dead-of-winterDesigner:  Jonathan Gilmour & Isaac Vega
Publisher:  Plaid Hat Games
Platform:  Board Game
Current Price:  $59.99 from most online game retailers, though it is a bit hard to find right now

Reviewed by Jack Francisco

Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game where players control survivors in a winter-setting zombie apocalypse.  I say semi-cooperative because there is a possibility for a traitor to be present among the players, an element than can make for some really interesting possibilities.  During the course of the game, players will be faced with various challenges each round such as food, waste, a crisis, and, of course, zombies as they try to complete a group objective.  Additionally, each player will also be trying to accomplish a personal objective.  At the end of the game, players can win individually, as a team, or not at all.

 

OVERVIEW

In Dead of Winter, each player starts the game with control of two survivors (from four which they are dealt), some randomly assigned starting equipment and some six-sided action dice.  Each survivor is rated for leadership, combat, and searching as well as possessing a special ability.  The doctor, for example, can heal a wound once per turn.  Nothing overly complicated here.

The zombies are out there trying to get at the survivors and are a constant threat that must be dealt with, but they are endless and despite the theme, are not the over-arching focus of gameplay.  You need to kill them, but it isn’t an overly-elaborate process – use the proper value of action die on a survivor and boom, dead zombie.  Very much like in The Walking Dead, they are there, they are dangerous, but the real entertainment is in the player/survivor interaction.

 

Each round, players are under pressure to deal with a crisis.  Each item card has a symbol or two on it and each crisis card will require that the players contribute a certain (usually number of players) number of a particular symbol, be it medicine, food, tools, etc, in order to resolve the crisis.  If they fail to do so, there is a consequence.  Also, if someone contributes a card with a different symbol than the one required, it cancels out one of the symbols contributed.  That’s where the traitor element comes in.  That deck is shuffled before resolving, so if someone is trying to sabotage, you won’t know who based on the order.  In my eyes, there is a little flaw with this system and I will touch on it later.

 

Additionally, there are crossroads cards, a core element of this game and, as the publisher states, future, games in this series.  Before a player takes their actions, the player to their right takes a crossroads card.  These cards have different pre-requisites on them – certain characters being in play, survivors performing certain activities, and even some other twists, which I won’t spoil!  If these are met, it triggers an event, which puts the player(s) at a crossroads.  It either requires the player to make a consequential decision or puts something to a simultaneous vote.  I totally love the mechanic, and it adds a nice little touch to every round.

 

There are six locations around the board where the survivors can travel to in order to acquire more items, survivors, etc, but be careful since travel (and combat) have risk in the form of the exposure die.  The exposure die is a d12 that you roll when you move or attack.  Roll a tooth (1 in 12) and your survivor is dead.  Period.  It reminds of the old-school AD&D game with the Save vs. Death mechanic.  Oh, you failed?  You’re dead.  Even worse is that the infection spreads to the survivor with the lowest leadership.  That survivor’s player then chooses – do I kill them off and end the infection or roll the exposure die.  Roll a non-blank side and they die too…and the infection spreads.  Also, when searching, you can choose to make noise to draw another card, still only keeping one.  Why wouldn’t you always do it?  Every noise token increases the chance of additional zombies, that’s why.  It’s a pretty neat element and I know that there will be the usual anti-dice/random results pushback, but it’s fun and risky and that’s what the gaming hobby is all about.  For me, it’s another big plus.

Some of the components in Dead of Winter.

Lastly are the player actions.  You get one action die per survivor + one so more survivors equals more dice.  One thing I like is that even if you roll poorly, you can always do something with your dice, whether it’s to make a barricade or clean waste.  You can even use food to boost your die for that desperately needed +1.

By the end of the allotted number of rounds, the main objective is completed, you check to see who has completed their personal secret objective.  Do both and you win.  If the group fails its main objective, then no one wins.  Run out of rounds and sorry, you all lose.  It’s just that simple.

