Cardboard Children: Infiltration

By Robert Florence on July 8th, 2012 at 11:00 am.


Hello youse.

Our planned photo special must be bumped to next Sunday, because this week a great new game came into my life. Of all the columns I write, these ones are my favourite – I get to recommend something great, and it’s easily available. You can read these words and then order it instantly. And that’s exactly what you should do. It’s a game called “Infiltration” and after the jump I’ll tell you all about it. It’s brilliant.

Will you Advance?

INFILTRATION

You know what I love about board games? How quick the feedback is.

Have you ever sat in a room with someone playing a great video game? They will sit in silence, clicking or waggling or whatever, and only after turning it off a few hours later will you get an opinion from them. “Yeah. ‘s good.” A grunt. No more than a grunt.

With a board game, you’re sitting right with the person. And every time a nice bit of the mechanic goes CLICK, the feedback pops out right away. “Oh, this is good.” A few minutes later – “Haha! This is great!”

When we played Infiltration this week, the feedback was constant. We were happy players. Each game ended with a “That game is really good” and “Another quick one?” A couple of shuffles and a wipe away of the tokens and we were underway again, heading into another building, ready to pull off another daring data heist.

Yeah, the story. Let’s get that explained first.

Infiltration is set in Fantasy Flight’s Android universe. It’s a Blade Runner style cyberpunky futureworld type thing. Flying cars and data packets and androids and stuff. You’ve been hired to enter a corporate facility, steal more data than any other player, and get the hell back out of there. Okay, wait, wait.

WHY THIS IS AMAZING – POINT 1

It feels a bit like Dungeonquest.

I’ve spoken about Dungeonquest before. It’s one of my favourite games. It’s a total bastard of a thing – a handaxe in the gut. You can read my review here – OH MY GOD THIS WAS ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO! WHAT?!

But yeah – that Dungeonquest thing of getting in and getting out with lots of loot before time runs out? That’s in Infiltration, and that instantly gets me HOT. The game plays with a timer of sorts – at the end of every round the first player rolls a die, adds the constantly changing alarm level to it, and advances a “proximity dial” by that number. When the tracker reaches 99, security forces arrive and bust everybody in the building. So, the game can’t go on forever, and there’s this constantly shifting sense of urgency. “We’ve got plenty of time. Chill.” “GET OUT! FOR FUCK’S SAKE GET OUT!”

(This proximity dial is also similar to the timer in another fantastic game – Hour of Glory, which is available here. It’s a wonderful game. Metal Gear Solid in a box.)

THE BASIC SHAPE OF THE GAME

Here’s the basic shape of the game. The corporate complex is built using cards. Six location cards, dealt face down, make up the first floor of the building. Another six make up the second floor. There is also a face down card that represents the “Secret Room”.

Each player starts the game with four Action Cards and four Item Cards. The Action Cards are the whole game, really.

ADVANCE: This lets your character move one room deeper into the building.

RETREAT: This lets your character move one room towards the exit.

INTERFACE: This allows you to make some kind of contextual action within a room.

DOWNLOAD: This allows you to download any available data in the room.

These cards are played face down by all players before any are revealed. You’re never sure what the other players are doing when you make your decisions. Instead of placing an Action Card, you can put down one of your Item Cards, if you have any. These let you do things like hack security locks, shoot NPCs, activate jetpacks, LOADS OF STUFF.

So, here’s how a round might work. The players all lay down one card. They are turned over and resolved in turn order. If a character advances, a new room card gets turned over. The room cards ROCK. (Each time you play, only some of the cards will be used, and they will be in a random order. This makes every building you enter completely different, with a different dynamic and feel.) Room cards always have some interesting stuff going on. Some have effects that activate upon entry. Others have locks that secure more data, with effects that activate once the locks are broken. Some activate NPCs who need dealt with. Others let you INTERFACE with the room – healing your character in a medical room, maybe, or activating a crazy security droid. Of course, you need to have played an Interface card for that.

If a character chooses to DOWNLOAD, they start sucking up the data in the room. In any round, only the first player to download in a room gets two data packets, the rest get one. Each data packet has a secret value on the back, so the packet you grab might only be worth 1 point, or it might be worth 3. Obviously, there’s a lot of thinking involved in how you get to be the first downloader in a room. Every packet counts.

