Slipping quietly between the towering piles of ‘Top 5 Games to Play at Halloween’ lists like a spooky mist comes the news that stellar 2014 zombie survival game Dead of Winter is getting an app to run the game’s very best bit – its Crossroads cards.
Due for a well-timed release on All Hallows Eve itself, the iOS and Android apps allow digital access to the deck of theme-heavy Crossroads cards, which trigger special events during players’ turns if the right criteria are met – someone searches at the hospital, or builds a barricade, for example. They then get a juicy little slice of text about the situation they’ve been thrown into before being given a choice of options. Do you leave the sick-looking old lady food, or leave her and rummage through her belongings? Take a shortcut over the ice, or play safe and go around? We like to stop the player who activates the card by grabbing their arm and staring into their eyes before launching straight into the card text, to add a bit of spice (and to scare the shit out of them, natch).
Better yet, the app lets you switch off seeing the results of your decisions until after you’ve made them – not how the game’s supposed to be played according to the rules, but absolutely our favoured way of using the cards. What sounds better to you – reading out some text before telling someone they can either ‘lose one food’ or ‘lose one morale’, or feeding their character a genuine ethical dilemma and asking: how would they react? For their own good? For the good of the colony? To help a stranger, or leave them for dead? Far from being a straight-up zombie-fighting game like Zombicide, Dead of
Winter is all about the characters, stuck together in a freezing town with a potential traitor trying to scupper them.
I know some players feel that hiding the ramifications of Crossroads cards upsets the balance of the game – a nasty, random morale or food loss at the wrong time can send things spiraling out of control. But I’d urge you to try it – what you lose in game-aiding predictability, you more than gain in atmosphere. Dead of Winter does what so many other tabletop games wish they could do – it can make you forget it’s a game, of stats, and abilities and rolling dice and drawing cards, and instead draws you into feeling you really are helping a desperate group of survivors last through one more crisis, proud when your sheriff saves the colony from certain invasion by bludgeoning a couple of zombies, or when you strap a shotgun to Sparky the Stunt Dog and he blasts the Betrayer’s last character into smithereens.
This also raises the question: when are we getting the long-talked of new Crossroads cards? The pile certainly takes more than a few plays to get through, but I suspect those fans playing week after week are starting to pine for new alternatives to the same cards showing up again and again. The app seems an ideal way for Plaid Hat to get new cards into the hands of players, so maybe there’s a set around the corner. But will they cost? And is the app free? No one knows! See you in the App Store on October 31st to find out.