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Month: June 2014

Jason’s Board Game Preview – Dead of Winter

In my last post, I promised to share my thoughts on Dead of Winter. Disclaimer: I spent the weekend of Origins demoing Dead of Winter for Plaid Hat Games, so I may be a bit biased.

Dead of Winter is the first in a series of games from Plaid Hat Games called Crossroads games. It was created by Jon Gilmour and Isaac Vega. In it, you and between one and four other players are survivors who have formed a colony in Alaska, after the zombie apocalypse has occurred. Now, before I go any further, I will say, I’m not a fan of zombie games. They’re just not my favorite thing. That said, Dead of Winter provides a great twist on the theme. Each player controls a number of survivors who will be their “team”. Throughout the course of the game, players may gain or lose members of their team. Each play of the game starts with an overall objective card. This is the main way the game can be won or lost. For example, one of the scenarios has the players collecting samples of the zombies, so the doctor in the colony can try to find a cure for the infection. Additionally, each player has their own secret objective that details how they personally can win the game. Most of the time, the secret object is “The players have completed the main objective, AND _____”. Maybe your objective is to hoard food cards. and you have to end the game with four of them in your hand. Or maybe your goal is have no wound tokens on any of your survivors. There *is* a possibility, that there’s a betrayer in your midst, who wants, for one reason or another, to see the colony fail. They will have a secret objective that details how they can win the game.

The board consists of 7 areas. The colony (main board), the gas station, police station, hospital, grocery store, library and school (location boards). The colony represents the collection of survivors that are in the colony (indicated by 45 spaces or so), the entrances that zombies can threaten (6 of them), the food reserves, the waste pile, turn and morale tracks, and a deck of cards that represents the crises (More on this in a moment). Each location board has its own entrance that zombies can threaten, a number of spaces that survivors can occupy, and a deck of cards that represents the things that can be found when that area is searched.

There are several things you have to worry about each turn of the game. First, you have to make sure there’s enough food in the colony. You play food cards to add food to the supply. Second, you have to make sure that the various entrances aren’t likely to be overrun by zombies at the end of the turn. Third, you have to make sure there’s not too much waste. Cards that are played leave waste behind. A tidy colony is a happy colony, and keeping the waste in check helps keep your morale from dropping. Lastly, you have to worry about the current crisis. Each turn, a crisis will be revealed with a requirement and a penalty. For example, maybe you have to contribute X medicine cards to the crisis, where X is the number of players. Each turn, you can contribute any number of cards from your hand, face down, to the crisis. At the end of the round, those cards will be shuffled and revealed, and if the requirement is met, nothing happens. If not, something bad will happen, probably resulting in a loss of morale. Note that anything OTHER than the required cards counts as a negative card, which is one method that a betrayer could slow down progress. If morale ever drops to zero, the game is over and the colonists have lost (though a betrayer may still win).

You start with a semi-random hand of cards that could be food, medicine, fuel, etc. These supplies will quickly run out, though. You collect the resources you need to preserve the colony by venturing out of the colony and searching for gear and supplies. Every time you travel to a new location (and every time you kill a zombie) you have to roll an exposure die, that could result in a wound (each character can withstand 3), frostbite (A wound that recurs each turn), or even being bitten by a zombie (death and possible spread of infection). When a survivor is bitten, they die. If anyone else is at that location, the survivor with the lowest influence has to make a choice: Sacrifice the survivor, and stop the spread, or roll the die, and repeat the process if anything other than a blank face turns up. As you search each location, you will draw cards from the location’s search deck. If you don’t like what you find, you can “make noise” to search further,but each time you make noise, there’s a chance of more zombies showing up at that location at the end of the round.

Let me take a moment to tell you about action dice. In Dead of Winter, you have action dice for your whole team. And you start each round with a number of action dice equal to the number of survivors you control plus one. You roll these dice at the start of the round, and the results of these dice determine what actions you can take during your turn of the round. Each survivor has stats that tell what number they need (or better) on a die to kill a zombie (combat rating) or search a location (search rating). You may spend these dice with whichever character you want, regardless of how many dice they’ve already spent. Dice can be spent to kill zombies, search locations, build barricades, clean up waste, and more.

