Dead of Winter Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide (2019)
Winter has settled into town and there are more deadly things in the air tonight than the frost. The generator is barely keeping the bitter cold at bay, and… What’s that?
Is someone stealing from the food supply, or has something much worse crept into the colony?
In Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, you and your fellow survivors will be working together to keep the Colony alive despite the harsh cold of winter and the ever-present zombie menace.
Each player will control a small group of survivors loyal to themselves first and the colony second. Every player will have a hidden agenda, and not all of them are for the greater good.
The game is a pseudo-cooperative game. There will be an overall objective that ends the game. If the group is able to complete the overall objective, they win as a team. And if a player is also able to complete their personal hidden objective then they will win a personal victory on their own.
However… there is one major caveat. When dealing out hidden objectives there’s less than a 50% chance that 1 player will have the traitor objective. Their goal is to make the colony fail by losing all of its morale.
Everyone will prioritize their own groups first, but which one of you are willing to sacrifice the colony to ensure their survival.
- Dead of Winter: The Long Night (2016)
- Dead of Winter: Warring Colonies (2017)
The game doesn’t have a massive board but the colony has its own board, which houses all your survivors and some of the major elements of the game like objectives and the trash pile. Each location in town has its own board showing how many survivors and zombies can show up before it gets overrun, and there’s a spot for the search deck, which you’ll be drawing from everytime you search that location.
There’s the First Player token, which is in the shape of a knife (I’ve seen cooler).
Dead of Winter uses cardboard cutouts on stands for zombie and player tokens. To differentiate between which player is which each player will get a color-coded base so it’s easy to spot who’s who at a glance.
I really like the artwork in the game, and the character and zombie tokens work well. I like them a lot better than the miniatures in Last Night on Earth. The artwork all matches the character placards and all looks cohesive which makes for a fun thematic element.
Some of the characters can be a little silly, but having options to choose from does add a lot to replayability.
You’ll see several decks of cards that you’ll want to separate.
- Crisis Cards
- Item cards
Dead of Winter has some harsh game mechanics. Surviving the apocalypse is never guaranteed.
Every turn the group will have to deal with a Crisis card. This is the apocalypse after all, and everything is awful.
Each round (not each turn) players will flip over a Crisis card they will need to complete or suffer the consequences. Some of them will be bad, and some of them will be really bad.
You could lose morale, have survivors die, or even have zombies spawn at the sanctuary. Each player during their turn will need to put resources into the community pool by the end of the round otherwise the bad stuff happens. Sometimes you can catch a break. If your survivors are kicking @$$ and go above and beyond the requirements, they might receive a reward.
At the beginning of every player’s turn, the player to their right will draw a Crossroads card. If the current player fulfills the condition on the card, then the card is read aloud in its entirety.
The Crossroad cards add thematic flare to the game. Each scenario is different, but forces players to make difficult decisions.
It is the apocalypse after all.
I won’t spoil any of the cards, but they force you to make some hard decisions.
Every round you’ll roll dice equal to the number of players +1.
Actions that require dice:
- Clean Waste
- Attract Zombies
Dice of DOOM!
Every time a player moves they must role the 12 sided exposure dice. Players could have nothing happen (best case scenario), they could get frostbite, they could be bitten, or they could straight-up DIE! Do not pass Go, do not make a saving throw, nothing can save you.
Every time you move, there’s a 1/12 chance of instant death. If getting bitten and possibly infecting other players wasn’t bad enough, instant death is always a dice roll away.
End of Round
Take out the trash you slob!
Whenever a player goes searching for supplies, the discarded cards go into the trash pile. Because who worries about trash in the apocalypse?
Considering a lack of hygiene probably led to the zombie virus outbreak and subsequent apocalypse, you may want to keep your living space clean… Because who wants to live in a trash heap?
For every 10 cards in the trash pile at the end of a round, the colony will lose morale. And remember: no morale means game over.
After dealing with the trash, it’s time to deal with the zombies. The number of zombies spawned depends on the number of survivors (not the number of players).
- If a player is inside the colony 1 zombie will spawn for every 2 survivors.
- If a player is outside the colony 1 zombie will spawn for every 1 survivor.
Resolve the Crisis
At the end of the round, the cards put towards resolving the crisis are shuffled (to remain anonymous) then revealed. If you successfully averted the crisis, Congratulations! You’re one step closer to not dying, hopefully.
