This is all the stuff I discovered *after* playing Project Winter for 200 hours. If I didn't figure it out by that point, it's probably news to you too.
So Project Winter is WAY deeper than it seems at first glance. It's really about playing the other players, building trust, and betraying that trust, and this guide is here to help you uncover the nuances and rhythms that make this game such a joy to play, as well as a few tips and tricks that aren't at all obvious or even necessary unless you're up against expert-level nonsense.
Psychology: The Meat in the Pot Pie of PW
In this game, it's important to get to know who you're playing with. You only have half an hour to ferret out the traitors, so you need to get cracking ASAP.
Are people punching each other for ore, or nipping wood from someone else punching down a tree in the first few? Keep an eye on those baddies. The game's been out long enough that you shouldn't assume they're newbies. Get a tool ASAP and let them know they won't win a game of slap and tickle with you. If you're feeling aggressive, you can always take the side of whoever gets hit first.
Is someone going to check the objective first thing, calling out what's needed, and looking for bunker mates? This player knows communication is important, and is either a really strong survivor or a very dangerous traitor. This player will power through the first objective if they find two other survivors to team up with, but will also look suspicious if bunkers start getting sabotaged or the needed scrap doesn't materialize.
Is someone making an axe and running off to chop wood near the base? They're not doing the most helpful thing, but they're not exactly running off to open traitor crates, either.
Is someone making a pickaxe and running off to score some ore? Be VERY suspicious, especially if the objective needs fuel. A cooperative team can afford to hold off on trapping the power station, and a traitor can very easily stock landmines while looking helpful here.
Is someone panicking at every sign of suspicious activity? Vigilant people are still helpful, you just need to take their claims with a grain of salt. Know the difference between vigilance and paranoia, though- someone crying wolf over harmless things may be better off ignored.
Is someone just running off on their own? Follow them! Everyone needs a buddy, especially traitors. It may feel like a waste of your time, but it's wasting the traitor's time just as much. Think about it this way- in an eight player game, 2 survivors each following 2 lone wolf traitors means 4 people are doing nothing to help or hinder and 4 survivors are free to work together on the objective. The remaining four are going to learn to trust each other REAL quick and form a power clique.
Power Clique: On Wednesdays We Wear Pink
A power clique is the single most dangerous thing to traitors in Project Winter. A power clique is a group of people who have decided that they can trust each other completely, and everyone outside of that clique is suspect at best and traitorous at worst. Three survivors, if they are right about each other, can murder everyone else on the map and freely complete their objectives with even a small amount of time remaining.
So: build yourself a power clique. Assemble your Avengers! Instill trust in others by sharing that second rock with someone who was checking the objective. Cook some food and give it to someone once your hunger drops to half- do it with an audience, and you'll build trust not only with that person but everyone else who sees. Stick up for PEOPLE. Players who are obnoxious, insulting, and vindictive are not worth having on your team as survivors. They are destroying the trust essential to building a power clique. They will do more damage to both your chances of success and people's enjoyment of the game than any other kind of traitor.
You probably suck at building a power clique if you are good at discovering the traitor but nobody listens when you tell them to exile the traitor. You probably suck at building a power clique if you can't get people to open bunkers with you. You probably suck at building a power clique if you routinely lose to traitors because you did all the work on the first objective, found the distress beacon while the others were out being losers, and traitors find and kill you on your way back.
Calling out others for being not very good at the game is an Ego Move. It's driven by a natural weakness to feel superior to other people, but it backfires on you every time. The player you complain about rarely thanks you for pointing it out. They'll get defensive, hurt, and angry. They will not join your power clique, and will at best try to find some other survivors to team up with. At worst, they will assume you are trying to destroy morale because you are a traitor.
The Invisible Meter
In Project Winter, there's three visible meters- health, warmth, hunger- and one invisible meter. It's invisible because it's impossible to quantify, but it's real and it exists. It's your Trust Meter. Every altruistic thing you do (that gets noticed) increases your Trust Meter, and every suspicious thing you are seen doing (or are accused of) decreases your Trust Meter. Want to see how real it is? Tell a group that Big Jerry opened a traitor crate and begin attacking them. If the group turns on you, your Trust Meter isn't high enough to just kill someone on your word alone.
