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Solstice Survival – Dead Of Winter: The Long Night Review

Dead Of Winter: The Long Night is not only a game in its own right, but also an expansion for the hugely successful Dead Of Winter, a game in which players work together to overcome the zombie hordes during an endless apocalyptic winter.  Or are they really working together?  Is there actually a traitor in their midst?  For both Dead Of Winter and its younger sibling The Long Night are semi-cooperative games, where one of the cuddly, friendly gamers at the table talking sweet nothings into your ears may be out to make make you fail.  Or maybe that traitor is innocent little ol’ you…

 Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

School’s out forever – time for games!

More of everything? Dead right!

Plaid Hat have gained (and, I think, deserve) a reputation for quality games with strongly defined characters and replay value, and if you know and love the base box for Dead Of Winter, then you will be delighted to know that The Long Night brings you more of pretty much everything.  More characters, more missions, more zombies, more items and, probably most excitingly for those who have the base game, extra modules to add to the game as you see fit.  Whether you combine the boxes or play them separately is up to you, but having a grasp of the original’s rules will see you up and running in little time as, modules apart, the rules in The Long Night are well nigh identical to those in the earlier game.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

The box is packed with stuff!

Crossroads for these angry streets!

The box for The Long Night holds a vast array of components – standees for zombies and survivors, locations printed on thick cardboard (yes, cardboard this time rather than the Dead Of Winter’s more flimsy stock), player aids, and a vast number of cards.  These will take a while to sort out into their respective decks, and serve different functions, ranging from missions to items to crises to possible events.  These events are called Crossroads cards, and are so integral to the game system that The Long Night even bears the moniker “A Crossroads Game”.  During any player’s turn another player draws one of these cards, and it is triggered if its hidden condition is met.  Many of these have alternative options from which players are allowed to choose, so the narrative of each game of The Long Night is commendably strong and has the potential to be entirely different from the last.

There is also a small and suspicious package in the box, a neat package of additional Crossroads cards.  These deal with mature themes, and may be added into the The Long Night by consenting adults, but the game is no weaker without them, and some of the other cards also have a small icon that indicates that parental guidance (or something similar) might be required, so the opportunity is there for players to tweak the experience as they see fit.  Plaid Hat have also even come up with a Crossroads card creator, which is a very fine idea indeed, and more evidence of the amount of care and detail that goes into their products even after their release.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

Crossroads cards can be adult in nature.

Tweaks and details add to the experience!

At the most basic level – without the new modules – The Long Night adds in some extra tweaks to the base game, which help to improve it.  Helpless survivors can become unruly and demand more food, and your characters can be beset by despair, but on the other hand your barricades can be sneakily stuffed with explosives designed to take out curious neckmunchers.  These details add to the story and to the atmosphere, but also add a little to the rules overhead and upkeep from round to round.  Even for a newbie who has not played the original box the basic rules are not really complicated at all once you have played a couple of rounds, but the Crossroads cards have the habit of tinkering with them as you go along.  You will also need to keep track of the various abilities of your survivors, so this game is definitely one to be savoured as a main event, especially as such an approach will allow players to maximise their chances of beating the zombie hordes.  Thankfully, the various scenarios are graded according to length, so you can budget for your available gaming time.  The Long Night says it can be played in as little as ninety minutes, but variants can make for an even shorter game, or you can go in for a longer haul of around three hours.  At a higher player count and with decent interaction around the table and decisions to be made, this would easily provide the central focus for an evening.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

Most of those tokens mean something bad,..

Fancy a bite?  Watch out for the traitor!

If you are new to this particular zombieverse then you will be happy to know that for such an involving experience the gameplay in The Long Night is commendably streamlined.  Each round involves the players activating their characters while they try to avert crises, keep the survivors in the colony fed and, of course, hold the zombies at bay.  Some actions, such as searching for items (don’t make too much noise!) or attacking a zombie, require the player to spend a die – you’ll roll these at the start of your turn – , while others, such as playing cards for their actions, cost nothing.  Once all the players have had their turn then it is time to feed the colony, check that the waste is not piling up, pray that the current crisis has been averted, and then sit tight and wait to see what disease-ridden foot-draggers turn up where.  Oh, and what was that rogue card doing in the crisis pile?  We were looking for fuel, not medicine!  There must be a traitor around the table.  Looks like you and your fellow players will have to sort out who it might be and exile them.  Exile is a pretty nasty fate in The Long Night, especially if you are not the traitor and just happen to have an untrustworthy look about you, but you can also be punished by having first-player rights taken away from you, so this game is as much about the gamers as it is about the game, and the right crowd will make it shine.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

Got to keep morale up..!

