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Subject: Length of a game. rss

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Dave H
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As I ponder some game ideas, I think about the length of time it takes to play games. If it were a party game, I can see 15 minutes being a good amount, especially if there are many distractions. A battle re-enactment war game, I can understand it taking many hours.

So I ask you, when you are designing or creating a game, be it card, board or the others, do you take into consideration the time it will take to play? What is your limit on a sitting for one game? For me, I'd say max time spent on one game is four hours.

New and love it!
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David Meier
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Welcome to the BBG!

I read here somewhere that a great game to play if you have an entire Saturday to devote is Advanced Civilization. I couldn't agree with that more. It can take 6+ hours to play to its conclusion. With the right people that kind of time is easy to do.

I am not really into game design, or at least not yet, but the time a game takes is really secondary IMHO to the people that you play with. I am lucky enough to have a beautiful wife who is also a gamer. So we can sit for a 20 minute game or play Through the Ages or Roads and Boats and play a game for 3+ hours. Since you are a proclaimed newbie I wouldn't get too caught up in the length. Spend the energy finding those players where time just doesn't matter.

Good luck and welcome aboard.
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    To some extent I think you need to take the game-designer hat off of your head for a moment and replace it with the marketing-exec hat in order to make a solid decision on this question.

    I am a 43-year-old father of four, and in spite of enjoying games that take hours to play I simply do not have the opportunity to go after them. Because of this a large amount of my gaming is Euro in style, instead of the longer-running tactical games I played in my youth. Simply put, Euros appeal to someone in my demographic because they are in reach.

    If you have a theme in mind and the basic mechanics laid out, you may want to spend a moment to decide if it will be more appealing to old men like me or 15 year old boys. The result of that assessment may be the best way to determine what the length and depth parameters are for your project.

    Welcome to the Geek.

             Sag.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Umpire wrote:
Welcome to the BBG!

I read here somewhere that a great game to play if you have an entire Saturday to devote is Advanced Civilization. I couldn't agree with that more. It can take 6+ hours to play to its conclusion. With the right people that kind of time is easy to do.


We only play with at least 6 people. The *shortest* game we've ever played was about 8 hours. Last time we played was 12 hours (though it was at a gaming party that was fairly distracting). Anyway: it's really long.
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Twinge
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I think the most important thing here is to make the game length at least somewhat proportional to the depth. An extremely random, mindless game (say, LCR) should not average 4 hours, but for some heavy, deeper games (Die Macher) that time estimate is fine.

Beyond that, try to judge from playtesters - ask them if it felt like it took 'too long for what it is', for example. A lot of people don't like Killer Bunnies or Munchkin because they last a long time for how random they tend to be, though of course those games have their followings too. All depends on the demographic like Sag said.


Personally, I especially like the medium-depth medium-length games, like China or Hansa. Games with a good amount of strategy that run about an hour.
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John Barnard
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When I was in college and living in a dorm or with roommates, I was really attracted to epic-length gaming sessions. (Quite a number of times Saturday morning was greeted with the conclusion of a game of Talisman that had started late the prvious night.)

As I have grown older and the logistics of getting a decent group together for a long session have become more complicated, I am definitely more attracted to shorter duration games.

I still love the big, long, marathon games, but I find it hard to invest the money in one of these monsters, knowing I may only get a few chances to play it in the next year or so.
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ced1106 wrote:
Ameritrash (strategy):
* 6 hours: Pushing it.
* 4 hours: Maximum.
* 2 hours: Fine.

Casual games and party games:
* 2 hours: Pushing it.
* 1 hour: Maximum.
* 30 minutes: Perfect.

Eurogames:
* 4 hours: Pushing it.
* 2 hours: Maximum.
* 1 hour: Fine.


What Ced said, plus --

Abstracts
* 2 hours: maximum
* 1 hour: perfect
* 30 mins: fine

Card Games
* 1 hour: maximum
* 45 mins: fine
* 30 mins: perfect
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Russ Williams
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Twinge wrote:
I think the most important thing here is to make the game length at least somewhat proportional to the depth. An extremely random, mindless game (say, LCR) should not average 4 hours, but for some heavy, deeper games (Die Macher) that time estimate is fine.


