Saturday, 3 October 2015


Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Infiltration is designed by Donald X Vaccarino of Dominion fame. Players are hackers who have successfully hacked into the computer system of a mega corp. They compete to steal as much information as possible. Their entry into the system does not immediately trigger an alarm. However they do leave traces, and the security system picks these up and analyses them. Sooner or later the system will realise it has been infiltrated, the alarm will sound, the gateway will be sealed, and any hacker who has not jacked out by then will be locked on by the tracking program and captured. Only those who have escaped in time can win the game, and the winner is, of course, the one who has stolen the most secrets.

The mega corp's data storage is divided into many layers, arranged in a V shape here. You enter the system at the first room in the top right corner. Each room contains some information. Each room also has different features, e.g. triggering events, making tools available, even bringing in non-player characters. Room cards are randomly drawn so they are different from game to game. Their order will also be different. This introduces variety. There is one secret room on the right, by itself. This is a special vault, and only under special circumstances a player can enter it. There is no guarantee for any particular game that it will be accessed.

That game component at the centre is the proximity counter. It shows the alert level of the security system. It is at 00 now. When it hits 99, the game ends. Hackers who have not yet escaped the complex automatically lose, regardless of how much data they have managed to steal. The proximity counter is basically a countdown mechanism.

These are your cards. The four on the right (without pictures) are the action cards. Everyone has the same set. Those on the left are the item cards. You start with some specific items based on your character, and some randomly drawn items. At the start of a round, everyone secretly picks a card to play. Once everyone has committed, the players take turns revealing their cards and executing them. The four action cards are Advance, Retreat, Extract and Interface. Advance and Retreat are simply moving deeper into the complex or backing out. Extract means downloading data. Every room contains some data files, and players need to race to download them. This is done in cut-and-paste mode and not copy-and-paste, so once a file is downloaded by one hacker, it is no longer available to others. Interface means making use of the unique ability of a room. It is usually a one-time thing, so it is also first-come-first-served. As you can see, hacking is a race. However being first to enter a room entails some risk too. Most rooms trigger an event upon first entry, and the event can be bad for your health.

In lieu of an action card, you can play an item card. These are usually more powerful, but they are single-use. Some are quite situational so you need to pick the right time. Some items let you advance quickly through the system, some items let you download more data than usual, some items let you manipulate the proximity counter, some items let you steal data from others.

This is one of the characters. Characters don't have unique abilities. The only gameplay difference they make is the two specific item cards each character starts with. All that text on the character card is flavour text. A character can get injured during play - you flip the character card to the other side. When injured, you can only move (Advance or Retreat) in alternate rounds, i.e. you are moving at half speed. Some rooms and some items allow you to heal yourself.

How much the proximity counter increases every round depends on a die roll. So you are never exactly sure how quickly this countdown timer will tick. There is a modifier though, so that you have a rough idea. The die roll modifier is negative at the start of the game, which means the proximity level usually increases slowly in the beginning. However the modifier tends to increase during the game, so the countdown speed will accelerate, building up to a climax.

The Play

We did a 5-player game. Most of us were new to the game. I had one item which propelled me to the front. It gave me an advantage over the others. I also had quite a few good items, and the right conditions for using them came up. I managed to make very good use of them, and I amassed quite many data files.

That black guy in front (left) is my character. When you are alone in a room with many data files, it's a windfall. You will be able to download many files at one go. When multiple hackers do downloading at the same time, they each get fewer files. Sometimes when too many hackers download at the same time, some will leave empty-handed. Who gets files and who doesn't depends on turn order of the current round.

Seeing that I had a good lead, I decided I should play safe and retreat early. I paid close attention to the proximity counter. I knew it would accelerate, so I knew I should start retreating around the time it reached halfway. Some of my fellow hackers were injured early in the game. This is painful and can really mess your tempo up. Sometimes when you can't move, and you don't have anything else to do at your current location, you will be wasting an entire turn.

I became a runaway leader. In Infiltration there aren't many cards that let you directly attack another player, so the other hackers could not gang up to rob me of my data files. The situation was awkward for them. They could sense the danger of staying too long, but they didn't have many files, so they had to bite the bullet and go deeper to hunt for more. The decision was much easier for me. It was time to run, Forrest, run.

Ivan had now advanced to the second floor (the other half of the V formation). Rooms on the second floor have better goodies. The room Ivan is in has 6 data files. The first floor rooms in our game mostly had two data files only. Only one had four.

Ivan had one item which was a shortcut. If he was caught still in the system when the alarm sounded, he could sacrifice some data files to take a shortcut to exit the system. This meant he had a get-out-of-jail-free card, and he could gamble and dive deeper. Still, I was quite confident I would win, because I had quite a large pile of data files, and I had played conservatively, allowing enough time to exit. What I hadn't thought of though, was the group psychology. I was a clear leader by mid game, which meant I was also a big red target. For the trailing players who had little hope of leaving safely, the mentality was "I'm gonna die anyway so let's drag everyone else down with me". Just as I was about to step out of the (virtual) gate, it slammed shut on me - someone had played an item card that jacked up the proximity counter. My estimation of how much time I needed to escape was quite accurate, but I hadn't anticipated this. Ivan became the only one who was not tracked down by the police, and he was the automatic winner. My wealth of data amounted to naught. I should have tried to convince my fellow hackers that once I made it out there I would make good use of the stolen data and expose all the corruption and wrongdoings we discovered. It was a noble cause and their sacrifices in helping me would be all worthwhile, right?! Guys?!! Y U do dis?!!!

The Thoughts

When Ivan taught us the game, he described it as Incan Gold on steroids, which I think is a very concise summary. You need to steal the most data to win, but if you fail to escape with the data, it all amounts to nothing. So it's about how far you push your luck. The main differences are (1) Infiltration is richer in mechanisms and setting (it's a Fantasy Flight Games game afterall), and (2) you only get one run in Infiltration compared to five expeditions in Incan Gold. The game mechanisms in Infiltration fits the setting well, so it is immersive. Player interaction is the race type and not the direct type. There is a sense of adventure because you never know what will come up in the next room. This game can be rethemed to fantasy adventurers exploring a dungeon hunting for treasure (don't get eaten by the dragon!), but that's not my type. Cyberpunk is more attractive to me.

The countdown timer (i.e. proximity counter) creates excitement and a building sense of urgency. You need to be on your toes. You need to judge the right time to start running. The variety in data rooms and items creates surprises and variability from game to game. These make the game colourful. The game concept is straight-forward and the premise is interesting. It may look a little complicated, but I think this can be a good introductory game.

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