As Halloween closes in (and even scarier: snow!) it might have been the perfect weekend to play Dead of Winter, a Crossroads zombie game by Plaid Hat Games. And what a thrill it was.

Dead of Winter_custom game board setup

Image: Plaid Hat Games

What is Dead of Winter?

Dead of Winter is a (semi) cooperative game of survival set during a nasty winter in a zombie apocalypse. Players must work to defend a colony of survivors from an ever-increasing zombie hoard. That’s about as surface an explanation as it gets. A board game for 2-5 players, the box says it plays in 60-90 minutes, although our sessions have always been longer.

Is it fun?

Yes and no. Yes, in that Dead of Winter is a total blast that will leave you wanting to play again immediately, no matter how late at night it is by then. No, in the same way that the SAW movies aren’t ‘fun.’

This game is intense. And I don’t throw that word around casually. This game will get your heart racing and the gears turning. Like I said earlier, on the surface this is a game of survival during a zombie outbreak, but peel back the layers and you have a full-fledged mystery-thriller-whodunnit on your hands.

For starters, this game has a traitor element. Every objective card has a secret win scenario, which means how YOU win the game is not the same as the other players. There can be multiple winners and, more likely, multiple losers. Some objective cards are marked with blood red letters that spell out BETRAYAL! Which means that if you get that card, your win objective is to hurt the colony. There may be a traitor in the game. There may not be a traitor in the game. But every round, you have the option of voting someone out of the game (aka ‘exiling’ them). This action gives that person a new objective–meaning you may have created a traitor in a game that didn’t have one. Or worse, you may have created a second traitor. In any case, you’re staring down your friends with suspicious eyes as they take their turns around the table.

Wait, I thought this was a cooperative game?

Like many aspects of Dead of Winter, this one is a gray area. While each player does have their own objectives necessary to win, you must also protect the colony. The colony itself acts as a sophisticated timer. Each round ticks away at a countdown meter, and each character death, waste buildup, and starvation outcome chips away at your morale meter. If either of these hit zero, the game ends. At the end of the game, if you haven’t completed your win scenario, you lose. Thus, it’s in your best interest to keep the colony functioning–for the time being, at least. This means contributing food to the cache, barricading doors, searching for supplies, and slaughtering zombies faster than a Walking Dead episode.

On Top of That…

There’s a Crisis event that gets revealed every round that all players must contribute to. Failure to combat this crisis usually ends in a zombie mob or a catastrophic depletion of resources. Of course, if you’re the traitor, maybe that’s right up your alley.

And On Top of That…

There are also Crossroads cards that are drawn by a neighbor on a player’s turn. If at any time the scenario plays out like on the Crossroads card–BAM!–the event triggers and you get saddled with another mini-scenario that must be resolved.

And On Top of ALL That…

Oh yeah, every time you go somewhere–even if it’s to empty the trash–you have to roll a beautifully crafted Exposure die, which can end in a fatal zombie bite, a semi-fatal wound, debilitating frostbite. Of course, you could roll no effect at all…but where’s the fun in that?

Yes, Dead of Winter is a game that truly keeps the tension ratcheting up. It exudes theme like my brow exudes perspiration when I’m playing it. Never have I played a board game that is so indepth. Every situation, every choice, feels so real…and yet, it’s still zombies at the end of the world day.

Custom Game Board and Packaging

I find one of the most interesting features of this game is its pieces. As if to mirror the game’s complexity in a distorted way, the board and its pieces are very simple. Minimalistic. The artwork is top notch, don’t get me wrong. And the soft-touch turned edge game board that represents the colony has cool industrial-blueprint-inspired graphics. But the pieces themselves–of which there are many–representing players and zombies alike are all punchboard. Chipboard standees with plastic holders and punch-out food tokens and wound markers. And yet, it seems to fit with the feel of the game. Not once did I find myself wishing I had injection molded miniatures. Any chance for more of that vivid artwork, the better!

Perhaps the only feature of the custom packaging that I didn’t care for was the insert. The simple paperboard trays did their job of separating, but with the majority of the game’s story told on separate decks of cards, it would have been nice to have more organization. There are not enough slots for all the cards, nor did the game come with enough plastic bags to keep everything separate.

Of course, this is a very small complaint, and doesn’t diminish gameplay in the least. It does however make cleanup/teardown a little bit more of a pain.

Rating: 5 Ninja Throwing Stars out of 5

Did I mention there’s a ninja in the game? Either way, I definitely will play Dead of Winter again. (In fact, I’m playing it tonight!)


WDYPM

 

 

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