I would half-agree with this:

I agree that a random mindless luck game should not be long.

But a deep strategic game can be long or short.

Hm, does that mean I half-agree or three-fourths-agree?

Ultimately of course there is not a "right" answer to how long a game "should" be.
 
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Tuomas Korppi
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My favorite games seem to be either cards or abstract two-player strategy, and in these genres the playing time seems to be quite easily adjustable. Two-player abstract strategy games can be played either fast or slow, depending on the thinking time the players take. For example, a game of go can be played in twenty minutes if the players play by intuition, or a game of go can take two days at the top-level professional tournaments. So, here the playing length is more an agreement between the players (or a decision of the tournament organizer) than a game design decision.

In cards, a deal is usually quite fast (less than ten minutes in trick taking games), and the length of the game depends on the number of deals played. So, the length is a game design question (up to how many points the players play, or how many deals the game lasts), but it is quite easily adjustable. In this case, adjusting the length has little effect on the nature of the game otherwise.

At the moment I am designing a partnership card game, and when I am trying to decide the length of the game I am not clocking minutes or hours, but rather trying to take care that the players get the feeling that the game is advancing all the time, and very few hands have so little effect on scoring that the game seems to stall. At the moment a game lasts about 1-6 deals (maybe 3-4 being the average). The recommended way to play is to play a rubber (the first partnership to win two games wins the match), and the different games are played with slightly different rules. So, maybe a rubber takes a bit less than a hour.

EDIT: In multiple deal type games, it is not so fatal if the game designer adjusts the length of the game inadequately, since fixing the problem with house rules is easy. For example, a game of mah jong "officially" lasts 16 deals, but I have mostly played 4-deal mah jong.
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Pete Belli
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Sagrilarus wrote:
    To some extent I think you need to take the game-designer hat off of your head for a moment and replace it with the marketing-exec hat in order to make a solid decision on this question.


Well said.

I try for a three hour maximum with my designs, even for a "deep" strategy game. Two hours is better.

Most folks just don't have the time to play a longer game, or the space to leave a game set up over a weekend.

Remember, you also have to allow for "learning time" even before the game is actually played. That can extend the length of a session by at least 15 minutes and possibly up to an hour for a meaty game.
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Nick Reed
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russ wrote:
Twinge wrote:
I think the most important thing here is to make the game length at least somewhat proportional to the depth. An extremely random, mindless game (say, LCR) should not average 4 hours, but for some heavy, deeper games (Die Macher) that time estimate is fine.


I would half-agree with this:

I agree that a random mindless luck game should not be long.

But a deep strategic game can be long or short.


I personally think these are very good points. A 5 hour game of Snakes and Ladders on a 200x200 board would bore even the most enthusiastic fanboy out of his mind, but conversely if you make a deep strategic game too short, then players don't get the time to explore its depths before it's over.

I think another point is player downtime. A 3 hour game with 2 players where there's a lot of player interaction / discussion / concurrent gameplay could be enjoyable and keep people interested - a 3 hour game with 6 players, where a player cannot do anything until their turn comes around and there's little player interaction would mean that each player has to sit around for 2.5 hours not doing anything, and people will probably get bored of such a game very quickly.
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Osiris Ra wrote:
ced1106 wrote:
Ameritrash (strategy):
* 6 hours: Pushing it.
* 4 hours: Maximum.
* 2 hours: Fine.

Casual games and party games:
* 2 hours: Pushing it.
* 1 hour: Maximum.
* 30 minutes: Perfect.

Eurogames:
* 4 hours: Pushing it.
* 2 hours: Maximum.
* 1 hour: Fine.


What Ced said, plus --

Abstracts
* 2 hours: maximum
* 1 hour: perfect
* 30 mins: fine

Card Games
* 1 hour: maximum
* 45 mins: fine
* 30 mins: perfect


This is a nice list of recommendations. I know it's subjective, but it's still a good starting point. Thanks.
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Russ Williams
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Punainen Nörtti wrote:
My favorite games seem to be either cards or abstract two-player strategy, and in these genres the playing time seems to be quite easily adjustable. Two-player abstract strategy games can be played either fast or slow, depending on the thinking time the players take.


