Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (Rules and Instructions)

Dead of Winter is a board game that transports you directly into a colony with other survivors who all share the same goal: Stay alive, no matter what it takes!

During gameplay, you’ll have to make important game-altering decisions, complete your personal objective, and collect food, weapons, and supplies. However, there’s a chance your fellow survivors may stab you in the back instead of the zombies.

Winner of multiple awards for its unique innovation and thematic semi-cooperative gameplay, Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games is sure to please gaming and zombie lovers alike.

Are you ready to experience the reality of surviving in a zombie apocalypse? Learn how to play Dead of Winter below!

What is Dead of Winter?

Dead of Winter Board Game Info Image

Dead of Winter is a zombie-themed survival adventure game. It is semi-cooperative, meaning players work cooperatively towards one goal, but each player has their own personal goal to accomplish, also.

Survivors will attempt to work together to fight zombies and look for supplies to help keep the colony safe and everyone fed.

Number of players: 2-5 players

Ages: 13+

Difficulty: Medium

Length of play: 60-120 minutes

Category: Zombies, Survival, Bluffing, Adventure, Thematic, Semi-Cooperative

Similar to: Zombicide, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Battlestar Galactica

Main Objective: You must complete your personal secret goal while also working towards the shared main objective. If you complete your secret goal by the time the game ends, you win!

Why We Love It: The Crossroad Cards add an exciting element that makes every turn suspenseful. They are always unpredictable and provide nearly endless replayability for future sessions.

Playing Dead of Winter – What You’ll Need

Everything you need to play Dead of Winter can be found in the box:

The box contains the following components:

  • 10 – Dual Sided Main Objective Cards
  • 24 – Secret Objective Cards
  • 10 – Betrayal Secret Objective Cards
  • 10 – Exiled Secret Objective Cards
  • 30 – Survivor Cards
  • 5 – Player Reference Sheets
  • 1 – First Player Token
  • 25 – Starting Item Cards
  • 20 – Police Station Item Deck Cards
  • 20 – Grocery Store Item Deck Cards
  • 20 – School Item Deck Cards
  • 20 – Gas Station Item Deck Cards
  • 20 – Library Item Deck Cards
  • 20 – Hospital Item Deck Cards
  • 20 – Crisis Cards
  • 80 – Crossroads Cards
  • 25 – Wound Tokens
  • 20 – Helpless Survivor Tokens
  • 20 – Food Tokens
  • 20 – Noise Tokens
  • 20 – Barricade Tokens
  • 6 – Starvation Tokens
  • 2 – Track Markers
  • 30 – Zombie Standees
  • 20 – Zombie Tokens (to be used if you run out of zombie standees)
  • 30 – Survivor Standees
  • 60 – Plastic Standee Stands
  • 1 – Colony Board
  • 6 – Location Cards
  • 1 – Rulebook
  • 30 – Action Dice
  • 1 – Exposure Die
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Suggested Area of Play

Dead of Winter can be played on your standard kitchen or card table. Each player should reserve a small area in front of them for their Player Reference Sheet, Survivor Cards, and any additional cards they may collect during gameplay.

The play area will need to fit:

  • The Colony board, 
  • 6 Location cards, and 
  • 3 regular sized decks of cards.

You will also need to keep the zombie and additional survivor standees within reach. If you don’t have room on your table, you can keep them in the game’s box nearby.

Dead of Winter Rules

How to Setup the Game

The following setup is for a game involving 3 players. The rulebook will explain in further detail the different game variants and their set up such as a 2 player game, strictly co-op, hardcore, etc.

  1. Place the Colony board in the middle of the table with the 6 Location cards surrounding the Colony board. Then, each person takes a Player Reference Sheet and places it down in front of them.
  2. As a group, the players select a Main Objective card to play with or choose one at random. The Main Objective card goes into its labeled position on the Colony board. Then, read the Setup instructions on the card.

The setup instructions will tell you how many zombies you need to place on the board and where to place the tokens on the Round and Morale Trackers. It will also provide a storyline to read aloud before gameplay that pertains to the objective, which can be found in the back of the rulebook. 

  1. Take all of the Non-Betrayal Secret Objective cards, shuffle them, and put aside 2 per player (facedown) and return the rest to the box.

Next, take the Betrayal Secret Objective cards, shuffle them, and put only 1 card aside. Add this card face down to the pile of Non-Betrayal Secret Objective cards. Return the rest of the Betrayal Secret Objective cards to the box.

