Dur-ration

I think the main takeaway from my recent gaming has to do with the concept of how long a game should be.

Thursday night, I played an HoR3 mod, and it was the normal amount of time.  … boring.

Friday night, I played Shadowfist and a game of Hanabi.  The latter was fine, though I could see it having more value the more varied your group.  For those that don’t know, has nothing to do with fireworks.  It’s a groupthink game, where you get to see everyone else’s hands and try to give information in prescribed ways for the group to score as highly as possible building up stacks of colored number cards.  The most interesting part is what information is conveyed by what you don’t choose to do.

But, Hanabi has nothing to do with today’s theme.  No, what was most notable was one of the Shadowfist games, where an oldtimer was lamenting how long the game took.  His comment was how games used to take 30 minutes and be better.  He hadn’t played V:TES but heard at least some good things about it, but I think my comment that tournament rounds were 2 hours and that games may time out wasn’t much of a sales pitch.

Anyway, 30 minutes for a multiplayer CCG is, to me, too short.  At first, I was thinking 1 hour was about the right length of time, but, then, I recalled that Babylon 5 felt long when it got close to tournament time limits, and tournament time limits tended to be 75 minutes.  So, I suppose I’d revise the theoretical optimal time to more like 45 minutes.  But, is that 45 minutes for a four-player CCG or 45 minutes for any multiplayer CCG?

And, is it really time that’s the issue or how much that happens in that time?

What’s wrong with a 30 minute, multiplayer game if fun stuff happens in that 30 minutes?  Maybe 15 more minutes is not any more fun.

For instance, the Wheel of Time CCG routinely took us 2 hours as a two-player CCG.  And, we were experts and we used lots of shortcuts!  I didn’t feel like the length was a problem when playtesting or playing casual games.  Tournaments, though, … 2 hours is harsh.  Demos of CCGs to folks should be more like 15 minutes, which is not likely to capture the nature of this game, though I’m the type who would rather play a game through then just see part of it, so for those people who make quick decisions on games, something far less than 2 hours would work.

Two hour games of V:TES don’t bother me.  What bothers me are games where little interesting happens.  We played that three-player Shadowfist game for something like 2.5 hours, with two other guys playing 5 duels in the same period.

One of the primary problems the Babylon 5 CCG had out of the original set was that the build up phase of the game was such a bore.  Players built up their infrastructure for five or more rounds, then, two rounds later, someone might win.  The starting agenda that either radically accelerated the opening or had more things going on sooner were a huge boon to the game.  Of course, various antiwin cards, especially We Are Not Impressed, prevented the “I play two real turns and win” scenarios in most cases.  Original Non-aligned faction rules and Conscription did allow for especially quick wins, but people adapted.

For me, in my limited Shadowfist experience, a quick win is often a not very interesting one.  But, that could be because I’m used to longer games, like V:TES.  I’m used to defensive play.  I’m used to a narrative being developed around multiplayer games that I don’t suppose I worry about in two-player games.

Are my expectations simply different?

Getting back to RPGs, Saturday, I ran my FSTH campaign for the first time in 3 months.  While there wasn’t much action at the beginning of the session, I thought it had less awkward pacing than other sessions.  It fit the window we planned well.  Okay, also boring.  Why do I keep coming back to RPGs?

Maybe I just find it notable that I gamed Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, Monday night, and Tuesday night within the last seven days, with four different games being the focus of events.

Sunday morning was Mechwarrior.  We needed to finish up a Battletech fight of lance against lance.  It ran way over planned time.  I always forget how long Battletech can take.  But, the GM had a good point – low firepower, maneuverable mechs make combat take much longer.  I have a Valkyrie, not because I think it’s a good mech – it’s a horribly designed light mech in that it’s just a medium mech scaled down to be worse in every way than what you would do with a 55 tonner – but because there are various 3025 mechs I’ve never seen in action, and I’m curious as to how they actually function, rather than how poorly they are designed.  We also had a Jenner on our side, which hits like a heavy (at shorter ranges) and defends like a light.  We also had a Griffin and a 3025 Black Knight.  Other side had a Trebuchet, Cicada, Assassin, Javelin.  In effect, while the middle two are technically mediums, they are really just lights that aren’t as pathetic as a lot of lights are – Cicada being a better Locust, Assassin being correctly engined but with insipid weapons.

With the higher movement rates, jump ability, and little in the way of firepower of many of the mechs, other than a headshot on the Javelin and the Jenner getting ripped up some, it took forever to down anything.  My Valkyrie never took internal damage.  The Cicada could have run away, we think, and only got stopped by leg damage.  The Assassin also got stopped by leg damage.

But, getting back to duration, did this take too long?  Maybe.  We don’t allot a lot of time for Mechwarrior.  If every Battletech resolution in the campaign is going to take 4+ hours, we are going to have a lot of problems finishing fights within a single session.  We could try to allot more time, but that means scheduling issues.

