THE THING – THE BOARD GAME: WHO IS REALLY ON YOUR SIDE?
At a US science base in Antarctica, the lives of its twelve inhabitants are turned upside down by the arrival of a Husky dog. They bring the new guest into their base, but it is not what it seems. The dog is the victim of an Alien form capable of modifying, at a molecular level, its own shape by assimilating the bodies and perfectly imitating their aesthetic features of its victims.
The occupants of the base realize this too late, but the doubt of never knowing who they really have at their side induces extreme paranoia in them.
Their only chance is to avoid being alone with someone, and at the same time, try to collaborate in order to escape the installation or defeat the Alien.
“The Thing”, the 1982 movie directed by John Carpenter, has undoubtedly garnered a cult following in decades since its release. Clearly, Giuseppe Cicero and I are also part of this generation, and, for this very reason, we have played practically any game we could find that in some way dealt with the subject.
Personally, however, we always found that these games, nevertheless well developed, did not do justice to either the theme or the film. In each of them you felt that there was an adaptation or a reference to certain situations seen in the film, but they didn’t go beyond that.
For this reason, the idea of the game I wanted to create began to take shape in my mind quite clearly, and the game had a rapid development. At a certain point, however, I realized that there was not what I call "the magic". As it turned out at that point, my design was “just” another thematic game inspired by The Thing, but there was nothing in it which made it outstanding - so the prototype ended up in a drawer, with the intention of checking it again later.
After almost four years and the experience designing my SF survival game, “Alone”, I decided to restart work on my prototype, and I asked Giuseppe to participate in the development. I explained clearly what my intentions were: to bring into the game the atmosphere and the same state of anxiety that dwell in the minds of the characters during the film.
“A difficult task,” Giuseppe replied, “almost impossible”.
But we didn't lose heart and so we started the most difficult part of the development: the “emotional gameplay”. We tried many mechanics, but each of them had something that failed to achieve its intended goal. So, we began looking for a gameplay mechanic that satisfied all our needs and after several months we managed to get the "emotional gameplay" we wanted, which truly transforms players into the characters in the movie.
Many playtesters and gaming journalists have defined “The Thing – The Boardgame” as almost a hybrid of board and role-playing game, where the RPG feeling is induced by the mechanics of the game itself.
In the game, each faction (Humans and The Alien) can win in different ways and the choice depends on the players and on how the game proceeds. It will be possible to escape, fight, carry out tests, call for help and much more, but all of this will have to be planned very carefully as the players must eat, keep the base operational, heat it, and keep the power on, under the threat of negative consequences that can even lead to the death of the characters. To make this even more difficult, the Alien, who will initially be alone (one of the players’ characters is initially infected by the dog) is working against them.
The Alien is initially at a strong disadvantage, but with the possibility to "assimilate" the other players and bring them to their side this balance of power will can swiftly shift if the Alien manages to be isolated in a room with other another player. Just like in the movie, the assimilation leaves no trace, so the other players will have no idea of what happened, maybe just the glimpse of a doubt.
It will be precisely this doubt that, with the progress of the turns, will undermine the choices of the players, leading them to not trust each other and, in fact, helping the alien to sabotage the base (one of the possible methods of victory for the Alien).
Through a mechanic based on cards and movement on the board, players carry out certain actions related to the visited places: keeping the base functioning, recovering weapons, doing tests, cooking, and more, but in “The Thing – The Boardgame”, everything happens anonymously, so nobody will never know what another player is doing, creating a growing sense of paranoia in the players.
Staying hidden and keeping a low profile can be a good strategy for the Alien, but if it gets discovered (or if the player wants to!), it can reveal itself and take the shape of the Alien, turning his game into a hunt for the Humans. This is a central theme of the film that previous games on the subject did not consider or develop as much as we would have liked, so we decided to make it an important element of the gameplay.
Ultimately, the design experience was exalting and never frustrating. The game has changed countless times throughout its development, but looking at the eyes and expressions of our playtesters, we know in the end we got it right!
Andrea Crespi, 49, is the owner of a hobby game store near Milan. He started to design games, and his first published game was “1969”, in 2012, followed by “Apollo XII”, “Potion Explosion”, “Alone”, and now, “The Thing”.
Giuseppe Cicero, 49, is a lifelong gamer of board games, video games, and role-playing games. He likes reading and writing and is a passionate about the mythical 80's. “The Thing” is his first experience as a game designer. Very creative, he defines himself as a daydreamer, and creating and developing board games is a real safety valve.