If you didn’t get enough resources or a traitor among you put in the wrong resources, then it’s time to pay the piper. Follow the instructions on the card to see what bad stuff happens. It could be a morale drop, loss of resources, or injury. It’s never a good thing (unless you’re a traitor).
The next thing you need to do is feed your people. Every survivor in the colony needs to be fed. You’ll need to burn 1 food resource for every survivor in the colony. This includes the useless survivors that just fill up space. They still need to eat too.
If you don’t have enough food for everyone then leave what you have in the supply pile and add a starvation token to the supply.
Afterward, you lose 1 morale for every starvation token at the colony. This stacks up, so on the first round of starvation you’ll lose 1 morale, and on the second round of starvation, you’ll lose 2 morale. This gets dangerous very fast.
At the end of the round if you fulfill all of the criteria for the main objective, the game ends and you can then reveal your hidden objectives to see who wins.
If not, you better bundle up and head back out into town. I hear it’s cold this time of year.
To start the game, each player will pick 2 players and 5 random items.
Setting up the Board
Setting up the board is pretty easy. Place the main colony board down and place all the starting survivors in a space. Then set up the town locations. Each town location has a separate deck that is shuffled and placed at its location. This way, when you go to the grocery store you know that the likelihood of getting food cards is higher than if you were at another location. Keep in mind it’s a higher chance, not guaranteed.
Your First Objective
The suggested objective for your first game is “We Need More Samples”.
It is pretty straightforward: Collect 3 zombie samples per player. If you’re in a 4-player game, you’ll need to 12 zombie samples total. Killing a zombie does not automatically get you a sample. After every zombie kill, roll a D6 and on a 4 or higher you get a sample. If a barrier or card effect removes a zombie, it doesn’t count. You have to actually have a survivor attack and kill it.
Traitor or No Traitor? That is the Question
If you really want to have a more simplified version for your first playthrough just to get the rules down, you can play without having a traitor. This can focus a group and make the game much less tense and should speed up the game. For you gaming vets and those of you who may just be terrible people, feel free to add the traitor card. It’s personally one of my favorite aspects of the game.
Next everyone needs an objective. Some are going to be easier than others, but they’re pretty balanced. There isn’t one that regularly wins on our table, so don’t worry.
If you’re looking for a purely cooperative experience instead, there is a game variant in the rules that allows everyone to work together without a traitor and without hidden objectives. The overall game objective becomes harder, but there’s no backstabbing to distract you.
The game is tense.
By adding the possibility that one of your party is going to be a traitor changes the whole dynamic. In most hidden traitor games, it’s a certainty that one of you is a jerk and isn’t on your team. By adding a possibility instead of a certainty ratchets up the tension and gives everyone plausible deniability. It also forces everyone to simultaneously second guess everything, wanting to believe that nobody is bad.
Plaid Hat Games has done a great job with the artwork and building up the thematic elements of the game. The characters can be humorous and still fit within the world. I particularly like the Mall Santa, Forest Plum. He’s super creepy looking, has an excellent attack, and looks like he’s going to shank someone in a dark alley. Also, his special ability is to remove him from the game to raise morale. It’s goofy but fits so well with the game.
The game can take a long time. 3-4 players seems like the ideal number, as 5 and 6 players can bog down the game. Every player has several characters, and it sometimes turns into a shouting match with everyone trying to find the traitor.
As with most hidden traitor games, it can get a little nasty if your gaming table takes it to heart. I won’t play the traitor variant with some of my friends because they absolutely hate it. Luckily there’s a completely cooperative variant in the rules that does work pretty well. It comes down to preference, and if you know that one of your friends would throw a fit if you stabbed them in the back, then you can swap up the rules.
- Best with 3-4 players (5+ drags on).
- Is very tense due to being inherently cooperative, but with a possibility of a traitor.
- Several different game modes if you don’t want to play with a traitor.
- 20 scenarios.
- Crossroads cards add highly thematic mini events throughout the game.
Stats at a glance
I’m a huge zombie nerd, so I absolutely loved the game. On the other hand, there’s Kendra who couldn’t possibly care less about zombies and was super into it as well. I really like cooperative board games and traitor games. Although having both mechanics in one game seems counter-intuitive, it works so well.
The tension of trying to determine whether everyone’s on the same team or whether there’s a traitor elevates the game from being just good to amazing. It’s okay as a 2-player game, but having 3-4 players is perfect and is the usual game group size anyway.
If you like zombies you’ll love it already, but if you like cooperative or hidden traitor games you are in for a treat.