Review: Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp11 Jun 2015 0
Back when I was growing up, we knew how to do armageddon right. One country pisses off another, bombs fly and everyone is vaporized in seconds. Of course, surviving the nuclear attack would suck, but even those mutants get to drive around really cool cars and hang out with Mel Gibson before he went completely insane. Nowadays, its humanity-ending disease that’s all the rage. Yuck. Slow and miserable, having to watch everything you know slowly fall apart. No thanks. Give me a nuclear blast and the ability to fight robots that look like Schwarzenegger’s skeleton any day. Yep, back in the day even that novel about Captain Trips ended with a nuke going off. Those were good times.
Of course, there aren’t many games involving nuclear war because, as we all know, the only winning move is not to play. Disease, on the other hand, offers up a scenario where we can find a cure and save the day. The latest example of this theme comes from a 2013 board game from Victory Point Games ominously titled Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp, lovingly brought to iOS from the more usually martial-minded HexWar.
There are already some fantastic plague themed games out there on the App Store, namely Plague Inc. and Pandemic, and Infection can walk amongst them with its head held high. This is a great game.
Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp puts you in the lab, harvesting proteins and constructing antibodies to defeat the disease before all of humanity is destroyed. You’re not just a scientist, however, you also have to manage your budget while buying new equipment and hiring the best and the brightest.
Strip away the theme, and Infection is really a solitaire set collection game. The sets you are trying to collect can be from 3-5 proteins long, and translate to the antibodies needed to cure a particular strain of the deadly bug. Each turn, you will harvest 4 random proteins and can place up to 2 of them into these sets. As you complete different antibodies, you can remove that strain from the petri dish. Remove all the strains and you’ve saved humanity.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Between turns there is a chance that the disease will escape containment and spread around the world. There is a meter at the top of the screen indicating how many outbreaks you’ve had, and if you have enough of them, the world’s population is destroyed. If that’s not bad enough, as more outbreaks occur, your bosses lose faith in your efforts and your funding decreases as well.
Outbreaks aren’t the only thing that happens between turns, however. The disease could also mutate. This can cause new strains to appear, or existing strains—ones that you’ve nearly acquired all the correct proteins for—to suddenly become an entirely different strain. Thus, even when you’re down to only one or two strains left in the dish, with victory seemingly only a turn away, mutation can put you right back in the hole, looking at a petri dish full of creepy crawlies.
To win the game, you need to use technology to even the odds. Throughout the game you'll purchase new lab equipment that breaks the rules and, if you’re lucky, make your life easier. There are items like a centrifuge which can help you predict future mutations, or electron microscopes that allow more proteins to be harvested. I’m not sure any of it makes sense, scientifically, but it all sounds good. Strangely, however, you’re apparently buying all this equipment from the back of some skeevy guy’s custom van with both an eagle and bikini clad woman painted on the side. Seriously, all this equipment is crap. Not only can you only use tech once per round, but it also has a 50% chance of failure. That is, unless you buy a second unit, in which case it works every time. Good luck with that, however, as the store is randomly stocked, so you might never see a second item pop up, and cash is incredibly tight, so buying two of the same thing is seldom possible.
Apart from equipment, you can also hire new staff to help things along. These knuckleheads all give you special powers as well, but they have the temperaments of 3rd graders. Seriously, this guy won’t work with this guy, and she hates him so they can’t work together, etc. You’d think with the end of humanity looming these guys could get their shit together and, I don’t know, act like adults.
Infection comes with 14 pre-built scenarios to play ranging from "well, that was easy" to "why the hell did I get out of bed this morning". There is also a Quick Game mode which lets you create your own scenario, ensuring that you aren’t going to get bored. There is also a tutorial mode which is serviceable, if a bit on the light side.
I had an issue with the original pre-release version of Infection I was given regarding the non-boardgaminess of the whole thing. Gone were dice rolls, so you weren’t able to determine the likelihood of outbreaks or mutations occurring. It took me a bit to realize that they’ve since added (or maybe they were always there, and I just wasn’t aware of them) the odds that containment will fail. With that, my last true reservation about Infection oozed away.
Did I mention that Infection is hard? Seriously, I don’t think it’s winnable in the harder scenarios. That’s not a bad thing, solitaire or cooperative games are more fun the harder they are to overcome. Infection is one of the good ones, a board game port that will live on my iPad for a long time, and one that has me excited to see what other board games HexWar might be bringing to the platform.