The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 Review

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is a game by Joe Van Wetering, published by USAopoly. It is for 4-8 players. In this game, players will take on the role of one of the characters from the sci-fi cult classic movie, The Thing. They will be investigating the research station in the Antarctic using supplies and equipment to clear the building. However, they’ll have to be very careful as an alien lifeform has infiltrated the station and has infected one of the team, taking on their likeness. They will have to free themselves of any imitations and escape on the helicopter if they hope to survive and make sure mankind does to. If they are able to accomplish this goal, they will be declared the winners.

To begin, the board should be placed in the middle of the play area. Each player will then roll 2 dice. The player with the highest number is given the Captain Indicator. The Objectives tracker and Infection tracker are placed next to the board with the correct player count side face up. The Computer is placed at Contagion Level 0 on the Infection tracker. The Character boards are sorted by Department into stacks. Each player will then choose a Character from a Department stack with the most remaining Characters, beginning with the Captain and continuing in turn order. Each player should read aloud their character’s name and powers. They then are given their matching Character miniature. Each player’s Character miniature is then placed in the Rec Room on the board. The Mission Log cards are sorted based on the number of players. They are then shuffled and placed on the Mission Log space facedown on the board. The Dynamite, Flamethrower and Rope cards are placed beside the board. The Room Chips for Sector 1 are placed face down and mixed up. A chip is radomly placed face down in each Sector 1 room. The same is done for Sector 2 and Sector 3. The Supply cards are shuffled together and placed face down on the board. Each player is dealt 5 cards from the Supply deck. It should be noted that this is the player’s hand and may never be shown to other players. A player’s hand must be kept secret. When not looking at their cards, the player should placed them face down on their Character board. The Captain will then create 2 decks of Blood Sample cards as shown in the rulebook and depending on the number of players. The first set is equal to the number or players and contains 1 Imitation and the rest Humans. These are shuffled and randomly dealt one to each player. This shows each player which side they’re on and may never be shown to another player, voluntarily. The second set contains 1 or 2 Imitations as determined by the rulebook and also contains several Humans. This deck is shuffled and placed face down until needed for Assimilation. Tokens, dice and turn order cards are placed within reach of all players, along with the Power Out/Room Destroyed cards. Play now begins.

The game is played in a series of turns. Each turn, the Captain begins by drawing a Mission Log card and placing it face up in front of themself. Any Event cards are resolved before drawing a new Mission Log card. These can be in the form of Smoke and Power Outages. When these are revealed, the Captain rolls to place the corresponding token or card in a room of the highest unlocked sector. A new Mission Log card is then revealed. These events usually will prevent players from investigating the particular room without the use of a Supply card. In some severe cases, this can lead to a room becoming Destroyed. The Captain then select a team to Investigate, including himself, equal to the number required by the Mission Log card. This also includes any departmental requirements. He then chooses one of the rooms with a Room Chip in it in one of the unlocked sectors. The team then places their Character minis on the room space. Sector 1 rooms are available immediately. However Sector 2 and 3 require filling out the Objectives Tracker to unlock them. This may require using Supply cards as explained in the rulebook. Each player will then hand the Captain a Supply card face down. These are placed in a pool separate from the player’s hand. The Captain will then shuffle these cards. He then looks at them, revealing any Sabotage cards and resolving them immediately. The Captain may then swap out a Supply card from the pool, discarding it and drawing a new card placing it in the pool without looking at it. He then shuffles the cards again. The Captain will then reveal as many cards from the pool as directed by the Mission Log card. If less than the full pool of cards must be revealed, then the Captain will flip over one card at a time until the directive has been fulfilled or the number of cards have been revealed. If a Sabotage card is revealed during this time, because of the Captain swapping a card, then it must be resolved immediately or the investigation fails. If a dice roll is required, the Dice Value of the pool is totaled and compared to the Mission Log card. If the team was successful, they passed the investigation and may continue to reveal the room chip. If they didn’t meet the Mission Log’s requirements or failed due to a Sabotage card, then they will move on to resolving smoke or fire, skipping the room chip and a possible battle with the Thing.

