Over the past few years, Plaid Hat Games has grown from “those guys that make Summoner Wars,” to one of the most popular and reliable publishers in the hobby. Their line of games can be hailed for high production quality, originality of ideas, and diversity within an ever growing catalog of options. Some of the highlights include: the aforementioned Summoner Wars, Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia, and the extremely popular Mice & Mystics.
The latest game in the Plaid Hat line, Dead of Winter, looks to be at home amongst these titles, offering the innovative and engaging gameplay that is commonplace in their designs. It also doesn’t hurt that the development team brought their usual level of polish and care to the physical game, making it even harder not display this game next to family reunion photos and your kid’s A+ homework assignments.
We had a chance to play the game at Origins Game Fair with Co-Designer Jon Gilmour and immediately fell in love. With the game, that is, not Jon. Okay, maybe a little with Jon. But anyway, we were then able to grab some time from both Jon and Co-Designer Isaac Vega to get more info on the game, the development, and where this project could lead. We’ll delay no further; read on and enjoy.
Let’s start simple; give us your quick-pitch for Dead of Winter. What is it and why should we be excited?
Jon: Dead of Winter is a Meta-cooperative board game for 2-5 players where players control a group of survivors in a deadly snowstorm, struggling to survive. Players will be torn between their own personal objectives and completing the overall objectives.
Isaac:These objectives infuse great drama amongst players, causing them to constantly choose between themselves and the colony. All the while suspecting that there may be a traitor amongst them.
This is also the first game in the Crossroads Series. The Crossroads Series introduces the mechanic of “Crossroad Cards,” interesting story pieces that can be triggered at any point during a players turn. These also force players to make decisions that will affect the course of the game. All in all, Dead of Winter gives players a heavily-thematic and wildly-varying game that really puts players into being survivors in this harsh apocalyptic world.
Zombies; some of The League hates them, others loves them. Should we bother trying to get everyone to the table together? From your perspective, what really sets Dead of Winter apart from similarly themed games on the market?
Jon: Zombies? I didn’t even mention zombies! What sets Dead of Winter apart is that we did not set out to make a zombie game. We set out to make a game about the survivors, and what being in the situation would be like. The zombies are there, for sure, but they aren’t targets to awesomely blow away. They are best to be avoided and corralled.
Isaac:Zombies are not the focus, but the back drop. Yes, you kill zombies, but it is not about that. This game is about the characters, what they need, and how they live through the situation. You are put into their world, a world where zombies aren’t the only things you have to worry about. In fact, the real monster might be the person sitting next to you. Because of this, Dead of Winter delivers some amazing moments and stories that people have always loved about the zombie genre, but has never really been translated to board games before.
Jon: We are both huge fans of zombie media, and my intention from the start was to pay homage to what makes good zombie stories great. If you enjoy playing games with those people, then you need to get them to sit down and play Dead of Winter. Just convince them to put their zombie prejudice aside for an hour and a half. If afterwards they feel that it’s just another zombie game, I’ll buy them a drink at the next con we both attend.
Looking back to where this project began, what has the design process been like? What were the big factors in taking the original idea and transforming it into the polished product that will be shipping out shortly?
Isaac:He showed me what he was working on at one of his monthly game days.What he had made my brain burn. I had so many ideas rush to me while playing that I very much wanted to be part of the development. I asked Jon if he wouldn’t mind me tinkering with the project and if he liked the changes we would go in on it 50/50.
Jon: He took it and told me he was going to make a lot of changes. There are many of the core things that are the same, but there are also tons of differences.
Isaac: I came back the next game day and what was left of Jon’s original game was pretty much location cards. Everything else pitched or altered in some sort of way. Luckily he liked where I was going, had some suggestions of his own, and thus a sweet design baby was born. We went back and forth for quite some time until it was time to show it to Colby and some other Plaid Hat guys at GenCon. It went amazingly well. However, the game wasn’t even close to finished and it took a bit of time and development to get to a point that it was ready for production. But even then, there was a sinking feeling in my stomach that it wasn’t quite right, that it wasn’t the game that it needed to be. That was a stressful time for me, but luckily that led to Crossroad Cards and to the final version of Dead of Winter that is being released.
The “Crossroads Cards” are an amazing piece of this game, injecting theme and story into each player’s turn. This seems to be a brand-new mechanic to the hobby, to some extent; how did it come about? What do you feel it offers to the overall Dead of Winter experience?
