Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Ca$h 'n Gun$ vs. Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition

Ca$h 'n Gun$ has always been a weird one that stuck out on my shelf. It isn't just because the box size is a little smaller, but a little thicker than the other square box games next to it. Nor is it because of the Kesha-like spelling of the title. But rather because it was a game that I could pull out with my long-time gamer friends and new gamers with little hesitation or worry that it might not produce an exciting and fun experience which was directly proportional to the amount of silliness we would display from pointing bright orange foam guns at one another's heads.

It really is a side-by-side comparison.
So, Ca$h 'n Gun$ (hereafter referred to as Cash and Guns) had a solid place in my collection. When Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition (hereafter referred to as Cash and Guns 2) was announced, I was curious. I mean, there were changes to the tried and true system. Did I need the new version to replace my old one? Well, I got a copy to find out. And I'll compare both versions of the game side-by-side.

First of all, the core game play is the same for both games. Loot for the round is placed out face up for everyone to see. Players then choose one of eight cards to "load" into their gun for the round. Five cards are "clicks" that are essentially bluffs--the gun will not fire. However, each player has three cards that will do damage to another player if it shoots. Getting shot means you get a wound (three wounds and you are out of the game) and you miss out on that round's share of loot.

First Edition. My guns have bite marks in them courtesy
of my teething daughter.
Next, players count down and then simultaneously point their guns at another player. The character you are pointing does not know if you played a click or a bullet. Multiple guns may be pointed at a single player and some players may be safe with no guns pointed at them during that round. However, players now have a chance to take the coward's route and drop out. There is another countdown and players may simultaneously drop their guns. This means that they will not be wounded by any guns pointed at them, but they are excluded from dividing up the round's loot.

For the players still in with guns pointed at other players still in, cards are revealed. If anyone is shot, they gain a wound and drop out of the round's loot share. Then those remaining in the round divvy up the loot for the round.

Second Edition.
Play continues for eight rounds (or until only one player remains alive) and the winner is the player who is alive with the most amount of money.

That is the basics of the gameplay which is consistent between both editions. So, what are the differences?


First Edition: Ca$h 'n Gun$

Second Edition: Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition

Summary: Although the annoying punctuation and shortened version of "and" is still in the game, they've reduced the number of dollar signs in the name to only one in the second edition, which is an improvement.

Verdict: Cash and Guns 2 wins.

Number of Players:

First Edition: 4-6 players.

Second Edition: 4-8 players.

Summary: There have been numerous times when we've had 7 players and someone suggested Cash and Guns and we were unable to play. However, the first edition did have rules for a 9 or 12 player team variant in the box if you had a second copy of the game, but purchasing a second copy just for the very specific number of players seemed silly.

Verdict: Cash and Guns 2 wins.

First and Second edition Bullet Cards.
Production Value:

First Edition: The character standees, tokens, and money are cardboard, and everyone has a set of relatively standard sized cards for their eight bullets. The bullet cards are large enough  The foam guns are bright orange (in the US release, since we kind of need every precaution to not get shot by our police), but are solid and feel good to hold. There are little details throughout the game that are fun. The money has small fine print text with hidden little jokes on it. Honestly, the game feels like it was made as a labor of love because of the little things hidden throughout it. The game even thanks a bunch of gangsters and "Quentin" in the back of the rules.

Second Edition: The character standees and tokens are cardboard. The bullet cards are a lot smaller, though the loot cards (no longer cardboard) are much larger. The foam guns are black with orange tips. The guns are identical in build and feel with a coloration difference. The money cards are a lot more "simple" in design. While they look less cluttered, they are also rather plain. There are also updated special thanks in the end of the rulebook as a nice nod to the original list.

Summary: Cash and Guns 2's standees and tokens are die cut to the shape of the illustration, which is a nice, albeit minor, nicety. The loot cards in Cash and Guns 2 is larger, which is nice, but it is without the details of the original, making the larger cards look empty and plain. The bullet cards in the second game are universal (the original had bullet cards associated to each character), however, the smaller bullet cards are actually a little disappointing. There is something psychological about holding a hand of large cards as being more intimidating and it feels more powerful. It really is a minor thing, but the bullet cards feel like Derringer ammo instead of Magnum ammo. However, there is also something psychologically empowering about holding a black gun instead of a bright orange one.

Verdict: Cash and Guns in everything except the guns. Unless you live in Missouri, then the bright orange guns in Cash and Guns is a positive.

Second edition characters (top) vs. First edition
characters (bottom).

First Edition: Cash and Guns art style is campy and cartoonish, however, it can be a little... uncomfortable. When players choose their characters in the opening, I usually lay them out and tell new players to choose their ethnic stereotype. It isn't really a big problem, but it is noteworthy for some groups. However, the illustrations are stylistic and lend to the theme, giving the game just a hint of grit in the silliness of the actual game play.

