Front Page

Content

Authors

Game Index

Forums

Site Tools

Submissions

About

You May Also Like...

O
oliverkinne
June 08, 2021
O
oliverkinne
June 01, 2021
O
oliverkinne
May 25, 2021

Epic Losses

Essays
O
oliverkinne
May 10, 2021
O
oliverkinne
April 27, 2021
O
oliverkinne
April 13, 2021
O
oliverkinne
March 30, 2021
O
oliverkinne
March 23, 2021
T
thegiantbrain
March 18, 2021

Cancelled

Essays
O
oliverkinne
March 16, 2021

Let's Escape

Essays
O
oliverkinne
March 09, 2021
O
oliverkinne
March 02, 2021
O
oliverkinne
February 23, 2021
  • Essays
  • Quality Over Quantity - Short Games

Quality Over Quantity - Short Games

O Updated
(Photo by Nika Benedictova on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

Games that take less than 30 minutes to play are usually seen as lighter, because they are often less complex than games with a longer playing time. Sometimes these quick, short games are seen as "lesser" in some way or not as "important" as longer and more complex games. Often they are dismissed as party games that no "serious gamer" wants to associate themselves with. In this article, I want to look at short games a bit more closely and compare them in more detail with longer games.

Let me start by saying that I love short games as much as I love longer games. I enjoy lighter games as much as more complex games. At the end of the day, for me it depends who I'm playing with and what mood we're all in or how tired and exhausted we all feel. A game that lasts less than 30 minutes to set up, explain and play can often be a lot more fun than a game that takes 15 minutes to set up, 30 minutes to explain and 2 hours to play - but of course, not always. Sometimes it's nice to dedicate a number of hours of your time to a single game.

So, I definitely do not subscribe to the idea that game length alone defines how "good" a game is. I also don't think that complexity is a measure of whether a game is worth playing or not, let alone whether a game is a "serious" game for "serious gamers" or not. We all like different games for different reasons and usually we like different games at different times.

The obvious advantage of shorter games is that they can easily be played several times in a row. Getting ten games of ten minutes or less into one evening is a lot easier than playing a one hour game ten times. That's just maths. However, even playing a one hour game twice or two one hour games during one games night is difficult, and that often has to do with the complexity of these games.

In general, short games are indeed lighter and have less rules and/or decision complexity, while longer games usually take longer to learn and are more complex to play. That's what people would expect. After all, a game that's really light, but takes an hour or longer to play will most likely outstay its welcome. Players will get bored after half an hour or so. Conversely, if it takes you 15 minutes to learn a game, but only ten minutes to play, then it's probably not something you want to attempt. However, there are short games that are quite complex and long games that are pretty light.

For example, a game like The Crew, or to be more precise, one mission of The Crew, usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to play, yet it is actually quite complex. It even takes a while to learn the game, because trick-taking is quite a complex concept and quite tricky to fully understand and even longer to master. However, one of the reasons why people like the game and are happy to accept a relatively long learning time is that you can play it again and again and again. In fact, The Crew is set up to be played over several rounds with different missions that get tougher as you go along. It's basically a campaign. The game itself is over quite quickly, it's quite complex, but it's also very addictive.

On the other hand, a game like Carcassonne is really easy to teach, very quick to set up, but can take an hour or more to play, depending on how many expansions you've thrown in. Suddenly you have a light game that's taking a long time to get through, and I would argue Carcassonne doesn't really outstay its welcome, unless you really don't get on with it from the start, of course. At the same time, it's not the sort of game you would want to play multiple times in one games evening, even though it's a game that will come out again and again over the months and years. It's probably a keeper in your collection.

I must say, I do think that we all should try and play the games we own several times to get the most out of them, except maybe if we find they're really not for us. There is no point forcing the issue. However, if we enjoyed a game, we shouldn't just put it to one side just to move onto the next game in our ever-growing pile of opportunity, or whatever you want to call the games you own, but haven't played yet.

It's very tempting to always look for the latest and newest games, the hotness that everyone is talking about. The well-known fear of missing out is real, but if you fall for it, you end up never getting round to really appreciating the games you bought, because even when you get a chance to play one of them once, you're immediately onto the next one. You will never, or very rarely, have time to play a game more than once or twice, which I think is sad.