The First RULE OF TRUST: If you do something helpful, but nobody notices, your Trust Meter DOES NOT GO UP. Anyone can claim they put in 3 gas five minutes ago, and you trying to claim credit after the fact is actually a little suspicious. Helping to open bunkers is the easiest way to exploit this rule- two other people see you doing something helpful.
The Second RULE OF TRUST: If one person accuses you of something, and it can't immediately be proven false, your Trust Meter goes down, even if by just a little. Good traitors use this rule like a wedge to break up power cliques. Sabotaging three-person bunkers is my all time favorite method of exploiting this rule.
Now, the difficult thing about Trust Meters is that everyone's is different. The communicative player who always wants to bust some bunkers open? Their Trust Meter starts high, but it can crash fast. The loner who just wants to craft the scrap themselves? Their Trust Meter starts low, but if you help them with their scrap, it can get a little higher. The super arrogant jerk who called you an idiot because you crafted an axe when clearly you should've crafted a pickaxe? Their Trust Meter won't ever go above zero, so don't bother.
Before you do something suspicious as traitor OR as a survivor, check your Trust Meter. Will the people around me have my back, or do I need to go assemble my power clique before calling out a traitor? If I've been implicated in several bunker sabotages, should I really be the one using the truth serum, or is it a safer play to give it to someone else you trust?
If my Trust Meter becomes irreparably damaged, say by mistakenly killing an innocent, it's time to think exit strategy. As a survivor, that means not doing anything too suspicious and keeping a weather eye out for the escape pod. As a traitor, that means building a campfire kit if possible and remembering the location of the nearest escape hatch.
Conversely, if you feel your Trust Meter is maxed out, usually because people start saying things like "No way is Big Jerry the traitor, they did X," then you should make use of it. As a survivor, that means things like getting the truth serum, asking for gun parts or medkits, or sticking together to go find the second objective. As a traitor, that means doing all the exact same things, except saying how you only trust Dogface Ned and you'll go with him to the beacon. (Sorry about your impending doom, Dogface Ned.) Use it or lose it!
Timing: It's, Well, Uh, Everything
Project Winter is a tightly timed game. You have eight minutes from the time you discover an objective to the time the traitor airdrop happens. This means speed is of paramount importance for your first objective.
As a survivor, you really have two first objectives:
- #1) Fix the Power Station Within 8 Minutes.
- #2) Find At Least Two People You Trust.
Of these two, #2 is more important than #1. If you do 1 but not 2, you will find yourself dying to stupid stuff like joining a team of two traitors to discover the second objective. If you do 2 but not 1, the traitor will have an airdrop but you will have the makings of a power clique, and you can use the additional time to firm up your clique by opening more bunkers, getting guns, and so forth.
If you must do your distraction of a bonus objective, do it after the first objective is complete.
As a traitor, your first objective is to delay the first OBJECTIVE. If you don't get that airdrop, that means the survivors have at least 21 minutes to goof off, trap the power station, find the second objective, clear half the bunkers on the map, and get enough guns to wipe you and your traitor buddy off the face of the earth. Being a lone wolf is great fun and all, but it's HARD when the survivors find your open traitor crates and spend a full ten minutes chasing you down because they are all over the map.
So the earlier the survivors finish the first objective, the fewer risks they need to take to finish the second. A no-traitor game with competent survivors (one in which both traitors are discovered and executed as well as the power station is repaired within 10 minutes) generally looks like this:
- 20:00 remaining: Survivors start looking for the beacon.
- 15:00 remaining: Survivors have found the beacon, activated it, and identified what it needs- survivors begin assembling the required parts.
- 10:00 remaining: Survivors as a pack travel to the beacon, drop off parts, and return to the cabin as a pack to call for rescue.
