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Subject: What is the trouble with "downtime"? rss

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The Gnarlo
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In game descriptions and discussions, I often see the complaint of "too much downtime"... "This game is fun while I'm taking my turn, but I had to wait 8 whole minutes before it was my turn again!"... "How do I keep my players from playing on their phones, talking about tv, etc., and keep their attention on the game when it's not their turn?" etc.

Is there a reason people aren't interested in what other people are doing on their turn? I've heard Firefly for instance complained about as being too slow and too much downtime while other people took their turns. But I love it, I love the drama of watching what Nav cards people draw as they fly; are they gonna get Reavered or have a drive failure? They've got to draw 4 Misbehave cards, how are they gonna pull this off and get the big payday?

Even in a "multiplayer solitaire" game like, say, Caverna, I'm still interested in what the other players are doing; how are they building their cave or farms? Are they focusing on rubies; or are they bringing back good loot from adventuring?

Is it that the modern attention span is such that if Player One isn't pushing a token around or rolling the dice themselves, they just don't care what Player Two is doing? Am I just a member of a small subset that enjoys watching how other people play and what they do? I also love watching Let's Plays of video and boardgames that I'm interested in and find fun, and I have NOTHING BUT downtime in those games

Or is there some other reason for the constant complaint of downtime in games? I'm not talking about dealing with Analysis Paralysis here; I can totally see why watching someone take 5 minutes to make a move everyone else makes in 30sec while just staring at the board and going "hmmmm.... ummmm.... errr..." is a problem
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Sandy Wilson
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I'm with you. Watching games is fun too! Though my wife would disagree - I spend her go watching what she does, then have to think when it gets back to me. She keeps saying, "Why aren't you planning what to do when it's my turn?!" Apparently, "Because I'm watching what you're doing!" isn't a good enough answer...
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Steve C
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Downtime where there is meaningful interaction or strategic value in watching others? Not a bad thing.

Downtime in a brainburner where your mental capacity is fully consumed by plotting your next turn and the probably consequences of that decision? Not useful, as you won't be able to meaningfully process the actions/intentions of the other players.

Downtime in a multiplayer solitaire game? Not ideal, especially if you've already played the game a bunch and know what your strategy is and you've already identified that the player(s) still taking their turn cannot stop your next move.
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Downtime being used by people to start fiddling with their smartphones ?

(causing more downtime because they have to be reminded that it is their turn)

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You have a point in that if someone says "too much downtime" and leave it like that, it doesn't really inform the listener. This is why I like reviewers to relate their personal experience of a game and specifically concrete examples of how a "con" of the game detracted from the game.

I was playing Clank! In! Space! at last game night. Three of the four players watched each other's moves, cracked jokes, and interacted. None of us would complain of too much downtime. But the fourth guy took his turn, left the table to get a snack, came back and did his turn, left the table to go talk to someone, came back and did his turn then fiddled with his phone during other people's turn. Clearly, any amount of time not playing was too much downtime. He has done this on other games as well, So you can see this isn't necessarily the fault of the game even if deck-builders have the reputation of being the gaming equivalent of knitting circles.

There was a Geeklist of board-game euphemisms a while back. I should add "too much downtime" as a euphemism for, "I can't sit still for 30 seconds."

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Akado wrote:
Downtime where there is meaningful interaction or strategic value in watching others? Not a bad thing.

Downtime in a brainburner where your mental capacity is fully consumed by plotting your next turn and the probably consequences of that decision? Not useful, as you won't be able to meaningfully process the actions/intentions of the other players.

Downtime in a multiplayer solitaire game? Not ideal, especially if you've already played the game a bunch and know what your strategy is and you've already identified that the player(s) still taking their turn cannot stop your next move.


I will mirror what I am quoting here.

A game like Scythe is fantastic for watching other people, it just get maddening when you are playing with someone new. I don't mind teaching new people, it's just when I am playing with people that all know how to play, and you have that one new player.... the downtime can get a little maddening.

