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Microgames are a new buzzword in game design these days. From the recent popularity of Love Letter to The World's Smallest Sports Games series by microgame industry leader Rob Bartel, microgames are starting to arrive. And the roots of microgames go way back, with quite a few previous published games that could fit the definition. But what is a microgame? Obviously it is a game that is small. But how small? And what kind of small? What exactly defines a game as a microgame?

GOAL:

I am going to attempt to have "Microgame" created as a category on BoardGameGeek. Categories often refer to thematic setting. But like "Print & Play" and "Real-time", "Microgame" refers to a category of game that deserves to be recognized.

Once a definition is agreed on by a sufficient number, I'll post a geeklist for the purpose of collecting games that fit that criteria. BoardGameGeek won't consider adding new mechanics or categories without at least 30 associated games, so once that number is reached I'll submit the category for consideration.

DEFINITION:

I will propose an idea for a definition that will be open to discussion and modification. There are two main facets that I feel must be considered. One is component count and the other is physical size. Neither alone can form a proper definition. Here's a possible definition:

A microgame is any version of a game with 20 components or fewer inside a retail package with volume of 20 cubic inches or less.

20 under 20 in short.

EXAMPLES:

Martian Dice has only 13 components, but at 119 cubic inches it is nowhere near meeting the physical size requirements. It's not a microgame.

Meuterer is the poster boy for "Big Game, Small Package" as it easily meets the size requirements. However, with a whole deck of cards in that small package it doesn't come close to meeting the components requirement. It's not a microgame. Essentially any card game could be considered a microgame were it not for the component count requirement.

The new edition of Love Letter fails both criteria. However, the first English and Japanese editions qualify as microgames, as they have 16 components inside a package of just over 3 cubic inches (15 times smaller than the AEG edition!).

Rob Bartel's The World's Smallest Sports Games are great examples of microgames. They each contain only 9 cards and the retail version of each is only 2.34 cubic inches.

DISCUSSION:

What do you think? Are there games that meet the criteria that you think are not microgames? Are there games that don't meet the criteria that you think are microgames? Should it be 15 under 15? 25 under 25? Are we missing some important dimension? Is it fair to set the "retail package" definition? If not, surely it is at least acceptable to require that a game version's dimensions are recorded on BGG, as how else can we come to a consensus on the true size of the package? Where does this leave Print & Play games that meet the component requirement? Call them games that have microgame potential pending being published in a small enough package?

Leave your thoughts here.
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I would call a microgame a game that can (in effect) fit in your pocket.
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slatersteven wrote:
I would call a microgame a game that can (in effect) fit in your pocket.


Yes, a fantastic way to look at the the physical size requirements! A standard deck of cards fits in a pocket. Are all traditional card games microgames? I think not, hence the component count requirement. Another way to look at the component count requirement is the "footprint" of the game while it is being played.
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I wouldn't use retail packaging size as a criteria. That could lead to confusion with different editions and/or publishers. A game published in Germany could have very different packaging than the same game released by a different company in America.
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kvenosdel wrote:
I wouldn't use retail packaging size as a criteria. That could lead to confusion with different editions and/or publishers. A game published in Germany could have very different packaging than the same game released by a different company in America.


Yes, so the German version might be a microgame while the American one wouldn't be. Love Letter is a great example: nobody would claim the AEG version could fit into a pocket, while the first editions easily can.

But I understand how this could lead to confusion in some situations. One would like to be able to give an attribute to a game, not a game version. But I don't yet see a way around it.

If there is a better way to look at this, I'm all ears.
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kvenosdel wrote:
I wouldn't use retail packaging size as a criteria. That could lead to confusion with different editions and/or publishers. A game published in Germany could have very different packaging than the same game released by a different company in America.
If I were to buy a Microgame and it did not fit in my pocket I would want to know why they called it a micro game (rather then just a game). I cannot see how a game with 6 pieces (each of which is 2 foot high) could be considered a microgame.

Moreover if I see the Euro version (fits in a pocket) and saw that the US version (fits in a a rucksack), but costs three times as much) I would wonder why I am paying so much more? I might not pick up on the fact that it's not in fact a small game.
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My question is "what is the purpose of adding the category?" Is it to capture readily transportable games, simple games, a certain design aesthetic, or something else? Because if it is the first option, then it IS entirely dependent upon implementation, if it's the second it would probably disqualify a number of games I'd consider natural fits to the category (TSR's mini-games from the 80s and the old Metagaming products in Steve Jackson's pedigree, among other things). If it's the third, I suspect it's a lost cause.
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Old SJG products had tons of components but were in small packages.

It'd be hard not to call some Cheapass pocket games not micro games even though they have lots of cards. See Very Clever Pipe Game.

