Keeping pace (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

If you have played a number of games, you will have noticed how the pace in some games changes over time. A game might start slow and then speed up towards the end, or it keeps an even pace throughout. Some games even slow right down in the last round. In this article, I want to look at this more closely and see what affects the pace of a game.

I think a good example to start with are tableau and deck building games, like Wingspan or Mystic Vale. In these games, you start with a small number of options, but as your tableau increases or your deck gets better and thinner, you have more and more choices and usually more actions. The game starts slowly and eventually everything races along as one card procs another, setting off huge chains or combos, and suddenly, in one turn, you win the game and it’s all over.

Engine building games work in exactly the same way, because tableau and deck building games really are a certain type of engine builder, except maybe that in engine building games you produce resources and convert them into other resource and turn those into victory points, by completing objectives for example. Ultimately, it has the same effect though, because resources allow you to add to your engine and make it more efficient, effectively speeding things up.

Mind you, sometimes a game actually slows down when players get more options and more choices, especially when the game is limited by the number of rounds. As it heads towards the last round, everyone carefully considers what they need to do to get the most points, and if players have more choices later on, everything takes a lot longer to consider and think through. The game starts to drag, because nobody wants to miss a single point that could mean the difference between winning and losing.

I know how in Brass: Birmingham, everyone carefully considers their last few actions at the end of each era, or how in Terra Mystica every last action counts and can turn the game around. So everyone takes longer to decide what they want to do, bringing the pace of the game down to a crawl. I think that’s often frustrating for everyone around the table and leads to discussions about analysis paralysis or introducing a Chess clock.

That’s really a shame, but can’t really be changed, because while at the beginning of a game, it’s very hard to plan too far ahead and therefore it’s very hard to decide what actions are actually the best, when the game is nearly over, you can suddenly plan everything out and you can compare every option with each other to find the one that brings the most victory points.

That’s why I prefer games where you don’t know when they end. You have to do your best on every turn, but you can never fully plan everything out. In Scythe for example, where the game ends immediately when someone places their last star, nobody knows if they get another turn, and even though you do get a feeling for when the game is going to end, the game only slows down a little near the end. Sure, as it becomes clear that someone will end the game shortly, everyone will have to decide whether to do something on this turn or if they get another turn and do something else now, and those decisions will take longer to make.

However, Scythe is different in that your first few turns are much faster, because your engine isn’t running yet, but then the game seems to level out at a slower pace and only slow marginally near the end, which is quite an interesting behaviour actually.

There are also games where the pace doesn’t seem to change at all or very, very slightly. That’s often the case in games where every turn is basically the same. You don’t get more choices and you don’t even have to make your last turn count. To me, Chai is an example of this type of game. You basically do the same sort of things throughout the game and you don’t build an engine or tableau. You don’t get more abilities or powers.

Every turn you just have to decide between the same three choices: get flavours from the market, get items from the pantry or reserve a customer order and use a special ability. What you do depends on what you need at the time and to some degree what other players are doing. However, your actions don’t get better over time, even though timing is very important in Chai.

It sounds like the game is really boring, because it’s the same throughout, but there are other things, like the market mechanism, that make Chai interesting and exciting. The steady pace makes for a peaceful and calm game. You’re still happy when you win, but because the pace doesn’t change, you don’t feel quite as competitive as you otherwise would.

I think that’s why games with an even pace throughout are great for when you just want to have a calm evening with your partner or friends, while games where the pace increases and/or decreases as you play create a more stimulating experience.

So it seems that the pace of a game is an important part of the experience players get. I don’t think it’s something many of us are conscious of, except maybe when some games slow right down at the end, but I do think that it affects us more than we realise.

Have you noticed the pace in a game? How did it make you feel? Are there games that have a good pace? What about games where the pace just doesn’t feel right? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.


Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Music: Special Place by Ketsa (

Keeping time – how time limits can speed up games (Topic Discussion)

I enjoy games with quite a wide range of playing times. I like long games that take a couple of hours or more to play, up to a certain point at least. Anything above three hours is probably going to be too long for me. I also love quick games that take 15 minutes to half an hour, but I’m definitely not a fan of real-time games. In this article, I want to look at how timekeeping affects the gameplay experience.

Quick and Dirty

Let’s start by looking at games that play in under an hour. The shorter they are, the better they are for when you’re waiting for others to arrive or to wind down after a long game evening. These games tend to be light on rules and usually don’t require a lot of thinking. You usually make quick decisions and it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, because you can easily play again. Winning or losing is often a secondary motivation to play quicker games. They’re more about fun and filling time.