 
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Rich Shipley
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No problem with downtime here. Time for planning a few moves ahead is appreciated.
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There may be a few factors at play here.

I think some people simply don't care what others are doing if it doesn't directly affect themselves. And I believe most people have the attention span of a gnat.

Another complaint I hear/read about is length of play time. Most people in my gaming circle would say that two hours is the maximum length they would play. Some less. However, the last handful of gaming sessions were all past three hours, and not one person complained.

That said, I do have a friend that takes an eternity on his turns. But that's because he's always talking. Talking. Talking. And never about the game. So when it gets to his turn he hardly ever knows that it is his turn.
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    Everyone has had their internal clock wound tight as a drum by their digital devices that are constantly stimulating their senses. There's a whole science to it, and a guy I know that works on electronic slot machines has told me some pretty hair-raising things about how their interfaces work.

    We'd all do well to let our spring wind loose now and again, and cardboard games is a good place to do it. But it's hard to do when you are constantly stimulated by everything around you.

    I'll add that I think a lot of the complaints about downtime here are hyperbole. Things like "I literally sat for 45 minutes between each turn" are more or less complete BS, but you'll see it here. Saying it was excruciating to wait four minutes between turns isn't as sexy.

             S.

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Jonathan Challis
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TheGnarlo wrote:
In game descriptions and discussions, I often see the complaint of "too much downtime"... "This game is fun while I'm taking my turn, but I had to wait 8 whole minutes before it was my turn again!"...


Nothing at all. Whatever time it takes to take a turn, I'm going to want several times that to plan my next turn, which is what you should be doing.

Or the alternative answer - A generation with attention deficit, can't wait for that...
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Jeremy Gray
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I think downtime, in and of itself, is not an inherently bad thing. But I think that it opens to door to bad things such as boredom, losing train of thought/strategy, and impatience with those you might decide are taking too long with their turns. But the many potential downsides of downtime, in my opinion, can be mitigated by gaming with great people. Many of my favorite gaming moments are of the trash talk around the table. I love a fast-paced game, but those slower burning games give you time to breathe and banter. So, no, downtime isn't a bad thing to me. But, for people stuck in a boring game or with unfun people or short on time, downtime could be fairly aggravating.
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avdtweel wrote:
Downtime being used by people to start fiddling with their smartphones ?

(causing more downtime because they have to be reminded that it is their turn)



This. People are way too fidgety and distracted now. They have the attention span of a my hyper chihuahua. They can't focus, and they sure can't wait for anything.

The problem is with the people and the culture. Some boardgames may have the baseball problem, excellent designs that find themselves out of step with the times.

Worst recent example, my g/f and I played Azul with another couple last week. Both members of the other couple were on their phones between every turn, even tho the 'downtime' was much less than a minute between each turn.

And 'downtime' is a misnomer anyway. You use your time off the hotseat to plan, analyze, run mental calculations, plan a move so when your turn comes back around you're ready and don't create more 'downtime' by keeping anyone waiting!

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Sagrilarus wrote:

    Everyone has had their internal clock wound tight as a drum by their digital devices that are constantly stimulating their senses. There's a whole science to it, and a guy I know that works on electronic slot machines has told me some pretty hair-raising things about how their interfaces work.

    We'd all do well to let our spring wind loose now and again, and cardboard games is a good place to do it. But it's hard to do when you are constantly stimulated by everything around you.

    I'll add that I think a lot of the complaints about downtime here are hyperbole. Things like "I literally sat for 45 minutes between each turn" are more or less complete BS, but you'll see it here. Saying it was excruciating to wait four minutes between turns isn't as sexy.

             S.



As usual, well put.

I'm up for some hair-raising things. Would you share an example of slot-machine interface science? I've been to a casino exactly once in my life and it was like the Mos Eisley cantina to me.
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gragian wrote:
Many of my favorite gaming moments are of the trash talk around the table.


