takes charge of 1 or more characters, who are members of a colony trying to survive during the zombie apocalypse. Players will control a leader and a number of followers and will be working together to achieve a number of agendas from keeping at bay hordes of zombies surrounding your colony to keeping your colony clean and its members fed. Each game will also provide a very specific and unique goal your colony is working towards, be it collecting zombie samples in the hopes of finding a cure or merely surviving the harsh winter in a longer than average game. And *on top* of all that, each player will have a secret agenda that the characters under their control are working towards. While most of these goals are self-serving, the majority aren’t entirely evil and the player still wants to see the colony survive. Several of these secret agendas, however, label the player that possesses them as a betrayer to the colony and they want to see the destruction of the colony and possibly the death of everyone within.
If that wasn’t enough, during each round of game play a Crisis will arise that will call on players to provide extra food, gas, medicine, or tools to the colony lest something absolutely horrifying occur.
Round by round players will roll action dice dictating the limits of their ability to search external locations for resources, fight zombies, or use their characters’ special talents. Players will travel to and from the colony, risking infection from zombie or frostbite from the harsh winter. They will choose whether to donate to the current crisis, provide food for the colony (including the helpless survivors your pick up on the way that are nothing more than extra mouths to feed), or clean waste.
At the end of each round, the zombie population increases, the crisis is resolved for better or worse, the colony checks for starvation, and all the while mistrust brews amongst the players. Choose your actions carefully or you may get voted into exile where you will no longer have access to the safety of the colony and you will be given a new goal and victory condition as an outcast.
The most unique aspect of Dead of Winter is the Crossroads Card system. On each player’s turn the player to the right draws a crossroads card and pays attention to the current player’s actions and choices to see if the events on the card trigger. Some of the Crossroads cards are fairly vague, but others are exceptionally specific down to a certain character performing a certain act or going to a certain location. While the latter of these is rare to trigger, when they do it is always exciting. The events of a Crossroads card always present a choice and the outcome can be both extremely beneficial or utterly devastating.
Dead of Winter ends when one of three things happens:
1) The morale counter hits 0.
2) The round counter hits 0.
3) The main objective is completed.
To determine the winner, you have to check your secret objective cards. Anyone who achieved their secret objective wins the game (so there can be multiple winners) and everyone else loses. If the morale or round counter hits zero, the only person who can win is the Betrayer.
Rules Weren’t Meant to Be Broken (Or Were They?)
You will be challenged to make decisions based on what is best for the colony and what is best for yourself. Do not back down and chicken out of making the hard decisions. Really commit to making the game realistic. With a betrayer on the loose, there’s no reason not be cutthroat in this game. Well. . . cutthroat in regards to the colony. No matter what you need the colony to survive, whether you’re the Betrayer or you have your secret objective to complete.
One thing you might forget to do, which also possesses it’s own problems for your leader and characters. At the end of each of your turns outside of the colony, you need to remember to roll for exposure. This could turn up an additional bit of being bit and infected or frostbite or you could just be fine. Just don’t forget to roll for this.
Best Played Under These Conditions
Dead of Winter is best played with at least 4 people. You want there to be a Betrayer, but for it to not be glaringly obvious. It also keeps the game challenging, because there are more things going on, more unknowns being added all the time.
The game plays fine with two people, but you can’t have the Betrayer. It is still just as challenging and enjoyable, it just removes that element from the game.
Spice Up Your Game
I had this totally crazy idea for how to spice up the game play for this game. Essentially. . . you make yourself a survivor. Get out cans of various foods, book the meals in the cans (you can use your oven, on a grill, or if you are really adventurous and have a safe space, over an open fire with a flame). Don’t forget to open the cans. But you’re saying to yourself, “No way, I am not cooking in a can and then eating it,” you can also cook the canned food ahead of time, clean and sanitize the cans and serve the food in the cans. I suggest sterilizing them in boiling water or putting them into a dishwasher. So you have two options for still using awesome cans to serve food.
Now that we’ve handled the cans and everyone can eat out of cans while you play the game, what about food I don’t have to eat in order to eat? Maybe open up a few tins of tuna or chicken or sardines, but seriously, the sky is the limit when it comes to canned food. Even get creative and pick some “mystery” foods or through some SPAM on the barbie. You could even channel Carl, from The Walking Dead, and eat a can of pudding!
If cans aren’t you game, make some hearty food, like chili or a beef stew to keep your guests full, happy, and warm during this tumultuous time.
If you’re into themeing out your outfits, you might as well dress in a hodgepodge of warm clothing. Wear a warm, fur-lined jacket with gloves that have open finger tips. Wear those work boots you have in your mudroom and even a warm, fur-lined hat. Just ask people to dress like it was the dead of winter and it’s a zombie apocalypse.
As with any zombie game, you would tie it into any kind of zombie movie or TV marathon you wanted to do. A friend recommended Dead Snow (2009) as a great wintery zombie movie that would pair nicely with Dead of Winter, like fava beans and a nice Chianti.
I love, love, love this game. I don’t love EVERY zombie game that comes across my table, but Dead of Winter is unique in its game play. You want your characters to survive and the strategies that you plan for them to cooperate or sacrificed are incredible! The fact that you even have a traitor in your midst makes the came even more stressful, as you battle with your inner morales and values, trying to make sense of the madness that is setting in. You even end up asking yourself questions about what you would really do in this situation. You might have always thought that you would be welcoming to all who need help, but in reality, they are going to suck your resources dry and do very little to help with the survival of the colony. How do you handle that situation? It makes the issues of The Walking Dead and even LOST seem a bit more tangible in assessing your own reactions to world-altering events. A must have in your game collection, no matter what level of gamer you are.