Thursday, June 11, 2015

That thing we all love to hate

Last night I went to a games night where I got to show off Camp Nightmare and ended up talking a lot about Heroes By Trade.  Pretty much I spent my evening defending and promoting the games I am pouring my time into to a new audience, and that was an enlightening experience.  The Camp Nightmare feedback was useful and fairly typical as it was divided into two types:  Firstly there were a couple card interactions that could be interpreted several ways based on the current wording and I can rewrite those to make them tighter.  Much of the rest of the feedback was of the second type though, which mostly amounts to wanting ways around the constraints the game imposes - essentially making the game easier.

Camp Nightmare isn't a brutally difficult game by any means - mostly people don't win but winning is quite possible, even for people on their first playthrough.  The goal isn't necessarily to achieve total victory but rather to do as well as possible.  People often see a way to do something powerful that the rules don't allow and ask for the rules to change to accommodate that.  For example, people usually end up drawing far too many cards and end up being grumpy that they have all these wonderful cards and they can't play them all.  Veteran gamers are actually by far the most likely to do this, for the record, so it isn't just people who have no clue when it comes to games.  I have received endless suggestions that all amount to the same thing - people want to just play all of their cards instead of picking and choosing the best ones.

Trouble is, not only would letting people play more cards require a redesign from the ground up, it wouldn't make the game more fun.  If players with 8 good cards could just play them all, even if there was a cost associated, they would do so.  No thought required, no sacrifices needed.  Just play everything!  kaboom!

But that is fun once.

The second time it is boring because you don't have to make a careful choice, plan ahead, or weigh your options.  You just do everything and win.  That isn't an interesting choice and it has little replay value.  The trick to the game is that you have to balance drawing cards to generate more possibilities with taking actions to generate more resources right away.  That sense that you just can't quite do everything you want to is frustrating in the moment but that feeling is what brings people back.  If Pandemic normally resolved by everyone handily curing every disease and the players declaring victory people would stop playing.  The reason people continue to play is that being in dire straits, desperately trying to eke out every tiny advantage from a perilous situation, is the part that is actually fun.  They might fuss about not being able to move quite far enough to get to the city that they really want to cure but if you gave them more actions the game wouldn't be more fun - it would be boring.

It is, I suspect, an offshoot of gamers' desire to optimize.  They want to push for every advantage, see every angle.  Those gamers constantly struggle against the constraints that games impose and curse the rules that prevent them from accomplishing their goals.  What is critical to recognize though is that such struggle is exactly what generates the flow, the enjoyment, and the eventual thrill of victory.

We want to do more stuff.  We want to go harder, faster, bigger, more.  That striving for more has to give that feeling of railing against an unyielding force in order for the greatest joy to be had at the end.

Like this guy, who is having a blast, according to me.

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