Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Two Part Post, Part I: Bloated

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?


  1. Interesting. When you mentioned "bloated," King Kong was my first thought.

  2. An interesting thing in board gaming is that there is a wide range of game length that cater to different people. Some people love marathon length games such as Twilight Imperium, Arkham Horror, or Through the Ages and will add tons of expansions to lengthen the game even further. Others will have an hour limit and will quickly lose interest if a game lasts much over that. Most board gaming fans will land somewhere in the 1-3 hour range and so catering to that audience give a lot of flexibility in terms of game length and as you stated it's all about matching the length to the game so it doesn't over stay its welcome.

    I've played quite a few games that I felt were too long for what you got out of it. Sometimes games can just feel this way on a first time through because you're learning the rules and repeated plays will play much faster. I find that personally if I'm going to play a longer game I like to have a lot to show for it after the game is done. Maybe I constructed an empire of some sort or conquered a dungeon or explored a new galaxy. It's nice to be able to feel accomplished or defeated at the end of a game because you actually did something. I generally use this as a good gauge for whether I enjoyed a thematic game. Obviously abstract and theme-light games don't weigh much into this but they tend to be short anyways and can get away with it.

    As far as games being bloated, I think this can depend a lot on someone's personal tolerance for rules. Take a heavy wargame for example, this will appear to be incredibly bloated to most gamers but other hard-core players will love it. Obliviously there's a sweet spot to aim for when you're trying to please the majority of board gamers but all players have a different standard for how complicated they want their rules to be.

    I'm interested for part II, I personally love the idea of increasing complexity with expansions. This is a great way to allow gamers to pick and chose the level of complexity they want in their games.

  3. I had a professor in college, who no matter what, he always thought your art or story was too long. In the moment that criticism is difficult to swallow. "What do you mean to long?! It's my story, and its perfect!"

    In hindsight though, he was totally right. By deliberately looking at our work with that critical eye, he was trimming away the fat making the meal that was our work, much more presentable and attractive (even if the fat ends up being quite tasty...) Figuring out what makes your thing (film, painting, game, etc.) your distinct thing, helps put your development process in a context.


We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment to add your voice to the discussion