Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game

RRP: £59.99

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RRP £59.99

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Set in an apocalyptic world of zombies, Dead of Winter focuses on the horror of surviving a freezing cold winter whilst keeping hordes of ravenous undead from overrunning your home colony. Each player controls a random team of survivors from various backgrounds whom have been forced together to stay alive. Each player has his or her own secret agenda to win the game, which might not…
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Awards

Golden Geek
Dice Tower
Golden Pear

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Scaling difficulty level.
  • Component quality.
  • Promotes table-talk.
  • Very thematic.

Might Not Like

  • Locations could be on thicker card-stock.
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Description

In Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, the sound of a growling stomach and the prolonged moan of a walking corpse will equally provoke dread. Plunged into the freezing temperature of winter amidst a zombie apocalypse, every day is a battle for survival. Frostbite plagues you whilst scavenging for food. Barricades provide temporary shelter whilst you research valuable skills. Hungry survivors join the group, as vital members are lost to the gnawing of tireless ghouls.

This semi-cooperative title, by Plaid Hat Games, hands 2-5 players a few survivors each. Players work together to maintain the colony and work towards a common objective. However, everybody also has a secret objective. This could be benign, like ensuring the colony remains secure. However, one player may want to see everyone's downfall, hoarding food and sabotaging efforts. Will they be found and exiled before their damage is irreparable?

Players roll and assign dice to different actions to their survivors. Then, they travel around the town’s six prominent locations for supplies. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute towards a crisis, such as a food shortage or disease outbreak. This is when a betrayer could exacerbate problems and negate everyone’s hard work. Specific conditions can trigger “Crossroads Cards”, which set a narrative scene. Players must then vote to decide how to tackle the event and which consequence to accept, for better or for worse.

The box contains fistfuls of dice, including a custom 12-sided die which is rolled when exposed to the elements. There are also 30 unique survivor cards, each with their own abilities and cardboard standee. With dozens of item cards at your disposal, will you be able to sufficiently prepare yourself against the next wave of the undead?

This is a challenging game, even without a traitor. With the combination of the main objectives, secret objectives and wide range of characters, no two games will ever be the same. However, if you decide you want even more variety, this game can be combined with the standalone expansion Dead of Winter: The Long Night. Then if you want you want to feast on even more, Dead of Winter: Warring Colonies combines all three games to create an 11 player war between two groups of survivors. If you want to know more, check out our How to Play or review!

Player Count: 2-5 Players
Time: 60-120 Minutes
Age: 13+

On one level, Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games is just a worker-placement, roll-to-survive-against-zombies apocalypse game. On a second level it is a game-as-commentary on the morality of the human species under stress, or perhaps a meditation on the proclivities of... blah blah blah blah blah!

What it actually is, is a bloody good romp in a snowy wilderness, where violence is a necessary evil, resources are in short supply, and where maybe, just maybe, the people you thought were your pals really aren't your pals at all.

I'm Forest Plum! And this is DEAD OF WINTER!!

Dead of Winter Components

The Board

As far as games go the Dead of Winter board isn't a table-eater like, say, Arkham Horror and its many expansions. But, once you standee all 30 characters and 30 zombies in the box, your table starts to look like a queue for the ladies loo during the intermission of a play! Luckily, the game uses its real estate effectively, remaining quite compact considering the extended cast of characters, cards, and tokens it has.

The board immediately evokes the setting of the game: blues and greys depicting an icy, unwelcoming place called THE COLONY; weird bio hazard symbols; spatters of blood. You surround this with six Location sheets, oddly, printed on thinner card-stock than the board, representing places outside the relative safety of the colony: School, Library, Hospital, Gas Station, Grocery Store, Police Station. All are equally bleak and foreboding.

Cards, Characters and Zombies

There are many, many cards. Cards for Survivors, Useful Items, Starting Items, Location Items, Objectives, Secret Objectives, Betrayal, Exile, Crisis, Crossroads. With a palette of vividly-muted colours, the card-stock is decent and the art is great.

