I wasn’t sure at first if I should do a review of The Long Night before ever doing a review of Dead of Winter. My blog is going to end up reviewing plenty of board games that aren’t exactly brand new. In all honesty, I can’t afford to buy a new board game every single week.
In the end though I decided to forgo a Dead of Winter review in favor of skipping right to a review of the expansion. This probably works out for the better. Dead of Winter is one of my absolute favorite games, so a review of it would be fairly one note. The Long Night has more for me to talk about.
To start with I’ll summarize Dead of Winter. In the game, players represent a colony trying to survive the winter in a zombie apocalypse. Each player functions as a sort of faction within the colony. You control multiple survivors and can move them around on your turn and use them to take actions.
At the beginning of every round, all players roll dice based on the number of survivors they control. They then spend those dice to perform actions with their survivors. Some actions can use any dice, while others require dice of a minimum number. The survivors run around between the colony and a half-dozen locations, scavenging for loot and killing zombies. Many actions force the player to roll the exposure die, a twelve-sided die that determines how badly the survivor gets hurt, if at all.
Every game has a straightforward and randomized win condition, but the real fun lies in the secret objectives. Every player is secretly given a card detailing an extra task they need to complete to win. These tasks aren’t usually hard, but they can often run at odds with other actions the groups take. This can lead to paranoia and fear. This is especially true if someone draws a rare betrayer objective. The betrayer isn’t interested in completing the main objective. Instead, they want the colony to collapse.
There’s obviously more nuance to the rules but those are the general components. None of them are complicated, and they all come together to make an enthralling game. The colony feels like it’s on the edge of death from the word go, but you’re almost always able to eek out another round of survival. Every game is flavorful and exciting, with unrelenting tension.
Which brings us to the Long Night. The first expansion to Dead of Winter acts as a standalone with supplemental additions. That means you can play the Long Night without owning Dead of Winter. This is great for new players, since it means they can enjoy the extra content without having to buy the base game. None of the cards or characters are repeated from the original game. The two can be combined easily to make a ridiculously variable experience.
The new characters and cards have equally new and exciting abilities. None of them are more powerful than original characters, but they branch outward more and are often more fun to use. The same is true for items that players can loot. One major difference is that many items in the Long Night are less effective than Dead of Winter. Instead, they’ll have a variable mode, allowing players to use them for different functions. The basic food item, for example, players use as food or to trade with bandits to make them go away. We’ll come back to bandits in a minute.
The first major addition (or module as the game calls them) are improvements. Improvements are upgrades to the colony that give survivors there extra passive abilities. At the beginning of the game players draw four random improvement cards. Players must onstruct these before they can be used, with various cards and abilities working towards that.
I love improvements. They’re a completely positive addition to the game. They don’t strictly make the game easier, but they provide players with extra options to help defend themselves. Plus, the theme behind many of them is really fun. The DVD player, for example, can raise the colony’s morale (basically your colony’s health), but only if players devote precious actions and fuel to running it.
The second module adds bandits. Bandits are randomly placed on locations every turn. They take up space and attract more zombies just like survivors. This means they’re constantly in your way and make the world more dangerous. Additionally, each bandit steals one card from it’s location every round. That card is placed on the new bandit hideout location. Players can go to the bandit hideout and either fight or steal. Both allow the player to take a card of their choice from the hideout, though fighting is more dangerous.
I mostly like the addition of bandits. They simultaneously make the game easier and harder. Yes, the bandits take up space and attract more zombies. At the same time though, players choose what item to take from the bandit hideout. In essence the bandits are helping them filter through locations. This allows a player to pick exactly the item they need at a slightly higher risk.
The lack of difficulty shift is overall good, since it adds play options without making the game easier or harder. The problem I have is with the flavor. The “bandits” never actually attack the players or do anything harmful to the colony. The only time combat comes up is when the players attack them. The bandits are essentially just scavengers, making the players themselves the bandits. It’s a peculiar sort of logic that doesn’t quite jive with the rest of the flavor.
The third and final module added to the game is the Raxxon building. Raxxon was a company tasked with finding a cure to the zombie plague. The result was a bunch of advanced equipment and a mess of zombie variants. Every round the players have to spend actions containing the facility. If they don’t, dangerous zombie variants are released to random locations. The facility itself can be looted like any other location. It contains some of the most powerful pieces of equipment in the game. This includes the various colors of pills, which have a random effect and are often bombastically powerful.
Overall I really like the Raxxon addition, though again the flavor is sometimes at odds with the mechanics. The lootable equipment is amazing and fun, especially the pills. That said, it takes a lot of effort to contain the special zombies, effort that rarely feels worth it. The special zombies take up space like regular zombies and are immune to weapons and abilities that can automatically kill. At the same time their unique and dangerous traits only actually come up if the players fight them.
It leaves you in a strange position. Yes, the special zombies have interesting and unique powers. But the fact that players choose when to activate them subdues this. This is especially true when the penalty for leaving them alive is so small. It’s a relatively minor complaint, but it would have been cool to see them focus on more dynamic rules.
The last thing I want to talk about is the new crossroads cards. Crossroads cards are arguably the most important facet of both the Long Night and the original Dead of Winter. This deck of unique cards represent story based situations. Every player turn, a different player draws a crossroads card that has a trigger listed at the top. If that trigger occurs, play stops and the crossroads card is read. This might be something like having two survivors together at a non-colony location. This triggers a fight between the two survivors, with two or even three different outcomes for the player to choose from.
The crossroads cards are the most amazing thing about these games, and the one’s in the Long Night don’t disappoint in the slightest. These are mostly similar to the ones from the previous game, though there are never any repeats. Additionally, there are a handful of new “explicit” crossroads cards that can be added to the deck. These represent situations with foul language, gruesome violence, or otherwise explicit content.
I have nothing but good things to say about these new crossroads cards, and I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to spoil them! They’re always exciting, and often shocking. They’re one of the best mechanics I’ve ever experienced in board games.
The Long Night is hard to grade. It’s new mechanics are generally fun, but sometimes they miss the mark. The flavor so important to the feeling of the game isn’t as strong with these additions as well. Nevertheless, none of the additions come close to being bad, and all of them add in fun ways. The Long Night is a continuation and improvement over the base game, and I’m pleased as punch to add it to my collection.