 

COMPONENTS

The main board is ok and I found the entrance area a little cluttery and the location cards are kind of flimsy for my liking.  The locations do have a nice graphic in the top corner that gives you a hint as to the frequency of what you are likely to find there.  The tokens are nice and I’m a big fan of the stand-ups rather than plastic minis in this case.  I played a copy that had frosted dice which do not come with the game, but were a nice bit of pimping.  The cards are nice as is the big red exposure die.  Overall, I like the game art, though the font size on the crossroads cards may prove challenging to those of us with eyesight that just isn’t what it used to be.  I like that there are a LOT of crossroads cards – 80 in all.  That is a really nice touch that will keep some variety in the game for a good long while.  All in all some good components here and I don’t think you will feel ripped off based on what you are getting.

Police Station Swarmfest!

 

 

RULES
I found the rulebook to be colorful and easy-to-read with lots of detailed examples.  This is something that I always appreciate that.  I think this rulebook is a step up from some of Plaid Hat’s previous rulebooks, such as Mice & Mystics, which I found to not be the clearest sometimes.

Game flow is smooth and fast and downtime is really not an issue.  I suppose if someone has a dozen survivors, this could slow the game down a touch, but otherwise it’s pretty quick.  Two turns into my first game, I had the flow of my turn down pretty well.  It has a little bit of fiddliness as far as trying to locate a particular survivor standup and adding zombies, but any complaints about that are really just trying to look for something to put down.

As far as player counts go, I can’t see playing this with two players.  Three is good, but four and (maybe) five is the sweet spot.  More players also increases the possibility of the traitor mechanic coming in to play, which can only make this game better.  It also makes it more likely that someone could get exiled from the colony!  You don’t want a traitor in your midst, so a vote can be called to have someone expelled.  Good stuff.

Rules exceptions are not something that I can see being an issue as it can be in some games.  My play of this didn’t see a single case of referring to the rules for any reason.  This gives light to the simple, but not simplistic, rules implementation.

GAMEPLAY

So what do I think?  I like it.  It’s different than the host of zombie-themed games that seem to pour into the hobby by the dozens.  The crisis cards put a little pressure on the players to give up some of their hard-searched-for stuff.  One little knock that I have on it would be that I think I would like the mechanic even more if it REQUIRED you to contribute a card on your turn.  That way, suspicion about the possibility of traitor, would be rife!  “Who put a tools icon in?”  “I had no choice!”  I’ve seen this kind of element work really well in Battlestar Galactica Express and I’m curious as to why the designers didn’t include it here.  No matter.  Again, it’s a minor little quibble.

The crossroads cards are the core piece of the game and make the game really fun and add that right amount of tension.  Trying to take your turn while another player is reading the potential bad things that could happen if you do X is a pretty unnerving feeling and all within the theme of the game.  I’m certainly curious to see how Plaid Hat implements this in the future.

I also really like that you don’t have to have 10 survivors to be successful.  In my play, I lost one of my two survivors in the second turn and never got another one.  I played it out with just that single survivor and still accomplished my secret goal.  Fortunately, the rest of the players were able to tackle the group objective with me supplementing, but who cares if you win!

Dead of Winter plays fast and keeps moving along and experienced gamers should get this done in about 90 minutes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is one of the few new games that caught my attention this year.  I was curious to see how the crossroads mechanic worked as well as how the crisis cards got dealt with.  Overall, I like it very much.  The strain on resources that the crisis can cause, especially when one player takes a turn where they contribute nothing is significant.

The theme of the game, from frostbite that causes recurring damage to the exposure die all contribute seamlessly.  Nothing feels forced.  Some of the tropes on the crossroads cards are a little cliché, but hey, you’re playing a zombie game!  There are going to be clichés.  For me, they are comforting and welcoming.

I hope that Plaid Hat follows a similar path with Dead of Winter as Fantasy Flight has done so far with Eldritch Horror – expansions that add more of the same rather than lots of new game mechanics.  When something is good, you don’t change what it is at its core, you put some frosting or sprinkles on it, or in this case, some brains and gristle.  That’ll be enough to make good even better.

This was a blind buy for me as I had a feeling that I was going to really like it.  Fortunately, I was not disappointed and I am doubly glad considering how scarce it is right now.  When it becomes available again, do yourself a favor and grab it.  Otherwise, you may find yourself really wanting something that you can’t get.  That’s a real crossroads.

Rating:  8/10

 

I’ve recently been named as the Game Reviewer for Hellnotes.com, a site that reviews all things horror. If you’re a horror fan, feel free to check it out.

