Board game review: Dead of Winter The Long Night

Ever since I watched Wil Wheaton play Dead of Winter on his show Tabletop said game has been one of my favorite board games to play. I bought it as soon as the video was over and have been playing it with great pleasure ever since.  Recently we obtained the stand alone expansion and so winter has come again as we enter The Long Night.

The Dusk of the Dead

The Long Night is still a Semi-Cooperative team based game , in which its your goal to keep your colonie safe from the walking dead.
At the start of each game all players take control of two characters they can select out of a random pool of four. It’s up to these people to complete  the goal from one of the many scenario cards.
These can come in many different forms like gather enough resources by the end of the game, killing off a number of zombies or depleting locations of their item cards and so on.
Usually this is packed in a small but flavorful text. For example there is a scenario where you need to play gas under the goal every turn because of an extremely cold winter, or a scenario where you fight enough zombies to develop a cure. Each scenario sets up a few conditions like a number of turns you have to complete the goal, the number of active zombies as well as how many helpless survivors your colony counts. After that it’s survival time.


Unfortunately for the players, completing the game is not the only thing required to win, each player is given a secret goal at the beginning of the game, which in general means you need specific item cards after you have won the game. If you want to come out on top, you have to be clever and not waste a single resource. At times you will have to act in your own best interest and not for the sake of the colony.
This gives an interesting group dynamic, but again the makers of this game want you to feel desperation, so hidden between those secret goals are betrayer goals. Some goals require a player to intentionally LOSE the scenario So you saw Stevie the shrimp keeping a food card you knew he had, could he be the betrayer or is he just watching out for number one?
You can vote to exile a player, but if you cast out an innocent soul gather enough resources will be harder.
Think well before you act.

Things are already getting complicated and desperate and we have not even started the game yet, for each round you play there is also a crisis that will unfold. Which means you are gonna need more resources to keep bad stuff from happening.
The cards played to the crisis contribution will be played face down and only checked after an entire turn, giving the betrayer a chance to trip you up and trigger the bad stuff hiding in the darkness of the winter nights.



Dead of Winter and this expansion will force you to think about every action.Do I go out to search for much needed resources or will I ensure more saftey. For each time you move out you roll for exposure blood will give you a wound, a snowflake will give you a D.O.T.  and if you roll a tooth that character instantly dies. But don’t worry if there are more characters out in the same area your character can still show he is still there, by spreading the bite!
The player controlling the next character with the lowest influence then can choose to either let the character die or to roll for exposure himself. Now any icon will instantly kill said player and the bite spreads yet again.
Per death you lose 1 morale and if that resource reaches 0 it’s the end of the game. However more often than not failing a crisis card by a lack of resources will do the same, so staying idle in your colony is not an option either.
Never have I felt I was making an optimal decision, it always felt as picking a lesser evil, and that is exactly how a zombie apocalypse should feel like.

Atmosfear

Dead of Winter and its expansion are packed with this kind of flavoring, it’s so well done that every time you play this game you create different stories. I truly mean stories cause your meeple, will experience stuff, at the end of the game Lily and Hugo, or whoever you play as will have changed as human beings.
The things you and your following experience comes in the form of crossroads, little cards containing quite a bit of story that offers you a dilemma that can trigger if you are at the right place at the right time, you can change right to wrong depending on the choices you make though.
Examples are crossroads that let you choose to execute a helpless survivor to prevent a riot or take wounds on all your meeple in the colony to fight them off. If you find a horse will you use it for transportation and feed it like your new best friend or will it end on the dinner table itself?
All these dillema’s unfold trough a sort of dramatic little cutscene and there are so many that each game is vastly different.
The Long Night adds some crossroads that even break the fourth wall and even though it slightly tarnishes the filmish flavoring of the game it bring that uncomfortable atmosphere even more to your living room.

Combined with the dice rolling, the upsite down crisis contributing and the general flavor of this game a true sense of horror  fills the room you play this game in.  Never have I seen another game where players collectively gasp when a dice roll comes up and a bad icon shows up, nor have i ever seen a group of players sigh in relief as they find out they have not been betrayed this turn. When a board game makes you feel fear you know this one is a gem.

