As my third boardgame review I decided to change a bit the structure of the review and will start with my general opinion about the game followed by a technical analysis.
Dead of Winter is a fresh breath to the zombie apocalypse saturated genre. Even players that dislike zombies will find this game appealing and entertaining. Although DoW is packed with cards and standees, it is easy and fast to set up and relatively easy to teach; after the second round players are fully immersed in the game and very few questions are asked. It is a blast to play with 2 players but it really shines with 4 or 5 due to the betrayal system.
The possibility to have a betrayer inside the colony adds so much tension to the game to a point that game sessions without a betrayer feels a bit bland, however playing with experienced players that enjoy a bit of RP can mitigate this. I just wish that once the betrayer is exiled he could do more to hinder the colony progress, which has been somehow addressed with the Bandits module.
Overall DoW is a fantastic game with no real flaws that can be considered game breaking. The theme suites the gameplay and vice-versa, the crossroads cards add that extra roleplaying and decision making. It is genuinely a cooperative game that requires team play, communication and strategy from beginning to end, and if a player is selfish he/she can be perceived as a betrayer without actually be one.
The expansion modules are fun and add that extra level of strategy and replayability but are not required for enjoying the game, and don’t feel like you are missing much if you don’t play with them. The Bandits module gives that extra power to the exiled player, and the Raxxon module makes the game more difficult with some very cool events and crazy pills. The colony upgrade module is ok, but it is seldom utilised due to each improvement costs vs their benefits.
Each survivor has their own characteristics and skills, and although some are clearly more overpowered than others, almost no survivor feels useless or cannon fodder, it all depends on colony objective and secret mission. Unfortunately there are very few missions that come with the game and which limit somehow the replay value after 10 or so sessions. And in spite the fact there are 200+ cards in the game a lot of them are repeated, which can become a bit disappointing when you are searching and you keep drawing Bloody Munchies over and over again.
For its price tag DoW delivers a very good value for money. The box is possibly one of the hardest / sturdiest boxes I’ve seen in a boardgame. The cards have great quality and sleeves are not really necessary. Cardboards are thick and don’t require too much table area. Tokens are quite small in comparison to other games but I personally think they are very well suited for this game. I have a few standees that bent when I was trying to put them on their bases, but it was my fault more than the component quality, talking about the bases… they are great; there are enough bases (and more) for all standees, transparent, small and don’t pinch the standees.
The rule book is well written, with a good flow of information, useful figures and diagrams, and after reading once or twice you should not have any doubt on how to play the game.
Art and graphic design:
The art is possibly the weakest aspect of this game, not that it is bad or ugly it is just because everything else is so great that if you have to pick what is less engrossing, art will probably be it. I think that the theme could have been better captured in the art, in my opinion it is too bright and colourful, making a disservice to game immersion.
The graphic design is very good. It is incredibly easy to spot from anywhere in the table what is required based on the intuitive symbols that are displayed on the boards and cards. My only criticism is that on the player aid card and in game board, the crossroad events should have been better indicated in the flow of actions, many rounds having been played in which we forgot about them… and they are so well written and fun that missing then, in spite it is not much of a deal missing an event, they are very fun with great text and some unexpected outcomes.
DoW has simple game mechanics with not many different available actions, but at the same time it heavily relies on strategy and team coordination without complicated rules or branching consequences. Sure there is luck involved due to dice rolling but I can’t consider this as a luck based game, the only real luck (or un-luck) is when you roll bite, but even then you are given the option to roll again and risk spreading the bite or take it on the chest and lose a survivor.
The secret missions feel a bit too much the “samey” and extra creativity should have been employed. Colony objective are very thematic but could have more of them. The crossroad events are great but, as said before, they are easy to forget. Crisis cards are the backbone of the game, however some of them can have absolutely catastrophic consequences if not resolved, meanwhile others can be very forgiving and even beneficial depending on the mission.
The betrayal system is fantastic, I don’t know in which stage of the game development it was implemented, but certainly this game wouldn’t be so good without it. Having this system changes the game drastically, and when you are the betrayer is an awesome feeling, you are always trying to hinder the colony without actually being too much obvious and trying to blame others for not resolving a crisis… and when the colony moral hits zero and everyone is sad faced you slam the cards on the table and scream out loud “I WIN!!!!!” only happened to me once and it was so fun.
The sheer amount of cards and survivors ensure a lot of replay value to DoW, especially if you have multiple play groups / friends. I don’t think if you have only one group this game will be played many times because it can become quite repetitive once you went through most of the colony goals. The expansion modules extends the game life significantly due to extra cards, objectives and changes the gameplay strategy.
It is the kind of game that can be proudly added to anyone’s collection but will not be part of the 10 most played games you own. DoW is the kind of game that requires the right time, right place and right people to be enjoyed and putting it up on the table on a Sunday morning won’t be the best choice.
If you liked this review please check my Gloomhaven and Mansions of Madness 2nd edition reviews.