Who Goes There? 2nd Edition by Certifiable Studios - board game review

Macready stepped out from the safety of the base and adjusted his goggles as the wind shuffled the falling snow into a crazed dervish. Taking a swig from a bottle of whiskey to steady his nerves, he slowly began to trudge his way toward his shack, or at least where he hoped his shack lay. It would be easy to get turned around in the blizzard. Commander Gary had followed him outside, the two of them hoping to find precious supplies.

A glimmer of light glimpsed through the storm caught his attention; he was on the right path. Another step forward, boot sinking into the snow as far as his shin when the ground erupted before him. Chunks of snow were flung upward, thrown asunder as something burst forth from below. Before Macready could react, a sinuous tentacle lashed out, striking his chest and slamming him into the door that leads back into the base. Gary cried out in fear, stumbling backwards and becoming separated from Macready.

As Macready slammed into the wooden portal, his weight struck it in such a way that the frame buckled, jamming the door in place. Nobody would be able to come outside and help, and Macready and the Commander would not be able to flee inside.

From somewhere in the storm, something inhuman roared.

And that was pretty much how my first turn went in the board game version of Who Goes There? Based upon the novel by John W Campbell, which in turn was adapted into the 1951 movie The Thing From Another World, and brought to the screen again in 1982 by John Carpenter in The Thing.

One of these is Kurt Russell and one is me - but which R J Macready is which?

But can they, or rather you as the player, trust your friends because there is always the chance that one of them has become infected and will seek to infect others and then escape on the helicopter to infect the rest of the world.

In board game terms, what you have here is a semi co-operative game with a traitor mechanic.

Having been attacked by The Thing on my first turn of the game, I was forced to draw from what is called the vulnerable deck. This deck, comprising of around fifteen cards, all plain white, except for one. One card has a spatter of blood on its surface and, if you draw this, you have become infected. Drawing these cards is done in secret without revealing to anyone what you have drawn. Obliviously, you can breathe a sigh of relief, telling your friends that you’re fine but, will they believe you? My group certainly became suspicious of me as I was the only person to have drawn one of the vulnerable cards. But like I said to them, it was one card, and there were plenty in the deck. The chances of drawing the top card and finding the single infected card were extremely slim. So it came as a surprise when the very first vulnerable card of the game revealed to me that I, playing as Macready, was now infected.

The vulnerable cards and that bloody infected card.

From then on, things didn’t work out for me. Macready spent most of his time repairing the door to the base - which kept getting damaged through one event or another, and all his searches revealed was more alcohol. Hungry through lack of food and distrusted by his teammates for having more vulnerable cards than anyone else, meant he was forced to bunk down for the night on his own. An act that left him vulnerable once again.

It was going to take some clever work on my part to convince everyone that I was human and hide my inner Thing.

And for me, that was one of the highlights of the game. I love having that social interaction that comes from more than simply moving pieces around a board or claiming a piece of territory that another player wanted. As much as I enjoy those things, it’s the stories that we create by having moments of player interaction that become the most memorable. As well as fun. Or in my case, stressful as I tried to gain favour with the group and then, if possible, infect another player.

Infecting another player can be done in numerous ways. You could infect someone when you bunk down with them or when you give them an item. Or, you can throw subtlety out of the window and just Thing-out and attack them.

Part of this infection process involves the use of a clicker, a small device that can be used to show if you are human or Thing. Of course, just because you are a Thing doesn’t mean you have to reveal that fact, and you can pass yourself off as human if you wish.

The problem for me was that no one trusted me enough to bunk down with me and, the one time I convinced someone to trade items with me, they avoided having to look at my clicker, thanks to a successful die roll on their part. Which was lucky for them too, because you’re damn right I was going to infect them.

Now, you may be wondering why you would choose to hide your Thing nature rather than infect everyone, and that’s because at least one human must be aboard the helicopter when it leaves. If I remember correctly, they get around this in the manual by explaining that after having been frozen for so long in the ice, The Thing isn’t quite able yet to fully assimilate the complexities of flying a helicopter.

That might not sound completely logical to fans of the movie, but for the game it works as it stops infected players from taking over the entire team and then leaving on the helicopter.

The further you progress, the bigger the Thing gets.

But what next for me? By the final stages of the game, I had a total of five vulnerable cards, with the most anyone else had being two. There were five of us playing, and just by looking at the odds, they all knew there was a very high probability that I was infected. Of course, due to the random nature and the laws of chance, someone could conceivably hold ten vulnerable cards and not be a Thing, but are you going to trust the player who has the highest chance of being infected?

