In Fact Sometimes That’s Not Right To Do

Please allow me to paint you a scene, dear reader. Indulge me in my hubris as I relate a little gaming anecdote and, in its embellishments and lengthy prose, attempt to put us all in a more receptive mindset to a topic that’s been on my mind. Do not fear, children of the internet age; for those of little attention I will post a succinct summary soon after, for those who proclaim “Too Long; Didn’t Read!”

You see, I don’t speak about my manner of employment much here. This is, after all, a place of gaming, and precious little of that happens where I work. Truth be told, not much of anything happens where I’m concerned nowadays. I’m not at liberty to speak to much of it, though most would find it tedious at best regardless. Suffice to say, I have a great deal of free time at my 9 to 5.

I am often amazed at how much media one can absorb online. But when one’s rifling through news sites, webcomics, board game blogs and podcasts has become too much, sometimes a person just wants to play a game. Thankfully the internet does
not disappoint. Still, it’s one thing to peruse written works online, quite another to watch videos, and yet another thing to actively play games in blatant disregard of your office’s internet usage policy. When I do game it must generally be either very quick, or very slow.

Josh and I will occasionally play a 2 player game online; most recently it was Seasons through Board Game Arena. There are lots of good reasons to play with friends of course, and one of them is you’re all much more likely to be forgiving about turn times. We would turn the clock off, and we completely understand if someone has to step away and actually do work instead of play. It happens to Josh more often than it does me.

The seasons are so magical, they pass at different times.  See what I did there?

The seasons are so magical, they pass at different times. See what I did there?

On one occasion I was unsure if I’d have time to play (or more accurately, if any walkers-by would notice my transgression of gaming at work), and when I finally committed to the time Josh had just started a game of Innovation on Isotropic (of which the newest expansion, Figures In The Sand, is now available). I decide to find another game, and settle on a 2-player Race For the Galaxy session with someone who doesn’t seem too hardcore.

See, Board Game Arena keeps a lot of stats on its games and players. Each game has an “average” play time, and players’ play times can be tracked. Paying members (which I am not) have access to this information, but anyone who creates a game can set criteria for those joining, and limit players to those with particular rankings, high player recommendations, or a certain number of games which would suggest they know how to play, and quickly. Lollygagging is frustrating when you’re gaming online, I get it. I have never played Race online, and I don’t want to upset anyone, which of course is an absurd thing to be concerned about. But I am, and I find a game I think will be forgiving, and we dive in.

Race has an average online play time of 8 minutes. Whenever you have a turn, BGA sends you a doorbell chime to alert you. The rapid pace and multiple steps in a game of Race means the site is constantly chiming at you, and of course the faster you play the more frantic it can get. It’s been a while since I’ve played, but I’m able to lock into a quick produce/consume strategy. Meanwhile my opponent is throwing out cheap developments and planets twice as fast as I am. I don’t want to disappoint my opponent, or get caught gaming at my desk, or do a stupid move, so in my mind a simple game becomes this grand mental effort of strategize, implement, hide browser, return and re-evaluate, repeat.

It’s over almost before I realize it. Final scores, Me-42, Opponent-39.

The adrenaline dropped out of my body and I sank into my chair. What the hell happened? Was that a game or a quickie? It felt like hate-sex in the break-room before a conference. I felt dirty, used, and even though I won the feeling of accomplishment was coupled with a sense of longing. This isn’t what a game is supposed to feel like.

TL;DR: I played an online game so super fast it made my head spin, and I’m not sure I liked it.

Often times the people I play games with have a sort of “fun optimization” mindset. A fun game of 2 hours is not as preferable as 2 fun games of 1 hour each, or one of those played twice. Or sometimes, 5 or 6 successive games of something that takes 20 minutes. I once played a game of Dominion with a couple of people who played a whole f***ing LOT of Dominion. Our games took around 15 minutes, and my heart was pounding rapidly by the end of them. To which they replied, “oh, yeah, that’s about our average time.” Seriously? I mean, I get it. I don’t like feeling like my time is wasted playing a game. Sitting and waiting for a turn to happen is boring. But being pressed to optimize your turn and act quickly, in the effort of finishing in some arbitrary time limit is just as annoying. Even knowing the game and very capably playing it in record time (I won the first of those Dominion games as well as that Race game mentioned above), there’s something unnerving about clocking through a game so fast. Isn’t there time to savor?

Game Time!

(By which we mean the time it takes to play a game)

Every game published has a little block of information it, similar to the nutrition label on your canned corn. It will tell you the number of players, the recommended age range, and the estimated time to play. Which is great, but honestly it’s not as informative as one would think. And honestly, do believe everything you read?

