Published on June 4th, 2015 | by Kari0
Dead Of Winter Review
Average play time per game: 75 mins
Suitable for ages: 12+
Number of players: 2-5
I’m Kari and I met Duke and Kia (Need To Consume’s overlords) in the board game section of a Waterstones in Canterbury, Kent. By the end of our conversation, I had agreed to review some board games for the site and decided to ask my fellow players to help. What follows is a conversation between my friends and I, as we embark on a play-through of Plaid Hat Game’s Dead Of Winter. So lets meet the brave souls looking to fight the zombie apocalypse:
Kari (K) – Likes: Dungeons & Dragons, Bloodbowl, Command and Colours
Ian (I) – Likes: Heroscape, Bloodbowl, Agricola
Lewis (L) – Likes: Dungeons & Dragons, Battlecry
Joe (J) – Likes: Dungeons & Dragons, Eclipse, Agricola,
Elyse (E) – Likes : Dungeons & Dragons, Eclipse, Tokaido, Munchkin
Dead Of Winter Play Through
K: Dead of Winter, as you probably already know, is a cooperative zombie survival game. I have played it just over 10 times with friends and family but my regular Wednesday night gaming group gave it another play through with this review in mind. This review is going to be based around the play of the game during this session and will look at the various rules as they occur during the game.
J: Can I just say it is a really good looking game, the components are really nice.
K: That’s true, it has a really good look.
I: The board is a bit “bitty” with all the external locations.
J: Maybe there should be just one big board?
K: I wonder if it is like that for customisability when the expansions come out?
K: Anyway before we start: overall the game is great but I have 2 niggles about it; one easily solved and the other may not be a problem for you. The first issue is there are not really enough mission cards for extended play leading to some repetition after a few games; I am sure an expansion pack could easily remedy this. The other is the survival/bite dice roll that you have to make after moving to a new location (if you don’t spend a fuel card) or after killing a zombie.
Image from Scottking.net
1 in 12 times your colonist will get bitten and die outright and also run the risk of spreading the infection to other colonists at your location; other times you are either safe or wounded. Now that doesn’t sound like too high a chance but if you take into account that each turn you will probably roll the dice quite a few times as a group, the bite effect is almost inevitable and it can be catastrophic. That is my beef, I love some randomness in my games – the Romans said the best games were a combination of skill and luck – but it just seems sometimes, despite how well you are playing, you can get well and truly screwed.
L: That is because you are just a big Jessie
K: That’s probably true, I hate my players dying in Bloodbowl too. Anyway as we will see this issue cropped up straightaway in our game. The five of us started and chose the mission “Stockpile” which is unsurprisingly a mission requiring the colonists to collect food, medicine, fuel and tools in the requisite quantities. We also had 18 zombies surrounding the colony, which is quite a lot. There are other missions too (although not that many) such as “Kill Them” where you have to kill off all the zombies.
J: I prefer it if you draw a random mission
K: I understand what you are saying but each mission is varying in its length and/or difficulty, by choosing a specific one we can adapt our experience to how we are feeling on a particular evening and the time we have available. This mission should also hopefully show off most of the facets of the game nicely for the review.
J: You big Jessie
K: Each of us starts with two colonists, Joe is lucky enough to get “Sparky” the dog, who is great at fighting zombies but also finding things. The best thing about Sparky though, is that he is immune to the bite effect we talked about earlier. The other memorable character is Forest Plum, the Mall Santa, who is so annoying that the group actually gains morale if you decide to kill him. Morale is one of the three main drivers that keep the pressure on your colonists to actually do something each turn, if it reaches zero everyone loses. The main way to lose morale is to lose colonists.
The other pressures are a standard turn counter (normally around 6 turns) and zombies being added to the main colony and the six external locations, depending how many survivors you have, at the end of each turn, forcing you to deal with them or die.
Like all good cooperative games, work together and you have a chance, but fail to do this and you will all die. You need to all agree on a clear way to approach each mission. With this in mind we agreed to send 1 colonist to each external location for searching (any more would increase the rate at which zombies turn up) and keep 4 at the colony to kill the zombies and to complete other tasks.
I: You have to know the game well to know how to plan for the mission effectively.
Image from coggaming.net
K: That’s right. Our plan seemed sound until on Ian’s first attack on a zombie at the colony he got bitten, the bite spread, killing 1 of Lewis’s and 1 of Joe’s colonists before the infection stopped. So right at the start of turn one, three colonists down; a gloom descended on the group. We all felt we had no chance to succeed and were doomed to failure, just like our other favourite cooperative game Eldritch Horror.
