Infiltration (board game: review).

December 18, 2013 | By | Reply More

Set in Fantasy Flight Games’ Android universe, home to the excellent ‘Android: Netrunner’ card game and the godawful timesink that is the original Android board game, ‘Infiltration’ gives its players control of a team of criminals breaking into the offices of CyberSolutions Inc. Their objective: to steal as much confidential data as possible and escape before the security forces turn up and arrest everyone left on site.


The CyberSolutions building is represented by a dozen ‘room’ cards, laid face-down in two ‘floors’, with a special ‘secret room’ set aside. From the entrance room, the criminals move along the first floor before ascending to the richer pickings and greater dangers of the second floor, dealing with each room’s challenges where they can and hovering up every last data packet they can lay their leather-gloved hands on. The winner is the criminal who escapes the building with the most data.

The deeper you delve into the CyberSolutions facility, the greater the rewards…but the harder it’ll be to get out in time. The security forces ‘proximity’ dial creeps upwards every turn, hastened by any alarm you might’ve tripped and there comes a point where you’re forced to decide: get out while the going’s good or head further up and further in while your colleagues in crime dash for the exit and just pray you stumble across an executive elevator…

I say ‘colleagues’. The infiltration team, surprisingly richly-characterised considering they’re little more than interchangeable proxies, are notionally an expert crew assembled by the mastermind Mr. White. There’s virtually nothing in the mechanics of the game which encourages co-operation and no collective goal. It’s every man, woman or cyborg for themselves, squabbling over the data.

Talking about the game, after a few playthroughs, we were considering house-ruling an informal barter system that allowed the exchange of data for assistance. It doesn’t feel as if there’s really enough co-op challenge to make that necessary, the characters simply don’t have that much power to help their fellows.

So, rather than a crack team of operatives working in harmony, the gameplay in ‘Infiltration’ resembles what you might expect if a passing party of enterprising drunks noticed an unlocked door and slipped inside, smashing stuff up, blundering into the alarms and pinching anything that’s not nailed down. It’s somehow fitting that one of the game’s most useful items is a sledgehammer.

Sitting alongside the default actions, advance, retreat, download/extract data and interface which lets you use a room’s special functions if any, it’s these items which bring ‘Infiltration’ to life. Each character starts the game with four randomly assigned items and, in any one turn, they play an action or an item.

These can be as straightforward as the aforementioned sledgehammer or as sophisticated as a hologram projector, sub-sonic emitter or sub-dermal data drive, but they all give you a little bit of an edge, increasing your data haul, removing troublesome impediments such as security staff or high-tech locks or screwing with your fellow operatives.

However, some items are significantly more useful than others and a large number of them are extremely situational, meaning there’s a chance you end up having used only one or none of your items, while other characters have reaped the benefits of a lucky deal.

Even when you have the chance to yoink a data packet out from under another player’s nose or sabotage their exit strategy, these interactions feel less like part of a master plan and more like a happy accident.

The game is so fluid, with every turn forcing you to completely re-evaluate your situation, that it’s next to impossible to make any meaningful plans. Our group’s resident strategy gamer passionately hated ‘Infiltration’ for this very reason, but if you like the thrill and unpredictability of a fast-moving game you’re more likely to be happy.

As an example, the most fundamental challenge of the game is working out how far to push into the facility before the security counter gets too close to 99 because you have to get out again, which is going to take longer than you think. Every turn, you add the result of a die roll to the counter, so basic probability maths is useful, the average on a six-sided die is 3.5, meaning you’ve got around 28 turns to get in and out.

With every alarm the operatives trigger, the security count rises a little faster, so being able to calculate on the fly how many turns you’re probably going to get before the game ends is an essential skill.

In the first game we played, every single operative was still in the facility when the fuzz turned up, simply because no one realised how long it takes to move anywhere. You can only move one room per turn or two with certain items, which means if you mis-time your bug-out by just a single turn or if the proximity die works against you, your fate is sealed but you still have to play out those last few turns anyway.

What do you do? Run for the door, knowing you can never make it? Blunder deeper into the facility, hoping to trip more alarms and maybe trap a fellow operative or two along with you or recognise the futility of acting at all and plonk your arse down on the sheepskin rug in the CEO’s office to wait for the security forces to start pumping nerve gas into the facility’s air conditioning. Which is a fancily narrative way of saying that your decisions are rendered fairly moot at that point. Despite ‘Infiltration’s flaws as a game, we generally found we were having fun anyway, primarily because the theme is strong enough that it let the players tell the story of their infiltration attempt.

In one game, the Android player was on the verge of escaping and would have made it if not for those meddlesome kids ‘Animal’ the gun thug rampaging through the facility’s second floor, triggering alarms left and right as he searched in increasing panic for the executive elevator. No one escaped that time, but it felt oddly right, like you’d played through a futuristic Coen Brothers movie, full of screw-ups and double-crosses.

The game comes with a half-dozen optional ‘advanced’ rules and variants, of which two are essential, and frankly should’ve been part of the basic game. The ‘Specialists’ variant assigns two of each player’s four item cards according to the operative they’re playing, giving the characters some much-needed differentiation in mechanical terms.

‘Data file extraction’, meanwhile, replaces the standard ‘Download’ action (2 DF tokens for the first downloader, 1 for any subsequent) with an ‘Extract’ action where the number of files claimed is dependent on the number of operatives extracting data from the room that turn the ‘bandwidth’ as it were). The advanced rule gives your decision-making substantially more meaning and, once we’d switched, we couldn’t see a reason you’d ever want to use the default ‘Download’ rule.

Whichever way you choose to steal your data, ‘Infiltration’ has one last flaw, its winning conditions. Each data file token has a random value between one and three on the back and you won’t know how much you’ve got until it’s time to count the spoils. In the games we played, there were usually only a few tokens’ difference between the apparent leader and the others who’d escaped the facility and the random values of the data tokens was enough to render all the leading player’s hard work in collecting those two or three extra tokens entirely irrelevant.

As a game then ‘Infiltration’ is short, pacey and fairly light with little downtime as you wait for the other players to decide what they’re doing, but little meaningful player-player interaction and a frustrating tendency to undermine the players’ decision-making with too many random elements.

If you throw yourself into the theme, however, and embrace the game as a framework for telling amusing stories about your bumbling or occasionally ninja-cool operatives, it suddenly becomes a lot more fun. The large deck of items gives it variation and replay value and most of the players in our group had a pretty good time but if you’re a strategic gamer who likes to make long-term plans, this really isn’t the game for you.

Martin Jenner

(pub: Fantasy Flight Games. Price: £27.99 (UK). Players: 2-6. Age: 14+ . Playing time: about an hour)
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Category: Games

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