This is true of any kind of game (well, except one with an explicit time limit, e.g. Space Dealer). I've played the same wargames, party games, bluffing games, Eurogames, etc with different people and had them take very different amounts of time. E.g. some groups play 1830 in 2 or 3 hours, some people take 6 or 8 hours. Analysis paralysis, social chitchat during play, etc can all affect game length.

When you talk about card games being adjustable, do you mean by changing the number of points needed to win (e.g. "shall we play Tichu to 1000 points or to 700 points?" or whatever?) I guess that can be done with any game that involves playing rounds and earning points till someone wins.
 
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It really depends who you're aiming at, and whether you're designing a game for it's own sake, or to be marketable. When I was younger, anything over an hour my family considered *really* long, but these games were mostly luck based, where it was much better if you were having a bad run of luck for it to be over quickly, so we could play something else.

When you get to the 4 hour plus mark, I think you're only ever going to be able to appeal to fairly hardcore gamers - families, parties, casual gamers etc. are rarely going to have the time nor more importantly the inclination to keep going with a game for that long. The corollary to that is that I feel that a game of 4+ hours really has to have a payoff worth the length that you simply couldn't get from a shorter game. Whether it's epic scope or scale, or a wealth of strategic and tactical choices, there has to be a reason for making it that long. And such attributes make for games not terribly accessible to the casual market.
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Bas van der Meer
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An important issue in relation to the actual playing time of a game is the story arc. (see: http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory1.shtml")

A short party game or a multi-deal card game can do almost or completely without a story arc, but a game that lasts longer than say 30 minutes should have some sort of story arc, and a game that takes 2+ hours should have a very good story arc. After 2 hours into a game you should not feel like you're doing the same thing every turn like you were doing during the first turns of the game.

18xx-games (mostly 4+ hour range games) have (IMO) an excellent story arc that justifies the playing time: during the game conditions are shifting all the time, buying a share of this company may be an excellent investment at one time, but may be the worst thing to during the next Stock Round.

Risk (IMHO) has an almost non-existing story arc. It does take a few hours to play, but every turn is the same with the same conditions all the time. In my opionion this does not justify the lenght of the game.

I love Arkham Horror (the 2005 FFG-edition) as a solo or 2p-game. It has a nice theme, it has some story arc, and takes mostly between 1-2 hours. However, I played it once as a 5 player game, and was very disappointed that it took about 4 hours. The story arc was stretched too much, so after 3-4 hours it became quite boring, unfortunately.

Getting a good story arc in a game is one of the most difficult things when designing a board game. It probably best not to overestimate your capability in this. Therefore, if you are not an experienced board game designer, try to limit the playing time of your first games, it will be appreciated by your playtesters.
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Dave H
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Thank you very much for taking it easy on me

I appreciate all of your feedback. I am no pro in this field. I just have a few game ideas that, in my head, seem pretty good and I don't know how long is too long. Seems like an hour is the best practice. As I imagine it, my game ideas probably won't last more then that.

The game that really got me into the gaming world after 11 years of being out of it was Heroscape. A game that can take 10 minutes to many hours and some of those hours can be boring as you and your opponent 'walk' across the board to meet and battle. There is stratagy in the game, don't get me wrong, but if a map is far too big, there is that 'boring begining' syndrome.

What I'm figuring is that the game itself will determine the total play time unless there are variables (ie. VP, army mass and so on).

Thanks again and glad to be here.
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Tuomas Korppi
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russ wrote:

When you talk about card games being adjustable, do you mean by changing the number of points needed to win (e.g. "shall we play Tichu to 1000 points or to 700 points?" or whatever?) I guess that can be done with any game that involves playing rounds and earning points till someone wins.


Yes, that can be done with any game that involves playing rounds and earning points, with the points being the only way the rounds interact. I simply think that card games are the stereotypical example of that.
 
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Christian Marcussen
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Quote:
So I ask you, when you are designing or creating a game, be it card, board or the others, do you take into consideration the time it will take to play?


Definately. However these concernes are present on a more subconsious level. Just like concerns like marketability, production price, and other stuff is in my head when designing.

Some people will say to just let go and design, however that does not work for me. If I did that I would end up with something which would never get produced, and most likely be a shitty game to everyone else but me .
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