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 (15)

Gamer Avatar
5
USA
Book Lover
Video Game Fan

I was just thinking yesterday, “I wonder when there’s going to be another Your Turn.” Lo and behold, here it is.

Anyway, I’m generally with you. I don’t even generally play games that last more than an hour, so it’s not like I’m a hardcore TI3 player or anything, but it seems like once you get below a certain playtime (20 minutes or so), it just feels too lightweight and I kind of wonder what the point was of playing it. I guess there’s a market for it, and if there are people who enjoy those quick bites of gaming, more power to them. I won’t begrudge them any more than the all-day war gamers, but I’m also equally unlikely to want to play with them.

P.S. How did you have a game of King of Tokyo last an hour? That must have been an epic battle.

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

I have to agree with you, “micro games” don’t really do much for me. I know some game nights (and some gamers) don’t allow time for epic-length games – my group had a game of Arkham Horror that went so long we were all about ready to sleep through the end of the world – but if a game takes less than maybe a half hour, it does tend to be forgettable. About the minimum length games that our group tends to go for are ones like Elder Sign, Chez Geek, Munchkin and the like, which are shorter than some of our larger board games but not so short as to be unsatisfying. That being said, on occasion Munchkin has been known to drag on, thankfully rarely.

The only real place I can think of for these filler games at our game table might be as a side game for when we are playing a potentially long “elimination-style” game where some people might get knocked out well before the main game is over. These sorts of micro-games could possibly serve as a way for the eliminated players from the main game to kill some time… while waiting for the remaining players to kill each other so everyone can rejoin the main game.

Gamer Avatar
6
The Gold Heart
Plaid Hat Games fan
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
Bronze Supporter

@ Wade C

KoT lasted a little over and hour with 6 players and two children playing. Usually they clock in around 30 but this holiday is was all about maxing out my # of players!

Gamer Avatar
5
USA
Book Lover
Video Game Fan

@Andrew L

Half an hour sounds about par for the course for my plays. Obviously with fewer players it can be over in just a few minutes, but 30 minutes is probably standard. I also don’t have kids playing, so that I’m sure makes a difference. My son is only 3 1/2, so he’s still a little too young to make good decisions on what to keep and what to reroll (he often helps me by rolling half of my dice for me). He really likes when we play the game, though, as he has declared himself “the banker” and hands out the energy cubes and sells the cards. It’s good math practice, if nothing else.

Gamer Avatar
8
I play purple
My First Game Tip
Vanguard

You must all be playing the wrong “filler” games! I have many memories of the Martian Dice games I have participated in!! We are all laughing during these quick games! I also have Stoner Fluxx. Another quick game with many memories and lots of quick fun! So, you need to change up your “filler” games!

Gamer Avatar
7
I play red
Indie Board & Cards fan
Canada
Z-Man Games fan

I love short games.

One of the draw back of some more popular games is the extended gameplay and sense that you are just doing the same thing over and over for an hour. With a game like Coup, Get Bit, Ghost Blitz, or Zombie Dice you quickly learn and play the game.

And the best part with these games is that you do end up playing more than once.

The reason this is so great is it allows you to try out different strategies and bounce back from a silly mistake, while having fun. That isn’t going to happen with a game like Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep.

Gamer Avatar
8
Rosetta Stone
Football Fan
Explorer - Level 5
Junior

Good points all around. Micro games only hit our table when we are still waiting on the last few stragglers. I say “only hit our table” but this happens every time we get together. Nobody wants to start a game that takes 45-60 minutes, but if we have a shorter 15-30 minute game, it can be finished quickly if the last person arrives 5 minutes into the game.

Gamer Avatar
7
Cooperative Game Explorer
Novice Grader
Knight-errant

Tsuro plays pretty quick, along with Zombie Dice. I always keep a couple of versions of Fluxx in my book bag just in case a bunch of us have some time to kill.

Gamer Avatar
8
Intermediate Reviewer
Copper Supporter
Viscount / Viscountess

I think they serve as a quick way to have some fun. Sometimes you don´t have time or are not in the mood to think a lot but need to relax a bit. Such games will do exactly that: a few minutes of fun and perhaps a few laughs. If a game entertains people and perhaps take some of the stress out, it served a noble purpose.

Gamer Avatar
6
I play red

Maybe I’m behind, but I think they’re still called “Fillers.” Microgames refers to at the moment, only one game called Coin Age.

Gamer Avatar
4
Game Salute fan

coup requires the right group, but i think it’s one that can be played over and over.

Gamer Avatar
7
Intermediate Reviewer
Champion
Mask of Agamemnon
Novice Advisor

I guess, for me, I just don’t need an epic tale of every single game I play. The experience can be the moment, whether that’s a 5-hour game of Arkham Horror or a 5-minute round of Coup.

Sure, I may not remember specifics of every minute of every game, but if I’m enjoying them at the time then I think that’s what counts.

Add onto that the fact that I think our stories most often revolve around fleeting moments within a longer game, and there’s just as much potential for memories in a filler or micro game as there are in a longer game — the longer games just give us more opportunity to make those memories.

I might recall “that time you leapt from last place and took the win in a few amazingly lucky Zombie Dice rolls”, but I’m not going to remember that drawn out game of Talisman that took all day, if nothing exciting or interesting happened the entire time.

Gamer Avatar
6
Miniature Painter
Novice Reviewer
Knight-errant

Sometimes I just want to play games, but I’m a little worn out from work or whatever and don’t want to think too much. King of Tokyo is perfect for that. Sit down, roll dice, don’t care too much one way or the other about the outcome. Guillotine is another great one for that. Love Letter is a bit troublesome for that. It’s quick, but it requires you to think, so it’s more of a time-filler.

There is always a place for filler games on my shelf. Countless times I’ve been waiting for someone to show up who is “on the way, one sec!”. Might as well play something while waiting!

Gamer Avatar
8
United Kingdom
Advanced Reviewer
Knight-errant
Tinkerer

While I still love to play fairly big and complex games (and manage to occasionally), most of my gaming is currently either with my 7-year-old daughter or at lunchtimes at work, so lighter, quicker games are generally the order of the day, though not all of them really count as micro games, which I would see as being more about economy of components (eg. 16 cards and a few scoring tokens for Love Letter) than about play time.

I love that we are now seeing an increasing amount of these games and that some are getting even smaller (like Coin Age), so nowadays we can carry a games library in our pockets.

Personal favourites at the moment would be Love Letter and The Resistance: Avalon (yup, it’s a microgame: just a bunch of identity cards and voting counters), though I enjoyed the one evening I had of playing Coup and hope to play it some more soon.

As for bigger “fillers”, I’d put Tsuro (not …of the seas) and Coloretto at the top of the pile here, especially if I was playing with “non-gamers”.

Gamer Avatar
8
Legend of the Five Rings Fan
Advanced Reviewer
Tactician
Guardian Angel

Rob’s got the heart of it: these are quick and portable games — if there’s a planned game night and gaps to fill, someone (or multiple someones) may have a filler game tucked away to allow for quick, easily set up and easily torn down, simple games. If you’re in a hotel lobby for a convention and waiting on friends to show up, micros are simpler to deal with, and don’t have the drawback of “oh well, guess we have to quit halfway through since everyone’s here and ready to go now”.

These games aren’t going to replace favorite tabletop games, but they can supplement them within a group who doesn’t mind the occasional casual diversion.

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