Review: Not Alone

notalonecovernotitle

Length

Release Date
Sans titre-1Designer: Ghislain Masson
Publisher: Geek Attitude Games
Category: Deduction, Bluffing, Hidden Movement
Player Count: 2-7
BoardGameGeek Rating: 7.3 (548 votes)
Price: ~$25
Ever since 1983’s Scotland Yard, the cat-and-mouse “chase the bad guy” genre has been a mainstay of board gaming.  Recent successes have been the science-themed Specter Ops and the grandiose, horror-themed Fury of Dracula
From a relatively unknown publisher and a completely new designer, Not Alone steps into the genre and flips it on its head in several ways. First, it’s entirely a card game with a small footprint. Second, this is no longer a game of one person running away, but of one person—or creature—chasing everyone else. Players have crash-landed on another planet, only to find that they are, well, Not Alone… 

Content Guide

The game might be somewhat scary for younger fans, as one player is a creature hunting the rest. However, there is no violence depicted anywhere, just a few creepy images similar to that of the cover.  

Review

notalonecomponentsbetterAlthough Not Alone is played entirely with cards, it still has a bit of a “map.” To the right, underneath the board, you can see the ten locations laid out. Each round, the “normal” players (the Hunted) each secretly select a location to visit. However, to start, they can only visit locations 1-5, and they do not automatically get their cards back. Each player has 3 Wills (hit points), and they must sacrifice health to get cards back or use certain locations. They can also skip a location’s action to get one card back, but this is  a relatively weak play. (It does come in handy sometimes, however.)
Meanwhile, the Creature player is choosing sites to attack with his Creature token. This is done once players have picked their locations, but before they reveal. This moment—full of tension and double-thinking—is the center of the game. Did he suss us out, or not?! The Hunted players have to do all table talk in front of the Creature player as well. This is where you find out if the players were serious about their suggestions or just creating a diversion.
If any players are caught, the Creature gets one step closer to victory (see the red “Assimilation” track). What’s worse is that each of those players loses one Will. Players recover their locations and Will when they “Give Up,” essentially starting over. This can be done voluntarily if you’re out of locations. It also happens automatically when you lose your third Will. However, whenever this happens, the Creature advances on the Assimilation track. The Creature can actually attack with up to three tokens, thanks to Hunt cards that give extra abilities when played. The Artemia (that’s the name of the planet) and Hunt tokens are progressively weaker than the Creature token. Once the Hunted near the end of their own Rescue track, the Creature has constant access to the Artemia token.
Things aren’t looking very good for the Hunted at this point—and how do they win again anyway? They automatically advance their Rescue counter once each turn, so ultimately they can win simply by avoiding the Creature. They can also advance their progress by using the effects of two locations: The Beach and The Wreck. Lastly, they each begin with a Survival card, which has a one-time use; but unlike the Creature, they don’t automatically draw more. They need to use The Source or The Shelter (locations 7 and 9) to get more, but they don’t even begin with access to those! First, a player has to successfully use The Rover and scoop one of them up.  
This means progress does seem difficult for the human players at first. With few locations to pick from, the Creature is bound to snag somebody—and not only does he get closer to victory, but that player essentially loses their turn and takes damage on top of that. However, those rounds where the Creature nails everyone—or no one—letting the Hunted get away with a huge round are hilariously epic. At first, the game doesn’t seem like it has much depth and is just a game of “Clearly, I cannot choose the Location in front of me…” However, I really enjoy that meta-game, especially with longtime friends. Furthermore, there are more nuances than you might realize at first—knowing the capabilities of the Hunt and Survival decks is vital, for example. There’s also a deduction element for the Creature, since all discard piles are known, adding further complexity to the double-think game going between Creature and Hunted.  
The game also has a palpable tension, amplified by the simple act of moving the Rescue token each turn. The Creature is pummeling the players as fast as he can, but he has to move fast, as one complete whiff of a turn can completely turn the tide. Also, unlike other games in this genre, you’re in and out in thirty minutes or so. The game also plays two to seven players, amazingly enough, and is somewhat self-balancing. With fewer players, fewer locations will activate, but it will be that much harder for the Creature to successfully hit someone. On the other hand, the Creature is bound to hit someone in a seven-player game, but there will be more players he doesn’t hit who are gaining benefits from the locations.  
I do have two minor gripes about the game, but they’re both quite minor. First, I wish the Hunted players could more easily get new Survival cards—perhaps every time they lose their last Will? Our games have been lopsided towards Creature victories, but that’s because I usually take on the role when I teach new people, and so I have an edge. The game feels fairly balanced. However, it’s more about feeling constrained by what little the Hunted players actually do. The Creature is playing these cool cards each turn to ruin the best laid plans, and the Hunted players would love to slap down some sort of effect of their own. It feels like they should be doing that. But they run out of Survival cards pretty quickly, as each player only starts with one, and new cards are not easily acquired. My second complaint is simply that I wish the Hunt and Survival cards had artwork above the text, but I understand the necessities of a tight budget. And the artwork on the Locations is superb
That all being said, Not Alone was a wonderful surprise me. This is not a title I had hotly anticipated, but one I simply had heard about and sought out. I found myself thoroughly enjoying this game, primarily because it’s a mix of my two favorite things: bluffing and cool card play. If you enjoy social deduction and bluffing games like Coup or Skull, this is the “1 vs. all” type game for you. In fact, this is the best game of that genre I’ve ever played.
 
Thank you to Geek Attitude Games for providing a review copy of Not Alone.

The Bottom Line

 

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.