Second Edition: I actually kind of like John Kovalic's artwork in the Dork Tower comic. He has a simple art style, but it conveys the care that he has for those characters. His artwork has also been associated with Munchkin, which is the bane to many "serious" gamers. That being said, I am very disappointed with Kovalic's artwork in this. It is too simple and the lack of detail stands out too much. Even with the crisp lines, the artwork looks more like placeholder sketches rather than completed artwork on the cards.

Summary: Taste in artwork is subjective, so YMMV, but despite liking Kovalic's artwork in Dork Tower, I find it too simple and plain in Cash and Guns 2. The larger bills for the money just have too much empty spaces in it, which draws more attention to the simplicity of the illustrations that adorn them. However, it does avoid the ethnic stereotypes in his artwork that made some players uncomfortable.

Verdict: Cash and Guns wins here. Unless you play with ethnically sensitive Munchkin fans, then Cash and Guns 2.


First Edition: In the first edition of Cash and Guns only five bills were added to the table at the start of a round. When the loot was split between the remaining players, it could only be split if it could be split evenly--without making change. This meant that if there were three players left in and there were two $5000 bills, one $10,000 bill, and one $20,000 bill, then no one would get any of the loot. Instead it would remain on the table and next round five more bills would be added, making the pot much higher.

Second edition loot (left) and
First edition loot (right).
Also, when players backed out and laid down their guns to avoid being shot, they took a shame token. Each shame token cost the player $5000 at the end of the game.

The players each begin with eight cards. Five are clicks. Two are Bangs, which cause a wound. And each player also has one Bang, Bang, Bang! The Bang, Bang, Bang! cards took place before any other cards. So a player shot with a Bang, Bang, Bang! would be knocked out of the round before his card was played, even if he played a Bang--unless he also played a Bang, Bang, Bang! card. Bang, Bang, Bang! cards still just caused one wound.

Second Edition: Eight loot cards are laid out each round and each round all eight will be claimed in a round robin style, so not every player may get an equal amount of loot. There are also cards other than just bills. There are pieces of equipment that will let the player grab a Bang from the discard pile or heal themselves. There are also set collection pieces as well. Artwork cards are worth more money dependent upon how many of them you have at the end of the game. There are also diamonds, which are each worth a bit of cash, but whoever has the most of them at the end of the game gets a bonus. Each round all of the loot is taken and nothing carries over into the next round.

There are no shame tokens in Cash and Guns 2. Cowardliness isn't penalized with anything more than missing the round's loot, but with eight pieces of loot out there instead of five, it is still costly.

Cash and Guns 2 also has a Godfather. After the guns are pointed but before the chance to lay down your gun arrives, he may direct any one player who has a gun pointed at him to point it at another player. It is a powerful role, but it is included as the ninth piece of "loot" available each round. During the round robin loot taking, a player could take the Godfather title and role for next round as one of their loot choices.

There are no Bang, Bang, Bang! cards in Cash and Guns 2. Each player has 5 clicks and 3 Bangs.

Summary: While the core of each game is the same, there are some key differences in how the game plays out from the changes in each. First of all, the loot carrying over and the Bang, Bang, Bang cards created more strategic play in the original Cash and Guns. Now, don't get me wrong, Cash and Guns isn't exactly a strategic game, but when there are five players and you realize that the loot will only split three ways, you are faced with some interesting decisions. Do you eliminate one person and hope another falls as well? Or, do you play your Click hoping to draw the pot into another round for a larger pot and use your Bang, Bang, Bang!?

Also, I like the Shame tokens. There is something visceral about receiving a marker and a debt for your cowardliness. Without receiving the Shame token, backing out feels easier. There really is something psychological about having to accept a token to represent your cowardliness.
When I first read about the changes in Cash and Guns 2, I balked at the idea of set collection with the loot. Ultimately, it still doesn't work out perfectly, but it isn't as bad as I thought. The only problem is that they become the quickest and easiest to track. So-and-so has four art cards, and another just popped up in the loot pile--well, we know who we have to shoot then. This could lead to interesting decisions, but since tracking actual loot is difficult, this often becomes the focal point of "who to shoot".

The addition of "gear" in the form of healing and extra Bang cards in the loot is an interesting change as well. It comes at the cost of a share of loot during the round robin, so the price of such cards is palpable and fair.

The Godfather role also worried me. I thought that it was too powerful, but honestly, it is a great addition. I really enjoy it. It is strong (for living), and the Godfather chooses loot first, so it is strong (for winning). However, the Godfather role is up as a loot choice. Now, taking the Godfather role means you pass up on loot, but once the opportunity to go first and avoid a gun pointed out you outweighs the available loot, it is sure to go. Because of how the role is balanced with the loot division in Cash and Guns 2, it isn't something that could easily be "ported" into the original game.

