Product– Dead of Winter
Producer-Plaid Hat Games
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 45-120 minutes (2-6 players)
TL; DR– Battlestar Galactica meets Zombicide. 89%
Basics-Can you survive the winter with the dead outside? Dead of Winter is a simple American style game where player take the role of a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. At the start players choose a scenario with a victory condition as well as each player receiving a secret goal that can range from getting enough of one item to a traitor card who has to undermine each other player! Next, players receive starting items and choose two characters out of four possible options.
Each round the players uncovers a new problem that they must face. These problems require players to spend a number of cards to solve or more enemies will be added and the players will lose moral, a general survivability of the colony that when it reaches zero the players lose. Then, all players roll dice equal to the number of characters they control. These dice can be spent to do actions with no limit to the number of actions each individual character you control can do. Next, each player takes their individual turns, but here’s the catch- before a player starts his/her turn, another player draws a crossroad card. A crossroad card is a random event that may happen that turn depending on what characters are in play, actions the player does, and even the number of cards in the discard/garbage pile! The current player spends dice to take actions that range from attacking zombies, searching, building barricades, and some character specific abilities. The number rolled on the die really only count for combat and searching. Each character has a search value and a combat value. If you spend a dice for either of those actions with a value equal to or higher than the characters search or combat result for search or combat, you succeed on your search or combat and get to draw a searched card or kill a zombie. Thus, you know you will be successful before you even attempt your turn.
What makes this more interesting is the exposure die for combat and moving. The exposure die is a 12-sided die with over half he faces being no result, a few are damage, less are frostbite, and one is a tooth. The damage icons do one damage. All characters have three hit points. Frostbite does damage each turn which can quickly kill a character, and the tooth means a character is bitten. Bitten characters instantly die, and then another character could become bitten. Each character also has an influence value, and after a character is bitten, the lowest influence value in the bitten characters location becomes the target of the bite giving that character’s controller two options: kill the character and end the bite OR roll the exposure die. Roll anything besides no result, and the new bitten character dies and the process repeats. Also, when players move between locations, players roll the exposure die to see if the traveling goes smoothly. Traveling between the different locations doesn’t cost an action, BUT does risk damage from the exposure die. Barricades provide a temporary buffer against zombies. If a zombie would be placed on a barrier, you remove the barrier and that zombie. Players can also spend cards to do the action on the card or spend them face down to try to solve the problem for this round. Each chard has a symbol, and enough cards must be spent or the negative effect of the rounds card event occurs. Traitors can also spend cards with different symbols that count AGAINST the other player’s cards. After the player has spent all his/her dice, play progresses around the table until its back to the first player. Then the round’s problem card is resolved, for good or ill! Next, zombies are placed at all the different locations; one per character at outer locations and one for every two characters at the central location. If a zombie would be placed and there is not a zombie space available, then the character with the lowest influence at that spot is instantly killed! A new problem for the round is revealed, the first player marker passes, and the turn starts anew.
What makes this game novel is the hidden goals each player has. Not only do you have to meet the major goal for each game, but you have to complete your own goal. In this co-operative game, you can lose while everyone else wins! Players win by completing their goal, and can lose if the game goes too many rounds or if moral drops to zero. Moral decreases whenever a character dies, through the crossroads cards, or a failing a round problem card. While all of this is going on a traitor could be in your midst spending the wrong cards to cause events to fail and has his/her own goal where they succeed if everybody else fails AND they have the proper items or characters to win. Even the traitor can lose if they don’t have their gear ready when everybody else loses!
Mechanics– I was serious before, this game feels like a mix of two great tastes making something better. You have the card use of Battlestar Galactica for hidden card resolution and turn events with the simplistic combat of Zombicide. Those two things work amazingly well together. This game is MUCH more swingy then Zombicide as dice dictate actions and combat results, but once you know your dice for a turn, you pretty can plan out your turn. It’s quick, easy to play, and not any more complicated than it needs to be. The crossroads cards are fun, but they might have been a bit over sold. You do have random events happen, but I expected something a bit more intricate. What does happen is about one out of every four turns, something unexpected will happen. It does add something interested, but don’t expect the moon. 4.5/5
Theme– Here is where things are a bit off. The majority of the theme is great. Players fight zombies, struggle for items, and in general are the proper amount of miserable as the fun from this game comes from a hard co-op experience. But, some things don’t quite fit. Players lose moral for the number of cards in the discard pile. You can spend a die to clean some, but honestly that’s kind of such a weird concept. “Yep, zombies are killing my friends, but I’m sad that Steve didn’t take out the garbage!” One game I chose the school janitor as one of my characters so I could clean garbage. That’s not as much fun (or exactly as much fun) as you’d think it would be in the zombie apocalypse. The game uses a few abstractions to bring things in like how combat is instantly resolved as its part of survival, but not the whole part. Overall, its fun, feels like zombies in winter, but isn’t perfect as a few minor things keep it from being a slam dunk. 4.25/5
Instructions– Here is the worst part of the game. It’s pretty simple rules that read relatively quick, but they bury a lot of the leads. There are very intricate rules that should be followed that are not expressed as importantly as they should be. Sure, you can play in about five minutes, but you WILL miss something important. The game comes with some nice player boards, but they leave out important information that would really help a new player like when and how many zombies to add to each location. The rules are not bad, but they are not as well layout out or emphasized as I’d like. 4/5
Execution– I really like how Plaid Hat puts their games together. It’s a well done game with lots of parts, tons of standees with great detail, and lots of small things like intro paragraphs to each game, and epilogues for each victory and traitor win. This is a theme game (don’t play this if you want a Euro experience!), and Plaid Hat delivers on that. Even the first player marker is a big knife cardboard token! Well done. Also if you want to see my unboxing of the game check this like out: https://youtu.be/nOgN3v8OiqY 5/5
Summary-If you want a great game that has absolute kick in the teeth difficulty, then this is your game. If you want a co-op with lots of story built in, this is your game. If you want deep mechanics that are completely new and different, then this is NOT your game. This is a quicker version of both Zombicide and Battlestar Galactica. It’s got the high points of both, but does lose a few elements of both as well. That’s not bad is what comes out of the Plaid Hat kitchen is its own tasty entree, but it is a new, simpler, quicker thing. Instead of the weekend killer that is Battlestar, this is less than two hours to get a game in-great for a weekday game night. I think the crossroads mechanic was a bit oversold as the end all/be all new interaction mechanic, but that doesn’t ruin this game. The instructions are a bit rough, but the videos online will teach you to play quicker then reading them. Overall, this is a solid game that that’s fun if you want an amazing American-style gaming night with zombies, possible traitors, and some team work picking up some garbage around the barricaded house. 89%