Monday, March 18, 2013

The REAL Misspent Youth Review

Well, that was something.

I just got done playing out a full campaign of Misspent Youth, which lasted 5 sessions. The game is made so you can walk yourselves through a story about a bunch of teens trying to tear down the horrible authority that's oppressing everyone. The game supports 2-5 players, plus someone who is playing The Authority (also known as the GM). You start the game by discussing what sort of things bullies do that piss everyone off. Deciding on this allows everyone to define what type of Authority they wish to fight, what it's methods are, what it's systems of control (y'know, what it uses to keep people in line) are, and finally what the Authority really wants in all this.

Players then make their characters from an assortment of lists, choosing three personality traits and then making up two. Each of these five traits sells out to a darker, edgier version that more resembles the authority that you decided to fight (Smart sells out to Pedantic: not only are you smart, but everyone's going to know you're smarter than them). These traits are used in the resolution system. But we'll get to that in a little bit.

Every session has 7 scenes. They are the same scenes no matter what, and may never be changed. The scenes guide you through the narrative of the game. This is a brilliant move, given that the there's really nothing else to guide the gameplay other than the conflict resolution system.

Speaking of which, the conflict resolution system is a blast! You play through a simplified version of craps, and use your character traits as the betting material instead of money. If you accidentally land on an Authority number while rolling your 2d6 you can either choose to lose the conflict or to sell out, which changes one of your young and idealistic character traits to a hardened and dark trait, more resembling the Authority you're fighting. The rest is narration and in-character moments. And it's this simplicity that makes it all work. You start the game as young and idealistic heroes, who slowly start to crack from the pressures of fighting a revolution, until one of you snaps and completely sells out. When this happens, the game is over.

The endgame can get downright chilling, as you realize that there is a definite winner and loser in this RPG, and that even if you win it's probably not a good thing. In our playthrough not a single player got a happy ending (all of them were really close to selling out), and most of them chose endings where they wasted away as they realized that what they had fought for was futile.Which, ironically enough, was fine with them. I mean, the game as played takes you in some pretty horrible directions, so the idea that these characters would get a happy ending is actually kind of repulsive.

I mean, the more I think about it, the more I realize that having a happy ending in a story like this would be very hard to pull off well. You've got a bunch of kids who slowly become more and more corrupted, making worse choices and becoming darker and darker, until they strongly resemble what they hated at the beginning.

So, what're the strong points of this game? It's rule light in the right way: the only thing that gets rules is the conflict resolution system, which gets played out only 7 times each session (once per act). So each time you pick up the dice it's a big deal. You have no idea how it's going to turn out, and if the players and the Authority set up their conditions right it can get downright intense. The game is short to run (we did it in 5 sessions), which in this day and age of long-winded RPGs (4th edition I'm looking at you!) is really nice. So it's short, awesome,to the point, and very much worth the investment.

The game isn't perfect, however. As I complained about before, I'm always kind of afraid of destroying the book by sheer accident, and in a house full of toddlers I can imagine this book lasting only as long as it takes for a parent to blink, yawn, or eat something. Speaking of children... yeah... don't let them see this book. It's got a TON of swearing, middle fingers, and such. While that's part of the appeal of the book (the book is awesomely designed, although I advise getting a print copy as opposed to digital), the appeal is specifically for an older audience. The last problem is with the conflict resolution system. While no system is truly random this one is as close as it can probably get. We had a number of conflicts that stemmed from tense roleplaying that fizzled because the dice resolved things in two throws, as opposed to the 8(!!!) throws we had in a few of the sessions. It's not a glaring problem by any means, but it can get in the way sometimes.

Altogether, Misspent Youth is a really fun game that's helped me get into more rules-lite fair. I definitely recommend it for anyone who's interested in a good narrative game and that won't mind the intentionally excessive nature of the book.