How long should Battletech take?  I think for a Mechwarrior campaign, we want to look at 2 hours or less.  If we were just playing Battletech scenarios, I would look to book 6 hours or so and try to get around two fights done in that time.  Does this mean that I have to give up my “precious” Valkyrie to play a mech with more firepower (slower, in the case of a Valkyrie, wouldn’t be needed)?  Heavy vs. heavy or adding in assaults will make for more slugfests where they just pound on each other for a couple of turns and somebody is in bad shape.  Even just having everyone be limited to 5/8/5 in MPs would keep maneuvering under much greater control.

Monday night was HoR3.  Okay, not notable, right?  Actually, Monday’s result was one of the drivers for my thinking about how long games should take.  We basically started on time.  We were done with the mod 3 hours later.  We had a break and some “technical time”, so we played for more like 2.5 hours.

If you are used to HoR in person, especially at major cons, you may be thinking “Well, I’ve played a mod in 1.5 hours, even 1 hour, we are often done in 3 hours or less.”  Others, more familiar with online play, will think about how online play tends to add considerable amounts of time.  But, it wasn’t so much the time as it was how suddenly over it felt.  I was strongly concerned that we blew it and missed something important, and I’m sure others felt that way, too, based upon our trying to continue to investigate after we solved the crime.  We did straightforward things which led to direct resolution of the plot.  After we were done, the GM said that we avoided a bunch of stuff written into the mod because we didn’t bother chatting with a bunch of NPCs but just did legwork.  That makes sense, I guess.  And, again, HoR mods are supposed to take less than 4 hours when played f2f to fit into major convention time slots, which means they could very well take more like 2 hours or less of quick play.

I just felt like I missed out on story development.  It wasn’t a bad experience – I got to role-play a bit and make such amusing rolls as my Honor 8 character rolling Stealth to avoid waking a samurai sleeping in his quarters!  But, it felt nearly hollow.  I never got to fly kites in the strong wind.  I never played my flute.  I barely interacted with the other PCs.  If we would have known how efficient we were being, we could have padded things out with such thematics, but since we didn’t realize we were on the right track, we stayed focused on our mission.

Given that online play of HoR, in my experience, often has lulls, breaks, distractions, or whatever, I think 2 hours of actually doing stuff is probably plenty for any single PC, with the actual amount of time spent by any set of PCs being more like 3 or 3.5 hours if I’m on stage for 2.  Take 3 hours of meaningful stuff going on and add in the breaks and technical issues with Skype, Ventrilo, IRC, or whatever, and you are looking at 4.5 or 5 hours being more like the standard window for playing an HoR mod.

Of course, quality is, again, a consideration as opposed to focusing only on quantity.  Many of my more fun HoR moments involved private conversations with another PC.  Those didn’t necessarily take that much time nor take time away from the group’s activities.

Finally, there was Tuesday night, where I was running our local L5R campaign.  It was all combat, well, with running towards and away from fights.  A tedious pursuit skirmish was followed quickly by a fight, which was followed by fleeing from another possible fight.  We started late, and we didn’t end unusually late, but because of the amount of time taken up with combat, especially 2 hours of trying to chase guys down who started far away, I don’t know how satisfying it was.  It wasn’t terribly L5Rish, for one thing, to be so combat oriented, especially without a solid reason for it being so combat oriented.

On a tangent, pursuit in L5R 4e (and seemingly other editions that were less tactical) is messed up.  You need the GM to allow for Athletics rolls or some such, otherwise, you know exactly how far everyone can move and there are no AoO rules.  Did people already know all of this?  Probably, it wasn’t news to me, being in some pursuit situations myself.  But, this session was a good example of not setting up tactical fights where much of the party is irrelevant for long stretches, even if it made sense to take advantage of the party’s weaknesses.

I would much rather use time effectively for fun stuff, given that our Tuesday night sessions only have around 4 hours in which to complete things.

So, it’s obvious to everyone that how long something takes depends upon the nature of the experience and expectations for the activity (game).  I just thought some actual examples would highlight different aspects of this.  Where I could see playing 2 hour Shadowfist games because I’ve played 2 hour V:TES games and 2 hour B5 games and think 2 hours is okay for a boardgame, maybe 1 hour is on the outside of how long that game should last (for four players).  A RPG session, all inclusive with eating and technical problems and looking stuff up and whatever, that runs 3 hours or less just seems crazy short.  On the other hand, that’s what we’ve booked for Mechwarrior, so we can’t be having a lot of 3+ hour Battletech fights to resolve mech combat.

Ultimately, want to have fun.  Fun isn’t so much tied to time as it is to quality.  But, to some extent, time factors in, especially when a game takes too long to resolve the activity.  For instance, I don’t see why a EuroBoardgame should take more than 2 hours, except when learning/teaching the game.  And, 2+ hour RPG combats usually meant things dragged a lot, unless it was some epic “us against the horde” survival scenario.

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One Response to Dur-ration

  1. twrightson77 says:

    You touched on it a little, but what about that buddy or opponent that seems to be such a sloth no matter what game you play, LOL.
    Great points, I’m dealing with similar questions for my game that averages about 20 mins per game as a one on one, but adds about 10mins for every person that joins for multiplayer mode. Thanks for the blog.

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