Came here to say this, where you can try to taunt or mislead your opponents (except for when after I do that, I get humbled by horrible dice rolls and losing terribly ... like a recent game of Frag Gold Edition: FTW).

Also I only do this with friends/family, it would be rude with strangers

Agree on the attention span. E.g. with dudes on a map game, there is PLENTY to think about off your turn and you want to watch what your opponents are doing to discern their strategy and/or give you time to devise a counter.
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So, it's all relevant to each of us, right? "Downtime" is neither positive nor negative for me, it happens because that's the way a game is designed and how people play it varies, a LOT!

I would suggest taking note of your gaming friends who are attentive to the game when it's not their turn and play games with them that you WANT that kind of attentiveness. Otherwise you'll have to just make do with other people's personalities and let them game the way they want to game, I mean, having "rules" about how one behaves or what they are 'allowed' or 'Not Allowed' to do is a slippery slope.

"Okay, no mouth breathing during game play!!!!"
surprise
 
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aesthetocyst wrote:

And 'downtime' is a misnomer anyway. You use your time off the hotseat to plan, analyze, run mental calculations, plan a move so when your turn comes back around your ready . . .


    . . . get a Coke, ask your buddy about how his job search is going, move laundry into the dryer, offer unsolicited advice to the guy whose turn it is . . . Downtime is the best part of gaming.

    At some point we're all going to realize that smart phones are a scam. We'll set them aside and go back to living our lives on our own terms, reaching for the phone when it suits us instead of the other way around.

             S.

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TheGnarlo wrote:
...

Is there a reason people aren't interested in what other people are doing on their turn?

...
Yes, some of them may not be gamers and/or patience.

When I game with my girlfriend, while she isn't a gamer, she has at least the patience of a saint and is willing to try almost anything. I can pull out just about anything and she is willing to give it a shot.
When her daughter is in the scenario, there has to be a certain something for her to try it. She was afraid of Agricola at first but when she tried it with the E deck she really liked it. Since they both felt it was too easy, I threw in the I deck instead and...something broke. Her daughter freaked out at all the options and got upset because she literally didn't know what to do or how to make things work.

They have both tried Netrunner and Ashes, Ashes got a better reception. There are still games like Kill Doctor Lucky, Ticket to Ride or Can't Stop which they both like.

now if my girlfriend's sister is added to the equation I know trying something new, it won't happen. She isn't a gamer, and if there is TOO much downtime, she's on her phone. So while I've played Las Vegas and Deception with the three of them, I know I'm asking for trouble if its something else like Troyes, Keyflower, or Alien Frontiers (which is an EASY game...but just looks scary...or so I've been told.)

Quote:
Is it that the modern attention span is such that if Player One isn't pushing a token around or rolling the dice themselves, they just don't care what Player Two is doing? Am I just a member of a small subset that enjoys watching how other people play and what they do? I also love watching Let's Plays of video and boardgames that I'm interested in and find fun, and I have NOTHING BUT downtime in those games

Or is there some other reason for the constant complaint of downtime in games? I'm not talking about dealing with Analysis Paralysis here; I can totally see why watching someone take 5 minutes to make a move everyone else makes in 30sec while just staring at the board and going "hmmmm.... ummmm.... errr..." is a problem
Again it depends on the players. in contrast to the group of three I've described above, when my girlfriend and I go to our local meetup, we have gamers there and they want to play whatever we bring. Even in that group there are some who are hardcore and will follow along, while there are others who like their gaming super light and I've been told by some individuals that they have tried gaming with a few others and...it didn't go very well.
 
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There is acceptable and unacceptable downtime.

Acceptable downtime:

Each player performs their actions on their turn and they are efficient with their time. If there are 4 players this could mean that you have nothing to do for a couple of minutes after you take your turn. I am OK with this. Even an occasional this is pivotal moment and I want to make sure that I am doing the right thing is fine.

Unacceptable Downtime:

1. Games that have action points or other mechanisms that elongate a player's turn that cannot be escaped. These are poor game designs and cripple those with even an inkling of AP. There are some classic games that have not aged that well when this was a thing.

