Dark Moon Rises Again
Ever since its release two years ago, Dark Moon has ranked as one of my preferred traitor games. Between its in-your-face brand of manipulation and the grungy utility of its visuals, it offered an oppressively claustrophobic take on the classic tale of a crew torn apart by an invisible insider.
Shadow Corporation is one of those expansions that might not seem necessary at first glance, especially because Dark Moon was as perfect as a curly-haired baby. But now that it’s here, I can’t fathom playing without it.
As you might expect of an expansion, there are plenty of little additions in Shadow Corporation, the bells and whistles that give its box some heft and justify the price tag. New event cards, a couple extra characters, some cardboard tokens that nobody needed the first time around.
But the best additions all fall into the same category. They make the game longer, harder, and nastier. They are, in effect, the hidden Weyland-Yutani representative aboard your Nostromo.
The most visible tweak is a simple trio of yellow dice. These are rolled at the start of every single task, and nearly always make your mission tougher. It’s a small but crucial reminder that your space station’s parent company — the Noguchi Masaki Interplanetary Mining Corporation, for those who bother to read game fluff — is always there in the background, fiddling with the state of affairs even remotely.
But that’s just a reminder, because the real danger is the one that lurks unseen: the company man living in your midst.
There won’t always be a company man. Like the presence of an extra infected player, it isn’t a done thing. Maybe one in four games will contain one of these soulless bastards — just often enough that you have to keep the possibility in mind, but rare enough that you can’t ever be sure. Unlike the infected, his job isn’t to scuttle the station’s survival. It’s to secure a sample of the infected, by one dark method or another.
In the original Dark Moon, there was only really one way for an uninfected human player to win. By figuring out who their real teammates were, they could fight the decay of the station and eventually accomplish their shared final mission. By contrast, in Shadow Corporation success is a multi-step process with two very divergent possible outcomes.
First, a crewman must appease the threat made on their loved ones by the company. This is basically a one-time personal task that must be accomplished sometime in the midgame. There are only four options, ranging from wasting all your dice on a maintenance task to revealing your identity to someone, at which point you’ll be free of the company’s influence, and no, the game doesn’t bother to explain why the company doesn’t just blackmail you into securing a sample of the virus to begin with. It’s easily the expansion’s flimsiest element (and optional too), though it does serve to lengthen the proceedings by occasionally prompting innocent players to delay a victory until they can shrug off their threat.
Far better is the new victory condition. The company has very nicely — too nicely — sent an evacuation ship to clear the station. Instead of working to fulfill their mission, the crew can provide clearance to a select group of survivors. This calls for a whole bunch of voting sessions, including the occasional forced vote to spice things up. Of course, the other side of the coin is that an infected player escaping on the ship means a win for the baddies, prompting a fresh battery of accusations and lies.
When the evacuation ship carries such risk, you might be wondering why it’s an option at all? Well, cue your dire banjos, because that’s where the company man steps back into frame. The company man’s only goal is to ensure that Noguchi Masaki gets their hands on a sample of the virus. Which means that if an infected host boards the evacuation pod when there’s a company man in the game, it’s the shadowy bastard who wins. Meanwhile, if the innocent inhabitants of the station manage to pull off a win by accomplishing their mission, he’ll win if an infected player has suffered an amputation.
Amputations are another new option, a way to hobble a player that can either be voted on or result from a task or mission. Losing a limb reduces a player’s dice pool forever, and makes them grumpy as a bonus. The thing is, though, that the company man can fish the severed limb from the garbage chute, at which point the station’s survival means he’s won.
This creates an uncomfortable hate triangle. Innocent players can maybe win by finishing their mission, and maybe win by boarding the evacuation ship. In either case, they’ll need to be doubly alert about who’s getting chopped up, who’s boarding the ship, and who might profit from either. Infected players are similarly shackled — they can blow up the base entirely, but that’s always been a tricky proposition. And walking the tightrope of both sides’ suspicion as the company man is both thrilling and liable to cause cardiac murmurs.
Most importantly, the haze of paranoia surrounding all these actions might not be warranted. Someone calling for an amputation might just be struggling to recover from their corporate threat, but there’s no way to be certain — which is ultimately why I recommend playing with the threats even if they’re a tad wobbly. Where the original Dark Moon was a straight showdown between forthright good and hidden evil, Shadow Corporation is a morass of conflicting loyalties.
And hoo boy, while the result is as oppressive as having somebody blow cigarette smoke down your throat, with the right group the smog tastes devilishly good. In one game, we had a crew-wide spree of failed tasks — and for once that was the best option, because we were desperately buying time to figure out the identity of the good guys and how we could overcome the company’s threats. Ultimately, a doomed man, an innocent rube, and an alien boarded the evac ship, but it was the company man who laughed his way to the bank that night.
This is how you do an expansion. Rather than just tossing a bunch of extra stuff into a box, Shadow Corporation takes the already-solid framework of Dark Moon and molds it into one of the finest examples of the traitor genre. The paranoia is thicker, the accusations bitterer, and the decisions far tougher. For fans of the original, this is a must.