31 January 2024
Winter is cold, dark and miserable. It’s no fun at all. Which makes it the perfect excuse to have a few mates over and really get yourself stuck into something distracting. We take a look at ten tasty treats to liven up your evenings by the fire...
Words by Chris Lowry
Dead of Winter
What’s the best way to take your mind off the misery of being trapped inside on these dark and doleful nights? Why not try imagining that it could be so, so, so much worse! Dead of Winter’s masterful hidden role survival horror game is the perfect way to lose all trust in your friends, but at least you’ll be more focused on avoiding running out of food than the lack of sunlight outside. Built for 2-5 players, the aim is to make it through the zombie rampage without everyone dying, but the soul-destroying twist is that one of you may be a secret traitor — or you might spend the entire night obsessing about it only to realise that no one was!
Game of Thrones
On the subject of cold-hearted betrayal hand-in-hand with icy temperatures, you can’t go wrong with the A Game of Thrones game. Based on the bleak novels by George R.R. Martin, each player takes on a role from one of the great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The aim is wrestle control of the Iron Throne from your competitors with diplomacy... or death. The key mechanic is making secret orders to your units with face down cards. Will that alliance hold? Will you assist your friends like you promised, or were the words you uttered a meaningless pre-meditated manoeuvre in your Machiavellian machinations?
Carcassone: Winter Edition
Did you know that Carcassonne had a winter edition? I’ll be honest, I did not, but it turns out there is, and it’s a delight. There are no rule changes here from the original, just aesthetic ones; the delightful French countryside has been layered in crisp ice and snow, transforming roads into alleys between white fields, and white-tipped rooves in towns become a cosy haven from the cold. If you already own the original, there’s not need to pick this up, but if you’ve been planning on buying a copy? Why not get the Winter Edition and bring some seasonal charm to a tabletop classic? It’s fully compatible with the original, so mix them up and have a dialectic mix of summer and winter to confuse your internal body clock.
Hey, That's My Fish!
Look, it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom, and this little game of penguins making paths through the ice as it melts might perk up your spirits. Hey, That’s My Fish! is a simple challenge, but one that allows for light hearted replays and take-that moments. Your aim is to collect all the seafood, ideally focusing on the three-fish tiles first, leaving the one-fish tiles until the end. However, wherever you land melts after you leave it, quickly breaking the game board into a steadily reducing cluster of isolated icebergs. The trick is to trap your competitors on a small island, forcing them to run out of tiles and settle for a lower score. It’s not the deepest game you’ll play before spring, but great for kids and those who want a gentle puzzle with their cocoa before bed.
Right at the other end of the simplicity spectrum is Gloomhaven — a ten kilogram crate of heftiness. This box contains hundreds of hours of gameplay, perhaps the ideal companion to the weeks of darkness ahead. There’s certainly a rich depth of narrative appeal in here, with a legacy aspect and a story-driven tactical combat adventure at its heart. Really, we wanted to recommend Frosthaven, its newer, even heavier (nearly 15 kg) younger sibling, solely due to its setting in the harsh winter outpost of White Oak. Unfortunately, that newer game is still nearly impossible to get hold of anywhere, so you’ll have to make do with the mere 1700 cards included in the earlier game. That should still keep you entertained ‘til autumn.
For those of you with a more role-play centric appetite, isolated evenings in the deep freeze can’t get much more thematic than with Mothership, the Alien inspired sci-fi horror RPG. You and your crew try to survive in the most inhospitable environment in the universe: outer space. You’ll face cosmic horrors, suffocation and hostile alien life making that trip out to Lidl to pick up some more croissants seem a little quaint. With a rules-lite system that focuses on moving quickly, and on everything becoming inexorably worse. Your characters will panic, unexpectedly, making already untenable situations truly terrible. The new 1.0 version is out now, but you can also find the original System Resource Document on their website for free.
Maybe you don’t want snow. You don’t want drudgery, misery, isolation and death. Perhaps you just want a scenic trip through national parks, taking photos, sitting by a campfire and enjoying the world around you? Parks is that game. A snappy little Eurogame is all wrapped up here within one of the nicest game productions I’ve ever seen. It’s generally pretty throughout, but the highlight is the large cards beautifully emblazoned with the evocative creative work of the 59Parks art collective. That’s enough on its own, but it also comes with a solo mode, sending Park Rangers to join you on your ramble, so you don’t even need any friends on board in order to engineer your escape from wintry reality.
It might still be cold up there, but above the clouds it’s at least clear and sunny. In Celestia, you are travelling by air ship between the sky-cities of the realm of Celestia. Between each stop, the captain rolls dice, dealing with the challenges it hurls at them; with such obstacles as lightning, pirates or fog. Each player must then choose if they are to disembark, or carry on. Continue your journey, and gain more points, but stay too long and go down with the ship? You are left with nothing. Pressing-your-luck is often fun with friends who can jeer at your defeat or writhe with jealousy at your successes, and the sky-bound nature of the game appeals to me in a season where the walls seem too close somehow.
A Few Acres of Snow
Going deep with a pal for two hours can be a real joy. 2011’s A Few Acres Of Snow is not a festive family treat, it’s a gritty proto-simulation of the Franco-British conflict in the northern US two hundred years ago. Sharing some DNA with deckbuilders like Dominion, as play progresses your deck will increase in capabilities, actions and abilities. But, of course, the same is happening to your competitor’s empire too. Whilst it’s important we point out that a tussle over colonialisation often misses the finer points of the atrocities done to indigenous people, this is a game where both players will feel they go through the mill themselves. A knotty puzzle you’ll want to repeat the next evening to see if you can do something differently.
Endless Winter: Paleo Americans
From the creator of Dice Hospital comes this caveman deck-building worker-placement hybrid. Spread across the land, hunt animals and develop a nascent culture in order to pave your tribe’s path to victory. Interestingly, the game is semi-modular, with some mechanic changing cards and options that are heavily thematic. There expansions to represent animals disappearing, or cave-painting, all adding a variability and replayability that should keep you and up to three friends entertained until it’s time to turn the heating back off. If you can afford to have it on in the first place, anyway.
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