Shuffle all of the set-aside Secret Objective cards together, then deal 1 to each player, still keeping them facedown. Put the remaining cards back in the box without looking through them!

Players must keep their secret objective to themselves until the end of the game!

  1. Take the pile of Crisis cards, shuffle them, and place the pile in their designated space on the Colony board.

Do the same with the Survivor, Exiled Objective, and Crossroadcards. There is no space on the Colony board for these decks, so you may place them within reach in the play area.

  1. Shuffle the Starter Item cards and give 5 to each player, which will make their “hand.” You can put the remaining starter item cards in the box.
  2. The remaining (non-starter) Item cards need to be separated by location. Their location is found on the bottom of the item description on the card. Shuffle each location’s set of cards and place it in their space on that correlating location.
  3. Each player gets dealt 4 Survivor cards, decides on 2 to keep, and the others get put back in the Survivor deck. Once everyone discards the 2 survivors they do not want to keep, the Survivor deck gets shuffled again before gameplay starts.
  4. Each player then decides which of these 2 survivors they would like to make their Group Leader and places that survivor to the left of their Player Reference Sheet where it says “Group Leader”.

The remaining survivor gets placed under the Player Reference Sheet where it says “Followers.” Any other survivor that is picked up during gameplay will automatically be placed in this area next to your other survivors.

  1. Look in the box for the matching character standees for the survivors in play and place them in a spot on the Colony board labeled “Colony Occupants”.
  2. Take all of the action dice, exposure die, tokens, and remaining survivor and zombie standees, and place them within reach of all players as they will be used often.
  3. The player who controls the Group Leader with the highest influence (found on the top right of that survivor’s card) gets passed the first player token and takes the first turn of the game.
Dead of Winter Player Reference Sheet

How to Play Dead of Winter

In Dead of Winter, each round consists of 2 phases: Player Turn Phase and Colony Phase.

Player Turn Phase

 In order, resolve the following effects at the start of the Player Turn Phase:

  1. Reveal Crisis – Flip over the top card of the Crisis deck and place it face-up on top of the pile. Crisis cards are an additional side-objective you’ll attempt to complete every round. 

Throughout gameplay, players will attempt to contribute what is needed to avoid that crisis. If players do not contribute enough, they have to suffer that Crisis card’s “Fail” effect.

  1. Roll Action Dice – Each player receives 1 action die per survivor they control. The players roll their dice and put them in their Unused Action Dice box on their Player Reference Sheet. Once a die is used, it will be moved to the Used Action Dice box.

On your turn, you can assign all of your action dice on one survivor or spread them out amongst your survivors. However, you’ll need to consider the face value of each die before assigning it to a survivor. 

If a survivor’s Attack or Search Value on their card is lower than the face value of an action die, they cannot perform an attack or search action with that die.

  1. Player Turns – At the beginning of a player’s turn, the person to their right will draw a Crossroads cardfor that player.

The person who drew the Crossroad card does not read anything aloud until the card advises them to. If the player did not trigger the requirement on the card in order for it to take effect, the card gets discarded to the bottom of the Crossroad card deck.

If the player activates the Crossroad card, the person who is reading the card interrupts the game and reads the card aloud. Typically, the card will provide a scenario, and either the active player or all players will take a vote on it.

The card reader will then read the result aloud unless the card states otherwise. This can alter gameplay immensely, keeping the game interesting and unpredictable!

On a player’s turn, they can perform the following actions, if able:

Actions that require an Action Die:

  • Attack – Kill a Zombie in your location
  • Search – Pick up the top card of your location’s item deck. You can look through more cards, but you will have to use a noise token each time. Keep only one of the cards you revealed and add it to your hand, use immediately, or equip it onto a survivor in your control.
  • Barricade – Place a barricade token in a spot on your location.
  • Clean Waste – Remove 3 cards from the waste pile, this prevents Morale from going down.
  • Attract – Move 2 zombies from any location onto one of your other survivor’s locations.
  • Survivor Ability – Some survivors have personal abilities you can utilize. Their survivor card will state what this ability is and if an action die is needed.

