Zombies are everywhere! Not literally, although it’s funny that you just grabbed your gun and ran to the window. They seem to have spread to every form of entertainment media possible. Most zombie stories fall into two broad categories: Kill ‘em All, wherein the characters mow through zombies with reckless abandon; and Humans are the Real Monsters, wherein zombies only serve as a backdrop to compare against the terrible and tragic things the surviving humans do to one another. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, from Plaid Hat Games and designers Isaac Vega and John Gilmour, definitely falls into the latter category.

Dead of Winter | Summary

Oh yes, there are zombies in this game. You will kill some of them, and some of them will kill you. The biggest threat at the table may not be the flesh-eating corpses at all, but the smiling face of the player across from you.

Dead of Winter Zombies

In Dead of Winter, each play takes control of a group of survivors during a zombie apocalypse in the coldest part of the year. A revolutionary pharmaceutical drug that promised to cure some of mankind’s worst illnesses instead unleashed a brand new illness on the world. Within days most of the population was turned into ravenous undead hordes. Each player takes control of a group of survivors who are trying to survive in one of the last remaining safe colonies on earth, during-you guessed it-the middle of winter.

The goal of the game is for the players to cooperate in order to surpass the Main Objective. This could be anything from bringing back samples of the zombies in order to come up with a cure, or building enough barricades to hold back the horde. If they can’t do this before the limited number of rounds run out-or before the Morale of the colony sinks to 0-then all the players lose, and the survivors die. The thing is, even if all the players succeed at the main objective, YOU may not win along with everyone else.

Dead of Winter | Video Review

The zombies! They’re almost on us, and…say, you have an unusual amount of food and weapons. What’s up? Here is Nick’s video review of Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game from Plaid Hat Games.

Dead of Winter | Tons of Game Mechanics

At the beginning of the game, each player is given a secret objective. You must complete this objective before the main objective is completed. If you finish it, you will win along with the rest of the players. These objectives usually involve having a certain number of cards, like Hunger, an objective which requires that you have three food cards in hand at the end of the game. Some objectives are much more unusual, like Masochist, which requires that at least one of your survivors must have two wound tokens of any type on them.

As if they game didn’t have enough tension, one of those objectives may be a Betrayal objective. These function the same as the normal ones, with you having to meet a specific goal, except that you must also make the colony’s Morale go to 0. Essentially, you will win, while everyone else will lose. This adds an interesting dynamic to the game. Is that suspicious person hoarding cards because he needs to meet his secret objective; or is he the Betrayer and just doesn’t want to help us?

Dead of Winter Take Over Betrayal Card

Like other games with traitor mechanics, if you really suspect someone you can always call them out. With a simple simultaneous thumbs up-thumbs down vote, the players can vote to banish all of a player’s survivors from the colony, forcing them to survive in the outer locations (the school, the hospital, the police station, etc.). That player also draws an exile card, which will modify or completely change their secret objective. Be careful; if you exile too many innocent players, the good guys will lose the game anyways.

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, Dead of Winter has other sadistic ways to make you lose all hope. Every round, the players must deal with a randomly drawn Crisis. This requires the players to contribute a certain amount of a certain type of resource card (such as food or fuel) or risk something terrible happening. Perhaps there’s a horde of zombies surrounding the colony and you need fuel to burn them away, or there’s a disease running rampant and you need medicine. If you can’t meet the required number of cards, you may lose Morale, or watch as zombies flood into the colony. And of course, cards are submitted in secret, with every non-required card that is submitted subtracting from the total number (to give the Betrayer something to do).

Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games

A challenging yet intensely fun game.

Dead of Winter | Exposure Dying

Worse than anything, however, is the dreaded Exposure Die. Moving and killing zombies is actually quite easy. Every survivor can move once each turn, and to kill a zombie all you have to do is spend an action die (the main system of the game through which you perform actions) of the appropriate number. Every time you move or pop a zombie, you must roll the twelve-sided Exposure Die. Half of the faces are blank and therefore safe; nothings happens. Some of the remaining faces will give you a wound, however, or even a frostbite wound (which gets progressively worse). And one face is a Bite. If a survivor is bitten, they die (and the morale goes down). But on top of that, every survivor at a location is now exposed to the bite. The player with the survivor with the least influence at that location must now make a choice: kill that survivor as well, and stop the spread of the bite; or make another roll, with a 50/50 shot at stopping the spread. If that roll fails, the character dies anyway, and the disease spreads to the next survivor. This mechanic can single-handedly end the game.

Dead of Winter | Crossroads Cards

Despite all of these awful things that might happen to the players-or perhaps because of them-Dead of Winter is a tremendously enjoyable experience. The constant tension of not knowing who is on your side, and who is just out for themselves. The fear of an ever growing zombie horde. And one of the most innovative and thematic game mechanics I’ve ever seen: the Crossroads Cards.

Dead of Winter Ashley Ross Construction Worker

Survivors each have unique abilities.

At the end of your turn, you draw a Crossroads Card from the deck for the next player. This card has special conditions which the next player has to meet for the card to trigger, but these conditions are not known to them. It might be something simple like “Read if player has a survivor at the colony”, or something much more specific like “Read if Sparky is in a player’s following” or “Read if player searches at the hospital.” If the condition is met, you read a bit of thematic story text, followed by a choice that player-or all the players-must make. It might be the decision to turn away new survivors, or use your precious fuel to light a fire and raise morale.

Dead of Winter | Review Synopsis

It’s aspects of the game like the Crossroad Cards that make Dead of Winter such a tremendously refreshing and unique experience. It’s brutally difficult, and can perhaps be too long at times, especially when you’re waiting for other players to finish their turns. But excitement that comes from the player interactions and story elements more than make up for that. It’s also a beautiful game to behold, from the artwork to the graphic design. You owe it to yourself to give it a try (with 4 or 5 players, the ideal numbers). It’s not Just Another Zombie Game; it’s More Than Just Another Zombie Game.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
5 out of 5
by Board Game Brawl

Dead of Winter Sparky

Nobody took Sparky or his followers seriously until they had guns.