Sam “King of the Hilltop”
When designing a board game, how long is too long? How short is too short? Should the time it takes to learn a game be considered when printing the game length on a box? Game length is a land of infinite variables and countless interactions. What should the game length be for your game? Here are a few things I have been looking into about game length. So, let’s dig into it.
One of the aspects of designing a game length, and it is a design choice, is to compare the set-up time with the total game time. You need to have a good ratio. Avoid situations and designs where it takes 20 minutes to set-up the game and the game is over in 30 minutes. That is not a good ratio. Note this is not necessarily true in the other direction. Having a game that takes 5 min. to set-up but lasts 3 hours could be very bad, but it could also be very good. This has a lot to do with efficiencies and different types of games or game states that can make set-up quicker. This would be a good topic for another time.
However, for me I like to look at a minimum of a 1:5 ratio. For every 1 minute of set-up, you get 5 minutes of gameplay bliss. 10 minute set-up, looking for at least a 50 min. game. If you can do better, power to you. Just make sure that game time is worth it. What do you think? Is this something you think about when designing your games?
Game Length vs Engagement
I am willing to play a lot of games but for me one of the major factors is the engagement of players over the length of the game. This engagement can be done by having to think about complex strategies and planning your next turn. It can also be done by having people looking for reactive plays and opportunities. In games, I tend to measure this by observing if people are on their phones or if they look bored. Now, for some, they will always be on their phone. There is no getting around that, but finding out that information can help you better judge if your game is engaging or not.
How does this relate to game length? It’s acceptable in short games to have a small amount of down time. However, in longer Euro style games, you had better try to avoid such situations. Having a lot of dead moments in a long style game will just kill player motivation.
Game Length For Board Game Markets
The type of game you create will have a set standard in the market. It’s part of what is expected. You can break those standards, and I encourage people to push the envelope, but know that the market may not accept very easily.
If I say Euro game, you immediately think 1 hour or more. If I say heavy Euro? 2 hours or more. If I say a party game? 15-30 minutes. These numbers will vary across the market but the general trend I would bet would be fairly close.
So, when designing a game, keep those game lengths in mind. People need a reason to break the norm and you will need to deliver in order to make that happen. If you are going for a more traditional design but maybe with some fresh elements, take the normal game length into account.
Variable vs Set Game Length
I am a fan of variable game lengths. I like that a game can end earlier or later depending on the strategies implemented by the players. This gives a lot of power to players but can make balancing a huge nightmare. Because there is such variable length, games can run too short or too long. People may have some less than ideal experiences depending on who they are playing with.
Set game length makes things predictable and allows you to better control the length and pacing in the game. It is way easier to balance but depending on your game, it can make the game cut too short or just drag on for too long.
These design decisions for variable or set length are really interesting and it’s a decision that only you can make as a designer. They have pros and cons based on what kind of game you want to create, what kind of feel you want. This is personally a really fun area to play with in design and it’s fairly easy to play around with.
What about you? What do you consider important about games when considering game length? How do you design around it?
Game Length, It Matters
Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
The length of games is as variable as there are games out there. This has never been more apparent to me than when attending cons, going through the game library, watching games being played in the free play area, schedule of events, and walking around the booths. Nothing is more apparent than the sheer diversity of game length and the time they take.
This is a good thing when deciding what to play. When you are with your fellow gamers having several games that fit into several different playtimes is always a benefit. As much as I would like to always have the time to play Terraforming Mars or even other heavier games this is sadly not the case. Time is sadly a limited resource for all of us
When designing a game, however, the length of your game matters and it matters a lot. A game that takes too long is not fun. The mechanics can be good and can be enjoyable but when you are not having fun, why are you playing? This has happened with me and movies. I have stood up and walked out of a movie due to just being bored and not entertained and yes, while I have paid for the movie and can’t get a refund, why would I continue to watch the movie when I can be doing something else that I enjoy? I do not advocate this approach in gaming or when gaming with others. It is important to not be that guy who is openly bored and disdainful about a game. No one wants to play with that guy. However, I have had moments in a gaming group where everyone agreed to move on due to the game being boring or the game taking too long. Sometimes this happens when everyone is tired, or a few rules are misunderstood or sometimes it’s just not the right game for right then and there.
As a game designer it is important know what you are trying to accomplish with your game. A heavier game will take longer. There are just too many things to think about quickly. A simple game that takes just as long as a heavier game, you end up being bored due to not having anything to think about, then you get distracted, others gets distracted, and then it is even longer. That is not good.
A designer’s job is to hit that sweet spot for their target audience. The game needs to be the right length for most of his audience and be slightly too long or slightly too quick for the players on the edges. You are never going to be able to make everyone happy, but nothing beats getting that bell curve just right where most of the players are more than satisfied with the experience.
When it comes to time you need to be able to pull a game out and say this will scratch my gaming itch and it only takes X. I personally divide my games into filler and main event. The games I call filler games are games that can be played several times in succession and do not require a long time to play. Games like Splendor, Centuries Spice Road, Pass the Pigs (Were not expecting that were you? Don’t judge, it hold sentimental value.), most roll and write games, and too many others to name. A main event game is something that is going to take over an hour, and I usually only play once a night and will not play again even if I had more time that night. These are all games that don’t fit into the filler categories.
When dividing these games into categories it doesn’t mean I enjoy one category less or more then the other but it allows me to have a gaming night and be able to narrow down the list of what can be played for the night and if we are waiting on 1 or 2 people you can play a filler game. Or if the gaming group has people with differing amounts of time, they can enjoy filler games that allow them to play and not feel left out. Also, when having a game night with just filler games, so many games can be played in a single night and sometimes that is just what is needed.
Morale of the story or the point of this whole rigamarole, as a game designer the point of your game is to have fun and game length is crucial to that. Just don’t ever ask me to play 6 player Catan.
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