The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 Game Overview and Review - Last Meeple Standing - Dread Central
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The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 Game Overview and Review – Last Meeple Standing

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How much do you trust your friends? More specifically, how much do you trust your *gaming* friends? Games of social deduction have been popular for a very long time, but it seems like it took forever for the gaming industry to catch up to the obvious and ultimate implementation of the concept of “who is the bad guy,” John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m sure it had a lot to do with rights and moola.

Let’s deal with the obvious first: yes, I’m certain the developers of the game were well aware of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? as well as Howard Hawks film The Thing from Another World, much less the 2011 prequel The Thing, but Mondo’s semi-cooperative game very specifically focuses on the John Carpenter version, all the way down to specific characters from the film and even snippets of dialog. With that out of the way, onward with what is important: the game itself.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

COMPONENTS:
The components are a mixed bag for me, ranging from “Wow!” to “That works.” The standout components for The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 are the miniatures, or “movers” as the game refers to them. The movers are incredible. The sculpts are exquisite in their details. Each figure portrays the characters exactly from the film, all of the way down to their defining details. Nauls and his roller skates, Clark and his dogs, Garry and his pistol, and, of course, MacReady with his signature flamethrower. I’m really impressed at how well the miniatures capture the essence of their inspiration. Other components don’t fair QUITE as well, but do the job. I like the boards for tracking objectives and infection in the game. They are sturdy and the iconography used is easy to understand at a glance. They provide a quick reference at any point in the game with regard to how what needs to be done and how doomed you are due to infection by the unfriendly ET.

There are two elements that fell short for me, though. First, some of the cardstock used in the game felt flimsy and lightweight. The character cards, Mission Log cards, and Power Out/Room Destroyed cards, in particular seem to have been printed on somewhat cheap paper, leaving them limp and easy to bend, fold, and otherwise mangle. These days, cards in a lot of even obscure games are printed on really nice stock with a linen finish, so it seems strange to me that a AAA title like this would have gone for somewhat cheaper materials. Second, and this one may be personal preference, but the art design for me just didn’t work 100% for me. When this game was being marketed, a certain amount of emphasis was placed on the art and how amazing it was going to be. Well, I’ll agree when it comes to the miniatures, but the rest of the design seems a little… well… bland. I understand that the designers may have been shooting (flamethrowers) for a somewhat stoic or “official” document-like design. If that is the case, they have succeeded. For example, the main board for the game DOES look like a “you are HERE” sign. Sure, the sterility of the graphic design matches the cold isolation of the theme, but there are times where the player might wish for a little more. For instance, if you flip over a tile to see simple red text that says “Thing 1,” are you going to quake with fear or are you going to start looking around for the Cat in the Hat and his duo of disaster? Couldn’t this token have had a horrific graphic depicting the correct iteration of The Thing? I’m just sayin’…

SETUP:
Set up for this game is fairly simple. If you follow the one page of instructions in the manual, you can’t go wrong. After one play, you probably won’t need to refer to the setup instructions again. Each player picks a character, maintaining an even distribution of choices between the three Departments available: Maintenance, Operations, and Science. Lay out the main game board, where you will be tracking the movements of your team during the game, setting the Infection tracking board and Objective tracking boards alongside the main board. Shuffle the Supply deck (the base has a LOT of supplies to last the winter) and the Mission Log deck (you have a lot to do in order to survive a cordial visit from The Thing), and place them on the provided spaces on the main board. Place the awesome character movers for the characters chosen in the Rec Room space (remember all of the fun that takes place in THERE?), and place the Rope, Dynamite, and Flamethrower cards within reach of the players. For each of the three Sectors on the main board, shuffle up the Room Chips (depicting hidden Things, Gear, and specific actions, such as card discarding) and distribute them one per room for each sector. Now comes the brutal part: distribute a Blood Test card to each player. There is one card for each player, all of which are Human blood except one card, which indicates you are Infected. Keep these cards secret, as they are going to dictate how you play… for or AGAINST the Humans. Lastly, deal five Supply cards to each player. You are now ready to have your ass handed to you by The Thing (as you may have guessed, this game is HARD to beat).

GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay for The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is somewhat complex. That is ok, because ferreting out who amongst you is a perfect imitation of a Human and means to cause you grievous bodily harm is also complicated, as it should be. With that said, let’s concentrate on the highlights of game play. First and foremost is table talk. The heart (dripping and still beating) of this game is frantic and desperate talk between the players. Some games encourage the players to keep all elements of the game secret, not sharing hand contents, not sharing strategy, not sharing who the hell you think is an infected Human that means to eat your face off. This game is different. It is semi-cooperative in that all of the Humans are working together to wipe out the Infected, and the player/s who are infected are working secretly to wipe out humanity, all while pretending to be human and throwing blame onto others who may or may not be human. Not only are players constantly discussing who they think might be up to no good, but they are also sharing information about how they might be able to get the survivors onto a helicopter to get the heck out of there. That said, you are encouraged to flat-out LIE if it serves your purposes. Distrust is key in this game, so sow it where you can.

