I have a love/hate relationship with social deduction games. This relationship tends to lean towards the hate side. Most of the social deduction games out there I am not a fan of. I find them too fragile, easily broken by the wrong group of players, or that one gamer that just doesn’t get it. But there are a couple I absolutely love and those have been part of some of the most memorable and enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had.
So when I started to hear the buzz about The Thing: Infection At Outpost 31 by USAopoly, I didn’t pay much attention. But then I keep hearing more and more good things. Things like: “It’s closer to BSG than Dark Moon.” and “It’s so much more than just The Resistance.” Okay, my curiosity was piqued. I decided I had to go pick up a copy of The Thing and try it myself. It’s probably also important I note: I’ve never seen the movie.
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The Short Answer:
The hype was right. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is an extremely well-designed team-based social deduction game.
I was frankly surprised by how much fun I had playing this game. Based on other games I own I would say that The Thing feels the most like a mash-up of The Resistance and Battlestar Galactica the Board Game (BSG). It has the team building from The Resistance but then uses a card based resolution system that’s much more BSG. Add in the fact that a player can swap sides mid-game (this happens twice) and you move a bit more towards BSG.
If you dig any and all social deduction games you’ve probably picked this up already. Have fun! If you are like me and you like some and not all I suggest you read on. Also, if you are a fan specifically of BSG but found Dark Moon too light and quick, you should check this out. If you aren’t a fan of lying to your friends and being stabbed in the back, stay away. This game is not for you.
The Long Answer:
The problem with this kind of game is that it is very much dependent on the people you play with. Sure, any game you play with That Guy is going to be bad, but games with hidden roles, lying to the other players, deception, and betrayal are particularly bad for it. Added to that there is often the problem where if you mess up one little rule it breaks the entire game. So not only do you need the right people, those people need to grok the rules to a certain level for the game to actually be enjoyable.
Because of this, I’m going to try to give more than a little bit of background and info on the kinds of games I like to play. This way, I hope, you can make a more informed decision as to whether or not The Thing would be right for your group.
My history with social deduction games
I’ve never been a fan of Mafia or Werewolf or their knock offs. I have friends that love these games. I know gamers that go to game conventions just to play them. But they are not for me. Far too random, especially early in the game, rampant player elimination (get knocked out first in a 20 person game and tell me you had fun), lots of downtime, lots of room needed and really damn loud and disruptive to other people around you. Those are all reasons I will pass is you ask me to play your next game of Do You Workship Cthulhu.
I’m also not a fan of the next generation of the big group games. The One Night Versions. While I do think they are pretty brilliant and I would much rather play them over the full games, I just don’t find them very fulfilling. There’s still more guessing than deduction and games are over too quickly. It’s the opposite extreme of their big brother games.
Next, we come to the no-moderator, no app required, team and one vs. many games. The games I’m lumping together here are Coup, The Resistance, Spyfall, and Secret Hitler. A ton of these games came out over the last 10 years or so and took over a lot of our local gaming nights. These games are all okay. I would generally rather play something else, but if it means everyone gets to play at once, or if a group is short a player I will join in.
Then there are a couple of games that came out that I love. The first was Shadows Over Camelot and that was followed by Battlestar Galactica not long after. For quite some time I considered BSG my favourite game. Then we had that one bad game. The one where one of the players, despite being explained multiple times how the loyalty cards work messes it up, and you don’t learn until after playing for 6.5 hours! This is what I mean when I call these games fragile.
Then Dark Moon was announced. A re-theme of BSG Light. All the fun of Battlestar Galactica in under an hour! SOLD! If I have buyer’s remorse for any game, it’s Dark Moon. Dark Moon is so random with the dice and over so quickly that you can’t actually figure anything out. It’s almost luck at the end of the game. Was she really a space zombie or did she just roll bad? I have no clue, so I guess I pick her! So disappointed in that game.
So that’s pretty much my scale, with Werewolf on the loath end and BSG on the love, most of the time as long as someone doesn’t mess it up and my god please don’t mess it up 6 hours in!
What does The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 offer?
The Thing is based on some famous John Carpenter movie that gets me boos from fellow geeks every time I say I’ve never seen it. The Thing puts 4-8 players into the role of a member of the crew at an Antarctic Outpost who discover an alien ship that’s 100,000 years old (oh spoilers!). Some Thing comes from the ship and tries to infect and infiltrate the humans. Right from the start of the game the players know this. They know one of their team is an “Imitation.” The humans freak out, decide they need to grab some crucial gear, kill off the thing and escape the base. The Imitation wants to blow the place up, infect everyone or sneak aboard the chopper so they can get access to the rest of humanity. To make things interesting, as the players explore the base there are two more chances that more of them could become infected and also become an “Imitation” which turns the game from a one vs. many hidden role game into a full-on team game.
I’m not going to get into full details about mechanics. It’s 2018, if you want to know how to play there are a ton of videos out there to teach you how including a rather good one from Geek & Sundry. So here’s the short version.
Each turn the person with the gun is the captain, they flip a mission card, determine who to send on the mission and what part of the outpost they will explore. Players on the mission hand cards to the captain. If no sabotage happens and the captain brought the right kind of team, they get to modify the hand slightly. Then the cards are revealed and compared to the mission objective, often dice are rolled. If the mission passes the team searches the room. Find the right stuff in each section to move on to the next. If the mission fails the infection track goes up and things start getting worse. After each section is cleared there’s a (really good) chance more humans become infected. Keep clearing the base until all the things are dead and you have the right gear then there’s one more vote to determine who goes on the chopper (if the place hasn’t blown up or become overrun yet). If it’s all humans on the chopper they win!
Like most of these games, things are stacked against the human team, but there are more of them. If they are able to correctly deduce who the Things are, their odds greatly increase. What I found neat here was that many of the missions required you to bring a near full team of people. This means having to include an Imitation on a mission even if you know who they are.
The card play very much reminded me of Battlestar Galactica but here there are very few bad cards, and you aren’t generally including cards from a random deck, so it’s much harder for the Imitation(s) to negatively impact a mission. Then there’s the most brilliant part of all: One of the ways the Imitations can win is by one of them making it onto that chopper at the end of the game. So playing along and doing “the right thing” every time could just as easily lead to a Thing win as trying to sabotage the team every chance they can.
There’s quite a bit going on here. It’s a step above Dark Moon in complexity but nowhere near the mess that is BSG (oh Fantasy Flight Rulebooks, how we all loathe thee). We had to reference the rulebook quite a bit the first couple of games. Once you’ve got it though, it’s a pretty easy teach and learn. Game time is also excellent. right in that hour to an hour and a half mark, longer if you play with the full 8 players. A far cry from my last 5.5 hour game of Battlestar.
I dig it. I had more fun with The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 than I have with a social deduction style game in a long time. It isn’t overly complicated, but it also isn’t easy. I felt that all of the players had enough time and information to make informed decisions. The trend we’ve seen so far is that usually one of the infected gets found out but then there’s always at least one more that you aren’t sure of at the end of the game. It also doesn’t go on too long. This isn’t an event game I need to dedicate an evening to. I can break this out any game night and I also have no problem playing a couple of times in a row.
For someone who approaches social deduction games with trepidation, I was pleasantly surprised by The Thing. Now it’s still not for everyone. If you don’t dig these kinds of games The Thing isn’t going to convert you, but if you are a fan of The Resistance and want something a bit more, or love BSG but hate how long it takes and how fragile it can be, I suggest heading down South to Outpost 31.
I know this style of game has a lot of fans. Are you into social deduction? If yes, what games do you love and are there any you can’t stand?