Game Review: Dead of Winter

DeadOfWinterDead of Winter
PlaidHat Games, 2014

Dead of Winter made a big splash in the game world in 2014. It was nominated for a bunch of awards, including 2015 Origins Best Board Game. It was featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, and everyone, everywhere seemed to be talking about it. What they seemed to be saying is “Hey, there is a great new game called Dead of Winter! It’s a Zombie themed game, which isn’t really about Zombies. It’s really a survivor game with zombies in it.”

And that is about the size of it. Players are a colony of survivors trying to live through the winter after the [insert disaster here, which just happens to be a zombie plague] has decimated the population. The game is semi-cooperative and may have an element of betrayal.

The game comes with 10 double sided main objective cards (10 regular and 10 hardcore objectives), so it has a lot of replay value. There are also 24 secret objectives and 10 betrayal objectives which may or may not be used, depending on the type of game you wish to play.  There are also crisis cards which give an immediate crisis that much be faced each round. Each player will control 2 survivors during the game. There is a colony board, and 6 locations. There are item cards which the players must acquire, and allocate to best fulfill the main objective, their own personal objective, and stave off each crisis as it happens.

Each round happens in 2 phases. Phase one,  the player turns, consist of revealing a crisis, rolling action dice and taking player turns. Players may attack, search, barricade, clean waste, attract (move zombies), or use their survivor’s abilities which use action dice. They may also play cards, add cards to the crisis (face down), move their survivors, spend food tokens, request items from other players, hand off cards, or (if playing with a betrayer) vote to exile a player. Phase two is the colony phase. This is where you resolve various actions. Making sure there is enough food to feed the colony, checking how much waste has been created and reducing moral if there is too much, resolving the current crisis, add zombies, check the main objective to see if it has been met, move the round tracker and pass the first player token. There is a lot of detail in each of these actions so I’m going to skip over a lot of it. I don’t want to re-write the rulebook here.

During the course of these phases you can become exposed to winter elements or get bitten by zombies. Neither is a good thing. Like most cooperative games, there are several ways to lose the game. You win if you meet your individual goal at game end. Consolation if you lose but the group met the main objective. The game ends when the morale track hits zero, or the main objective has been completed.

This is a complicated game with lots going on and a myriad number of things to keep track of. It can be very intense. I see why it has garnered so much attention. It captures the imagination with interesting characters and objectives, great art, and great gameplay. It is well balanced, and gives all players a chance to role-play and immerse themselves in the game. The rulebook also comes with several variants, making it fully cooperative, 2 player, hardcore, or player elimination. I can see this having a LOT of replay ability. It’s got a lot of strategy and if you play with the betrayer, lots of second guessing and suspicion. Recommended