What exactly is a filler? It’s a term that gets used a lot in gaming circles but what exactly does it mean? Where does filler end and filled begin?
Generally, speaking a filler seems to mean a game that both takes less time and less thought than other games. The name comes from the idea that the game is being used to fill time, perhaps while waiting for other players to arrive if you’ve gotten to the gaming table early or waiting for the waiter to get to your table with food.
Personally, I tend to set the time mark for a filler at a half hour, preferably less. I think of fifteen minutes as the real bench mark for a filler. I also think of it as a game where you can hold a conversation about something else entirely and still be able to play well.
However, I know that not everyone agrees with that. There are people out there who consider Settlers of Catan or Puerto Rico as fillers after all. I had one friend who’s response to my showing him Memoir 44 and explaining how you could play out a battle in about an hour was “Just an hour? So what’s the point?” Mind you, he’s now married and gone back to school so he might have an easier time seeing the point now
I think that the question of the filler is “Is time or depth the factor that defines the term for someone and what is more important?” I know that for me, time is a scarce commodity and brevity in a game is a virtue, particularly if there is depth of play but for some people, a shorter playing time is clearly a negative factor.
(And, in some cases, I can appreciate that. If you have taken the effort to carve out some time to plays games, you do want to make full use of that time.)
Somewhere in my head, there is a formula that is something like Decisions/Random Elements * Time for me to decide if I want to play a game and a legitimate filler for me needs to come out with a short playing time, particularly if luck is the biggest deciding factor. I guess what it really comes down to is “Did I feel like I just wasted my time?”
For instance, while Zombie Dice or We Didn’t Play Test This At All are games that are almost entirely determined by luck but they take less than five minutes so I don’t mind having them around. On the other hand, Munchkin is also very luck driven but can take over an hour, even if you’re trying to throw the game in someone else’s favor.
One of my ideals is a game that plays in a filler length of time but feels like it has enough real meat to it to make me feel like my decisions make a difference and that skillful play will win the day. High Society is a good example of just such a game. If it lasts more than fifteen minutes, you must have stopped to make a sandwich but the game is full of tight decisions and you need to keep track of everything that everyone else does.
I think it is in the gray areas where you really have to ask if a game is a filler or not. Is Dominion a filler? How about 7 Wonders? I have seen arguments that go both ways. I suppose the answer, which has to be a personal one, depends on whether or not you felt like you had to think.
Hopefully, if you took the time to play, filler or non-filler, you had fun.