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Chad McCallum
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Saskatchewan
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TL;DR - I didn't care for what the new modules add to the game, and expanding the existing cards seem to do more for diluting the deck than improving it. Buy it if you don't already have the base game, otherwise don't bother.

The Circumstances Of This Review

The base game of Dead of Winter was a hit for me and my playgroup. Of the longer games I own, it's probably seen the most playtime and has been requested the most since its release in 2014. So when the expansion was announced I was one of the first on the preorder list at our FLGS, anxious to expand the content and options from the game we love so much.

Fast forward to game acquisition day: the hefty price tag sets off a small red flag in my mind, but it was to be expected: this is a standalone expansion after all. And since board games have been rising in popularity I've seen the average price of things creep up in response: Eclipse was my first $100 CAD game a few years ago, but now it's not uncommon to see a big FFG box priced at $120 - $130 in store. In any case I'm sure this will be worth the price tag, so I grin and bear it.

I had been mentally preparing myself for the content of the expansion, namely researching how the new location decks can affect things and taking other's suggestions by moving over a small amount of items from the base game over to the new location decks and straight up removing the old starting items. The next thing that takes me by surprise is the sheer amount of crossroad cards - I took another suggestion and broke them out by survivor-specific and event cards and played with two draw piles (which later I realized was a mistake).

The first game was set up with a public gaming group I attend on a weekly basis. People who had preordered from Plaid Hat had already brought their copy a few weeks before and I hadn't had a chance to check it out, but I was sure there would be a few others like myself who would be interested in checking out the new expansions. There were two - an older lady who had trouble reading the cards (nevermind the new even-smaller-print crossroad cards) and a gentleman who joined us in the middle of the 2nd round. We only played with the bandit and improvements modules and a short scenario, I forget which one, and let's just say it didn't go over well. Having to read the crossroad cards for other players felt like I was playing the game myself, and since both other players were new they were somewhat paralyzed in their decisions; each of their turns was basically "go kill a zombie, and maybe setup a barricade".

I wrote this game off as an unlucky pairing of gamers and was anxious to try again, this time with those who had played and enjoyed Dead of Winter before and were experienced enough to try out all of the expansion modules. We completed a full co-op "Survive 8 Rounds" scenario with some last minute success at Raxxon, and I promptly sold the expansion afterwards.

The Actual Review
Let me start by saying the component quality of The Long Night is stellar - they took the few things I had complaints about in the base game (namely the location paper boards) and made great strides in the quality of those components.

That's about all I liked about it.

The reason I don't like The Long Night is because it wrecks one of the fundamental things that makes Dead of Winter a successful and unique game. Dead of Winter succeeded as a zombie board game because it wasn't a zombie board game. It was a board game about a group of randomly assembled survivors trying to survive against all odds and come to grips with their own success conditions. Sure, the "odds" in the game were zombies, but save a few crossroad cards you could've probably subbed out the zombies with wolves or raiders or some other aggressive force and got more or less the same enjoyable game.

Almost everything The Long Night adds to this winning formula is focused on the Zombies. Raxxon: super zombies. Improvements: mostly dealing with zombies. Bandits: not zombies, but fiddly weirdness nonetheless (why do you know what they looted? And why can you share a location with them?).

The 2nd game I played with the expansion where we had to survive 8 rounds? Almost every location was zombie infested, and we had two survivors stranded at Raxxon, which we only went to because we randomly got Blue from an event and his searches are improved at Raxxon. Last turn of the game, we had no idea how we were going to survive - no food cards, no weapons to go searching, low morale - everyone is on edge. Blue does a search, and finds a portable force fields and nuclear flashlight that auto-kills all zombies at a location and prevents more from spawning. Game over.

It wasn't about people deciding whether their personal objectives were more important than the main objective, or whether someone was holding out because they were a betrayer, or that we had cleaned out the grocery store in earlier rounds and were desperate for a food source. It was because we found an OP weapon and accessory geared exactly towards dealing with zombies.

As for the part of the expansion that I was looking most forward to - more content. I realized after a few games that I now had too much content. With 60 playable characters the odds of you drawing Sparky were much lower, and I found that would dilute the attachment of the players to their characters. Everyone remembers drawing Sparky for the first time, or the mall santa, or the ninja. Those are characters you look forward to getting and that come with baggage from your previous games. Now they're one of the 60, and the odds of you getting them is much lower.

