Day of the Thing

From Ludocity
Day of the Thing
Designer: Kevan Davis
Year: 2008
Players: 8+
Stuff required: Pre-prepared cards; a costume or armband for each player.
Crew required: One.
Preparation: Twenty minutes to hide the cards.
Time required: Half an hour.
Place required: Any large, explorable area where players will be out of each others' sight if they split up.
Activities: Finding, bluffing, chasing, deduction, conspiracy, teamwork.
This is a playable game - it's finished, tested and ready to play.
This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)
This game can also be run as "Night of the Vampire", with a few thematic tweaks.

A paranoid team of scientists are trying to gather together components of a damaged research station, so that they can radio for help. However, a shapeshifting alien - The Thing - is sabotaging this mission, and is slowly eliminating and replacing the scientists.

Setup instructions

Prepare a number of cards. For 20 players: 20 "radio" cards, 6 "formula" cards and 10 "infection" cards. Adjust that proportionally for other sized games.

These can be professionally-printed cards, handwritten index cards, printed sheets of A4, or whatever else works - they just need to have their name and (optionally) the text of their function. You can even use physical props, for some or all of the objects. (Don't invest too much in making them, though, as they may get lost during the game; disposable card or paper machinery allows evil Thing players to casually crumple them up, throw them in rivers, or whatever else they feel like doing.)

You need to hide these cards around the playing area, before the game begins. They shouldn't be too easy to find - make the players move things around and look in obscure corners, to find them, and spread them over a large enough area that the players will need to split up to find them all in time.

The game has a strict time limit, which you should decide and announce at the start of the game; if the scientists haven't built the radio by the end of that time, they lose.

If you're playing in a public space, it'll be useful to have some sort of "costume" for the players, so that they can recognise each other during the game. This can be something as simple as a ribbon tied around their arm, or if you've got the budget, some cheap hats or lab coats.

Finally, pick a room to be the "laboratory" - this is where the scientists will assemble their radio. The moderator will stay here for the course of the game, and collect radio cards from scientists.

Player instructions

Welcome to what remains of your research laboratory.

You are a team of scientists trying to rebuild your lab equipment after an explosion. Scattered around the playing area are a number of pieces of your radio, represented by printed cards. The object of the game is to rebuild this radio - if you can collect twelve pieces and return them to the lab, you can call for the supply helicopter to turn around and rescue you, before it is out of range. It will be out of range at [time at which game ends].

However, there are two shapechanging aliens among you. These creatures were responsible for destroying your lab, and will be working together to sabotage the repair mission - destroying the radio components, leading you astray, and - if they get the chance - turning you into one of them. They will do this by putting their hand on your shoulder, handing you an "Infection" card and saying "You are now part of The Thing." As soon as you feel that hand, you cannot run, you cannot fight, you cannot cry out - you must accept your fate, tear up the Infection card, and become a Thing. From that point on, you are a part of The Thing, and will work alongside them to disrupt the scientists' plans. If you seem like a promising host, your parent Thing may decide to split their leftover Infection cards with you.

Note that the Thing's infection process requires a subzero temperature - they can't infect a scientist inside the walls of the laboratory. The infection mechanism also requires sixty seconds to "recharge" before an individual member of the Thing can infect another scientist.

Research on core sample fragments has turned up a formula which seems to be deadly to the Thing, but is completely harmless to humans. We've synthesised four small vials of it. [reveal four formula cards] If you suspect another scientist of being a Thing, you can dose them with formula by pointing at them and tearing a formula card in half - if they're a Thing, this will dissolve them, eliminating them from the game. If they're human, it has no effect whatsoever.

You may find extra doses of formula in the area surrounding the laboratory.

Thing and weapon assignation

Split the Infection cards into two equal stacks. Ask the players to turn around and close their eyes, with their hands held behind them, and hand a stack of cards to two of the players. Announce that the players who've just been handed cards are Things, and that they should hide the cards about their person, before anyone opens their eyes.

Since Things will have to do a lot of sneaking and lying to survive, you might like to offer players an opt-out, if they don't want to be one of the primary Things. Tell players that if they cross their fingers, you'll skip over them when choosing the initial Things.

So that the two Things can establish one another's identity (and gang up more easily on the scientists), you should slip both of them a note with their Infection cards - either a pre-written behaviour cue (tell them both to scratch their left ear a lot, drop a certain word into conversation, try to meet at a specific landmark at a particular time, or something) or a note you've written while setting up ("the other Thing is the player with the red scarf"). This can either be a scrap of paper, or a couple of extra pre-printed cards.

(If you've got the space and a little more time, you can assign these cards by having the players file into a side room, one by one, to be briefed as to their identity and given cards and told about their accomplice if appropriate.)

Once you've given out the Infection cards, place the formula cards on a table or nearby surface and let the players decide how to distribute them amongst themselves.

Night of the Vampire

This game ran as Night of the Vampire at Sandpit #7 in October 2008, as it was that time of year, and it seemed to fit the dark streets better.

The laboratory became the "churchyard" (which suggested an obvious, fair mechanic of "no infections within the churchyard"), and the villagers were attempting to collect "Coffin Nail" cards from the streets of Soho, to seal in the sleeping master vampire before he rose at sunset. They had "Holy Water" instead of the Thing-dissolving formula.

(In the Sandpit version, vampires were allowed unlimited infections, which ended up with 90% of the players being bitten by the end of the game; the "Infection" cards were added to the game to address that, and should be included as "Bite" cards.)



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(These are the ten most recent Flickr photos of Day of the Thing. To add your own, just add the "ludocity:game=dayofthething" tag to your Flickr photos.)

Play history

The game first ran as Night of the Vampire at Sandpit #7 in October 2008. It's been running as either variant as part of the 2009 Sandpit Tour, including an appearance at Igfest 2009. It ran with full labcoats at BARG's Enter the Arena in August 2010.

Fire Hazard ran this at Greenwich Observatory in October 2010. Our setup was:

  • First run: 12 players including 2 things. 5 infection cards per thing. One 'crew thing'. 1 cure given (one used), 4 hidden, 30 radio parts, 20 minutes. Thing victory by human elimination in around 18 minutes.
  • Second run: 10 players including 2 things. 3 infection cards per thing. No crew thing. 2 cures given (none used), 4 hidden, lots of radio parts, 20 minutes. Thing victory by human elimination (which shouldn't have been possible!) in around 10 minutes.