That’s pretty much the game. Go forward, or go back. Download data, or interface with something in the room. The more valuable data will be on the second floor, so how far do you push into the building? Remember that security forces are on their way. Do you risk advancing?

WHY THIS IS AMAZING – POINT 2

The players control the game.

What I mean is – let’s say one player decides that they are pushing deep into the building. Another player might decide to take actions or play item cards that raise the alarm level, and make the game counter accelerate. Whenever you see a player hovering by the exit, or starting to retreat, you start to get suspicious. You start to worry about each other. You aren’t just playing against the mechanics of the game. You are genuinely playing against each other’s heads.

THE UNCONTROLLABLE CHAOS OF A STRANGE BUILDING

More beauty.

I said that each building is different. Let me tell you about two games, two different buildings.

Building 1 – The first room saw a security droid activate. This droid would start to move towards the exit, going apeshit. Fortunately, we encountered it in the first room, so it would never become a problem. Good start. (But imagine we’d found this metal prick halfway into the building.) My character had a jetpack, and used it to stretch ahead of the pack. I planned to stay at least two rooms ahead of everyone else, getting the opportunity for first download in every room. This would mean, however, that I was deeper into the complex than everyone else, and might struggle to escape. Indeed, the others started to advance the alarm, to try to turn time against me. However, on the second floor, I found the Executive Elevator. This offered me a way out of the building – leaving the other characters sickened. I cruised out and vanished into the city streets, my data thingies bulging with data thingies.

Building 2 – No jetpacks or anything fancy this time. I knew I was going to be moving with the pack. Here’s the key thing, though – no-one else knew I didn’t have any cool items. So, I bluffed. I broke a tech lock that swamped a room with sludge. This would slow down everyone who tried to make it to the exit. I advanced into the building. It was assumed that I had some cool stuff. That’s how confident I was acting as I marched on. In truth, I was hoping to find another way out, just like last time. No such luck. The first room remained the only way out. On the second floor, I encountered the Vice President of the corporation. She started making her way towards the exit, to raise the alarm. If she made it to the first room, she would advance the tracker by 20. That would finish all of us. I chased her. No other character had a weapon. I did. I chased her. I had to catch her. Do you remember that sludge I left for the other players? Yeah. That.

WHY THIS IS AMAZING – POINT 3

I was designed by Donald X Vaccarino, the guy who gave us Dominion.

It was only a few weeks ago that I said Dominion was a great game, lacking in theme. It’s inarguable that Dominion is a wonderful design, but it’s a game that I can’t fully love. Infiltration? This I can love. I adore games that tell a story. I adore games by great designers. And if that game has a driving, shifting, changing narrative that can be influenced by the players, that’s even better.

Infiltration is a game for 2-6 players. It’s elegant, simple, and utterly compelling. The artwork is beautiful. It has a quick play time. It’s so much fun.

You must buy it. For me, it’s potential game of the year material.

Until next time, stay dicey! (Definitely the last time. Definitely. Awful.)

.

27 Comments »

  1. dubatc says:

    Oh this is what sunday mornings are for, great review of a game I hadn’t made up my mind about, now I am going to have to buy this as well,you are costing me a fortune Rab but I don’t think there are any better social activities to spend money on, keep up the good work.

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    Morph says:

    Well now I’ve just had to order it. Curses.

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    piratmonkey says:

    “I was designed by Donald X Vaccarino, the guy who gave us Dominion.”
    :O the truth at last! Anyway, I must possess this.

  4. McDan says:

    This sounds excellent, much look most of the games you tell us about. I love it when games make such an experience with so little stuff, with all the detail of the rooms and items coming together. Sounds great, when I get enough money sounds like a buy.

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    JB says:

    Well, I’ll have to wait, but it’s another one on my list. Cheers Rob!

    (Just got Summoner Wars (12 of the 16 factions!), Memoir ’44, Pandemic & Zombie Dice – yay for birthdays!)

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    Screwie says:

    Ok I immediately had to buy this. Parts of it remind me of The Island of Dr Necreaux and Drakon, both games I really enjoy.

  7. Lacero says:

    I expect there’s a better place on the internet to ask this, but when I’ve played dominion it’s always seemed that a pure (or almost pure) gold buying strategy always wins.

