Cardboard Cinema: The Only Problem With Mondo Making A 'The Thing' Board Game

Welcome to Cardboard Cinema, a feature that explores the intersection between movies and tabletop gaming. This column is sponsored by Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy in Austin, Texas.

Mondo has built its reputation on creating objects of tangible, physical beauty: posters, t-shirts, pins, and toys, all of it geared toward pop culture-savvy individuals hungry for something unique. In many ways, their entry into the world of tabletop gaming was inevitable. The company has announced that they're planning to release their first board game and it is based on one of the most beloved genre films of all time, John Carpenter's 1982 classic, The Thing.

But speaking as someone with walls covered with Mondo prints and two massive shelves of board games, this is also the kind of announcement that makes me stroke my chin and go "Hmmm."

What We Know

The existence of the board game, which bears the awesome title of Infection at Outpost 31, was announced on Mondo's website and details are still scarce. We do know that it will be a collaboration between Mondo and Project Raygun, a new division within board game publisher USAopoly that focuses "on combining iconic properties with visionary art and design." Justin Erickson of Phantom City Creative, a Mondo regular whose work has been nothing short of extraordinary over the years, will take on art duties. Interestingly, the announcement doesn't name a designer, only noting that Project Raygun handled actual game design duties, implying that Mondo's main job in this endeavor will be delivering a game that looks really nice.

And that is an area where I have no doubt in my mind Infection at Outpost 31 will succeed. Although there have been a number of great games with bad (and even repulsive!) art and graphic design over the years, a nice-looking game that is pleasing to the eye and looks good on the table has become more and more important in recent years as the tabletop world has gotten more crowded. We're living in the golden age of board games, where there are more exciting and inventive games lining shelves than ever before. There's no longer an excuse for a game to look like junk, even if the gameplay engine is solid. Board games are the ultimate physical object – something that you will stare at for hours on end, something that you will get to know intimately as you engage with it. You need to enjoy looking it. You need to enjoy opening it up and sprawling it across your playing area. This is vital and this is why the thought of a Mondo board game is thrilling.

the thing board game

I'm less familiar with USAopoly, a company specializing in taking familiar brands and moving them to the tabletop space. Although they've been making headway in the designer tabletop world recently (their Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle card game is well-liked), creating games that don't have Trivial Pursuit or Yahtzee in their title is still fresh territory for them. Companies that specialize in licensed games are no longer radioactive, but it's still an area that many gamers approach with caution.

So I'm choosing to be cautiously optimistic about this and hope that Mondo and USAopoly are working to make a game that is actually a satisfying tabletop experience and not just a nice thing that collectors will leave in shrink wrap and put on their shelves. Mondo's previous output has been intentionally limited and while that works for the art world, it would be tragic for a board game, something that should be engaged with often, to remain untouched because only so many were made and collectors rather than gamers snatched them up.

We'll learn more soon enough, especially since the game doesn't even have a release date (although the announcement does note Fall 2017). And that brings me to my chief concern.

the thing board game

The One Problem

It's easy to see why Mondo and USAopoly would gravitate toward The Thing as an ideal movie to bring to tables. First of all, it's a beloved movie with a strong following. But second of all (and this is the important one), the conflicts seen in the film are perfect for a tabletop adaptation. We're talking about a movie where a group of scientists and engineers at an Antarctic research station realize that a shape-shifting alien creature has infiltrated their team, slowly infecting others and plotting worldwide domination. Paranoia becomes a weapon and intense conversations always act as a prelude to sudden acts of violence. It's a movie about tense exchanges and mistrust and sudden decisions that result in everything going completely wrong. In other words: it's perfect for a board game.

The official announcement describes Incident at Outpost 31 as a "hidden identity" game and it's in good company. The go-to example of this genre remains Werewolf, where secret lycanthropic players attack the "village" while other plays work together to suss out who is who and "kill" the right players, but it's in good company. The Resistance and its spin-offs took that core concept and ran with it, delivering an even more satisfying and intense (and hilarious!) experience. More recently, Secret Hitler and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong further evolved the "which one of you SOBs is lying to me!" subgenre of gaming and pushed it to glorious new heights. Incident at Outpost 31 is entering a busy arena, but it's also an arena with plenty of room to grow. We'll have to see a rulebook or a gameplay demo to know if Mondo and USAopoly will remix familiar mechanics under a recognizable name or actively work to innovate the genre, but the space is certainly right.

dark moon board game

And that brings us to the one thing that keeps me from completely swooning over the thought of a board game based on John Carpenter's The Thing. One already exists. Kind of. Sort of. That game is Dark Moon, designed by Evan Derrick and published by Stronghold Games. Originally designed as a faster, more focused print-and-play version of Fantasy Flight Games' excellent Battlestar Galactica board game, the design was re-themed and re-implemented to take place on a research station on one of Saturn's moons, with players taking on the roles of scientists and soldiers battling an infection that has turned some of their team into violent, lying saboteurs.

Dark Moon is the kind of game that deserves a full review in a future edition of Cardboard Cinema, but goes like this: players struggle to keep the research station from falling apart, dealing with crisis after crisis, carefully watching the choices made by others at the table to see if they're helping with the effort or trying to make things worse. Accusations are thrown, everyone starts yelling, innocent players get thrown in quarantine, "infected" players thrive, and everyone laughs when they're not screaming. It's a blast.

And honestly, it's all I ever wanted in a The Thing board game, even if it isn't an actual adaptation of The Thing. It's clearly inspired by Carpenter's masterpiece, leaning on the same themes and ideas. Sure, there's no gameplay mechanic where you can stick a hot wire in someone's blood to determine their identity, but it gets close enough. You can cut the paranoia, the distrust around the table, with a machete. It's a wonderful game.

I'm not saying there's no room for Infection at Outpost 31 and I'm hoping Mondo and USAopoly create something brilliant and beautiful. However, it's important to note that this is not completely fresh territory and that something that scratches this very specific itch already exists. I hope they make a great game. And I hope they make something different enough that it can exist alongside a tabletop great like Dark Moon, which is the perfect table version of the very property they're taking on.