Lee
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"Microgame" makes me think of small-ish chit games, circa 1980, like Metagaming Microgames series or TSR Minigames. They tended to come in the same form factor.

Grouping games of smallish size is a neat idea, but it's a relatively soft criterion. Perhaps tags and/or geeklists would be better.

[edit: typo]
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I would agree that microgame is a series of wargames. They fit in a 4x7 ziplock bag.
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Dspitzle wrote:
My question is "what is the purpose of adding the category?" Is it to capture readily transportable games, simple games, a certain design aesthetic, or something else? Because if it is the first option, then it IS entirely dependent upon implementation, if it's the second it would probably disqualify a number of games I'd consider natural fits to the category (TSR's mini-games from the 80s and the old Metagaming products in Steve Jackson's pedigree, among other things). If it's the third, I suspect it's a lost cause.


It certainly has nothing to do with simplicity (the two proposed criteria don't relate to complexity in any way). Portability relates to one of the two criteria (physical size).

Rather, the two criteria in conjunction relate more to a design aesthetic. It is one that more and more designers are becoming interested in, and publishers as well. Hopefully it is not a lost cause to attempt to represent it.
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manchuwok wrote:
Dspitzle wrote:
My question is "what is the purpose of adding the category?" Is it to capture readily transportable games, simple games, a certain design aesthetic, or something else? Because if it is the first option, then it IS entirely dependent upon implementation, if it's the second it would probably disqualify a number of games I'd consider natural fits to the category (TSR's mini-games from the 80s and the old Metagaming products in Steve Jackson's pedigree, among other things). If it's the third, I suspect it's a lost cause.


It certainly has nothing to do with simplicity (the two proposed criteria don't relate to complexity in any way). Portability relates to one of the two criteria (physical size).

Rather, the two criteria in conjunction relate more to a design aesthetic. It is one that more and more designers are becoming interested in, and publishers as well. Hopefully it is not a lost cause to attempt to represent it.


How about this definition of Microgame:

Quote:
A a) designed game b) implemented in a roughly pocket-sized format c) with a full graphic design treatment.


The purposes of the three sections are as follows: a) excludes the whole world of traditional card games played with a standard playing card deck, b) captures the form factor that's at the center of the design, and c) eliminates weird-ass PNP versions of Twilight Imperium and so forth that achieve small size through, for lack of a better term, "lossy compression".

EDIT: I'm not sure that the phrasing on c) is ideal; I wouldn't want it to exclude a compact abstract for example. If abstracts SHOULD be excluded, we'll want to add some sort of reference to the presence of a theme.
 
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A definition of microgame that does not allow for Love Letter, most of the CheapAss Hip Pocket Games, and similar titles to qualify seems like it needs work.

Microgame (to me) implies a game that has a relatively small number of components and has been designed so that it takes up very little space, both while being played and while being stored.

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BeyondMonopoly wrote:
A definition of microgame that does not allow for Love Letter, most of the CheapAss Hip Pocket Games, and similar titles to qualify seems like it needs work.

Microgame (to me) implies a game that has a relatively small number of components and has been designed so that it takes up very little space, both while being played and while being stored.



Well, I guess that's the real question: do people want Microgame to include what might be termed pouch-sized games, or should it be limited to pocket-sized ones?
 
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BeyondMonopoly wrote:
Microgame (to me) implies a game that has a relatively small number of components and has been designed so that it takes up very little space, both while being played and while being stored.


Totally, those are the exact two criteria I've proposed. Package Size and Game Footprint. The first is easy to represent, and the second I'm using component count to approximate.

The challenge is trying to come up with firm lines in the sand. Whenever that happens, there will always be a game just on the other side.
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Dspitzle wrote:
How about this definition of Microgame:

Quote:
A a) designed game b) implemented in a roughly pocket-sized format c) with a full graphic design treatment.


The purposes of the three sections are as follows: a) excludes the whole world of traditional card games played with a standard playing card deck, b) captures the form factor that's at the center of the design, and c) eliminates weird-ass PNP versions of Twilight Imperium and so forth that achieve small size through, for lack of a better term, "lossy compression".

EDIT: I'm not sure that the phrasing on c) is ideal; I wouldn't want it to exclude a compact abstract for example. If abstracts SHOULD be excluded, we'll want to add some sort of reference to the presence of a theme.


What if I design a new game using a traditional deck of cards? Is that really any different than if I design a new game using 52 custom cards? I know it's an attempt to exclude traditional games. Component count does that, but is it simply too hard to choose a number?

