I was reading a forum thread over on BoardGameGeek during my writing hiatus, which is something I do a lot of even when I am writing. While some of the forum threads are just entertaining reading to see who gets snarky with whom, this one actually made me stop and think for a moment. Then it made me decide to write about it.
The thread title was “The Trend that Shorter Game Time = Better Concerns Me,” which made me pause, partially because I don’t think that’s really a trend. Is it? I know that a number of gamers I have spoken to like shorter games because they have less time to play at any given time. But “better?” I hadn’t heard that. I don’t know anybody who actually believes that, though I admit my gaming circle is limited.
The thread goes on for an extremely long time (16 pages at last look) and basically degenerates into a battle of preferences, with the occasional person agreeing with the original poster that it’s a disturbing trend and some people disagreeing.
But it’s mostly about preference.
It did spark a thought, though. Is there a battle between short games and long games going on that I don’t know about? Is there a shortage of super-long monstrosities that people used to love, but now they can’t sell more than a few copies?
I don’t think so. There are certainly popular games out there that take longer than 90 minutes. Just look at Eclipse. That’s often said to be a shorter alternative to Twilight Imperium, but it’s still a good 4-6 hours long on a good day. That’s a very popular game. The first time I played Terra Mystica, it took a good 2.5 – 3 hours.
Personally, I think that playing board games is becoming a more popular hobby, bringing more people in, but a lot of these people have the same time constraints as many of us do and don’t have the time or energy to learn a long game. Say you have a pool of 100 people and 50 of them prefer longer games while 50 prefer shorter games. Then you add 50 more people to it and they all prefer shorter games too. What happens? The proportion of long-game players is going to go down. But it’s still going to be a good 50 people who prefer longer games.
I, for one, prefer shorter games unless I’m going to a game session that’s going to be an all-day thing. At conventions, I see people hauling out their 6-8 hour games, and I wonder about that. For me, the point of a convention is to broaden my experience, meeting new people and trying out new things. Tying myself down like that just doesn’t seem good to me.
To each their own, though.
There are, of course, the usual reasons for that short-game preference, and they are ones that people usually share: time crunches, only having a couple of free hours after work, maybe your gaming group meets in a public space so only has a limited time to play each week. I certainly have those problems.
But I think there is one additional reason that doesn’t often get talked about, at least for some people. I count myself among them.
The increasing urbanization of society makes it really hard to keep games set up when you can’t finish in one sitting.
I remember when I played wargames as a teenager and in college. Down in the basement of our family home, my brother and I had Third Reich set up and we played over the span of a couple of weeks. Other war games were similar. My college buddy lived in his dorm room alone, so we left Squad Leader set up on the second desk that was in his room. I would come down and play a few turns of the scenario before going back to do homework.
Now? I live in a fairly small condo downtown and there’s no way I’m going to leave a sprawling game set up for a week or two at a time. There’s just no room (and having an inquisitive cat doesn’t help either). All of the people I know are in similar circumstances. They live in small dwellings, or at least small enough that they don’t have a room set aside for gaming where they can just leave a game set up.
I used to love long games. I think I could again if I (or a friend) could leave them set up. But I can’t, so I don’t play them.
There are many other reasons for our game length preferences, some of which I share, but adding them here would just make this post too long.
So I invite you to share. Do you prefer long games or short ones? Why? What are your thoughts on game length?
And do you actually subscribe to the “short is better” philosophy, or is it just a preference for you?