3 Things I Love... Dead of Winter

Uncertainty & Tension Abound

Hello my wonderful readers! In today's post, I'm taking a look at Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, a 2-5 player, semi-cooperative game from designers Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega and was published in 2014 by Plaid Hat Games. A wonderfully tense, story-driven game, Dead of Winter is especially remarkable due to its ability to constantly end up on my table despite the fact that I very rarely ever actually win. In the game, players take on the roles of a colony of survivors trying to survive a harsh winter in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-overrun world. Without further ado, here are three things that I love about Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game.

1) Secret Objectives

One of the most unique aspects of Dead of Winter is its "semi-cooperative" gameplay. For those unfamiliar with the game, you may be wondering... "How on earth can a game be semi-cooperative?" In Dead of Winter, players will have one group objective that they are trying to achieve in addition to their own secret objectives that they must complete. In essence, in order to win, you must both accomplish the group goal while simultaneously pursuing your secret goal.

This very often forces you to make difficult choices about if you should pursue your own interests at the sake of the colony, or sacrifice your interests to better help the group's goal. At the end of the game, therefore, it's possible that nobody wins, everybody wins or anywhere in between. But that's not all! In addition to having these secret objectives, there will also be the possibility that one of you is secretly a betrayer, trying to undermine the group's goal in favor of their own self-interest. This leads to everyone being suspicious of everyone else. There might not even be a traitor and yet you may end up exiled if you try to pursue your own goal and it doesn't necessarily line up with the colony's goals.

I absolutely love when games have a tenseness to them, and the traitor objectives and secret objectives make Dead of Winter a prime example of how to build a tense experience with a tabletop game.

2) Characters

Like I said, Dead of Winter is heavily narrative-driven. The story of the game is always at the forefront of every aspect of the game, and your individual characters are no exception. At the start of the game, each player will be given 2 of the 30 unique character cards along with their matching standees. Throughout the game, you'll also have options to enlist more characters, although typically at a cost. From a design perspective, I love games with this sort of player asymmetry and variability.

Character powers are one of my all-time favorite additions to any game. One of my first ever designs in the 8th grade was an expansion to Monopoly that included character powers for the different playing pieces. In Dead of Winter, you'll get to become a janitor, a waitress, a sheriff, a fortune teller and much much more. You might be exceptional at fighting zombies or you might be able to predict the future. Each character has their their own unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses that you will have to adapt to and thrive with which I absolutely love.

3) Crossroad Cards

I've saved the best for last. There's a reason this game is subtitled "A Crossroads Game". The crossroad cards included in the game are so unique and fun that Plaid Hat Games has gone on to build several other thematic games around the mechanic itself. Dead of Winter constantly finds its way to my table because of its ability to immerse me in its story and theming, and at least 50% of that immersion comes from these crossroad cards.

The premise behind them is simple: Before your turn, the player on your right will draw you a crossroad card and read the italicized text to themselves. This text will tell them how the card can be triggered. If you happen to do whatever action is listed, play is stopped, and the card is read aloud. These cards are story-heavy, often offering players thematic choices about how to respond to a particular event. You stumble upon some children shivering in the cold. Do you bring them back to the colony even though they won't contribute and will take up more food? Or do you leave them to fend for themselves? It's a dog eat dog world after all... These choices will feel like moral dilemmas which just even further adds to the idea that you are struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

At the end of the day, it's just a game. But while you're playing, these cards make it feel like your choices are critically important and driven not by a game but by a real story that's unfolding before your very eyes. And because the game comes with 80 unique cards that are all triggered in different ways and that can have vastly different outcomes depending on your choices, every game you play will have a story that is uniquely different. I have played this game upwards of a dozen times and every game I still find myself encountering new cards or making different decisions that lead to new results.

Have you played Dead of Winter?

What's your favorite part of this great thematic game?

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