More on Dead of Winter

From @unsatisfiedkitty on tumblr last week:
Hi! I've been skimming your blog from reblogs by Ross & friends, but I'm very selfishly sending an ask about the Dead of Winter experience. I am 100% enthused by purely co-op experiences; is covering the changes you discussed within the scope of your blog? 

To everyone, yes please send me questions and thoughts y'all have from my blog – if I wrote about it once, I'll probably want to write about it again!

So the co-op experiences. First, Dead of Winter has five variants written into the rules book:

  1. Co-op Variant
  2. 2-player Variant
  3. Betrayer Variant
  4. Hardcore Variant
  5. Player Elimination Variant

Most of these are very simple rules tweaks to the main game. 
5.       Player Elimination just does what it says, if a player's last survivor dies, the player is eliminated from the game instead of drawing a new survivor with different gear. So an escalation in difficulty, but I haven't played this variant, so cannot report on how much of an escalation. Considering that in the four or five games I've played no one has lost their last survivor, I don't think this would alter play that much. 
4.       Hardcore uses the harder variant of the main goal, which is already written on the cards in use for the game's objective. Again, haven't played this variant myself since every game so far has involved new people learning the game. Throwing them against the extra-special-hard mode before anyone feels like they have an inkling of how to play is a great way to convince them to never play again. Either the game or maybe with you. 
3.       The Betrayer Variant alters the number of betrayal vs. non-betrayal secret objectives to make it more likely there's a betrayer in game play. Enough of an increase in odds, assuming I'm parsing the statistics correctly in my head, that you should play just assuming there is a betrayer and working to ferret them out. Instead of keeping an eye out for maybe there being a betrayer. In practice, I'm not sure how much this would alter game play for the betrayer, if they know what they're doing. The best strategy I've seen/thought of for the betrayer is to play perfectly, like they're not a betrayer, until they're the last player in a round, and then set up all the characters in locations to be eaten by zombies, cratering the morale track. 

Finally, Co-op variant. I think the 2-player variant is just a specialized version of the Co-op variant, so I'm going to fold it into the Co-op discussion. So choosing to play co-op alters the game from set-up on. Instead of dealing out secret objectives (betrayer and non-betrayer alike) everyone is working towards the main objective and only the main objective. That objective gets bumped up to the hardcore variant, the mechanisms for dealing with the betrayer (i.e. 'exiling' a player) are stripped out, and a set of 'no co-op' cards are eliminated from the game. The only difference between co-op and 2-player is the number of starting item cards and survivors everyone starts with.

Having played the base game where everyone cooperated anyway (only way we've ever won), I have hope that the designers got the difficulty level for the co-op variant balanced. It was difficult to win without the hardcore main objective, but we were a bit distracted with our personal secret objectives, wondering if so-and-so was a betrayer, and cards that would never be used (because we were cooperating) clogged up our hands a bit. Eliminate the cognitive load of the first two issues and increase the usefulness of your cards and the game absolutely will need a harder main objective to remain difficult. Given how much the co-op parts of the game work well together already, even if the competitive parts work less well, I do think the hardcore objectives will balance the game well.

End verdict: If you want a purely cooperative game and like zombie theming, Dead of Winter is a solid choice to play. Prefer Cthulhu Mythos and have a large board game budget? Arkham Horror. Want a competitive-cooperation game? Try Shadows over Camelot. 

Tune in next week for Shadows over Camelot, my absurd experiences with Arkham Horror, and why my partner won't play Arkham with me EVER AGAIN.