Surely we can all just get along?
A lot of people know John Carpenter’s The Thing. It is a horror movie I grew up with, even though I didn’t think of it as a ‘horror’ movie at the time. I remember mum letting me watch it with her as an early teen I would guess. It had certainly been out a number of years.
Thinking back on it, The Thing probably started my fascination with hidden role mechanics. You could never be entirely sure who was human, and that excited a much younger me that most of the plot went over my head. One thing is for certain – it gave me a healthy fear of defibrillators!
The events of the film were based on a 1930’s novella by John W. Campell, Jr. Carpenters version follows the event of the original film fairly closely, and still stands as my favourite adaptation.
In general, some scientists and workers in Antartica are performing research as they do. Already cut off and isolated from the world, the small group had already been living in close proximity to each other – a situation that can push a lot of people.
An alien spacecraft is found deep in the ice, having crashed there millions of years earlier. Unfortunately, the group thaws the pilot who is still alive and can shapeshift. The alien (referred to by the group as The Thing) begins killing and taking the place of members of the team, desperate to escape.
So you can probably see where the game is going, even if you don’t know the story. Players must work cooperatively to find a way to escape the base and warn humanity of the alien. The alien however also needs to escape.
This kind of betrayal tension is in many games. Battlestar Galactica and Dead of Winter are two famous examples of this type of gameplay. Most games of this type have a bit of a reputation for being hard on the ‘betrayers’ though, as their different intentions tend to call them out. Even games like Dead of Winter where everyone has their own dodgy goals, a lot of players are not comfortable hiding in and working against the group.
This translates into poor game experiences a lot of the time. The group tends to spot the traitor quickly as they are visibly uncomfortable, and the betrayer themselves are playing something in a way they would rather not.
This is where Who Goes There? stands apart. Every player starts as an uninfected human and helps work towards fixing the helicopter to leave. When certain events occur such as being outside alone or running out of food, there is a chance that a player can become infected.
But it’s a chance – you draw from a Vulnerable deck and secretly see if you become infected or not. The more vulnerable cards you have, the more likely you are of being The Thing, so interactions become more and more chance with you.
But the great thing is even if you are infected, you play the same game as everyone else. Same goals, same dangers of pulling more cards, same criteria. You don’t have a second set of rules in the back of your head to everyone else.
Who Goes There? may still not be for everyone, but the simple fact that everyone is playing the same base game no matter what is great. There is no extra pressure for a new player when they are infected to learn another game quietly by themselves. You can ask questions and give advice normally because everyone wants the same thing.
At the end of the 15 rounds of play, if the humans escape by helicopter and don’t have infected among them – they win! If there is infected amongst the escaping group, then The Things win. But the infected have to be careful as well. -On one hand, more infected increase the chance of getting on the helicopter. But if everyone becomes infected everyone loses. The alien does not know how to repair and fly the machinery, so everyone becomes stuck on the base to freeze.
Hopefully next games night, I can get Who Goes There? on the table where I can give you some thoughts!
Until next time,