Updated: Dec 21, 2019
We first showed this game off in 360º on Board's Eye View when we had the opportunity to join a demo of the prototype at Spiel 2017. We were impressed then and we’ve not been disappointed now that we’ve had the opportunity to play the finished version.
Designed by Lorenzo Silva and Andrea Crespi, with art by Steven Hamilton and Paolo Lamanna, Alone is a science-fiction ‘dungeon crawler’ From Horrible Games. Usually such dungeon crawlers follow the pattern of Star Wars Imperial Assault, which was itself a ‘reskin’ of the Tolkienesque Descent: a team of heroes has to explore and make their way through a space ship or similar location, with a single games master revealing and controlling the threats that the heroes encounter.
The twist in Alone is that the asymmetry in this game is turned on its head: there’s just one hero character, trying to make their way to safety and to achieve assigned mission objectives, but there are 1–3 ‘evil’ players controlling the threats. It is only the ‘evil’ players that have the full map in front of them; the hero only discovers the map as he or she proceeds. The hero needs to keep careful tabs on exactly where they've been and what they've seen because only the sectors they are in remain on the table. Hidden behind a games master shield, the ‘evil’ players’ maps will include stairs and so will cross two levels. That means a careless hero risks getting lost…
The surprise is just how atmospheric and incredibly immersive it is when a player is literally Alone in this way. And it’s no less immersive for the ‘evil’ players who lay out their maps, seed them with monsters and decide on the reaction cards to play in response to each of the hero’s actions. Often in games with a player in a games master role, they end up having to modify or hang back in order to avoid quickly crushing the heroes. That’s not to say you can’t adjust the difficulty levels for the hero in Alone, but you do this in set up (the easier settings give more advantage to the hero player at the outset). Once the game is underway, there’s no pressure or requirement and, frankly, little opportunity, for the ‘evil’ players to give the hero a pass. That means it’s just as much fun to play the ‘evil’ overlords as the hero because you don’t have to hold back and you can do your evil utmost to crush and defeat the hero player.
You can play with just one 'evil' overlord but the game is at its best when the 'evil' player is not Alone. When playing with two or three 'evil' overlords, each has their own decks of cards. They can discuss which of them should react to the hero's action but they can't show each other the cards they hold. This has the effect of adding to the tension for the 'evil' players while avoiding the pitfall of many co-operative and semi co-operative games: alpha player syndrome, where a dominant or domineering player makes all the decisions and relegates team mates to mere pawns.
The fact that the ‘evil’ players are choosing valid reaction cards from those in their hand gives them fairly wide agency over their actions and tactics: they are certainly not mere automata. They can even choose to take a second reaction (ie: play two cards), although the ‘evil’ players may disadvantage themselves longer term if they do this too often. Typically, for example, a card responding to a hero’s movement action will enable an ‘evil’ player to seed another monster on the map or move a monster that has already been placed out. Any monster movement will be on the ‘evil’ player’s map but it adds to the valuable but imperfect information on which the hero is relying that they are told the compass direction of the noise that the hero can hear. Being told that there is a noise of monsters coming from an easterly direction serves also to add to the tension and atmospherics of the game.
When eventually the hero encounters monsters, more of the game’s great miniatures come out and combat uses custom dice. Monsters have first to be wounded and then damaged a second time before they die. Damage has to meet a prerequisite threshold in order to have an effect; so a monster that requires two hits to be wounded is completely unaffected by a roll of just one hit, and that hit doesn’t ‘roll over’ to the next round of combat. Killing monsters gives the hero opportunities to upgrade their character’s abilities, so you can expect ‘evil’ players to take this risk to them into account when deploying their monsters. Likewise, a hero may make the deliberate choice to thrust themselves into combat in the hope of buffing their character. Although there is never more than one hero in any game, Alone comes with a selection of hero characters and minis suited for the various different scenarios that can be played.
There are a lot of tokens to keep track of but the set of three rulebooks (an introductory booklet and separate rule books for the hero and 'evil' players) plus a chunky scenario book make a very good job of presenting the rules and making the game accessible. Initial plays are bound to need an occasional check of the rules so our one small gripe is that we'd have liked to have seen an extra set or two of the 'evil' players' rules so that each player could have their own rulebook to hand.
Alone is due to return to Kickstarter on 14 February. At Board’s Eye View we’re really excited to see what else Horrible Games have in store. We’ll post a link to the new KS campaign as soon as it goes live.