Finally, the removal of the Bang, Bang, Bang! cards simplifies and streamlines the game. However, it is at the cost of another "strategic" play. With the Bang, Bang, Bang! card, you could bluff out and intimidate a player with a Bang card pointed at you. And once it as known that you played your Bang, Bang, Bang! then you were suddenly viewed as more vulnerable. I miss it, but I also appreciate the simplicity that its removal has left.

Verdict: This is difficult. Both editions have things that I like about them, but none of those things would translate well by bringing them into the other edition (with the exception of Shame tokens). The annoying truth of the matter is that both are very close to one another. I really do miss the growing pot and the escalation of threat from the first edition. But the second edition also feels "cleaner". It is a toss up.

Additions and Variants:

First Edition: The first edition of the game comes with 10 "Super Power" cards, which give the players an additional ability or scoring goal in the game. They can make the game more interesting, but, honestly, we rarely actually used them. Instead, we focused on the "A Cop in the Mafia" variant.

In this version, players are dealt a secret role card. All players except one will be a gangster (which normal play and victory conditions). One player will be an undercover cop. The Cop wins by calling for back-up three times. Each round a card is passed around unseen to each of the players under the table. If the undercover cop is still in for the round, he can flip the card before passing it. Once the card has passed around the entire table, it is revealed.

Second Edition Power Cards (top) and First
Edition Super Power and Undercover Cop
Cards (bottom).
If the card is flipped, then the police have been called. If three calls have been made before Round 6 is over, then the undercover cop wins alone. If three calls were not made, then the cop can only win if he is the sole survivor.

What I like about this variant is the suspicion and deduction involved. Only players who remain in the round can flip the card. So if the card flips, you can rule out the players who were out. Any time that a game can add suspicion and a traitor, I love it.

Second Edition: Second edition comes with sixteen Powers cards. One Power card is dealt to each player at the start of the game. Unlike the first edition, the Power cards are dealt face up instead of face down, so there is no bluffing or surprise movements that can result from their distribution. Some of them overlap the Super Powers cards from the first edition. The cards give new powers and abilities to the players. For the most part, the Powers are fun and interesting, however, there are a few that have very specific triggers and may not happen in a game, and others that are weakened (or strengthened) by other Powers in play.

Summary: I absolutely miss the Undercover Cop variant in the second edition. For me, it changed Cash and Guns from a silly filler to a silly filler with distrust and hidden traitors. Yeah, I suppose that is a rather direct way of putting it, but tension and distrust is extremely amplified in the Undercover Cop variant.

Verdict: Cash and Guns.


Both games are fun. Honestly, there is a little bit of nit-picking here because both games are welcome at my table. Both offer a slightly different take on the same theme. I like both games, so it's kind of like having to choose which of your kids you like the best. I have to default on the older one, if for no reason than it's provided me with more Father's Day presents (or good memories if I'm referring to the game). But ultimately, there are things that I want from both editions in one box. But do I think that an upgrade from first edition to second edition is necessary?

Well, only if you often have 7 or 8 players. The black guns are nice and I know some people will be getting the new edition just for them (because, you know, Sharpies are so expensive). The artwork is a little too plain and they removed my favorite variant from the game.

However, if you don't have the original version of Cash and Guns, then this is a great purchase that you will enjoy to an same proportion that you don't mind looking silly. It is a game that works well with non-gamers, casual gamers, and hardcore gamers (although a bit of the strategy and deduction was removed in the second edition for the hardcore gamers). If nothing else, the game is worth it for those awkward moments when you have your mom pointing a foam gun at you and looking you in the eye and saying, "You know I'm going to Bang you" and you lay down your gun so you don't have to find out what that means. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gen Con 2014

I've had a very busy week. Not as busy as I would have had if I made it to Gen Con 2014, but still annoyingly busy. So this is my first chance to really collect some of my thoughts on some of the releases and announcements of Gen Con.

Fantasy Flight Games, as is their want to do with all of their power and prestige, stole the show with their announcements, some of which came out before the convention's actual start.

X-Com The Board Game seems to be the first true melding of computer software (in app form) and board game (in cardboard form). Most games that offer apps up until this point have only used the apps to streamline a process that could be duplicated by traditional cardboard game mechanisms. I am interested to see how well that this incorporates and blends the two. While a lot of gamers are bemoaning the marriage, I am excited by it. I am more excited by it than I am the IP of the game because... well, I am one of the very, very few computer games that actually never played X-Com. I know, I know. I'm like the worst person ever.
Enthusiasm: Surprisingly High.

The Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game is FFG's best selling game ever. It has made way more money for them releasing an Arkham Horror expansion for the Arkham Horror expansion's expansion could ever do. However, despite people's willingness to buy a coffee table sized Star Destroyer for the game, FFG realized how impractical shipping on it would be, so they instead created Star Wars Armada in order to get you to buy all of their minis all over again. But, since not everyone will want to buy into it, they've also announced the release of a third faction of ships for X-Wing--the Scum and Villainy faction. Never has a single line in a movie produced as many spin offs as that one. Anyhow, X-Wing is a great game, but they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for ship ideas now and the models are starting to look more like things you'd see in Galaxy Trucker.
Enthusiasm: None.