Categories : Game Reviews
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John_CarpenterWritten by: Brandon Engel
In 1960, Hitchcock released the legendary film, Psycho, and single-handedly created a new genre: the slasher film. Suddenly, we saw an onslaught of films starring the disguised killer intent on, no surprise, slashing people to pieces. Psycho, however, was not the film which transformed the genre into a formulaic, step-by-step plot process. That credit actually belongs to John Carpenter’s equally famous slasher film, Halloween.

One of the most profitable independent films of all time, Halloween grossed $70 million worldwide. Not bad, considering that it was made for around $325,000. Borrowing elements from films like Black Christmas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and of course Psycho, Halloween established many of the conventions of the “slasher film” as we know it today: an ambiguously motivated masked killer stalks horny, boozing teenagers. The maniacal Michael Myers escapes from his mental institution right before he’s to stand trial for  the murder of his sister (which he committed at the tender age of six [awww]). He’s returned to “Haddonfield, Illinois” to…kill a bunch of teenagers. Halloween was also the debut film of Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred in the film as Laurie Strode, the film’s “final girl.” The casting of Jamie Lee is itself a novel nod to Psycho, in that her mother, Janet Leigh, is the one who gets slashed up in the shower in Psycho.

The masked murderer with ambigous motivation for killing has since been reincarnated in a variety of films. Not only masked, the Michael Myers of Halloween was also hidden psychologically; his inner thoughts, and any reasoning are all hidden from the viewer. Even his history is skimmed over, resulting in an eerie effect that entirely dehumanizes Michael. Although, the second installment does offer an incredulous explanation for Myers’ mysterious origin and his motivation to kill (he’s said to be the incarnation of Samhain, and he’s also said to be trying to wipe out his bloodline [which is inconsistent with 90% of his murders]). Michael is more monstrous than misguided, a truly unstoppable creation. There is something even mildly reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror within the mythos surrounding Michael Myers in the first film: there is no attempt made to explain, in concrete terms, what his origin is, but it is hinted that he is some evil force, powerful beyond the scope of a mere mortal. Many slasher films eschew the supernatural element, however, and focus primarily on carnage. The purposeful ambiguity of intention is referenced in other contemporary films too, such as The Strangers, where the killers admit to targeting their victims only because “they were home.”

Myers was also responsible for the trend of unkillable murderers in possession of superhuman and supernatural abilities. Besides being nearly impossible to demolish, slasher villains can appear and reappear at will – seemingly light on their feet, despite often wielding chainsaws or other machinery (see every Friday the 13th movie, ever). They can also whisk away bodies with a snap of their fingers, intuitively placing them where their next victims will discover the surprise at exactly the right moment.

Following Halloween’s example, most slasher film victims are teens, only the most moral of whom survive – most often the “final girl” the purest of the lot, who lives to tell the tale (and to subsequently star in a few sequels, if the first film is a hit). The teens involved in sex, or perhaps drugs, are mercilessly finished off. In this way, the slasher film has parallels to a modern fairy tale, which may not seem so odd for those familiar with Grimm’s tales, a set of stories often equally as gruesome as horror films. The basic premise is: if you do bad things, then bad things will happen to you, (see Scream and My Bloody Valentine as evidence of this trend).

There are then, of course, the less thematic, but equally as recognizable trends of slasher films borrowed from Halloween. For example, any character who utters a statement along the lines of “I’ll be right back” will, most definitely, not be right back. The women pursued by killers will, inexplicably, decide the best route is to run upstairs. There will often be point of view camera shots from the killer’s viewpoint, adding terror and suspense to upcoming murders. And, more often than not, the setting will be composed of a small town or campy area, not only giving the impression of generality (the events could happen in any town, or any similar camp) but also the understanding that the victims have little chance of escape, and the ultimate fear that these attacks happened in a place previously representing safety and comfort.

Halloween, though not the first slasher film, undoubtedly cemented the formula, and how-to for successful slasher films, that would result in creations such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hell Night and Happy Birthday To Me. The golden age of slasher films has largely declined, though many will be aired on Television this October in preparation for Halloween (more info here). There’s still hope for a revival, however, ideally with some unexpected twists that break the norm of slasher films past.