When a room chip is revealed it can be one of three things; gear, discard or the thing. If a gear tile is revealed then the Captain will take the gear card and place it in front of themself. If it happens to fulfill one of the objectives for the Sector, then the Room Chip is placed face up on the Objective Tracker. If a Discard is revealed, then each member of the team may discard a Supply card and draw a new one. If the Thing is revealed, then a battle takes place. The appropriate Thing mini is placed in the room to start the battle. Just like during an Investigation, each player will hand the Captain a Supply card, usually with high Dice Values on them as the Captain will be using them to resolve battle with. It should be noted however that the Captain may only use 6 dice maximum. Once the Captain has a card from each player, the cards are then shuffled. The Captain will then look at the cards and reveal any Sabotage cards, resolving them immediately, then just like in an investigation, the Captain may swap a card from the pool with one from the Supply deck. The pool of cards is then revealed and the Dice Values are totaled. The Captain must then roll the dice and get a result of 3 of a kind or 4 of a kind to defeat the Thing, depending on the Sector. The Infection Tracker explains how many rolls the Captain is allowed to get the result. If the Thing is defeated, the Thing mini is placed on an empty spot of the Objective Tracker. If it is not beaten, then all the Room Chips from the current Sector are mixed up and placed back into the rooms. After the Investigation has completed, any smoke or fire is dealt with for individuals sent to a room with one of these conditions. Once this has been completed, each Character is then returned to the Rec Room. Players draw Supply cards back up to a hand of 5. If a player did not Investigate, they may discard a card and draw a new one. Players that have been tied up with a rope may not exchange a card.

When the team fails and Investigation or fails to defeat the Thing in battle, Contagion will spread across the outpost. This is indicated by the Computer being moved up the Infection Tracker. If it reaches a certain point, determined by the number of players, then the game is over and the players have lost. If this hasn’t happened yet, then when Contagion spread, Fallout from the Contagion must be resolved. Each time it moves, the instructions on the Infection Tracker must be followed. This could be a power outage, smoke or a room being destroyed. It should be noted that Room Destroyed counters are placed in the appropriate room in certain cases onto the Destruction Tracker. If 4 rooms have been Destroyed, then the game ends and the players lose. If the players lose 2 of the same Room Chip type in one Sector, the Objective Tracker will be impossible to fill and thus the players lose.

It should be noted that as the players fill up the appropriate Room Chips onto the Objective Tracker, they will eventually unlock the next Sector of the Outpost. However this also leads to possible Assimilation by the Thing. The Captain deals a card from the Blood Sample deck to each player. Each player will then take both of their Blood Sample cards and mix them up, returning one face down. A Human dealt another Human card, remains Human and simply returns one of the cards. An Imitation dealt another Imitation remains Assimilated and simply returns one of the cards. A Human that is dealt an Imitation must return the Human card as they are now Assimilated. Once all the cards have been returned, the Captain shuffles them together to form a new Blood Sample deck, placing it back on the board.

Once all this has been completed and all the Consequences dealt with, players prepare for the next turn. Players must make sure that they have 5 cards in hand. Any players tied up with rope are freed. The trackers should be checked for any end of game circumstances or other situations. The Captain must then pass the Captain indicator to the next player in turn order. A new turn will then begin.