2. Min-max players: these players have to reassess the game state after every players action and do little prep before it is their turn. Keep me far from these players. Just take your turn so we all can enjoy the gaming experience.

3. Distracted Players: this is a social thing (phones and the like). However, sometimes a game's mechanics or rules can exaggerate the occurrences. Most of the time though this is lack of commitment with the player. If you have to wake them up whenever it is their turn ... you have a problem.

To the OP:

No offense intended but Firefly is not my type of game as the in between activities are not that interesting and this is coming from someone who enjoys Xia (so I may be a little hypocritical as that one has been knocked for it as well). Is it the fiddliness or the card turning to see what happens ... I don't know but it really loses me.

Battlestar Galactica is the same thing for me. I don't get the interest is such a long drawn out affair. Both of these games define a game design flaw which facilitates players who are susceptible to distractions.
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killerjoe1962 wrote:


"Okay, no mouth breathing during game play!!!!"
surprise


"Must have bathed recently and wearing deodorant. Present yourself for armpit sniffing at the door!"
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Scottgun wrote:

Would you share an example of slot-machine interface science? I've been to a casino exactly once in my life and it was like the Mos Eisley cantina to me.


I don't blame you and can commiserate. I worked for 3yrs as a design consultant, mainly to casinos, in signage. Spent a lot of time in a lot of casinos, trying to enable people to find their way around. And I always found the gambling floors alien environments and still do!

Absolutely do read up on slot machine design. It's fascinating, creepy, depressing. The machines train and work the players. All the players do is choose to sit down (or not).

Slot machines perfected addictive gaming. Now, tech wants their tricks ...


Smartphone Addiction: The Slot Machine in Your Pocket
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Scottgun wrote:
Sagrilarus wrote:

    Everyone has had their internal clock wound tight as a drum by their digital devices that are constantly stimulating their senses. There's a whole science to it, and a guy I know that works on electronic slot machines has told me some pretty hair-raising things about how their interfaces work.

    We'd all do well to let our spring wind loose now and again, and cardboard games is a good place to do it. But it's hard to do when you are constantly stimulated by everything around you.

    I'll add that I think a lot of the complaints about downtime here are hyperbole. Things like "I literally sat for 45 minutes between each turn" are more or less complete BS, but you'll see it here. Saying it was excruciating to wait four minutes between turns isn't as sexy.

             S.



As usual, well put.

I'm up for some hair-raising things. Would you share an example of slot-machine interface science? I've been to a casino exactly once in my life and it was like the Mos Eisley cantina to me.


    Most modern slot machines look more like a video game than a set of spinning wheels. I'm looking at one of my kids' video games with they guy and he points to a little sparkle that appears on the screen, from the corner of a gold coin that is in the background.

    My buddy points to it and says, "That's an eye-grabber. That's not just a little flourish, it's there on purpose to keep your eyes from straying away from the screen. You'll never go more than six seconds without one. Every video game and slot machine has that kind of thing to keep you focused on the screen. That can make a difference of thousands of dollars a day per machine in a busy casino." That's a paraphrase, this was years ago. But that's the gist of it.

    Every time a screen tells you that "you're only 300 points away from your next level!" it's a psychological ploy to keep you on the game. Heck, even Waze has that pop up on your phone when you're driving, and you don't get Jack when you reach the next level. This isn't arbitrary stuff. There's a whole branch of psychology dedicated to the art.

    They use that kind of thing on BGG too. You get awards for being a Silver Level Image Uploader and the like.
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TheGnarlo wrote:
Is there a reason people aren't interested in what other people are doing on their turn?
Well... sometimes it's not that you're not interested in what the person is doing... it's that the person isn't doing anything at all. Other than sitting there and staring at the board.

And sometimes the game is a game where everything will change so much by the time that it gets back to you that there's little point following everyone's turn. You're going to have to re-evaluate everything once it gets back to you anyway, all the intermediate steps aren't really relevant.

