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Old 02-21-2024, 11:02 PM   #1
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Default February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

Read this article on the Illuminator.
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Old 02-22-2024, 02:47 AM   #2
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Default Re: February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

There are some games that would be great if they could be clamped to twenty minutes or half an hour, but sometimes you'll get a pathological game that lasts two or three times as long and leaves everyone just wanting it to end—and those players won't want to play again in case it happens again. For me one of those is Fluxx.

"Always leave 'em wanting more"—it's a truism in engine-building games, where you pivot from building your victory point generator to cranking out the actual victory points, that that the game should end soon after that pivot.
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Old 02-22-2024, 06:36 AM   #3
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Default Re: February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

This reminds me of Ian Banks' Player of Games. At one point, the protagonist is so engrossed in a game that he even forgets to go to the bathroom. Then, long before the final moves are completed, he realizes he won and the euphoria is almost physical.

I have definitely felt like that. Playing Ticket to Ride: Legends of the West, the entire family was just "We want the next game". We finished a massive session at 1 in the morning, then spent half an hour completing the scoring. And we were all sad it was over.

To me, a good game is one in which your brain is busy. You are analyzing, predicting, planning, and then executing. Every turn something interesting is going on and, before you know it, 3 hours have gone by.
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Old 02-22-2024, 02:20 PM   #4
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Default Re: February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

Einstein determined that game time is relative. The rate at which game time passes depends on the gamers you play with. ;-)
"Look into the eyes of the Munchkin and despair! I backstab you! I consign you to level one!" à la Excalibur.

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Old 02-22-2024, 02:49 PM   #5
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Default Re: February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

In general I think it's about interesting decisions. For example, on an engine builder 'I turn the crank on the engine one more time' is not an interesting decision, so of course you want the game to end or change shortly thereafter.
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Old 02-23-2024, 12:37 PM   #6
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Default Re: February 22, 2024: Time Is On My Side

Sometimes it's just the company, the atmosphere, and your mood; but there are some key things the game design can do IMO. Most of the following are about keeping players engaged:

1. Minimise waiting
If you are involved the whole time - either directly because there are no turns (e.g., Daybreak or Bananagrams), or because you have to watch what other players are doing closely (Falling) - there's less opportunity for your mind to wander to the clock. Very short turns can have a similar effect.

Cooperative games have a bit of a leg-up here: I've been creating a coop variant for Maple Valley, and after the first test my wife said she felt more engaged when it wasn't her turn because we were working to a common goal, despite me changing rules on the fly.

2. Balance decision-making
If there's very little to think about on your turn, you won't stay engaged. If decisions are so complex you end up in "analysis paralysis", the other players won't stay engaged! (This obviously relates to suggestion #1.)

The first situation doesn't usually come up in competitive hobby games, but an alpha player in a cooperative game like Pandemic can take the decision-making out of others' hands.

The second situation is much more common. A couple of things that help are (a) minimising the maths needed to compare options, and (b) allowing players to plan ahead during others' turns. We tweaked one rule for Merchant of Venus (and got some more dice) which means we can roll movement dice at the end of our turns and start planning; this speeds things up and keeps players occupied during "downtime".

3. Tell a story
If players feel there is progression rather than just repeated action, it can increase engagement too. This can be a literal story, as in most RPGs or mystery games like Consulting Detective and Chronicles of Crime, but it doesn't have to be. The combination of strong theme and developing abilities will also do the trick: to return to Merchant of Venus (which is my favourite boardgame), gameplay gradually changes from mainly exploration to mainly developing trade routes, and as your ship increases its capabilities what counts as a good trade also changes. That keeps it fresh.

4. Make the play time consistent
Life being what it is, if you don't know how long something will take, you often have to keep one eye on the clock - so part of your brain is outside the game. Fluxx has been mentioned; this also affects the endgame in Munchkin and other games where players can gang up to stop the leader getting over the finishing line.

A fixed (or maximum) number of rounds is a big help here. Similarly, if you can decide how long you play for, you can tailor the game to the time you have and just set an alarm for shortly before you need to stop. Campaign-based RPGs are pretty good at this, you just need to reach a satisfying pause point. And again, we tweaked scoring in Merchant of Venus so there is no finishing line: when the alarm goes, we just stop at the end of the current round. This has the added benefit of not having to tot up our wealth each round to see if we've won.

That's all I can think of for now!
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