 

Categories : Columns
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Heartsick

by Sheldon Woodward

 

I keep staring at your face, waiting for it to show some glimmer of regret for what you did to the woman who gave you her loving heart. At least now you know there’s darkness inside all of us, not just you. I’m still a good woman, but you beat most of that goodness out of me, so the darkness slipped out before I could stop it. I know that I’ll never hear you say you’re sorry, but at least now I have your heart too, throbbing in my bloody hands.

To get Sheldon Woodward’s book The World on Fire, click here.

Or catch up with him on his blog by clicking here.

Categories : Horror in a Hundred
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VP (1)THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECITON II – Blu-ray review

By Brian M. Sammons

This is a new seven movie box set, so you will notice no director or cast credits here. If you need that, IMDb is your friend. As a horror guy in October, this is Christmas, New Years, Easter, and Thanksgiving all rolled up into one. So yeah, I’m crazy busy until Halloween is over. As a movie guy, most of that insanity has been coming from the awesome Scream Factory as they seem hell bent on becoming THE place for genre Blu-rays and DVDs. Oh who am I kidding, they already are that. No one, but no one, is putting out as many groovy movies as consistently as they are.

And if you’re super busy like I am this time of year, here’s the Twitter version of this review: Get it. I mean come on, it’s Vincent Price in seven classics, doing what he does best. The movies look great in HD and they all come with some awesome extras. In fact, it’s the picture quality (which is very good here) and the extras that really make this set stand out, and if you’re any kind of horrorhead at all, you surely have seen most, if not all, of these films already. Hell, two of them are public domain and usually appear on all the crappy “100 Horror Movies” box sets you see all over for about five bucks or less. So with that said, should you double dip and get this new set for the much improved pretty and the extra goodies? Well let’s find out.

The seven movies collected here run the gambit from silly, to scary, to out and out classics. First there is the Roger Corman directed, very loose Poe adaptation of The Raven, staring Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff. It’s typical of Corman’s 60s Poe movies. Not so typical is when the trio of (in)famous move ghouls; Price, Lorre, and Karloff, team back up for an out and out comedy called, aptly enough, The Comedy of Terrors. While this may appear to be another Corman vehicle, it’s not. It is based off a screenplay by the late, great Richard Matheson, so that makes me happy. Speaking of Matheson, the first, and still best, cinematic adaptation of his amazing book, I Am Legend, can be found here in the movie; The Last Man on Earth. This is one of those public domain movies I was talking about earlier, but here it looks and sounds much better than it ever has before, and it’s one of the standouts of the collection. Going back to Roger Corman, we have his The Tomb of Ligeia, which is also based off of a Poe story, and is one of Cirman’s favorites od all the  movies he’s done over his legendary career. Last year, when Scream Factory brought out the first volume of the Vincent Price Collection, I was a bit bummed out by the fact that it had the awesome The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but not the sequel. Well, here they fix that grievous oversight, and have Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, which is a weird and crazy film that I’ve always loved to bits. Sticking with memorable sequels, this collection has The Return of the Fly, which has Vincent Price reprising his same role from the original movie. Last. But not least, is the campy Castle (as in William Castle) cult classic, House on Haunted Hill.

All seven of these films are must haves for any Vincent Price fan, and must watches for everyone else. These movies spotlight Price at the top of his game, and while not all of them are horror masterpieces, they’re all wonderful fun, looking and sounding better than ever before. If that’s not enough of a reason to get this new box set, Scream Factory has packed a nice collection of extras into the mix. Three of the films have introductions and final words by Mr. Price, and five of them have audio commentaries by various folks. There are three featurettes on Richard Matheson, who penned three of the movie’s scripts, and three more featurettes on Mr. Price, which only makes sense since his name is in the title.  The usual collection of trailers and still galleries round things out nicely.

So is this new boxset worth the possible double dip? Hell yeah it is. It’s a great set for fans of Mr. Price or just classic horror flicks in general. I enthusiastically and highly recommend Scream Factory’s The Vincent Price Collection II, and can’t wait to see if a third volume will come out next year.

 

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SanGiovanni-No-SongsWhite Noise Press Release:
New Chapbook From Mary SanGiovanni:
No Songs for the Stars
“No Songs for the Stars” by Mary SanGiovanni is an elegantly written genre-crossing chiller of noir, SF and horror – a perfect addition to the White Noise Press library of unique fiction by the genre’s best writers, in other words!