Star Wars Imperial Assault, however, has me very excited. I enjoy Descent 2.0 just fine. It's not the best game I've ever played, but I really do enjoy and, furthermore, respect it. However, I had no idea how much I wanted a Star Wars Descent game until I saw this. I mean, I'm not the biggest Star Wars geek out there, but this just seems so damn fun. But even if before the announcement, if someone said, would you like to see a Star Wars Descent game, I would have shrugged disinterestedly. But click on that link. Look at it. I'm serious. I know you are just still reading this. Go back and click that link. For real. Do it. It's fucking AWESOME. I want this. No. I need this.
Enthusiasm: Light-saber Sized Erection.

Plaid Hat games was also able to make a splash with their releases. I think that the pre-orders making it out to the gamers a little before the con probably diminished some of their glory a bit.

Dead of Winter is a great game. I got a copy of it before the Con and have played it 10 or 12 times already. It doesn't quite replace Battlestar Galactica in the levels of distrust, accusations or intrigue, but it builds an amazing narrative experience and it is an amazingly great game.
Enthusiasm: Full Review Here.

Mice and Mystics: Downwood Tales is another Gen Con release. Mice and Mystics is a great game and so much love and attention has been poured into it. The only problem that I have with it is that the scenarios run a little long for primary target age range of the game. I'm hoping this expansion fixes that, but, if anything, I think it will drag them out even more. Still, I want to support this game because you can see all of the work, craftsmanship, and love that went into this game and I want to support that.
Enthusiasm: Moderate.

Ignacy Trzewiczek is probably my favorite designer. I have yet to play a game of his that I did not only like, but loved. He had one game released and one demoed at the Con.

Imperial Settlers was released by Portal Games. It uses the same mechanisms of 51st State which I (and three other people in the US) loved. The game is a lot lighter than 51st State and shorter--with a hard cut off of five rounds. I liked it, but playing it actually made me crave the real meat of the system in 51st State. Still, it is more accessible and much, much more brightly colored and themed. It has a ridiculous name that is just kind of awkward sounding to me. Somehow I think that if you translated Imperial Settlers back into his native Polish, the title would come across much cooler. But as it stands, it just seems like a mish-mash of words, like calling a game about growing your civilization while trying to eliminate other players "Deathsquad Famers".
Enthusiasm: Full Review Coming Soon.

The Witcher isn't released through Portal games, but instead through FFG. The Witcher is a series of books that I know nothing about that were converted into video games that I know a little bit about. First, they have boobs in them. Because we live in America that is a huge deal. But second, they have the most fucking complicated crafting and inventory system of any game that I've played. I play the Witcher series as a guy with immense power, who never utilizes it and instead just uses the shit he's found on the ground already together. But Ignacy's games have wonderful narrative arcs in them, and this is a fantasy game with a narrative arc. So I'm all in even if I can't craft a damn potion in the board game either.
Enthusiasm: Very High.

I feel bad for Privateer Press. They released Level 7 [Invasion] at the Con having no clue that FFG was going to shove them out of the way with their announcement of X-Com. Still, I have a little hope for the game. The Level 7 universe is expanding and telling an ongoing story. I reviewed Level 7 [Escape] and Level 7 [Omega Protocol] and I've seen the game grow. I am interested, but I have to admit, X-Com casts a large shadow that they are under.
Enthusiasm: Not too much, really. I just included this to put in my review jokes.

Greater Than Games released a game and demoed another at Gen Con. However, as much as I loved Sentinels in the beginning, I've come to realize how poorly designed many of their games are as they become frustrating episodes of heavy bookkeeping. Seriously, I defy you to find any card game out there that require more chits and maintenance than a GTG game.

Galactic Strike Force is a co-op space game. It seems interesting enough, but I've only brushed over it. The rulebook is deceptively thin. There is a lot of bookkeeping in this game that has made it difficult for me to jump back to it to find the enthusiasm to really work out the gameplay in it. I received a copy of it and I will hopefully get it to the table some time...
Enthusiasm: As much as I can muster for an accounting and bookkeeping job with a space theme.

Sentinels Tactics was just demoed at the con. I don't know. I like the Sentinels Universe. It is fun and campy and neat--on cards pretending to be panels from comic books. However, I cannot see a tactical game being that fun. The fact that the Kickstarter campaign had you spending so much extra for minis just soured me to this game as well as to GTG as a whole. I want to like their stuff as I think there is some innovation there, but they really need to revamp their systems and create a game that isn't full of bookkeeping.
Enthusiasm: None.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull and Shackles Base Set was released. It's a new campaign start and adventure path for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game series. But I imagine, just like every since adventure path add-on from the base game, that there is absolutely nothing new or different contained in the box and play is automatic with the only actual critical decisions being made AFTER the game is completed.
Enthusiasm: None. In fact, I'm annoyed now.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a game that I want to have. The game is about looking someone in the eye and lying to them. That is it. That is the central conceit of the entire game. And that is absolutely brilliant! I love deception games and this is the exact game that I've been training my daughter to play since she was four.
Enthusiasm: None. Ha! Got you! I lied!