L: A good tip for the game is to do all of your non dangerous actions first, such as adding food to the colony, just in case you die when you carry out your riskier actions.
E: Don’t forget the Crossroads cards
K: Oh yes. This for me is a big plus of the game, you get a huge, and I mean huge, pile of Crossroads cards. The player to the right of the active player draws the card and looks at the conditions required for the card to be activated. If the conditions are not met then nothing happens, but as soon as they are met during the active player’s turn the card is read out normally giving two options for everyone to vote on. We actually have played this wrong all the time, keeping the outcomes of the choices secret, but on a reread of the rules every player should be clear what should happen on the result of a vote. There are some truly dark cards here that really add to the atmosphere of the game.
E: Yes but we always keep forgetting to draw them
K: That’s true, even though there is a reminder on the ready ref sheet it is really easy to forget.
L: There maybe should be some other mechanic tied to the drawing of the Crossroads card; maybe a weather effect on the bottom third of the card or something like that, to remind you.
J: Maybe you should draw a Crossroads card at the end of your turn, ready for the next player.
K: Those are a couple of good ideas.
K: The other aspect of the Crossroads card which we all really like is reading the text out. By doing this I feel we start to cross from board game into roleplaying game. We do the same when we play Eldritch Horror. This might not be for you and your gaming group but we have found that it really adds to the feel of the game and is no real extra effort.
K: Anyway back to the play session. Despite the early deaths we managed to get to the outside locations and start collecting items while whittling down zombie numbers at the colony. The game has a clever mechanic where you roll a number of dice depending on your number of colonists (+1) and then can allocate them to various crucial actions such as fighting and searching. Other actions, such as moving, are free and don’t use up a dice. Again negotiation with the others is important towards achieving your overall mission and also the particular crisis of that turn, which might require you to collect food or medical supplies. To be successful you have to work out who is going to be most effective at delivering one of the multiple goals you have that turn. Also you have your own personal secret mission to complete as well as the group one, which might mean you want to do something for yourself which is not what the group agrees or optimal for all.
I: There is also the traitor.
K: Yes at the start of the game when you are given your secret mission you have about a 50% chance that one of you is the traitor. In which case you have to try and make the group fail without getting caught, because each player has the right to call for a group vote to exile one of the other players. However, in all the times we have played it the traitor has never turned up. I know that that is over a one-in-a-thousand chance, but really, we have never had a traitor.
I: It almost doesn’t matter as the threat of a traitor really keeps us on our toes.
K: In the mid game now and Elyse is racking up colonists and helpless colonists (which just cost food but contribute nothing) while Joe, Ian and Lewis are still functioning with one colonist each. We are however starting to get close to collecting all the items we need after our difficult start. One of the rules allows you to request a card from another player, they don’t have to give it to you but as it is a cooperative game they often will if they are convinced of the usefulness of the transfer.
J: I don’t like this rule, you can request a card even if you aren’t in the same location.
K: I know what you mean but I think this is a case of where gameplay and reality conflict; you always go for gameplay.
Image from dogandthimble.com
K: Elyse with all her colonists is really adding to the items required to complete our mission and soon we have won the game with 2 turns left, which after our disastrous start we never envisaged would happen. We now reveal our own personal secret missions. Joe, Ian and Lewis have all succeeded; Elyse would have succeeded as she needed 12 colonists in the game, but we decided to get rid of 2 helpless colonists to a Crossroads card on the last turn. I failed, needing 2 wounds on a colonist, but foolishly I healed one on my first turn thinking he would get wounded again. Overall a great few hours entertainment, truly atmospheric and an excellent cooperative experience, but what did we feel about the bite rule now?
J: It helped us play angry which focussed us to succeed.
I: I think it is just about right for a zombie game, it should be bleak. Also maybe we wouldn’t have won if we had to feed more colonists.
L: I feel the deaths added to the suspense of the game and really made it.
E: Maybe the bite effect shouldn’t kill you in one turn, maybe you get sick for a turn or have a small chance to fight it off.
L: Yes there could be a small tweak in the antidote cards or after you get bitten you receive an infected token. Each turn thereafter you have to roll (e.g. 3+, +1 with medicine) to fight-off the infection.
K: OK, it is just me on the bite thing then. For all of us, despite a few quibbles, this is one of our favourite games, where the rules complement the setting and the Crossroads cards take it to another level. There is much more we could say but I would recommend finding out for yourself.