As game designers, it’s really easy to take yourself too seriously. Let’s face it – making anything takes an enormous amount of time and effort, and it’s easy for it to become precious to you. But you’ve got to know when to just have fun. Your game can be funny. It can be tongue-in-cheek. It can even be… *gasp* a filler game.
Not every game needs to be an epic affair that takes an hour to set up, dozens of pages of rules to learn, and an entire evening to play. There’s absolutely no shame in designing a fun little game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Filler games sometimes get a bad rap because they’re oftentimes the game that people play in-between sessions of the bigger, more complex games. And, sometimes, filler games just lack the deep strategy or replayability that more “proper” epic games have.
But just because a game is “filler” doesn’t mean it can’t be strategic or replayable. All the “filler” designation means is it that it fits within a certain timeframe. A “filler game” is literally just a game that fills a period time.
So what makes a great filler game? What are the qualifications? I’ll break it down, below, but just a disclaimer – these are only my opinions. If I missed something you think is important, or you have any differing ideas, feel free to comment! 🙂
- Can be played in under an hour – It’s hard to consider something “filler” when it takes an entire evening to get through. Filler games can fit in-between other things. From set-up to tear-down, they should last less than an hour.
- Set-up and Tear-down don’t take long – Filler games should take no longer than two minutes to set-up. This means most games with oodles and oodles of fiddly bits are generally not going to be considered filler games. If your gaming group can play another game in the time it takes you to set this one up… then it’s not a filler game.
- Easy to learn – Filler games should take just a couple minutes to learn or teach to someone else. Ideally, they should be playable without reading any sort of rule book, and they should be able to be taught during gameplay itself. Lots of great filler games put out video tutorials or single-card cheatsheets to help new players get into them for the first time.
- Can be taken anywhere – This isn’t a compete necessity, but the best filler games come in small packages. This makes it easy to grab it and go – they can be taken to a friend’s house, stuffed into your bag to play on lunchbreak at work, set up at the bar or restaurant without causing a scene, or taken on a camping trip without weighing you down.
- Has enough strategy to be replayable, but not prone to analysis paralysis – This is a tricky balance. Great filler games should have enough depth so that they aren’t total throwaways, but shouldn’t be so complex that decision-making is slow and painful. I often cite games like Machi Koro or Boss Monster as prime examples of the right balance.
One of these days, I’d like to do a “top filler games” list post. I’ve got quite a few… and quite a few I haven’t gotten a chance to play in awhile! Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,