Thursday, March 26, 2015

Winter In The Maritimes: The Board Game - "Dead Of Winter: A Crossroads Game"

When every other winter day in the Maritimes looks like this:


Most normal people would want to play a board game that looks like this:


Or this:

Or maybe this:


But, noooooo, I gotta be all thematically-appropriate n' shit. At least I think that's why I picked Dead Of Winter: A Crossroads Game on my last game turn.


Actually, I had a lot of incentive to test drive this one. It's got zombies. It's co-operative. It's got a traitor mechanic like in Battlestar Galactica. It's got a veritable avalanche of theme. And it's slightly less depressing than the sight currently outside my front door.  

Here's how Plaid Hat Games describes this one:

"Crossroads is a new series from Plaid Hat Games that tests a group of survivors' ability to work together and stay alive while facing crises and challenges from both outside and inside.
 

"Dead of Winter is the first game in this series, designed by Isaac Vega and Jon Gilmour. It puts 2-5 players together in a small, weakened colony of survivors in a world where most of humanity are either dead or diseased, flesh-craving monsters. Each player leads a faction of survivors with dozens of different characters in the game.

"Dead of Winter is a meta-cooperative psychological survival game. This means the players are working together toward one common victory condition--but for each individual player to achieve victory, they must also complete their personal secret objective. This secret objective could relate to a psychological tick that's fairly harmless to most others in the colony, a dangerous obsession that could put the main objective at risk, a desire for sabotage of the main mission, or worst of all: vengeance against the colony! Certain games could end with all players winning, some winning and some losing, or all players losing. Work toward the group's goal but don't get walked all over by a loudmouth who's only looking out for their own interests!"

Looking to digest an entire brain's-worth of game rules? Then shuffle on over to this link and start a-gnawin' away.

***

SCENARIO: "STOCKPILE"

SET-UP:
Morale Starts at 6. Round Track Starts at 6. Add 18 (!) zombies to the colony.

VICTORY:
There must be at least 2 Food Tokens in the Food supply for each non-Exiled player. There must be at least one Barricade at each Colony entrance. Players have also placed 2 Medicine Cards, 2 Tool Cards, and 2 Gas Cards under this Objective (Starter Item Cards do not count). Players may place a non-starter Medicine / Tool / Gas Card under this Objective at any time during their Turn. 

STARTING CHARACTERS

ME: Ashley Ross, Construction Worker and Rod Miller, Truck Driver 

 
ANDREW: Olivia Brown, Doctor and Talia Jones, Fortune Teller


KRIS: Brian Lee, Mayor and Loretta Clay, Cook


Mike: Walter Edward White, Chemist and Mike Cho, Ninja (!)


After using Loretta to take his first few actions, Brian Lee got injured by Frost! Meanwhile, Mike sent Monsieur Cho out to ginsu three Zombies attacking the Colony. I then contributed some Medicine to the current "Despair" Crisis Card which required that every non-Exiled Character be packing their own personal supply of Xanax by the end of the round.


Taking full advantage of Rod's "anti-Exposure die" Special Ability, I sent the fat, cranky bastard off to the Hospital. He found some drugs there (and by some miracle, a six-pack) so I decided to squirrel this away under the Crisis stack. I then used tough-as-nails Ashley to set up a Barricade and kill two Zombies, rolling a pair of blank die faces in style!

Andrew dispatched expert searcher Talia to the cop shop, using his weak-ass "1" and a "2" die roll results to pull two cards. Doc Brown also headed out that way and both Characters were spared from nature's fury by rolling a pair of blanks on the Exposure Die.

As soon as Kris went to activate his dauntless Chef, this prompted Andrew to read the "Loretta Clay" Crossroads Card:


Knowing how desperate we were to retain our Food, Kris decided to roll for it, getting the "Nothing Happens" result and letting us breathe a sigh of relief!

Meanwhile, Mike made a show out of contributing one Food to the stockpile and then used his Sho Kosugi-wannabe to fillet two more walkers. He then dispatched Edward to Los Pollos Hermanos...er, the Hospital, avoiding Exposure along the way. He gained one undisclosed Item on a Search which prompted Kris to read out the "Rascals" Crossroads Card:


Mercifully Mike came to his senses pretty quick and went with Option 2, sparing us considerable  weeping and / or gnashing of teeth. Instead, he decided to Make Noise to grab a second Card. This immediately attracted a sharp-eared Zombie to his 20.

By the end of the round everyone was nicely doped up to the gills, which let us cruise past the "Despair" Crisis! 


