Not Alone appeared last year at GenCon from a small publisher but just recently hit the mass market after it was picked up by new publishing powerhouse Stronghold Games, who seem to keep producing hit after hit (and even got their logo on the back wall of the Rabbit Hole, the comic book and boardgame store on the BBC series Orphan Black). Not Alone is an unusual game, an asymmetrical title where it’s one player against everyone else. It’s a great game when you’re in a large group but too imbalanced for one-on-one play.
In Not Alone, one player is the Creature, a vicious alien life form hunting the survivors of a crash on its home planet. All the other players take on the roles of the Hunted and try to escape the planet before the Creature wipes them all out. The goal, however, is not to eliminate the other players; any player who loses all three of their Will tokens (like health points) stays in the game but gets to start over. Victory for either side is determined by the progress of two tokens on the main scoring track. If the purple Assimilation token reaches the center first, the Creature wins, while the players must try to move their teal Rescue token to that spot first instead.
There are ten Places where the Hunted might go on each turn, and each player begins with a hand of five cards, numbered 1-5, and plays one, face down, to indicate where they’re going on that turn. The Creature then chooses one place to go that turn, placing the creature token on that card, after which the Hunted players reveal their locations. Any Hunted player who advances to the card where the Creature is loses his turn and one Will token, which also moves the Assimilation token along on the main track. Any Hunted player who went elsewhere can then use the special power of that Place card – taking back all discarded Place cards to his/her hand, or moving the Rescue token up one spot, or gaining one of the cards numbered 6 through 10 for additional Places – or can eschew that to pick one discarded Place card backup. The players place their used Place cards into their discard piles, so after a few turns, the Creature player can start to guess where the Hunted players might go, and the Hunted players can’t really ever allow themselves to get down to one or even two Place cards in hand.
The guessing game is further complicated by the fact that each side gets additional cards to be used at any time, typically one card per round. The Creature keeps a hand of three cards that further tilt the odds in their favor, some of which allow the Creature to place a token on a second Place card that might invalidate that Place’s power or make a Place (or two) off limits for that turn. The fewer players on the Hunted side, the more unbalanced this becomes, because the Creature can focus just on cornering one player without worrying about others bumping up the Rescue token too quickly.
The Hunted players get Survival cards that grant them similar benefits, and without those cards I don’t think it’s possible for the Hunted to win (unless the Creature player is really dim-witted). The Hunted players can communicate with each other to try to coordinate moves, but can’t show each other the Place cards they’re playing, so they can bluff the Creature but could end up bluffing each other too.
At the end of each turn, the Rescue token moves one spot toward the center, the Creature draws back up to a hand size of three, and any player can choose to ditch one Will token to draw back two discarded Place cards or two Will tokens to draw back four. Any time a player loses all three Will tokens, however, the Assimilation token moves yet another space towards the center, so giving these away only helps the Creature approach the win condition.
With too few players, Not Alone just doesn’t work – it becomes too unbalanced in the Creature’s favor. It’s really a game for four to seven players, as then the Hunted can work together to spread out and try to draw the Creature away from certain Places or players so they can move the Rescue token. Without that, the Creature’s cards are just too powerful to keep the game in balance. For larger groups, however, the simplicity of the rules and the fact that no one is ever actually eliminated make Not Alone a good semi-cooperative option for getting a lot of people involved at the table at once.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.