Core gameplay involves drawing a Mission Log card each turn and checking whether it is an Event or a Mission. Events can indicate things such as power outages in certain rooms or even rooms catching fire. Events are resolved immediately, and then a new Mission Log card is drawn, again resolving an Event if it is drawn (damn bad luck). However, if it is a Mission, the card will indicate what the Mission party’s composition must be: how many team members and what type (e.g., it must contain one Maintenance character). The Mission Log card will also indicate how the Mission must be completed, which is my favorite part of the game. The captain that turn will decide, with input from players, which room in the current Sector to explore. Each Mission requires the players to secretly add one Supply card to a pool of cards, face down, attempting to get certain types of cards (e.g., petri dishes) or weapons to generate damage (e.g., guns that are worth three dice).

The trick is… and don’t forget…at least one of the players is not Human, and they are going to do everything they can to foul up your plan, either by contributing a card that does not help you beat the mission (e.g., a weak card) or even Sabotages the mission. Yes, the Infected player can chip in a red Sabotage card secretly that causes all manner of bad things to happen to your team. You’ll note that I said cards are provided by players SECRETLY, face down. This is because the captain that turn is going to shuffle these cards and either draw randomly from them or reveal them all at once…and he will NOT know who contributed what card. But, they might have suspicions. How the players react to their suspicions makes up a lot of the gameplay. If players succeed on their Mission, they get to reveal the Room Chip in the room. It may be gear they need to advance the game by filling in spots on the Objective Board. It may be instructions to discard a card and draw a new card, or it may be a Thing they have to Battle.

Battle is VERY similar to completing missions in that each player is going to contribute a card face down, with each card indicating how many dice you get to roll or, in the case of the Infected, Sabotage. Depending on how far the infection has advanced in the station (infection advances as a result of failing Missions or Battles), the captain rolls dice looking for different types of results, such as three of a kind after three rolls. If the players succeed, they add the Thing they beat to the Objective Board, possibly allowing them to advance to the next sector.

If the game sounds challenging so far, wait until you toss in special gear like the Rope, which allows the players to “tie up” the current captain, preventing him from embarking on the current mission and switching the new captain to a new captain. Or there is the Flamethrower, which allows you to torch, kill, and remove from the game entirely a player you suspect is the Thing (heck yeah!). Then you’ve got new blood tests that take place when you advance to a new sector. A deck of Blood Test cards which has been seeded with ONE Infected card is drawn from by each player, possibly secretly creating second infected player, making the game even harder. There are other hitches that arise like determining if only humans have made it onto the escape helicopter, but these just add to the fun. Heck, you may not even make it to that point (case in point, we didn’t even make it out of Sector 1 the first time we played…we got devoured). This is not a game for first-timers to board games or casual gamers, but all of the twists, turns, and unexpected developments only add a deeper sense that you really are fighting for your life as desperately as you can.

WINNING:
Winning, whether you are the Humans or the Infected, is ALSO a tiny bit complicated. The game is asymmetric in that both the Humans and the Infected have different ways they can win. For the Humans, they can beat the game together, as a team, by clearing all three Sectors and ensuring that only humans are aboard the helicopter. That’s IT, their ONE shot at living. The Infected, though, have three ways they can win and thus wipe out humanity: Achieve maximum Contagion level on the Infection Tracker board, Destroy Outpost 31 by destroying four rooms throughout the base, or Stow Away on the helicopter. Any of these results in humanity being shit out of luck.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Despite my slight amount of griping about the graphic design and card stock earlier, this is a GREAT game. If you are into The Thing and its growing mythos, this game is OUTSTANDING. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 absolutely captures the paranoia and growing sense of dread that has instilled every iteration of the story up until now. Players find themselves completely unsure who really is The Thing if the Infected player plays their cards right. You find yourself asking why the captain made a decision that got your party damaged when your voted against it. You find yourself wondering who it is that sabotages your missions time and time again and try to read in their face who it is, wishing that you had a petri dish/blood/copper wire test in real life.

Is the game hard? You betcha it is! Some might argue that it is TOO hard, but to that I say: No, you’re wrong… shut up and look for The Thing before I torch you. Would discovering who was an ET from hell be easy? No way! Would you be scared and frozen with fear? Damn straight you would be. All of the mechanics in this game steer the players into a state of mind very similar to that of the characters in the novella and movies. I have nothing but respect for the designers of the game for fostering that kind of experience, and I cannot recommend this game more highly. It should be on the shelf of every horror fan.

PRODUCT DETAILS:
Designer: Joe Van Wetering
Artist: Justin Erickson and Mark Simpson (II)
Publisher: Mondo and Project Raygun
Published: 2017
Players/Playtime: 4-8 players/60-120 minutes

RATING:
4/5


Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in Southern California. For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

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