Whatever you think about Dead of Winter, there is no denying that with the right people, it is one of the most immersive, thematic tabletop experiences out there…or at least, that’s what I had heard.
That’s right, despite being very invested into the hobby, I had never once played Dead of Winter. Time and time again I was told “Play it!” and “It’s great!” but I just couldn’t justify spending $60 on it. You see, I’m a high school student. I have a very limited budget, and I have to think super carefully about which games to buy, because I only get to buy a few a year.
Last month, I bit the bullet. For over a year, I’d been considering purchasing it, and when I heard that the new expansion was a standalone game with upgraded components and new modules, I decided to make the plunge.
Components: The components to this game are super high-quality. The locations are made of thick cardboard. There are loads of tokens and standees, and the box art is just amazing. Seriously, the art in this game is SO GOOD! Fernanda Suarez is possibly the best artist in the board game industry currently. Her work in Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn is my favorite art in any game EVER, and in Dead of Winter: The Long Night, she certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s dark, and it’s so evocative of the subject matter. So components? Easily a ten out of ten. But what about the game behind all that cardboard???
Gameplay: So, I’m not going to explain all the rules here, because Rodney Smith does a perfectly good job of that in his Watch It Played series. Instead, I’d like to focus the feel. What is the game like to play? Well, to me, this honestly feels like an interesting mix between The Resistance and some adventure co-op game like Eldritch Horror. You’re working together…sort of. Because while players ARE technically working together towards a common objective, every person is also dealt a personal objective, a personal objective that represents the goals and dreams of the faction you control, a personal objective that might just well read: “Betrayal”. That’s right, chances are good there will be a traitor. And the game is best when there is. Your constantly analyzing every person choices in the game, and when they add facedown cards contributing to the crises that will arise from round to round, they might very well be screwing everyone over. You can’t trust ANYONE, but you’re all still forced to work together.
And it’s all sooo thematic. Every time you go to a location, be it the gas station or the hospital, the library or the school, you will be forced to roll the exposure die. Most of the time, the die will come up blank, and your survivor will remain unscathed. But there’s always the danger of getting wounded, frostbitten, or worst of all, bit by a zombie, an effect that has the possibility to spread to other players.
So round after round, crises will come up that will say you need x amount of this or y amount of that. If it’s gas you need, you should probably go to the gas station. If you need guns, head over to the police station. Again, it’s all so thematic. But here’s the catch: when contributing items to the crisis, you contribute items face-DOWN. So just because Billy says he’s contributing 4 medicine cards, doesn’t mean he’s actually doing that. In fact, he could be contributing other things that could SUBTRACT from the total items needed when the items are revealed at the end of the round. So this is the part of the game that feels like Resistance: “Who slipped in that wrench? Someone here is a traitor…”
And because of all of this backstabbery and betrayal, the game really instills in you a feeling of despair. The game is so difficult, that even when you’re winning (which rarely happens with my group) you feel like one bad move could mess everything up.
And the Raxxon module can either swing the game in your favor, or swing it drastically out of your control. You see, in Raxxon, there are all these great items that, when equipped to one of your characters, can massively help with things like searching, killing zombies, and finding food. However, every round, a super zombie could be released from Raxxon unless it’s contained. These super zombies represent genetic experiments that are escaping from Raxxon, and killing them can be ridiculously difficult. In addition, there’s something like 9 different types of super zombies, all with their own backstories briefly laid out on the oh-so-flavorful audio log cards, so these baddies really add some replay value to the game. I’m not sure I’d play with the Raxxon module all the time, but overall, I’d give it a 7/10.
And then there’s the Bandits module. This one’s awesome. Basically there’s all these bandits searching and taking stuff and if you want that stuff, you’re going to have to take the perilous journey to the Bandits’ Hideout, where you’ll have to duke it out with the Bandits to steal that stuff back. For me, this module REALLY does it. It adds this whole new dimension to Dead of Winter, that there are other people lurking out in the wilderness with their own intentions. I’m using this module as much as I can. 9/10
Finally, there’s the Improvements module which lets you personalize the colony by building little things like turrets and outhouses and stuff to keep your people happy. This module is great, because it adds only a few new rules, so I can even use it when teaching new people. 9/10
Overall, Dead of Winter: the Long Night is the most thematic board game I have ever experienced. Through the story introduced on the Crossroads Cards, I have experiences with this game I will never forget. (not to spoil anything, but the monkey character has some hilarious story moments) So Dead of Winter? Yeah…I guess I’m just like everyone else. I love this game. 9/10