    Are we just so bad at it we can’t see the depths available?

    • Slow Dog says:

      This is asked approximately weekly at Boardgamegeek. For the base game it likely that the winning strategy will be one with small decks and few action cards. ‘Few’ will be better than ‘None’; but ‘None’ will be better than the arbitrary ‘Many’ you get by buying what looks good at the time. Which few, for any given set, is the game.

      This is less true with the expansions, where more complex possibilities are more likely to be available, though it’s still possible that a poor complex plan turns out to be slower than just buying money.

      • Lacero says:

        hmmm. I guess I brought a Magic mindset, four of what you need to get and some randoms that work if you’re lucky.

        That’s not really right when you’re cycling the deck so much. I’ll have to sit down and see what will work at minimum.

    • MrEeMan says:

      Depending on the cards in play, you can create some great anti-gold builds which punish people from just buying gold.

    • ErrantConstruct says:

      I implemented Dominion in Java and wrote a couple AI’s to play against for a class. The big money strategy is a very strong fallback and wins a good deal of the time because it’s like clockwork. If the other players aren’t paying attention to how fast their strategy will take, big money can win very easily. Another benefit is you can play with any card set.

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      mineshaft says:

      tl; dr – Dominion is played on a whole different level by great players.

      A Dominion truism is that the difference between novice and advanced play is that novice always loses to Big Money (3 coins? buy silver; 6 coins? buy gold; 8 coins? buy province), advanced always beats Big Money.

      I wasn’t really aware of the depths of Dominion until going to dominionstrategy.com, a theory blog, and dominion.isotropic.org, which is free online laddered multiplayer. The kinds of things people can do will really beat your brains out. There are combos that trash the opponent’s entire deck, get a hundred victory points in a turn, curse on every turn, draw your own entire deck. What’s really special about the game is that (playing with all the available cards) you can work this kind of magic in most games.

      On Android there are two great programs, Dominion Shuffle and Androminion, that will allow you to shuffle all the published Dominion cards and then start playing Dominion against the computer. One of the AIs available plays a Big Money strategy with minor variations (eg buys one action card per game).

      • Lacero says:

        Thank you, that’s excellent. I’ll try those apps right away.

  8. Easy says:

    Rob, I want your children! Your cardboard children, that is (awful, awful).

  9. gwathdring says:

    Definitely going on the list.

  10. malkav11 says:

    Structurally it also sounds reminiscent of the beautiful little card coop game Fantasy Flight put out called Space Hulk: Death Angel, where the hulk’s room layout is randomly generated based on cards in this fashion, and everyone is laying down one of three action cards for the next round.

    I’ll have to give Infiltration a look. It sounds like it addresses my primary issue with Dungeonquest, which is to say that there’s almost no theme to it, at least in the base game. The expansion, IIRC, adds some characters with a couple of special abilities, but there’s still no loot other than the pure points mechanism of the treasure you’re trying to retrieve, and the few different things that you can encounter on your way to the dragon’s lair are all pretty uniformly health drain or delays. I like the risk reward mechanic of balancing loading up on points versus making sure you can get out in time, but that was -all- there was in Dungeonquest, and that didn’t make it very fun to me. Especially in an ostensible “dungeon crawl” game.

    • The Snee says:

      Space Hulk: Death Angel is fantastic. And you die a lot, meaning on those few occasions that you win, it’s something special.

      With Dungeonquest, try the newer Fantasy Flight version, it’s very thematic. You play as special characters with different stats and abilities, and the combat system is a sort of card battle game, with a few character specific special abilities thrown in there. All the loot, beyond gold coins, are unique artifacts of differing value, and some have their own abilities themselves, such as the harp that lulls the dragon to sleep. Still, you probably won’t see most of them, since you will be killed by a giant centipede in the catacombs.

      Everybody dies, Dragon wins.

  11. ErrantConstruct says:

    Very excited about this. Have to show it to my group. Especially since I have Android and thought the world was awesome, but was only able to get my group to play through half a game. It took us six hours so I can’t really blame them.