I don't think an abstract game needs to be excluded for any reason. Requiring a game to have a retail version both will provide exact dimensions for the purpose of determining if it's pocket size, AND elminate the weird-ass games you mention.
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slatersteven wrote:
kvenosdel wrote:
I wouldn't use retail packaging size as a criteria. That could lead to confusion with different editions and/or publishers. A game published in Germany could have very different packaging than the same game released by a different company in America.
If I were to buy a Microgame and it did not fit in my pocket I would want to know why they called it a micro game (rather then just a game). I cannot see how a game with 6 pieces (each of which is 2 foot high) could be considered a microgame.

Moreover if I see the Euro version (fits in a pocket) and saw that the US version (fits in a a rucksack), but costs three times as much) I would wonder why I am paying so much more? I might not pick up on the fact that it's not in fact a small game.


Okay, but what if the components of both versions could easily fit in your pocket but one company used a bigger box on the shelf? I see no reason why one should be a microgame and one shouldn't since the packaging isn't actually part of the game. Making a requirement that the components could fit into a certain space is fine, but saying the retail packaging needs to be that size seems silly to me and doesn't really change anything about the game.
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Regarding one "version" of a game being a microgame while another is not, consider Ogre. The early edition was 3 cubic inches. That's tiny. The new verion weighs 15 pounds.
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kvenosdel wrote:
Okay, but what if the components of both versions could easily fit in your pocket but one company used a bigger box on the shelf? I see no reason why one should be a microgame and one shouldn't since the packaging isn't actually part of the game. Making a requirement that the components could fit into a certain space is fine, but saying the retail packaging needs to be that size seems silly to me and doesn't really change anything about the game.


A agree, it doesn't change anything about the game. You're using almost the exact words I did when debating this with some other designers. However, the only alternative is to call something potentially very big a microgame. And that is even stranger.

Physical size must be a part of the dimension. The physical dimensions of the product is one way to measure that. Is there another?
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Because the idea of a microgame has arisen from the recent publication of small card games, why not have microgames as a subset of card games.

Card games that have less than x number of cards.
That are a single developed game (this would exclude playing cards)

My 2 cents
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Clive65 wrote:
Because the idea of a microgame has arisen from the recent publication of small card games, why not have microgames as a subset of card games.

Card games that have less than x number of cards.
That are a single developed game (this would exclude playing cards)

My 2 cents


Yes, there have been a few definitions like that. I have always wondered why cards make something any more a microgame than a game with tiles, or one that includes a few dice.
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manchuwok wrote:
Clive65 wrote:
Because the idea of a microgame has arisen from the recent publication of small card games, why not have microgames as a subset of card games.

Card games that have less than x number of cards.
That are a single developed game (this would exclude playing cards)

My 2 cents


Yes, there have been a few definitions like that. I have always wondered why cards make something any more a microgame than a game with tiles, or one that includes a few dice.


Then, as you say, the footprint is important...and I think more the packaging footprint than the game play footprint.

Making a game with x number of tiles would be a challenge.
Is tic-tac-toe a microgame?
 
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Great thread. I believe that openly defining the term now is important in order to avoid the the term being as vague and broad as "worker placement". I think your proposed definition is quite logical and captures the essence of how the word has been used to date.
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great idea.

but would these 3 fall into the mircogame area?

examples

- maybe could be a dice like "zombie dice" only has 13 dice and with the expansion adding one 3 more dice.

- "Hive pocket" has about 26 tiles.

- "mr jack pocket" (cannot remember the total number but it is more than 20)

-hann
 
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As someone already pointed out, the term microgame has been around for a very long time (over 35 years), and for a lot of people (myself included) instantly evokes the line of Microgames from Metagaming, which included but was not limited to their 25 MicroGames, their 5 MicroHistory games, and also their 8 MicroQuests that were created for Melee and Wizard (two of the early Microgames).

SPI had a series of Space Capsule and Fantasy Capsule games that followed the same idea, as did DwarfStar Games, Task Force Games, TSR and I'm sure a host of others.

After MetaGaming folded, Steve Jackson's early product lines came in small pocket boxes - I still have my original Illuminati set in those.

In the more recent past, Cheapass Games and Victory Point Games both make games in the spirit of those original microgames, in size, format, and function.

What those games all had in common, for me, was:
- low price. The original Microgames were all in the $3-5 range
- short playing time. The intent behind those games was to get you playing quickly. The quality varied wildly from great to crap, but you could get most of these games played in under an hour
- small footprint. The maps tended to not be larger than a legal size sheet of paper and often were no larger than 8.5"x11", and the entire thing could fit in your pocket.

Further to all this, there's a current publisher, Microgame Design Group, and a quick skim of their product line shows that they all break the arbitrary proposed definition.

You may well have a specific reason for creating your desired game category, but I'm afraid you'll have to find a different term for it, because the term microgame isn't going to work for your purposes.
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