This avatar stinks!
Mike Chapel recently lamented the shorter games that seems to get played more and the lack of patience by gamers to play longer games. Mike is always quite thoughtful in his posts and poses good questions.
I'll be the first to admit that I am one of the people who enjoy playing a lot of shorter games, though I also like longer and meatier games at times. Pretty much, I will try almost anything, though if it is over two hours I probably need to plan to play it.
Anyway, Mike said:
"I no longer have the patience for...". IN the mid-90's we had games like ASL, and Civilization, or Space Hulk, and each one had many factors that took time. Be it setup time, prep time, or length of play. These games had depth, character and feature.
I think that we sometimes look back on things from our past and forget the flaws. ASL was a complicated mess from the very beginning. It was developed from the mess that had become Squad Leader which had ever-changing rules with each expansion released. It was a mess to carry around, a mess to set up, and a mess to play with all kinds of situational rules which had to constantly be referred to and argued over the interpretation. You might be at the table for six hours but get in only one or two hours of playing time because of all the extraneous activities and rules references. Plus, like most war games, it is a two-player game.
Civilization had other issues. We often would set up to play a game and it wouldn’t get finished because the game would last so long, and this was with us budgeting five, or more hours to play it. Another issue I would have with Civilization or any of the older three-plus player games is you could often tell if you were out of a game less fairly early on, but would be subjected to playing it through until the bitter end. Or you could play a perfect game and lose to some nimrod because the dice rolled poorly.
Now, I don’t mind losing because of unlucky rolls, but when I have put four or five hours into a game, to lose to someone who played poorly but had amazing dice luck just sucks. Or worse, you could be playing a good game, but fall hopelessly out of contention early on because of a one in six or thirty-six die roll. You’re then stuck playing a bad position for hours.
What Euro games get right is that even if you manage to get into a position that is impossible, the game will be over soon and you can try again, or move on to another game. What many of them get wrong is the catch-up mechanisms are tacked on and just don’t fit in the game.
Another think the Euros get is you can play most of them in the 45 to 90 minute range. These take less planning to arrange than a three or four hour game. It's not easy getting people together for a couple of hours, much less four or more.
It's a term I hear more and more from people I've gamed with to people who's been on the scene for a long time. You didn't play a "session", you played it. It was the primary function of the gathering. I remember days where you didn't plan a game nite, but instead it was a 40K night. Then you would spend the next week plotting out army lists, powers, and terrain. All for one sitting.
Miniature gamers and board gamers are two different beasts. I stopped playing miniature games for a couple of reasons. The first being I just reached a point where I hate painting. I am good at it, but got to the point where I wasn’t willing to accept any imperfections in my figures.
The gaming reasons for stopping was the prep time for such short games. Games of Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and most games of the genre generally play in 60 to 90 minutes. I would spend an hour, or more creating a list. Then I would have to collect the figures I was going to take, pack them up, and transport them to the place I was playing. Then we would have to set up the table, unpack the figures, then deploy the figures before we played. When the battle was over, you have to rearrange the figures to pack them back up correctly so they fit in the transport system, then take them home, unpack them, then put them back in the home storage. You spent more time planning, packing, unpacking, repacking, etc., than you actually spend playing the darned game, and playing is the goal, right?
But we have become single serving hobbyists. Where the games now need to be consumable as fast as possible, and on to the next. But we've lost the emotion and thought of the whole experience.
I believe we see so many games come and go is because we're looking for those "keeper" games, the ones we can play over and over and enjoy. Sometimes we find what looks like it might fit the bill, like Puerto Rico, but then the flaws start to show. (PR being essentially solved is what killed it for me.) it's hard finding a game which strikes the right chord to be a keeper, and it's even harder than it used to be because there are so many more choices these days.
Emotion invoked by games is such a subjective thing. Sometimes a short, tactical game is full of emotion and a longer, meatier game isn’t.
