XP: Misspent Youth

1 Jun

Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl is a dystopian science fiction game about standing up against oppression with your friends and possibly selling your soul in the process. It’s a really hot idea and the game just bleeds style at every level – play, text and record sheets.

Unfortunately we had difficulty fitting this game in the four hour time slot. We rushed some things and our game suffered for it. We liked the taste we got, but keep in mind that this review is based on what amounts to a glimpse and not a detailed examination.

TRUST US

Play is preceded by a rather detailed setting creation process. This process involves labeling and stereotyping certain aspects of the dystopia and the Youthful Offenders (protagonists) themselves. At first this seems a little weird and seemingly counter theme, but a closer inspection reveals that this is merely how the Authority classifies the YOs and the world in general. You are meant to resist these narrow categories. At this point the various record sheets become a prop of sorts and lends the game a surreal texture.

It is also very easy to apply these labels to the games various concepts, which makes using and understanding things very easy. It’s very convenient.

THE COLD FACTS

As awesome and effective at the setting creation was, it took a lot of time to get things all squared away. This cut into play time significantly. I would advise a group looking to play this game in a few hours to really move along quickly, spending no more than an hour total sorting out the details. Less is more.

Because of this scenes were very short. We began looking for the conflict right away and driving towards that instead of enjoying the characters and letting the scene evolve more naturally. A true shame. I think fifteen to twenty minutes a scene, including the struggle would be ideal.

The struggles themselves are very specific ordeals. There is a certain procedure as to who says what when, and as you interact with the mechanics you have to leave a lot open ended. It feels very shaky at first, but it becomes sensible as you go through the motions. On the other hand, deviating from the process outlined in the text gets weird and unintelligible fast. Somebody at the table had better really understand how the struggles work or the first few scenes will feel out of place. As we played I felt like I wanted a ball we could throw around the table as different people needed to speak.

Aside from simply needing more time, the real difficulty was in selling out. In a game of Misspent Youth it is not so much a question of whether or not the YOs will win a struggle or emerge victorious at the end of the episode (the scene structure imposes a certain flow to the narrative), but whether or not they will have to sell their soul and sacrifice their convictions and ideals in the process. Sell out like this will win a struggle outright. In a one shot that means that the YO’s would never be actually risking losing a struggle. It takes the wind right out of the sails.

Instead of allowing the sell out to win the struggle, we decided to have selling out allow a re-roll of the dice in the struggle. This seemed to help, but still we didn’t get much of a chance to see this mod in action. I can’t really say if this was a good adaptation or not.

IT’S NOT OVER YET

Were it not for time constraints this would have been a very different experience. All I can say is that one-shots are not ideal for this game and that much of its design favors long term play. An extended multi session game would be a much more fulfilling experience.

That said I am chomping at the bit to play this one again. I like what I’ve seen so far and would like to see more.

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