In praise of short games

I have many halcyon memories of playing games as a kid, but looking back, there is one that seems particularly fantastical: I used to play very long games. In titles such as the Civilization series, I’d choose the largest possible maps and take advantage of any option to keep playing after I’d already won. I even remember one childhood X-Com game that I never finished – I’d effectively maxed out the tech tree, and years and years of in-game time would pass, but I’d still happily roam around planet Earth swatting UFOs instead of progressing to the endgame.




Now that I’m grown up and working, when I play strategy games, I always turn down the map size or select the “short” campaign. That’s the only way I’ll have time to finish and then move onto something else. (This kills a second bird, too – shorter games are a better fit for the front-loaded pacing of many strategy titles.)  But my options are more limited with “narrative”-style titles, such as RPGs. Offhand, I can think of only one short RPG in recent times, Recettear, and that was a story-light game. Most RPGs, especially high-profile ones, are packed with plot, dialogue, side quests, and, of course, grinding. I still enjoy lengthy RPGs, but I often don’t have the time to finish them – when I buy them at all. The big exception is portable games – my current PSP title (Persona 3), and the two before that (Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre) are all behemoth RPGs – because there, I can take several months to chip away at them during my daily commute.


And playing on after I’ve won? Unimaginable. Now, strategy, RPG, or otherwise, the closer I come to the finish line, the more I want to be done with the game.


(I don’t have this problem with other media – I’ll still happily read a doorstop fantasy novel – because even the longest novel is much, much shorter than the typical RPG.)


What about you? Do you prefer to play short or long games? Do you keep playing after you’ve won? And has this changed over time?

4 thoughts on “In praise of short games”

  1. Civ IV marathon speed games. Marathon speed expands out costs around 3 times as much. So three times as many turns in the game, with research, population growth and production costing three times as much. However, unit speed remains the same. What that means is that I can conquer another Civ with an army and not have them become obsolete once they’ve arrived. Or to put another way, I actually build musketmen in a marathon game now. Normal speeds it is just easier to go from Longbows to Riflemen.

    I can certainly see another appeal with a shorter game. Going with a Total War example, the short campaign feels about right when it comes to completion. With the grand campaign, with M2 and Rome, it was simply a case at the end of being too powerful, and grinding away to finish the game, and thus why I have yet to finish a grand campaign in either Rome or Medieval 2. Too much micro, but I know I’d win.

    I think the trick with long strategy games is that they need to be easy to pick up and put down for long periods of time. The simplest solution would be an in-game log that could record events for older and more prone to fail memories. It would also allow a player to annote their own notes as the game progresses.

    Also, I don’t typically keep on playing the same strategy game after I’ve won. I normally like to go looking for alternate challenges, and that means either starting over or finding a new game. Other games, like ARPG’s (like Titan Quest for the loot) or any game which includes a fun collectible system (like Just Cause 2) I will constantly revisit.

    1. Actually, yeah, the game speed setting in Civ 4 is unique for the reasons you named – it affects the rules in a way that, say, dialing down the map size doesn’t. I think I used to play a mix of speeds (quick all the way to Marathon) in Civ 4, but in Civ 5 I just play normal or quick.

      Agreed with you about short campaigns in Total War – that’s the best option even in Shogun 2.

      Re: the log, that’s one I’d need to think about. I think one issue would be sorting out the important details from all the other events happening — look at the EU3 log for an extreme example of this! RPGs do better, although they’re broken down into discrete quests. Maybe Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon would be the best example of what you’re talking about? (I only played the demo, though.)

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