Fail to feed your colonists or stop the waste from piling up and morale will dip and possibly cost you the game, but morale will also drop if any player’s character dies, and that can happen (wait for it…) simply by walking from A to B.  Yes, that’s how much this game hates its players.  You see, unless you happen to have helpful equipment with you, every time you move a colonist or attack a zombie you have to roll the dreaded exposure die, and it is possible to breathe your last breath simply through the roll of this little demon – roll a “bite” and that’s it, your character dies, morale drops, and the infection begins to spread unless you are either lucky or do something drastic.  Now, I’ve counted several times and there are definitely twelve sides on that die and only one “bite” symbol, but you will certainly feel as if there is nothing but bites on there, and in one game of The Long Night I have had my first two survivors trek out to find fuel and both die of bites in the first turn.  Yes it hurts, but my word is it ever a good way of making you feel scared!

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

It’s called a die for a reason…

Want even more?  Throw in the modules!

The real selling point of The Long Night, though, is the extra modules, which come with their own scenarios designed to ease players into the experience. These three modules are the core of what differentiates The Long Night from its predecessor, and can be introduced on a scenario by scenario basis. Improvements are items that can be built via card effects during the game to help the survivors on their way. The Bandits are another group of survivors who interact with the players, normally in a negative way, and scavenge for items to take away to their hideout. Intriguingly, if a player who is not a traitor is exiled, they then become the leader of the bandits. The most wide-ranging new module, though, is the Umbrella Corporation, sorry, Raxxon, a location where biochemical experiments have gone terribly wrong, as they always seem to do.  When will they learn, eh?  The effects of the Raxxon cards can be very nasty indeed, while the special zombies that have resulted from their experiments need to be contained on every round before they spill out into the frosty night and cause havoc.  The rules overhead for the Raxxon module adds a fair amount of upkeep to the core game, while the improvements are by far the easiest to throw into the mix, and the bandits sit somewhere in between. Thankfully the designers have created introductory scenarios to help players explore the terrible options these new modules have to offer, so at least your characters can go to their doom with the warm comforting glow of having done so via a gentle learning curve.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

Extra modules provide variety and longevity.

Player count?  The more the deadlier!

Like its illustrious forebear, The Long Night shines brightest with a high count of chatty players who are not afraid to stab each other in the back, metaphorically, of course.  There is an official and entertaining two player traitor variant you can hunt out online, as well as cooperative versions, and you can tinker with easier or harder missions, but playing this with the full player count and the possibility of betrayal is letting it do what it was designed to do, and that is definitely where it is best.  It also lives as a character based game with a strong narrative, where you feel for your guys and girls as they head out to the library and never come back, where a motivational speaker can improve morale, and where the Crossroads element can make the story twist and turn in unexpected ways.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

Motivational speaking not so effective on the undead.

When the rules fade into the background and The Long Night begins to hum along you will forget this is all just plastic and cardboard, just as you once forgot (if you are as old as I am) that Raccoon City and Silent Hill don’t really exist, and you will be able to play the game through to its conclusion and live, relive and recount the story.  At its worst, though, you will curse the tokens as you realise that you forgot to activate something or other and cannot quite remember (for example) what differentiates a wound from frostbite through sheer despair.  While the core of the game is nice and smooth, players will spend much of The Long Night locked in the safest room in the colony looking something up in the rules, and that can get in the way of experiencing the narrative.  So, unlike those chancers who just won’t learn and insist on heading into disaster areas full of shuffling deadbeats, be aware of what you might be getting into with The Long Night, especially if you are new to Dead Of Winter.  It can reward you in abundance, but there is a bit of heavy lifting to be done at the start of the experience.

 Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

My leader is not long for this world…

Winter of discontent?  Or do we love this content?

The conclusion to this review is pretty easy to write.  If you own and love Dead Of Winter, then The Long Night will expand that experience considerably and give you greater customisability into the bargain.  It will do so at a price, but one that is pretty competitive considering just how much lovely gear and atmosphere comes stuffed into that box, meaning that those who clutch Dead Of Winter to their chests hoping to cajole a passing group of geeks into a game can dive right in and expect pure joy.  If, however, you are new to this particular brand of zombie chasing then either box would do to start with in theory.  The Long Night has a broader story arc with the three extra modules, but the base box has more characters and more missions and fewer rules exceptions.  On balance, I would still recommend that folks start with Dead Of Winter and then maybe move on to The Long Night from there, but this is solid narrative gaming, like the sequel to a hit film, and sits on the upper edge of 8 out of 10 for me, 9 if you already own Dead Of Winter.

Dead Of Winter The Long Night Board Game

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.