Donald Vaccarino’s latest game release is set in the futuristic Android universe and pits players against each other as cyber-thieves in a race to infiltrate CyberSolutions; a secure android production facility. Each player must move quickly and stealthily through the complex and steal as many data files as they can then escape the facility before the authorities arrive. Every turn, players must decide to press onward, avoiding guards and alarms or turn back to escape with as much data as possible as the Mercs close in.
Players begin the game in the entrance room with a hand of four basic Action cards and four random Item cards. The four basic actions consist of Advance (moving forward one room), Retreat, (moving backward one room) Interface, (accessing a unique card effect in the current room) and Download or Extract (taking Date File tokens in the current room).
A game Round consists of four phases: The Selection phase, where players simultaneously and secretly choose only one of these four basic actions, or one item to play. (Item cards provide special effects that range from extra movement, playing more actions, and delaying the plans of other players.) Once chosen, the Resolution Phase occurs and players reveal and resolve the one action or item in player order.
After all players have chosen and resolved their actions or items, the NPC Phase takes place, where encountered NPCs may move and act within the facility. (that’s usually bad news). Finally, during the Security Phase, the first player rolls a d6 and advances the Security Tracker dial by the result. The tracker also has an “Alarm level” – a number from 1-7 – which can also be advanced by game effects. The die roll is added to the Alarm level and advances the game toward its inevitable conclusion: when the dial reaches 99, the Mercs arrive arresting anyone still found in the facility and ending their game.
The CyberSolutions facility (game board) is actually represented by 13 room cards that are randomly chosen from 32 total cards, and placed in two diagonal rows with secret room in the middle. Players will choose to move card by card (room by room) deeper into the facility in search of Data Files (DF) or backwards to escape the facility. The room cards provide the random attributes and effects that may help or hinder the players’ search for data, and eventual escape.
Chief among these room attributes are the number of Data File tokens in the room (which turn out to be victory points at the end of the game). The room cards may also have Lab Workers and Tech Locks in them, (represented by small yellow or red tokens respectively) that if removed, release more Data Files into the room for the players to download. Each room also has a purple Interface token. Players that “Interface” can utilize that room’s Interface effect immediately. However, players may usually only interface with each room once per game.
Agents that escape the facility count the value of their DF tokens. The player with the highest value wins. Those that don’t escape in time are eliminated.
As one would expect from Fantasy Flight Games, the components and art for the game are of excellent quality, and immerses players in the world of Android almost immediately. However, the too small, almost hobbit-sized action and item cards are difficult to manipulate and read. The text on them is annoyingly small, and with extra space in the box for storage, one wonders why the cards were not printed in a standard size. It’s a shame for the artwork on the item cards as well – as they would be gorgeous if only they were larger.
Infiltration can easily be taught in 10 minutes. The goal of the game is simple to grasp and even a game for new players will only take 45 minutes.
Who would enjoy this game?
Infiltration provides a perfect, specific game experience: immersion. The game is light on mechanics and steeped in theme. This may be different than what one might expect from designer Donald X. Vaccarino.
In fact, it’s the perfect marriage of the immersive theme and randomness that makes Infiltration shine. It can be easy to be critical of the use of randomness in games. Agreed; an excess of chance can make a game so unpredictable as to make it unplayable. But these random elements are critical in creating the feeling of tension and excitement that the theme demands. There are controllable elements: visible activated game effects, four standard player actions – but it is how they are combined with the unpredictable elements that make Infiltration so irresistible and enjoyable.
At first glance, some game aspects may give players pause. The Data File (DF) Tokens (victory points) are randomized and are valued between one and three points. A player could download 10 DF tokens, escape from the facility and have a score anywhere between 10 to 30 points. But the distribution of the 117 DF tokens (58 -1 point, 41 -2 point and 18 – 3 point) allows for a stable scoring percentage from game to game. This brilliantly links the theme to the mechanics. (Real agents downloading data may not really know the true value of their theft until the data is analyzed). So, in effect, the game has a “hidden victory point track.” Opponents can see how many DF tokens another player has, but have no idea of the value. Very cool.
Also, player order can be key when accessing the rooms’ Interface effect and access to the DF Tokens. Player may feel a bit limited, especially in games with 4-6 players. But there are a fair number of ways to alter what seems like an unalterable movement/action order – usually item cards that break the rigidity of the rules. There are so many random occurrences and nasty surprises around every corner – all the while the Proximity dial is climbing and escape seems impossible.
All this seems like uncontrollable mayhem – but is it satisfying? Well, this game really evokes the question: why do we play games? No matter who we are, each of us plays the game that gives us the most enjoyment; be that a near theme-less worker-placement game or an immersive role-playing game; from a game as strategic as chess to a game as random as Yahtzee; or this – a light fast, intense, thematic game filled with random occurrences. Each game feels like its own epic story of cyber-espionage and recounting each game is as fun as playing the game itself. If this sounds like the sort of adventure that excites you, immerse yourself in Infiltration. It’s a blast.
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