This game has a lot of elements that really excite me. It’s a true cooperative/semi-cooperative game, that negates the Alpha Player problem, by giving every person their own special win condition. It has a potential traitor, with a solid traitor mechanic. While the method of contributing cards to the crisis isn’t new, it is wonderfully streamlined. The way that infection spreads is nicely done, by putting the decision into a player’s hand. The theme is very fitting, and the story elements really work well together. But the thing that really sets this game apart for me is the part I haven’t mentioned since the beginning of the article: The Crossroads cards.

Each turn, while you take your turn, the player to your right will be looking at a crossroads card. At the top of that card is some kind of criteria, like “If a survivor searches at the library” or “If the player has a survivor at the colony”. If that criteria is ever met, the player reading the card will stop the game, and read the crossroads card. Many times, the player is presented with a choice that could gain the party a reward at a cost, or the players as a whole will vote on something, and sometimes, something just *happens*. The crossroads cards add a twist to the whole gameplay experience that still manages to be thematic, engaging and fun.

I played this game twice at Origins, and demoed it for 8 hours over the course of the weekend. After I finished, I still wanted to play it again, RIGHT THEN. The game is tense, rarely gets repetitive, and every game I saw was pretty close. Only once did the party seem to have an easy time of it, and even then, a few twists cropped up that made it dicey.

My only concern is the potential for the crossroads cards to become repetitive after several plays, but I honestly don’t think that’s likely to happen, considering that crossroads cards frequently don’t activate.

Dead of Winter can be preordered from Plaid Hat Games, and should (hopefully) be released in July.

Journey to Origins – Days 2, 3 and 4 (and a bit of 5)

Sorry for the delay in posting the rest of my Origins experience. As I mentioned before, immediately after returning from the show, we started moving. While we haven’t finished, I’m making a bit of time to get some words out of me.

Day 2 is when things got busy. I spent the day demoing games for Plaid Hat Games. I admit, I was a bit on the nervous side, for some reason. It’s one thing to demo and teach games, which I do quite a bit. It’s another to do it when you’re worried that the guy that makes the game for a living will think you’re doing a bad job. I had a rocky start with Mice and Mystics, as it’s been a while since I’ve run it with any regularity, though I feel like it went well overall.

2014-06-12 09.35.25

After that, I transferred to the VGHS table. Video Game High School is an upcoming game from Plaid Hat Games, that puts you in the role of characters from the VGHS web series. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s ok, the game plays well even if you’re not, but I’m looking forward to checking it out myself. Imagine an alternate world, where one of the major sports is playing video games. VGHS is an easy to learn worker placement game, that I’ll undoubtedly be picking up when it releases, hopefully in August. I’ll do a bit of a write up on it later. I learned it, but didn’t get to demo it, as we switched the table to Summoner Wars demos.

Summoner Wars I’m pretty comfortable running, and the rest of the demo day went smoothly. The big hit of the show for Plaid Hat, though, was Dead of Winter. During the day Thursday, many people watched, waiting to get into a demo of it. Since I was scheduled to demo it on Friday, I made arrangements to borrow it Thursday night, and learn/demo it in the Board Room.

I learned a few weeks ago that an old friend, who was a regular at Ginny’s Midwest Comics, was living in Columbus, so I made arrangements to meet up with him, for the first time in around 15 years. He suggested dinner at The Melt, which I hadn’t considered, even though we’d walked past it several times on the way to and from the convention center. Meeting up with an old friend is great, but discovering The Melt was another show highlight for me. A phenomenal menu of signature grilled cheese sandwiches, and 40 beers on tap. I won’t go on and on about The Melt, but I will say I ate there 4 days in a row, 4 different sandwiches, and hand the same beer every time. I’m looking for excuses to take my wife to Columbus sometime soon.

