My final edits on Camp Nightmare have been sent off, ready to be turned into a thing. It took awhile because playing the game over the holidays revealed something to me that was bothersome - people found one particular mechanic very difficult to understand and remember.
The mechanic is an Action called Gear Up. When you Gear Up you spend 1 Energy, then play a card. When I first looked at it I thought it would be trivial but players really struggled with it. They tried to pay Energy for other Actions, they forgot to pay Energy for Gear Up, and they couldn't figure out what to do when a card gave them Energy. For example, you have to pay Energy to play Marshmallows, but once you play it you gain four Energy. If you have a bunch of Energy on hand then you basically net three Energy, but that was a constant source of confusion.
When I looked at it I really was surprised at how much of a problem it was. My hardcore gamer friends who are used to playing games that are easily ten times as complicated as Camp Nightmare had little difficulty but most other people, including gamers who I would describe more as social gamers, constantly struggled and got half of their turns wrong one way or another.
Fixing this issue is something I wrestled with a great deal. Part of me was willing to just write it off, to accept that some people would never be able to get my game. Any strategy game with a modicum of complexity has to make that cutoff at some point - there are players who can't deal with anything more difficult than War, after all, so *somebody* is finding the game too hard, no matter what the game is. However, I figured if there was a way to take the edge off of it, to somehow reduce the confusion, then I ought to do that.
The thing I ended up finding was that people were most confused by cards that gave Energy. The idea of paying Energy in, (which is important, because it means you have to have stockpiled an Energy from earlier) and then getting Energy back out was the most significant stumbling block.
I could have fixed all of this by just removing the requirement to pay Energy to play cards. However, that ruined some of the basic ideas in the game, which is that you actually need all of the basic resources in order to get along. You need Food to keep yourselves alive as time passes, you need Wood to start fires, and you need Energy to play cards. Take away the necessity to pay Energy for cards and suddenly not only do I have to completely redo the balance of the game, I also have to figure out what Energy is going to be good for.
I ended up concluding that removing the Energy requirement entirely would both significantly reduce the strategic depth of the game as well as making it feel ugly. Combine that with the need for a complete overhaul and the nuclear approach was a non starter.
My solution ended up being to simply alter the cards that give Energy to make things less tricky. Most of the cards that gave Energy no longer do so. The ones that do, which are few in number, do not require you to wonder if you have to pay for a card that gives you Energy afterwards. One of them sets everyone's Energy total to four. One of them lets you distribute Energy among other players. What they don't do is just give you an Energy or two as part of their effect, which reduces the confusion considerably - I hope, at any rate.
It puts me in a weird place. I look at other games I play like Le Havre or Agricola where the increase in difficulty is enormous and yet I am trying to strip out any possibility of misinterpreting my rules, which are drastically more simple and straightforward.
One part of my brain is yelling "If they can't figure this stuff out, then to hell with em'", but the other part yells back "But you are telling 90% of people to go to hell, that seems wrong!"
So I compromised. Hopefully it was the right compromise.