Jon: It was near the end of play testing when Isaac came up with the current version of the Crossroad Cards. They had been in the game through previous versions, but had worked several different ways. None of which ever felt 100% right. Originally the cards were seeded into each deck, and functioned quite a bit different. It came about when Isaac had devoted an entire day to playing the game over and over again to try to figure out what was missing. And during that session he came up with the current incarnation of the Crossroad cards.
Isaac:Before we were ready for production I called a final playtest with some close friends. I knew by their reaction that the game was good, but it hadn’t quite yet hit that great mark. That’s when I came up with Crossroad Cards. I scribbled it down on a piece of paper and stopped them in a middle of a game with it. The result was magic, it took the game to another level. So much so that it became the defining factor in the series.
What Crossroad Cards do is offer the players a unique experience every time they sit down to play the game. It gives them moments of tension, humor, anger, and regret. It puts you in the game, and causes you to pay attention to what happens on each player’s turn. Overall, Crossroad Cards finally delivered on what Jon and I had wanted from the beginning, a survival simulator packed full of story and the unexpected.
Jon:It brings a huge amount of story and depth to the game. Players can’t fully anticipate any outcome, because the Crossroad Cards can change things. They have tons of great thematic choices for the players to make. And because of the huge number of them in the game, it adds tons of replayability to it.
Dead of Winter is the first of the “Crossroads Game” series. Any ideas of where the next one will take us? Additionally, what ideas do you have to set the games in the series apart from each other?
Jon: We are letting the fans choose where we should take the series. Future games will all feature the Crossroad Cards, but that is the only thing that is guaranteed to be there. We do not want to just slap another theme on the game, and kick the next game out to fans. We want to make each game its own experience.
Isaac: According to the votes, it looks like it is going to be Lost in Space. Now when we say “Lost in Space,” we don’t mean that particular show, we mean a group of people on a ship in the middle of the vast unknown. I have actually already started to work on it. With good results so far. Of course it is way too early to talk about, but I am super excited about what the next chapter in the series will offer to players. The mechanics are widely different than Dead of Winter, but Crossroad Cards, main objectives, and personal objectives are still part of the mix. Other places we plan to take the series are Feudal Japan, Summer Camp, Deep Underground, and Corporate America.
After talking to the Plaid Hat crew at Origins, it was clear that pre-orders are doing well. How are you feeling about the success of Dead of Winter, even before it hits shelves? What do you think is the big contributing factor?
Jon: We are very pleased with how well the game has been doing. I think the biggest contributing factor is the fans. We opened up playtesting to over 100 groups. We didn’t tell them anything about the game going in (it still hadn’t officially been announced). Most of those playtesters have become very vocal about the game. Especially the ones that said afterwards that they would not have played it if they had known it was a zombie game. They are out there saying “No, give it a chance.” It’s been awesome meeting and interacting with the fans, and it’s something I will continue to try to go out of my way to do. I had a blast at Origins demoing the game from morning until the wee hours.
Isaac:I couldn’t be happier about the games success so far, and hope that it is able to continue so that we can explore more themes in the series. I believe that a few things have contributed to the games success. First off, I think that games that can deliver a story and provide engaging game play are very hot right now. Not only in the board game world, but in the video game world as well. Another factor is that Dead of Winter offers players a ton of game for their money. If you won every single main objective on your first try (you won’t) you would still have 20 games to play before you have played all of them. And every game will be different, because of the 80 Crossroad Cards that can trigger, the 30 characters you can choose from, the 34 different secret objectives that can be given to the player, and the different decision points the game offers players. Also, we are allowing players to come up with their own Crossroad Cards, campaigns, and main objectives. The game has the room to be a sandbox for players to create their own stories unique to them.
Also, I think Plaid Hat Games’ track record, in combination with the fact that we were releasing a zombie theme game, really got people’s attention. I feel like all the “oh no, not another zombie game” comments really got turned around when they found out Plaid Hat was doing it. They were willing to give it a chance and find out that it is a zombie game like no other.
Lastly, I think the game is gorgeous. The cover alone makes people turn their heads. It is a beautiful piece of work. The artist and the graphic designer really did an amazing job on this project and it just adds a ton of value to a game that is already super fun.
The League would like to thank Jon Gilmour and Isaac Vega for taking time out of their day to answer some of our questions about Dead of Winter. The retail version of the game is currently in transit, so expect it to arrive on FLGS shelves in the coming months. If you’re headed to GenCon 2014, keep an eye out for Dead of Winter and the rest of the Plaid Hat Games line at their booth. Head on over to PlaidHatGames.com to learn more or see a Dead of Winter walkthrough in action at the WatchItPlayed channel on Youtube.
*Pictures courtesy of Plaid Hat Games website