13 August 2016

Board Game Review: Dead of Winter

A few years back, Wil Wheaton launched his web series Tabletop. This was very exciting to me; I like Wil Wheaton, and I like board games, so a series based on showing people new games to convince them to try them sounds like a great idea!

I'm beginning to realise, however, that the series is imperfect. I wish I had some advice on how to improve it; the one thing that I know is, in watching the show, I decided that there are some games that don't look interesting to me. Some episodes made me think that I'm just not interested in trying the games showcased in those episodes.

This can be a bad thing, because at least twice now, I've tried a game that I had previously thought I wouldn't like, only to find that I did like it. I'm not sure why that is, but with both of these games, I saw the Tabletop episode and thought, 'That just doesn't sound like it'd be very enjoyable to me.' Then when I had a chance to actually play the game, I found it was actually a lot of fun.

The first such game was Ticket to Ride. It's still not high on my list of favourite games; I doubt I'll ever feel a need to own it. But I won't be opposed to playing. The second game? That's the one I'm going to review today. That's right: Dead of Winter.

Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 1 ½ hours

The game board in progress. The main game board has several human characters in the shelter, surrounded by a number of zombies.

In Dead of Winter, players control humans trying to survive the Zombie Apocalypse. I know, I know, zombies are overplayed. Pop culture has reached such a ridiculous level of zombie saturation, why do we have to have another zombie game?

Bear with me, though.

For starters, players have more than one character each (usually). Each character has a combat rating, a search rating, and a special ability. These characters start out in the shelter, which is shown on the main board. Around the board are several smaller boards representing other locations, such as the grocery store, the school, the police station, and so forth. Each location has several spaces for characters, both humans and zombies. Players take turns moving their characters between locations and taking actions in an attempt to reach the goals.

What are those goals? Well, it depends. There are two decks of cards that have goals listed on each card. One of these decks is group goals. Whatever the goal is on the card drawn for this game, everyone must work together to make it happen. One example of a group goal is that, by the end of the game, there must be at least two locations whose deck of search cards has been completely exhausted.

In addition, each player is dealt a random individual goal card. In order for a specific player to win, the group goal must be complete, and that player's individual goal must also be complete. In the game I played, my individual goal was to be in control of a single character when the game ended. That is, if I gained more characters under my control during the game, I had to find a way to either kill off all but one of my characters or get them to defect to another player's group.

This means that it's entirely possible that you'll accomplish the group goal and still lose the game because you didn't complete your individual goal.

As if that weren't enough, some of the individual goals are betrayal goals. If a player receives one of these goals, he is a traitor. In order for him to win, he must not only accomplish his individual goals, but also prevent the group from completing the group goal. One example of a betrayal goal is: You must complete all of the following:
  1. Morale must be at 0.
  2. You must control a single character.
  3. That character must have a (gun icon) card equipped.
  4. You must have at least one each of food, medicine, and fuel cards in your hand.
If this is accomplished before the game ends and before the other players complete their individual and group goals, then you have won by denying possible victory to the others.

What's exciting about this is that there are more individual goal cards than players, and an uneven mix of normal goal cards and betrayal cards. This means that any specific player has no way of knowing for sure, until the game is over, if anyone is a traitor or not. In the game I played, there were three players, and by the third round, we were fairly confident based on the actions that had been taken thus far that there was no traitor. So imagine our surprise when the game ended with player Z revealing that he was in fact a traitor! He had simply not ever had a chance to betray us.

That's just the winning conditions! I've not talked about game play itself yet!

In general, players may take actions such as using cards, moving from one location to another, using their characters' special abilities, fighting zombies, and so on. Some of these actions (most notably fighting zombies and moving between locations) require you to roll a special 12-sided damage die. About half the faces have no effect, but some cause a character to take a point of damage, some cause a character to get frostbite (which does one point of damage each turn), and one dreaded die face has the 'bite' icon, which means the character dies outright, and risks infecting other characters in the same location.

There's a lot more to game play, such as the need to collect food to sustain the colony, and the proliferation of zombies that occurs at the end of each round. But you get the general idea. If you want to know more about how the game works, you can always check out the Tabletop video.

What you really want is my opinion, right? Why do I like this game? What made me change my mind after playing it from what I thought when I saw the Tabletop episode?

First, I don't remember clearly what made me think it didn't sound fun when I watched the video. Maybe it was because the complexity of the inter-related mechanics of the game don't translate well to video format. Maybe the interplay between the players on the show overshadowed the game itself.

Whatever the cause, now that I've actually played it, what I like about it is that it's both a co-operative game and a competitive game. Players have to work together, but also have specific individual goal that allow them to win separately from the other players. It's also a very thinky-thinky game, as players must weigh the risks and benefits of each action, and also try to conceal their secret personal missions from each other whilst still working to achieve those goals. It's also a very suspenseful game, as you're never certain how your risks are going to pay off, and what the next crisis card is going to reveal...

Anyway. In news unrelated to this specific game, I recently took a survey that rates my gaming profile. It measures people on four different aspects: Conflict, Fantasy, Strategy, and Social Fun. That is:
  • Conflict: how much you enjoy the competitive nature of a game. High conflict ratings mean that a player enjoys taking direct hostile action against other players (preferring combat games over co-operative games, for example).
  • Fantasy: how much you enjoy games that transport you to another world. High fantasy ratings mean that a player likes to be totally immersed in a detailed game world.
  • Strategy: how much you like thinky-thinky games. High strategy ratings mean that a player enjoys games that make him think, vs social or improvisational or physical games.
  • Social Fun: how much you like playing games based on spending time with other people. High social fun ratings mean that a player sees a game primarily as a prop around which to organise social experiences.
Here's my profile, in case you're curious:
A graphic representing my ratings on the four scales: Conflict - 29%. Fantasy - 4%. Strategy: 65%. Social Fun - 65%.

So to rate Dead of Winter along these lines, I'd say that it is:
  • Moderate on the Conflict scale
  • High on the Fantasy scale
  • High on the Strategy scale
And it's not really possible to rate a game on the Social Fun scale, as that depends far more on the players than the game itself.

I hope you find that information useful in deciding if you want to give this game a try. Until next week, have fun playing games, and always remember to

Game on!

1 comment:

  1. I'd say that the Watch it Played video does it much more justice than the tabletop video


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