Your Turn: “Fillers” and “Micro games”

Posted by Jim {Power Gamer} | 17-Jan-14 | 47 comments

Your Turn - A BoardGaming.com Discussion

Hey there, I’m Andrew; game industry professional, reviewer, gamer, fellow Boardgaming.com member and the host of BoardGaming.com’s new discussion series called “Your Turn.”

This is your chance to let us know what YOU think about a variety of topics related to hobby gaming. I’ll start the conversation and then it’s “your turn” to chime in and add to the discussion. Each Your Turn discussion will have a new topic, and we may even have some special guests make a surprise visit down the road. In the meantime…

“Fillers” and “Micro games”

Less is… sometimes less.

Over the holidays I played some good games. King of Tokyo, Netrunner, Sentinels of the Multiverse (won!), X-Wing, an old favorite Dark Tower (only unearthed at the holidays), and five games of Heroes of Metro City, until for gosh sakes we beat that Archenemy! All of these games had something in common… they lasted a good long hour or two to play, and oh the glorious tales I can weave depicting the victories gained or the losses I suffered. 64 Brigands in the Tower? Ha! No big deal, victory was mine!

Mixed in there were several games of Coup and Love Letter. These used to be called “fillers.” Now, I guess the term “Micro games” has taken hold and the industry is now seeing more and more of this genre: games that can be played in 15 minutes or less.

Now I really like Coup and Love Letter – ingenious games both – and I had a great time playing them. At least I think I did. I can’t quite recall how many times I won or lost or came close. But it was fun! Well… I think.

And there is my issue with micro games. Is it such a good selling point to say you can play eight games in a half an hour? By the time I get to the 3rd game I have forgotten the first. The impression these games leave is momentary, fleeting. Yes, they are accessible, usually teaching them to gamers and even non-gamers in 5 minutes flat. But If I am paying for and spending time being entertained, I want to have something to talk about afterward. I want to have a story to tell or at least some memory of the path to victory or defeat.

I know they have their place; maybe as filler games. But for me, games that are so short don’t satisfy that need to be whisked away to a land of adventure, danger or even abstract strategic challenge. They are just forgettable. Who wants to play a forgettable game? And it seems that the one thing that you can relate to other players is how the game is played and how unique it is, not what actually happened when you did play it. I feel like for these micro games, less is really just… less.

Question: How do you feel about this current trend for shorter, faster, less expensive games? What’s your favorite (if you have one)? Is there some way to savor the game play experience with these games?

Your turn…

Comments (47)

Gamer Avatar
7
I'm Completely Obsessed
Book Lover
Canada
Advanced Reviewer

I enjoy having a mix of games on the shelf, including “micro games.” Games like Fluxx and Love Letter are great for playing while you wait for people to arrive, or if you’re winding down game night and don’t have time for another big game. They’re also great to have on hand if the big game being played is an elimination game. I’m not a big fan of elimination games, myself, but if there is one going on quick, easy to pick up games are a way for the players who get knocked out early to spend the time instead of sitting there watching everyone else keep playing. Another great thing about small, fast games is they are portable and make good “pick up” games. When I go up to the university, I always pack a small game or two like Love Letter into my bag. If you have a bit of time to pass, you can play a quick game or two with whoever you’re hanging out with, like during breaks between classes.

As for being memorable, for me that is more about the play at the table than the game itself. I’ve had memorable games of Once Upon a Time and Love Letter that only lasted ten minutes or less; I’ve had games of Talisman and Magic Realm that are only memorable for having been incredibly long. So long as everyone is laughing, having fun, and enjoying their time together, any game is a good game.

Gamer Avatar
7
USA
I play blue

There is a place in the market for every length of game. The fun of playing the game and the replay-ability are the real issues.

My use of filler games is the last game of the night in a small gaming group. In my weekly meetup group of 4 to 25 people depending on the night we use filler games to kill time until all the expected gamers arise or if one group finishes before another they kill time before we reshuffle players for the next round of games. Lastly they work well to get young children or newcomers exposed to gaming without a serious time commitment.

