One of my current game projects revolves around a space station which is made from 80ish hex tiles. During the setup the complete station is put together by laying down tiles following a rules meant to help ensure the different tiles are spread out somewhat evenly. Depending on your familiarity with the tiles and rules I'm estimating the setup time could be as high as 20 minutes. One of my three main concerns with this game is that the setup time is too long. How long is too long for game setup?
Are those 20 minutes game time or true set up time? Are players making decisions about how the station is built?Assuming you really mean that it takes 20 minutes before anyone can start having fun, then the big question is: how long is the game play? A 20 minute set for a 4-6 hour game is okay (still not great IMHO). For a 1 to 2 hour game then, in my opinion, no.
That would be just straight setup time and not game time. Actual game time would be somewhere around an hour. I'll get a better idea of both setup time and game time (certainly not a marathon game) with more playtesting and so it may turn out setup time isn't as long as what I'm currently estimating. With that said I'm hoping that since the majority of setup is building the environment where the game is played out and everyone contributes to where tiles are placed that players will find it somewhat engaging.
Do you really need that level of variation? Couldn't you just combine the hexes in sets of seven or so, and dramatically reduce the set up time?
That certainly is an option and something I've thought about.
Like Kandrew said, you should combine the tiles.
Then, since your game is a space station, each set of tiles could be a certain room.
Consider that with just 10 tiles laid out in a line, you have 3.6 million combinations. Turn that line into a spiral (like laying out Settler pieces), and you still have 3.6 million combinations. If tile orientation is important, then multiply the number of combinations by about 60 million, for 200 trillion (technically 200 billion, but somewhere along the line people forgot about milliards, and the financial markets seem to have getten away with redefining everything from billion upwards. The point is that the number is 2 followed by 14 zeros).
With that amount of variation, you could argue that there's no need for player choice when laying out the board - just make sure that the tile layout captures the approximate balance you want from the board, and you should be fine. That way the actual gameplay can start MUCH quicker, which is generally a big plus for me.
Orientation of tiles is important with the first rule of placement being 'entryways have to touch other entryways' which reduces the number of available combinations somewhat but I see your point. I did a timed setup by myself and in it's current form it took me 20 minutes (pretty much on the dot) to place all of the station tiles. I'm guessing adding more people to this setup process will only add more time so back to the drawing board. I've already cut out some paper hex panels (a center hex with six more surrounding it) and have some ideas to adapt my current system with a more streamlined setup process.
If your players are complaining that the set-up is too long, then the set-up is too long. If the set-up is a meta-game, where what you do there guides what you do during the rest of the game, that's one thing. If you're just twiddling tiles and fiddling bits to achieve balance and equity instead of gettin' down to play the game, then you've hit the wall.
Can you make the setup a game? Lots of games has two or more distinct phases. Can the players take the role of contractors building the station in the first phase, earning a bit of VP in the process, and then take on the role of the inhabitants of the station in the second (longer) phase?
That was something I had considered but I don't think it would mesh well with the theme of a rescue team boarding a space station to stop a crisis. I am currently reworking the layout where instead of individual hexes there are hex panels that fit together in a variety of ways and tokens are placed on marked hexes for the terminals, teleporters, and lockdown areas. I have a pic posted with the title Labyrintheus Layout 2.0. I need to finish inking and coloring the panels as I've gotten sidetracked working on Yeti Mountain.
My comment is that some game setups involve strategic decisions by the players (as in the Risk setup) while others are purely mechanical (as in setting up the historical positions in many two-player wargames). The former can be much longer than the latter, because it's the first phase of the game, not merely preparation to start the game.
Maybe I'm impatient, but if it's longer than 15 minutes, I hate start a game up without playing a bunch of times.
Maybe you should just have an actual pre-set board that you can customize by laying the tiles on first? Then players who don't want to lay out a game for 20 minutes can just flop the board down?
A predefined configuration should set up much more quickly. Plan a few that are balanced and fun, and include those in the rule book. (If setup still takes 20 minutes even when looking at a map, then that's a problem!)
Players who want more variation can either use a random configuration or invent their own.
Battlemist, an old AH game, requires a similar amount of time for tile placement, what was neat though was that it became a mini game all to itself. Each player had one tile that was their "home" and that could be placed anytime and almost anywhere, with the limitations being how close it was to others "home" tile. Making timing of "home" tile placement critical and not so much luck based on what other land tiles you had in your had to place.
With a space station, and landing docks you could create a similar dynamic feel to building the map.