The character art is also great throughout Dead of Winter. You can steer the fate of Mike Cho - the Ninja, Olivia Brown - the Doctor and Brandon Kane - the Janitor. All the character tropes are here. You can even take control of Sparky - the Stunt Dog! Yes, that's right - in a bleak, post-apocalyptic, dead-infested world canines hate zombies too! As the zombie figures start to mass at various locations around the board it all definitely begins to feel very oppressive, with a real sense of impending doom.

The Rest

Finally there are a tokens for Food, Wounds, Starvation, Frostbite, Noise, Barricades; 30 Action dice to channel the fate of your Survivors; and a 12-sided Fate Di... that killed Mike Cho - The Ninja... on the first roll in the first round of my first ever game! My partner consoled me and said it wasn't the end of the world...

Dead of Winter Review - Game Components (Credit: Plaid Hat Games)

Set-Up

Lay out the Colony board and six locations. Separate and shuffle the many decks of cards, laying them in the appropriate spaces. Select a scenario, randomly or by design. The scenario cards offer a short, medium or long game, which is a nice touch. Set the round and morale markers, and place zombies according to the scenario.

You have your own player-board detailing the round summary and player actions which is very helpful. It also serves to hold your own personal pool of dice. You receive four random Survivors, pick two, and return the others to the deck. Put your character standees at the Colony, and take one die per character plus another one. The player whose character has the highest influence-value on their character card takes the first-player knife token.

Shuffle the Crossroads cards, set them within easy reach of everyone and you're good to go.

Gameplay

A round  in Dead of Winter plays out in two parts:

The Player Phase

Firstly, two things happen - a Crisis Card is revealed. During the round players will need to contribute resources (fuel, food and weapons) to the crisis-pool to prevent it from happening. Then the player to the right of the active player draws a Crossroads card and reads the intro text silently, without sharing the information. This card only triggers if certain conditions are met during the turn. When it does trigger the rest of the card is read and the group must resolve some sort of moral dilemma. If the conditions of the card don't arise then nothing happens and the card is discarded at the end of the round.

Each player rolls their dice, and these are used to take actions with their character. You can attack zombies, build barricades and search for useful items. Each of these actions has a dice-cost. Other actions, such as playing cards into the crisis, contributing food to the larder to keep morale up, moving between locations, or sharing items with other players have no cost.

Unfortunately, although moving has no cost, there may be a terrible price to pay. A character can move from one location to another once per turn, but when they do, unless they have a special ability which avoids it, they must roll the aptly-named EXPOSURE DIE. This checks for possible effects from zombies. And it is pretty likely that you will suffer either a Wound, Frostbite (which adds a wound every following turn, unless you can discard it, until you have three wounds... and your character dies). Or, like Mike Cho - Ninja, you get bitten and just DIE... on the first roll of your first turn!!

The Colony Phase

You need to discard enough food to feed Survivors at the Colony...or bad things happen. You need to check the resources contributed to the crisis...or bad things happen. You need to control the cards in the waste-pile...or bad things happen. Then you add more zombies, based on survivors at the Colony and outside locations. The round-marker drops by one, a new crisis is revealed, a new Crossroads card drawn, first player token moves and it all begins again.

Characters

Each character has stats for combat and searching. Spend the dice in your pool to carry out either of these actions. Killing a zombie is easy -  assign a die to the task. That's it. BUT...this almost always results in the dreaded roll of the exposure die. Similarly, searching at a location requires you to spend die. But if you don't find what you want you can Make Noise to search again at no dice-cost. This however runs the risk of attracting more zombies during the Colony phase.

Characters can equip themselves with weapons and tools or swap items with each other if they share the same location. Each character has a skill or ability which helps them succeed at certain tasks, and these can be invaluable.

If, in the unfortunate but likely event both of your characters suffer horrible deaths, you're not out of the game. You lose any benefits they had, then simply draw a new character from the stack and start them off at the Colony.

Dead of Winter Review - Zombies (Credit: aldoojeda BGG)

Levels of Difficulty

Normal/Hard

Scenario cards are double-sided: Normal difficulty on one side, increased difficulty on the other. This increased difficulty usually involves adding more zombies to the Colony or Locations at the start of the game, along with more rounds to survive and less morale to lose. The game is difficult enough on the easier side, but if you like car-crash TV, Play Hard! But it is rewarding.

