Dead of Winter: The Long Night: An Aficionado Review

This game is a requested review/preview. I was sent a copy of the game free of charge. I disclose this in the interest of preserving my integrity.

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Hey there loyal readers and new readers alike! I hope you’re having a wonderful time in life, whatever it is you’re doing right now (and of course you’re reading my article, so you must be ūüėČ ). Today I’ll be looking at one of the most anticipated expansions¬†for me in a while, a game that had the potential to make or break the original;¬†Dead of Winter: The Long Night.

Now, if you haven’t already read my initial impressions, you can find them here. In a very concise summary, I felt like the game was only okay, and that the traitor mechanic was absolutely atrocious. So, here I was, with a box chock full of content for a game that I hadn’t really looked at in a while. Having listened to and read some reviews beforehand, I was cautiously optimistic about what was on offer. Was my optimism misplaced, or is¬†Dead of Winter¬†saved by a great expansion? Let’s find out.

The much wider and more varied cast, ready to try and survive The Long Night.

Components

Nothing much has changed here; the art is still gorgeous, and the quality of the components is still excellent. I’ll just quickly touch on some of the new stuff and then move straight to gameplay.

The board included in¬†The Long Night contains some mild differences to the core, notably that the colony looks different. It does help to clean up a little bit of clutter, but it’s nothing too fancy. I will note that I quite like the glossy feel of the new one though, so that’s a small plus.

The game also comes with a small packet of Crossroad cards with a serious warning on them. Trust me, they weren’t kidding. There are some which aren’t so bad, and others which will send chills down your spine or revolt you as your mind fills with images that are NSFL (Not Safe for Life). I appreciate the warning label on them, but I personally find it to be a bit gratuitous.¬†Continuing down that thread, there are some child zombies included in the game. For me,¬†The Long Night¬†may have thematically pushed itself too far into a dark realm for the Aficionado’s liking.

If you’re a fan of a darker, grittier game, then you’ll surely love what’s on offer here, and you can always tailor the experience to your playgroup. However, I can’t help but feel that¬†Dead of Winter is now taking itself a bit too seriously, and trying hard to be “edgy” in order to shock. Again, this is just the Aficionado talking, and if you like your games dark, you’ll find plenty to immerse yourself in here.

On a lighter note, I commend the inclusion of a diverse cast to the game. There are now characters of various nationalities (Indian, Korean, Japanese, Lebanese) as well as characters with disabilities (there’s at least a blind guy). There’s even a monkey now, because the dog wasn’t crazy enough.

+Same high quality components and amazing art.

+New colony has minor improvements over the old one.

+Great cast diversity.

-The theme seems to have embraced the darkness a little too much.

Melissa looks quite pleased with the zombie apocalypse. Strange lass.

Gameplay

I’m going to assume you know how to play¬†Dead of Winter already; if not, go read my original review. Instead, I will focus on some of the new content that can work alongside/replace original components, then move onto each of the three modules in the game.

The game introduces tonnes more secret goals, crises, crossroads, zombies, survivors, and cards for each of the decks in the game. Most of these can be easily integrated, and they add a huge amount of variety to the game, which is always a big plus in my books. Namely, the new items deck provides you with some options; you can flat out replace the old ones if they’re getting a bit stale (a bit of a band aid solution, as you’ll encounter the same issue with the new ones after a while) or you can shuffle the decks together and randomly deal out twenty (great for variety, but can randomly unbalance the game by removing necessary cards).

One thing I did feel was that some of the new survivors were miles more powerful than their predecessors, with some truly crazy powers (one of them starts with the sniper rifle ability, another allows many survivors to ignore rolling for exposure when they move). This does make a difficult game a bit easier and more enjoyable, but it does feel out of sync with the original.

Onto the modules, we have the simplest one; buildings. If you choose to play with this module, you’ll need to add a few crossroads cards to the deck, one character and randomly select four buildings from ten total to be available to be built during the game. These buildings provide a range of effects that make thematic sense; a fireplace helps to deal with frostbite, bedding makes people able to do more things thanks to better sleep, and a toilet, well, makes it so there’s less waste lying around.

It’s far and away the easiest module to include, and makes the game easier again…when you draw the tools to actually make the buildings. You see, the only way to construct a building is by having the correct cards. There are no actions you can take to build them or anything like that; you have to be lucky and get them built. Expect to have maybe two of them finished very early in the game, and then watch the other two fade into the background, much like this entire module seems to.

So many bandits.

So many bandits.

Next up, we have some real pests that you have to deal with throughout the game. Not only are the undead causing you grief, but now you have to deal with some bandits too!