But there's no time for celebration in Dead of Winter. Just like in Battlestar Galactica, there's a new Crisis every turn. Faced with "Horror In The Night", I tucked two Food underneath that evil Card and then dispatched Rod over to the Grocery Store where he recovered two more. Four Food in total already! In the immortal words of Scott H. Reiniger in Dawn of the Dead:


With our ultimate goal firmly in mind, I kept Ashley on Barricade duty. After hastily erecting two of those suckas she got stuck on doody duty: using a low die to shovel three piles of poo (I.E. spent Cards) outta the Waste Pile. Man, talk about drawing the short straw! Oh well, better that than taking yet another hit to our already-tenuous Morale.   

On Andrew's watch, Talia couldn't foresee taking one Wound in a Zombie fight at the Police Station and then some Frost damage in the second battle. Always one to work co-cooperatively to save his own butt, Andrew then used Olivia to heal Talia's frostbite.

More ill-tempered than Gordon Ramsey in a frat house kitchen, Kris channeled the fury of Loretta Clay into blowing away one Zombie and then calmly added two Food to the supply. Hopefully she washed her hands first. Ewwww.

Just as I was about the activate man-about-town / human gastropod Rod Miller, Andrew started to read the confounded "Rod Miller" Crossroads Card:


Unwilling to risk their own Characters to Exposure rolls, all three of my so-called "allies" decided to go with Option 2. Thanks, guys! Whatta buncha a-holes!

I'd gloat about what happened next if it didn't end up hurting me as well. Loretta Clay tried to kill a Zombie but ended up rolling the dreaded one-in-twelve "Bitten" die result, which immediately turned into one of the walking dead. Immediately she set her rheumy eyes on the lean by wiry Mike Cho.

Now we could just as easily have halted the spread of infection right then and there by voluntarily killing him, but we also knew just how valuable the dude was in combat. Instead we let Mike make an Exposure roll and this is what he got:


FUCK.

As elusive as he was, Cho-San couldn't avoid contracting the Zombie virus as well. As a result, Mike immediately became 100% more slow-moving, foul-smelling and bitey. He also went after my last Character, Ashley Ross. Still mourning the loss of Rod Miller, I just couldn't give up on Ashley so easily. I also decided to make the Exposure die roll and here's how that worked out:


DEAD. 

Ashley then proceeded to take a l'il nibble on Kris's character, the Mayor. Hoping that our spate of bad luck would have to stop sometime, Kris decided to roll for it, getting this result:


* Phewwww!!! * Yes!!! That's better! The plague had finally stopped and we could get back to dying in a much slower and more protracted manner!

Now completely devoid of any character (a complaint I often hear from my friends) I randomly drew Annaleigh Chan, Lawyer as a replacement:


Even though this was a pretty brutal turn for us, it ended on a positive note as we erected a couple of Barricades and successfully resolved the latest Food-related Crisis! Annaleigh also wandered off to the Hospital where she expertly dropped two Zombies.

Kris then read "The Deputy" on Andrew's turn. Keen on scoring a Weapon, he went for Option 1 and snagged an FN SLP Shotgun for himself. He immediately christened this shiny new boomstick by ventilating two shamblers! He finished off this productive turn by placing a mystery Card under the current Crisis.

  
Andrew then dispatched Talia to the Hospital where she performed two Searches and plastered one Zombie, taking a Wound in the process! Before passing the turn back to Kris he took great pains to seed two cards under the current Crisis.

After hastily erecting a Barricade, Kris used a Fuel Card to avoid rolling the Exposure Die en route to the General Store. He then allocated a "4" die result to a Search and came up with a "Wounded Survivor".

 
With our numbers depleted, it made sense to add another body to the worker pool, especially if we could keep them out of the Colony and prevent them from eating up all of the Food. As a result, Sophie the Pilot was added to his roster; unfortunately she came into the game at death's door with two Wounds. Yikes!


Next up Mike tried to turn one of his low-die results into a successful Medicine Search with a "Junk" Card but ended up rolling a crappy got "2" as a result. Edward slunk back to the Colony in abject defeat, not knowing that his day was about to get a helluva lot worse. Just as soon as he crossed the threshold of the shelter a Zombie overwhelmed the Section One Barricade and ate his face off!

This dropped our Morale down to a perilous "1" and necessitated a new Character draw for Mike. This turned out to be the plucky military vet Thomas Heart.

Talia received a Frost Token while schlepping to the Hospital but when she spotted a rogue "Horse" just hanging out in the street Andrew's mood quickly improved. After spending about .25 seconds deciding to keep the beast he then used an Item Card to heal Talia. Fortified, the psychic proceeded to find an item at the Hospital which led to a Card being placed underneath the current Crisis. A second Search came up empty. Finally she blasted two Zombies away with her Shotgun.