If the game hasn’t ended from one of the many different ways detailed above, then the game continues until the final Sector 3 Room Chip is added to the Objective tracker. At this point, the game immediately moves to the final Escape phase. The Captain of the team that successfully filled the Objective Tracker must then nominate another player to be the Final Captain. However this player must meet the approval of the majority of the other players. Players are able to discuss their points for and against before taking a vote. Each player must hold out their fist with their thumb sideways. On a countdown from 3, players will either give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Majority wins. If the result is a no, play continues to the next player in turn order who must nominate a new player that has not been nominated already. If the result is yes, then the Captain indicator is passed to that player who now becomes the Final Captain. At this point, the Final Captain must check the Infection Tracker to see how many Blood Tests are available to use. They will then select an equal number of players to reveal their Blood Sample cards. The Final Captain must then selet the rest of the members of the Escape team. Any revealed Imitations may not be selected. The Final Captain must select as many players as the Escape Target number determined by the rule book. At this time, the players on the team must place their Character mini at the helicopter on the board. Players will then reveal their Blood Sample cards, starting with the Captain. If there are no Imitations on board the helicopter, the players win and mankind survives. If an Imitation managed to stow away on the helicopter during the escape, then the Thing wins and mankind falls.

COMPONENTS
There are some really great looking pieces included in this game. To begin with there are the oversized character cards. These have a nice mugshot style drawing of each of the different characters from the movie. These are very nice and I like seeing those familiar faces again. There are lots of other cards as well, both normal sized and smaller. There are supply cards with a picture of what each one represents, as well as several sabotage cards that do several different things. These last ones are bright red and hard to miss. Next there’s the blood sample cards for determining which side the player is on, whether human or imitation. I especially like the back of these as it looks like a hospital blood bag. There are several square gear cards for the flamethrower, dynamite and rope. The designs on these are much like the supply cards. The mission log cards are also square like the gear cards. These each have the different amounts of players that are required on a team and the requirements to pass the investigation. The backs of these look like the rulebook cover. Then there’s the double sided power outage and room destroyed cards. These are square like the gear and mission log cards but have very little in the way of artwork on them. They’re mostly just colored black and red. The turn order cards are also square and have a rule reference for easy use. For the most part the cards all look good. They have a really nice finish that makes them easy to shuffle. There are several thick cardboard pieces as well. There is the Captain Indicator that looks like a gun. For those familiar with the movie, this makes perfect sense. There are double sided smoke and fire tokens which are a little bland and could use a little more pizazz to them. There are room chips and room destroyed counters which are all small squares. These are colorful but no real artwork to them, which is fine given that they simply reference something else, such as rope or a Thing. The Objective Tracker and Infection Tracker are really thick cardboard and are super sturdy. These are actually quite nice. They don’t have a lot of artwork on them but I still like the designs. Finally there are the dice and miniatures. The dice are all a bunch of blue six sided dice, which seems appropriate since that’s the color you would turn if you were left out in the cold for too long. The miniatures are actually the best part of the game, apart from the board. These look great. I especially like the different brightly colored figures. Even though they aren’t overly detailed, they still look great. No, I didn’t forget the board. The board has some nice artwork and everything looks good once everything gets all setup and pieces start moving around on there. I mean, it’s not overly detailed, much like the minis but still looks great to me. Possibly because I’m such a fan of the source material and find it nice to be able to see everything from this perspective. Personally I like it. I’m sure not everyone will. With all that said, I need to mention one other thing, the insert. For the most part, the insert is great. It hold everything in it’s own perfect little spot. The one caveat is that there are these lips or guides or whatever you want to call them, that hold the board in place inside the insert. It’s a royal pain trying to get the board out without denting it or really having to struggle. About the best way that I’ve found is to slide it either in or out. Still, I wish that those little plastic parts hadn’t have been placed into the insert. I really don’t like them. Ok, so overall the game looks very nice and has lots of great pieces to appease the most rabid of Thing fans. I like it a lot. Do I think there could have been some improvements, sure but for what all I got, I’m happy.