Of course, it's different if you're collecting games, rather than buying them to be played. Collectors do generally want their collection to stay pristine and therefore are not going to want to play their games very often, if at all.

I think we should give the games we own and like more attention and play them several times and we should not dismiss games that are quick and light. After all, it's these games that are very easy to be played several times. Completing your 10x10 challenge with ten games that take less than 30 minutes to play is a doddle. There are some real gems out there that will become addictive and that you can't wait to play again. Keep an eye out and broaden your horizon. The "real serious gamers" love short games, if you ask me, even though I still don't know what a "serious gamer" is actually supposed to be.

So, what are your thoughts on short games? Do you give them a miss, because they're frowned upon by many in the hobby? Or maybe you love quick games, exactly because they're so quick? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and maybe list your favourite games that take less than 30 minutes to play.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

Log in to comment

Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #323254 18 May 2021 11:16
I can't think of any great games that are also short. Games that can be played in under 30 minutes tend to feel too stripped down, lacking any compelling reason to play except as a filler while waiting for other players to arrive or finish their own game. I would rather hang out and talk for 30 minutes then frantically cram in another game just to be doing something.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #323259 18 May 2021 11:22
Oh man Shell.

For Sale
Skull
No Thanks!

All totally great games.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #323260 18 May 2021 11:28
I wish there were more short games with narrative, because for me the randomness quotient of short games makes them seem pointless. I would love to be proved wrong though. I mean, any dice-chucking, card-drawing "party game" can be goofy fun for 10 minutes, but that leans on the crowd more than the game mechanics.

Someone cobble together a list of "Great Short Games With Theme & Flavor."
Pugnax555's Avatar
Pugnax555 replied the topic: #323261 18 May 2021 11:37
I'm generally not a fan of shorter/lighter gamers for the reasons already mentioned. That said, I will gladly spend 10 minutes playing Tom Lehmann's The City (or Jump Drive).
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #323262 18 May 2021 11:44
Yes, Jump Drive too. Forgot about that one but I think that's actually better than Race for the Galaxy.

There are not many strong thematic games in this category. I'd say it starts and begins with Space Hulk: Death Angel.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #323263 18 May 2021 11:45
My sweet spot for games is about 3-4 hours, but as I've gotten older shorter games have become more and more useful. They tend to be the workhorses in my collection, the stuff that gets played because it's easy to get it played. When I was younger I tended to turn my nose up at stuff like that, but not anymore.

My current favorite short games are the Mystery Rummy games, which I've been playing over and over with my son. But I also like the following a lot...

Mascarade
For Sale
High Society
Felix: the Cat in the Sack
Skull

There are also those games that are actually pretty meaty that get packed into a 30-minute playtime. I'm not as big into these as lighter fare in this time slot, because teaching a game has to be considered, and a couple of these games, like Race for the Galaxy, take longer to teach than they do to play. But still, there are these...

7 Wonders Duel (so much better than the original)
Omen: Reign of War
Dominion (not my favorite, but it's right in this wheelhouse)
Yomi
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #323264 18 May 2021 11:46

Shellhead wrote: I would rather hang out and talk for 30 minutes then frantically cram in another game just to be doing something.


Me too. The thing is there are definitely a few 30-minute games that are worthwhile. I get what you mean about "stripped down" but if a game does one thing and does it well, that's a joy in itself.

Storytelling games like Once Upon A Time and The Old Hellfire Club are very good at this. The rules may be stripped down but if your group is up for it, they'll deliver among the richest narrative experiences you can find in board gaming.

Hanabi remains the most cooperative of all the cooperative games I've played.

King of Tokyo, For Sale and Battle Line all cram a ton of thrills into a half-hour. KoT especially does an incredible amount of heavy lifting with the trash talk and the upgrades making it feel far more like a more fully-featured DOAM clash than it has any right to be.

I'm going to squeeze Cartographers in here too. It's a bit heads-down but when you do get to scrawl monster invasions on someone else's lovingly built fantasy kingdom it's delicious. Plus, you know, you get to lovingly build a fantasy kingdom.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #323266 18 May 2021 11:58

charlest wrote: There are not many strong thematic games in this category. I'd say it starts and begins with Space Hulk: Death Angel.


