I’m definitely glad to have played I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, but I don’t have a ton of big things to say about it? We’ll see how this post turns out, maybe I’ll discover something by the end. (Update: the more I typed, the more impressed I was with the game.) It’s a narrative game, but not quite in any genre that I’m familiar enough to put a finger on it. You’re, well, a teenage exocolonist: on a ship that crash-landed on a planet, and you’re all trying to survive. And you’ve got choices as to how you help to survive, with twelve different skills that you can be working on; but it’s not doing that in a Role-Playing Game sense, where those numbers directly affect dice rolls or something. Instead, those skills give you occasional perks as you progress them and serve as a gate for various activities.

Your time in a single playthrough of the game is limited (you have one turn per month and the game ends when you turn twenty), so you won’t be able to max out all the different skills. And, even if you could, those are just numbers: what matters instead is seeing through the different narrative bits. Whom you’re friends with (and whom you date, but the game doesn’t give a particularly large weight to dating over other forms of friendship); which activities in the colony you spend your time on. All of those lead to chains of narrative events; so you want to replay the game, and the game supports that by putting in a time loop mechanism where you remember bits of information from previous lives, allowing you to bypass some of the gates.

And then there’s a card game mechanism. When you choose what activity to engage in each month, you don’t just get narrative and have stats go up: instead, you need to play cards to pass a score gate. Those cards come from a deck that you build; and, not infrequently, your actions will give you a new card in addition to stat boosts. So it’s a deckbuilder; reminiscent of Signs of the Sojourner in that aspect. But I enjoyed I Was a Teenage Exocolonist quite a bit more than Signs of the Sojourner, pretty much in every aspect: I liked the narrative more, I liked the card play and card collecting more, and I went through several (5, maybe?) lives in Exocolonist whereas I only went through Sojourner once.


Which raises the question of exactly what Exocolonist did to get me to replay it multiple times. At a base level, I liked the stories and the interactions; and I wanted to see more of them. And I think the game did a pretty good job of leaving me wanting more: in a single playthrough, you might make it all the way through a quarter of the job-related stories? So you’ve seen a noticeable fraction in that first playthrough, but there’s clearly quite a bit more to see, and exploring different jobs gives you a straightforward goal as to what you’ll do differently in your second playthrough compared to your first one.

The second playthrough isn’t completely different from the first playthrough, though: you’ll do some jobs in both of them (I ended up doing a significant chunk of the explorer jobs in every one of my playthroughs, in particular), but you’ll see enough new stuff to justify the choice of a second playthrough. And you’ll start seeing the effects of the memories of your previous life; and you’ll also start getting a better idea of what the possibilities out there are in future playthroughs.

Also, you’ll get a better sense of the game’s systems. One of its strengths, I think, is that there are relatively few hidden variables? So you can track not just your progress along the skill tracks, but your friendship level with other characters, the status of the colony, and even numbers that talk about the status of some of the NPCs’ goals. This information isn’t forced on you, but you’ll find that it’s there as you poke around the UI as you continue to play through the game.

That all helps you get a sense of possible subtler goals as you continue to loop through the game. And I was pleasantly surprised in other ways as I looped through the game: e.g. there was one character whom I had written off as being a jerk in my first playthrough, but when I decided to lean into being a friend with her in a later playthrough, I ended up rather liking her and her character arc. (There’s one character whom I couldn’t stand befriending enough to figure out if he turns out well; the game does send enough signals to make me think he probably never will turn out well, and I respect the game for that too!)

There are also affordances for helping you loop through the game more quickly (skipping dialogue you’ve seen, skipping the card play); alternatively, there’s also an option to make the card play harder if you like it but feel like it’s getting stale. I didn’t take advantage of either of those options, but I’m glad they both existed.

And there are multiple bigger goals that you can only start thinking about once you’ve looped through a few times. There was one that I succeeded at and was glad I did; there was another one that I didn’t quite manage in my final loop, but I decided it wasn’t quite important enough for me to want to loop through it again; but the game had guided me enough that I knew what to do there, at least. There was one goal that remained more mysterious; I eventually looked it up in a walkthrough, and I don’t know that I ever would have figured that one out on my own, I feel like the game could have made that one a little easier / better signposted? But that’s fine, it’s not a huge deal, I’m quite happy with what I did get out of my playthroughs.


So: a quietly well done game. Nice narrative (and I also enjoyed the social / political concerns behind the narrative), nice card play to give you something else to think about as you play. And, I think, an exceptionally well done looping design, to support exploring a range of the narrative branches. I never felt like the game was dragging; I played it for as long as I felt like playing it, I stopped when I didn’t feel like playing it any more, and the time I spent with it was rewarding.

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