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Subject: Through the Long Night (a Space-Biff! review) rss

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Daniel Thurot
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Through the Long Night

Dead of Winter was one of the best games of 2014. For one thing, it managed to weave a zombie yarn that didn’t feel stale, but beyond that it was also about as good as narrative-driven games get, full of deception and hidden motives, the nagging threat of betrayal, and plenty of do-or-die moments that could make or break the most stalwart colony of survivors. It was good stuff.

The Long Night isn’t just any old expansion. It’s right there on the box: nothing else required, stand-alone, everything you need to play. In essence, it’s Dead of Winter plus more, with any significant duplicate matter vacuumed out so that those who own the original game will find a reason to return to relive what is largely the same game. Perfect for new players and old-timers alike — or is it? In a package so packed to the rafters with stuff, let’s take a look at what The Long Night is really all about.

One of the reasons I loved the original Dead of Winter was for its elegance. Which might sound like a goofy compliment considering how much it had going on. It was a colony survival game, a resource management sim, a social deduction nightmare where everyone had their own selfish motives masking the movements of a potential betrayer, an ongoing narrative tale, and a cooperative game of whack-a-mole. The elevator pitch was simple: what happens when a bunch of survivor groups with competing goals are forced to winter together in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? The actuality wasn’t too complicated, though I doubt it could have been considered as simple as its premise. But elegant? Absolutely. There wasn’t much fat on Dead of Winter’s hungry belly. Every piece had a purpose, with very little left over.

The best expansions are nearly always the ones that fill out their core experience without turning it into a waddling slob. And when it comes to The Long Night’s little stuff, it largely succeeds. This is a modular expansion, meaning it’s entirely possible to just play with the basic game. This will give you 90% the same experience, albeit with new survivors, new goals, and new stories to tell. There are a few new tools to use, like explosive barricades that kill every zombie at their location, and survivors can now suffer hidden hurts by growing desperate in addition to becoming physically injured and frostbitten. In a game that’s never shied away from the harsh realities of survival, these sorts of things feel natural, even appropriate. They do happen to add a bit to parse each turn, but the overhead isn’t overwhelming.

The smallest of The Long Night’s big additions is the ability to improve your colony, gradually committing junk and effort to build improvements. A simple fireplace, for instance, will let survivors remove frostbite as simply as swinging back home — a huge boon considering how often one of the new scenarios hands out frostbite tokens. The outhouse prevents waste from building up, a trench can stop a couple zombies from attacking your base every turn, and there are even tougher improvements like a greenhouse or linen bedding that make survival much easier.

In general, these are a great addition. While they might sound like one more thing to keep track of, in practice most colonies will only have the free time to build one or two per game, making each upgrade meaningful rather than burdensome.

I’m not sure I can pay the other two major additions the same compliment. Both the Bandit Hideout and the Raxxon building add quite a bit to the game, though the former tends to provide more immediate payoff for less effort. Here, bandits appear with each round’s crisis card, gradually gumming up the free spots where your survivors normally hole up in town. They won’t directly provoke you, but if left to their own devices they’ll gradually hoover up your valuable salvage, hauling it off to hide at their base. This can prove a blessing in disguise, as enterprising (or foolhardy) players can send their survivors to scrounge at the hideout itself, possibly picking out the choicest stuff that the bandits have hoarded. This can be a big risk, especially if you’re hoping to nab a whole handful of cards at once by making an attack, but the reward is often worth the risk.

Overall, this module is my favorite addition, giving the colonists something to worry about other than the numbingly dumb zeds who cheerfully walk into spiked barricades. It’s even possible for an exiled non-betrayer to become king of the bandits, though the rules on the matter feel a bit half-baked, letting the exiled player choose where to place the bandits but still having to risk their hide to collect their supposed tax from the hideout. Ah well.

The Raxxon module is far less coherent. Raxxon is, of course, the same nefarious corporation that was turning people into dog-men in Specter Ops, and the idea of breaking into their R&D center to unearth great rewards or great perils is a sound one. Super-tech? Super-zombies? Fantastic! Sign me up!

Unfortunately, the rewards and perils are more divorced than the pitch makes it sound. There’s nothing inherently different about searching Raxxon other than the fact that you’ll possibly stumble across something preposterously useful. There’s a mine-thrower, for instance, that requires no action dice to use and lobs explosive traps into any two locations you please, effectively transforming two spots into nigh-invulnerable super-fortresses for no cost. There’s also a drone that lets you make an ultra-powerful search from anywhere on the table — also for no cost — a portable barrier that makes a survivor’s location literally impregnable, and a test subject character who’s perfectly adept at everything, never eats, and is undetectable by zombies.

And honestly… it’s a bit much. Getting one or two of these items under your poncho can effectively neuter the threat of the undead entirely. Heaven forbid your group finds more and has to spend the last two or three rounds without anything significantly challenging their top link in the food chain.