The artwork is immersive, and you invest in your characters. Even Forest Plum - Mall Santa, despite his total lack of any discernible skills. You have the option to give up on him, remove him from the game, and raise the morale of the group by one point immediately. But you don't want to! Because he looks like someone's kindly drunk granddad.

Secret Objectives

In its simplest form everyone wins the game by completing the main scenario objective before the round or morale markers hit zero. Adding the Secret Objective card ramps up the complexity and uncertainty. These objectives must be accomplished by individual players, on top of the collective goal of completing the main scenario objective. This can be a very difficult balancing act.

Secret objectives might require a player to end the game with three fuel and three food cards in their hand for example, and this is probably going to be at odds with helping to stave off each round's crisis, or the need to feed the Survivors at the Colony. It means that completing the main objective makes you a winner, but if someone also completes their secret objective then they are a winninger-winner than you, turning you into a loser.

Betrayal

THEN, to ramp it up even more, you can add Betrayal Secret Objective cards. These give at least one player goals which will certainly hurt the group, but help them win the game. With this variant comes the opportunity for heated group discussions and votes to Exile a player.

Any exiled player moves all of their survivors to locations outside of the colony and draws a new Exiled Secret Objective card. From that moment they cannot contribute cards to a crisis or food to the supply... and just imagine if you have exiled the wrong person! You're in a horrible situation because exiling a second person immediately drops the group's morale to zero...and you lose the game!

Final Thoughts on Dead of Winter

Survival really is the watchword in Dead of Winter. The game relentlessly pursues your mind, body and soul. Every round is a fevered quest for the supplies you need to satisfy the current crisis. You want to stay in the cosy safety of the Colony but there's no food there, no gas, no medicine. So you have to venture out, tortured by the ghost of Mike Cho - the Ninja, knowing that the Undead are waiting for you. Because you can see them! Loads of them, stacking up in front of the grocery store and the hospital. But you need that food. You need those pills. And sometimes all you have to defend yourself is a walkie-talkie...and one snow-shoe!

I have read and heard criticisms that Dead of Winter is the same old same old every round. With the inclusion of Secret Objectives and Betrayers, this isn't the case. Everything quickly falls apart. paranoia sets in, and you watch every little twitch and frown on player's faces. Is someone adding something nasty to the Crisis pile? Why do they seem to be holding so many cards so close to their chest.

Dead of Winter is lot of fun, very thematic, and high on the table-talk scale. If I can give you one piece of advice before the zombie apocalypse, it's this: Be kind to Forest Plum, and tell Mike Cho - the Ninja to be a bit more careful out there!

In Dead of Winter, you start the game as zombie apocalypse survivors living together in a colony. To win the game you have to complete the primary mission and your own secret objective. However, in every game there is a chance one of you is a traitor, so you'll have to be on your guard.

Dead of Winter Set-Up

Set out the colony and locations in the middle of the table, placing the item cards at their numbered locations. Shuffle the survivor, crossroads and exile cards, then position them near the colony. Choose a main objective card, either by random selection or by picking one as a group. Follow its set-up instructions to add zombies, set the morale counter, and set the round counter. You each need a player reference sheet, five starter item cards and your own player objectives.

Take two standard objectives for each of you, add one betrayer objective before shuffling and dealing them out at random. You each need to take four survivor cards - choose a leader, and a follower from them then return them to the pile. For each survivor you have, take an action die plus one bonus die at the start. Place your player standees in the colony, and you are ready to play.

The Player Phase

The player phase in Dead of Winter starts by revealing a crisis card, working together as a team you must donate the minimum number of cards to the crisis before the end of this phase or suffer its fail conditions. All check you have the right number of action dice and roll them together before moving on to your individual player turns.

At the start of your individual turns, the player to your right picks up a crossroad card, if it is triggered during your turn the card is read out and you will have to choose between the card's different options.

Spending Action Dice

On your turn, you can spend action dice equal to your search or attack values to kill zombies, attack survivors, search locations for items. When searching a location, you pick up the top item from its deck and keep it. If you want, you can make noise to look at more item cards and choose from one of them, but each time you do this, you must place a noise token on the location, up to a maximum of four noise tokens per round for each location.