My Favorites are

For Sale
Las Vegas
Get Bit
Love Letters (All versions)
Sets
Code Names
Mr Jack Pocket

Gamer Avatar
9
Grand Master Grader
Movie Lover
Book Lover
I play blue

@AD-That’s a very good idea. I really want to get Defenders Of The Realm, Robinson Crusoe, or perhaps Freedom: The Underground Railroad. All are coops, which my wife and I enjoy, and they are a step up in complexity to our current favorites. Each is listed at 90-120+ minutes to play, and I would love to make one of them my next game purchased. I think I could make the “split game sessions” work at my home too. Thank you for the suggestion, and thanks for all your work on this site.

Gamer Avatar
9
I play black
Guardian Angel
Platinum Supporter
Marquis / Marchioness

@Tom – we’re in the same boat as you, with no more than an hour and a half per night to play games, even on weekends. Getting kids fed/bathed/to bed just takes forever.

However, I love games that take over an hour and a half, and it was a bummer for years that we couldn’t play them. In the last 3-4 months we’ve worked out a solution.

For games that we know will take over 90 minutes, we set them up on the bar in the kitchen rather than on the dining room table. Then we play them in 60 or 90 minute increments over 2 or 3 nights until they’re done. We do this with Yedo, Eclipse, Super Dungeon Explore, Zombicide, Caverna, Through the Ages, Keyflower. Obviously this technique requires that you have space available that won’t be needed for cooking, eating, etc., but if you do, this could work for you as well. And the bar is high enough that the kids can’t destroy the game (my son is 3 and climbs on the chairs, but we ask him not to touch any bits without asking and he abides).

We’ve actually found a great benefit to this: we think about the game a lot between nights, honing strategies or developing back-up plans. I’ve really enjoyed it, as we couldn’t play any of those games for years (or, in some cases, at all) prior to this. I’m even thinking long and hard about getting Twilight Imperium.

Gamer Avatar
9
Grand Master Grader
Movie Lover
Book Lover
I play blue

I don’t own any “epic” length (1.5 hours +) games, and I think they would be a tough sell at my house. I own several games that play in 45-60 minutes, and they work perfectly as a “main course” for me. And if those games run a bit short, I will oftentimes play them twice in an evening. But I like to play a filler or micro game either before or after (or both) my 45-60 minute game(s). I seldom have more that an hour and a half to devote to gameplay, so the shorter games work well for me.

I have enjoyed most of the micros that I have played. Love Letter is my favorite of them, and I have logged more than 150 plays. The Builders: Middle Ages is another tiny game that is easy, quick fun. Micros are physically compact, and their price is usually proportionate. I can buy and store more titles if the cost and bulk are relatively small. The micro games aren’t a replacement for bigger, more complex games. And as my experience grows, I will continue to try deeper titles. I don’t know if I will ever tackle a game that requires 2-3 hours or more, but there are plenty of shorter options to keep me entertained for years to come.

Gamer Avatar
5
I Walk the Talk!

I’m on the fence with this one. I think that there is definitely a place for tiny games, but I also think it is entirely dictated by the the game itself. If a game is really well designed and fun to play, I don’t think it matters too much how long it takes to play. Enjoyment is enjoyment whether it is five minutes or 180 minutes for me. I do dig how some of these tiny games can just go right in my bag and can be played whenever there’s an oppotunity. I always have Love Letter and Friday on me, though I’m not sure Friday fits the catagory.

Gamer Avatar
5
Canada

I think it is a important in the industry to have variety. There are long epic games with lots of pieces that take up an entire table that take hours and then there are the games that have a single board and a few pieces and cards that take 90 minutes on average and then you got your micro games. I see value in all of those. I personally stay away from the super long epic games that take 3 hours or more. I like games like Pandemic and Last Night on Earth which can take anywhere between 1 to 2 hours. But I also like the fact that I can host a gaming night with friends and play 5 different micro games. Perhaps we can start with Zombie Dice and then Bang, followed by Coup and then end it off with Resistance. Heck even a game like Tsuro which is so quick can really get the people in the mood at the very beginning especially non-gamers.

So micro-games definitely have their place. I felt like Zombie Dice is one of the best investments I ever made because its so easy to learn and you don’t have to think. And Coup is just one of those great games there are so few components involved but everyone is so involved just like a game of Poker or Texas Holdem.

I love having that variety. I think a good gaming night consists of 2 micro games and then you end the night with a long game.

Gamer Avatar
5
Advocate

Micro games or filler games are an integral part of my collection for several reasons.

