This article is sponsored by The Op Games + Mondo Games.
Originally released in 2017, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is a hidden role board game inspired by the 1980s horror film directed by John Carpenter, The Thing. The Thing isn’t just one of the greatest horror films of all time, it’s one of my favourite movies, period. The atmosphere of tension and dread created in The Thing is unparalleled, which is why it makes sense that it’s been the basis for multiple hidden role board game adaptations.
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, which has been recently reprinted, takes the plot of the original film - in which a group of workers stationed at a research facility in Antarctica find the remains of a team of Norwegian scientists, who died after discovering something buried in the ice - and translates it into a tabletop experience that pits players against one another as either humans or parts of an alien creature capable of assimilating other organic life.
For fans of the film, such as myself, there are plenty of movie references to be found in Infection at Outpost 31 from specific moments to broader elements. So, grab your nearest flamethrower and don’t let that husky dog escape as we go through four scary movie easter eggs found in The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31.
1. Playable characters
Whoever players choose, they'll have a certain ability to use in the game.
Firstly, for those who haven’t watched The Thing before, expect there to be spoilers ahead for a film that’s almost 30 years old. In The Thing, our group of heroes are infiltrated by a terrifying extra-terrestrial who has the ability to mimic other creatures by producing another version of itself that looks and behaves like the being it assimilated.
This group of heroes is made up of pilot, MacReady - played by ‘80s action star Kurt Russell - who is essentially the protagonist of the film, as well as maintenance workers Palmer; Clark and Childs, scientists Blair; Bennings; Fuchs and Norris, and operations team members Garry; Windows; Nauls and Copper. All of these characters feature as playable characters in Infection at Outpost 31, with each one being separated into their respective departments at the research station.
Every character card comes with a key quote that was said by the corresponding character in the film, with every one giving players an idea of their personalities. For example, MacReady’s quote - “First goddamn week of winter” - does a good job of reflecting his gruff attitude, whereas Palmer, whose quote is “I know how this one ends”, conveys his rather pessimistic demeanor.
Throughout the game, players' allegiances may well change.
Besides the more direct encounters the heroes have with the alien throughout the film, easily the most terror-inducing aspect of The Thing is the tension that’s felt between the remaining humans due to intense paranoia. With the ability to mimic whatever it assimilates, the alien is capable of masquerading as one of the outpost’s unfortunate staff members, at least until it feels threatened enough to fight back. This leads to some incredibly tense scenes in which the heroes interrogate one another to see whether they’re actually who they say they are.
Infection at Outpost 31 translates this tension via a gameplay mechanic called assimilation. Before the game starts, players are dealt a blood sample card which they must secretly look at and place facedown. At least one of these cards will be an imitation card, which indicates to the player that they are working with the alien against the others in the group. As the game progresses, player characters will be further exposed to the alien and have to redraw a blood sample card which might turn them into a new imitation, thus mirroring the gradual assimilation of the characters in the film too.
3. Victory conditions
Players will have different objectives depending on which side they're on
The opposing teams in Infection at Outpost 31 each have their own ways of winning the game, which specifically reflect the different tactics of the various characters in The Thing. Whilst the human players in the board game must successfully explore the three sectors of the research base before powering up the helicopter to escape, the imitation players have several different ways to achieve victory.
Imitation players can attempt to raise the current game’s contagion level to maximum, by having the group fail their investigation checks on a room or by having the group fail an encounter with The Thing. Alternatively, the imitation players can cause the outpost to be destroyed through smoke and fire tokens in rooms not being cleared. Finally, an imitation player can attempt to sneak aboard the helicopter through being voted into the escape team by the other players at the last minute.
All of these victory conditions can be traced back to the events of the original film, from the alien’s attempts to lure the human characters away from the group to assimilate them, to the final shot of the film wherein MacReady and Childs wonder whether one of them has been assimilated without the other knowing.
There are some nice little references to the film in the miniatures.
There are plenty of movie easter eggs to be found amongst the various components of Infection at Outpost 31 as well. The deck of supply cards contain some rather recognisable items including a petri dish and a copper wire, both of which prominently feature in perhaps the most well known scene from The Thing - wherein MacReady tests the blood of each person left in the outpost to see if they’re a human or an alien pretending to be one. There are also cards for the iconic flamethrower - which MacReady uses to great effect against the alien in the final few scenes of the film - and some handy dynamite, in case the flamethrower wasn’t enough.
The miniatures featured in Infection at Outpost 31 also contain easter eggs for The Thing, such as a mini-model of the chess computer that MacReady pours whisky into at the very beginning of the film, which is used to monitor the current level of contagion in the game. Miniatures of the alien in its various forms are included as well, from the creature’s very first appearance as a mutated dog to the funny little head crab that scuttles away from the infirmary to the final, terrible monster that MacReady faces off against at the very end.