Dale Yu: Review of Not Alone

Not Alone

  • Designer: Ghislain Masson
  • Publisher: Stronghold Games / Geek Attitude Games
  • Players: 2-7
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 mins
  • Review copy provided by Stronghold Games

not alone

Not Alone is a game that was first released in 2016 by Geek Attitude Games, and I remember looking at it during SPIEL that year.  The game has recently been picked up by Stronghold Games and given a new US release in 2021.  In this futuristic game, some Earthlings are on an expedition to the planet Artemia.  Their ship loses power and they crash land.  All of the players but one are these expedition members, and they will explore the mysterious planet.  The final player is the Creature whose job it is to hunt down the humans.

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The board is placed on the center of the table and 10 Place cards are arranged in two rows to represent the planet Artemia. There are two markers for Rescue and Assimilation – they are placed on a track (the exact space decided by the player count).  Decks of Survival and Hunt cards are shuffled and placed near the board.  Hunt cards are used by the Creature player, though never more than one a turn.  They give special actions that the Creature can use to his advantage.  The Survival cards are the defensive cards used by the Hunted; also limited to one card played per turn.

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Each Hunter player gets a set of 5 Place cards numbered 1-5 as well as 3 Will counters.  This starting hand of place cards shows that basic locations that each human can initially explore.  Later in the game, the players may gain access to some of the other five cards. Finally, each Hunter draws a Survival card from that deck.

The game is played over a number of turns, each of which has four phases: Exploration, Hunting, Reckoning and Cleanup.

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In the exploration phase, the Hunted players each must place a Place card face down in front of them.  Discussion is allowed, but it must be verbal (so that the Creature can hear).  Bluffing is acceptable, but again, everything must be aloud.  In this phase, Hunted players can discard one or two Will counters to retrieve 2 or 4 Place cards from the discard pile.  If he has no more Will counters, he is forced to Give Up – he gets all his Will counters back, but the Assimilation counter is moved forward one space.  It is recommended that Hunted Players keep their hands nearly full so that it is harder to predict/guess what card they are playing.

In the Hunting phase, the Creature gets to put one to three of his markers on the board.  The Creature token is placed on any Place card, showing its chosen location.  If this card has an Artemia symbol on it, the Creature can also place the Artemia marker.  Finally, if a Hunt card is played this turn that requires a target location, the Target marker can also be added to the board.

In the Reckoning phase, the actions are resolved in this order.

  • Unaffected spaces – Hunted players that are in a Place without a Creature marker in it can either use the power printed on their chosen Place OR choose to take one Place card back from his discard pile.
  • Hunted space – Now, all players who are on the Place with the Hunted token must suffer the effect of the Hunt card.  Then, the players can use the Power of said Place card OR take one card back from their discard pile.
  • Artemia space – Anyone on the Place card with the Artemia marker must discard one card from their hand and they do not get to use the power of the Place nor can they choose to take back a discarded card.
  • Creature space – All players in the Place card with the Creature marker must lose a Will counter and the Assimilation counter is moved forward one space if anyone is caught (though only one space regardless of the number caught).  Additionally, if any player loses their third and final Will counter, they must Give Up – getting back all their cards, all their Will counters, but the assimilation token will move forward an additional spot.

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The Clean up phase isn’t really much of a phase. The Hunted Players all discard their card from this turn onto their discard piles, arranging them in a way that the Creature can see all the cards in that pile.  The Creature then draws Hunt cards to bring his hand back up to 3.

The game ends immediately in favor of the Creature if the Assimilation counter reaches the Victory space.  The game ends immediately in favor of the Hunted if the Rescue counter reaches the Victory space first.  It is impossible for a tie to happen.

My thoughts on the game

Back in 2016, I passed on the game because I wasn’t too thrilled with all-versus-one games at the time, and I thought this was pretty cooperative for the Hunted team (and I was really against cooperative games at that time as well).  In my older age, I guess I have mellowed a bit, and I’m more open to trying games of this sort.  I figured that there must be something to it because why else would Stronghold be resurrecting a five-year-old game?

We took this for a run recently, and it was an enjoyable game.  At about 35 minutes with rules, it certainly didn’t outstay its welcome.  It was a close/tense game, coming down to the final turn – with each of us being only one step away from victory in the final turn.  The humans managed to outwit the Creature and survive – I think it was due to our de rigeur plan of “I’m going to the Jungle” that lulled him into a stupor.

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The game comes in a small box but it wants to play like a game in a much bigger box.  There is no board, but instead, this is created by the ten Place cards.  For now, the planet is always made up of these locations, and after a game or two, you should be quite familiar with all of them.  You’ll definitely be familiar with Places #1-5 as those are the ones that you must play from the start of each game.  If you are able to visit location #5, you’ll get access to one of the other locations – though the Creature knows this, and location #5 is often an early target.  In general, the Creature probably sticks to the original sites a bit more as there is a higher chance of catching multiple people up there – but then again, since he knows that we know that, maybe he should zig instead of zag and catch us down in the second row….

Though the rules may obfuscate the overall dynamic, this game is really just a dressed up version of RPS.  (That’s rock-paper-scissors.)  There are plenty of mind games going on here, because the Creature knows that I really want to go to the Swamp to replenish my hand, and I’ve made some passing mention of that in our discussion, but it’s really a feint because I’m hoping to entice the Creature to that space so I can instead go to the Lair.  But the Creature is on to me, and he knows that, so he chooses the Lair.  Good thing that I knew that he thought he knew what I knew, and I was able to safely go to the Swamp after all… Phew.

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For me, I did find it a little frustrating to not really be able to discuss plans as it must all be out loud, and when the Creature can hear, there’s obviously not a lot of secret planning to do, and sure I guess there is the double-think strategy of verbalizing a plan so that the Creature has to decide if you’re telling the truth or if you’re just spewing out some plans in order to make him think you’re going there when you’re really going somewhere else…  Of course, the Creature can see your discards so he knows (in general) which cards you have left in your hand, and the Creature can certainly play the odds if nothing else once he knows what Places you are limited to…

Overall the game works fine, but man, it feels like there isn’t a lot going on.  In our group, we didn’t make too much discussion (again because the Creature can hear, and we’re not the sort of group to try to roleplay or discuss a fake/real plan)… So, we quickly choose cards in silence and then spend a few minutes resolving what happens.  It almost feels as decision density light as Descent (where I once spent an entire afternoon making about ten decisions, four of which were so obvious that I didn’t really think about anything).   At least one of the Hunted really enjoyed the mind games of trying to outthink/outplay the Creature, so I know that there is a market for this sort of game.

For me, my gut feeling in 2016 still holds true.  There doesn’t seem to be enough decision space in the game for my tastes, and true enjoyment of this game probably requires a group that is into roleplaying, bluffing, and things like Werewolf.  And those traits are clearly not ones that I have.  The game seems to be well balanced, and I think this would be a really interesting game with a group that likes the mind games and/or social deduction games.  I’d be interested to see what the Missouri contingent of the OG thought about the game, and I might end up sending it to them so they can try it.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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