On to the Board Room, where I found a table, and set up Dead of Winter. It didn’t take long to have a table of 5 ready to play, including my housemate Brian, Bill Reed, and none other than Eric “The Voice” Summerer. Dead of Winter is another game that I’m not going to explain in great detail here, other than to say that I played it twice on Thursday, demoed it the following two days, and I am still excited to get my hands on it and play it again as soon as I can. Our first game was a ton of fun, with Eric reading the story setup and some of the crossroads cards for great effect. After two games of Dead of Winter (at 1 to 2 hours each) and 8 hours of demoing, I was pretty beat, and retired to the house for the night.

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Friday, I spent the first 4 hours of the con demoing Dead of Winter, and I’ve gotta admit, I had a blast with it. Again, I won’t go into great detail about DoW, as I want to do a writeup on it separately. But, when the Kodiak Colby promo crossroads card came up, I summoned Colby himself to read the card for effect.

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After my stint at the PHG booth on Friday, I stopped by the Steve Jackson booth to get a T-shirt signed by John Kovalic. I worked at a convention in 2000 in Carbondale, IL, where John appeared, and he had designed the shirt for the show. I got it signed back then, and had it expanded upon, 14 years later. I also made arrangements with him to pick up the original for a piece of art I commissioned from him in 2012. Then, I joined 4 of my housemates at The Melt for lunch, as I had to share my find with them. We all had the Left Hand Milk Stout, and an amazing array of sandwiches (Ok, so I lied about not mentioning it again).

After lunch, I wandered the exhibit hall for the first time during regular hours. I was disappointed to not see WotC or Fantasy Flight Games, or several others, but I enjoyed what I did get to see. I ran into a few old friends, and caught up with them briefly.

After a brief trip to the Board Room, I retreated to the Big Bar on 2, to await the Secret Cabal Meetup. I believe I was the first one there, since I showed up 2 hours early. Mostly, I just wanted to start relaxing early. Another observation: Secret Cabal fans are a great group of pretty laid back people. I talked to several people throughout the event, and everyone was just really cool. This is an extension of my observation of my housemates, who were all, to a man, awesome.

Then we retired to the Cabalist House for a few games. Masquerade and Nothing Personal were my games of the evening.

Saturday saw me, once again, spending the early part of the day running Dead of Winter demos. Since this entry is running long, I’ll just say it was fun. I wrapped up my demoing experience with Plaid Hat, and said my goodbyes, and explored the Exhibit Hall again, after learning that the auction had so few items to sell that it ended 4 hours earlier than the estimated running time. Then I went back to the Steve Jackson booth to wait for John to finish his signings. Though I had waited out the line the day before, I wanted to get something for my daughter, even if she’s too young to appreciate it.

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After he finished his signing, he ran to his room to get the artwork, and while he did, I sat at the booth talking to one of the guys from Steve Jackson Games for a while. 15 minutes into the conversation, I found out I was talking to Leonard Balsera, who is the lead developer for Fate Core and the Dresden Files RPGs, both of which I’m really into right now.

I ran into another old friend, whom I don’t think I’ve seen in probably 10 years, and chatted with him and his wife for a bit. By then, it was too late to join anyone for lunch, so I made my way to The Melt alone, for my 3rd such meal in as many days. Then it was off to the Board Room for some more gaming. Played Ascension with a couple of strangers, and then joined a few of my housemates for a The Great Heartland Hauling Company, followed by Rune Wars (Another partial game).

Finally, we wrapped up the evening back at the Cabalist House with several games of One Night Werewolf. The next morning, we saw 3 of our numbers off for their long road trip home, cleaned the house, and vacated our 5 day home-away-from-home, not entirely in that order. The last 4 of us made a final excursion to The Melt for brunch, and prepared to be on our respective ways back home.

All in all, I had a great time. I was a little disappointed in the vendor participation and turnout at the convention, but I enjoyed the company of the people I met, I played some great games, had some great food, and just had a wonderful time of it all. I will definitely return to Origins, but it may be a few years before I can.

Journey to Origins – Days 0 and 1

A few months ago, my cousin Seth asked me if I’d like to go to Origins. He was toying with the idea of renting a vacation house for a week, rather than springing for a hotel room. I’d never been to Origins, and I’ve wanted to for years. After talking it over with Jamie, I decided to give it a shot.

