Board Game Overcrowding

As a follow up to last night’s post, here’s some random musings on board games.

We found ourselves in an unusual position last night, where there were seven people in my house to play board games. Usually we’re four, sometimes five, but tonight everybody was free and the table was crowded. As usual, I scoured my game closet looking for games to play, and found myself with an unexpected lack. There’s not a whole lot out there that seven people can play at a time.

I notice that a lot of the classic, so-called “American style” board games like Risk, Clue, Monopoly, all make it easy to play six players, and often more (though they can definitely have their failings with large numbers). Usually when my friends show up we’re playing the newer European style board games (Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride…), and most of those are good for up to four or five players only, with the Exception of 7 Wonders, which plays up to seven (duh).

I’m not sure why so many of these games are geared towards smaller groups of people. Some games do work better with fewer players, but often those games can be tweaked with optional rules to keep them interesting with higher numbers. Production costs might be an issue, since most of these games ship with custom tiles, cards, wooden tokens…. Many of these games come with a base version for four players, and sell expansions which allow for more, but still the upper limit on the vast majority seems to be six.

Often, the player count is kept low for reasons of boredom. In a game like Risk, even when it’s another player’s turn you are sometimes involved in defending your own territories. The same for Settlers of Catan where you’re involved during other players turns to collect resources or engage in trading. In games like these there isn’t much downtime. Even when it isn’t your turn you’re involved in the action.

Other games don’t work this way, like Ticket to Ride or Dominion. When your turn is over, you spend every other player’s turn waiting for your chance to play to come along again. Ticket to Ride isn’t so bad because turns tend to go fairly quickly. Sometimes, even in a five player game, less than a minute will go by between the end of your turn and the start of the next, but others can be brutal, particularly many of the card-based games like Ninja Burger or Chez Geek. This is what kills a lot of games. Games are supposed to be fun. If, during the course of a one hour game, you spend ten minutes having fun and 50 minutes watching other people play, the entertainment value goes down.

There’s victory to be concerned with as well. Play enough four or five player games and you’ll win your share. Play games with six, eight, or more players and you may go a bloody long time before victories, unless it’s a collaborative game where multiple people can win. It’s probably in the best interests of the game developers to ensure that a higher percentage of players will win a game (the easiest way to ensure such being… keeping the player count low.)

There has to be a way to manage interesting strategy games for large numbers of people where nobody has a chance to get bored. 7 Wonders manages this nicely by having everybody draft and play cards at the same time. You never have the time to get bored between your turns because it’s always your turn. It’s always everybody’s turn.

Mind you, I question why there aren’t more board games geared towards huge numbers of players, when I freely admit that this was the first time I had limited options because of having too many people. Obviously these people do their homework. If research shows that the majority of the time when people play games, there are four or five people around a table, then they’ll optimize their games for that size crowd. Though that might end up being self-fulfilling – if all board games are designed for 4-5 players, with no option for expansion, then you’ll never have large crowds playing them.

Like with stories, I have several ideas which I think would make good board games (My creativity is… scattered? Hazardously random? Multidirectional! That word sounds like it might mean something good! I do lots of different things with my creative energies…).  This sort of reflection on player count will be something to keep in mind in the future. It would be cool to make a game that’s fun to play even with huge crowds.

2012 Resolution Progress:
8212/1,000,000 words written (0.82% – Haha… failing miserably…)
7/7 days blogged (Target: 366/366)
3/3 Days cafeteria avoidance (No real target)


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