The volume of crossroad cards is of concern as well. With a stack of crossroad cards that's reminiscent of the Store Deck in Millennium Blades combined with the dilution of the character deck, the odds of you triggering a character-specific crossroads card is quite low, meaning you have a measurable portion of effectively "blank" crossroads in play, which dilutes the rate at which you may trigger crossroad cards - one of the best parts of Dead of Winter. As it was in the base game we only triggered a crossroad card maybe once every 3 turns, doing it any less than that seems to be a waste.

Taking others' advice on the BGG forum, I split my crossroad deck into a character-specific deck and an event deck, and had players draw from both every round and trigger one. That meant almost every event card was triggered, and rarely was there a triggered character card - now we increased the crossroad rate to once per turn. Instead of being a unique thing that may or may not happen on your turn depending on whether you did an action or not, it's now a given thing that WILL happen - it was actually more of a surprise when one wasn't triggered. (I realize this is a house rule I'm reviewing, but I mentioned it in case others are tempted to try.)

And my biggest pet peeve of all - both of the major modules, Bandits and Raxxon, add new steps to the colony phase. Neither of those modules are mentioned at all on the player aids that list out exactly what happens every round. Not even as a footnote. I understand they're both optional modules, but you could've at least put notes about the actions in brackets or in small font or a different color or something! Between this and the lack of acknoledgement of people with the base game in the rule book (concerning mixing cards, the only guidance in the rule book is basically "it may change the balance of the game. Figure it out") it's as if Plaid Hat completely forgot about the loyal supporters of the original game.

Look, DoW the Long Night is a great buy for those of you who haven't bought the original game. The improved location boards, 30 new characters and tonnes of new crossroad cards are totally worth it. And you have the option of just opting not to include any of the modules that transform the game from a interesting survivor story to a zombie-fest. But for those of us who already have the original version, I don't think this warrants your time at all.
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Benjamin Maggi
United States
Clifton Park
New York
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Nice review.

Our gaming group found the base game extremely unbalanced and very difficult to win, especially if you were the traitor (whatever they called it) and you had to play very selfishly/close to the vest to collect the items you needed. Plus, even as the good team it a very tough game.

Is this game easier/harder/more balanced/less balanced as a whole, and for the traitor?

 
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Michelle
United States
Portland
Oregon
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Great review!

On the topic of too many characters:
I've already been playing a variant with my game where after we play a crossroads card, it goes in a bag never to be played again in any future session. I'm planning to do the same thing with the characters now, instituting a permadeath rule. If somebody dies, they're removed and only get to come back if a crossroads card calls for them or something like that (in which case we'll have some cool meta-narrative about how they secretly survived the last time).

If we do end up having a shortage of good characters eventually, I'd probably revive a few of them again, but it should take a looong time to get to that point. Characters like Sparky and Mike Cho usually make it through the game unscathed.
 
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Chad McCallum
Canada
Saskatchewan
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For the actual balance, since I've only played two games (one terrible one and one full co-op) I can't really comment - perhaps someone else can add their two cents? What I can say is the full co-op game I played (survive 8 rounds) was tense right up until the last round when we drew the "auto-win" equipment from Raxxon, so I'd argue it's balanced in teh other direction when playing with that module. But again, only one solid game played.
 
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Allen Michaels
United States
Brooklyn
New York
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Not sure I understand the complaint of 'not drawing Sparky'. That is the problem? More characters are better, for sure, and look now you have a Chimp. Anyways, draw 5 instead of 4 if you feel like you must have a better shot of 1 specific character you like.

As for xroads, I didn't follow your variant. But I've seen a simple suggestion to just draw 2 - but only trigger max 1, if it triggers at all. That eliminates the deck building in set up.

Agree with location deck setup. Not good rules there.

For me, extra survivors are great...but mostly extra missions and personal objectives. It was getting to a point where you could pretty much tell what someone was holding in my group.

The improvements module is a good 'always add' for me. The other two, I'm still on the fence.

But agree with this: Not worth the $. Didn't need this to be standalone, and I feel like I'm getting $25 worth of content.
 
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Chad McCallum
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- For me I've grown attached to those characters because of the gameplay moments they've created. Since we've seen Sparky a few times in the games I've played he's grown to be quite the character, and in future games when we play him we love to recall "remember last time he cleared out 3 zombies himself with a sniper rifle?!". It's not the fact that we explicitly got Sparky, but the fact that he's become such an occurrence that he's got his own backstory. With 60 characters the odds of you or your playgroup developing that kind of connection with individual characters is going to be much lower. May not be important to some.

- I picked up the variant somewhere in the BGG forums when researching what to do when mixing cards, but yeah, your solution sounds better than what we did.
 
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