Attention Span Changes and Gaming

Still don’t have a name for this blog, but what the hey. I have stuff to write about, so I’ll sort out the name later. 🙂

Last weekend, I was invited out to a friend’s camp (which is a cottage with no running water and heated by a wood stove). For the three days I was there it was between 7-10 guys, all playing board games. People brought their own games, and there was a huge stack. I wish I’d gotten a photo of it. I noticed a pattern in the games that were payed.

Long Games Did Poorly

Friday night was dominated by big, long games. Games like Attack! and Zombicide, that have complex rules, lots of pieces, and are intended to last for a couple of hours. A few of these games got going.

None of them were finished.

Inevitably someone got bored, or another game came out and they wanted to switch. Part of this was the first night effect, with new people showing up and that disrupting things, but in general the track record of finishing a game was really bad.

Zombicide was a weird case in that we played for 6 hours, then went to bed at 5am after concluding that we were going to win in another 50-100 turns. We somehow broke the game by getting into a state where we couldn’t lose, but also could barely progress. As a coop game, that is awfully problematic.

Short Games Did Better

What happened the next day is that shorter, simpler games came out.  Splendor, Saboteur, Castle Panic (my contribution), and a few others. Space Hulk was in here and it’s not exactly a small game, but it fit within its time constraints more easily and was successfully finished.

These were fast enough that if someone new woke up or arrived and wanted to join in, they didn’t have to wait very long. They’re simple enough that we could explain the rules quickly and get back to playing. These were much, much more successful.

Social Games Won

The real winner of the weekend (or at least the three days I was there) were what I’m calling “social” board games. In particular, The Resistance.

The Resistance board game box

Along with The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, this is really a game about reading other players. A majority of the players are resistance fighters, but a few are empire spies. The goal of the game for the resistance is to pass missions successfully, and for the spies it’s to sabotage them. But nobody knows who is doing what (your role is dealt randomly and in secret), so you have to read other players and try to ferret out the spies based on behavior at the table.

The game is extremely simple, but we played it over and over and over again. It led to infinite hilarity as people accused each other of being spies and tried to defend themselves for the most absurd of reasons. When we finally wanted to shake it up a bit after countless games, we added the advanced rules plot cards to add some special abilities.

The real genius here is that this had us playing with each other trying to figure each others behavior out, instead of trying to follow a set of complex rules to play the game. Each game is short. Players can come and go very quickly without disrupting the game. It worked brilliantly, and kept changing so fast that it never got tiring.

Does All That Mean Anything?

People often say they want big, complex games. Maybe they do. I know I’m looking forward to the X-COM Board Game, and it’s not exactly simple. But is that what they actually play when given the choice of 50 games?

My experience suggests that they don’t.  That doesn’t just apply to board games either. Right now I could be playing MMOs, multiple great strategy games, or Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. What am I playing?

Diablo 3.

Why? Because it fits into my new parent lifestyle easily. I can drop in, play for 30 minutes, and have fun. I log out feeling like I did something, and don’t have to remember what I was doing for next time. If a friend is on, I can join him and go. If not, I can play alone. It’s simply there at any time, for however long I have available, for whatever way I want to play at the moment.

Games like Civilization take so long to complete that it’s hard to do that, and in multiplayer can’t be played in 30 minute bursts (or the game would never progress). You need a lot more time to devote to it.

MMOs suffer from similar problems, once you’re done the solo levelling game and get to the suddenly group oriented endgame. Someone who can only play in shorter stretches is basically stopped dead in Wildstar when they hit 50, although the new patch seems aimed at helping that. (Wildstar’s many issues at level cap have already been beaten to death, and I’m a fan.)

Mobile gaming is based almost entirely on this, even in the games that are legitimate games (rather than glorified skinner boxes). Have 10 minutes and an iPad? You can do meaningful things in Kingdom Rush Frontiers. You can’t say that about a sprawling RPG.

I’d seen this trend in video games for a while and never really thought that it also applied to board games, since you’re already devoting time to sit down in a group and play those. Turns out I was wrong.

But hey, get six friends together and play Resistance. You will not regret it, even if you only have 20 minutes. Of course if your experience is like mine, that will quickly become three hours. 🙂

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