I though about Death Angel, but it only clocks in under 30 minutes if you lose badly. It's one of my all-time favorite games, but usually runs closer to an hour.
quozl's Avatar
quozl replied the topic: #323267 18 May 2021 12:01
Battle For Hill 218
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #323269 18 May 2021 12:06
Love Letter has a surprising amount of game in a very small deck of cards, but it sucks with just two players and runs a little too long for what it offers with 3 or 4 players.

Spaceteam is a fun party game that literally plays out in five minutes due to the timer, but that brief play time creates its own awkwardness. Do you play again? Maybe three games in a row, but it starts to feel samey after the second play in a row. And now you have a table full of people who are too worked up to play most normal board games of normal duration. There are expansions for Spaceteam, but they add nothing to the experience.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #323270 18 May 2021 12:07

charlest wrote: Oh man Shell.

For Sale
Skull
No Thanks!

All totally great games.


Seriously. I look at my shelf and I see Lovecraft Letter, Guildhall, half the Tiny Epics, Villainous, Tournament at Camelot, War Chest(!), The Bloody Inn, 13 Days, Blue Moon(!); all of them are great games that can be played in a half hour or less. Now, granted, you won't TEACH most of them to new players and still finish in 30 minutes, but that's a different scenario.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #323271 18 May 2021 13:25
Hellapagos
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #323274 18 May 2021 14:44
SPACE HULK: DEATH ANGEL is a good pick. It's north of 30 min usually, but not by much.

NETRUNNER, MAGIC:THE GATHERING, YOMI, FLASH DUEL, PUZZLE STRIKE are all solid sub-30 minute games. KEYFORGE too, but sometimes the decks are really mismatched and it's not fun.

I guess I can 27th LOVE LETTER and FOR SALE. Those are good titles and come in short.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #323281 18 May 2021 16:09
Without re-listing anything already said, I’ve played a ton of That’s Pretty Clever/ Twice as Clever and Kingdomino over the last year, and a lot of Resistance: Avalon before that. Coup is a great short game as well.
quozl's Avatar
quozl replied the topic: #323285 18 May 2021 16:59

charlest wrote: For Sale
Skull
No Thanks!


Sounds like one of those super short stories.

For Sale: Skull
No thanks!
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #323289 18 May 2021 18:07

Shellhead wrote:

charlest wrote: There are not many strong thematic games in this category. I'd say it starts and begins with Space Hulk: Death Angel.


I though about Death Angel, but it only clocks in under 30 minutes if you lose badly. It's one of my all-time favorite games, but usually runs closer to an hour.


You can....WIN Death Angel????
DarthJoJo's Avatar
DarthJoJo replied the topic: #323300 18 May 2021 20:23
Short games are the extent of my non-solo gaming these days. By the time our boys fall asleep, my wife only has an hour of wakefulness and attention left herself. Fortunately we have plenty of good ones. Jaipur, Lost Cities, The Mind, Hanabi and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age are favorites, and I’m hoping to get Hive and Santorini into the rotation.
Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #323305 19 May 2021 02:17
I agree with the suggestions of For Sale and No Thanks. I would also add Arboretum here as well - although it normally takes longer than the 30 mins on the box as people really don't want to put down a card that they know will be picked up by an opponent with glee.
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #323310 19 May 2021 13:25
Just jumping to offer...

WIZ-WAR!

Among three other experienced players, we rarely see a romp in the dungeon lasting more than 30. Sometimes, 45.

Less meaty / silly / "narrative," but I've never played a game of Unmatched that's been over 30 either. 2 player or 4 player.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #323311 19 May 2021 13:41

DarthJoJo wrote: Short games are the extent of my non-solo gaming these days. By the time our boys fall asleep, my wife only has an hour of wakefulness and attention left herself. Fortunately we have plenty of good ones. Jaipur, Lost Cities, The Mind, Hanabi and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age are favorites, and I’m hoping to get Hive and Santorini into the rotation.


Lost Cities is the game that I've done the biggest 180 on in the whole hobby. I spent years hating it, just because the way you assess risk and investment in the game totally eluded me. Now I've kind of "seen the Matrix" with the game and it's one of my favorite two-player titles. Not that it was ever a very complex game to figure out, I just needed to understand some things differently.

Hanabi îs the ultimate game that I admire and don't particularly enjoy. What a design, but man, it just has never felt very fun to me at all.
Whoshim's Avatar
Whoshim replied the topic: #323331 19 May 2021 22:31
There are many excellent two player games that can be played in 30 minutes. Abstract games also often offer a number of good choices in a short window, but are usually two player. In addition to abstracts, card games like Pinochle, Euchre, and Rummy can all be played in a relatively short amount of time, though they can take up to an hour.

However, short multiplayer games have a number of hurdles to overcome to give the kind of strategically satisfying experience longer games can give.

For a four player game to come in under 30 minutes, each player will need to spend no more than 7 minutes on all of her turns. In something like Love Letter, each turn can go quickly because there is a choice between 2 cards. If the game is offering more options per turn, then an individual turn can take up to 1 minute. That leaves somewhere between 7 and 14 turns per player. (A game like Axis and Allies has relatively few turns per player, but each turn has a large number of choices regarding production and movement.)

There are only so many decisions that can be packed into such a short time frame. It is difficult to build in non-obvious choices, tension, and choices between long and short term objectives. Our brains only work so fast,.

Also, our emotional connection also takes time to build. When we play a longer game, we are investing our time into our decisions, giving our decisions more value. Without that investment, it becomes easy to just make any decision with the idea "we can just play the game again if it doesn't work out". That reduces the tension in the game.

Most of the good, short multiplayer games are party games like Codenames and Wits & Wagers or are games that limit the amount of choices a player has, like Love Letter and Welcome to the Dungeon. These can be fun, but they lack elements that I enjoy in games like Catan (building up over time, managing my position, more interaction with other players).

There are a couple of games that haven't been mentioned yet that I want to highlight, though both are abstracts. Blokus is an excellent game that can be played quickly, even by new players. There are a lot of choices throughout the game. Yavalath is fun with three players, but it doesn't have the wide appeal (or variety) of Blokus. I think that Blokus may be the best game that both "serious gamers" and "casual gamers" can sit down to and enjoy together in a short amount of time.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #323336 20 May 2021 09:56
Whoshim, I wish you would post in this forum more often.

When my friend Dave and I were working on a game for White Wolf in the early '00s, they gave us a lot of feedback on our original 2-hour game. Here is a direct quote that summarized their new design parameters for our game:

1. Low component cost, more like cheap-ass game than German board game
2. Playtime MUST BE 30 minutes or less from start to finish.
3. Quick to learn, simply rules and set-up with as much strategy and deal-making and breaking as you can fit in 30 minutes.

We struggled mightily, and finally sent them back a heavily-revised game with a tight, efficient design, a four-page rule book, and a playtime of 60 minutes. The final, published game was about half our design and half final edits by White Wolf, and still clocked in at about 60 minutes.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #323337 20 May 2021 10:04

Shellhead wrote: Whoshim, I wish you would post in this forum more often.


I very much agree.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #323348 20 May 2021 13:47
People play games that are fun for them and people enjoy different things for fun - if you're a light/family/party gamer you probably enjoy 30-60min playtimes, if you're a light/medium euro-gamer you will probably enjoy the 1-2 hour playtime, and if you're a Ameri-trasher or heavy euro connoisseur you will probably think nothing of a 2 hours plus minimum for your fun (please note I used the word probably).

Being an AT and thematic gamer a short filler/finisher game for us would be something like one of the Legendary Encounters for a 60-90 min play.
But when I visit my euro-centric group games could be anything from under 60 min light euro to something quite heavy that does 3 hours, just this week I took Disney Villainous along for them and we played two games in just under three hours including teaching. And we will play short games to finish off, they have a few faves which I find fun - Pickomino, No Thanks!, and NMBR 9 from the top of my head - while I provide Bang The Dice Game and Loveletter Batman that we all have great fun in (Bang always producing shrieks and backstabs and fun).
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #323349 20 May 2021 14:52
The Duke clocks in around 30min as I recall. One of the better abstracts I've played.