It's okay, we have a NUCLEAR FLASHLIGHT - Dead of Winter The Long Night review
Let me start by saying the component quality of The Long Night is stellar - they took the few things I had complaints about in the base game (namely the location paper boards) and made great strides in the quality of those components.
That’s about all I liked about it.
The reason I don’t like The Long Night is because it wrecks one of the fundamental things that makes Dead of Winter a successful and unique game. Dead of Winter succeeded as a zombie board game because it wasn’t a zombie board game. It was a board game about a group of randomly assembled survivors trying to survive against all odds and come to grips with their own success conditions. Sure, the “odds” in the game were zombies, but save a few crossroad cards you could’ve probably subbed out the zombies with wolves or raiders or some other aggressive force and got more or less the same enjoyable game.
Almost everything The Long Night adds to this winning formula is focused on the Zombies. Raxxon: super zombies. Improvements: mostly dealing with zombies. Bandits: not zombies, but fiddly weirdness nonetheless (why do you know what they looted? And why can you share a location with them?).
The 2nd game I played with the expansion where we had to survive 8 rounds? Almost every location was zombie infested, and we had two survivors stranded at Raxxon, which we only went to because we randomly got Blue from an event and his searches are improved at Raxxon. Last turn of the game, we had no idea how we were going to survive - no food cards, no weapons to go searching, low morale - everyone is on edge. Blue does a search, and finds a portable force fields and nuclear flashlight that auto-kills all zombies at a location and prevents more from spawning. Game over.
It wasn’t about people deciding whether their personal objectives were more important than the main objective, or whether someone was holding out because they were a betrayer, or that we had cleaned out the grocery store in earlier rounds and were desperate for a food source. It was because we found an OP weapon and accessory geared exactly towards dealing with zombies.
As for the part of the expansion that I was looking most forward to - more content. I realized after a few games that I now had too much content. With 60 playable characters the odds of you drawing Sparky were much lower, and I found that would dilute the attachment of the players to their characters. Everyone remembers drawing Sparky for the first time, or the mall santa, or the ninja. Those are characters you look forward to getting and that come with baggage from your previous games. Now they’re one of the 60, and the odds of you getting them is much lower.
The volume of crossroad cards is of concern as well. With a stack of crossroad cards that’s reminiscent of the Store Deck in Millennium Blades combined with the dilution of the character deck, the odds of you triggering a character-specific crossroads card is quite low, meaning you have a measurable portion of effectively “blank” crossroads in play, which dilutes the rate at which you may trigger crossroad cards - one of the best parts of Dead of Winter. As it was in the base game we only triggered a crossroad card maybe once every 3 turns, doing it any less than that seems to be a waste.
Taking others’ advice on the BGG forum, I split my crossroad deck into a character-specific deck and an event deck, and had players draw from both every round and trigger one. That meant almost every event card was triggered, and rarely was there a triggered character card - now we increased the crossroad rate to once per turn. Instead of being a unique thing that may or may not happen on your turn depending on whether you did an action or not, it’s now a given thing that WILL happen - it was actually more of a surprise when one wasn’t triggered. (I realize this is a house rule I’m reviewing, but I mentioned it in case others are tempted to try.)
And my biggest pet peeve of all - both of the major modules, Bandits and Raxxon, add new steps to the colony phase. Neither of those modules are mentioned at all on the player aids that list out exactly what happens every round. Not even as a footnote. I understand they’re both optional modules, but you could’ve at least put notes about the actions in brackets or in small font or a different color or something! Between this and the lack of acknoledgement of people with the base game in the rule book (concerning mixing cards, the only guidance in the rule book is basically “it may change the balance of the game. Figure it out”) it’s as if Plaid Hat completely forgot about the loyal supporters of the original game.
Look, DoW the Long Night is a great buy for those of you who haven’t bought the original game. The improved location boards, 30 new characters and tonnes of new crossroad cards are totally worth it. And you have the option of just opting not to include any of the modules that transform the game from a interesting survivor story to a zombie-fest. But for those of us who already have the original version, I don’t think this warrants your time at all.