Kris performed two searches with The Mayor, desperate to find medical treatment for Sophie. If she took one more Wound and died this final Morale hit would cost us the game! He wandered off to the Police Station and found a highly-prized Tactical Rifle which he used to snipe a Zombie that was threatening exploit the weakened Section One entrance of the Colony.

That's when Mike had to contend with the ruinous "Outsiders" card!


In retrospect we should have "Thumbs Downed" the whole thing but we were lured in by the prospect of replenishing our Character base, getting more Actions and gathering more supplies.

So we went for it. Mike got Buddy Davis the Fitness Trainer, Andrew picked up Forest Plum the Mall Santa, Kris acquired Bev Russell, Mother and I snagged John Price, the Student.

On my very next turn I sent John off to the Police Station. After expertly avoiding any Exposure, I began rummaging around for some badly-needed supplies but all I turned up was another stupid mouth to feed:


We knew right then and there that we'd made a horrible mistake. There was no way to generate enough Food for everyone. Rampant starvation broke out at the Colony, driving a final stake through the heart of our Morale and ending the game!


END GAME RESULTS

I did have four Item Cards in my hand for the "Collector" Secret Objective, but since we failed the Main Objective the point was moot. For what it was worth, I was also Loyal to the Survivor cause!


Naturally, Andrew was a Betrayer. Whatta shocka. He did a great job concealing his alliegence and hoarding supplies, but since he didn't collect the Gas Cards required to complete his "Runaway" Secret Objective he lost as well! Yeah, Karma's a bitch, ain't it?


Kris also failed to complete his "Junkie" Secret Objective. Not that it mattered since the game itself creamed us.


And the same went for poor Mike.


The first game went by so quickly that we racked it up it up and played again, using the "Too Many Mouths" scenario.

And, hey, guess what, we got completely destroyed again with no individual winner. Good times. 

***

REVIEW

PROS

  • Uniformly awesome production values. Who wouldn't want a custom d12 with a skull snowflake and a ripped-out molar in their collection? I mean, c'mon, how freakin' METAL is that?
  • Clear, intuitive rules insure that you won't be wasting a bunch of time looking up stuff in the manual constantly. It's pretty easy to set up and teach.
  • The sheer variety of Objectives, Survivors, Items, Crisis and Crossroads Cards is downright mind-boggling. There's a lot of variables and replay value here.
  • The Crossroads Deck is design brilliance incarnate. It gives the other players something to do when it's not their turn and adds a metric shit-ton of theme to an already-very-thematic game.
  • The die-for-actions mechanic works very well and easily simulates each Character's strengths and weaknesses. Giving each Character a distinct Ability also helps to ramp up the theme.
  • Just like in Robinson Crusoe, there's a ton of options to pursue every turn, giving players lots of opportunity to avoid the dreaded Bossy Veteran Syndrome that plagues so many other co-operative games. Non-dice-related actions are always an option, which means that you can still salvage a fairly productive turn after some disastrous dice-rolling.
CONS 
  
  • Between the challenges posed by the Crisis Cards, the Main Objective, your Secret Objective, the Exposure die and, last but not least, the Zombies themselves, winning the game feels like a depressingly daunting affair. At least if the Humans fail in Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons will win. This one feels a lot more "all for naught" than Galactica.
  • Tonally the game is all over the map. By all accounts, this should be a highly stressful and nail-biting experience. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the designer decided to defuse the tension by giving us amateur Ninjas, Rascal scooter races, a mall Santa and a dog with a rifle strapped to his back. 

***

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game has a lot going for it: it's aesthetically beautiful, it's challenging, it has plenty of innovative design elements and it's thematically rich. It just didn't inspire me to rush out and buy like I thought it would. The game's oddball tone and perpetual state of futility kinda knocked it down a peg or two for me.

As a result the game scores five pips outta six with a tilt down towards the blackened depths of my winter-weary soul.


Now, if you don't mind, I'm gonna see if anyone's selling a used copy of Tahiti on E-bay.

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Looking to play ducks and drakes with the future of the human race over a couple of bottles of expired medicine? Then click on the link below to learn more about Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game and help this blog survive!

Monday, March 9, 2015

"What's In The Box?!?" - Episode Four - "Star Wars: Imperial Assault"


Greetings to all the Rebel Scum and Imperial Overlords out there! 

Well, I was so impressed by our recent play-through of Star Wars: Imperial Assault that I decided to feature it in a new episode of "What's In The Box?!?".

Enjoy!