Some of my favourite games are quick ones. I've played well over 200 games of Carcassonne & Magic: The Gathering, over 100 games of Race for the Galaxy and getting on for a hundred games of 7 Wonders. What do they have in common apart from being great games? Speed. They can be played quickly enough that you could play several games back-to-back. And in the days before The Daughter, The Wife and I would frequently play these games over and over.
One of my stated goals for Codename: Vacuum is to make it quick to play, so that if I ever get it to the point where it's a great game, people will be inclined to play it over and over. Over the last few months, even playing with Dave and Chief (who've both played over 40 games of Vacuum) the play time was around 25 minutes per player (50 minutes for a two-player game, 1:15 for a three-player game). Not only did I struggle to juggle my hours at work to fit these games in, in my mind this was failing to hit the sweet spot. I can play a two-player game of Race for the Galaxy in 20 minutes. I can play a three-player game of 7 Wonders in less than half an hour - these games benefit from simultaneous player actions, and as a result can be very fast with experienced players who don't suffer from analysis paralysis. That is hitting the sweet spot in my personal opinion. So over the last couple of months I've been trying to tweak the rules to Vacuum to pep it up a bit and decrease the play time.
The August version of Vacuum was finished in time for the inaugural Newcastle Playtest session at the beginning of the month, and since then I've been crafting the re-written rules ready to give my friend Paul in York an updated version of Vacuum, replacing the version I gave him back in April. Paul was up in Newcastle a few weeks ago to visit us and meet The Daughter, and during the visit I asked about their experiences with Vacuum. Apparently it had been played a number of times, but one of the major criticisms was that at around 45 minutes per player (!) it felt too long for what it was. No doubt! Clearly it needs knocking up a notch.
Well, we're in York for a few days this week for The Wife's work, so we're staying with Paul and his family, experiencing the wonders of his Games Night (which I used to attend twice a week regularly back when we lived in York). I've done the new rules, and though I didn't have time to make a new copy of the game, I can give him my copy, complete with new rulebook, and then I'll make myself a replacement on my return (once the pressure's off!).
I've now played the August version three times, once with two new players at the Playtest meetup (the impromptu second one, I missed the inaugural one), once with Dave a couple of weeks ago and once with Chief last week. The first of those games (with the simple rules) lasted about 45 minutes - 15 minutes per player. The second lasted 34 (17 minutes per player) and the third only 20 minutes (10 minutes per player). Awesome!
Or is it?
After I played with Dave a couple of weeks ago he expressed concern that the game was too short now. It felt less epic to him and he missed the chance to fully explore his chosen strategy (which is inevitably raining plasma doom on my inocuous backward empire with a wave upon wave of overly aggressive Armadas). His fear was the shorter game would strip several strategies of their usefulness, since you wouldn't have time in the game to get them started before the game's swift conclusion.
This week I played with Chief. He won. For the first time in approximately forty games. Dave and I were beginning to wonder if it would ever happen. Was he intentionally taking it easy on us? Did he have a phobia of winning games? (what's that even called?) Had he been lobotomised as a child, and had the winning parts of his brain removed? It turns out none of these. He won. He beat me at a game I'd designed. And he did it in 20 minutes. Schooled.
Dave's thoughts on his epic victory, after finally crushing the designer at his own game? He felt the game was too short!
I'd really enjoyed the game. We'd been flying through it. Each player's turn regularly taking a handful of seconds. Almost no downtime. It felt like playing Race for the Galaxy against The Wife or 7 Wonders with Terry and Andrew. Blisteringly fast. On top of that, Chief had chosen the Exploration strategy (which can be quite slow) and had got as far as Proxima Centauri, which is quite an achievement as it's particularly hard to reach and requires a real concerted effort to get there. "Ha!", I thought, "See Dave, even in twenty minutes, Chief managed to reach Proxima, the shorter game isn't too short."
Then Chief pissed on my chips and agreed with Dave that the game was too short. He enjoys the chance to explore a wealth of strategies and diversify your deck - possible in the longer game, but not in the new shorter version.
So here's a question. I've reduced the game length to my 'ideal' length. I enjoyed the feel of it the three times I've played it. But the two guys who've played it more than anyone else, who play it week in, week out at work, both don't like the changes. Do I cave in and extend the game again, to increase the epic feel, and the wealth of strategies you can explore in a single game? Or do I stick to my guns and ride with the shorter game, possibly admitting that the only two people who will regularly play the game with me might not be the target audience for the game?
I'm going to have to play the shorter rules a few more times, with Dave and Chief if they're up for it to see if they come round to the shorter game, but also with more people, to see if Dave and Chief are in the majority or the minority...
In other news, the second Newcastle Playtest Meetup is this Tuesday in The Bridge Hotel again. I'll not be there, but don't let that put you off!