I use them for the most part as a spare time filler at work. With some of my coworkers I have daily bouts of zombie dice, love letters, dungeon rolls, kill dockter lucky etc.. ( the list is actually quite long ) these games are perfect at working situations where you have the time and the space ( and understanding boss does help) for them.

the second reason that I use play micro games is that they are handy to introduce new people to boardgaming. I would not recomend arkham horror as a “start to boardgame” game but the games that I featured earlier in this list might as well do the trick. Also they are great fillers when someone is running late for game night, something to get the conversation starting.

Last reason for playing micro games is that it builds an intimate understanding of chance and game mechanics. I tend to play better when I had a couple of warm up micro games, because my strategy takes chance in cosideration a whole lot more. but this last is purely a personal vieuwpoint to it.

Gamer Avatar
5
Gamer - Level 5
Sophomore
Bard

I love “filler” games. They make a great night of gaming for my family. Being able to run through a number of games in a relatively short time allows for a different type of excitement and enjoyment. I know that longer games can be rewarding, and I love playing them, but after 2 hours of playing a single game and having a single winner can have its drawbacks. Sometimes it is nice to be able to tally up a number of wins and loses. Or, sometimes it is interesting to be able to change a strategy and play the game differently right after a lose (or even a win) to be able to see how things would play out differently. “Filler” games have an important role to play.

Gamer Avatar
9
Gamer - Level 7
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester
Petroglyph
Explorer - Level 3

I have been playing boardgames for almost 5 decades now. I have seen the game times get shorter and shorter(good luck even finding players for Age of Renaissance). The filler games serve a variety of purposes as do micro games(I consider the 2 to be distinctive enough to classify them separately.) I have to disagree however that they do not provide any memorable game experiences. For every filler my groups play we have memorable stories about bad and good experiences for players. I will continue to try to play longer games but will continue to play shorter games where they fit.

Gamer Avatar
4
Rated 25 Games
Amateur Reviewer

I’m reminded of a teacher I had who talked about filling a jar with rocks. The teacher put a couple of large rocks in the jar and asked us if it was full. We said yes. He grabbed some smaller rocks and dropped them in, filling up space between the bigger ones. This process was repeated until he filled in every space in the jar with sand. I suppose he could have crammed even more finely-ground material (powder sugar, for example) but I’m starting to go way off topic. The point is…uh, do I have a point? Oh yeah, there will always be a place for ‘filler’ or ‘micro-games’ and until game developers have filled every single space in our life jars (just coined that term, better get it copyrighted before one of you lot steal it), they’ll keep dropping more and more into our lives.

Gamer Avatar
7
I play blue
Cooperative Game Explorer

I really love the trend toward smaller, lighter games. I’ve found that I have a general distaste for long games.

One part of it is my attention span — if a game is long, it needs to have significantly different stages of play to keep me engaged. If I am faced by similar challenges repeatedly over the course of play, I become disinterested. Short games remedy this by being over quickly so we can move on to something new. Really good short games have enough play diversity that after one play, I’ll want to go in for another round!

Second is just the time investment versus intrinsic reward balance. I like games that play fast and tight. If one player is obviously dominating, whether it’s me or someone else, you can bet that I’m not having a great time. With a shorter game, either you keep the play concise enough that the race to the finish stays tight, or the game is at least quick so that there’s no slogging through a bunch of un-fun end turns.

My go-to small games these days are Love Letter, Coup, King of Tokyo, and Ten Days in Africa. These are a great way to warm up, or a way to unwind between more stressful games!

Gamer Avatar
5
Book Lover
Video Game Fan

I think some of these games are great for keeping in my bag to have on hand in waiting room situations. Cthulhu Dice or Cosmic Wimpout or similar games are easy to stash even in a relatively small purse. I have kids, so having some way to keep them entertained in boring situations has been important to me. The brevity of the games also doesn’t tax the attention spans of younger kids, which is nice.

Games of all lengths have their times and places. I think it’s great to have a variety. Having been ill for a week, I have to say, shorter games are less taxing when one is under the weather. ^_^

Gamer Avatar
8
Professional Reviewer
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester
Silver Supporter
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan

I’m a little late to the game on this discussion, but I’ll add my two cents.

The only “micro-game” I technically have is Love Letter, and I’m quite surprised at the hit it has been with my kids recently. I’m not sure if it’s the shortness as to why they like it or the cool combos you can do to win. Either way, it makes for a great change of pace compared to the longer and more “thinky” games I own.

