Dead of Winter
- Designers: Isaac Vega & John Gilmour
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 90-120 Min
Adam: Put the game box on your table and listen. Do you hear it? The moans of an angry hoard clambering at the walls of your compound. The growls of an empty stomach and the clank of a barren tin tossed aside in anger. Or how about the winter wind blowing across the frozen streets of an all but abandoned town. Well, you will… just give it time… you will.
Steven: This game is quite possibly one of the most emotional, intense and crazy gaming experiences I’ve ever had… and it’s a BOARD GAME! I love board games, but let’s be real. The average person doesn’t go, “I’m looking for a night of excitement and quality entertainment that will really get my blood pumping. I know… let’s play a board game!” Trust me though, this game not only puts you on the edge of your seat, but you may need a clean pair of pants after playing. (Well, probably not… but you never know.) The overall setting and post-apocalyptic theme of the game is one that I have always found particularly interesting. Considering the title and artwork of the game, you may have already picked up on the fact that that this is a zombie game. However, with that said, I would in no way conclude that this game actually ‘centers’ around zombies. They certainly play a role, but at its core this is truly a survival game… and an extremely nerve-racking one at that.
Adam: The pace of this game barely lets you breathe as the hands of your antagonist tighten their grip around your throat, and I’m not talking about zombies. The game is played semi-cooperatively. This means that though the majority of players want to see your little colony survive, there are also hidden agendas that may leave some clawing at the floor as they are drug off into the night. The fact that someone’s secret objective may be to tear the colony to pieces from the inside out will have you questioning every decision, movement and hesitation of your so-called allies. Here’s how it works. Players are given two characters to help complete both the cooperative objective of the colony as well as the secret objective they are dealt at the beginning of the game. Both must be satisfied for a player to win, which means the tension will gradually rise to a roaring boil as the game wears on and balancing the colony’s interests with your own becomes increasingly difficult.
Steven: The primary objective of the game varies greatly. It will have you trying to collect supplies from the various locations, scavenge enough food to feed your growing colony or simply survive a certain number of rounds. Each mode brings with it a variety of challenges, and no matter what you choose you can be guaranteed it will get you and your friends fired up. Several times during our games we were all (quite literally) freaking out, screaming and using over-the-top hand gestures in order to influence pivotal moments for the colony.
Adam: This game is transporting, there is no doubt. From the moment you say go, it has you absorbed in the lives of your characters as they struggle to live another day. The artwork itself begs you to like these people as each of the 30 characters is appointed both a fantastic portrait and physical standee. But like the vapor fading from a hot breath on a winter’s night, they can be taken from you in an instant. Enter… the Exposure Die. Never, in the history of gaming, has a die been so cold.
Steven: This is, quite literally, the scariest die you will ever play with.
Adam: You see, as your characters move about the town in search of desperately needed supplies or find themselves fending off the crushing waves of zombie hoards, they will have to roll the Exposure Die; a twelve-sided die that has the potential to leave you injured, frost bitten or instantly lost to the collective mass of the walking dead. This means that simply wandering out to the grocery store or beating back the undead could be the last thing your character ever does… But as not to leave you all cowering behind the safety of your barricaded walls, there are also crises that occur each round that must be satisfied. Precious food, tools and medicine locked safely in your reserve will be used to maintain morale, forcing intrepid souls out to scavenge desperately for supplies. Each step of this game is just dripping with theme! And it’s true a lot of games are thematic, but very few succeed in delivering an actual narrative. Herein lies the true genius of Dead of Winter’s revolutionary Crossroads system. This deck of cards is the magic bullet that blows the minds of most who play. At the beginning of each player’s turn a new Crossroads card is drawn from a substantial stack that may or may not correspond to situations happening in the game. If it doesn’t, players continue on in their efforts to suppress the unending waves of in-human crises. However, if it does, then the table holds their breath as they plunge into the frigid waters of the most brutal ‘choose your own adventure’ mechanic I’ve ever seen in a game. Each Crossroads card is a cleverly crafted scenario that will have the survivors, more often than not, choosing between the lesser of two undead evils. It’s simply brilliant! I’ve not played a board game to date that enables players to weave such unforgettable tales of heroism, horror and betrayal.
Steven: This is what gives the game the potential for endless hours of fun. The Crossroads cards place you in a variety of scenarios: from having a stranger barge in and hold a gun to your head to encountering a wounded survivor and having to choose whether they live or die. Every choice has a pro and a con, and it is up to you and your fellow survivors to weigh the options. But be careful! Your choices could have dire consequences later on in the game and may end up haunting your dreams for nights to come.
Adam: The bottom line here is that Dead of Winter is awesome, and with the right group of people the game can be a ride like you’ve never had while sitting around a few pieces of cardboard and some dice. There are very few experiences, let alone board games, that allow you to slice through a complete cross-section of human emotion like this does.
Game Tip: The rules explanation can be a bit confusing for those not used to playing heavier games, but each part layers so nicely onto the next, it’s like a ball of informational snow building upon itself before ultimately crushing you with comprehension. However, if you feel the job of teaching the game seems a bit daunting… check out the video tutorials from Plaid Hat Games. In partnership with Watch It Played, they do a great job of making sure you can dive into their games within minutes. Want more insight? Check out Episode 2 – The Winter Cast from our podcast library.