Filler Material

On behalf of myself I would hereby like to most graciously welcome all readers of my blog to this week’s blog post. The emergency exit is marked with an ‘x’ and located at the top right of your screen. Today’s post will deal mainly with the subject of boardgames. These are a kind of game that are usually played on a board. There are many different kinds of boardgame, and different people may prefer different games. It is important to choose a game that you like, otherwise you may not enjoy it quite as much as you may possibly have done were you to have chosen a game that you did like. In fact, in a recent survey in which boardgamers were asked to rate games out of ten, researchers found that as many as half of all boardgames received less than the median rating, with some gamers claiming not to have liked certain games as much as others. Experts believe that this shocking statistic may indicate that decisions you make about how to do things may be able to have real implications for the ongoing condition of yourself and your environment going forward.

Filler games can often feel like this – a load of pointless waffle that does nothing more than waste your time when you could just have been relaxing or having a chat. Some games that are thought of as fillers can even become quite long and protracted and obstruct real gaming (a heinous offence). Consider for example Fluxx, where the objective can keep changing and no-one winning for hours on end, or Munchkin, where the most realistic way for the game to end is literally by divine intervention.

However, they can serve a useful purpose. Sometimes you need to fill up the gap while waiting for players to arrive or another game to finish, and it can also be good to have something that people can dip in and out of – Snatch, for example. The important thing is that the experience is actually enjoyable, otherwise the whole enterprise becomes a pointless nuisance. So, below are my recommendations for spotting a good filler game:

  • Filler games should be fast – look for games with real time elements or simultaneous play (or both). Ricochet Robots is a good example.

  • The rules should be easy to explain. If it will take you more than half as long to explain the rules as you realistically expect to play the game for at one sitting then maybe try something different.

  • Look for games with fixed end points (e.g. play for a certain number of rounds). One of the main reasons why you might want to play a filler game is because you know it will fit into a certain time window, so if the length of time the game will take is vastly unpredictable it somewhat defeats the point.

  • If the game is split into short, reasonably self-contained rounds then this is an added bonus as it will allow people to come and go as they wish.

  • The game should be playable with multiple different player numbers, ideally going to a slightly higher maximum than a longer game normally would.

  • Agricola is an excellent filler game. If you ever have a short period of time in which you want to fit a quick, light game, make it Agricola and you will not go far wrong. I would particularly recommend a twenty-one card rotational drafting scheme for card selection, followed by discarding down to seven of each, of course.

  • Despite being short, it should still be a game! Players must be able to make non-obvious decisions that influence the outcome significantly.

I suppose one final point about filler material is that it ought to be avoided when designing longer games – any section of the game where there are no important, non-trivial decisions to be made by the players should ideally be avoided. If needs be there can be some kind of transition mechanic that moves the game into the likely end situation of such a period of predictable play, thus saving the players some time.

In conclusion, we have discussed how boardgames can be played by players of boardgames who want to play games and have decided that boardgames are the kind of games that they would like to play on the specific occasion on which they have decided that they would like to play games. We hope that readers will take the thoughts raised in this discussion into consideration when deciding upon any future course of action relating to the possibility of debating the question of whether or not the playing of games is something that might be meaningfully approached as a potential talking point in negotiations about the future activities of those readers who believe that boardgames may be an important component of their ongoing social and interpersonal activities, now and in the future.

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I am a physicist who lives in Nottingham and I have been boardgaming for the last 10 years. My favourite boardgame is Agricola. I also enjoy playing the Yetis in Terra Mystica, hence the profile pic. I should also credit Sophie for drawing most of the cartoons that feature in the blog. Without her, there would be no grumpy oxen.

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