Tabletop Review: Dead By Daylight
I love the horror genre. Love the movies, games, aesthetics, etc. I also think horror starts with an uphill battle, which is why I’m pleasantly surprised with how well Dead by Daylight has hung on. Say what you want about the video game, I know there’s a fair amount of toxicity in the community, but the game itself is fantastic. I’ll never forget loading into that first match, crouching, creeping around, wondering where the killer was, who it was, heart pounding, palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy…Ok, anyways, I still love the game and play it rather frequently, especially when I can get enough friends to play customs. I try to steer into that horror theme and not worry too much about winning or losing, and I usually end up having a blast. All that setup to say: when I saw that Level 99 was kickstarting a Dead by Daylight board game, I had to back it. I was so hyped to break it open when I found it on my doorstep it immediately moved to the top of the playtest list, and I’ve already gotten a handful of rounds in with separate groups. So let’s talk about it!
I backed the Collector’s Edition, which essentially just rounds out the rest of the Dead by Daylight killer and survivor lineup, with miniatures to represent each. The Collector’s Edition also has premium bloodpoint tokens and minis representing the generators and hooks. Other than that, though, the game plays the same. I was pleasantly surprised to see how simple the gameplay actually was. With an asymmetrical game, I was assuming to basically read through two separate sets of rules for the killer vs. survivors, but they streamlined operations here. I think that does the game a service as well. Similar to my thoughts on Alien: Fate of the Nostromo, a highly thematic game like this that’s based on a video game (a horror game, to boot) could easily suffer from complex mechanics if not handled meticulously, so I think they made a solid choice in a more simplistic design.
Each player, killer and survivor alike, has a player card and mini to represent them. Their card comes with 3 base perks which cost bloodpoints to use, and replacement perks can be chosen before the start of the game. Each player then takes a set of 4 movement cards: sprint, vault, crouch, and sneak - with the killer taking a 5th “wait” card. The double-sided game boards are set up with multiple rooms from different locations from the video game. Each of these rooms is connected with one or more color-coded pathways to match a kind of movement card. The game happens over an indefinite amount of rounds, each in a series of phases: planning, survivors act, killer acts, and finally, the cleanup phase. During the planning phase, everyone selects a movement card and places it face down in front of them, with the killer selecting two. The players take turns in player order, flipping over their movement card, moving down the matching hallway if possible, flipping a prop token in the new room if any are still face down, and finally interacting with something or someone in the room. Once all players have gone, the killer takes their two turns, which operate almost exactly the same way, with some obviously different interactions available. Once you’ve reached that point, the cleanup phase handles any hook tokens that need to be recorded to the killer’s progress track, returning movement cards and any other necessary cleanup, then passing the first player token to the next survivor.
That’s essentially the entire game in a nutshell - very simple and straightforward (us jarheads like these easier games, they go better with our crayon snacks). The killer wins the game if they’re able to hook all the players or get 8 successful hooks before the survivors repair 4 generators and find the escape. Like the video game, there are items like pallets, toolboxes, flashlights, keys, other features like hex totems, crows, and lockers, and of course, the infamous skill checks, represented by 6-sided dice. Killers all each have their signature power as well to use as their interaction to help them spread carnage.
I’ve played a handful of rounds so far with a couple of different groups, one with the minimum of a group of 3 and another with a full group of 5. It’s definitely fun having a full table, but the game does not suffer for being short a couple of players. If you don’t have all 5, then one or two players can just two-hand a couple of survivors. There’s still a lot of ground to cover to put the game through all its paces, but after running a few rounds on two different maps with a couple of different killers and survivors, the game feels very well-balanced. All our matches seemed to come down to the wire, with either the killer losing by a hook or two or the survivors only losing by one generator or just the exit. Like other great thematic games I’ve reviewed, the pacing kept well with that rising tension of the theme. Things really start to get tense when 3 survivors are hooked, only one more success is needed to repair the last generator, and the last survivor is hurt.
There are only a couple of downsides so far. For one, there are a few rules that we had to dig around to make a decent call on. One thing that remains a bit unclear is if players can interact and then move or if they have to move first, then interact in the order it’s written. As the rulebook’s written, players reveal their movement card, move, flip a token, and then interact. That does make for some interesting strategizing, but also doesn’t really follow logic too well. If I’m moving towards a room to fix a generator, and there also happens to be a hurt friend in that room, rules-as-written state I’d have to move into that room and interact with either the generator or heal my friend, then move out of the room, then two turns later can come back into to continue interacting with the generator or whatever. It’d make more sense if movement were optional, but then I wonder if they ran into balancing issues since the killer has a “wait” card. If waiting wasn’t an issue, then either everyone would have a “wait” card, or movement would just be detailed as optional. Either way, it’d be fun to try that and see if it would break the game to allow interaction and movement to be used in either order.
Regardless of the bit of rules confusion, we all had a blast playing the game. The Dead by Daylight board game lives up to its digital counterpart; I hope your IRL crew is less toxic than the randoms on the internet! I can’t wait to get the game back on the board and try out different killers and survivors, and I certainly can’t wait to get those minis painted! All things considered, I think it’s about as good as a game like this could get. With just a couple of small gripes, I give Dead by Daylight an easy 8 meathooks out of 10. You can pre-order the base game on Level 99’s website for $49.99 or the Collector’s Edition for $129.99