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Review: Dead of Winter

“It was simple really, we couldn’t afford to feed her. Further, she hid her pregnancy from the rest of the camp. She knew having a noisy baby could alert the attention of zombies. What could we do?

The camp leaders, all four of them gathered around the burn barrel and discussed how best to handle the situation. Judging by their heated discussion, it wasn’t good.

I’ll never forget the way the baby cried when they took it from its teenage mother’s arm and placed her in the arms of another woman. I’ll never forget the tears rolling down the teenage mom’s face as the sheriff cuffed her and took her beyond the fence line. When the sheriff returned, he returned alone. We never saw her again.”

dowDead of Winter: A Crossroads Game test the survivability of your group as zombies relentlessly attack. Beyond survivability, it tests ho far you’re willing to go to survive.

The above scenario is one we faced on our first play through of the game. It was a random card that we drew that we had to act upon. As we discussed how to handle the situation, the weight of our decision became obvious – we were deciding the fate of a person, no matter if it was real or not. In the end, we decided it was best to save the baby and cast the mother out into the cold to face the zombies alone. After all, we didn’t have the food to feed them both.

I have played several games in this last year but never have I played a game that forced you to make decisions such as these. Nor have I played a game that states there may be cards that are a little too much for some players and feel free to remove those. We chose to keep them in.

Let’s take a look at the game.

Dead of Winter is a cooperative survival game with the potential for a betrayer and secret goals. So while everyone is working “together,” everyone has a hidden agenda and someone could be out to betray the entire camp.

The game was released by Plaid Hat Games in 2014 and is designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega. The art is done by David Richards, Fernanda Suarez, and Peter Wocken.

The game is incredibly thematic as it paints a picture of a world overrun by zombies and the human race on the brink of destruction.

Set up
To set up the game you first layout the colony board. You will want to go ahead and shuffle the various decks, Crossroad, Survivor, and Crisis decks, and placed them on the corresponding spots on the board.

The players will then either select their objective or determine one randomly. This adds to major replayability for this game.


Our Colony Occupants as we prepare to start the game.

Shuffle the deck with Starter Items and deal out five to each player. The remaining cards can be returned to the box. Layout each Location and a place the decks that correspond to those locations with them. Make sure to shuffle those decks, too.

Next, deal out four survivor cards to each player. The players will then select two survivors they wish to control. Place the corresponding standees for the survivors being used in the Colony Occupants location on the colony board. The player will need to decide which of these two will be their leader.

Finally, the player with the leader who has the highest influence receives the first player token.

You are now ready to begin.

Playing the game
Dead of Winter is a complicated game that takes a few rounds to fully understand. Because of this, we will not be going into the rules too deeply. We advise you keep the rule book handy.

The game is played in phases: Player Phase; Colony Phase.

On the player’s turn, you will need to resolve three effects in order. First, reveal the top card of the Crisis deck. This effect will happen in the colony phase unless the players can prevent it. How to do so will depend on the card.

Second, roll your action dice and place them on your reference card. The dice represent your unused action. Each player receives a base of 1 action die. They add (or subtract) a die based on the number of survivors they control. Essentially, each player should be starting with three dice. As you use a dice to perform an action, move the dice to the other side of the board.

A player can do several things with their action die. They can search locations for items to help them prevent the Crisis, they can attack zombies, they can clean waste, build barricades, etc. There are even actions that do not require the use of an action die.

Once all players have completed all actions, the colony phase begins.

During the colony phase, things can get scary. This is when you will populate the board with zombies, populate locations with zombies, pay food costs (food costs is based on the number of survivors currently in the Colony), check the waste, and of course resolve the conflict.

If the players were able to meet the requirements to prevent the Crisis, nothing happens, if, however, they failed, they will need to immediately resolve the Crisis.

If the players were able to prevent the crisis by more than 2 required items, they regain a point of morale.

Morale is important as reaching zero means the end of the game.

You will then need to check the main objective to see if the players have succeeded in the primary goal. Next, move the round tracker down one, and finally, pass the First player token (the first player is always changing)

Some things to remember, as you move from location to location, you will be rolling for exposure for your survivor. When doing this you have the chance to get frostbite, a wound, and even bitten by a zombie. You will roll this dice whenever you fight a zombie, too. In other words, there are multiple ways to get messed up.

Winning the game
If the players successfully complete the main objective within the confines of the number of rounds without dying or losing morale, they win.

At this point, you will need to determine secret objectives.

It is possible for the players to lose without knowing as there could be a betrayer in the group. The betrayer has their own victory condition they are working towards. Once they meet the conditions on their card, they can reveal it and announce what they have done.

Ok, so that’s a lot. Dead of Winter is an excellent game but carries with it some very adult themes. If you are playing with younger children, you would be advised to remove some of the heavier cards.

The rules are pretty extensive, too. This another game where you will want to keep the rulebook as close to you as possible.

This game has tons of pieces. While it would be fun to take this to your friend’s house to play, it might not be advised. The chance for losing or forgetting a piece seems pretty high. This is the only reason we didn’t score it higher.

Overall, this is an excellent game. It’s very thematic, has perfectly thematic art, and seems to be very well designed. This would make an awesome addition to a board game collection. The biggest downside to it is the massive amount of pieces.

There is also an expansion for Dead of Winter called, Dead of Winter: The Long Night.

Score 7.5/10

© 2016, Patrick Cossel. All rights reserved.

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About Patrick Cossel,

I am a journalist and gaming enthusiast.

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