Actions that DO NOT require an Action Die:

  • Play a Card – Play a card from your hand. Most cards are self explanatory and will explain where to place the card on the board when completed or if it needs to be removed from the game.
  • Add a Card to the Crisis – Take a card from your hand and place it in the Crisis Contribution space on the Colony board.
  • Move a Survivor – Choose a survivor you control and move them to any available location. You must roll the Exposure Die for movement to make sure you did not get attacked by zombies on the way there!
  • Spend Food Tokens – You may remove a food token from the Colony’s supply to increase one of your action die results by 1. If you remove 2 tokens, you will increase the result by 2, and so on.
  • Request – Players may request to have an item card currently owned by another player. The other player may give them this card, but it needs to be revealed to all players and used immediately. This cannot be added to the Crisis Contribution.
  • Hand Off – Take an equipped item off of one of your survivors and give it to another survivor at your location. They must equip it immediately.
  • Vote to Exile – If players suspect a traitor, they can vote to exile that player out of the game. The vote will be asked by all players to give thumbs up or down. If it’s a tie, the player with the first player token decides!

Once a player is voted as exiled, they must immediately take an Exiled Objective card and move all of their survivors to other locations outside of the colony. The rules for that player changes drastically, but they must still try to complete their Exiled Objective card.

Rolling for Exposure

Whenever a player moves their survivor to a new location or fights a zombie, an exposure roll needs to be performed (unless a player uses a card that states otherwise).

Possible Rolls and Their Effects

  • Blank – Your survivor is safe! Take no wounds.
  • Wound – Place a Wound token on that survivor. When a survivor has 3 or more wounds, they are killed and removed from the game.
  • Frostbite – Place a Frostbite token on that survivor. At the beginning of each new turn, that survivor gains an additional wound token.
  • Bitten – That survivor is killed, and the bite effect starts to spread towards other survivors at your location.

Spreading a Bite

When a player gets bitten, they are automatically killed and removed from the game. If there are other survivors in the location where this survivor was killed, the bite effect spreads to the survivor with the lowest influence.

In order to stop the bite from spreading even further, the player who controls that survivor has two options:

  1. Kill that survivor to prevent infecting other players.
  2. That survivor can roll an Exposure Die. If they roll a blank result, the bite effect will stop spreading, and they will not be killed.

If that survivor rolls anything other than a blank, the bite effect keeps spreading to the next survivor with the lowest influence. This spread will continue until the most recently bitten survivor is killed or a blank die result is rolled.

NOTE: When a survivor gets killed in the game for any reason, you must remember to move the Morale tracker down by 1 on the Colony board.

Location Card Image

Colony Phase

During the Colony Phase, you must complete the following actions in order:

  • Pay Food – Remove food tokens in the Colony. Remove 1 token per 2 survivors located in the Colony (rounded up).
  • Check Waste – Count all of the cards in the Waste Pile. If it contains 10 or more cards, you need to move the Morale tracker down by 1.
  • Resolve Crisis – Shuffle the face-down Crisis Contribution cards, then reveal them to everyone to see if the current Crisis has been resolved.
  • Add Zombies – For every 2 survivors at the Colony, add 1 zombie (rounded up). Add 1 zombie per survivor at any other location outside of the Colony. 
  • Check Main Objective – Check the Main Objective card to see if the goal has been met! If it has, the game will end immediately.
  • Move Round Tracker – Move the token on the round tracker down by 1.
  • Pass First Player Token – Pass the token to the player on your right.

How to Win at Dead of Winter

To determine who wins, the game must first come to an end. The game will end if either of these conditions are met:

  1. The Round tracker moves to zero.
  2. The Morale tracker moves to zero.
  3. The Main Objective has been completed.

Once the game ends, any player who has completed their Secret Objective wins! 

Gameplay Video Instructions

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to play Dead of Winter?

The box states an average game is around 60-120 minutes, but it also depends on the Main Objective card you choose to play with. Main Objective cards are each labeled Short, Medium, and Long and can last anywhere from 45-210 minutes.

What’s the difference between Dead of Winter and Dead of Winter: The Long Night?

Dead of Winter: The Long Night is a standalone expansion. Look at our expansion section below for additional information!

Can Dead of Winter be played solo?

No, Dead of Winter is strictly meant to be played for 2-5 players.

Dead of Winter Expansions

Currently, there are two expansions for Dead of Winter:

Dead of Winter: Warring Colonies is an expansion that requires the base game, adds new rules, and allows you to play with up to 4-11 players at once! 

Dead of Winter: The Long Night is a standalone expansion. You do not need the base game to play, but if you have it, there are some instructions to utilize components from both games. 

Similar Games to Dead of Winter (Our Guides)

If you enjoyed playing Dead of Winter, below is a list of other similar games you might enjoy playing and learning about (if we’ve covered it):

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