John Carpenter’s The Thing remains one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Along with Alien, it is one of the few movies that still unnerves and scares me every time I watch it, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. There is a rising tension that permeates every part of it that is brilliantly coupled with the audience sharing the characters’ uncertainty about who is human. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 will arrive later this year from USAopoly, Project Raygun, and Mondo to put you in the shoes of those characters. I played at Gen Con and I walked away calling it my most anticipated game coming out of the convention.
The Thing is a social deduction game at its core. Most of the players at the table are good guys and a small number of them are the bad guys – Imitations in this case. The good players are hoping to survive through 3 Acts that roughly follow the track of the movie and escape on the helicopter. The Imitations either want to destroy the base through sabotage or sneak onto the final helicopter and begin infecting the rest of the world. The core mechanic is going on “missions” where players submit cards in hopes of failing (or sabotaging) the mission. Enough successes or failures and the respective teams will win or lose.
After the rules explanation, I was concerned this didn’t feel special. The structure is reminiscent of some of the social deduction games we have. But after playing it I’ve become a believer. Part of what I love about the movie is how much the team is forced to rely on each other. That trust is a crucial part of what gives the movie its tension and is a crucial part of what I enjoyed about this demo. While the overall structure is familiar, the small yet specific tweaks are what will set this game apart.
Missions are more than just a captain asking people onto the team to engage in some up-down voting. The drawn mission card dictates specific success conditions – obtaining an axe or a few petri dishes – but also the types of people needed on a mission. Some mission will require Mechanic players or researchers so you can’t always depend on the one or two people you trust. Even if you could bring them with you, hearing “Sorry man, I don’t any of the items you need” will sink your gut as you look around and figure out who else you can trust.
There was something about making specific requests beyond “yes I’m good please put me on the team” that made the betrayals sting harder and the accusations more pointed. When someone looks you in the eye and specifically says that they’ve got the second Fire Extinguisher it burns when you look at the cards that were turned in and you don’t see it. Sitting a round out and watching two players argue over who lies while trying to figure out who you trust is tense in a way that I haven’t gotten from other similar games like The Resistance or Battlestar Galactica.
Of course, this was only a demonstration play. We didn’t play all three acts and it was only one game, but it was still phenomenal. Games that depend on a lot of above-the-table communication can be tough to play in a convention setting. Few people knew each other and none of us were familiar with the game. However, the game engendered plenty of interaction and within minutes our unfamiliarity with each other was irrelevant. We quickly built a house of trust-cards that collapsed just as soon as the second Infection round occurred.
I began the game as a human and played accordingly. By the time I was dealt the third and final Imitation card – switching my allegiance – I had a number of people who were willing to rely on me. This made my eventual betrayal all the more poignant and made things much harder for the Human players. That final helicopter ride is tough to get on. The Captain had to nominate just 5 players to board and escape. There were exactly 5 humans so he had to be 100% correct. A few Blood Tests had given up some information about who he could trust but there was still a lot of uncertainty. I’m pretty sure the yell that went up when the last and final player – someone he was sure about – flipped his Imitation card was heard across the vendor hall.
I am very excited to get my hands on the final product and play a few more rounds. It can be tough to nail the feel of a movie in a board game but my initial impression of The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is that USAopoly has nailed what brings me back to the movie. It isn’t the aliens or the action; it’s not knowing who to trust and spending a couple hours with your knee bouncing, worried that the people you trust are secret monsters. The fact that you can flamethrower your friends is just icing on the cake.
Why should we believe you when you say you’re human? Tell us in the comments!
To keep up with what’s new and awesome in the world of tabletop, tune into Game the Game on G&S Live every Friday from 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm where Ivan Van Norman and Becca Scott break out some of the best board games the industry has to offer, with new guests each week!
Featured Image Credits: Teri Litorco
Image Credits: Rafael Cordero, Geek & Sundry