Bezier Games released a game and demoed another.

Subdivision seems to be a modified Suburbia, which I love, and I had a lot of enthusiasm for it. Ted Alspach is a great designer and it seemed like he was just fishing from his idea pool where he got Suburbia. However, my enthusiasm waned a bit when I realized that it was not designed by Alspach, but instead first time designer Lucas Hedgren. This doesn't mean that the game will be bad at all, but it means I am now more reserved than I once was.
Enthusiasm: Um... more reserved than I once was.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig was only demoed and should get a release around Essen. This was designed by Ted Alspach and I have been frothing at the mouth for this one since I first saw it demoed. King Ludwig II of Bavaria is a rather interesting historical person and the idea of creating expensive, lavish, and bizarre castles to appease him thrills me. Plus, we're building castles. I can easily sell my D&D group to play this with me.
Enthusiasm: High.

Newcomer company Action Phase Games released Heroes Wanted at Gen Con and succeeded in gathering a bit of buzz about the game. The game is silly and somewhat ridiculous. I think the silliness will turn off some gamers, but I am no longer a Very Serious Gamer and now just like to have fun. The game scenarios seem a little awkward from a thematic pace (a street covered in wall-to-wall henchmen), but I can forgive a loss of theme for strong mechanisms even if it isn't my preference.
Enthusiasm: Full Review Coming Soon.

King of New York seemed to be getting a lot more press and attention than it deserved. I don't know. King of Tokyo was a great starter game for us to play with my daughter, but there is so little real meat to it that we don't really go back to it now that she is older. King of New York seems more like a retread of the same. I'll have to play it to see if it really improves on the original game.
Enthusiasm: Low.

Academy Games is amazing with their games, but also their attention to real history in them. Fief France 1429 was supposed to be released at the Con, but it was delayed and only demoed. Still, I am very excited for it and eagerly await sinking my teeth into a game that offers real and interesting political intrigue.
Enthusiasm: High.

Z-Man Games released Tragedy Looper with only a handful of copies at Gen Con. I think that this will have very niche appeal, but I happen to be firmly embedded within that niche. It is a time travel game. However, the limited release have copies of the game now selling on BGG for $200, so despite my enthusiasm, I think I'll have to wait this one out.
Enthusiasm: Very High.

Z-Man also released Pandemic: Contagion where you play as the disease in a quick, filler-length game. First of all, this has the same problem that Subdivision had--despite being associated to a great game, this game is not made by the original game's designer. Matt Leacock did not make this. I would have been more excited if I kept up with the other Pandemic titles, but the re-release with the new graphics made me drop out of following the expansions from the main game.
Enthusiasm: Low.

Smash Up: The Big Geeky Box was one of AEG's releases and it infuriated me. Instead of releasing expansions properly with a box big enough to keep the base cards in, they instead release a big box that you can buy with a single faction in it. This is just annoying and offensive practices for a game that is fun, but really not that amazing to begin with.
Enthusiasm: Annoyed.

X-Files is an IP that could be interesting, however, after seeing the gameplay demo of the game, all of my hesitant enthusiasm came crashing to the ground. There just doesn't seem to be any thematic play of what you are doing in the game and the core mechanic of the game is essentially drawing chits from a bag and hoping you got good ones.
Enthusiasm: Lost.

Ca$h and Guns 2nd Edition has me sitting on the fence. The first game is not a good game, but it creates fun and funny social situations. From a reading of the new rules and set collection(!) in the new game, it seems like it might be kind of crap. However, I do like that it now plays up to eight out of the box. I think the strength of the game comes from the silliness of pointing a foam gun at your friend's head, so I'm thinking that even with the rules changes, this will still work out fine.
Enthusiasm: Luke Warm.

And, finally, there were a bunch of Euro-style games that didn't really do anything for me when I first saw them announced or released. Five Tribes got a lot of fanfare and I would try it, but I don't have any enthusiasm to track it down. Panamax is one of those games where everything seems to be summed up by a box with a guy standing in the foreground with a dull background behind him.

There were a TON of other releases and news, but these are the ones that came to the forefront of my notice and mind.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Dead of Winter

I'm not really that big of a fan of zombies. Forgoing that they are overdone, zombies themselves are not that interesting. They shamble. You aim for their head. They try to bite you. They're really only threatening when there is a horde of them and so you'll find survivors surrounded by a hundred zombies. However, surround anyone with a hundred of hostile anything and it is threatening. So zombies themselves don't really stand out as a good antagonist in stories.

