The Thing, which celebrates its 40 year anniversary this week, was such an influential movie whose effect can be seen across all forms of media. Several movies, TV shows, comics and video games have tried to imitate both its horrifying creature design and its overwhelming atmosphere of paranoia. Official adaptations of the film also exist, and the 2017 board game The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is one of the most successful at creating the same tension as the John Carpenter classic.
Board game adaptations aren’t always the easiest to pull off, as they can’t rely on the same linear storytelling as something like a video game, but Infection at Outpost 31 pulls from existing board game tropes and wraps it in the movie’s signature brand of tension and body horror.
Thankfully, there’s a long-standing genre of board games they can pull from that’s engineered to encourage gameplay that mimics what you see in the 1982 film: the hidden traitor game. Games like Werewolf and Mafia popularized this type of game, and Infection at Outpost 31 applies The Thing’s wonderful atmosphere to the basic structure, adding in their own little twists on the genre.
At the beginning of the game, cards are drawn that will make one player “the imitation,” who will be in conflict with all the human players in the game. Each player is then dealt a hand of supply cards that will be used to complete missions each round. The captain for the round, which passes between players, looks at the mission and selects a team of players to help fill the requirements on the mission card. After the team is selected, you’ll go to a room where each player on the mission will secretly add a card to the mission pile to see if they can meet the objective.
The key to the tension is that there are also sabotage cards that can be played by the imitations to try to purposely fail the mission. If the mission pile contains the necessary supplies, the captain collects an item token from the room. If the mission fails, you increase the infection tracker, which keeps track of how close you are to losing. As you progress, you’ll draw new infection cards, possibly increasing the number of imitation players in the game. Once you’ve explored enough rooms to collect the necessary tools to escape and to fight and defeat creatures hidden on the board, the final leader picks the team to escape and hopes everyone on the helicopter is human.
The imitation players can win in three different ways: maxing out the infection tracker through failed missions, destroying a certain amount of rooms, or getting on the escape team. The human players can only win if they get all the way to the escape phase and have no imitations on the final team. This gives the infected players several different strategies to play in the game. Do you play hard, trying to sink as many missions as you can while still trying to throw blame on others or do you help missions succeed in order to try to sneak your way onto that helicopter? The only catch for lying low is that the lower the infection tracker is by the time you get to the escape phase, the more blood tests can be done to see who is human. It can sometimes be difficult for imitations to play sabotages if the group talks a lot about what is being contributed to the mission, but house rules limiting table talk can help mitigate that.
The game supports four to eight players, and I feel the game plays better the more you have. It allows you to vary up the teams more than you can playing with four, since most missions require at least three people. Infection at Outpost 31 can create such memorable moments at the table, with tons of enthusiastic accusations flying as things start to spiral further out of control. Even if one imitation gets discovered, the other can have a good chance to still cause chaos to help defeat the humans. There’s tons of fun to be had playing on either side, with each offering their own forms of tension and excitement.
Not only are the mechanics of the game great, but the production makes it a worthy collector’s item. The various types of cards are different sizes so you can organize them easily and are printed on a solid card stock. The board has great art that evokes the setting of the movie, and there’s even a miniature for each of the characters from the film, along with some of the most famous forms of The Thing itself.
There was a long streak of time where this was a game that our group played almost every other week. The player count range makes it so you can play it almost any time, and the rules are easy enough to pick up quickly, so even Thing fans who have little board game experience can hop in with little effort. There are plenty of licensed board games out there, but few manage to successfully capture the mood of their source material while still acting as a nice collectible for fans in the same way that The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 does.
Any fan of the John Carpenter classic should have no hesitation in picking this up.