WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Dead of the Winter

By on December 8, 2015

Fighting zombies to endure Iceland’s long, dark nights.

Fighting zombies and boredom during long winter nights in Iceland.

Fighting zombies and boredom during long winter nights in Iceland.

Jackson, WY – At 5:00 p.m. the residents of Neskaupstaður, Iceland, gathered around a large spruce tree near the Hildibrand Hotel on the town’s main street. While smaller than Jackson’s Town Square lighting ceremony, this celebration was full of live music, singing carolers and running children swishing in their snow pants. Iceland has thirteen different Santa Clauses, known as the Yule Lads, and two of the Yule Lads were rumored to appear that night. Everyone counted down as we waited for the lights to illuminate the tree, and the town rejoiced when they did. Children held hands and danced around like the Whos of Whoville, and all was merry and bright. Well, merry and dark because we have only four hours of sun.

And then a windstorm blew in two days later and obliterated the tree, scattering broken lights and branches across the street, leaving nothing but a claw of a trunk emerging from the ground.

So much for that.

There is only one road into Neskaupstaður and it closed for two days because of the storm, so no one could get in or out of town. The supermarket’s products were lessening, and you couldn’t even stand outside without having the wind try to tear you limb from limb like that poor tree. Everything from small stores to banks closed, and we all were stuck inside. Not even the biggest cigarette addicts dared to step outside for a smoke.

Thankfully, when Neskaupstaður shuts down, we have a backup plan of drinking beer and playing board games, and no game could have been more appropriate to our situation than “Dead of Winter” by Plaid Hat Games.

Fans of “The Walking Dead” will find comfort (and heaps of hair-pulling frustration) in the game due to the fact that the odds are always stacked against the players. A colony of survivors faces one crisis after another as a lurking zombie hoard continues to grow stronger every turn. Morale is slipping. Players control a handful of expendable survivors who must travel to dangerous locations to acquire food, fuel and other supplies to last the winter. But once a person returns to the colony, he can become infected and then the virus spreads to just about everyone.

During our windy lock-in, my coworkers and I ended up playing eight full games; not once were we able to win against the zombies. That, of course, is no thanks to the occasional random “betrayer” card, which can be dealt to one person in the group. While everyone else is trying to stay alive, the betrayer may very well be working against you, eating extra food, killing helpless survivors and allowing zombies to breach the colony.

The game is unlike anything I’ve played because it really forces you to work with other people, despite whatever course of action you think is best to take. There is no group leader, and if things get hairy you can be voted out of the group and left to fend for yourself as an exile.

For the past few days, Reykjavík (a nine-hour drive west from Neskaupstaður) has shut down due to a massive snowstorm the Reykjavík Grapevine newspaper has called “Snowpocalypse.” That same blizzard reached our town today, and people are already flocking to the stores to stock up on food, fuel and other supplies to last the storm. As the days grow darker and the Icelandic winter weather gets more ferocious, destroying more Christmas trees, we’d be lucky not to have to endure a zombie outbreak as well. But even if we do, my group of friends will be ready. PJH

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