The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 Review

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 Review

Josh Look     
 
5.0
1357   0
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31

Finally, a game where you can be Wilford Brimley.

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is the first game to be released by Mondo, a company better known for pop culture collectibles and vinyl releases of movie soundtracks. The game aims to adapt John Carpenter's 1982 masterpiece to the tabletop using tried and true mechanics seen in games like Fantasy Flight's Battlestar Galactica and Gale Force 9's Homeland. Players will be faced with various challenges as they make their way through the abandoned Antarctic outpost, taking on the roles of characters pulled directly from the film. Yes, there is finally a game that allows you to play as Wilford Brimley.

This is a hidden traitor game, where one or several players will become infected as the game progresses. These players will be secretly sabotaging the missions the group is presented with while trying to remain undetected in hopes they'll earn a seat on the helicopter at the end of the game, thus bringing about the end of all mankind. It's up to the human players to minimize the damage caused by the Things and with some careful planning, deduction and table talk, determine who can be trusted when it comes time to escape.

It's impossible to talk about this game without comparing it to other hidden traitor games, especially Battlestar Galactica. The genre hit its peak years ago, and while The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 isn't bringing anything new to the table that Battlestar Galactica didn't do first, there's still reason why it might be worth a look, especially for fans of the film. Most notable is the structure of play. Other hidden traitor games such as Battlestar Galactica tend to hit a point where they turn into a team game. I've always found this to be something of a detriment to the design. The high points in any hidden traitor game are those moments of paranoia on either side, be it from not knowing who you can trust or from being found out. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 never breaks off into a team oriented direction, keeping that atmosphere of tension and mistrust going from start to finish, perfect for this IP.

If there is any one mechanic that feels fresh in The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, it's that it has a revolving role of "The Captain" that goes around the table each turn. This one player each round will be the one who decides who goes on the mission and who stays behind. They also get to look at the cards everyone contributes to the mission (shuffling them beforehand so they never know who a specific card came from) and has the option to discard a card, replacing it with a random card from the top of the deck. There's some fun play to be had with this system once you get a hold of the games subtleties. A human Captain can demand each player put in a very specific card while an infected one can lie about the situation and set another player up as a Thing.

Any hidden traitor game is going to live and die by the level and type of talk going on at the table, but that seems to be more so than usual for The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31. If the infected players don't manage to destroy the outpost by the time the group makes it the helicopter, a final vote is held to determine which player will be the final Captain. Depending on how much damage the infected players were able to inflict, the final Captain can look at the identity of a number of players before selecting who will make it out on the helicopter. If even one Thing player makes it, the humans lose. This makes socializing and deduction very important in The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31. Where a harmless joke about being a Cylon might fly in Battlestar Galactica, there's less of a safety net here in this game. Anything short of a convincing argument when it comes to your humanity makes you a suspect. Playing as an infected requires a delicate touch. You can't sabotage every mission you go on, but you also can't act normal and hope you'll slip on the helicopter undetected. There's a social skill set unique to this game that develops over multiple plays, which makes the game both more delicate and more rewarding.

Enjoyment of The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 not only comes down to having the right people to play with but, more importantly, how many. The game seats from 4-8, but I'd say don't bother with anything less than 6. Even with 6 or 7, the overall experience seems a little bit off when compared to the full 8. Most of the mission cards require 4-5 players to be involved, and that doesn't leave much choice when playing with lower counts. You really want the full complement on this one, otherwise the infected players are practically guaranteed a spot on the mission. It doesn't have the playtime of an "event game" like Twilight Imperium, but it might as well be one to get the best possible experience from it.


The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is a hard game to recommend. It requires a very specific group of gamers for it to really click and, if we're being realistic, a minimum of 6 players for it to really work at all. With that kind of player count it's a tough game to get to the table with any amount of frequency. That being said, if you do have the luxury of a large group who prioritizes socializing and friends first and games second, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is one of the best gaming experiences you could ask for and absolutely nails the atmosphere of one of the most beloved horror films of all time.

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Editor rating

(Updated: July 03, 2018)
Josh Look
Rating 
 
5.0

Summary

Game Name
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31

Josh LookFollow Josh Look

Game Reviewer

One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for Fortress Ameritrash and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.

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Posted: 03 Jul 2018 07:06 by hotseatgames #276781
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Good review. I'll add that the rotating Captain bit is cribbed from The Resistance, although in that game the Captain can't influence the results.

