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My Crusade Against Clock Watchers


By Wallace E. Frie... - Posted on 12 November 2007

The following is a portion of a letter I wrote to Stephen and Dave following Episode 40 where they review Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition. At Stephen's urging I am posting it here in the Spiel Forums. I have added Stephen's comments at the end. I want to pontificate on game length commentary, so I apologize in advance. I don't think a game can be too long. A game may take more time to play than one desires to spend, but that doesn't make it too long in and of itself. Is a short story by John Steinbeck better than a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald because it takes less time to read? Perhaps you like THE RED PONY more than THE GREAT GATSBY as a matter of personal taste, but the length of the works shouldn't bear on their quality. Even if one likes short games better than long games I think one should abstain from using a game's length as a criteria for judgement unless that judgement is prequalified as simply one's personal preference. I like to think that investing time in a longer game is like investing time in a longer book. There is more time for detail in the characters and environment, more time for the exploration of its themes and more time to allow the plot to unfold naturally. I once saw the Readers' Digest Condensed Version of the Bible and wonder what it was like to be on the editorial committee for that one: "Okay, we are here today to edit out the superfluous words of God. For example, seven days of creation might not hold our readers' attention. Just highlight one or two and gloss over the rest." I always want to give a game's designer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a game's length. I want to believe the reason for a game's length is the designer's desire to explore some aspect of the game in more detail to make it the game the designer wants it to be. I guess all I am trying to say is I am on a personal crusade to try a stop my fellow gamers from using a game's length as a criteria for judging it as a good or bad game beyond one's personal preference towards playing short or long games. Okay. I am jumping off the soapbox now. Stephen's Reply "Game Length: All I can say is AMEN, brother! The two longer games we have covered on the show have ended up being less than stellar experiences for us, but I do not think we enter into any game thinking that length will be the reason we will like or dislike it. To me, you have to plot time and fun on the same graph. As long as the time you are playing remains fun, that's what really counts. If the fun tails off after 2 hours but the game takes 6 more to reach its end, then my problem is that the game isn't fun any more, not that it takes 6 more hours to play. Along these same lines, someone else on the forums just posted a Sommelier challenge asking about playing longer games in an episodic format. To me this is a great solution for people who might not have the time to play a longer form game in one sitting. We did Civilization and Diplomacy this way in college all the time. A bit of a tangent, I know, but I like to think of each game in narrative terms, too. With some games, the chapters take longer but the overall experience is enriched by the time it takes to play through them all. The story of each must be allowed to unfold on its own terms as you suggest. Epics and haikus can both fail to entertain or enlighten but one doesn't blame the form for those shortcomings."
Steerpike's picture
Claiming a game is too long can really mean one of two things: 1)The length of play is considered to be beyond the norms of acceptable time to sit down and enjoy some social interaction. Or 2)the game itself outlives its own fun factor. To judge a game on the first criteria is not a good idea. The latter interpretation, though, is perfectly valid. Personally, I find that Settlers of Catan is too long. I've normally squeezed all the fun out of it long before someone reaches 10vps (unless I am playing with good players who keep it moving). Whereas Shogun, for me, is a perfectly paced game and I am always amazed to find how late it is when the second Winter finally comes. I've never played Twighlight Imperium but I suspect that I would find it too long - but I would base this on the second criteria and not the first. ------------------------------------------------- We don't stop playing games when we get old...... We get old when we stop playing games

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