Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A helping hand

I have been getting a bunch of testing in on Camp Nightmare this past week while I am visiting my parents for Christmas.  There is a pretty varied set of people that have played with me from a few pretty serious gaming geeks to older relatives.  As you might expect the gamers found it straightforward to pick up but some people really struggled with the mechanics.  It is tricky because I have to be very careful not to try to please everyone.  The people that really want Go Fish and Pictionary aren't going to enjoy the same thing that the players of Agricola and Advanced European Theatre of Operations are.  Pick your target audience and make the best possible game for them, I say.

The trouble with testing the game by playing it with people is that I don't get to see what sorts of mistakes people make on their own.  This manifests itself in two ways:  First, rules explanations and basic understanding of mechanics is always smooth because any misinterpretations are squashed immediately.  I can also leave pieces of the rules explanation out until the appropriate time comes for them to be explained which lets people get a sense of how the game plays without being submerged under endless rules at the start, often rules clarifying mechanics they don't yet understand.  To figure out if my written rules are good and if text on cards in clear I have to step back and watch without playing.  This is hard because I love to play the game!

The second trick is that I don't get to see how people misinterpret situations and individual cards.  It can be very useful to know what sorts of strategies people will try and how those strategies will fail spectacularly.  The simplest example of this is the card called Telescope.

Any player may take a Stargazing Action in place of their normal Action.  Doing so costs them 6 Energy but gains 3 Fun.

Everyone who has drawn a Telescope seems hell bent on slapping it down and trying to use it even when doing so is a disaster.  The Telescope is powerful but situational - it is amazing at turning excess Energy into Fun but people often misunderstand how much Energy they need in order to have any to spare.  I have definitely used it to devastating effect but most of the time it is not the best card to play.  For new players though its appeal to efficacy ratio is way too high.

There is also the issue that players lead off with the idea that they should play a card every turn.  They drop down cards that improve Gather Wood actions and then nobody ever bothers to Gather Wood because they are so busy playing their own exciting cards.  Oftentimes they end up playing cards to zero effect because everyone is busy trying to be the hero instead of playing on the team.  This isn't a big issue long term because it rapidly becomes clear that you have to use your resources carefully instead of spending them like water but it is good to know how exactly this sort of thing happens.

One general thing that is completely clear is that new players who just read the rules and go for it will end up with absolutely miserable scores.  I expect a lot of starving to death in the wilderness while people figure out how to deal with all of the Disasters the game throws at them.  Good players will rapidly ratchet up their scores though and I think a group that learns the game together will have the great experience of slow but clear improvement as their mastery increases.  That is one really nice thing about coop games; rather than playing better against opponents that also improve you can actually see your numbers go up to mark your progress over time.

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