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This is the story of how I first fell in love with Dead of Winter, how The Long Night caused both games to fall out of favor, and what I did to make both games fun again.
I first played Dead of Winter around the winter of 2014-2015. One of my coworkers had brought it to a board game night, and we gave it a shot. It was a huge hit. There were lots of possible things to do, randomness that you could usually factor into your decisions, and enough mystery in secret and betrayal objectives that told a great story. It made a return at several board game nights.
It wasn't without its flaws. Playing with a large group meant that downtime between your turns was significant. The rulebook and the player sheets and the cards all seemed to have different parts of the rules. It was hard to keep all the rules in your head. There were a couple of ways for the betrayer to screw everyone else over without too much trouble — though we did find out we weren't playing with correct movement rules after the first few games. Like I said, the rules aren't the best.
Fast forward a couple years. I'd bought my own copy and had taught a few more people to play. We were playing by the correct rules now and understanding the game a bit better.
Then The Long Night was released. A new base game? All new cards and three new expansion modules? Sign me up! We soon picked it up and started playing.
The Long Night, aside from introducing more card variety, also includes three expansions: Improvements, Bandits, and Raxxon. Improvements are passive colony abilities that you can discard junk cards to build. Bandits can spawn every round and steal cards from locations. Raxxon features powerful special zombies but also powerful weapon and item cards to find.
So all these changes felt great. The Long Night includes some special main objective cards that slowly introduce the expansions in a developing story. You can also just pick a set of expansions and throw them all on the table. We played many times with Raxxon, the most different and most interesting of the expansions, and sometimes included the Bandits and improvements.
However. A couple things happened that prevented either the original Dead of Winter or The Long Night from making it to the table.
First: The Long Night's expansions are neat, but not as balanced as the parts of the base game.
Second: The Long Night has worse set up. There are more decks of cards to shuffle. You have to either shuffle in or sort out cards from the expansions. There's actually fewer survivor cards than in Dead of Winter — exactly enough for a 5-player game — so you see the same survivors more often.
Both of these reasons, along with my own dwindling free time, caused both games to sit on my shelf unplayed for months. In fact, I definitely haven't played either game in 2018 (as of August 19th).
I wanted to fix this, though.
I sat down and laid out all the components from both games side-by-side. Every deck of cards available, every pile of tokens or standees grouped.
I did some simple comparisons. What were the differences in the piles: were the main objectives different? Did the character abilities only make sense in one game or the other? Could I maintain the card variety as in each game?
I also did some thinking. What were the worst parts of setting the game up? Which bags needed to be emptied, and which ones could be drawn from ad hoc?
I think I came up with a valid answer for each of these questions and created a solution to address as many problems as I could. Here's how I considered each individual part.
I kept the Colony board from the original Dead of Winter. The snowy image feels more appropriate than the prison image in The Long Night.
I kept the location boards from The Long Night. They're as thick as the colony board instead of being thin like the player aid sheets. I also kept the Graveyard board as a nice way to gather removed characters and items.
I separated out all the cards from The Long Night that were specific to one of the three modules: improvements, bandits, or Raxxon. This mostly consists of the location itself and any associated decks of cards, but also removed two characters (sorry, Blue) and a few crossroads and objective cards. I left these out of all subsequent piles.
I replaced all the Fuel cards in the starter item deck from Dead of Winter with the Fuel Or Fire cards from The Long Night. They're more flexible, which I think is good for the game. I also did this with the six regular location decks, which I'll talk about below.
I shuffled both decks of survivors, crisis, crossroads, main objectives, secret objectives, betrayer objectives, and exiled objectives together. This is, of course, after I took out the module-specific cards. Some crisis and objective cards are very similar between games, but this isn't a huge deal, and I like the extra variety. Easy enough.
I kept half of the regular zombie standees from Dead of Winter and half of the zombies from The Long Night. I of course kept all the survivor standees too.
I kept all the tokens from The Long Night, since it introduced some new ones: explosive traps, despair, and unruly survivors. I also kept most of the tokens from Dead of Winter that didn't change: food, wound, starvation, and noise tokens. Those four are usually the ones we're looking for in a pinch, so I wanted them to be easier to find.
I kept one set of trackers (morale, round number, first player), all the small blue dice, and both exposure dice. Keeping the extra dice is mostly for the sake of convenience on large tables.
Then I had to figure out the six location decks. I knew I wanted to maintain the ratios of card types as printed on the location board. I didn't want to make any piles bigger if I could help it, because some main and secret objectives require you to search through an entire pile. I also wanted to increase variety as much as I could. This was easier for some locations than others. Here's a short explanation of how I did it:
Finally, I put everything in labeled bags to speed up set up and tear down, a nontrivial part of my hesitation to break Dead of Winter out anymore. Here's a quick breakdown:
All the organized and labeled things went into the Dead of Winter box, leaving the extra tokens, cards, and expansion module-specific bits in The Long Night's box.
Well, I'm not sure. Play the game, I guess.
All the organization I did makes me optimistic about actually getting it to the table before the end of the year. We'll see!
Update: Finally got this to the table in September. The variety was nice, in particular at locations like the Police Station and the Library. The bags worked really well for set up as well as tear down. We also assigned the player to the left of the current player to be the token master, which kept people focused and proved to be the best way to handle food, noise, and wound tokens. I suspect we'll get to play it again before the year is out.