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Dead by Daylight

Based closely on the video game from Starbreeze Studios and Behaviour Interactive, Level 99's Dead by Daylight is an asymmetric board game designed ideally for five players, where four players are playing cooperatively as survivors who are trying to escape the clutches of a crazed psychopathic killer. If you've played the video game, you'll quickly recognise the set up in this board game but even if you've never heard of the video game, the scenarios will be familiar from slasher horror movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. And indeed, Behaviour Interactive has licensed characters from these and other movies.

The killer will be stalking the players, wounding them and then, on a subsequent turn, trying to hoist them onto a hook. That will earn the killer a hook token and they'll add an additional token to their track every turn that begins with a survivor still on a hook. When the hook track is full, the killer wins. The survivors win by finding and activating four generators and then escaping through one of the exits.

Dead by Daylight is played on a board made up of interconnecting locations. Survivors each have identical hands of four cards that indicate a specific type of movement. In practice, other than for colour blind players, you really only need to focus on the cards' colours. Cards correspond the links between adjacent locations, so, for example, if I play the green 'sprint' card, my character will move from their current location to the location connected by the green 'sprint' icon. The killer has the same four movement cards but they also have a 'wait' card that lets them remain at the location they are already at; not an option for the survivors.

Each round players pick the card they are playing (two cards for the killer) and they reveal them. When you move to a location, you get to reveal one of the tokens there. The various tokens generally have two alternative uses and they are also used differently by the survivors and killer. You can interact with tokens; for example, when they've found a generator, the survivors will want to interact with it in order to activate it. If a generator is only partially activated, then the killer can interact with it to remove any activation markers.

The killer tho' will mostly be trying to catch survivors, wound them and mount them on a hook. This is a multi-stage process, and players have a chance to roll to try to escape - especially where hanging them on a hook involves dragging them to another location. While a survivor is on a hook they are unable to take any other actions, and the killer will rack up more hook tokens if the survivor isn't freed. That means the dynamics of the game change and players will find themselves firefighting to quite literally get each other off the hook!

Most similar themed games rely on hidden movement for the characters so that players don't know where their opponents are. That's the case, for example, in Last Friday (Ares Games). In Dead by Daylight, however, the killer always knows the exact current location of each survivor and the survivors know where the killer is. What they don't know in advance is where the character is moving to (or, in the case of the killer, whether they are moving at all). The game therefore becomes one involving a degree of bluff and second guessing. Survivors will probably want to plan their actions before each make their card selection but all discussion and debate is open and so within earshot of the killer. Players will usually also be able to deduce their opponents' likely movement from the board situation: wounded players and almost completed generators are obvious magnets for the killer.

Tho' the core mechanics are simple and straightforward, the movement options and the opportunities for interaction at each location give each player quite a range of choice, especially early in the game; less so as the game advances and players have to react to what's happened. The basic game comes with seven survivors and six killers, all of which play quite differently. Each has their own special abilities, tho' these are mostly powered by 'blood tokens' which, at least for the survivors, can be in thin supply. You can even modify each character's abilities by drafting ability cards as overlays for your character's player board. The Collector's Edition comes with a staggering 17 survivors and 16 killers - again, all very distinctive. It also comes with four rather than two boards, plus 3D generator tokens and hoists onto which the survivor minis can actually be hooked. The minis are impressive - especially the 3D constructs in the coffin-box Collector's Edition - tho' the game is let down just a little by the shiny but otherwise lacklustre boards.

Dead by Daylight is a thematically very strong game that will have you hooked, in both senses of the word. Interactions are determined by die rolls using custom six-sided dice, so luck certainly plays its part, but D Brad Dalton Jr has designed a game that's well balanced, despite all the variety in the box: you'll find most games end up nail-bitingly close, which is as it should be! Tho' the game is potentially playable by 3-5 players, it's very much at its best with a full complement of five, so that each player has their own individual character and no-one has to double up. Play this way and you can even treat Dead by Daylight as a tabletop roleplaying game. We could even envisage players coming back for sequel plays as the same survivor character, perhaps facing a different killer and levelling up their survivor's abilities through the use of the modification cards.

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