  12. gerafin says:

    It’s almost a reverse of Dominion – super heavy theme but not much game. I’m not being negative here – it’s just, very often, the choice is ‘obvious’ as to what you should do. Alternatively, when you do have options, it’s more of a crapshoot than tactical decision making because you don’t know the layout of the building ahead. It’s not heavy on the strategy front, but it does make up for it with a compelling narrative. This is a game, like DayZ, that my friends tell stories about for days. “Do you remember that time when Leah Bailey spawned next to the executive elevator? Do you remember the time you blocked off the medical bay so nobody could access it, therefore dooming everyone?”

    So it’s light, but fun, and the length is definitely a compelling reason to pick it up and inject it into game nights whenever you can.

    Recommendation: play with the advanced rules from the get-go, don’t bother with the download cards at all. Jump right to the “Extract” variant, which in the rules is described as ‘advanced,’ but is really just ‘better.’

    @malkav11 : It is very reminiscent of Death Angel, with the main differences being 1) it’s not cooperative 2) you can constantly re-use your 4 main action cards instead of having to set them aside for a turn (unless you’re wounded) and 3) you’re not mindlessly forging ahead, but instead each step forwards is a calculated risk that you might not recover from. But yes, the core mechanics are remarkably similar, and if you liked Death Angel you’ll probably like Infiltration. There’s considerably less strategy going on – instead of tough decisions like “attack and possibly wipe them out, or support and maybe survive another turn?” (with the added complexity of ‘then I can’t use this card next turn’)your main dilemma is “should I go forward another room?” which is more of a judgement call than anything else, rather than a decision with immediate feedback.

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    HopperUK says:

    Righto, bought this then. Sounds absolutely lovely.

  14. fakedtales says:

    Fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkk….

    I thought I’d avoided a Fantasy Flight Game for once, especially as I was saving up for Descent Second Edition.

    I’ll just Advance to the Game Store location, then. Damn your eyes, Florence.

  15. President Weasel says:

    Rab, James Purefoy is in The Hollow Crown on the BBC iplayer, being all Shakesperean in armour. You probably know this already, but it would sadden me to think you might have missed him.

  16. Nadante says:

    You must start linking where to purchase these reviews! I just wasted five seconds of my life Googling a site to buy this. Thanks a lot.

  17. jakobrogert says:

    Looks gorgeous. Love dungeon quest.

  18. Phantoon says:

    Rob has not played Portal, clearly. Or he watches robots.

    Far more importantly, when was the last time Robo Rally got some love?

  19. Ergates_Antius says:

    Played this a couple of weeks ago, the conclusion from our group was pretty much “Meh!”

    It’s not a bad game, I enjoyed playing it, but it just didn’t seem to add up to the sum of it’s parts. It looks really good, it sounds really good, but it’s just missing something. gerafin is right – it’s like the reverse of Dominion, but not in a good way.

    I think part of the problem is that whilst it gives the impression of offering you a range of things to do/play with, there is never enough time to do anything useful with them.*

    In the end, it ends up like Supermarket Sweep more than anything else. You rush in as far as you dare, grab as much loot as possible then get out. Any other tactic or strategy, anything more thought out or cunning is a recipe for almost certain defeat as in the moves you spend putting it into action, your opponents are grabbing loot, and you’re not.

    The only time this wasn’t true was our first game, where 3 of us underestimated how long it’d take to escape and ran out of time, leaving the remaining player (who never really moved forwards that far in the building), to win with a really low score.

    It’s a shame really, as there is the outline of a really good game in there. I’d recomend people play it if they get the chance, but I wouldn’t spend money on it as there are far better games out there.

    EDIT: * Example of this – the medical room mentioned in the review. Being wouned sucks, so a room that heals you sounds good. Except, first you have to get there. That’ll take one or more goes as without the use of items or room abilities you can only move one room per go, and if you’re injured you can only move every other turn. Then, when you get there it takes another turn to activate the room and get healed. So, 3 or 4 turns maybe (in a game that could easily be over in 15 and is unlikely to make 20).

    All this time, your opponents have been forging on ahead through the building like a pack of locusts, stripping all the rooms of the loot as they go, and the clock has kept ticking. You’ll never catch up with them and there will be no loot in reach. The only thing you can do is slope off to the exit and hope that greed gets the better of them and they get trapped.

    EDIT 2: Buy Incan Gold instead. It’s has a similar “push your luck” mechanic but is cheaper, quicker and hilarious when drunk.

  20. ProtoMan says:

    Looks really good, I might buy it.