I am losing to the MTV generation of board gaming. I mean, can you even think of a half way heavy game that Knizia has done in the last 5 years? Me neither. Games like 7 wonders rising up the ranks like a bat out of hell, then read the responses to a recent review of Earth Reborn with comments like "too much going on, too much setup. I haven't got the patience for..." I actually like 7 wonders, it's a fun and cute game. But it's an appetizer, the side salad, not the main course.]
Knizia was never a meaty designer. He designed a few meaty game, but I recall reading that he didn’t like amount of time it took to develop the heavier games. Out of his hundreds of designs, how many would you say are meaty? Maybe three?
Your appetizers and side salads are the games which bring in a lot more people into the hobby that used to only have endless versions of Monopoly and other mass-produced games to choose from. These are the games which keep the companies alive and thriving and because these people are now part of the hobby, the game designers will target them because they buy certain types of games and that means sales.
The problem with a lot of the longer games is many of them are just longer and not better. I feel more tension and involvement in a 30-minute game of Dominion than I do when I play Arkham Horror. Playing a few games of Dominion in a row lets me test the ideas I come up with for better play and work on adapting them over multiple plays.
A bad experience in a game which plays in 60 to 90 minutes is also easier to take than one which lasts three hours. I had a miserable time playing Dungeon Lords, but I was willing to stick it out because the end was near.
Am I a dying breed?
I hope so. I will go with an enjoyable short game over a convoluted mess like ASL any day.
I see a lot of complaints about "soulless Euro games" think something like Defenders of the Realm has soul. They are wrong. It took the perfectly wonderful design of Pandemic, which plays in about an hour, more than doubled the length and added a lot of dice in an over-produced package that doesn’t do much at all. In other words, it’s the Heidi Montag of the board game world.
A game like Hansa Teutonica plays fairly quickly, has depth of decisions, and the only luck in the game is which markers are available. Yet the "theme" crowd would prefer if a lot of mindless chaos be thrown in and the game last longer than it does.
Hermagor is an awesome game with multiple mechanisms that interact to create a rich gaming experience, and the longest game I’ve played of it was about two hours.
I believe you can still get people to play longer games, but you need to find something that everyone is willing to play to commit the time. But not everyone likes game with direct conflict. Some don’t like auctions. Others don’t like races or market manipulation.
Lucky for people like me, there are those small publishers like Serra Madre, and Martin Wallace that are still confident enough to pull together some meaty titles, even as the market is turning fast food all around us.
Even Martin Wallace games aren’t all long and ultra-meaty. Steel Driver is a good rail game which has the flawed scoring at the end. Tinners' Trail is a good game with a lot of detractors, and London is a great step-up from the Race for the Galaxy model, but it plays in 90 minutes.
We often forget the bad games we played in the 80s and 90s and remember some of the ones we enjoyed with rose-colored glasses. The games that were produced back then were for a tiny, tiny niche market. The market for those games is still that. I think Mike is in the minority of people who want the hobby to be something it just isn’t. War gamers have accepted their niche for years and don’t try to impose their wants on the other gamers. Many of them even venture into more social gaming and RPGs, but they still appreciate their games for what they are.
Like Mike said, there are people who produce meaty games and he can play them. It seems the real complaint is he wishes more people were like him and seems to think that there used to be more. Maybe there were, but I think it just appeared that way because there just weren't as many good board gaming alternatives as there are now.
So what don't I have the patience for?
=> People who insist on throwing in every expansion known to man at the same time. Arkham Horror with all the expansions? Really?
=> Games which have a lot of down time between turns.
=> Over-produced components which interfere with the game experience, such as the empty city markers which block site lines in the Railways of the World.
=> People who think games that take longer are better and deeper than shorter ones just because they are longer.
=> Stupid people. I have a hard time gaming at public locations because of the random people who show up, often because of some meet-up announcement who are just rude, stupid, loud, and/or smelly. (Yes, I am more than one of these myself!)