Based on John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi horror film, The Thing, this is a social deduction game from The Op. The 4-8 players all take on one of the characters stationed at a remote base in the Antarctic. The characters are represented with their own minis and each has a special ability that they can use when they are designated as the Captain but otherwise they are just divided into three specialties: ops, maintenance or science. When choosing characters you’ll need a mix of these specialties because each round you’ll be turning over a card that’ll set out a mission to complete and many of these require a team formed with specific specialties.
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is a game built around the ‘cooperative with traitor’ mechanic. At the start of the game, players are given a card that indicates whether they are human or an ‘imitation’ (ie: a Thing-infected replicant). One player will always start off as an ‘imitation’ but more cards will be dealt out during the course of the game and it’s very possible that one or more other players who started off as human will become infected. If this sounds like the Cylon/infected mechanic from Battlestar Galactica (FFG) and Dark Moon (Stronghold), that’s because it is very similar. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 plays very much like a lighter, quicker and arguably more streamlined version of BSG.
Players have supply cards that mostly show various weapons and pieces of equipment. However, some are Sabotage cards… They'll be contributing cards to missions for which they're selected as team members.
A player is designated as the Captain. They turn over a mission card and assemble a team so that its composition meets the mission requirements (for example, one of each of the three specialties). Those nominated then contribute face-down supply cards to meet the mission’s other requirements (for example, to have a specific item or to have at least two cards with +2 dice on them). The cards are shuffled and handed to the Captain. If there are any Sabotage cards in the mix, they are activated immediately. Then the Captain can remove one card and draw another to add in before declaring the result.
Collectively fail a mission and you’ll advance a marker along a track; fail too many and the humans lose. Obviously the non-human player(s) will be trying to fail or sabotage missions but they’ll need to be subtle about it because if they are suspected of being an ‘imitation’ too early in the game, they’ll be at risk of being exposed and of being cut out from missions. You’re meanwhile also exploring the board and revealing tokens that, along with some mission cards, risk taking some rooms out of commission. Again, lose too many rooms and it’s game over, so you’ll be quite literally fire-fighting with fire extinguisher supply cards when smoke or flames are detected in a room.
During the course of the game, you’ll also come up against the Thing, initially in its dog and later in one of its monstrous forms. The Captain will need to battle The Thing and defeat it by rolling at least three of a kind. Again, players can contribute cards that increase the number of dice rolled…
The game ends with players escaping on a helicopter. Again, this will be a team assembled by the player who is designated as the Captain. Of course, if anyone on the team is non-human, then The Thing will be spreading to the outside world: the human players lose...
As with all social deduction/hidden role games, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 feeds on player interaction, table talk, bluff, bluster and paranoia. Tho’ Joe Van Wetering’s has designed the game as playable with as few as four players, it can fall a little flat with just four. The game is very much better at higher player counts and at its best with 7 or 8 players. The Op have done a good job with the production, with clear cards and no complicated iconography to wrestle with. Tho’ there are no actual pictures from the 1982 movie, the art from Justin Erickson and Mark Simpson is certainly evocative of the film, so The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 will certainly appeal to fans of the film as well as those who enjoy BSG and want a similar game that plays quicker and accommodates a higher player count.