Published in a strictly limited edition of 150 signed and numbered chapbooks, printed on fine and rare papers, and housed in a hand-crafted envelope sleeve, Mary’s new story will be an important addition to your library of discriminating collectable fiction … and perhaps as a new and unwelcome guest to your deepest fears and most unsettling nightmares.

The order link: http://www.whitenoisepress.com/songs/

$15.00  (plus $2.00 shipping); extra shipping costs for Canadian and overseas customers.

www.whitenoisepress.com

Categories : Book Release
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JamaisVu3Jamais Vu: The Journal of Strange Among the Familiar
Paul Anderson, Editor
ISSN 2372-224X

ISBN: 978-0692304280
Issue Three – Summer/Autumn 2014

Reviewed by David Goudsward

Having reviewed the previous issues of Jamais Vu, I can safely say the magazine continues to live up to its name, a French term for recognized things that seem totally unfamiliar. It is not the strongest issue of the three so far, but editor Anderson has a vision of the content and he remains true to that ideal.

As with previous editions, the strength of JV3 is the fiction, both prose and poetry. Contributors this issue include Tom Piccirilli and Steve Rasnic Tem, so you know you’re talking top shelf fiction. There is also an excerpt from Toxicity, a recent novel by Max Booth III that has been getting tremendous reviews. This 3-page excerpt aptly demonstrates why.

The five brief forays into the art of poesy are particularly strong this issue. “So What Caused This?” by John Grey is a lyrical look at cause and effect in the industrial age and “In which I Feel Nostalgic about My Mother’s Death” is unsettling as a poem, doubled by the fact the poetess is 10th grader Abigail Rizzo. Rizzo is going justifiably going to have a lot of other writers looking over their shoulders to see how fast she’s gaining on them.

Nonfiction essays continue to improve in quality and quantity. Jessica Dwyer’s overview of the “Found Footage” genre and KT Jayne’s look at the Slender Man meme are of particular note. And of course, Harlan Ellison® continues to outdo himself, providing another thought-provoking yet wildly entertaining column, this time on the fine art of conflict avoidance through mondegreen. Paul Anderson’s interview with Craig Spector, co-founder of splatterpunk movement in 1980s horror is fascinating, if you happen to like splatterpunk. If you prefer your horror less visceral, the 15 page interview is about 10 pages too long.

Categories : Magazine Reviews
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UC (1)By Brian M. Sammons

Look, just get this.

What, you need more than that? It’s all of the classic Universal Monster movies from 1931 to 1956, all in one beautiful box set. It has all the movies you think of, and a whole bunch you’ve forgotten about. This is a mandatory must have for any fan of classic horror movies, and because it’s so massive, I’m not going to discuss all 30 of the movies here. But I will give you the awesome lineup, just to blow your hair back a little.

In the order in which the movies came out, they are: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, Werewolf of London, Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man Returns, The Mummy’s Hand, The Invisible Woman, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Invisible Agent, The Mummy’s Tomb, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, Son of Dracula, The Invisible Man’s Revenge, The Mummy’s Ghost, House of Frankenstein, The Mummy’s Curse, House of Dracula, She-Wolf of London, Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, Abbot and Costello meet the Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy, and The Creature Walks Among Us.

Now that’s a whole lot of movies! And yes, three Abbot and Costello movies are thrown in for good measure. I love me some A&C, and I love the majority of these classic fright flicks. Sure, not everyone is a winner, but there’s 30 of them! You really can’t ask for anything more if you’re a Universal monster fan. Oh, well I guess you could as for some extras and special features. Thankfully, this box set doesn’t skimp in that department either. It’s got hours and hours of extra goodies on here, chief among them is a whole other movie; the critically acclaimed Spanish version of Dracula. So technically this set has 31 movies in it. It also has 13 audio commentary tracks, featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and legendary monster makeup artist, Jack Pierce. There are a bunch of behind the scenes documentaries on many/most of the movies, archival footage, still galleries, trailers, and more.

Have I said enough good things about this new box set yet? Because when it comes to bad, I really don’t have a lot to say. This one is beyond highly recommended. As I said before, this is a must have. This year there are a few big, nice movie sets to choose from, but they all pale in comparison to this one. Yeah, it is that damn good. So once more, just in case you missed it the first time: get it.

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