Most hidden movement games have a bunch of players hunting down one poor soul or bad guy. It's not often that the concept gets flipped on its head and has one hunting down all the others such as Not Alone. The only issue with a lot of hidden movement games is the length - they can go on a bit if the hidden party is adept at what they do or even in general. Fury of Dracula and Letters from Whitechapel are classic examples where you're going to be sitting there for a while before you finish.
Not Alone was a surprise hit at Essen Spiel a couple of years ago - nobody saw it coming, it just turned up and made a big splash, enough that even I acquired it at the time. So I've had a fair amount of experience with the game to see how it's stood the test of time.
Am I still holding on to my copy or did the love fade over time?
Playing Not Alone
One player plays the creature, stalking and trying to capture the crew, and all the other players are crew members, exploring the planet and trying to avoid being killed. The goal of the survivors is to .......well survive...long enough to run out the game timer, whereas the creature wants to assimilate you all before that happens.
The planet consists of a series of 10 numbered locations. To begin, only the first five are accessible, but this will expand as time goes on. Each crew member starts with a hand of cards numbered one to five, and three Will counters (life basically).
Simultaneously, they will all secretly choose one of those locations to visit and place their card face-down. Communicate about what you're doing at your peril as the Creature is sitting right there! The Creature is trying to figure out where each player is exploring and track them down. On top of this, they have a continuous supply of cards that make life basically awful for the survivors.
Once revealed, all players who successfully evaded the Creature get to trigger the location's bonus ability, whereas anyone who got nabbed loses Will counters and advances the Creature's time track faster.
Each of the crew's five-hand cards can be used only once, and when played remain face-up on the table. Therefore your options get more limited until you either utilise a location to draw some back or sacrifice your will to the Creature (thus progressing their timer track more). The less locations you have in your hand, the more the Creature can deduce where you're going and be prepared to get singled out if you're in that position!
The Survivors do have one or two aids however, a collection of Survival (item) cards that can be obtained to nullify various Creature effects and access to the locations numbered 6-10, which contain more powerful abilities as well open up more options to fool the Creature as to where you're going. Play continues in this fashion until either the Creature or Survivors win.
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It's understandable to want to stay on the planet and just let the Creature take you. The artwork on all the cards is unbelievably gorgeous to look at, really setting the scene for a sci-fi setting. It would have been nice to see more artwork on the other cards rather than just text and a sci-fi esque background, but this is a minor quibble as the action is really focused on the locations and Not Alone has a small table presence anyway.
Thematically, Not Alone works well by generating that tension among all the Survivors of trying to outguess the Creature, whereas the Creature gets to enjoy the hunting aspect. It's a very simple theme, but it's engaging and requires you to make a good amount of tactical choices to stay alive, not to mention most of the players are co-operating actively with each other.
You feel alone as the Creature, but then you're the one with the nasty cards to play and gloat over.
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Some reviewers have been put off thinking that the deduction process amounts of a kind of rock-paper-scissors outcome. I'm sorry, but if so, they aren't thinking about all the variables. The Creature can see all the cards discarded by the Survivors as well as their current Will tokens. Using this information, combined with the horrible Hunt cards, the Creature can prey on specific players with a decent degree of reliability. Hunt down the weaker players until they build up their hand again.
Also they need to consider what the Survivors are likely trying to achieve - playing the long game only works so well, they have to accelerate their counter occasionally and you can take advantage of this. I'm not saying the Creature will have 100% perfect knowledge, some of it will be guesswork, but you can have an educated crack at it and at the end of the day, half of the game is getting in your opponents head - what are they thinking?
As the Survivors, it's a whole different game of fear and tension. You can't directly communicate with each other as the Creature can hear, but you can drop hints or take note of what cards the others have discarded so that you don't end up as collateral damage. Deciding when is the best time to sacrifice your Will is also a key factor as it's always a better outcome then being caught by the Creature. The whole affair can be a little group dependent though - being a silent minority won't do you well.
The Elephant Approaches the Room
Unlike other games in this genre, you’re in and out in 30 minutes or so, maybe 45 tops. The game also plays 2-7 players, amazingly enough, and scales pretty well throughout. It's easier for the Creature to catch someone when there's a lot of players, but it has further to go along its track and the Survivors are going to trigger more location effects to balance it out.
5-7 players is always a bit of a pain when trying to decide on a game, especially if people in the group aren't fans of party games or social deduction affairs, but Not Alone can sort you out just fine.
If anything does bug me a bit, it's that the difficulty balance is definitely skewed in favour of the Creature. Of all the games I've had, the Creature's win ratio is far greater than that of the Survivors, hence I always give the Creature to a new player as they don't feel like they're pedalling uphill. If you love a challenge though then fair enough you'll get one.
The other one bugbear is that there is no variation in the set-up for locations. It's the same 10 locations every game and that can get a bit repetitive. That being said, we're expecting one, maybe even two expansions during 2018 which will introduce more locations so that problem is going to resolve itself eventually.
Verdict on Not Alone
Not Alone is a neat twist on a typical one vs all hidden movement game. Not requiring a giant board and numbers everywhere on a map, you just have a few cards in your hand and a tableau on the table, but yet it still gives the same tension that you get in those larger scope games. The additional bluffing aspect of "what is he thinking," adds to the experience whether you're playing as the Alien or the Survivors, though I would argue the Alien has a much easier time of actually winning the game from a balance perspective.
The artwork is solid across all the contents and there's no ambiguous graphic design iconography to filter through allowing for this to be accessible to even fairly new players even though they'll need a game or two to get to grips with the tactics involved. If anything is a flaw, it's the fact that it can be a little group dependent and the replay value is only so-so due to the same locations being used every game, however in a few months that will be rectified.
For the slightly above expected price, you're getting a good, fun experience that can cater for a large group of players and comes in a compact box. It's flown under the radar for a lot of gamers, but perhaps it could use a comeback.
- You'll like this if you love games where you're getting inside other people's heads.
- A great "One vs All" set-up.
- A challenge with plenty of tension - the Alien has the advantage here.
- The challenge might be a bit too much for the survivors.
- The locations may become repetitive, however in time this will be fixed.
- Not for you if you don'y enjoy bluffing / hidden movement mechanics.
You'll like this if you love games where you're getting inside other people's heads.
A great "One vs All" set-up.
A challenge with plenty of tension - the Alien has the advantage here.
The challenge might be a bit too much for the survivors.
The locations may become repetitive, however in time this will be fixed.
Not for you if you don'y enjoy bluffing / hidden movement mechanics.