The trade-off is theoretically the appearance of special zombies. And they are pesky, sticking around at a location and protecting their more-dead brethren until you specifically wipe them out, at which point you have to accept a random fate that nearly always stinks. The shopping cart grandpa zombie, for example — and yes, there’s a shopping cart grandpa zombie — might steal your stuff and run away rather than kindly digging himself a grave, while the Witch from Left 4 Dead might make your survivors feel so guilty about killing a little girl that they take their own life. These are just two of around a dozen monstrosities. The problem is that these guys show up at random every round unless you travel to Raxxon and spend some dice to seal the lab doors. Which, honestly, just gives you more of a reason to travel there, when the whole point of dangerous creatures like these is to avoid a place like a haunted evil corporate lab where human experiments have resulted in the end of the world. These dangerous super-zeds would have been better served by appearing during searches, thus making each trip to Raxxon more of a calculated risk.

Then again, the beauty of The Long Night’s modular system is that I never have to play with the Raxxon module if I don’t want to. Stripped out, I’m left with a beefed-up Dead of Winter, a bunch of new survivors and crossroads stories, base improvements, and bandits. This is every bit as good as vanilla Dead of Winter, porting both its narrative sensibilities, mistrust — and yes, its agonizing playtime once you have a big group at your table. For those who loved Dead of Winter, its best bits make it a must-have.












This review was originally published at Space-Biff!, so if you like what you see, please head over there for more. https://spacebiff.com/2016/07/18/dead-of-winter-2/

Also, I suppose I ought to plug my Geeklist of reviews: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/169963/space-biff-histori...

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Jason
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Great in-depth review. I had TLN on pre-order for a long time (not from PHG, so even longer). I finally canceled it. I didn't particularly like much I'd read about Raxxon, and that's one third of the new modules. Pay full game price to play 2/3 of what's there? Looked at another way, it's 1/2 of the game's new story content (Improvements seem like more of a tool than a story).

Basically, this means DoW might stay on my shelf even longer, or maybe I'll try to trade it off. The #1 things I wanted was more objectives, more crises, more survivors and more Crossroads. The original game had become stale and formulaic for me after a half dozen plays. Almost all the objectives and crises became to feel so very thing on story and thick on "Get THING or lose stuff. Get more THING and gain morale." And it was short on short game objectives, which was a problem because even the short game was rather long.

Maybe I can find takers who want to combine my DoW with their shiny new TLN.
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Ryan M
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I only have two games under my belt, but so far I disagree with those who bash on Raxxon. You didn't mention that you have to roll for exposure with every search. If you moved there, that may mean two exposure rolls on one character. Plus, by using dice to stop the zombies from coming out (some are very deadly others admittedly more situational), plus dice to search means you have less dice for other actions. And not everything in Raxxon is the super-weapon you claim. The pills, for example, could end up being very good or bad depending on the luck of the dice.

So my impression right now is that people are having a knee-jerk reaction to Raxxon and too quick to bash it. I really love what it adds. Yes, if you have good luck the items here will make the game real easy. Combine that with improvements and games may be too easy at times. But over a number of plays, and the tons of set-up options, that luck should balance out I believe. I mean, spending dice to contain and search, only to roll some wounds (or even a bite) and get a fuel card you don't need is going to hurt.

In our last game, the mine thrower was out but containing zombies wasn't an issue for us that game so it wasn't really that useful in that particular game...we desperately needed food and people wasting time and actions at Raxxon wasn't helping us. Meanwhile, we accomplished our main mission but I was the only one who actually "won" the game because nobody else completed their objectives. So clearly Raxxon didn't help us that much when it came to actually "winning".

That doesn't even touch on the potential for betrayers to also use these special powers AGAINST the group in one way or another. Or the issues caused by super zombies or other "problems" of the game may not be helped by having raxxon in the mix. I think it is way too early for people to dismiss the potential and possibilities for Raxxon. I mean, imagine some of the other scenarios with Raxxon in play, like Too Many Mouths or the new one where you need to find a bunch of survivors (and we ended up with bad luck dumping 9 unruly survivors on us). What about the missions where you just need to survive for a number of rounds? These missions are typically about staying fed and keeping morale high...something Raxxon will distract from and where the super weapons arguably won't help as much as they do in missions where you are going to need to focus more on blasting zombies away.

That being said, the one thing I may consider doing is adding a d8 for "random" placements. That way there is a chance for bandits and super-zombies to show up at Raxxon. I think that could really add a new level of challenge to the game.

Finally, and I may be wrong as I don't have it in front of me, but the bandit leader just gets to take cards each round. I don't think they have any risk at all. The search/attack rule only applies to non-exiled players and therefore NOT the bandit leader. The leader just gets a free card of their choice each round.
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Jason
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Mools wrote:
So my impression right now is that people are having a knee-jerk reaction to Raxxon and too quick to bash it. I really love what it adds.


Just to clarify, my #1 dislike of Raxxon is thematic. To me, it just doesn't fit well. Not my cup of tea, unfortunately.
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