Saturday, 17 September 2016

Dead of Winter: The Long Night

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Dead of Winter: The Long Night is not an expansion to Dead of Winter. It is a standalone game. It introduces some new elements, but the core mechanisms are the same. It feels like playing the same game with some expansion modules added. If you have not played Dead of Winter before, read my blog post from last year. I won't describe the core game in this blog post. I will only describe what's new.

The characters are all new. That means new stories, new abilities, new Crossroad cards.

In addition to the six remote locations found in the first version, The Long Night has three more locations. The first new location is Raxxon, a research facility where mysterious experiments have been conducted, and I assume went horribly wrong, because they seem to be related to the whole zombie apocalypse. You can visit Raxxon and perform searches. The equipment here tends to be better. However it is a dangerous place and each search requires rolling the Exposure die. In The Long Night, every round some mutated zombies appear. These are more powerful zombies which emerge from Raxxon. The other thing you can do at Raxxon is to prevent such zombies from entering play. There are many types of mutated zombies, each type having its own special rules. You don't need to remember all these rules. You just read the cards as they come into play.

That obese zombie is one of the mutated zombies. This one is hard to kill. It spews poison. If you are unlucky when you try to fight it, everyone at the same location will get injured.

The two other new locations are the bandits' hideout and the graveyard. Bandits are another new element. Bandits visit the six basic remote locations to scavenge too, just like your survivors. They carry resources they find back to their hideout. Their scavenging attracts zombies, so the remote locations get overrun by zombies more easily. You can visit the bandits' hideout to steal their goods, or to raid them. It is not without risk though. You may get hurt. However one thing good about this way of collecting resources is you can see what exactly you're getting. Resource cards gathered by bandits are turned face-up, unlike those at remote locations which you can only see upon drawing from the decks.

These improvements are new too. Some of these are randomly drawn at the start of a game. You need to gather sufficient materials to build an improvement. Once built, anyone at the colony may use it.

The first improvement we built in our game was this toilet. In the game, whenever anyone uses a resource card, it is discarded to a waste pile, representing waste accumulating at the colony. If left unchecked, overflowing waste demoralises everyone, and when morale hits zero everyone loses. Toilet duty is necessary. The toilet allows you to clear 2 additional waste cards when you perform the clear waste action. Normally you get to clear only 3 waste cards.

All the new elements extend the original rules and don't really change them. You face more difficulties, but you also get some advantages and equipment that help you. You get a bit more variety.

The Play

We did a 5-player game. I played the original Dead of Winter more than one and a half years ago. What I remembered most from that session was - this is not a cooperative game! It should not be played with a cooperative game mentality. This time I kept reminding myself to be selfish. I did not draw the traitor card. My personal objective was to collect a fuel card and a survivor card. One of my starting items happened to be a fuel card, so I was already halfway to meeting my personal objective. However finding a survivor card wouldn't be easy. Survivors can be found at all six remote locations, but in all cases they are the rarest card type.

My personal objective card was Martyr. At first I didn't realise what the meaning behind this objective was. Only halfway through the game I realised I was supposed to collect the fuel and the survivor so that I could light the survivor on fire. This is dark humour. Give a man firewood and he will be warm for one night. Light him on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life.

Although quite a few of us had played the original Dead of Winter, for our session we selected the introductory scenario of The Long Night. It had only four rounds. Our group objective was to collect 2 resources from each of the 6 remote locations. This was going to be a tribute. I did help to search for resources, but I was in no hurry to add them to the tribute pile. I kept them in hand, announcing that it was better to do so in case of any emergencies, e.g. crises that require specific resources. In truth, holding back was an act of self-interest. If I helped complete the tribute too early, before my own personal objective was achieved, the game would end and I would lose, while anyone else who had completed his personal objective would win. I was not going to let the rest run ahead and win without me. Holding on to 2 resources from Location 6 (the gas station) which the others did not have yet was my insurance policy. So you see this game is ultimately about personal victories. The group objective is just a prerequisite, unless you are the traitor.

These two were my starting characters. Both were good at searching. Any die roll of 2 and above could be used for searching. This was good for both the group objective and my personal objective. Unfortunately my pretty girl athlete died in the first round. I triggered a Crossroad card event. A group of zombies which had been previously locked up in an armoury had broken out. I had three options. If I took the safest one, which was to kill any zombies that had escaped and then lock the door to prevent others from escaping, my characters would be injured and I would have nothing to gain. I decided to take the riskiest option, which was to attempt to kill all the zombies in the armoury. If my characters managed to survive this, they would gain access to the riot gear in the armoury, and from then on they didn't need to roll the Exposure die whenever traveling. This fight got my athlete girl killed, but thankfully my other character, a coach, survived. Since I lost one character, I now had one fewer die in my pool. Not good.

I was not the only one to lose a character right at the start. Jeff was the other unlucky fellow. For him it was worse. His lone survivor was a blind guy, who was horrible at searching. Jeff would have preferred to have him killed, because if you lose your last character, you get to draw a new one. Anyone else would have been better at searching than a blind man. Jeff sent Mr. Blind to Raxxon to perform searches, but he survived every Exposure die roll. For a moment Jeff was playing Kill Doctor Lucky. What's even funnier was Mr. Blind found a flamethrower at Raxxon, and went on to burn hordes of zombies. A blind guy flailing around with a flamethrower is not something you want to go near to.

That guy on the left is Mr. Blind.

Although we lost two members in the first round, all-in-all the scenario turned out to be easy to beat. We managed to handle most crises with no issue. We were steadily collecting the resources required for the tribute. We collaborated effectively, and there was no suspicious behaviour from anyone. It seemed we did not have a traitor, and later our hunch was proven right.

Jeff's Mr. Blind situation is one point of contention some players will have. Jeff was stuck in a rather hopeless situation. He was not a traitor. Since he knew he would likely lose, should he have played in such a way to make everyone else lose too? On one hand, you can say this goes against the spirit of the game. If he is good guy, then it doesn't make sense for him to hurt the colony. On the other hand, from a game mechanism and win or lose perspective, everyone losing means he is on par with the rest, while supporting others to win despite his own loss means he is at a lower position than the rest. This is against the spirit of doing your best in a competition. For me personally, I choose the first approach. I prioritise the story over the relative positions of the players. Had I not found the survivor card which I needed to win a personal victory, I would have still contributed the resources in the final round so that others who had achieved their personal objectives would win. However I can only say this is my personal preference. I can't pass judgement that this is the "right" thing to do. Every group needs to come to its own conclusion. It would be best if everyone in the group has the same preference. I don't see this as a problem of the game design.

In our game, eventually everyone except Jeff managed to complete his personal objective. So we all won, not as a group, but as individuals.

We split up to search different locations.

The first location my coach went to was the gas station.

Resource cards found at the remote locations have a number at the bottom to indicate which locations they are from.

There was no one left at the colony. We were all outside scavenging. The toilet which we had built was underutilised. Since nobody was home, the place was quiet and no zombies were attracted here. Also the food we had stockpiled was not consumed.

I only found the survivor card on the right in the last round.

By late game most of the locations were full of zombies. It would be suicide to do any more searching without thinning the herd.

The Thoughts

To me, The Long Night and Dead of Winter are mostly the same game. The Long Night added some elements, and thus some complexity, but I don't think these additions affect the fun level much. What's fun about Dead of Winter is already in the original game. The additions just add variety. If you play Dead of Winter a lot, then you should get The Long Night, because it'll give you more characters and scenarios to play with. If you haven't tried either one, I'd recommend the first game over the second, but just slightly. The additional stuff is not necessary to enjoy the essence of the game.

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