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Ways to reduce game length

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lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009

I am working toward the elusive "one hour wargame", and Euro/wargame crosses in general. My games tend to be longer than an hour, however (they are usually multiplayer), so I've made a list of techniques to reduce the length of a game. There is not much exposition here, but I thought you might be interested, and might think of additional methods:

Limit to two players

"Time" limit
Actual Time
Turns/hands (is a natural for some historical games)
Expenditure of something (such as a deck of cards)
Play to a certain number of points

Simultaneous action. (reduce the time it takes to do something)
Simultaneous plays (or nearly so)
Real-time (anyone acts anytime)
(The "norm" is turns)

Reduce the number of pieces the player must manipulate/keep track of/plan for
In some race games, each player has only one piece
In most card games players have few "pieces" (the cards)
Traditional games often have few pieces (12 each in checkers, max 5 in Tic-Tac-Toe)

Multiple victory conditions--if you can win more than one way, the victory may come more quickly

Avoid the need to write anything down or calculate anything

Avoid the need for any record-keeping outside of the pieces/board/cards themselves

Resolve any conflict quickly (no interminable dice rolling, for example)(no calculations required)

Limit the time spent managing resources (economy--way to acquire new pieces)--which may mean, have no economy

If a wargame, make the game tactical rather than strategic (longer) or grand strategic (longest)

Information: either make much of the information available so that players won't have to wonder/ponder what's going on, or make almost no information available so the player cannot profitably use information to make an analysis
In many card games, little information is available
The same can be said for many role-playing games

Many of these amount to "reduce what the player is able to do", for which I have a separate list in the works.

How to reduce "analysis paralysis? Even games with fairly simple rules (chess) can profitably be analyzed for long periods. I'm not sure what you can do about this, nor am I certain that you need to--"analysis paralysis" is practically a personality trait that tends to show up regardless of the game, unless it is dominated by chance.

Lew Pulsipher

Emphyrio's picture
Joined: 02/10/2010
Ways to reduce game length

The book Rules of Play discusses how feedback loops can affect game length. Positive feedback loops (the more you get ahead, the easier it is to get farther ahead) tend to shorten a game. Negative feedback loops (the more you get ahead, the harder it is to get farther ahead) tend to lengthen it. So to shorten a game, you can introduce positive feedback loops or reduce/eliminate negative feedback loops.

I don't think that a tactical wargame is necessarily shorter than a grand strategic one. I think the difference there depends more on the number of units and the complexity of the rules. A detailed tactical simulation with a lot of units could take longer than a fairly abstract grand strategy game with fewer units.

As usual, I think playtesting helps to expose aspects which make a game take longer, whether it's down time during other players' turns, fiddly rules, too many units, too many options, or whatever.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: Ways to reduce game length

An important aspect!

I do get the feeling that wargames more than eurogames have to take this into account. Eurogames are in this way better designed!

A solution could be to look at how eurogames are designed!

I do find it rather boring to sit and wait for other players to do there moves. In A&A in a 4player game you are actually playing at the most 1,5 hours the rest is waiting!

Im working on a eurotype of game myself and my problem is that the game will probably take 1,5 hours, maybe more!

Meaning that i do need to find a way that the game could be played in 1,5 hours!

I really dont understand why it so often is a problem in wargames when it comes to rules.

Rules are there to set the frames of the game they are not there to be discussed!

Its always so much talk about how to interpretet them not to mention all the exeptions!

OK, im not a wargamer but i do think that its up to the designer to adress this "problem" no matter what you are designing.

How to reduce "analysis paralysis? Even games with fairly simple rules (chess) can profitably be analyzed for long periods.

Simple rules yes, but name any other game where you have that many options!

Its not a question if the rules are simple or not.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: Ways to reduce game length

johant wrote:

OK, im not a wargamer but i do think that its up to the designer to adress this "problem" no matter what you are designing.

One thing to keep in mind -- "who is my audience"?

I'm not a hardcore wargamer, but I know several people who are. They don't mind very long turns. They are more concerned with accurately reproducing the interactions of the battle than with finishing within a set period of time. To many of them, complex rule sets that we would call "fiddly" are necessary to produce a rough approximation of the conflict.

So you have to ask yourself: "who is this game for?" and design the game appropriately.


Hedge-o-Matic's picture
Joined: 07/30/2008
Ways to reduce game length

Game length, like the length of most experiences, is all reletive. As Einstien once joked, "An hour with a pretty womam can seem like a minute, but a minute with your hand pressed to a hot stove can seem like an hour." ("That's relativity," he went on to say, but we're talking about game design here.)

A game that engages the players will always seem quick, no matter how long they are physically playing. This "slave to the clock" philosophy is fed by the short attention spans of most people nowadays, but it can also be a crutch for designers. If you want a quick game, make it fun. It'll live quick even if it takes hours to progress through to the end. To make a game brief, though, just take out absolutely everything that doesn't march the game forward toward a conclusion.

This might enclude setup time, pre-engagement buildup, manuvering, complexity during conflicts, and entended endgames. To eliminate all of this is the "Warhammer 40,000" approach to game design. Start the game when the forces are just about to start pulling triggers, and have the game last a couple of turns. You lose out in epic feel, and quite a bit in tactical depth, but it's sure quicker to play.

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