Luckily, I was aided by my ability to bullshit. I pretended to be saddened by the fact that my five vulnerable cards meant that I was resigned to the fact I wouldn’t be trusted no matter what I did, but that even though I knew I would be left behind, I wanted to help to make sure the group escaped to safety without an infected player aboard. I also made sure that when I did trade with another player, I did everything I could to avoid seeing their clicker and create the illusion of not wanting to risk becoming infected, even though I was already a Thing.

Random events occur too, and as well as just the day to day survival we also had to contend with the boiler breaking down, a lunatic getting inside the base, and even an avalanche, just to name a few.

And it worked too. I was sure that I had two of the other players convinced that I was human, I had spread suspicions among their ranks. But not enough to be fully trusted. With no other chances to subtly infect anyone, I did what anyone else would do, and gave the game a final act that would suit any monster movie ending, and Thinged out, going on the attack.

Even though I suffered setbacks right from the very beginning, I enjoyed playing Who Goes There? The team dynamic we had was good, with everyone getting caught up in the whole ‘who can you trust’ nature of the game. I especially liked how when the vulnerable deck runs out, you are left with the space for the cards on the board proudly declaring ‘Trust No One.’ That deck being empty means that there is definitely one infected player sitting around the table, possibly more. The struggle for survival mixed with the trust issues worked well in conveying the paranoias from the source material. The board and components to the game were all of good quality too, from things ranging from the card and dice, up to the miniatures that represent your character. The only complaint I have regarding components is that the sliders on the clickers were stiff and made subtly changing them a tricky task, especially for someone like me who can be a tad heavy-handed, which meant that I struggled to slide it as I didn’t want to risk breaking them. Each character gets their own deck of cards and individual dice too, which make them all have their own unique feel.

The personal player boards and miniatures all add to the game experience.

That leads me to the other downside of the game and the one that could make or break it for people.

The majority of the game comes down to luck, with little actual skill being involved. Sure, players need to decide who they can trust and, they need to work together to make sure they have the item they need to help them leave safely on the helicopter, but most of it comes down to chance. Rolling dice and drawing cards is always going to be random and even if you may have items that may help you manipulate things in some way, sometimes, things (and Things) are just going to be against you. It was bad luck that left me attacked by a Thing the first time I searched for an item and consequentially infected on my first draw from the vulnerable deck. Also, as I roll dice with about the same skill as Will Wheaton, I only rolled in a way that was beneficial to me around thirty per cent of the time. Not to mention that poor old Macready was struggling to find food, although, in keeping with his character, I did have an abundance of alcohol.

The randomness didn’t bother me, although I was a little disheartened to get infected immediately, as it meant I didn’t get to experience the game from the other side of the coin as a paranoid human. I did get over that though as I then concentrated on passing myself off as human, but I know that there are plenty of folks that don’t like too much random chance in their games, and so Who Goes There may not be for them.

The rules aren’t over-complicated, and we pretty much learned as we played, only having watched a short ‘how to play’ video on youtube prior to getting together. Sure we made a couple of mistakes, but nothing that took away from the game, or the overall experience. And it’s that experience that counted, and made the game truly memorable.

The different characters combined with the randomness of the cards, including the events, ensure that no game of Who Goes There? Will ever be the same.

And I haven't even mentioned the craftable items either as you can build weapons, barricades, torches and more.

Not only can you craft items, you can upgrade them too.

We played a completely different game once we had finished Who Goes There? But the memory of that game (despite how good it was) has been superseded by our time with Who Goes There? Not only that, but we all enjoyed it so much that If on our next game night, our host suggests we play Who Goes There? again, I would certainly be up for another game.

Whether you’re a seasoned board gamer, new to the hobby, or simply a fan of the theme, I highly recommend Who Goes There? 2nd Edition.

The action dice - bane of my existence.

I should point out that the game was originally available on Kickstarter, where it has now ended and, that it is not going to get a retail release and will remain as a Kickstarter exclusive.

Don’t despair though as you can click on this link where you will find the game still available for pre-order.

The base game is $75 with the deluxe edition available for $150. There are four character expansions (two characters in each expansion) that are available in the deluxe edition, or separately for $28 each.

I’m fortunate enough to have a Kickstarter addicted friend (for whom we may need to stage an intervention soon) who purchased the game, giving me the opportunity to play it.

Would I purchase it and add it to my collection? Yes, I would.

Who Goes There? 2nd Edition was created by Certifiable Studios and you can find them at their official website by clicking here.

I’ve not previously played any games by the studio, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for their new releases from now on.