There is one negative to playing with more than 6. If someone is pretty much outed as Infected, people can legitimately leave him out of most of the game, never taking him on missions. That leaves him sitting on his hands, having no fun at all. This makes it all the more imperative that infected players play it cool.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 07:11 by Shellhead #276782
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"If the infected players don't manage to destroy the outpost by the time the group makes it the helicopter," seems off. Is that the goal of the infected players? In the movie, the goal of the infected was to find more subjects to infect, while the good guys were the ones who deliberately wrecked the camp at the end to prevent anybody from surviving and spreading the infection.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 07:14 by Gary Sax #276783
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Good review!

Charlest had some pretty iffy things to say about the ease of deduce-ability and issues with what table talk is and isn't acceptable, I wonder if they've ironed that stuff out or if it's a game group to game group thing. iirc he thought it was pretty straightforward for authoritarian human captains to straitjacket the ability of things to sabotage by being hyper specific and commiting all members ahead of time to cards.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 07:42 by SuperflyTNT #276785
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Seems like I’d rather play Dark Moon or Battlestar based on this.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 07:49 by hotseatgames #276787
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Shellhead wrote:
"If the infected players don't manage to destroy the outpost by the time the group makes it the helicopter," seems off. Is that the goal of the infected players? In the movie, the goal of the infected was to find more subjects to infect, while the good guys were the ones who deliberately wrecked the camp at the end to prevent anybody from surviving and spreading the infection.

In this game, the humans want to escape in the helicopter, not doom themselves to freeze, like in the film. The Things can win by completely destroying the base or escaping on the helicopter. I have only played a couple of times, but I think a complete base destruction is highly unlikely. I think it's designed to always come down to that final showdown before the helicopter takes off, and that's good, because that final vote... is very sweet. :)
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:06 by Josh Look #276789
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SuperflyTNT wrote:
Seems like I’d rather play Dark Moon or Battlestar based on this.

Just to be clear, I’m saying The Thing is the best game of the genre. I’m trying to up the rating from a 3 to a 5, my mistake when submitting it.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:06 by charlest #276790
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Yeah, as Gary mentioned I think this game has too many problems for me. You can get around them, but it requires playing with a specific behavior and house ruling things.

The fact that the game doesn't restrict you from talking about what cards you put in (rather it seems to require it at times to coordinate) is a real flaw. It makes it so that an imitation has such a rough time of sabotaging.

This, combined with the fact that the game has a natural level of difficulty that's relatively high, means the imitations are probably best off just playing it cool the entire game. Sure, flamethrowers and end of game blood tests can nail them, but with the high level difficulty you'll be using those flamethrowers for missions and you will have enough failures to limit the end game blood tests.

At least, that was my experience after multiple plays with a couple of different groups.

Everything else in the game is neat (although I wish the characters had colored base rings as we often confused who was who). But I ultimately ditched it as Dark Moon is more smooth - and nearly as interesting with its expansion - and BSG is just a much better game for a longer experience.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:10 by Josh Look #276791
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hotseatgames wrote:
There is one negative to playing with more than 6. If someone is pretty much outed as Infected, people can legitimately leave him out of most of the game, never taking him on missions. That leaves him sitting on his hands, having no fun at all. This makes it all the more imperative that infected players play it cool.

That’s true, and is probably the only of the common complaints about the game that is actually true. After 10 plays with most of the same people, the other stuff does iron out. I was once on the side of Charlie’s agument that being able to talk about what’s in your hand is a flaw, but I’m now to the side of it being a strength and a part of the strategy, for both humans and infected players just in different situations. We’re now to the point where the difficulty isn’t high, just where it should be, and the game is pure deduction and bluffing.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:18 by charlest #276792
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Josh - do you guys disallow talking about who put in what after a mission check? Curious how you curb that problem.

Oh, and yeah, being outed as a bad guy in this game completely sucks. There's no tension as you're either excluded from play with nothing to do or you're included on a mission and it's pretty much gauranteed to fail. Hate that.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:22 by hotseatgames #276793
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This game does have flaws, as described. That said, it's entertaining and nails the film very well.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:30 by Josh Look #276796
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charlest wrote:
Josh - do you guys disallow talking about who put in what after a mission check? Curious how you curb that problem.

Oh, and yeah, being outed as a bad guy in this game completely sucks. There's no tension as you're either excluded from play with nothing to do or you're included on a mission and it's pretty much gauranteed to fail. Hate that.

We allow it. I can see where that would a problem for groups who are newer to the game, but the last couple times we’ve played it was a non-issue and we weren’t entirely able to deduce who blew it. Infected players can totally play sabotage cards, just not every time. You need to gauge those situations carefully, look for the missions where it’s either going to be a tough one to scrape by, or where it’s calling for very specific items, or if you’re captain, where not only can you get it to fail but you can also throw one or two players under the bus. Also, we’re now entirely aware of the fact that not throwing in a sabotage and throwing in a normal card that is either the wrong item or adds low dice numbers is just as effective. I think the difficulty level balanced out once we were all familiar with the big picture and long term goals to not throw every heavy hitting card in the same check. The humans also need to learn to play more conservatively and less desperately, which kind of goes against the grain in this genre, for the game to really fire on all cylinders.

