Balancing Game Length

It’s late, after midnight, and you and your pals are huddled around the kitchen table. You’ve been at it for hours.  One guy has been ahead the whole game, and you have no hope left.  

Finally, it’s your turn and Bam! Boardwalk! With a hotel!  That guy who’s been ahead the whole game takes the last of your money, your properties, and a bit of your soul.  Mr. Money Bags is declared the winner just so you can all clean up and go home.  This describes the scenario almost every time I’ve played Monopoly.

This Could Take a While

One of the first things we tested when developing RobotLab was game length.  We wanted to know how long we could play before it was no longer fun, and end the game before that happened.  Through testing, we found that to be about 15 minutes in a 2 player game.  Any longer than that would become unfun.  Early iterations of the rules didn’t have any interaction or part removal.  When that was added, the 2 player game ended right around when we wanted it to.  The 3-5 player versions however dragged on and on.  It was really hard to win when other players continuously drew cards whose only use was to mess you up.

Designing For the Cutthroat Mentality

3 to 5 player games dragged on because it was too hard to win, and cards that disrupted other players were too easy to get.  We solved this by adding a simple rule: we changed build a part on your robot to build a part on ANY robot.  Players now needed interaction cards not only to stop their opponents but to get rid of parts on their robots so they could win.  This successfully sped the game up but maintained a balance that allowed every player to still be in the game until the end. Games ended in a reasonable time, nobody got blown out, and no feel bads.

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