Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Boardgame Trends: game length

Yeah, I'm starting another post set. This is partly in response to some statements made by both Jeffro and Bradford C. Walker in recent posts, that have misstatements about current boardgames. This is mostly due to lack of exposure to the breadth there is, being more focused on RPGs and old school style boardgames(nothing wrong with them, some are quite awesome). As my gaming for the last  decade+ has been primarily boardgame oriented(branching into miniature gaming in the last 3 years), I'm going to try to put forth a more complete view. Apologies in advance for the ranting/spreadshot nature of this post.

This one is from Mr. Walker's post on revealed preferences: time. He states that you rarely see popular boardgame and card games with playtimes of more than an hour. To an extent he's right, but that also depends on how one defines popular. I'm talking about respect within the hobby versus ranking and fixation of its fans. For ranking, I'm specifically referring to what is still a mostly definitive boardgame hobby site, BoardgameGeek. Yes, I know Jeffro likes to troll them occasionally; Netrunner was also completely unknown to him about a year ago though its first incarnation was used for hacking in the Cyberpunk RPG at one time.

If you go strictly by sales, Walker is absolutely right. But, most of the games that meet the criteria of sales popularity also wear thin or have some fatal flaws. Settlers of Catan, for instance, plays in something like that with 3-4, but I can't stand the game. The trade aspect in my experience only happens via exploitively beneficial numbers or metagame relationships.  The Living Card Games from Fantasy Flight Games(Android: Netrunner, Star Wars, A Game of Thrones, and more) have rabid fans and great gameplay, with games taking about an hour in tournament play. Netrunner alone draws hundreds at both GenCon and their own world's tournaments(I believe aobut 500 at world's). No, it's not Magic, but it isn't small.

Now, looking at what has been happening with releases, we see a different picture. What we end up seeing is that while there are more games at the smaller playtimes, many of the lasting games tend to be over an hour. Eight of BGG's top 10 games have playtimes of over an hour, with Through the Ages going up to 4 hours in its official listing. Power Grid plays in about 1.5-2 hours, and was in the 13 years later is just outside the top 20. 

What has developed instead is a bunch of time ranges. Love Letter exploded the 15 minute game a few years back. Most of the Euro games sit somewhere within the 45-60 minute ranges, which is indeed within Walker's statement. Then there are ones that sit at 60-90 minutes, 9-120, and then there are a slew of games that list play times by player count, as in 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes per player. A lot of those are variations of civilization or 4x games, whether or not they're of the mold that an Old School Gamer might consider 4x or civ. Pegasus Spiel obtained the rights to the Avalon Hill Civilization game, and spent years tweaking it before their small printings of MegaCivilization, which takes about 8 hours in my experience(BGG lists up to 6 hours). Is it hugely popular? No but they've had to do multiple printings of a game they sell for $250(current price at Funagain Games).

What Walker did get right one hundred percent is in his post is the advantage of scheduling boardgames vs. RPGs. It's absolutely part of why I move away from RPGs for the most part, and have only touched on them a couple times in the last 7 years. Life happens, and missing a player can kill a session for an RPG, where you just change your boardgame choices based on the players you have. If I've got 3 and plenty of time, I'm up for Star Trek Ascension. 7 players? I've got 7 Wonders, VivaJava: the Coffee Game, Scythe, and Flick 'Em Up! to name some very different games.

Next installment, I'm going to rant about complexity, in multiple forms.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

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