Bandits introduce a new crisis, a few new crossroads cards, a new location and some new rules. Now, whenever a new crisis is revealed, bandits spawn in specific places (random if you draw an old crisis) and begin plundering noisily. Not only do they take stuff from the locations where they spawn, but they count as a survivor for the purposes of attracting zombies AND for the total number of spaces that can be occupied at a location. You can deal with the bandits with a few item cards in the game, or by killing them much like you would attack another survivor, but they’re a huge nuisance.

The new location introduced is the bandit lair, where the loot the bandits gather is stored face-up. Players can try their luck at stealing from the bandits or even attacking them in their lair, but the consequences can be dire. If they’re lucky, however, the players can take advantage of the bandits sifting through the decks for them and pick out some of the best bits of their treasure for themselves; in fact, the exiled player can now become the “Bandit King” and has the extra option of simply taking one card per turn (which helps boost a pretty poor position to be in). There’s a bit of a thematic disconnect here; after all, how do you know what the bandits stole and where they put it? However, mechanically, this is a very solid addition to the game, though I would say it does reasonably increase the difficulty, which is fine for a full co-op, but maybe not so much for a traitor game.

Finally, we meet the module I was most excited to try out. You see,¬†The Long Night introduces the (now clich√©) idea that the zombies are the government’s fault,¬†that they were doing some testing that went wrong at the destination of the game’s final module:¬†Raxxon.

Raxxon is the most complex module of the three, but it’s not overwhelming. You get some special zombies inspired from pretty much every zombie flick ever, including White Walkers from Game of Thrones, Freddy Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street, Boomers, Tanks, Hunters and Witches from Left 4 Dead. These friendly folk try and break out of the facility every turn and cause all kinds of mayhem… or so I thought.

Whilst you’re encouraged to go to the facility and seal them in by using a code (a combination of two dice), it really doesn’t feel like a “must”. In fact, unless you attack the special zombies, they don’t really do anything special except protect other regular zombies.

When you attack them, you must roll a six sided die and apply an effect depending on what you rolled. Try and attack the Tank and fail, and he’ll crush you to bits. The Collector will steal some of your stuff if you fail to kill him. The Walkers will give you chills in the form of frostbite. This all seems neat, but the Aficionado found that the strength of the zombies was too swingy, and when they appeared, it didn’t feel tense or threatening, especially given what else Raxxon has to offer.

You see, the government was also making all kinds of things in Raxxon, like Drones, Mine Throwers, experimental pills and Portable Barriers. You too can find these items, but the catch is you need to roll exposure whenever you search at Raxxon; it’s a highly dangerous facility, and you never know what’s lurking around the corner.

The reward far outweighs the risks, however, as¬†some of the items completely trivialise the zombie menace at literally no cost, while others make searching an absolute cakewalk. The pills offer random effects based on, you guessed it, a die roll, and while some effects are interesting in any case, others (like the red “superman” pill) can really swing the game.

Raxxon was the module I was most excited about before playing; the super zombies and super items made it sound like the difficulty would increase, and the co-op side (which, as stated in my original article, I am partial to) would improve vastly, even if it cost the broken traitor element. However, what Raxxon actually delivered was an unhealthy dose of randomness and chance into the game, so much that the game is likely to hit one of the two extremes rather than find a nice, healthy moderate experience.

+The Bandit Module is fantastic, and easily the highlight of the expansion.

+More options during the turn create a deeper, more immersive play experience.

+Plenty of options for customising the play experience to enhance replayability.

~The Building Module is really bland and a bit hit and miss.

-Raxxon was a complete letdown, and only heightens randomness in a game already at the mercy of the die.

-Many new characters and items seem to be a power level above the old stuff; this feels like a different game.

Conclusion

My optimism got the better of me this time.¬†Dead of Winter had begun to gather dust on my shelf, and it is now apparent that my own hopes for¬†The Long Night being a redeemer were forlorn indeed. Whilst there are some redeeming parts of¬†The Long Night, for me the bad far outweighs the good. You may say “But Aficionado, that’s why it’s¬†modular; you don’t HAVE to play with all the new stuff”. To those people, I say this: “Would you pay the price of a full game and only use about half of what it has to offer?”.

If you love¬†Dead of Winter,¬†The Long Night is a must have for you; it gives you much more of the same, with ample new stuff to mix it up a bit.¬†However, those who had problems with the original will find no solace here;¬†The Long Night exacerbates the game’s issues in regards to variance and wildly swings the balance of the game. I really wanted to like it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very disappointed in it.

The Aficionado would not purchase this expansion unless you really love the original.

Grade: C- 

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