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.