One of the challenges of writing a story or creating a film is coming up with enough material – juts being productive enough to complete a story. A bigger challenge, however, is trimming down that story and making it shorter, because many scripts and stories are filled with a lot of extra lines that the writer is in love with, but the audience doesn’t really care about. One of the first things I learned in my film classes was to cut things out, to make it shorter, shorter, shorter.
So, while a 3-hour movie might be impressive if it has a truly worthy story to fill the time, usually it just means someone couldn’t check themselves and cut down on their own self-serving content. The Lord of the Rings
was really long, but it still had to cut out a lot of the content from it’s source material. King Kong was also really long… and it could have lost about an hour and a half of the film. Which would have distinctly improved it. Some films – I’m looking at you, Transformers 2 – are clearly just made for the flashy effects, and those should be even shorter, lacking that they are in a fulfilling storyline with real characters.
What does this have to do with gaming, though? Well, I’m glad you asked. See, like anything else, it is possible for a board game to be bloated. Whether it be unnecessary complications to the rules, extraneous content, or overwhelming length, some board games just miss the mark.
The top games usually become the top games because they get it right. Games are inherently involved, unlike many movies which can be experienced passively, so the really great ones tdo tend to rise to the top, while the bad ones (except, for some reason, Monopoly which has 1,000,000 fans on facebook) tend to get buried. Settlers is so popular because it nails its balance almost perfectly. Dominion is rising to the top with excellent pacing and variety, though occasionally certain cards are essentially useless in a particular game. Android, however, stretches a bit too long, leaving players a bit sleepy near the end (though I still enjoy the game), and a major beef I have with Cosmic Encounter is the rare but overpowered attack cards that infinitely unbalance a single conflict during the game, though those high cards seem to pop up so often it can skew the results of a game. Monopoly and Risk clearly last too long, extending sometimes hours after the first player is completely eliminated.
The trick with board games is there’s no hard and fast rule. Movies should be about 1.5-2hrs with rare exceptions, but with board games… depending on the game, an hour long game could be too long, and 3 hour game could be too short. It’s about balancing the time spent with the immersiveness of the game, and beyond that balancing the content and value with oversaturation.
As I work on Armyland, which involves a wide variety of unique cards, the first challenge was coming up with all the ideas for each card. The second challenge, which is sometimes even bigger, is narrowing the cards down. As I’ve been running through each cards’ stats and abilities, I’ve had to make sure there was a reason for each card – something that made it different from other cards. At the same time, I’ve pushed certain cards aside, cards that I liked a lot but which simply twisted the core rules too far. I’m aiming for a complex game, but you shouldn’t have to re-learn the rules for every single new card. It’s a tough challenge, but I think having this goal in mind will really help me iron out the core game and make it fun before throwing in all my really out-of-the-box ideas.
And that’s another great thing about board games: the ability to start with a core ruleset, and then build up the complexity with expansions to add variety.
But that I will discuss… in part II. Dundundun.
So, do you think movies are getting too long? Any board games you think are bloated? Any other thoughts?