Critical Play– Robot Interrogation

The topic of my critical play was Inhuman Conditions – a game designed by Tommy Maranges and Cory O’Brien, that I have never played before until today. I played this game on a browser as I didn’t have it in its original card-game format. The game seems to be a mix of mystery and strategy, and thus I believe the target audience would be anyone who particularly enjoys either of those genres, and likes to act as a detective or likes to deceive a detective.

I will say, the game felt pretty hard to navigate, likely due to the lack of any graphical components or visual aid, which makes me feel as though the target audience would be around 13+ simply due to just how hard it is to get a working understanding of the game off of the resources provides alone. To be able to truly play the game correctly and navigate the rather cold, unwelcoming interface, one would likely need to have had some prior experience with similar games like Mafia or Werewolf. Being in the investigator role felt more-so like being Sherlock Holmes or really trying to interrogate the other person and solve a mystery, whereas being in the robot position felt more like being the werewolf role in a game of Werewolf. 


This is a photo showing the rather uninviting interface lacking any graphical components

Inhuman Conditions is a two-player game where each player can partake in one of three distinct roles each round. The first role is the interviewer, this role is trying to determine whether the other player is a robot or a human. The interviewer’s objective is to guess correctly before being killed by the robot. If the interviewer incorrectly guesses robot to a human suspect, both the human and the interviewer lose. The next role is that of the robot which is one of the two different positions a suspect can play as. The robot’s objective is to kill the interviewer before the interviewer is able to deduce that the suspect is a robot. The robot has constraints of particular actions they must first do before being able to kill the interviewer in order to give the interviewer an opportunity to interrogate the robot first. The last role is that of the human which is the other position a suspect can play as. The role of the human is to not get killed by the interviewer and have them correctly deduce that they are not a robot, while also abiding to a set of constraints given for their role. Within each gameplay, there are sub-rounds of questioning where the interviewer is able to ask the suspect different questions and the suspect must answer them within the constraints of their role, or act out a specified penalty for their role. These rounds continue until either the interviewer kills the robot and the interviewer wins, kills the human and both people lose, gets killed by the robot and the interviewer loses, or the human is correctly guessed and they both live.


Interesting Dynamics:

  • The idea of sub-roles within the larger suspect role significantly boosted replayability as the entire dynamic of the game seemed to constantly shift. I never knew if I should collaborate with my partner or try to outwit them and this constant mystery in itself was extremely chaotic in the best way. With these sub-roles you never know if you’re playing Player Versus Player or Cooperatively and this keeps the game fresh with each iteration.
  • The idea of penalties is an extremely interesting way to add constraints and felt like a mini-taboo game mixed in. A lot of the times the penalties themselves were really fun and I’d try to hit them just to see if I could sneakily get away with doing the penalty 🙂

This game seems like a much more intimate version of werewolf, where the stakes are much higher every round. With there only being two players, you don’t have the comfort of “bad votes” where you accidentally vote someone out you actually wanted to keep in your team, as if you accidentally dub someone a robot, you both lose the game, or if you’re not quick enough to dub someone a robot, you still lose. The game is definitely a lot more risky than werewolf for this reason, as it seems like every round is the make-it or break-it round, whereas with werewolf you are given trial runs. I think what differentiates this game significantly from other guessing games is the idea of sub-roles for the suspect which separates this game into a game within a game, where the first step is trying to figure out whether you want to approach it as a Player Vs Player Game or a Cooperative Game.

The user in this image is assigned a suspect role and has yet to find out whether they will play a human or a robot


Initially, the game was significantly confusing, though with time, it eventually became much more clear, and as a result a lot more fun. Though, I will admit the game’s fun element definitely came more from my partner’s energy. I feel as though the game is significantly dependent on the energy of the other person, that I found myself questioning whether it was the game mechanics themselves that were fun, or just the opportunity to talk to my friend. If I wasn’t playing this with my friend and just a complete stranger, I feel it would be much more awkward as there’s a lot of “awkward time” that could get silent if you don’t really know the person you’re playing with. Often, with games that are meant for strangers to play “awkward time” tends to be minimized and you’re usually in an action stage for most of the game, whereas this doesn’t feel like the case with this game. Rather, there is an elongated time to just talk which is fun, only if you are comfortable with the person you’re playing with. I would definitely not play this game with people I hardly knew as I’d want to avoid the potential awkwardness for when you’re out of things to talk about during the investigation round. The type of fun that seemed to really come out from this game was Schadenfreude, which, depending on the social setting you’re in, may not be the first impression you want to leave on someone, thus the full experience is best achieved with a friend-group, rather than a stranger.

The image highlights the loss screen when the interviewer fails to guess the robot option in time

Perhaps what is most noticeable about the shift this game takes from Werewolf or other social deduction games is the increased stakes. It feels like every round matters so much more as your risk of loss is much higher. Thus, this led me to moments of extraordinary failure as I tried to “outwit” my opponent by simply deeming them a robot immediately to take my chances and hopefully win the game. In doing so, I completely “broke” the game in that it essentially became a game of chance. My friend never had an opportunity to act out their role as I would always just take the 50-50 chance of immediately guessing robot… which they eventually caught on and started to just pick human and the game became a lot more predictable. 

As a result, I would likely modify the guessing system to make it so that the guess robot button just cannot be accessed until a certain amount of time passes so that the players are naturally able to be immersed in the game or conversation first before placing a guess. Furthermore, one of the biggest modifications I would make would be to the graphical interface of the game. It was almost impossible to be completely immersed in the game because it just looked so… ugly. There were essentially zero graphical components and sometimes the experience felt like I was forced to take an online quiz, rather than play a game. For me, graphics and visuals are make-or-break for games, especially if it’s an online game that cannot rely on physical eye-candy. I get distracted extremely easily, and not being able to be immersed visually was a huge drawback for the gameplay experience. Adding even simple graphical elements would do wonders for the immersion experience and greatly benefit gameplay.

Image highlighting the rather bare-bones graphical interface of the game which remained looking like this for the entirety of gameplay.

About the author

I just like cs & ethics lol

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