Where zombie media succeeds is when the stories are not about zombies. They are dull and pointless. They are the setting. Zombie stories are best when the zombies are the background and the real focus of the story is on the survivors and how they cope and struggle with one another. That is interesting and that makes a good story.

And that is exactly what Dead of Winter does.

Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game set in a zombie apocalypse. Players are all part of a colony of survivors huddled together because even if they don't like one another, there is strength in numbers. Each player is an ideology within the Colony and controls multiple survivors creating a faction which follows that ideal.

With each game, the players choose a scenario that will give the player's goals that they need to achieve by a certain number of rounds. Morale is set for the Colony and it is determined by the scenario chosen. If the Colony's Morale ever drops to 0, the players lose as the Colony falls into despair and people stop working together, likely to die off on their own.

Each player then draws a secret goal. This represents the ideology of their faction. These are goals that are required by the player in addition to the scenario goals for a player to win. Perhaps your ideology wants to leave for A New Destination far away. Then you need to end the game with at least 3 Fuel cards in your hand. Maybe your ideological faction is Junkie, and your Survivors want to dull the pain of their existence with any chemicals they can get a hold of and need to end the game with 3 Medicine cards in your hand. Or maybe your faction is bent on Revenge and need at least 3 survivors to have been removed through the course of the game. Perhaps it'll happen on its own; the world is a brutal place now. Or perhaps you'll have to help it alone and make it look like an accident. Or maybe you don't believe in the strength of this Colony at all and you look to undermine and betray it.

There are Betrayal secret goals. One is added to the mix of goals and may or may not appear in the game. But these goals want the morale of the Colony to drop to 0 as well as completing other goals. This Colony was doomed from the start and it is your goal to prove it to everyone else.

Players then draw their Survivors, each player beginning with two--a leader and a follower. Throughout the game, players may find additional Survivors to add to their followers, giving them the potential of more actions (however, this comes at the cost of having another mouth to feed in the Colony).

The game begins with a preset number of turns based off of the Scenario card. Each of the turns begins with players revealing a Crisis Card. The Crisis Card represents the immediate threat to the Colony and usually require a certain amount of a resource to be spent to overcome it. Failure often leads to bad situations and a loss of Morale. Each player then rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the number of Survivors that they control plus one. These dice can be spent to perform specific actions.

In turn, each player then takes their turn. Some actions can be taken for "free" without spending an action die. They can Play a Card for its effects, however, the spent card is then added to the Colony's Waste Pile. They can add cards from their hand to the current Crisis. However, they are added face down, so a Betrayer could lie about what he is adding to the Crisis and sabotage the Colony's efforts. Cards can be traded with other players and you can request a card for immediate usage. There are two other actions that you can take which I want to go more in depth about.

Moving. A player can move from one location to another. However, movement requires either the player to spend a Fuel card (adding it to the Waste Pile) to take one of the Colony's vehicles and arrive without incident. If they do not spend fuel, then they must instead roll the Exposure Die. The Exposure Die is a 12-sided die. Six of the sides are blank, which means that the character arrives without incident. Three of the faces have Wounds on them and the Survivor gains a wound if it is rolled--and a Survivor dies with his third wound. Two of the faces have a Frostbite symbol on them, meaning the Survivor gets a frostbite marker. Frostbite markers count as wounds, but if not treated (with a Medicine Card or other effect), the Survivor will gain another wound at the start of their next turn. The final side has a Bite marker on it. The Bite means that your character was bitten by a zombie and dies. That's it. You were just on your way to try to forage food for the Colony at the Grocery Store, but alone the way you were bitten. Nothing heroic. No grand battle. Just bitten. You aren't given a heroic finale and a triumphant last stand. You were just bitten in the dark. And that Survivor is dead. Did I mention that the game was brutal?

But you aren't just dead. You are bitten. You arrive at your destination infected. You die, but before you do, you spread the bite to another Survivor there. That Survivor can risk not being infected by rolling the Exposure Die. If they roll a blank, they are fine. Anything else, and they die... and spread the Bite to the next person at the location. Instead of rolling the die, the Survivor could decide to not risk it and bite the bullet. Literally. You can kill the Survivor to end the infection there instead of risking it spreading further. Did I mention that this game is brutal and likes to kick you in the balls?

Vote to Exile. A player can initiate a vote to exile a player's faction. The vote is a simple thumbs up/thumbs down by the players. If the vote fails, the player remains in the Colony--but you've likely made an enemy. If it passes, the player is exiled. All of his Survivors have to leave the Colony and are not allowed back. They spend their time in the outside locations. They also get a new secret goal--an Exile Goal. If they were the Betrayer, they no longer have to reduce the Colony's Morale to 0 (though they still can try out of spite) and instead a new condition is added to their secret goal card. If the player was not the Betrayer, then the a new win condition is added to the player's objectives.

