Variant: The Impact of Setup Time


Sometimes, big boxes have the worst organization systems

Most games are pretty easy to play right out of the box. A few minutes of setup, a lengthy play, and a few minutes of take down. Easy peasy. In fact, most gamers use plastic baggies, plano boxes, or other sorting devices to ensure that the game can be set up relatively quickly. So, most of the time, it isn’t a big deal. But does there come a time when setup is prohibitive to gameplay? Frankly, yes.

This isn’t true for most games. Five to ten minutes of setup is perfectly reasonable for a ninety minute game. But, I don’t think a longer game necessarily demands a longer setup time. One of the bigger offenders of setup excess is Mansions of Madness. The game takes forever to set up. It tries to make the task less arduous by putting the team players in charge of house set up and the Keeper in charge of Keeper setup. But, even so, it is still a bear that can take a half hour just in setup. The similarly themed Arkham Horror can also require a decent amount of pre-game preparation before you’re allowed to play.

A lighter example might be 7 Wonders with both Leaders and Cities tossed in. For a game that might take about an hour or just over (the expansions do add to the play time), it can be a pain to spend fifteen minutes or so getting the right cards together (based on player count), adding in the right number of guilds, and properly mixing and adding in the right number of City cards.

In these cases, the game itself doesn’t become less fun based solely on its play time. In fact, once it’s up and running, it can be quite fun. But, knowing that a substantial portion of game night is going to be spent in set up can be very discouraging to play. Especially for euro players trying to maximize efficiency, losing leisure time to set up, rather than to gaming, can seem like a big negative.

What’s interesting is that long set ups exist in other games where it doesn’t bother me at all. Eclipse, Mage Knight, Through the Ages, and Game of Thrones all have decent set up times. Maybe with regard to Eclipse, Mage Knight, and Game of Thrones, I know I’m going to be spending a substantial chunk of my time playing anyway, so the added setup doesn’t feel like much of a loss. If we play Eclipse at game night, odds are I’m not playing much else. And, maybe with something like Through the Ages, I just love the game so much I overlook the set up.

What about you? Do you find yourself enjoying a game less if it has a lengthy setup process?

There are 3 comments.

  1. futurewolfie said on October 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

    There are a few games that come to mind when I think of long setup time: Twilight Imperium, Legends of Andor, and most recently the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.

    For a game like TI, I don’t mind the setup time. The game is an event anyways, and I can set up ahead of time. Not to mention the actual playtime dwarfs the setup.

    Legends of Andor is a decently long game with an average-to-long setup time. However, like many cooperative games, there are circumstances in which you fail and fail quickly due to bad luck. When that happens, in most coop games you can just re-set quickly and try again, but in Andor the re-set time really discourages another attempt.

    Pathfinder is a fairly fast-playing card game that doesn’t have a ton of bits and parts. But for each scenario you have to build a bunch of different decks from a bunch of different sets of cards and it takes FOREVER. It’s crazy. I try to set up as much as possible beforehand but this is a kind of game you might want to play a few scenarios in a row or try again when you fail, but it’s really very tedious.

    Which brings up another topic – games that take forever to put away. Pathfinder is both, since once you’re done you have to re-separate cards by type. Ugh.

  2. FarmerLenny said on October 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I don’t mind the 7 Wonders setup, but usually because I play it either 1) at lunch, where we really wouldn’t have time for two games anyway, or 2) at family gatherings, where we’re likely to play several games in a row. But setup time does impact the likelihood I’ll play a game. Trajan is hard to roll out for that reason, as is Agricola. (In fact, when I first got Agricola, my wife and I played nine times over the course of our [snow] day and not much afterward because it was a bear to set up. Easier to leave it where it was…)

  3. GeekInsight GeekInsight said on October 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I think part of it might also just be desire. I really like Trajan. A lot. So even though it does have some setup time (especially with setting up forum tiles, building tiles, trajan tiles, etc), it passes quickly for me since I just want to get to the meat of the game.

    So setup time probably matters more to me when I’m not as excited about a game.

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