I’ve had games early on where an Infected player is outed and yeah, it kills the game. But a more recent play saw an Infected still able to do some damage. They weren’t invited on every mission, but they still got to be captain. You’re going to run out of Rope cards eventually, and if you use one on the wrong person, you’re really set back. Flamethrowers aren’t used for any mission cards, only getting out, so using one to torch someone and kick them out entirely isn’t always viable. We had a game where went for it, killed the Infected player, but then had to spend more time dicking around looking for the other flamethrower. It was incredibly tense. We barely made it out and still had one end game blood test to find the last Thing. It was one hell of a game.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:33 by charlest #276798
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I guess I don't understand how you get past this problem.

Everyone puts their cards in. Captain looks at the cards when deciding if they should get rid of one. Captain randomly chooses a person who contributed - "What did you put in?"

If the captain does this every single time, the traitors eventually will be teased out. I'm not even talking about sabotage but just a player throwing in the wrong card that doesn't help is problematic and easily discerned if the captain does this.



Concerning an outed infected - certainly there's a few moments where you can influence things. But once you're outed in a high player count game, you spend 75-90% of the game just watching. You no longer take part in the group conversations and you have nothing mechanically to do. It's excruciatingly dull.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:48 by hotseatgames #276800
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I think asking directly what someone put in goes against the intent of the game and breaks it. Hell with that, I wouldn't play that way.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:48 by Josh Look #276801
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charlest wrote:
I guess I don't understand how you get past this problem.

Everyone puts their cards in. Captain looks at the cards when deciding if they should get rid of one. Captain randomly chooses a person who contributed - "What did you put in?"

If the captain does this every single time, the traitors eventually will be teased out. I'm not even talking about sabotage but just a player throwing in the wrong card that doesn't help is problematic and easily discerned if the captain does this.



Concerning an outed infected - certainly there's a few moments where you can influence things. But once you're outed in a high player count game, you spend 75-90% of the game just watching. You no longer take part in the group conversations and you have nothing mechanically to do. It's excruciatingly dull.

We do most of our discussion before we even decide who’s in on the mission. We get everyone to state exactly what they’re putting in. This way, the entire group knows what should be in there. If it doesn’t add up, we start asking questions.

I think the difference is knowing where those moments are where you can do it and cause some confusion. Like I say in the review, you really do see a skill set develop that belongs to this game sand this game only. Unfortunately you need to push through some flawed plays to get there.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 08:53 by Black Barney #276804
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can i play as the dog?
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 09:15 by charlest #276808
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Josh Look wrote:
charlest wrote:
I guess I don't understand how you get past this problem.

Everyone puts their cards in. Captain looks at the cards when deciding if they should get rid of one. Captain randomly chooses a person who contributed - "What did you put in?"

If the captain does this every single time, the traitors eventually will be teased out. I'm not even talking about sabotage but just a player throwing in the wrong card that doesn't help is problematic and easily discerned if the captain does this.



Concerning an outed infected - certainly there's a few moments where you can influence things. But once you're outed in a high player count game, you spend 75-90% of the game just watching. You no longer take part in the group conversations and you have nothing mechanically to do. It's excruciatingly dull.

We do most of our discussion before we even decide who’s in on the mission. We get everyone to state exactly what they’re putting in. This way, the entire group knows what should be in there. If it doesn’t add up, we start asking questions.

I think the difference is knowing where those moments are where you can do it and cause some confusion. Like I say in the review, you really do see a skill set develop that belongs to this game sand this game only. Unfortunately you need to push through some flawed plays to get there.

I don't mean to belabor the point or drag this out, but if you ask everyone what they're putting in ahead of time, how is it possible to effectively hamper as an imitation? Clearly the one item that's off indicates the person that lied?

It felt like it desperately needed a destiny deck mechanism where a random card or two were added in.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 09:31 by Josh Look #276809
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charlest wrote:
Josh Look wrote:
charlest wrote:
I guess I don't understand how you get past this problem.

Everyone puts their cards in. Captain looks at the cards when deciding if they should get rid of one. Captain randomly chooses a person who contributed - "What did you put in?"

If the captain does this every single time, the traitors eventually will be teased out. I'm not even talking about sabotage but just a player throwing in the wrong card that doesn't help is problematic and easily discerned if the captain does this.



Concerning an outed infected - certainly there's a few moments where you can influence things. But once you're outed in a high player count game, you spend 75-90% of the game just watching. You no longer take part in the group conversations and you have nothing mechanically to do. It's excruciatingly dull.

