Those of us who are older or enjoy classic horror movies (or really shoddy reboots) can appreciate The Thing. Though it came out in 1982, the movie is a classic among both science fiction and horror movie fans. Now take that premise and stuff it into a small cardboard box and you the Braine Games’ most recent publishing, Alien Entity.
In a world where planetary researchers find themselves stranded in an exploratory world, you and your team (anywhere between 3-5 players ages 13+) will attempt to escape. Watch out, however, as one of your teammates is has been infected by an alien entity and is secretly trying to both infect the crew and sabotage your escape attempts.
I was able to talk to Austin Braine about his new design and he emphasized how much more streamlined the infection mechanic was than other infection based games. Though the game was initially launched in 2014, Braine Games is on their third edition of Alien Entity. Needless to say, there has been an extreme amount of play testing devoted to this game (something that is usually of concern to those buying indie games).
We all have seen a movie (be it The Thing or another film) that reflects the theme of this game: a stranded team tries to work together to get back to safety while a team member who appears to be friendly is secretly sinister. All of this drama and tension with only about a 15-minute play time seems almost too good to be true…almost!
The game dishes out five secret roles one can play (four humans and one alien). The alien’s main goal is to infect everyone while the humans’ goal is to build a satellite uplink array (essentially a means to escape). The game also comes with cards to be used against both infection and other players. Additionally, there are cards that can be secretly played to communicate with other players.
During one’s turn, one draws two cards and then has the option to play or pass cards to other players before discarding. While the ultimate goal is to build the satellite uplink array (by playing those certain cards when they come to you), you’re also trying to figure out who the alien is so you can prevent them from sabotaging the group by infecting everyone. Either building the satellite or killing the alien would give the humans the victory.
Alien Entity does an amazing job of giving the feel of being in a horror movie. At one point you think all is well when building the satellite and then all of the sudden you find yourself two steps behind where you started. The game plays extremely well when the alien is good at their job. The only downfall is when a player who can’t keep a straight face gives away who they are. That being said, that likely only applies to a handful of people. After all, even if you’re dead sure of who the alien is, you still need to either kill the alien yourself (not always easy) or convince the rest of the group that you’re right (which can sometimes make you look suspicious).
The quick playing time definitely works in this game’s favor. It’s just enough time to get a casual game in every now and then while also not taking painstakingly too long. I really enjoyed all of the types of cards involved in the deck as well. In addition to the role cards, there’s also cards related to equipment, array, guns and ammo, communication, defense, and other specialty cards. Given the great variety of cards in the deck, the card count is surprisingly low. This is a great thing, however, in that there are very few “wasted” cards. I hate nothing more than drawing cards that are basically useless, and this game streamlines the turn taking process by limiting your options in order to give you greater control.
Another feature I LOVE about the game is the helpful direction cards that come with it. These cards basically walk you through your turn so you don’t have to refer to the rule book every turn. This is especially helpful when you’re new to the game or during your first few rounds. This game can cater to new gamers and those more interested in the theme than the mechanics, both of which are strong drivers of Alien Entity’s overall experience.
Hidden identity games can be tricky to design. This seems to be a result of different players having different experiences while playing a game due to the different roles that the game possesses. Some people inevitably enjoy playing one role over the other which typically causes expectations and letdowns. Alien Entity does a solid job of countering this with the quick playing time. Any time one doesn’t get the role they want, it literally takes about 15-20 minutes before being able to take a turn as a different role.
The secret communication was a fantastic addition to combat the infection mechanic, while the victory conditions give the players options as to how they want the game to feel (i.e. do we focus on killing the alien or building the satellite uplink array?). Great games are all about streamlining while giving players options. Too many rules or too many wasted cards can be a huge detriment to the overall experience, and Braine Games mitigates both of these by making each turn simple and each player’s options more efficient. If you’re a huge sci-fi fan, love secret identities conundrums, or looking for the next indie game to fill your time, this is definitely a game worth looking into. For more info, be sure to check our their website – playalienentity.com!