Hello again. This is two Geekly Games posts in as many weeks. We’ve also had two Geekly Comics posts in a row (here’s a link to Jim’s week in comics this week if you missed it; he tackles DC’s Rebirth, The Punisher, and The Amazing Spider-Man). Getting back to games, I haven’t played as many tabletop games as I would’ve liked this past week—it’s difficult to corral interest in a board game night sometimes—but I have replayed a great one that I’ve mentioned in the past and have been meaning to cover for some time: Dead of Winter.
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
This game hits our table a lot because my wife and kids are huge fans. Dead of Winter is The Walking Dead in a box. It’s a semi-cooperative game in that there’s an overall goal for the colony of survivors—players control a group of survivors who are part of the greater colony—and each player has a secret objective they are trying to achieve.
The secret objectives create an interesting dynamic that I’ll discuss in greater detail with the “Behind the Game” segment but for now let’s say that players help the colony thrive, while satisfying their secret objectives, which may be at odds with what must be done for the colony’s success. Ah. That’s a beautiful game mechanism.
There’s a lot going on in Dead of Winter, but the individual parts are simple to understand. Fortunately, each player gets a cheat sheet showing how a round plays out. You draw a crisis card, denoting what minor crisis your group will have to deal with for the round—you’ll be drawing a new crisis for each round. All players roll their action dice (the number of dice a player rolls depends on how many characters are in your clique—or group—they control), and then players take turns performing actions with their dice. And that’s one of the many other interesting design choices in Dead of Winter.
Yes. You want to roll high most of the time. High rolls usually let you search for supplies in an area or kill a zombie (depending on your characters’ stats), but a low roll is not the end of the world. You can still build a barricade to keep zombies out of an area, coax a zombie to your location to give freedom of movement to another character, and clean out the colony’s waste. If you’re like me (or my brother-in-law Tim–Who does number two work for, Tim?), you’ll end up with terrible rolls. But you can overcome a bad roll with the right strategy and that’s fun and rewarding.
Another great addition to Dead of Winter is the Crossroads Cards. The player to the right of the active player draws a Crossroads Card and this card depicts an event that could occur; there’s a trigger for each event. These random events do wonders for building the story. Most Crossroads Cards reveal something about the characters you’re playing or the world they inhabit, and they do a great job of setting the tone. Players could decide whether or not to let an elderly couple into the colony for shelter or leave them to their fate. If it sounds like a choice of that nature’s a no-brainer, think again. There are pros and cons to any choice you make. Depending on the state of your colony, you may decide not to help the less fortunate or infirm. Dead of Winter captures the feel of a group fighting for survival in a zombie apocalypse. The game is about the interaction among the players rather than the zombies.
I like Dead of Winter’s concept and love how it’s executed. If you like zombies or humans fighting for survival, Dead of Winter is a must play.
As promised, we’ll dig deeper into Dead of Winter’s secret objectives. Some of the objectives are betrayal goals, where you’re actively wanting the colony to fail, but the betrayer objectives only work because someone else might have a glutton or hoarder objective, which are non-betrayal objectives that tempt non-traitors to refuse to donate food (or other items) to the colony, sewing suspicion of whether or not they’re a traitor.
Let’s put the betrayal secret objectives aside—they’re fun to play with, even if my family disagrees—and focus on the non-betrayal secret objectives. These secret objectives bring up the question of who really wins a game of Dead of Winter. Do you win the game if you fail to reach your secret objective, but the colony succeeds and other people finished their secret objectives? Is it considered a tie if everyone loses? Will a player sabotage the colony if they can’t accomplish their secret objective? I’ve played Dead of Winter with various groups and I get multiple answers to these questions.
My family views a colony win as a win for everyone and themselves, so we play Dead of Winter in that fashion, but I’ve played several games of Dead of Winter at local gaming conventions and seen people have the attitude of if I can’t win, no one wins. I’ve even seen someone flip the board–I thought that was a joke among tabletop gamers–after they knew they couldn’t finish their secret objective. You almost need to ask people at the table, before playing Dead of Winter, how they view victory and play to that end.
Honestly, I strive to complete my secret objective—I feel a sense of accomplishment if the group wins and I win—but I won’t sabotage the collective’s chances of winning so I can finish my secret objective. My family has trained me to dial down my competitiveness. I won’t begrudge anyone playing to complete their secret objective at all cost or viewing a group loss as a tie either, just don’t flip the board or table.
Thanks for reading.