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Review: Who Goes There?: A game of growing paranoia:: Gameplay review after two play-throughs

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« on: August 09, 2017, 10:00:05 PM »

Review: Who Goes There?: A game of growing paranoia:: Gameplay review after two play-throughs

by BetaTesterPrime

This past weekend I had the opportunity to drive down to Certifiable Studios and play the game with the creators.  I was able to play twice, both times with expansion characters; once as Norris the physicist, and once as Blair the biologist(you can watch the video for the 2nd one..I'll try not to spoil it here).  I've not written up a review on BGG yet despite being on here for a while, so forgive me a few stumbles along the way as I try to share my experiences with the game.


The game starts simple enough once you choose your characters.  Setup is pretty simple, and took them maybe a couple of minutes.  Each round you have a set of actions that you can use to search, move, build, gain XP or stamina, repair the door/boiler, and receive cards from other players.  Each round there is an event; a Thing attack, a dog attack, a boiler explosion, a hug from a Yeti... (Just kidding about the last one, although I didn't see all the Event a guy can hope...)

When you are indoors, you can search through the Storage deck for items, or the Workshop deck for parts to build items, or you own personal locker deck for things only your character has access to.  You need these to better handle events that happen each round.  The cook has food he can share, the doctor has medkits he can share, and oh how the people will need them.  You can also try to roll a die to gain stamina, if the boiler is working.  If it isn't then you can't gain stamina, but you can try to fix the boiler.

When you are outdoors you can search through the Phase deck, hoping to find things that will make the helicopter ride easier for you, but you are likely to find the Thing lurking behind the building, and you will have to defend yourself.  You had better have found something inside with which to defend yourself.  You gain experience each time you search outside, and you can also roll for experience.  You need this experience to improve yourself to be able to carry more items, to do more actions, to gain more stamina...and you need to, oh do you need to.  You can also try to fix the door once an uncaring team member blows it open.  This makes the bitter cold sting just a little more...

You have to balance being inside to gain stamina and find items with going outside to find helicopter parts and precious experience to give you more room to hold more items that you have to go inside to get...

Knowing what to do when is important, and is subtly different among the different characters.  You can also get locked inside or outside by camp events.  Stay out too long and see the wrong event when you've got no stamina...that's gonna cost you some health.  You've only got three health, make them last, or carry a bunch of medkits.

Teamwork is important, you'll find things that others need.  They will find things you need.  They can help you survive an Event card, or they can keep you from it.  You may need them to provide food during a food round to save you from eating the Vulnerable food.  You may need to bunk with them so you are not alone all night and Vulnerable.  They can search the Phase deck outside and carelessly leave the door unlashed...allowing the door to break and maybe allow the Thing inside.  Each character helps in their own way...

Norris was a badass, by the beginning of Phase 3 he was equipped with a club, a lantern, and a flamethrower, among other things...he feared nothing outside but the cold. 

Blair...he never even got to unlock his extra space to carry more than two items.  He had a knife, and a hot spot to allow him to re-roll outside, but he had Med-kits stuffed in one pocket and kindling in the other.  The kindling allowed the bonfire inside to renew 3 stamina instead of the normal 2 and the medkits were needed because he couldn't fight off a fly...let alone the Thing.  He needed help.

I didn't tell the other guys, but I had to toss not only a medkit on the bonfire, but a bunch of alcohol and some snack food.  Precious stamina boosts tossed on the fire.  As Norris I actually threw a canned food on the fire... I was human, I didn't have a choice, I needed the other items more.  I just needed to make my torch into a lantern.  The others would understand...I'm sure...if I told them.  If I were the Thing I could do that just to force other people to draw Vulnerable cards when they have to eat the common food. 

Oh the Vulnerable cards...what a wicked web they weave.  Fall in a fight against the Thing...draw a V-card.  Be inside when someone breaks the door...draw a V-card.  Don't have food when supper time comes around...draw a V-card.  Have to sleep alone during the night...draw a V-card.

Everybody is every one else's friend, until the V-cards come out.  Then someone might not be your friend anymore.  You don't know for sure until the last V-card is drawn and someone has to be the Thing, but you get more suspicious.  You bunked with someone once and it turned out okay...but they've gotten another V-card since you still trust them?  They might infect you. 

As Norris, I bunked with Garry the Commander after he had gotten his first V-card, and he didn't infect me.  That just made me trust him less.  Then I felt bad for not trusting him later on...He played on that when he got infected later in the game.  I didn't draw a single V-card until the very end, and got it by choice, by not bunking with Garry in the last sleep round.  Guess when Garry got infected... I trusted him by then...silly, silly Norris...

