Brown-Bag Games


Especially now with a new baby in the house, most of my gaming takes place over my lunch hour at work. There’s a pool of around six of us to draw from where I work, and usually somewhere between three and six of us are interested over any given lunch hour when a game is proposed.

All of this lunchtime gaming has got me thinking about my favorite lunchtime games, as well as what I value in a lunchtime game. See my thoughts below!

Ideal Lunch Games

  • Goldilocks playtime. This is obvious. No one wants to work late to cram a game in over lunch, and no one wants to feel rushed. Some jobs are less flexible than others and require a strict playtime cap. Of course, if the game is too short it isn’t satisfying and you might as well be spending your lunchtime doing something else. For me, ideal playtime is around 45-55 minutes with rules explanation.
  • Simple rules. Lunch games should have rules that are easy to teach. Especially if you have a group that can vary largely from session to session, this is a must. Players should be able to jump in quickly.
  • Simultaneous play. This isn’t always essential, and I don’t mean that it always has to be everyone’s turn. But if a player is giving up his lunch hour to be there, I want him to feel like it’s time well spent. I want every player to have something to do on every other player’s turn.
  • Chaos factor. If I’m playing a game that lasts an hour and a half, I want to maintain, if not perfect control, at least enough control to feel like every decision is meaningful. If the game lasts the duration of a lunch hour, I’m okay with huge swings of fortune. In fact, I almost (almost) prefer my lunch games that way. Since players come and go and there might always be a “new guy,” I like a chaos element to make up for a player’s lack of experience. (Of all my ideals, this is probably the least essential, as you’ll see.)

My Favorite Lunch Games

  • Dominion. Dominion to me is the ideal lunchtime game. It easily fits into a lunch hour even with four players, the worst AP you can imagine, and the most choice-filled, curse-giving card set in the game. This game offers great decisions, is simple to teach, and best of all, has never fallen completely flat. Some might argue against trait #3 here (what do I do when Jimmy is taking his turn?), but I think there’s always something to do. Dominion is not multiplayer solitaire to me: every player’s purchase impacts what you should do on your turn. It’s important to watch and easy to get invested.
  • 7 Wonders. At first I wasn’t sure if I even liked 7 Wonders or if I was just happy to have a mostly satisfying game that accommodated seven players in 45 minutes. Thirty or so games later, I’m certain that 7 Wonders is a keeper. While I agree with the jury that this belongs in the Kennerspiel category (even though it’s…so…close), it’s still easy to teach and always fits within the lunch hour. And this one certainly has the simultaneous play going for it.
  • Ra. This auction game has a simple decision tree, so turns move fast, but the nature of the auction track means every decision is meaningful. Players must constantly reevaluate the relative value of the track for them and the other players. But as new tiles are drawn at random from a bag, players can never be too certain that what they need will come up for auction. Even with rules explanation, this always fits in the window.
  • Midgard. An area-control game similar to El Grande but with a card-drafting element a la 7 Wonders, Midgard always pleases over the lunch hour. There are enough decisions to keep players invested, there’s enough chaos to keep it light, and there’s enough carnage to make sure “multiplayer solitaire” is a term used nowhere in the vicinity.
  • Carcassonne. Carcassonne has lost a lot of its luster because of repeated plays, but it is still a fun lunchtime game. This is on the lighter side of lunch fare (though expansions can liven it up), but it’s easy to teach and easily plays over the lunch hour, even with inexperienced players.

Rising Stars in the Lunchtime World

  • Revolution. I’ve only gotten a chance to play this one time over the lunch hour, but I count it a success. Players understood what to do right away, and the simultaneous blind bidding made this one a blast. I like it quite a bit, from what I’ve played of it.
  • Caylus: Magna Carta. The descriptor “Caylus the card game” seems apt. Basically, this is Caylus that plays in around an hour (from what I’ve heard–I’ve not played Caylus). Again, I haven’t had much chance to try this one out, but I heartily enjoyed my one play (though we were all too kind [or inexperienced]to use the Provost much).
  • Through the Desert. I’ve not played this over lunch, but have played many games outside. This game gets better the more players are thrown into the mix. It’s simple, fast-moving, and very fun (though no chaos to speak of). Oh well: it plays so quickly that it doesn’t need it.

What about you? What are your favorite lunchtime games?

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. My lunchtime game group played Dominion A LOT. We also did a little 7 Wonders which was also great. We even tried doing some Race for the Galaxy, but that only worked during lunchtime once everyone had learned the game. Otherwise it took too long.

    My favorite though was when we occasionally did Magic: the Gathering draft tournaments over the course of a week or two depending on the number of players. Day one, we’d draft, then each day after that you’d square off round-robin-style against someone else (best two out of three games). At the end we’d then rare-draft from our pool of cards in order of how you placed in the tournament to add some actual weight to the outcome of the tourney.

  2. Carc…. boo. Anyway, now that my hatred for tile laying is behind us, I’d think some of these should make the list:

    For Sale – though this might have to be played a couple of times. It’s awesome
    Money – same
    Modern Art – this one’s a bit longer, so one game might fill lunch. Yes, I’ve been on an auction kick
    The Resistance – then you can play a second… and you’ll want to.
    BSG – ok, my office really, really liked lying to each other, so we wound up playing this over 2-3 lunch breaks.
    Summoner Wars – for when there’s only two of you
    Friday – for when you’re lonely
    PitchCar – this is actually our coffee break game

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