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is fairly large, especially in size but also in thickness. It looks like there’s a lot more to the instructions and rules than what there really is. Don’t let it itimidate you. It’s not that bad. The book has lots, and I mean lots, of pictures and examples throughout. The cover of the book looks like a file folder from the movie. It starts by giving you the backstory of the game followed by explaining the current situation. The different components are then shown followed by a great 2 page spread of how to set up the game. The rules are then explained in very good detail with full page examples including pictures thrown in along the way. The book finished with the answer to several questions that might come up while playing, as well as a detailed glossary with page references. This is one of the better looking rulebooks that I’ve seen this year. I’m really impressed with the overall look and feel of it. It’s not difficult to read or understand. As I said, it looks like a lot of information to digest, but it’s really not all that. Overall, I think the designer did a great job.
9 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
First off let me say that I am a big fan of the original film with Kurt Russel. I’ve watched it so many times over the years. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the remake. It was ok, but just not as good as the original. Would that color my judgment of this game? Let’s see. First off there’s the setting of the game. The idea of the isolation of the outpost along with the feelings of paranoia and anxiety of not knowing who to trust and who not to is very prevalent here. The theme really comes through for me. As I played the game it definitely made me feel the same way that I felt when I watched the movie the first time. Next there’s the traitor aspect of the game. In some ways, this made me think of the game, Dead of Winter. Both games deal with the traitor aspect however I really feel that Dead of Winter does it a bit better. One reason could be that if everyone at the table tells what card they played, as is allowed by the rules, then it’s pretty hard to hide the fact that your an Imitation. That can be a serious drawback and can lead to players sitting at the table with nothing to do for long periods of time as they’re not being allowed on missions. What’s even worse is that several times they’re forced onto missions due to Mission Log cards, even though the whole group already knows that player is an Imitation. Those missions are destined to fail and usually do. It’s for this reason that I’m afraid that the game is a bit broken as is and requires a bit of tweaking to the rules to make it playable. That’s not to say that the game is bad. I still like it but had to make a few additions to the rule, such as not being so specific with your cards. That makes things a little better for the Imitation(s). Another problem is the Mission Log cards, I’ve thought about omitting those cards that force the entire group to handle things. If we still need a Mission, we’ll simply shuffle the discard pile and start over. I haven’t tried this option yet, so don’t know how it would work. I do feel that something needs changed here though. I realize that this may look as if the game has too many flaws to actually be fun, but that’s not the case. If you have some really good players in the right amount, like 6 or more, then this can be really fun, especially if the players know how to be really sneaky without revealing their true nature until it’s too late. Sometimes things will just click and the game will be really entertaining for everyone. Other times, it can be doomed from the get go. Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff to like but there’s also plenty of stuff that needs work too. I think fans of traitor games like Dead of Winter or the like may like this one too. I really wanted to like this one. However, I’m not as thrilled with it as I was before I played it. I would recommend trying it out first, even for those that are fans of the movie. You may still find enough to make this one enjoyable.
7 out of 10

OVERALL
The Thing: Infecion at Outpost 31 is a co-operative hidden identity game with a traitor mechanic based on the movie, The Thing. It’s a fairly long game. Most game sessions last around an hour and a half to 2 hours. The components are great. I love the miniatures and the board. I like a lot of the more minimalist designs for the cards and different components. I’m sure not everyone will like the looks of them, but I do for the most part. I didn’t like the tabs on the insert though and found them to be a bit of a pain. The rulebook looks very nice and everything is easy to read and understand for it. The game itself needs a bit of work even though it’s still fun to play. A few house rules should make it more functional and easier to roll with. However with the right amount of players and the right group, the game is more than capable of being fine without any updated rules. Not everyone will enjoy this one, and I’m not 100% sold on it, but I do like it. Is it the game that I hoped it would be, not quite. Still I’m happy to have a game based on one of my favorite movies of all times. That has to account for something. Fans of the movie, may enjoy this one like I do. Non fans may have more luck with Dead of Winter or something of that nature. This is a game that I would recommend trying out first. Overall it’s not bad, but could use some tweaking. Now hand me the flame thrower, Palmer’s one of them and he’s gotta burn.
8 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out USAopoly at their site.

http://www.usaopoly.com/

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About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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