If we savor anything, it’s the laughs and groans we have of winning and getting knocked out in Love Letter. We do talk about it afterwards as well, and make jokes as to why who lost (e.g. the country boy’s letter fell in pig slop on the way to the princess), but we don’t remember every game..just the fun.

I do have a few other “fillers” in For Sale, Jaipur, and Star Fluxx (sometimes).

So I find these type of games really about different experiences, but still provide fun challenge without the “heaviness” of some games. I like to mix it up I guess.

Gamer Avatar
9
Canada
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
Plaid Hat Games fan
Platinum Supporter

We don’t call them ‘Filler Games’ per se in our group – but Opening Acts

When we host Game Night at our house – we usually start off with a quickie game to get everyone in the mood before the Evening Killer. Something that requires very little set-up and usually wraps up in a half hour. King of Tokyo fits the bill nicely or a card based game like What the Food?!?! or Fluxx . Munchkin used to be the Opening Act of choice but it is a slippery slope if you get into a ‘Screw You’ mode. It is imperative that everyone knows the rules (and that the rules usually just be a page or two to begin with) so you can just sit down, play out, and get hepped up for the Main Course on the table top.

Gamer Avatar
2
Reporter Intern

I really enjoy micro/filler games when I’m at a hobby shop and need something to play in-between tournaments that I don’t have to invest a lot of time into setting up and playing. The same goes for needing a game to play with friends during commercials when a new episode of, say, Doctor Who is airing and you’re hosting a watch party. They’re also good for killing time in a line a convention when you might need to move a few feet pretty regularly and need a game that’s easy to transport with you. I backed Tiny Epic Kingdoms on Kickstarter and can’t wait to see it in action. I think it’ll be great for the “in-between tournaments” thing. I also think it’ll have a much longer-lasting impression than other microgames.

Gamer Avatar
7
Draco Magi fan
I'm a Player!
Book Lover
I Am What I Am

I’m always on the look-out for good “micro-games,” games that are quick setup and teardown without being to obtrusive, things I can play in a coffeeshop or bar. I’m obviously not busting out Arkham Horror at the local pub (though that would be awesome).

I agree with MPScrimshaw’s choice of Fluxx. Other games like Farkle and Pass the Pigs (as Bit and Bot Massacre mentioned) are great too. I’d put Qwirkle in there too since it has that handy satchel.

Thanks so much to everyone who posted here, shared their favorite “filler” games, and given me some games to explore.

Gamer Avatar
8
I play purple
Football Fan
Movie Lover

During our game night we usually have an epic game of Werewolfe starting between 9 & 10pm. Because all of the other games end at various times, often folks will have 20-30 mins to kill beforehand. At these times we’re extremely grateful for filler games and always looking for more. Currently Coup, Love Letter, and Bananagrams are popular filler games.

While I like the quick option of micro games, I haven’t been impressed with the quality of the play with others. Great to have something in your pocket to show others how a game can be fun and small (I keep Love Letter with my business cards when on trips), but it is far from replacing my enjoyment of Agricola, Eclipse, and more involved games. My favorite “micro games” have required microchips – mainly Ascension on iOS – a brief break that takes a few seconds that I choose to play a turn at random breaks during the working day.

Gamer Avatar
1

Interesting discussion. I like Rich…! ‘s definition between filler and Micro-game. For example, I designed a “filler” game, but it has 130 base cards, so it’s not micro. One of my KS backers termed it, “An opening act”, which I like. (filler has always sounded a bit harsh).

I see what you mean though by the idea that micro-games could trend us all into shorter gaming, but is it lessening the rich gameplay as well? In Love Letter’s case, I am blown away about how well the theme and mechanics play in such a small deck, so I definitely enjoy that game, and I think it plays well. I have yet to see if all the micro-games out there are going to hit on that same level. Let’s hope so.

Gamer Avatar
2
Gamer - Level 1

More than anything, I enjoy the trend of less expensive games. I’ll play just about anything, and I’ve had just as much fun with games like Fluxx as something like Ticket to Ride, and with the $30 plus difference in price, I’m far more inclined to pick up Fluxx. Plus, quick games give the opportunity to play a wide assortment of games in one sitting, or the same one multiple times, letting you explore different facets of the game.

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