This game has had its ups and downs. The publishers, Plaid Hat Games, generated quite a lot of hype by denying it was a game at all (they claimed it was a survival kit) and only selling it through what gave every appearance as being a pyramid scheme. You could only buy Raxxon if someone gave you an invitation. The game was highly sought because it was hard to get. For many, the hype seemed unjustified and the game’s rating plummeted in the polls. Raxxon has finally appeared at retail but its publicity stunt launch hasn’t given it the most auspicious start.
The game suffered from the fact that many of those who initially bought it had only a vague notion of what it was and how it played. They knew that it was set in the Dead of Winter universe so there was an expectation that Raxxon would be similar to Dead of Winter. It isn’t.
Whereas Dead of Winter is a semi-co-operative game where players have secret personal objectives that can conflict with the collective aim, Raxxon is a fully co-operative game. In Raxxon, players each represent a specialist in the leadership team in a city suffering a zombie infection. The players’ task is to work collectively to evacuate those in the city population who are healthy before the city is overrun by the infected and before the Raxxon Company seizes control of the city.
In Raxxon, a ‘crowd’ is formed by laying population cards face down in a grid. Players use their actions to identify and move the healthy and infected citizens. They will try to line up in the same rows or columns, as healthy citizens that are adjacent in this way can be evacuated together to safety. Similarly, a row or column of infected citizens (and any unrevealed cards) can be killed in an airstrike action. Infected citizens may also be quarantined, taking them temporarily out of the game.
Players have a wide choice of actions available to them but every action they take has a potentially negative consequence in the next round. This means that play in Raxxon is about working out and managing the right balance and knowing when to pass. There is a strong push-your-luck element, and the pressure is on because the number of infected is likely to increase with every round. Meanwhile, certain actions will cause players to draw Raxxon cards. This is where the game comes closest to Dead of Winter. The Raxxon cards are similar to the Crossroads event cards in the Dead of Winter games. Most only apply when certain conditions are met but, when they apply, most Raxxon cards have a negative impact. Among these is the chance that they will advance the Raxxon Company along its power track – hastening a loss for the players.
Whilst Dead of Winter is a board game that plays like a role-playing game, Raxxon is much more of a puzzle-solving exercise. Raxxon is nonetheless engaging. There is enough flavour on all the cards to carry the theme through so that this never feels like an abstract game. On the downside, the fact that Raxxon is a full co-op with no hidden information means there’s nothing to stop a bossy player turning a multi-player game into a solitaire where they direct all the moves.
Even though this puzzle-solver might otherwise be a let down for die-hard Dead of Winter fans, many of them will want to buy it if only for its ‘bonus content’. The publishers have included in the box two new standees for use in the original Dead of Winter game and/or its Long Night sequel/expansion. They have even included two new Crossroads cards representing the two new characters. It’s another marketing gimmick from Plaid Hat Games but one that is likely to pay off.