That’s why analysis paralysis doesn’t usually set in during lighter games. Nobody feels they have to fully think through their turn to make the best possible choice. Nobody worries that they’ll be spending a lot of time on a single game and therefore want to ensure they get the most out of it. Everyone knows that the game will be over quite quickly and they can either play again or move on to something else.

There are some quick games that come with a sand timer or similar device to keep the game moving. These games try to enforce a time limit to ensure it’s all over within a relatively short amount of time. I think that’s extra pressure that’s unnecessary. As I said, I don’t like real-time games and even if a game isn’t real-time as such, having a timed element in it can be really off-putting and create stress. I play games to have fun and to get rid of the worries and strains of the day, or the week. A game shouldn’t rush me. I want to enjoy it in my own time.

However, there is something to say in favour of finding a way to keep a game moving.

a number of coloured sand timers and two people playing the card game Kites (Photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)
sand timers in Kites (Photo courtesy of Floodgate Games)

Longer Games

If we look at the other end of the spectrum, where games take several hours to play, things change. Many longer games require a bit of planning. If you go in with a rough strategy, you’re probably better off. Even though it doesn’t matter quite so much at the beginning, thinking through your turn becomes more important towards the later game. Analysis paralysis becomes a reality in longer games.

These types of games also tend to have more rules and require more thinking. They can sometimes be quite complex, so you have to be careful and have a clear head to make sure you make no mistakes. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t become clear until the end whether an earlier turn was actually a mistake or not.

Longer games also tend to slow down towards the end. Many people will have come across the “last round syndrome“. It’s when everyone spends ages calculating how many points every possible choice offers, so they can take the action that gives them the most points. It often happens in the last round of a game, or if a game has a fixed number of rounds, it can be the last two or three rounds that slow to an excruciating crawl.

So if you were to introduce a sort of timer, maybe something along the lines of a chess clock, in those last couple of rounds, you could potentially speed up the game and probably make it actually more enjoyable overall. I know, I said that I hate real-time games and that I don’t want a sand timer. However, even I appreciate that sometimes it’s important to keep a game moving and not stretch it out longer than necessary. You don’t want games to outstay their welcome.

Gut Decisions

I think it’s sometimes useful if you trust your gut. Making perfectly calculated decisions may seem like the only way to win, but it also often takes longer. If you just play in a way that feels right, it’s going to be quicker. I must say, I’ve started to play that way a lot more often recently.

Some games are designed in such a way that the setting, theme, rules, mechanisms and everything mesh so perfectly, that you can literally just follow your gut instinct. The game almost leads you to victory and you’re not forced to constantly think through various options and weigh up the pros and cons of different decision trees.

If a game isn’t designed that way, then introducing a timer can push people towards following their noses. It’s probably going to feel odd and as I mentioned, can add some unwanted stress, but if everyone relaxes into it and maybe is less competitive, then being forced to make a decision on the spot can actually be fun. Get it right and you will feel amazing. Get it wrong, then the consequences can be disastrous and hilarious at the same time.

As I say, it’ll take some getting used to having a timer. You will have to agree as a group on what a good time limit is. It has to be realistic and not be set too low. Forcing the game to end early at all costs is not going to help. You probably also don’t want to be too strict in enforcing the time limit, but see it more as a rough guide about how long people should take on their turn. You probably also only need to introduce it towards the end of a game.

the game board and box from Brass (Photo courtesy of Roxley Games)
taking turns in Brass: Birmingham can take some time (Photo courtesy of Roxley Games)

Finish on Time

One game night, we decided in advance a hard deadline of when we would finish. So we didn’t have a timer, but instead said that we’d end the game at a certain time, irrespective of whether we’d actually finished or were still in the middle of a turn. I knew the game would last about two hours, so the deadline was actually achievable. When we reached about an hour before the end, I let everyone know and then made a time call about every 15 minutes.

I was surprised at how well this worked. We had a good hour where we could play leisurely and then another hour where we needed to speed up. We all wanted the game to finish on time and even though every decision became tougher towards the end of the game, we all started to trust our guts. In the end, we finished the game with three minutes to spare. Sure, we still had to put it all away, but that didn’t take too long.

So that’s another way to approach it. Again, you just have to make sure that the deadline is realistic and choose the game, or games, you play accordingly.

How About You?

Now I wonder if you’ve ever tried something like this. Did you ever have to finish at a certain time? Have you ever used a sand timer or chess clock to keep things moving in a game that doesn’t come with a timed element? Do you use other means to keep a game flowing? Maybe you don’t care and have all the time in the world. Whatever your experiences, please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Lofi Chill Hip-Hop by WinnieTheMoog
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Artist website: