Dead of Winter is a board game from Plaid Hat Games, designed by Jon Gilmour and Isaac Vega. There are a lot of board and card games on the market in the zombie genre, so seeing yet another one might be a turn off. However, Dead of Winter brings some incredibly fresh and interesting elements to the table.
Each player controls two members of the survivor colony. There is a wide variety of characters with very distinct personalities communicated through the art and their special abilities. This adds a role play element that elevates the game above simply strategizing. There is also the Crossroads deck. Each player turn, a card is drawn and at the conclusion of the turn the condition on the card is checked. If the condition was fulfilled the card is read and a piece of story is presented. The card offers the player a number of options, many options provide a new resource with a consequence or they can walk away, gaining nothing but staying safe. Added on to all of that is the Crisis deck, from which a card is drawn at the start of a round. Resources are required to stave off the Crisis and players can add to that during their turns. If they fail to add the required number of resources a horde of zombies is added to the table.
The game comes with a number of objectives that vary in length, depending on the time you have to play. Each player also has a secret objective that they must complete in addition to the Main Objective to win the game. The interesting twist is that a betrayal card is placed in the deck of objectives at the start of the game. This means someone may be out to sabotage the colony leading to bluffing becoming a part of play. Each round players roll their Action Dice and then take turns spending them to perform actions (Searching, Attacking, Barricading, etc.). If a player suspects there is a traitor they can even call a vote to Exile. After each player has gone, there is a Colony round where resources are accounted for, zombies are added to the board, and other housekeeping is done.
We’ve played Dead of Winter twice, once as a two player game and most recently with three players. My wife and I invited over a coworker, Tiffany, who is a big fan of zombie media, particularly The Walking Dead. Dead of Winter does a great job in recreating that group tension from shows like TWD. For our game, we used the recommended Main Objective of collecting sample from zombies to develop a cure. The first round of play was everyone getting used to their choices of actions and we managed to stave off the first crisis. What I enjoyed most was that almost every Crossroads card pulled came into play which created a lot more dramatic tension. I remember one of the my characters stumbled across an abandoned oil truck which would have brought a cache of Fuel into the colony (used to make multiple moves around the board during a turn). The catch was that the noise from the truck would bring half a dozen zombies to the outskirts of the colony, putting us on the verge of being Overrun. If a location is Overrun, the character with the lowest Influence is automatically killed, no way to avoid it. I decided against taking the tanker and a few turns later we had a Crisis that needed Fuel to stop it. Those sorts of moments make the game very re-playable because consequences for decisions always have an interesting way of coming back to haunt you.
Dead of Winter merges elements of role-playing with board games in a way I enjoy. The Crossroads deck is the jewel of the game because of the way it puts so much immediate pressure on the player and provides consequences for the rest of a gaming session. Plaid Hat has an expansion, The Long Night, in production at the moment that will also work as a stand alone game. The Long Night adds a new location Raxxon Pharmaceuticals, plus new characters, objectives, Crossroad cards, pretty much more of everything. With so many interchangeable components Dead of Winter has hours and hours of replay-ability and will push players to think beyond one or two strategies as Main and Personal Objectives change.
Dead of Winter can be purchased at Cool Stuff Inc. for an incredibly discounted price. The best I’ve seen to date.