Product Review: THE THING: INFECTION AT OUTPOST 31

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Welcome witches and warlocks,

I recently had a chance to play Mondo’s board game The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 and figured I would offer up my thoughts for fellow horror gaming enthusiasts.  As a bit of background, I absolutely love board games from the popular ones like Clue, to the easy to teach ones like Ticket to Ride, to the more complex variations like Catan.  I am also a massive fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing so this was right up my alley from the get go.  All that being said; how was the actual game?

Since the first thing anyone experiences when they open a new board game is the visuals, allow me to talk about how this bad boy looks for a moment.  The board itself is satisfactory, though rather drab, but the supporting pieces are what really ups the ante.  Each character within the game is represented not only by a card displaying their special powers, but also a miniature sculpture.  Each of these miniatures is well detailed so that the picture on the card matches perfectly with the piece that player will be using.  To add to the paranoia, The Thing is itself represented by four distinct miniatures that each portray one of its various manifestations from the film.  The only issue with these miniatures is that, really, they are hardly used within the game because most of the action is card based.

Speaking of the cards, the various cards within the game contain quotes from the picture that fans are sure to love.  While some of the lines might seem a bit obscure to those who have not seen John Carpenter’s masterpiece, those in the know are sure to enjoy this added touch.  In fact, apart from these cards that serve as our missions or make up our hand are relatively plain.  Sure if one is holding a petri dish card there is an artistic representation of a petri dish, but there is nothing dynamic about the picture.  Since these are the main thrust of what we use for our gameplay, I wish these cards had been as colorful or detailed as the more interesting sculptures or even the character cards.

All that visual talk out of the way, we should probably move onto the actual gameplay. Understand that I am coming from a game with four people (the minimum amount of players) so my views are going to be a bit skewed by the amount of people playing.  Right from the top I can say, do not play with only four players.  The rules make it nearly impossible for the humans to win in a four player game to the point where I was once acting as the traitor and did not have to pull a single sabotage to end up the victor.  What also makes a four player game nearly impossible is that about two thirds of the missions require all the players to be involved, we are required to go on a mission each turn, and each failed mission brings The Thing one step closer to victory.  Given all of this, I cannot recommend this as a game for four people because it is nearly impossible for anybody but the traitor to win.

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Speaking of the traitor, I took a bit of an issue with this role as well.  Part of the problem is that right from the beginning; one of us is The Thing.  One of my fellow players asked how that was possible, which is actually a valid question from a story standpoint as those who know the film know that The Thing does not start out in a human host.  Furthermore, even if we were to correctly guess which one of our team members was in fact betraying the rest of the group, we have no way to get rid of the traitor until we reach the third, final phase of the game.  All of this does not even begin to take into account the fact that by the time we reach the last section of the base, another one of us (or two with seven or eight players) will have been secretly turned into The Thing as well.  This is also a troubling addition to the mix as it is entirely possible that more people have been turned traitor by the second section.  Having two traitors (or three with seven or eight players) before we even reach the phase where we can do something to combat them makes it incredibly difficult to squeak out a victory.  With all the things the survivors have to manage right from the start, the traitor(s) have a lot of power and can easily turn the tide in their favor without even playing the dreaded sabotage cards.

I do wish I had been able to play a bit more as we ran into an issue with keeping track of everything happening within the game.  At the end of each turn we were required to perform certain actions that we promptly forgot and then at the end of each of the three parts we were also supposed to deal out blood test cards which we also did not do because we got to the second act sooner than we thought possible.  All of these little things we had to keep track of added up within the game so as to make at least one of my play-throughs feel like it should have had an entirely different outcome because of the things we forgot.  I know most of these complexities become second nature over time so I bet if I had been able to get in more play time so that all of my games would have felt complete.

The table talk was definitely my favorite part of the game as it was often hard to tell who was being honest and who was lying.  We had a lot of spirited debates about who was probably not completely human that lead to some fun reveals when we reached the end of the game.  This is also where some of the issues with the hidden traitor rules showed through most as even when we were all nearly certain we knew who was playing the part of the traitor, we could do nothing to stop them from winning unless we reached the third act; which we never once got to on any play through.

All in all, I loved the theme of this game, the miniatures, and the idea of a hidden traitor, but the rules were skewed so strongly in The Thing’s favor that it took away much of the fun.  This definitely requires five or more people to be even slightly fair to those playing as the humans, but as an avid gamer I know how hard it is to get groups of people together to play a game.  Even if I could get enough people together, I feel like this game is so complex that some players might feel isolated.  Fans of the game Shadows Over Camelot or Betrayal at the House on the Hill will find this to be of a similar, lesser ilk.

Nighty Nightmares,
The Creeping Craig
 

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