If someone who is the Thing gives you an item, or bunks with you, they can infect you.  Then you're the Thing too.  Now you just want to trick the rest of the stupid humans into letting you on the chopper too.

Oh, but it hurts to have the Thing trick you in the end... But holy hell was it hilarious!  As Norris I may have doomed humanity to a Thing filled future, but I had a blast doing it.  The Thing being the lone victorious voice as Norris looks over his shoulder to see Garry let loose a tentacle as the helicopter takes off, knowing that he let him on the helicopter with him.  Oh the shame, the horror...until he eats me and I'm one of him.  Sorry humans!  Better luck next time!

Even losing the die roll in the end can be quite thrilling.  Everyone leaning in as the die is cast...everyone screaming when it stops.  The winner is not the only one laughing as the die stops and the number sinks in...  The die roll doesn't decide the game, the die roll shines the light on your actions throughout the game to see if you measured up, or fell short.  Humanity is safe, or it is doomed.  Only your actions up to this point made the difference. 

-----------Some Common Concerns-----------------

Die Roll:  Now the die roll at the end may not be perfect, but I can't think of a better mechanism to bring everything together in the end.  When I first read about it I had my doubts, but I was swayed by seeing gameplay videos.  I was then convinced after watching a die roll around in a little circle leaning over the table with three other people leaning in just as close.  I can't remember the last time I did anything like that after playing a game for 2.5 hours.

Time:  Now 2.5 hours can seem like along time, and yeah maybe it is.  I would have liked to get a third session in before I left, but we weren't ready to start playing anything again until it was too late.  So I can understand the concerns about game length.  Really though, it's not that long, and if I didn't need to get a few hours sleep before driving all day the next day I would have been all for another game.  The first game took at least that long to play, and the second could have gone faster, but they were streaming it so we needed to spend extra time to explain what we were doing.  I will say this, that 2.5 hours flew by, and not just because of the sugar rush of the frosted brownies. 

A third game not in front of cameras would have been well under 2 hours...maybe even closer to an hour.  I was for certain slowing down the game while learning it, but all games take a play or two to learn.  I had just met the Certifiable folks the night before the livestream, but we all had a great time.  Well I know for sure I did.

Game Balance:  The balance between inside and outside is tighter than I expected it to be.  I only played twice, and I wasn't trying to explicitly break the engine either time, but nothing came up in either play that I could have exploited to break the game.  I mean I did burn some food (Sorry Clark, but you didn't have any actions left to take it anyway), but that fits in the game pretty well actually. 

You have to decide which deck is best for you to search so you can find what you are looking for.  If you need a canned food for the next round you had better not be screwing around in the Workshop or outside messing around or else you'll get that V-card.

One possible problem would be people who try to break the game by trying to get the one infected card and then spreading it to everyone.  But then they lose, and everyone loses, and I would likely not play the game with that person if they tried that more than once. 

Some people seem to try to get V-cards out in the game, which sort of smacks in the whole teamwork vibe, and I'm not sure how I really feel about that.  I'd like to think the original goal would be get through without taking any V-cards if possible.  It would be especially hard to do, but fun to try.  Doing things to purposely get V-cards out speeds up the distrust, but I'm not certain having to wait a little is a bad thing.

The characters all have different special abilities, and the ones I saw all played a good bit differently.  The doctor has to search his deck early and often to make sure he has medkits to heal people, same with the cook to make sure everyone has food.  Want to make the game harder?  Play without either the cook or the doctor, everyone has to fend for themselves just a bit more. 

All in all I thought it was great fun.  I doomed humanity in the first game so badly we didn't even bother rolling the dice, but it was great fun doing it.  I'll let you watch the video to see the second ending...but I will say it was even better. 

The game isn't perfect and isn't for everyone, the price might be higher than some are comfortable with, but the 4 player base game is plenty of game.  I played expansion characters sure, but I would have been perfectly happy playing the base characters, I just figured if I had the chance to play any of them, might as well make them ones I hadn't seen in previous games before.  After introducing my friends to this game at 4 players I would love to play some 6 player games to see the extra people shake up the potential dynamics.  Starting at less people would just be easier to teach I think.  Teaching 5 people anything can be tough for one person.

The folks at Certifiable were great hosts, and I had a great time playing the game as well as some of their others.  If you are at all interested, I'd say jump in for the base game and if you're concerned about the cost, and then get the expansions later.  If there is anything I can answer, just ask.
Source: Review: Who Goes There?: A game of growing paranoia:: Gameplay review after two play-throughs

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