Zombies eh? There are loads of them around if modern culture is to be believed. In fact if the apocalypse rocks up and it’s not led by zombies I reckon most people will be slightly disappointed, such has been the insane popularity of the undead in recent years. Dead of Winter was a board game released a while back which tried to do a few things differently to the usual hoard of zombie games, and was very highly thought of in the board gaming circles. The Long Night is a standalone expansion, meaning you don’t need to own the original to play this, and having watched people play the original (something I never got chance to play myself) it’s probably safe to say you would want the original if you’d already bought this – more on that later.
This review though is going to focus on one thing: why I really liked The Long Night despite a few potential stumbling blocks in the rules. The rules themselves are pretty long, and much depends on certain things being specifically true, so I’m not going to break down the rules here – that’s probably not really why you’ve arrived at this review anyway.
One thing that’s crucial to know about this is that Dead of Winter is most definitely a game to play in a larger group. It’s a co-op experience (sort of) which needs a team of people who have some level of familiarity with the rules in order to get the most out of the experience. That’s not to say you can’t bring new players into this, the learning curve is suitable for people to pick this up over the course of a game, but you might not get the most out of it first time round. It’s possible to play with smaller groups as well of course, and there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had, but there’s one mechanic which means a larger group is most definitely the way to go: the fact that one of the players may well be a traitor.
When the game is set up everyone is given a character and a personal objective for the game, which is hidden from other players and sits alongside the team objective. There’s a random chance though that one player will become a traitor, given the task of buggering everything up for the rest of the team. The challenge here is doing so without getting found out; each round of the game brings a new crisis where players need to gather certain materials to successfully solve the crisis. These are placed face down by each player, and when they’re revealed you’ll sometimes see people have dropped other random items in the pile, therefore failing the crisis and causing problems – that’s a sure fire sign that someone isn’t playing fair. A clever traitor will leave this a while, playing along to make players believe that there aren’t any traitors in the group, but the very knowledge that there might be a traitor is enough for you to be casting sideways glances at your “friends” for much of the game.
Another interesting (but underused) feature is the crossroads cards, designed to provide flashpoints in the game which can make or break not only the success of the team but also the relationships between various characters. There are quite a few of these in The Long Night, my favourite being a very NSFW expletive-driven rant which you’ll make towards another player at a specific given moment. It’s an excellent mechanic in the game, but the requirements for these cards to kick off can be very specific, meaning that quite often you’ll be waiting for them to kick off, only for the relevant situation not to occur. We had a few games of this, and generally only had one or two of the cards come into play, which is a shame, but it’s certainly a fun moment when they do appear. If you’re not too keen on those in the box though, the Plaid Hat website lets you not only create your own cards but also download those made by other people, which is pretty neat.
So far, so Dead of Winter, but The Long Night does bring some pretty neat new features to the table. Some new optional modules are bundled in, giving new areas on the map or extra features which will aid or punish the players depending on how things are going. Raxxon is a very tough but enjoyable addition, giving somewhere to look for some pretty cool equipment, but with the side effect of also having to contain some experimental monsters which will spawn each round unless you keep them under control. Some of these look every bit as terrifying as they sound (“Spewer” was a personal favourite in that respect) and can really screw up your well planned approach. The Bandits module is cool as well, adding new non-zombie characters onto the board which will try to interrupt the progress of your characters and can even make the difference between survival or death of your characters. Maybe not worth the entrance fee by itself, but if you’ve bought this version without already having the original then you’ll be laughing.
Another thing I really liked, but has drawn unhappy growls from some others, is the exposure die which gets rolled whenever you change location or attack a zombie. Doing so will leave you with a chance of being bitten by a zombie, getting frostbite or just getting wounded a bit. The most likely outcome is that nothing happens, but as you’d expect from a Winter-based zombie game it’s a pretty dangerous place to be wandering round, and problems will crop up from time to time. Just watch The Walking Dead for a few episodes and you’ll see what I mean. The random nature can be slightly unfair I guess if you’re looking at it from a pure fairness angle, but I felt like it helped the theme nicely and made you think twice as to whether you really did need to move around as much as you were.
And so despite the little gripes that you could pick out of Dead of Winter: The Long Night we’ve really enjoyed playing it once we actually managed to get a bit group of us together. The zombie theme hasn’t been done much better than this, and with some wonderful components in the box to help the feeling along there’s some fantastic gaming to be had with the various provided scenarios. From what I can tell I’m not sure The Long Night is a worthwhile purchase if you’ve already got the original game, but if you’re wondering whether or not to take the plunge then you definitely should. This is a great game.
Dead of Winter: The Long Night
Available Now, RRP £54.99
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