Roll For Insight: Pacing Your Board Game Day

April 26, 2019 by ludicryan

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It’s been some time after a big gaming convention: UK Games Expo, Gen Con, Essen. You came away from it with a veritable treasure trove of cardboard and plastic goodness. The shiniest of new releases this year adorn your shelves waiting to be opened. You even snagged copies of Teotihuacan and Brass: Birmingham you lucky ham sandwich you!

Roll for Insight: Pacing a Board Game Day

But it’s not just the new games that you’re looking to throw onto your kitchen table like the first takeout dinner of the new month’s paycheck. Deck builders have come a long way since Dominion and you’d love to see how you might approach it again with years of Star Realms, Smash Up and Clank under your belt. You’ve played Machi Koro to death but you never know if there might be a new player to the table and it’s always been a good gateway game.

So it’s time to assemble the squad. Your ever dependable group of board game enthusiasts who would never miss - Sara can’t make it. She works late on a Friday night. Okay. Everything’s fine. Krzysztof is just as excited to play Root as you are, although you wonder if you’ll have time...

...Don’t scream. Don’t curse his partner to the shadow realm because they’re celebrating getting engaged. A Friday night clearly doesn’t suit your friends so you work hard into the night divining the stars and consulting spreadsheets for when your time aligns. Next Saturday! The Gods have blessed you and Dionysus smiles upon your endeavours child! An entire day where your friends have no commitments but for your day of structured cardboard worship. The robber wills it so!

It’s such a rare occurrence that you have this amount of time with your friends to play through games. You want to fit in as many of the new experiences alongside the old classics that you first bonded over. So what do you choose to play over the day?

__________

It’s been a long time since my group first met. It began with a game introduced to me a few years before by flatmates at university: Jungle Speed. The frantic intensity of that game set the pace for our collective appetite on board game nights. My collection steadily grew alongside those evenings. Nights were consumed by old favourites mixed in with new experiences that informed what our group liked to play.

Roll for Insight: Pacing a Board Game Day

Pacing wasn’t a problem initially, but it didn’t take long to identify that some games just wiped us out with exhaustion. I’ve written before about how Letters from Whitechapel can kill a board game night because of the rising tension in its mechanics. I’ve discovered it in other groups with Risk, Game of Thrones and Mansions of Madness. There’s such a danger with larger games that require lots of component manipulation and high stakes play that burnout can occur.

It’s been a while since my original group have been able to meet up for a game night. Life advances inexorably along the victory tracker taking your friends to exciting places far away from that well-worn table. Other links fade away or break entirely. Work and family commitments increase to the point where free time is a rare luxury, jealously guarded.

So when that golden opportunity comes around to get your friends together - what do you play and how do you fit it all in together? You don’t know when you’ll be around that table again.

__________

The idea of burnout is fully dependent on each group. Whilst some may only be able to stomach a single social deduction game for fear of fraught friendships, my own group built entire nights around consecutive games of Resistance, interspersed with Coup. Asking around the office Ben and Sam weighed in with experiences from their own groups.

Roll for Insight: Pacing a Board Game Day

“I wouldn't say that there are many games that we avoid but one style that sticks out for me is that of the persuasion and backstabbing variety,” says Ben. “New Angeles and Game Of Thrones are two that get under our skin as people very quickly start disliking each other and it doesn't bode well for a full day of games. So yeah, we try and avoid games which are going to cause unwanted tension in the group!”

Arkham Horror is one that draws out the ire of Sam: “We tried playing that a few times, but found the set up so frustrating it used to eat up the entire game session...Other than that, I don't think there is anything we particularly avoid. Different people have different board game tastes. I love getting stuck into a game of resource management, tactics, and narrative, while other friends of mine avoid those like the plague.”

Something I personally make sure of is bringing a range of smaller games as kind of palette cleansers or as a warm-up. Exploding Kittens and Jungle Speed can accelerate emotions and get people pumped whilst Hana Bi requires slow and deliberate readings of your friend’s intentions.

These really change the dynamic around the table in between heavy worker placement or area control games. Getting away from wrapping your head around complex systems and score permutations is important between games. Sometimes I use games which rely on the social dynamic around the table instead. Social deduction games are great for this but they usually elevate tension. Games like Concept make you reach out and get inside the mind of your nearest and dearest. Whereas Dream On is a beautiful exercise in collaborative storytelling.

Ben also uses smaller games as a way to both warm people up and calm others down in between games: “For me, the smaller games would be the likes of Railroad Ink, High Society, Deep Sea Adventure and Tsuro. All of these are nice, relaxed games which can be played in no time at all and help to either bridge the gap or serve as a good way to pass the time.”

It’s a similar story for Sam who has a particular game that he uses: “King of Tokyo was perhaps the best for this as its short run time and simple rules made for a great break from the more in-depth game experiences.”

Protecting the sanctity of a board game day is of paramount importance to me. These events come around too little these days. So I have become obsessed with this idea of shielding that emotional dynamic by not playing Letters from Whitechapel until the very end of the evening or taking the temperature of what the group might need: some Tokaido is required to both prepare them for the next game and submerge them in a relaxing narrative setting.

_________

It’s doubtful that my original group will get together again. Those who were dedicated to game after game. But that’s okay. Times change and people grow. The board games remain and there are still opportunities to get other friends around the tabletop. On the rare occasion when I do get a group together for games, I’m still interested in making sure everything goes smoothly to create the next group of dedicated board game players.

Roll for Insight: Pacing a Board Game Day

How do you pace your board game days with friends?

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