For the last several months, I’ve been part of Plaid Hat Games’s demo team, and a few weeks before Seth asked, they put the call out for Origins volunteers. I sent in an application email, and was accepted.

Now we had to figure out how to get more people to join us. The vacation house idea only works if there are 7 or 8 people splitting the rent. We asked several local friends, and only one expressed an interest. Seth and I are both regular listeners of the Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast, and he decided to advertise the opportunity to the people in the Secret Cabal BGG Guild. We got our 8th person to join us just a few days before the show. Sadly, one member had to drop out due to family illness, leaving us with a total of 7 attendees.

Over the following several weeks we all planned the games we were going to bring and have available to play away from the convention.

This is the trip that almost didn’t happen. With Origins falling on June 11-15, and our lease being up on the 15th, I was worried that the show might happen right as we were trying to move. As it worked out, we will be moving right AFTER I return from Origins.

Anyway, on to the trip.

Day 0:
We left Columbia City at about 4pm on Tuesday, and arrived in Columbus at 7:30. We met with the owners of the house, a very nice couple who are still converting the house into a full time vacation rental. The house is about a mile from the convention center, but there is a free bus that stops a block away, and goes right to the convention center.

Then we walked down to the convention center, just to get an idea of what the walk was like, and find dinner. John was nearly run over by a surly woman on a bicycle. We found a nice pizza place/deli/bar for dinner. As soon as we walked in, we spotted 4 tables playing Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. Seth and I split a large Lasagna Pizza (yes, Lasagna Pizza).

We returned home in the rain, and prepared for the first day of the convention.

Day 1:
I arrived at the convention center with Seth and John. Plaid Hat hadn’t arrived yet, so I figured I couldn’t get my badge yet. As John and Seth disappeared into the Board Room, I went to the customer service desk to buy my Board Room ribbon. It turns out I was able to get my badge, so after playing an upcoming game of Lighthouse Run, I went to the Exhibit Hall to help the Plaid Hat crew get the booth set up.



Colby, Alex and Isaac arrived a few minutes later, and Isaac and I put the booth together. We got it knocked out in about an hour and twenty minutes. Then I wandered around the hall watching other vendors get set up, and then returned to the board room, where I spent the rest of the day.


Before we left, Seth and I stopped to talk to the Secret Cabal guys for a bit, who thought it was pretty cool that there’s a house full of Secret Cabal fans at Origins this year.

The rest of the house members showed up throughout Wednesday, with the first showing up around 1:30 am, and the others arriving around 3pm. When we retired to the house for the night, we gathered all the games we brought, and took a few pictures.


Who needs a convention?

Games played:
0: Sentinels of the Multiverse x2 (teaching Seth and John)
0: Android: Netrunner (teaching John)
1: Lighthouse Run (learning)
1: Rune Wars (learning in Board Room)
1: Twilight Struggle (learned with Seth. He stomped me)
1: Android: Netrunner (teaching Seth)

Tomorrow, I’ll be spending the day demoing Mice and Mystics at the Plaid Hat Games booth. I’ll check in afterward.


Our little group of intrepid gamers is growing! We have added two new gamers to our group, and had more activity on the part of some of Legends regulars. We currently have two tables reserved on Wednesdays for board gaming, so come and join us from 5 till 9 every week at Legends, 314 North Harrison Street in Vincennes, Indiana.

Games Played –

May 5th –
Qin – 4 times
Farmageddon – twice

3 gamers participating

May 14th –
Qin – twice
Alhambra – once
Splendor – twice
Qwirkle -once

5 gamers participating

May 21 –
Carson City – twice

5 gamers participating

May 28 –
Targi – once
Marvel Legendary – three times

5 gamers participating

Monthly Totals –

Number of games played – 18
Number of different games played – 8
Number of different gamers participating – 7

If you have some time on a Wednesday, come join us for some great gaming and camaraderie! We have a large diverse collection of games to choose from between the Legends library and what we bring. I would love nothing more than to have to reserve more tables!

Come join the fun!

Jeff Chattin

Great Gaming Gang!