Review: Dead of Winter – A Crossroads Game

Recently I got to play the much-hyped “Dead of Winter – A Crossroads Game“, by Plaid Hat Games, at the weekly Manchester Tabletop meet-up.  Here’s what I thought of it.

Tl;dr – Buy it!

The Concept

Me: “I don’t think you can get anymore blood out of that stone.”

Every creative consultant on everything, everywhere, right now: “That’s because it’s a Zombie stone.  Ahhhhh…”

First off, for those that don’t know, Dead of Winter is a semi-co-operative survival game set in the rich and rarely-tapped vein of a post-Zombie Apocalypse.  You and the other players are all survivors in a colony and have to fulfil one of a selection of objectives which dictate the difficulty and win conditions of the game.

It’s semi-co-operative because you’re all given an agenda – your own personal “win” condition – and one of you might end up being a betrayer; who’s objective is to run off with all the food and supplies leaving your comrades and their delicious brains to the Zombie hordes.

The survivors, including Sparky the Dog.  Or Krypto, given his near-indistructability.
The survivors, including Sparky the Dog. Or Krypto, given his near-indestructability.

You get a “crisis” each round, which must be resolved after everybody has taken their turn, and Crossroad cards are drawn for each player’s turn – with their effects revealed when particular criteria are met within that player’s turn.  It adds an element of uncertainty and the Crossroads deck is pretty large – so the chances of playing a similar game are pretty remote.

Zombies pop up at locations based on how many people are there, and at the end of each turn you have to feed the people in the colony, so it pays to have most of the players out foraging for supplies.

In addition to the agendas, you get two colonist surviviors.  Each has their own unique ability.  One of mine was Bev Russel, a “Mother”, who could protect “innocents” in the colony.  We never actually had any, so she tooled up and went Zombie-hunting.

Bad Mutha - tooled up and ready to punish some Zees!
Bad Mutha – tooled up and ready to punish some Zees!

I’ve seen it described as Zombiestar Galactica, and that’s a fair assessment – there’s definitely a similar “feel” to it, with a bit of Zombies of Camelot for good measure.  I love both those games (Zom… Battlestar especially) so this is No Bad ThingTM.

The Materials

The game is really nicely produced.  I kind of hold Fantasy Flight Games as the yard-stick by which to measure production quality by and it’s definitely on a par with that.  There’s some great artwork for all the characters, cards and board.  Plenty of well-made tokens (definitely a Fantasy Flight perennial) and frankly brilliant box art.  Definitely worth the mid-£40s price tag.

Getting to grips with it

Initially the rules seem quite daunting, but once you’ve set up and started playing it soon becomes fluid and simple to understand – without being a “simple” game.  There’s plenty of strategy and complexity to how you play – the personal agendas particularly cast that air of suspicion on what everybody is doing.  We were absolutely convinced somebody needed the colony to have a certain amount of food to win; until they used nearly all of it which had us trying to guess what their true motive was.

What’s that, Skippy?

My main criticism, if I have any, is the Crossroad cards sometimes seemed a damp squib as the colonists needed to activate their effects weren’t present, or the choices were none-choices; i.e. there was just no downside.  We had no betrayer, but even if we had the chances of them voting in a way that revealed themselves was non-existant unless they were completely stupid.

They’re also “over-written” – there’s pretty much a novel on each.  They may be intended to draw you into the “atmosphere” but to be honest that wasn’t the effect.  The oddest one told of a conversation between a colonist and a survivor they bumped into.  The colonist in question was Sparky the Dog; cue Lassie, The Littlest Hobo, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Flipper jokes.

We got to the point of just providing a basic synopsis and reading what the card actually intended us to do “Skip to the end.”

Verdict

While I’ve only played once so far this is definitely on the “must play” list now.  It shares much of what I love about Battlestar Galactica, but in a form that takes a little less time to play and manages to remain fresh despite the clichéd Zombie Apocalypse theme.  If you see a copy somewhere get it, you won’t regret it!

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