If you attack a survivor, roll the action die you spent to attack them - if it is equal to or less than their attack value, they gain a wound token, and you take a card at random from the player who controls that survivor. You can spend an action die of any value place a barricade token at a location, clean three waste from the colony or attract two zombies from any location to your location.

You can continue to do these actions until you run out of action die to spend on them.

Survivor Abilities

Each survivor has their own ability which can help you win the game. Survivor abilities vary, some of them allowing for multiple uses per turn, some only once a turn and some only once a game. Some survivor abilities may have restrictions, like only work at specific locations or requiring you to spend action dice to use them.

Other Actions

Without using an action die you can also play cards from your hand, use an equipped item, add a card to the crisis, move survivors, spend a food token to increase an action die by one, request cards from other players or hand off equipped items to a survivor.

Played cards are either equipped or added to the waste pile depending on the card. You can do these as many times as you like, although some equipped items may be limited to a certain number of uses in total or per round.

 

Rolling for Exposure

If you kill a zombie or move to another location you have to roll for exposure, this may have no effect, or it may lead to your survivor being wounded, getting frostbite, or being bitten. When your survivor gains three wound tokens, they die, and frostbite tokens add a wound token per round.

If your survivor is bitten, they die instantly, and the bite will spread to the survivor with the lowest influence at your location. The bite will keep spreading until one of you chooses to kill your own infected survivor to save everyone, a blank is rolled on the exposure dice, or there is no one left alive at the location.

Voting to Exile

Once a turn you may also call for a vote to exile someone, they are only exiled with a majority vote. An exiled player should reveal their personal objective card and replace it with an exiled objective card if they weren't the traitor - if they were they will find and gain an item written on the card. Exiled players have to move their survivors out of the colony, to any locations they choose. They cannot return to the colony, contribute to the crisis, add helpless survivors or vote.

If they play a survivor card, they add them to a non-colony location of their choice instead of the colony. Any cards they would add to the waste are removed from the game. Instead of spending food tokens to increase an action die by one, they can spend food cards, ignoring any effects on them. The colony doesn't lose morale when an exiled player's survivor dies, but if two non-betrayer players are exiled morale immediately drops to zero, and the game ends.

The Colony Phase

You will need to pay one food token for every two people in the colony or gain a starvation token and lose morale. You also lose morale for every 10 cards in the waste pile. Shuffle the cards that were added to the crisis, then check to see if you have completed it. If you haven't, you'll have to suffer its negative effect but if you have, for every two cards added above the number of players you gain morale.

Add one zombie to the colony for every two survivors and one zombie for each player at any other location. You'll need to roll an action die for each noise token on the board, if you roll a three or lower you add another zombie to that location. If you run out of space to place zombies, you have to kill the same number of survivors, starting with whoever has the lowest influence at that location.

Ending the Game

At the end of the colony phase check the primary objective, if you've completed this the game ends, if you haven't you need to advance the round tracker and pass the first player token to the right. The game will also end if the round tracker or the morale tracker reaches zero.

What you need to do to win or lose is written on your personal objective card, and you must complete every objective on the card to win. So even if the group completes the game, you could lose at Dead of Winter as an individual if you haven't managed to complete your personal objective by the end of the game.

Tips for Dead of Winter

There is a lot of set-up required at the beginning of Dead of Winter, but seeing as almost all of it can be done at the same time you can divide out the tasks to give you more time to play.

When choosing the primary objective, make sure to check how long it says it will take. The last medium game I played took three hours, so if you haven’t got a lot of time on your hands stick to the short games.

Dead of Winter has loads of ways you can adapt the game, from making it child-friendly to a hardcore version of the game and expansion packs. Make sure to check these out if you’d like to change up the game!

Remember to check if you can complete any of your objectives at the beginning of your player turn. It’s easy to forget about the primary mission and make the game go on for more rounds than needed if you’re not careful.

If you go online to Plaid Hat Games’ website, they have a crossroad card creator, where you can make, save and print up to 50 of your own crossroad cards at a time to make up your own devious scenarios to use with the game.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Scaling difficulty level.
  • Component quality.
  • Promotes table-talk.
  • Very thematic.

Might not like

  • Locations could be on thicker card-stock.