We do most of our discussion before we even decide who’s in on the mission. We get everyone to state exactly what they’re putting in. This way, the entire group knows what should be in there. If it doesn’t add up, we start asking questions.

I think the difference is knowing where those moments are where you can do it and cause some confusion. Like I say in the review, you really do see a skill set develop that belongs to this game sand this game only. Unfortunately you need to push through some flawed plays to get there.

I don't mean to belabor the point or drag this out, but if you ask everyone what they're putting in ahead of time, how is it possible to effectively hamper as an imitation? Clearly the one item that's off indicates the person that lied?

It felt like it desperately needed a destiny deck mechanism where a random card or two were added in.

You won’t be able to every time, nor should be trying to do so. There are missions that require very specific named items, like the ones that are “Draw X number of cards and if (this item) appears, you pass. Those are easy. If you need to draw a knife, let’s say, everyone on the mission is going to want to put a knife in. So don’t but say that you will. In other cases, you can pipe up and say that you’ll put in an item that someone already said they would add. For example, we’re looking to roll as many dice as possible on a test. I say, “Well, I don’t have a shotgun (which adds 2), but I do have a knife (+1).” You, and Infected players says, “I also have a knife.” You’ve now set it up for me to take the fall with a sabotage card or even a Petri dish (which doesn’t add any dice). Of course, we’ll both be suspect, but there’s tons of opportunity in this game to play it cool that you’ll be able to earn some trust back. The game really sings playing it like this, but this is also why you need a big group. Less bodies for you to hide behind, even with 5 players. I’m thoroughly convinced that this is how the game was meant to be played, it doesn’t really work any other way.

That being said, one of the earlier games playing it like this lead to a situation where we could only bring 3 people on the mission. I was captain, we needed a big dice roll. I picked two people, both who told me they had shotguns. Best I had was a knife. I get the cards, look them over and there’s my knife alongside a Petri dish and a Sabotage. Gee, wonder who the Infected players are. The game was mercifully short after that, but that was the game where we learned that if you’re going to pull some shit like that, best to do it in a bigger crew. You also need a level of trust as an Infected player that someone else at the table will do the heavy lifting from time to time.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 09:41 by Shellhead #276810
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The components look nice, especially the board. I hope that house rules can save this game.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 10:04 by Josh Look #276814
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Shellhead wrote:
The components look nice, especially the board. I hope that house rules can save this game.

You do not need house rules.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 11:34 by Colorcrayons #276818
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Very good review, Josh. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.
SuperflyTNT wrote:
Seems like I’d rather play Dark Moon or Battlestar based on this.

I agree. While reading this, I kept thinking to myself "Is this better than 'BSG Express'?"

The player count seems to make that a firm 'No', despite wanting to explore a game in the setting of the thing.

It's hard enough to get five players for BSG Express, and it's less dependant on the perrenual problem that so many otherwise good games have of "The right group of players".

Those are the unicorns of the gaming world, it seems.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 12:42 by ubarose #276825
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Josh Look wrote:
Shellhead wrote:
The components look nice, especially the board. I hope that house rules can save this game.

You do not need house rules.

I really like this game, and don't see where it needs any house rules. It doesn't require the typical skills most gamers bring to the table. Deductive reasoning, tactics and strategies will only take you so far. The bulk of this game is played off the table. You really have to observe other people and be perceptive with regards to their tells and what you know about their typical behavior. Which makes it intensely thematic.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 12:54 by Shellhead #276826
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Depending on the circumstances, I find reading tells to be too easy or too hard. If it's a pickup game at a convention, I'm not likely to pick up on tells from a single game. But if it's a close friend, it might be really easy. When I used to play BSG regularly, I learned to initially ignore my own mid-game loyalty card and instead scan the rest of the players as they looked at their loyalty cards. Sometimes it was very obvious who just became a Cylon.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 13:34 by Gary Sax #276828
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Appreciated the discussion on the checks, thanks.
Posted: 03 Jul 2018 13:42 by Josh Look #276829
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Shellhead wrote:
Depending on the circumstances, I find reading tells to be too easy or too hard. If it's a pickup game at a convention, I'm not likely to pick up on tells from a single game. But if it's a close friend, it might be really easy. When I used to play BSG regularly, I learned to initially ignore my own mid-game loyalty card and instead scan the rest of the players as they looked at their loyalty cards. Sometimes it was very obvious who just became a Cylon.

That’s a skill, I don’t think I would ever fault a game of that, and I would fault you, either. I’d rather the other players adapt and grow from game to game than change the game itself.

Personally, that’s kind of where I’m at with
board gaming. I’d rather play Euro games or games that build and/or reward a skill and leave the more narrative gaming for D&D or some other RPG.