Critical Play: “Yes &&”

A Critical Play of Inhuman Conditions

When it was first conceived, the Turing test was called “the imitation game”, and Tommy Maranges and Cory O’Brien have taken that idea and run with it. Except, in their game Inhuman Conditions (FTWinston’s online version “Robot Interrogation”)¬† the game is not imitation, but improvisation.

Topics the Investigator can interrogate a Suspect through.

The game plays out in a familiarly convoluted fashion: it’s a mafia-esque social deduction game. If you’re the kind of player who loves using logic and reasoning to read your friends, you’re this game’s audience!

But what sets the game apart is its dedication to roleplay. In “Inhuman Conditions”, you and a friend play as an Investigator and a Suspect, who’s either a human or secretly a robot. In each of the three rounds, Maranges and O’Brien have crafted setpieces (and a broad, but quite adaptable game world) to bring out your natural chemistry.

The details of the gameplay get complicated fast, but to summarize: the Investigator (and Human Suspect) wants to find the truth, and the Robot Suspect wants to fool the Investigator. The main element is the 5 minute Interrogation, where the Investigator riffs off of prompts for the Suspect to complete, from simple problem-solving to moral dilemmas.

Examples of Inspector prompts.

Effectively, the formal element of Procedure is passed on to the Inspector for this whole 5 minutes! Witty examples are offered for the Interrogation, but the game is much more entertaining when an Investigator can build from the last line of dialogue rather than using the canned prompts. The real fun comes in the Penalty that a robot must perform. This rule is what makes the game unique: a malfunctioning robot has to say “yes” to performing the penalty!

Example of a Violent Robot’s objective.

Even moreso than other social deduction games, how much fun you have with “Inhuman Conditions” depends on how much fun your friend is (which, like improv varies with each minute). It can sometimes be a drag to get answers out of a Suspect who’s having trouble inventing on the fly or an Investigator who won’t follow up on questions. Still, the game thrives off of those spontaneous, surprising, and deeply satisfying moments where an unexpected twist launches you into a natural narrative flow.

A description of a humorous game outcome.

To improve: play more with the status of the two players in the prompts and penalities. Some of the most delightful improvised moments came from how the Investigator and Suspect played with the power dynamic. And yet, the material provided is already rich enough to get two good friends laughing together. Inhuman Conditions, while a social deduction game, leans less into the deduction and more into the social. It’s really just a creative set of improv rules to invite you and your friend’s to play with your dynamic in a new and unexpected environment.

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