Dead of Winter

Let it snow.

It’s cold outside.  The supplies are running low and it sounds like the barricades are starting to fail.  This is Dead of Winter.

PRACTICE:

  • making collaborative decisions
  • speculating

WHO IS IT FOR?

  • Level (CEFR C1-C2)
  • Zombie fans aged 15 yrs. and upwards.

THE RUNTHROUGH:

If you are looking for a game in which the players have to work together to stay alive, while staving off hordes of advancing zombies

Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2226560/dead-winter-crossroads-game?size=medium (Sergiy Dementyev)

Compared to the vast majority of games that we’ve looked at here on TEFLGamer, Dead of Winter is a beast.  As you can see from the picture above, it’s huge and there are lots of bits to get to grips with.  The artwork, however, is stunning and the theme really shines through in a slightly cartoony way.

Dead of Winter, the players take on the roles of survivors of a zombie apocalypse who a desperately trying to get through a bitter winter.  While they  all live together in the same colony, players control smaller factions of characters who are within the larger group.  Individual players are also randomly given secret objectives that they must try to complete while at the same time making sure that the group achieves its shared goals which vary from scenario to scenario.  There’s also the added intrigue of not knowing whether one of the other players has been given on of the ‘betrayer’ objectives, which pit them against the interests of the others.

During a typical turn, players can choose to do a number of things, such as: move to another location, search a location, build some barricades or kill some zombs.  An extra narrative twist is added by the game’s “crossroads” cards.  Another player draws one of these cards when it is your turn.  They contain a trigger and an event.  For example, the card may have a trigger of “goes to the police station”.  If you do this on your turn, then the other player proceeds to read out the event which happened.  These cards have some great flavour text and add a lovely extra twist as they often require decisions to be made which can have major, and sometimes hilarious consequences.

As a classroom tool, I’ll admit I was really sceptical about how this game would work, mainly for four reasons: 1) the length of time it would take to set up and teach, 2) it’s long play time, 3) how to enable the whole class to get involved in a 4-5 player game, and finally 4) it seemed to break my self-imposed rule of no games without aims.

Set-up

There’s no getting around it, even with Rodney Smith’s fantastically concise how-to video, Dead of Winter is a pain to teach.  I mean it take AGES.  Considering how long it takes for students to learn how to play the game, it really needs to feature in a board game club or similar for a good couple of hours.  You can make this more of a task-based learning exercise by giving them extracts from the rulebook, a little support and getting them to learn the game themselves (as I did!) but it is a lengthy process and naturally encourages some students to lead and others to wall-flower.

Play time

Oh boy! Yes you’re going to need at least 3 hours for the whole thing, set up included.  In a cost-benefit analysis, it’s a hard one to justify using.

Getting involved

Putting the students in pairs and giving them joint control of a group was the obvious solution, but in most cases this meant that one player began to dominate the other.

Aimless

It seems harsh to call Dead of Winter a linguistically aimless game, as it does require a number of higher order cognitive skills and there is lots of player interaction.  My main problem with it is that there is no one language area which really stands out more than any other.

BEAR IN MIND:

  • The down-time in this game (i.e. the wait players have between their turns) can be a bit of a pain.  I tried to get over this by making sure that all the teams (not just one) had a crossroads card.  This meant that they had to pay a little bit more attention to what the other players/teams were doing.  This does have the danger of unbalancing the game slightly, especially if one player is unfortunate enough to trigger a number of particularly catastrophic events.

SUMMARY:

Dead of Winter is a fun game and if you like walking corpses, you’ll get a big kick out of it.  That said, I’m afraid it’s not one I can foresee using in class again.  All this is not to say that it’s a bad game, it’s just not the best fit for a classroom environment.  A game night with some friends?  Yes.

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