By Lex "Gaz the Dungeonmaster" Ansems on July 15, 2015

OK, after these hot weeks here in the Netherlands it is time to cool down. But what's that, winter is coming? With the cold snow, icy winds and generally harsh environments... it doesn't look good. Apparently there is also a zombie outbreak going on, just to add to that jolly winter cheer. And without awesome dragons to save us we'll have to fight the undead on our own... can we survive the Dead of Winter?!

Dead of Winter is basically a co-op survival game with a traitor mechanic. You play as a group of survivors whose main focus is to complete their objective, survive and murder some zombies along the way. However, even though everyone (except the traitor) is working together towards the common goal, every player has a secret objective that they’ll have to fulfill to be the true winner of the game.

Every turn the players roll a certain number of dice. Which number of dice you roll depends on the number of survivors or items that you have in your possession. More item or survivors means more dice, it’s as simple as that. You can use these dice for numerous things: killing zombies, cleaning the waste of the colony, searching for items in outside locations or making use of special abilities.

Every turn there is a crisis that all the players need to conquer to avert disaster hitting the group. These objectives can be that they need food, medicine, tools or fuel. So how may one procure these items? Well, by scavenging outside the camp. You can search the local school, police station and so forth. After everybody has had their turn, you check to see if the group has successfully averted the crisis at hand. After this is done, more zombies show up for you to fight, you’ll have to feed everyone at the colony and check status of the main objective.

Every player’s turn also features a surprise card that may or may not activate, depending on the situation or actions that person takes, which is a nice thing that can be really cool sometimes. At other times, it’s the final nail in your coffin.

Overall, the game looks really cool. There is however, one thing I don’t like as much and that is the use of location cards. The locations are separate cards that you place around the main board and I personally think it clutters up the playing field a bit. I would have preferred to have them just make a bigger board because it looks more like a whole instead of all these loose components. But the characters all look and feel unique enough to make a real difference when choosing them at the start of, or using them during the game.

Now, on to my BIGGEST problem: the traitor mechanic. And do keep in mind that this is just a personal thing of mine because I HATE traitor mechanics. The secret objective that everyone has as a non-traitor is fine because you are ALWAYS working towards the main objective in addition to your own, whereas the traitor is actively but secretly working against the main objective of the group and I HATE THAT. Why, you ask? Well, mainly because my brain can't focus on all the stuff that is going on with my own character as well as the other players. So if I make a mistake (which I do a lot) you always are accused of being a traitor even when you aren't and the in-game conflict it creates isn't something I enjoy. I must say however (my own personal feeling set aside for a moment), Dead of Winter has mastered the art of traitor game mechanics and utilizes it to perfection. It is balanced, it is fun (for other people). And because everyone has a secret objective, whenever someone withholds information or does something that isn't logical in the eyes of the other players, it's not that obvious that that person is in fact the traitor.

One other small thing I think is a bit under par: the crisis cards. Up till now, everything else in this game feels unique; the objectives can vary from keeping the generator running by feeding it fuel cards, to finding certain items, to collecting enough food or whatever. The added rules set by these cards make each game unique, as do the playable survivor characters. They are never just copies of one character with a different color hat. Each one truly is a unique personality. The crisis cards however, are a completely different story. Every other crisis, it’s: “collect X cards of Y type, if not bad stuff happens”. That’s it, really. The only thing that changes is the type of cards that you have to collect. Contrary to the other aspects of the game, they just don't feel unique.

Final thoughts
I like this game, even though I complained quite a lot in the last two paragraphs. The co-op aspect of it, the secret objective, the unique characters, crossroad events, missions… hell, they’re all really fun! The crisis are a bit on the mediocre side, but that’s it. The only reason it’s not my type of game is the aforementioned traitor mechanic. I would once again like to stress that this isn’t game specific. I have played Werewolf, the resistance or even Shadow over Camelot. They all featured this specific mechanic and it bummed me out time and again. As for Dead of Winter, objectively this is a great game featuring fantastic missions and ditto artwork. So just go out there and buy it , play it and have tons of fun with it. Kick some serious zombie butt or be defeated; whatever the case may be, it will be awesome!

Plaid Hat Games
Published: 2014
Designer(s): Jonathan Gilmour, Isaac Vega & Fernanda Suarez
Players: 2 - 5 players, ages 12 & up
Playtime: approx. 100 minutes