It’s half passed time a f***ing 8 was rolled!

Fudge Factors

Number of Players

The more people playing, the longer the game. For some games this is just an additive property. For example: a turn takes about a minute each per person. The game has a hard limit of 30 turns. With 3 people, that’s 1 ½ hours. For 4 it’s 2 hours, etc.

Sometimes it’s a geometric increase. When everyone can participate in a person’s turn, the more people you have the more time each person’s turn will take. Example: For a 2 player game involving trading, the two players can manage trades very quickly. With a third person, each turn a player could conceivably speak with both players to make the best trade. The more players, the more discussion required, the longer the game will be.

Type of players

Players take different amounts of time for their turns (in games where turn time isn’t defined). Some take longer to strategize, some play very swiftly. Experience with the game is a big factor here. We have our own rough mathematical functions based on the players. One or two new players = 1.5x max estimated time. All new players = 2-2.5x time. Each Analysis Paralysis player adds a portion of time to the game based on the depth of strategy.

It’s also worth discussing in this section the kind of person and the kind of people playing the game, which are different.

Persons vary. Some are talkative, some are quiet, some are fervently interested in the game, and some are happy to spend time with friends who happen to be playing games. Independent of the kind of gamer they are, people’s personalities make a difference in play and, consequentially, on game duration.

People, by which I more accurately mean group dynamics, also vary. I think that online play is very quick compared to live, not just because the rules and physical components are streamlined, but the interaction is much different. There is no real conversation, no discussing turns, no real interaction with the other players save for that which is explicitly codified in the game. When I play games with the MIT group it’s very quick; experienced players, intensely focused on the game. I’ve played for years with some of these guys, and I don’t know their jobs, families, or in some cases their last (or first) names. When I play with friends at someone’s home the game tends to be much more relaxed. Experience is usually a factor, but so are the jokes, hints, jibes and general table-talk that may or may not pertain to the game at hand. These aren’t bad things, they’re just an addition to the experience of gaming with friends.

Environment

If you’re at a gathering at a game shop or convention, you’re surrounded by an abundance of games you’ve never played and people you don’t know, all united by a single thing; your desire to play games. That’s the focus, that is the singularity of contact with these people, and as such it is the focus of attention. Little to no time is spent on distractions chit-chat and the like.

If you’re at your Best Man’s apartment, cracking beers and jokes, discussing the upcoming wedding, the game is not the only thing in your life at that point. It’s going to share its time with the other things in your lives.

If you’re at a friend’s birthday/gaming party, it’s somewhere in the middle. Catching up is nice, and you’re there to spend time with friends, but you’re also there to game.

Time-to-Fun

All if this is a clinical examination of the duration of time a game might take. But perhaps that is not the metric we should pore over.

I was talking about Monopoly to Ted and Rebecca once. They’re sharp people, and usually have good insight into a game’s inner workings and what makes it work or not. One of the issues brought up with Monopoly was something I hadn’t considered before, something they called the “time-to-fun ratio.” The idea being that while Monopoly may be fun (and most people contest that claim), the amount of fun is too low for the time it takes to finish a game. A game that was just as fun, but condensed into a much faster game would be better. Or a game that took as long, but was fun the whole way through, would definitely be preferable.

While a bit over-generalized, I like the idea of a quantifiable amount of fun. Like if fun had a unit of measurement, like energy. The Whimsimeter. The Joviule. Grins-per-inch. Of course this doesn’t take in to account the type of fun we’re having, suggesting that our fun should have a purity rating, or density. Perhaps a conversion factor of fiero to friendship. Maybe a series of bar graphs listing the different elements of fun in their varying amounts. It could be the GMO labeling movement of the boardgaming world. “Carcassonne Inns & Cathedrals! Now with more Meaningful Choices!” “Cards Against Humanity, with fortified Friendship.”

Quantifying fun is a serious business

The Point being…

Yes, of course, thanks commentary/header. The point being that the length of a game is significant, but it is not necessarily a measure of the quality of a game, or the amount of fun one has while playing it. Faster isn’t always better, and not all the fun is derived from the board and bits and rules. A game is more than the sum of its parts.

A game should be savored from time to time. Race For The Galaxy is an excellent example; it’s an 8 minute games of resource management that could easily be a half-hour sci-fi serial of how empires are built if we gave it that chance. Battlestar Galactica, The Resistance, and any other co-op/traitor game’s enjoyment lays in the time between turns, the accusations and calculations, the nebulous element that only human interaction can provide. I’m not saying every game has to be a drag-out affair, but once in a while it’s worth it to take a breath and savor the moments that comprise the game.