By: Caelin Beaty
I first saw John Carpenter’s The Thing when I was about 12 or so. Normally my parents wouldn’t have let me watch something so violent at that age, but I saw that it was going to air on HBO during a "free HBO weekends!", and so I set our VCR to record it. I later watched it, when no one was around, and it’s been one of my favorite horror movies ever since.
I don’t think I had a very sophisticated understanding at the time of just what was so frightening about that movie. I loved the monster, the main characters, and, certainly, the gore. I even made a pretend bundle of dynamite out of some tape, yarn, and the cardboard tube from a wire coat hanger—cut up and taped together—and would reenact Kurt Russell’s final showdown with the monster—what a hero! I knew some of what made it so scary that the isolated setting (Antarctica) added to the eerie-loneliness of the story. I also knew that the monster’s ability to disguise itself as any human (the posters for the movie contained the tagline “man is the warmest place to hide”) made for an incredibly tense story full of paranoia. I don’t, however, think I realized the extent of just how effective that paranoia was until later.
I’ve seen the movie many times since then throughout the years, and I’ve realized that the paranoia the characters feel is really what makes the story hold up after all this time. It took me a while to realize this, but that's the driving force of the entire movie, and is captured perfectly in the game—I finally experienced just how frightening the paranoia, suspicion, and confusion was as I was sitting around the game table playing, laughing, and suspecting every one of my friends, as we played The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31.
Recently, USAopoly released The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, based specifically on the 1982 John Carpenter movie. The game characters bare the likeness of the actors from the 1982 version (MacReady looks like Kurt Russell, and Blair like Wilford Brimley) as well as having the movie’s scenarios and settings (fun fact: in the original novella, the monster had blue hair that looked like worms and three “mad, hate-filled” red eyes). The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is a hidden traitor game made for 4-8 players, with 8 players allowing for the best experience since it allows the monsters/infected to hide more easily. Players each control a character and are given a card, in secret, which lets them know if they are human or if they’re infected. The players then move from room-to-room within the Antarctic outpost, completing missions and gathering items needed to progress though the game. The infected, however, try and sabotage the missions without getting caught. The game is over when either the players completely sweep the base, gather the necessary items, and escape on the helicopter, or when the infected achieve one of their three win conditions.
One of the things we noticed right away was that the monsters have a huge advantage over the humans. Not only do they have three ways to win, but the humans essentially have one, very difficult way of winning; the humans have to sweep the entire camp, escape in the helicopter—making sure none of the infected are aboard when they do—then get away in order to win.
Some have commented that the win conditions make the game unbalanced in favor of the monsters, but this seems to be more by design than by mistake—part of the horror, and effectiveness, of the movie is that there’s very little hope for the humans to stop the monster(s) from taking over the entire world. The game gets this, and creates what many of us felt was a welcome challenge to the players that were human—out of the three games we played, the humans only won once. We felt that this was a really effective translation of the movie.
One of the measurements of how well a licensed game reflects the original material is how well it captures the basic qualities of the source, and this is where The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 really shines. Sure, all the characters from the movie are there (we had a lot of fun with an intentional mispronunciation of the character name “Fuchs”), and all the moments from the movie are there, but what really makes the game a home run is the way it captured the paranoia the characters must have felt.
The bluffing mechanics of the game allow for the monsters to lie about helping-out with a mission (then not actually help), secretly sabotage the mission, or even help out with the mission (in order to seem trustworthy). Since no one knows who’s human and who’s infected, this can cause everyone to turn on each other since no one knows who's helping and who's not—everyone develops their suspicions, but no one knows for sure. With a group of involved, engaged players, this opens the door for scenarios where one of the human players end up arguing their case to the rest of the group as to why they’re trustworthy and certainly human, whether they are or not. Who do you trust, and why? There were many times that the group became so paranoid that a human player ended up being targeted as infected, while the infected player went undiscovered.
We had nine different people play over three different games. Most hadn’t seen the movie (several didn’t know what it was about before playing) but all agreed it was an excellent game and a great example of how to use the hidden traitor mechanic effectively. As with any game it can all come down to the players, but The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 allows for a great gaming experience, no matter how familiar or not you are with the source material. The only tip we insist on leaving you with is this advice from Blair himself:
“Watch Clark. I said, watch Clark, and watch him close, you hear me?”