I like all sorts of games. If you take a look at my collection you can see that my interests span a big range of genres, weights, and game lengths. Some of the games I like are very long, and very heavy – and I am lucky to have friends who will play those games with me! But I totally understand that not everybody would like to, or maybe doesn’t comprehend why anyone would want to spend 6 hours playing one game. I have my reasons, and I’m going to try and explain some of them here.
I think that a good way to get a quick feel for why someone might like to do something that you don’t see the value in, is to compare it to other more familiar activities that you participate in. Is spending 6 hours playing a boardgame with friends any different to having your friends over for a 6 hour Game of Thrones marathon before the new season comes out? Is it different to going for dinner and a night out? I think you can even compare it to going on a hike with some mates. You just need to think of it in the sense that the boardgame is the activity or excuse you are using to hang out, and form memories with your friends. Everyone has reasons for why they enjoy their particular hobbies, and lots of hobbies revolve around social engagement, especially boardgames.
So, I Have Some Good Reasons:
Here are the things I value most about boardgames, and why I think that having a longer game every so often can be a great experience.
- Building Something Big. I love building stuff. Simulation games are my favourite genre of computer game. The idea of starting from little and incrementally adding and building your empire/company/whatever is something I personally find really appealing. I very much enjoy sharing the experience with others because I get to see what they create too, and when you do it in the slow world of a boardgame you have a lot more time to understand and appreciate what everyone is doing and how it pushes and pulls against the mechanisms of the game you are playing.
- Extended Narrative. There are two facets to this for me. There is the narrative, story or atmosphere that is implied by the game itself. Most games I play don’t explicity tell a story, but many reveal small parts of ‘flavour’ as you go, hinting at backstory and building atmosphere as you play. The other part of the narrative is that which the players provide. Over the course of the game, in-jokes will develop, people will add their own atmosphere and flavour to events that occur, and give thematic justification for their actions. I very much enjoy when players add a little bit of roleplay into any game, it thoroughly heightens the experience, and especially so for longer games.
- Metagaming. Ah, metagaming. Metagaming is the spice of board-life. It is almost certain that at my table someone will hold an illogical grudge against someone else for something they did in a completely unrelated game. Playing the table in order to appear the weakest is extremely common. Emotional blackmail when being attacked is entirely expected. Commonly heard phrases such as ‘I can’t believe you’ve done this’, or ‘They’re winning, everyone get them!’ are essentially memes at this point. Of course it’s all in good fun, but what fun it is.
- Planning to Fruition – or not. In shorter games, you will come up with a strategy, execute it, and see how it goes. When you are playing a longer game your empire/company/thing is a finely tuned engine. During the game you can poke it and prod it (and other player’s as well) and see what way it turns, then poke it again to try and get it onto the best course. Watching your planning pay off, or learning gravely from your executive errors are one of the most rewarding things about these sorts of games, in my opinion.
- The Social Experience. Drawing the above points together, and as I alluded to in the beginning of this, the social experience is the true reason I play games and where the most of my enjoyment comes from. An excuse to spend time with my friends and experience all the above things with them is where the value is in playing 6 hour long games. There is a good reason why most people (and myself) don’t enjoy playing anything long with strangers at meetups, and this is that reason. If you are going to spend 6 hours doing something, I think it needs to be with people you like and would have a good time spending 6 hours with doing any activity. If the game turns out to be a dud, at least you had a good time complaining about the dud game with your mates!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone can enjoy long games for these reasons alone. There are many other factors – availability of people, patience, fatigue, interest, etc. I’m just trying to give my perspective.
Some Specific Games and Why I Like Them
We’ve gotten this far without mentioning any specific games! Here are some of my favourite longer games, and what I like about them.
Eclipse was one of the first ‘big games’ that I played, and since that first play it is probably my most played ‘heavy’ game. We play about 3 times a year, and like a reunion with an old friend we take up just where we left off. Secret alliances, betrayals, revenge and grudges are all built up over many plays, but the individual experience of each game is something special. Eclipse lets you build things in multiple ways – you build up your empire on the map, you build up your technology tree, you build up your ship outfits, and for each player these things combine into a highly unique space civilisation that is distinct, and moulded by the player. Despite Eclipse being as theme-less as a game about space could be, we lend it some help from popular culture to bring some life into the game and it’s certainly a favourite of mine, and I have many great memories based upon it.
The Colonists is ‘The Epic Eurogame’. Think about what would happen if you took Puerto Rico and increased the scale of the game by an order of magnitude. Each player struggles against the finite time and resources the game gives them to try and build their colony so that it’s the best and most valuable. Being a euro game, there isn’t as much interaction between players as something like Eclipse, but it’s still fun to share the experience with other players and watch how they develop their towns versus yours, and to compete to squeeze the most out what the game gives you. Having your little town at the end of the game and comparing it to everyone else’s feels rewarding, and the planning and payoff factor is very strong with this game.
Leaving Earth is an epic game about government space agencies racing to explore the solar system. The way that we tend to play Leaving Earth leans more over toward a co-op puzzle solving experience rather than a game, and I thoroughly enjoy it that way. We trade technology and help each other complete missions, and the epic scope of the game means that we rarely properly finish, but just playing through for several hours trying to complete missions is extremely fun. It’s always very satisfying to see a giant and risky mission that’s taken years to assembly execute successfully (or explode!)
Twilight Imperium is a bit different to the games above in that it is not a ‘Euro Game’ but rather a game that lives or dies on players interactions, politics, and chaos. The way I like to think of TI is that it’s basically a giant overgrown social deduction game (like The Resistance) – it’s just as important to play the game mechanically as it is to play the other players. While this is obviously an important part of nearly every boardgame, it’s a big element in Twilight Imperium, and for my friends and I it is a great source of entertainment. Metagaming is a big part of a game of TI and I thoroughly enjoy the spectacle, even at my own expense!
I wrote this up because I know there are people who think I’m nuts for enjoying sitting down for 6 or more hours ‘just to play a boardgame’. I suppose my goal in writing this is to highlight the fact that there is more happening in those 6 hours than just playing a game, everyone’s running their imagination engines, getting lost in the world of the game and playing through as a powerful empire pitted against those controlled by your friends. It’s a great feeling, it’s amazing fun, and I only wish there was more time to fit in these longer gaming sessions.