A hard pill  to swallow

I can keep talking about awesome stuff both games share and how to play it all day, but in the end I would like to review the Long Night, so if you want to learn more about the original I suggest you watch that show of Wil Wheaton which I will put a link to here.
It is time to talk about what novelties the expansion brings.
The most prominent innovations are the addition of two locations in the form of the secret medical facility of Raxxon and the bandit camp.
The first being vastly more interesting than the latter.
Basically all the bandit camp does is spawn bandit at random locations whenever a crisis unfolds.
These faceless grunts will loot said locations and bring it to their base, where it’s put in a treasury as a faceup card. Meaning if you head to the bandit camp it can be easy to find a specific item you want or need.
However these bandits attract zombies and use it free player slots on locations and flood out way to fast, if you usually play with a full group of five like I do it can be quite a chore to move around safely, a few times we ended deadlocking our game where moving would result into certain unavoidable death and staying where we are would do the same.
Some crisis cards just spawn too much bandits to be realistically handleable and if you flip two of those in a row, which i give a fair chance of happening it’s just game over.
This adds a bad luck game over that I am very opposed to.
Sure if you exile an innocent player he becomes the head of the bandits which can be interesting but this mechanic feels to random and needs to much context to be used.  
In the case of Long Night bandits vs the original game DOW wins by a landslide.


Then there is Raxxon and the tables turn completely. Raxxon is the nectar of the gods, it’s the pink gem in your magical girl wand, it’s what turns brilliancy into pure magic.
Raxxon has a very overpowered item deck, containing special technology and mysterious pills. But in return for these powerful items come a heightened risk, each time you search at raxxon you will have to roll for exposure s weird creatures and experiments are about, adding to the suspense.  If you find the mysterious pills you can either decided to use them or not, if you take a raxxon pill you roll a d6 and either good or bad results unfold. For example the blue pill can give you immunity to frostbite..but if you fumble your roll your character gets unhealable frostbite and will be pushing up daisies in a maximum of three turns, though I doubt the characters can be buried in those frozen grounds.
Just the pills and the items make Raxxon into an epic location both useful to the traitor or the other players, but there is more. So much more.

Do not startle the siren.

Besides the item deck Raxon is home to the brand new experiments deck.
Through a very flavorful audiolog a scientist tells you about an experiment. If you manage to input the containment codes that experiment is locked in and you will be safe, but if you don’t…oh boy!
First of all these code are put in by sacrificing action dices of a specific value on the card, but you have to be present at raxxon to do it.
Meaning actions just became a resource as well and some players will be forced to visit raxxon, which makes sure you can’t just let zombies roam free.
A nice little extra puzzle and management skills are required.
Off course if you fail to contain the experiment it breaks out and you do not want that.
Special zombies will be released upon the board and suddenly all your weapons and all your gained skills do not matter anymore, this time its personal! Fighting a special zombie is a three tiered fight.
First you roll a exposure die, if you are not killed you roll a d6 to see if your able to take down the demonic undead. Your result will trigger an effect and after resolving this effect the combat ends. Usually you will need a 4 or higher to even kill the special snowflake zombie. (Pun intended)
Examples of special zombies are the claws, who look just like freddy krueger who will let you roll two more exposure dies if you fail, the two headed hydra which makes you lose your items if you succeed or makes you discard items to even have a chance of beating him. Then there is also the Siren to really fill you with desperation.
The Siren is only beatable on a 5 and a 6, if you beat her you get 2 permanent wounds in the form of despair tokens, if you have one or more wounds already, beating the her still means dying, which is rather harsh.
Yet these game makers are evil to the core so that was not harsh enough.
If you roll a 4 or below on  the siren she will sing her song and draw the character with the highest influence (besides the combatant) to Raxxon, then everyone present on Raxxon will roll a dice and the lowest roller dice.
If it’s a tie all who rolled the tie die.
So combat with this young lady when your are not on full hp will ALWAYS result into a casualty from the colony and will drop your morale.
Harsh but great stuff!

The long night

Other upgrades are more subtable , the addition of explosive traps and colony upgrades , upgrade the game in their own way.
Junk is no longer a useless resource but quite precious to perform those upgrades. Bad dice rolls can be traded in , and having a character on the colony has never been more viable. The trash pile mechanic become way more exciting because much more resources are now put into action as well, adding a new dynamic to the game. Unruly survivors shake things up a bit  in your camp as they require double the amount of food.  All these little things tweak the game balance in a lovely way, I could talk about these for ages but you can best find out how these upgrades come into play by actually playing the game.

A game of Dead of winter usually lasts about two hours if you can soldier through the harsh turns and after that you want to play another game and another one. Even though the price of the game can be a bit steep and the characters in the Long Night are nowhere near as interesting as those in the original game (except for the monkey) if you can only afford one of the two , this is the one you want to get. Cause if you play without the bandits this Long Night will be a night to remember.

Dow-review

 

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