- 09:00 remaining: Survivors arrive at the escape vehicle, make sure everyone's bonus objective is clear, have a good chuckle about pretending to be traitors. GG.
A typical survivor success feels a bit more like this:
- 20:00 remaining: Someone gets accused of taking parts out of the power station, delays incurred.
- 15:00 remaining: Power station finally gets fixed.
- 13:00 remaining: Survivors trap the power station, max out their health and hunger because nobody wants to leave the cabin until they're topped up, and go out in one or two packs to find the beacon. One person goes off solo and dies to wolves.
- 09:00 remaining: Second objective discovered, mad scramble to assemble required parts.
- 03:00 remaining: Parts are delivered to beacon, the 3-4 remaining survivors decide who to send back to call for rescue and who stays (if it's a helipad).
- 01:00 remaining: Mad dash to escape vehicle, followed by showdown with traitors at the escape vehicle or near cabin.
An ideal traitor success feels a bit like this:
- 22:00 remaining: First traitor airdrop arrives, at least one survivor has been killed.
- 18:00 remaining: After power station is robbed and a traitor is exiled, someone is assigned to watch the power station.
- 15:00 remaining: Power station gets fixed, survivors run off to gather ore for traps
- 13:00 remaining: After placing approximately one dozen landmines on the power station, players mill about the cabin arguing over who should go with whom to seek out secondary objective. Someone tries to go off solo, and is accused of being a traitor so they return. The survivors top off health and hunger and leave.
- 12:30 remaining: Blizzard happens, survivors run back to base and sit uselessly.
- 09:30 remaining: Survivors seek out second objective, traitors activate first airdrop. Power station is remotely sabotaged, forcing survivors to trudge through their own mines to fix it. A survivor dies and their exile vote disappears, enabling the exiled traitor to return to cabin, warm up, and snatch up parts and maybe even re-sabotage the power station.
- 07:00 remaining: Power station repaired and re-mined, survivors begin to seek out the second objective. Second traitor airdrop lands.
- 05:00 remaining: Players find second objective, and the traitor still embedded in the main group snatches up all the relevant parts for it, tossing them in traitor crates. By this point I generally feel that the survivors are likely doomed.
- 03:00 remaining: By now there's maybe one or two survivors left, straggling uselessly and calling out for the other survivors. If I'm still the embedded traitor, I don't even need to turn on them at this point. All I have to do is follow along and make sure they don't assemble 12 cogs or whatever by themselves. If they do, well...
- 00:00 remaining: The survivors are freezing to death, running scared to an escape vehicle to die at the hands of the traitor waiting there, or just plain giving up hope of repairing both objectives. They huddle in the cabin during their last moments. I share a cigarette with them, commiserating on how terrible life is sometimes. Roll credits.
Generally speaking, the later the game goes on, the more likely I am as a survivor to do risky things like go solo in order to complete objectives. If I'm on track and I know there's plenty of time left, there's no need to split the power clique just to send someone back to the cabin for rescue. If I know there's not enough time for both of us to escape, I will sprint to the cabin for help and send the other survivor on to escape. (Thinking about that Trust Meter even now.) As a survivor, I am always in a hurry by default, and it takes an act of willpower not to plunge full speed ahead even when I know both traitors are definitely dead. (I never know for sure until the end, unless traitors whip out guns on groups and try to 1vX us.)
Similarly, if the survivors complete their objective earlier than I expect them to, I need to take more risks as a traitor. Sabotage bunkers, poison things in plain sight, set traps outside bunkers while others are inside, do whatever dumb things might give me the slightest advantage so I'm not stuck whipping out a sniper rifle on the loading ramp of the helicopter while survivors pound me to death and insult me for being so bad at traitor. As a traitor, I'm always looking to run the clock down by any means necessary- I will claim to be hungry at inconvenient times, say that I'm freezing, run at the first sign of danger, and so forth. I've even triggered airdrops by putting in parts slowly at the power station. Granted, I had to beeline for the hatch after that, but it got me the airdrop which is all I want in the early game. Keep your eye on the clock.