The snowflakes are falling, and the undead are rising. Fight off the hordes of zombies, survive a frigid environment, and sort out friend from foe.
Dead of Winter is a two- to five-player game that runs anywhere between 45 and 210 minutes, depending on experience and game variables. This game holds features of unit-management, strategy, hidden-role, and cooperative games. Here, each player starts off by controlling two survivors of a zombie apocalypse, each with their own unique ability—for example, the Doctor can heal wounds more effectively, and the Trucker can move between locations with less risk. During the setup for the game, a main objective (like killing a certain number of zombies) and secret objectives (like a player completing the main objective while also hoarding a certain amount of medicine for themselves) are assigned. In most cases, if you do not complete your secret objective, you will lose the game, even if the main objective is completed.
The main objective determines how many rounds you’ll get for the game and what the starting morale level is. If at any time either the round or morale tracker hits zero, the game is over, and the survivors lose. At the beginning of each round, a crisis is determined; crises require the survivors to contribute to an additional goal that, if not completed by the end of the round, triggers consequences like losing morale or adding zombies. The players are allowed to openly communicate about what they can or want to contribute to the crisis, and on each person’s turn, they can help resolve the crisis. Traitor players can also add cards that won’t contribute to the crisis but will put everyone else in a false sense of security, ultimately leading to failing the challenge of the crisis. This will also cause more panic and mayhem among the players.
Now, although the players start with a few resources at the beginning of the game, more will be needed in order to complete the rounds. To get these needed resources, the players will have to move their survivors outside of the colony to other locations, like a police station or a hospital. This is where the real danger appears. When moving to other locations, you risk having zombies attack you, and each time you search a location beyond the first time in a round, you make noise, which will draw more zombies to your location—risking your life and that of any other nearby survivor.
During your turn, you can choose from a long list of actions that can help you and your team complete your objectives and crises. At the beginning of their turn, a player next to them draws a Crossroads card, which presents the current player a single choice with large consequences. The Crossroads card is only read to the current player if they make an action that triggers the event (like moving to the hospital or killing a zombie). These cards can give you additional items or survivors to control if you choose correctly, but choose wrong and you risk danger.
After each player has taken their turn, the round ends with the Colony Phase. In this phase, the survivor’s morale is on the line. First, food must be given to any survivors in the Colony; if not enough food has been offered by the survivors, morale decreases. If there is too much waste in the Colony, morale decreases. If the crisis has not been resolved, morale decreases. At the end of the Colony Phase, zombies are added to each location with one or more survivors on them, and a new round begins. The rounds will continue until either the round tracker or morale tracker hits zero or the main objective is completed.
Dead of Winter is an excellent way to scratch that Walking Dead itch. While the armies of the undead are always lurking, the real danger is in the living around you. What really makes this game shine for me are all the unique survivors—you can play as all sorts of different people, from a janitor to a ninja. You can also buy a promo for the actress Felicia Day as a character, who wields the sword Sting from The Lord of the Rings. In my first playthrough, a mall Santa was a traitor!
The quality of the production for this game is also excellent. Despite there being so many punch-out cardboard pieces, I never once had an issue of peeling pieces. The game provides more than enough bags to sort the pieces to your liking, and the box is sturdy enough to keep together for a long time.
Finally, I really enjoy the level of difficulty of this game. It has the right amount of complexity to keep you thinking, but it also does a great job of spelling out the proceedings of the game. After reading the instructions once, I didn’t need to consult the book again from there. I also find that there is a large amount of replayability with Dead of Winter as well—with each survivor offering new play strategies and there being so many different main objectives, it is pretty hard to feel like you have been there and done that. In addition to the base game, there are now two expansions as well, adding even more to be explored.
Although the MSRP for this game is $60, it has been out since 2014, making it possible to find it on sale or even at a discount at your local game store. I highly recommend it for anyone’s collection, newcomers and experienced players alike.