Exiled players cannot reenter the Colony. They have to live in the dangerous outskirts. However, their deaths don't reduce Morale of the Colony and their played cards do not add to the Colony's Waste Pile. They also can no longer vote in Colony votes or add cards to the Colony's Crisis.

Certain actions require dice to be spent to activate them. To Attack a zombie or another survivor, but the spent die's value must equal or exceed that Survivor's attack rating. When attacking a zombie, the player then rolls the Exposure Die and suffer the consequences like described in the Move action. They can Search for more items in the locations outside of their Colony (though the spent die must be equal to or greater than the Survivor's search value). This allows them to draw a card at the location that they are at and add it to their hand of cards. Dice of any value can be spent to create Barricades at a Survivor's location, Clean Waste (since too much waste in the Colony decreases Morale as the living conditions become more and more horrible), or Attract up to 2 zombies to their location from another--to either heroically clear out a threat or to diabolically set up a trap.

After each player has taken their turn, the Colony needs to feed their people. For every two characters at the Colony, one food is required. If the players are unable to feed everyone, starvation sets in which lower Morale.

Players then check the Waste Pile in the Colony. If there are ten or more cards in it, the Colony loses a Morale.

The Crisis is then resolved. The contributed cards are shuffled and then revealed. If enough of the correct supplies were spent, the Crisis is averted. If there were not enough of the right kind of supply, the fail condition of the card is resolved.

Zombies are then added to the board. Every location outside of the Colony adds one zombie per character present. One zombie is added for every two characters at the Colony. Zombies are added to the six Colony locations in order. If more than six zombies are added, they are added at the first location again and the circle continues. If a barricade blocks one of the spaces and no empty spaces are open, the barricade is destroyed and the zombie that would be there is discarded and then the placing continues. If there are no empty spaces and no barricades and a zombie is to be placed, then the zombie is discarded, but it kills one of the Survivors at the location. The Survivor with the lowest Influence stat dies first. This continues until all zombie placement is resolved, even if it results in multiple deaths.

The Main Objective is then checked and, if not met, the Round Tracker moves down one, first player passes and another round begins.

Those are the game basics. However, whenever a player takes their turn, another player draws a Crossroads Card for them. This card may or may not take effect as the player with the card waits to see if the active player "triggers" it. Cards can be triggered by mundane actions, such as traveling to a location. Or they can be triggered by specific things, such as if a certain Survivor is in play. A wide variety of things can trigger them: searching, being at a specific location, using a specific type of item, taking a specific action. Essentially, anything you do on your turn could potentially trigger a Crossroads Card, so there is no way to prepare or guard against them.

The Crossroads Cards are the signature mechanism of the game, but they aren't necessarily bad. They bring in so much narrative to the game. I don't want to spoil the cards, since discovering the story behind them is so much fun. But you could be searching and trigger a card and suddenly trigger a narrative story about what else you fine. You could trigger the card from taking a wound to find out that the wound is more than you first thought.

The Crossroads Cards really add narrative to the story. And not just because of the flavor text, but rather because each card ends with posing a choice for the character to make to resolve the Crossroads. They build story, but they also build role-playing. The decisions you have to make are hard choices, and not just because of the mechanism advantages or hindrances that they will cause, but rather because your choice might be between saving a life and realizing that this person is another mouth to feed, or watching them die.

Some of the Crossroads Cards are rather dark and press you to make difficult decisions. They often aren't difficult decisions in the reward or loss from the card, but rather from the narrative. This is where the role-play comes in. Sure, you can take the option to leave the child behind to die and nothing bad happens in terms of mechanisms instead of bringing the tired, sick and hungry kid back to the Colony, feeding another mouth and drawing zombies to you in the wake of his crying. But someone is reading that card to you.

Everyone hears the card being read.

Every other player hears you say you take the option to let the child die alone. Maybe they agree with the decision. But maybe they don't. But either way, they heard you make that choice. And they now know the depths to which you will sink to get a little bit ahead.

I enjoy the game Zombicide. It's a fun game. It is one of my friend's favorite games at the moment. In describing Dead of Winter to him, he wanted me to compare it to Zombicide.

Zombicide is Zombieland. Fun, upbeat action. Kind of silly and the zombie body count is part of the fun of it all. You feel happy afterwards, even if some of the characters died in it.

Dead of Winter is the Walking Dead comic. Things are dark and bleak and although there are zombies all around, they aren't what you fear the most. You worry about what other survivors have become. Or worse yet, what you will become.

I like that in a game. Most zombie games either make the zombies the main antagonist (Last Night on Earth) or make killing more and more zombies the focus of the game (Zombicide). But Dead of Winter takes on the aspect of a story and narrative that I like. I don't want my character to be defined by how good his weapon is. I want my characters to be defined by the fact that we brought that screaming kid back to the Colony despite the extra hardships because, dammit, it's the right thing to do and I don't want to lose sight of that no matter how hard things are.

