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One Hour Game and Design thoughts

April 1, 2012

I’ve been thinking more about the One Hour Burning Wheel game, and… unfortunately coming to the conclusion that even though the rules in that were simple, the skills to properly frame scenes and conflicts are not. And with that, thinking more what needs to happen design-wise to make 1 hour games reliable and fun.

Procedures more than Directives

Procedures and Directives are two types of rules- procedures tell you step-by-step what to do in play, while Directives are general strategies and advice which isn’t broken down into steps. Anyone can follow procedures – directives take a lot of practice and mastery to develop.

For my BW game, and pretty much all stakes-setting games (Primetime Adventures, Sorcerer, HeroQuest, etc.) the strength is that you can use the same or nearly same mechanics to address any possible situation in play. The disadvantage is that being so flexible, it’s very easy to waste time either addressing non-interesting things, or producing non-interesting outcomes. Focusing both of these is a skill that is developed, and therefore, not particularly a great way to run with a 1 hour game for most people.

This is why we can look to the many rules light games of the past and see while the procedures might be very simple to resolve, it doesn’t necessarily mean that play moves at a faster or more entertaining rate- it’s all dependent on the framing skills of the GM at that point.

The Resolution Ratio

Second, the actual rules need to add enough to the imagined events, and to resolving the whole situation to make it work. When people talk about crunch or handling time of rules and mechanics, we’re talking about how much does it produce/resolve in the game fiction for how much time we have to take to roll dice/add numbers/go step by step.

The most efficient rule is “I say this happens and it happens” and every other rule in play has to give us something worthwhile to be worth more work than that.

This becomes especially clear when you consider an hour of play – if your resolution takes 2 minutes each time, and you use 5 resolutions over the game, you just spent 10 minutes, 1/6th of your time handling mechanics- what do those 10 minutes feed into the other 50 minutes of play? (or rather, what do those 10 minutes of mechanics feed into the 50 other minutes of “I say this happens and it happens”?)

And it’s not just speed here – it’s also making sure any resolution ONLY focuses on the things that matter.

So with time at a premium, your mechanics and resolutions need to:
– Be very fast and easy to handle
– Narrow in on only the things that matter for this game, for this situation
– Produce enough change in the situation to significantly advance the plot/situation/conflict

A Satisfying Chunk of Play

With all that in mind, then you have to figure out what situation can either be completely resolved or at least advanced far enough to become a satisfying chunk of play.

Notice that the first two issues completely define what this last one will look like- in a lot of crunchier games, an hour might give you enough to resolve a single fight and maybe a debate or skill challenge or something. In my BW game we oversaw the downfall of a kingdom- in about 4-5 dice rolls.

Games that do this

The one game that I know consistently does this, is Ben Lehman’s Hot Guys Making Out – it gets played at my friends’ RPG parties every single time, because it plays in an hour, and hits all the requirements above.

My guess is Emily Care Boss’ Breaking the Ice could also hit this category, if you develop the skills for fast play, though that would mean having to have played it a few times and developed some mastery.

Anyway, stuff to think about. I’m hoping to see a bunch of 1 hour games in the next few years. I think it’s going to open the doors for a lot more gamers.

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