In one of my gaming groups we have a player that is constantly on their phone in between turns and we have another that will read a book in between turns. As annoying as I find this as a gamer, I think this is the fault of the designer to allow for their players to be engaged with something else when the game is being played. As a designer, I want to have my players engaged with the game and/or the people playing the game as much of the time as possible. Not only does it make for a better overall experience for everyone, it removes the potential for your games longevity to be penalized because there was one person one time that took forever to take their turn because they were doing something else.
Make the Board Activity Worth Watching
One way to help with down time is to make the action on the board integral to everyone’s actions. Players will need to strategize for their upcoming action and if they are not paying attention to a card being played or a movement of a piece, they will be making decision with incomplete information. The hope is that players will learn that they need to pay attention to the game at all times so they can make the best and most well informed decision when it comes to their action. This also applies to player interaction. If you have a lot of player actions that directly affect another player (this doesn’t have to be hit points), the chances of one player taking time away from the game to focus on something outside the game are fewer.
Never Let Players Stop Playing
We have talked about the idea of splitting up the turn phases to reduce the chances of Analysis Paralysis. Another benefit of this strategy is that plays are constantly engaged with the game. Just an example off the top of my head. If you had a game that supported 2-6 players and there were 4 action phases to a turn. You could split up each action and have it represented by one token. Those tokens would be moving around the board and every time the token was in front of a player, it was that players turn to take that action. If you had more than 4 players, there would be two people that were sitting there, not taking a turn, but they would not have the same amount of down time as they would if they needed to wait for 5 players to take their entire round of turns.
Part of good design, IMO, is a streamlined game that does not take a long time in between turns. When you are testing your game, ask the players if they felt like they had to wait too long. Watch the players when it in now their turn and assess if their attention wanders off because they need to wait so long to get a turn. A lot of down time issues can be taken care of with good streamlining and this is by far my favorite way to take care of down time because there are other benefits that come along with streamlining and there are some themes and mechanics that don’t take well to being split up.
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