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?
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
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.)