Game Length

How long should a game be? As short as possible.

There is nothing inherently better about a game being longer. As with game weight, length can enable deeper play, but doesn't add anything on its own. A shorter game can just be played twice. As before, a shorter game appeals to more people. Your game is not competing with five-hour epic saga games that few people have time for.

For a game that ramps up, the game should be just long enough to allow the player to reach some of the biggest stuff in the game, if they choose to aim for it. It should be no longer. If a player can follow all paths to their end, the game is too long.

A good game ends one turn too soon.

If a game doesn't ramp up, or the ramping-up doesn't change the gameplay much, then the game can be even shorter. You just need a handful of game rounds, so a player gets the feel of the game, and can go through the basic game loop a few times, with their knowledge increasing each time.

Shortening a game

Properly minimising the turn structure will obviously help speed up a game, but a game might just be inherently long.

If your game has rounds, have as few as possible. If your game has a goal, reduce its size.

If your game is too long, an easy solution is to just lop off part (or most) of the game, and just save the best part.

One of my earliest prototypes had three stages, that ramped up nicely. It took an hour or so to play. All the stages were interesting, but the last one was a bit cumbersome. I just removed it. The end result is a 30-minute, medium-light game. It's better, and far shorter. 

My approach

A hundred years ago, many games took a few hours, with a short game being one hour, and a long game taking all afternoon.

These days, a few hours is considered to be on the long side for a game. An hour or so is normal, and half an hour is a short game.

This is still unnecessarily long.

A game's length should match its complexity and level of involvement. I design mostly at medium-light, which is the weight I recommend for most games. At that weight, aim for a game duration of 30 minutes.

Radlands is more mid-weight than medium-light. Its length, on average, is about 30 minutes. 

I can get everything done, in almost every game I design, in half an hour. I've never designed a game that goes for more than an hour.

Keep it short.

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