Thursday, May 21, 2015

Illusory choices

I am polishing up the final version of Camp Nightmare in preparation for artwork being built.  One of the things I am focusing on in this last push is getting rid of mechanics that add complexity but don't add significant strategic options.  For example, one of the main ways to do well in the game is to get out a Roasting Stick and roast Marshmallows.  The old version of the cards looked like this:

Requires a Fire

Gain 3 Food.

Roasting Stick

When you cook Marshmallows gain 2 extra Energy and 1 Fun.

It was totally possible to play Marshmallows without a Roasting Stick in play just for the 3 Food but doing so was almost universally terrible.  At best it was a way to recover from a disastrous situation and try to improve on a weak score and at worst it was just a trap for newbies who were unaware that Roasting Stick existed.  There was a choice there, but it was an illusory choice and I don't think that is worth maintaining.  The new cards look like this:

Requires a Fire and a Roasting Stick

Gain 4 Energy and 2 Fun.

Roasting Stick

Allows cooking of Marshmallows.

The new version makes sure that new players can figure out how the game works just by viewing either card in the combo.  It also simplifies the resolution of Marshmallows by having all of the gains written in one place on one card.  This does technically reduce the strategic options available to players because they are no longer allowed to cook Marshmallows without a stick, but the improvement in the experience for first time players is definitely worth it.

The other thing I have been doing is trimming out some of the extreme outliers in game variance.  There is a good chunk of luck in the game, which is fine, but I found that there was a single combination of cards that dominated the scoring.  If you set it up you blew the score out of the water, and no other combination came close.  The combo was the following 3 cards:

Cooking Grate

Players can cook Food for free at any time without using an Action.

Spice Jar

Cooking Food gives an extra Fun.

Battered Pot

Cooking Food gives +5 Energy.

Getting all three of these into play meant that players could just sit there drawing cards as fast as possible because every Food card was an absolute bonanza of resources.  A normal game consists of generating something like 150 resources and this combo could easily make 120 resources in just a couple of turns.  Big combos are fun but this one was so big that you could screw up the entire rest of the game and still do well just by dropping this one combo into play.

The new versions of the cards are re-themed to some extent and also reduce the blowout potential of the combination.  They are still good, and you really want to pair them, but they don't make the rest of the game feel irrelevant.

Cooking Grate

Each turn the active player can play one Food card for free without using an Action.


Cooking Food gives +5 Energy.  Cannot be combined with Drink Crystals.

Drink Crystals

Cooking Food gives an extra Fun.  Cannot be combined with Coffee.

The idea thematically is that you can only drink one thing alongside your Food.  Also the Cooking Grate is a little less insane in this version, though I think it is still a fantastic piece of Gear.  The insane case of these cards is much reduced, but it is still very much worthwhile to dig for them to try to get the Cooking Grate to combine with one of the other two cards.  I think there is actually more thought involved in this version because you have to consider when to play your gear and which ones to play instead of just windmill slamming them down all together and winning.

It is a good thing that I finally have a bit of a deadline to hit, otherwise I suspect I would just keep on slowly iterating on the game for years to come.  Now I am under pressure to actually get it done and that is getting the ideas flowing quickly and smoothly.

I always did work better under pressure.  Or perhaps I should say I really only worked well under pressure and just procrastinated otherwise...

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