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Sharing a Dear Love: Dead of Winter

A while back, a dear friend of mine casually dropped that they owned this random board game about zombies we should play one day. It took a while, because I kind of suck at reaching out to anyone to make plans, but after a few weeks (or months maybe?), it happened. The game?

Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter supports 2 to 5 players in a colony during winter against an endless horde of zombies. It's got all the classic tropes: people getting bitten, people spreading their zombie infection to others, the need to gather supplies, the need to keep morale up, betrayal. If you've seen it or read it in zombie fiction, Dead of Winter probably captured it in board game form in spades.

Of all the games I've played, from the ones I tried once to the ones I play as often as I can (lookin' at you, Munchkin), I haven't played that many that pit the players together against the game itself. When it came to Dead of Winter, though? Banding together was the only thing that made the game even remotely close to survivable, let alone winnable.

First and foremost thing about dead of winter? It's friggin' brutal. The game counts down your turns while throwing everything at you. Need fuel? Hope you don't get frostbite on the way to the gas station. Hungry? Hope you have enough to feed everyone back home without burying the colony in a heap of trash. Did you search a location a little too much, desperately trying to find a gun? Here comes the zombies! There are so many terrible possibilities, you never know which one is going to take you out until it's too late. do you win?

That's one of my favorite aspects of the game. When you start, you reveal a main objective for everyone as a whole. If you achieve that objective before you run out of rounds or morale hits zero, the game ends peacefully.

Aside from that, every player is dealt a secret objective they don't share with anyone else until the game is officially over, come what may. If any player wants to win, they have to accomplish what's on their own card before the game ends. Most the secret objectives dealt are perfectly fine. Maybe you just need to get a bunch of weapons for the colony. Maybe you're a hoarder trying to save food for yourself. Not too terrible, just a bit selfish. Just about every card requires the player to achieve the main goal while also accomplishing some secondary, personal goal. However, amongst the players in the game, you might have someone who's not playing nice, you just might have one betrayer in your midst. Not every game will have a betrayer, but if it does, it's rarely good news as their goals are pretty much guaranteed to hurt everyone else in their pursuit of victory.

The other thing players are given at the start of the game are a few items to get started with and 2 survivors they're in control of, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you're lucky and you get a ninja that can kill zombies without putting themselves at risk of injury or death. Maybe you get a stunt dog (not even joking) who are only injured instead of killed if they're bitten. But maybe you don't. Maybe you get the drunk mall Santa whose only good thing is they can boost the morale of everyone back home if they choose to exile themselves...

Once you have your survivors in place and your secret mission locked away in your head, the countdown against the clock begins. Without letting onto what you're up to, you've got to somehow find a way to accomplish your personal task. This means playing nice with others, looking out for the colony, all the while not raising anyone's suspicions. There's one card that says three survivors have to die for you to win, and it's not even a betrayer card! Try explaining that as you're running around acting like a reckless jerk for no reason. Meanwhile, everyone else is just trying to do their own thing.

I played a round where our group goal was to arm everyone with a weapon. I was in control of a police dispatcher who got a boost to searching the police station, so I volunteered to try and stock up to bring guns back to everyone else. Little did I know, one of the other 3 players had a betrayer card that required them to have 4 guns equipped to themselves. Too bad for them, I took all the guns long before they could accomplish their mission. Too bad for the rest of us, we got wiped out before we ever managed to equip everyone like we wanted to. It was awful.