I know why I make the decisions that I make, but I want to look at my fellow players and try to figure out what their motives are. She just spent two turns searching the Hospital and now she's claiming that she doesn't have any Medicine cards to contribute to the Crisis. Is she telling the truth? Is she hoarding medicine because she has the Hypochondriac secret goal? Or is she secretly the Betrayer, hoping to bring our Morale down by failing our Crisis? I mean, I know why I  lied and said I didn't have any Medicine--I plan on going out foraging next turn and I need precautions against frostbite. But she's lying to us and I need to out her.

As you may have been able to tell, I love this game.

That doesn't mean it isn't without its flaws and quirks.

There are a couple of moments of awkward cross-themes. One of the Survivors is a dog. A stunt dog wearing a cape. You can equip him with a baseball bat or a gun and go to town on the zombies. Now, I happen to like the stunt dog. He's actually a fun character. But some of the Crossroad Cards are dark. REAL dark. Like baby in a dumpster dark. That contrast of silly stunt dog and dark, dark Crossroad Cards is a little awkward at times.

My eight year old daughter helps me pop out the cardboard pieces with every new game I get. She saw some of the characters and wanted to play Sparky the Stunt Dog and "Santa Claus"--the drunk mall Santa. She plays a lot of games with us and the game play isn't too complex for her. But with the first Crisis Card describing finding a family member of yours with their head being "a halo of dried gore" with a gun next to the body, indicating that they killed themselves and having the option to kill another family member, we had to rethink this idea

What Plaid Hat has done is included symbols on the Crossroads Cards with mature themes on them so that they are easy to remove. However, mature themes is something very subjective. The card description above is not one of the mature themed cards. However, a card where two lovers end up either arguing or making (non-graphic) love is considered mature. I'd much rather the second card than the first. But, as I said, mature themes is subjective, so even as a helpful tip to include the symbols, it cannot, by any definition, please everyone and instead could lend a false sense of security that no one would be uncomfortable.

There are a few minor issues where mechanisms trump theme, such as a Survivor in the Police Station can find a gun and, since it is added to the player's hand of cards, immediately equip it on a Survivor in the Colony.

It is also easy for a Betrayer to "game the system" and bring Morale to 0. Once their other objectives are completed, all they have to do is move their characters out to a non-Colony location and spend all of their dice to Attract zombies. Eventually, enough will appear and kill everyone there and each of those deaths reduces Morale by 1. I get that you can claim these guys were zealots willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause, but the Morale hits by obvious and intentional suicides when they are obviously betraying the group seems more game-y then thematic.

There are a fair number of Crossroad Cards, but you go through a surprising amount of them in a four and five player game. And by our third and fourth game, we started to see a lot of repeats. Certain cards have easier triggers and therefore occur more often. I cannot say that there aren't enough Crossroads Cards because there are a lot. However, the ease of certain triggers makes some of them occur almost every time they are drawn and others rarely, if ever, trigger because everything needs to be just right.

The rulebook is very well put together and the rules are easy to pick up and learn through a reading. However, a glossary would have been useful and a clarification on timing of certain things would have been nice as well.

But these are minor issues with an otherwise incredible game.

The game has the Colony location with six non-Colony locations which could easily be switched out with expansions. Influence is an underused stat, but a very interesting one and expansion cards or mechanisms could expand upon what is there. Any of the decks can easily be flooded with more cards. There is a large range of Survivors, but more is always better, especially since you can go through them so quickly that you'll become familiar with them all after just a few plays.

Characters can die easily and suddenly. Even with their short lifespan, I find myself attached to them. I made decisions with these characters. I role-played with them. I had a Crisis Card and risked my life and made three Exposure Die rolls to gather extra resources for the Colony, making it through that trial by fire without a scratch, only to find myself rolling a Bite while walking to the Gas Station.

And that is how it goes. A hero who won against all the odds gets caught off-guard by a zombie while walking somewhere and now threatens to infect everyone at that location.

But I like this brutality. Every time I pick up that red Exposure Die I take a deep breath and I feel the tension. And I should. This is what the game does right. It creates tension through a single, simple mechanism. And not because it is random, but because I decided to take a risk. I walked to the Gas Station instead of using a Fuel. I attacked the zombie instead of letting the guys with the guns take them on. I decided to be the hero and roll a gauntlet of Exposure rolls to try to bring back so many supplies.

It is my fault. And that is why the die rolls are tense. Because I know I am taking a risk and I am choosing to risk my security to get ahead just a little more.

Dead of Winter is not for everyone. There is a die that can randomly kill you and there is not a single wooden cube in the box.

However, if you love games with a narrative element, add this to your collection. Even if you don't like zombies, don't worry about it. This game handles them the right way. They are set dressing. A threat that drives our motivations and nothing more. You aren't afraid of what the zombies will do--they are easy and predictable. You are afraid of what the other players will do. But more than that, you're afraid of what you might do.