TheGnarlo wrote:
Even in a "multiplayer solitaire" game like, say, Caverna, I'm still interested in what the other players are doing; how are they building their cave or farms? Are they focusing on rubies; or are they bringing back good loot from adventuring?
The thing is that I don't have to watch their turn to deduce all that information. When it gets back to me I can look at the board and see what has happened. So a 1 minute scan of the board is sufficient to give me all the information you just mentioned. If I'm forced to sit there for twenty minutes to half an hour before it gets back to me, then I'm going to be insanely bored. There's no way that the information I can scan in a minutes' time is going to entertain me when it's dribbled out over half an hour.

TheGnarlo wrote:
Is it that the modern attention span is such that if Player One isn't pushing a token around or rolling the dice themselves, they just don't care what Player Two is doing?
Imagine if I asked you about your day and instead of giving me the highlights, you answered by telling me every single detail... "And then I picked up the toothpaste tube and squeezed it. I like to squeeze it from the bottom so that I don't waste any toothpaste. I usually start brushing my teeth from the top row..." I don't need to follow that process step-by-step. A summary of "I brushed my teeth" is sufficient. But even then, that's not really important or interesting to me.

And neither is watching you convert resources from one type to another as you build something in a game. I don't need to pay attention to every step of the process. I only need to pay attention when you're done and see what you built and what resources you have left. The process, especially if you spend a lot of time debating what to build, how to build it, where to build it, etc. is just a lot of detail that's not interesting or relevant to me.

TheGnarlo wrote:
Am I just a member of a small subset that enjoys watching how other people play and what they do?
Maybe. Do you like watching golf? Including the time they spend going from one hole to another? Why?

I personally have never been interested in watching sports. I enjoyed playing soccer in school, but am bored silly watching it. The fun of a game is in the playing of it. Being a spectator doesn't interest me at all.

TheGnarlo wrote:
Or is there some other reason for the constant complaint of downtime in games?
At the local fair they have a giant inflatable slide (kind of a bouncy-house looking thing). There's a long queue and my kids wait in a ten minute line for their 30 seconds to slide down the giant slide. To me, it's like that. Watching other people slide for 10 minutes isn't fun. Sure, the 30 seconds you get to do it is fun, but is it really worth just sitting there bored for 10 minutes? Maybe you'd have fun watching the other kids slide for 10 minutes, but I wouldn't.
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Normally I don't mind some downtimes. There's almost always stuff to think about, answering rules queries or just enjoying a minute off thinking.
However, I was at a little con this week and the average game speed there is absolutley amazing.
I was in a 5h30 game of Gaia Project (still enjoyable, but it's game which should be easily playable in 2-3h tops). Another table had a Here I Stand game, which lasted 13,5h, all experienced players (6-8h is what I would expect, if I played this with my Virgin Queen group).
And the winner is a 4 player game of Star Wars Rebellion, which took 9h!!! to complete. 3 Beginners, but still. One player very experienced with the rules and explaining, so no need to check anything. They played a total of 7 turns. While most of them seemed to be enjoying themselves greatly, it would be absoluley horrible for me to part of a game this slow, as you would have an incredible amount of downtime, watching the enemy team coming to a decision where is absolutely no decision to make whatsoever!
 
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The trouble with downtime is that a disproportionate number of people, including gamers, think they're not playing when it isn't their turn.

Pete (doesn't have that particular misconception)
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aesthetocyst wrote:


Absolutely do read up on slot machine design. It's fascinating, creepy, depressing. The machines train and work the players. All the players do is choose to sit down (or not).

Slot machines perfected addictive gaming. Now, tech wants their tricks ...


Smartphone Addiction: The Slot Machine in Your Pocket


Good articles. The part about the B.F. Skinner "pigeon and pellet" experiment reminded me of The Twilight Zone episode "A Nice Place to Visit" where the crook always wins at the slot machine:

 
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