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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

The Art of the Lunchtime Gaming

by Ken Newquist / September 9, 2008

One of the things I've always envied about the folks working at Wizards of the Coast is their ability to have a lunch-time game. In thinking about it, the single biggest challenge in running a lunch game is not time, but players. If you can find enough co-workers to get a game together, then time management, rather than time, becomes the challenge.

So the question becomes ... how do you run a game in only an hour?

Mike Mearls has discussed his lunch games in the past on the D&D podcast, and his approach is to basically run it as a series of one-shot scenarios. It sounds a lot like a glorified miniatures game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing ... but not quite what i"m looking for. Incidentally, you can read about his lunchtime OD&D game here.

I figure you've got about 45 minutes of actual game time during a lunch session. I'd want a game that's got a good mix of role-playing and combat, allocating perhaps 15 to 20 minutes for each, with about five minutes of wiggle room. Two sessions a week seems reasonable, say on a Tuesday and Thursday. That'd give you a total of about 1.5-2 hours of gaming a week, which isn't huge, but if it's consistent you could get a nice, fast-moving campaign ot of it.

With this sort of setup in mind, my choice of game systems is limited. D&D, in either 3E or 4E form, is out simply because combat is too complex. I need a game that can resolve its fights in 15-20 minutes, topping out at 40 for particularly complex battles.

Risus is an obvious choice, especially if the lunch games are designed to light-hearted, lite games. I can easily see kicking things off with a nice month-long Gamma World-themed game using those rules. The rules are free, and it's insanely easy to hack together new cliches for players to use in game. I've never run it, but everything I've seen and read says that combat's quick and fun.

The other option is Savage Worlds. I like this idea even more because it's crunchy enough to appeal to a large range of gamers, supports a bunch of established worlds (Solomon Kane, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Sundered Skies), and players can get by with a $10 source book. Of these, Pirates appeals to me most -- I'd love to run a nice six-month pirates campaign featuring courtly intrigue, swashbuckling battles, and the occasional delve into a lost temple. The mechanics are fast and, in my opinion, pretty easy to pick up, and its "fast, fun, furious" motto fits the idea of lunchtime gaming perfectly.

Of course, I realize this kind of setup wouldn't work in a lot of places -- getting a lunchtime game together would be a lot easier for someone like me, who works in IT at a college -- than someone who works at a more mainstream job. I work with geeks, and I don't think it would hurt my reputation if folks knew I ran a game on my lunch breaks (keep in mind that my boss and I have competing collections of Star Wars LEGOs in our offices). Getting together off-campus, perhaps at the local coffee shop or downtown game shop, might still be adviseable though.

That said, there may be other options -- both Risus and Savage Worlds would be theoretically easy enough to run over Skype, perhaps whiteboarding any in-game terrain using Twiddla. Heck, as much as I like the idea of a face-to-face game, that might be the easiest way to get started with something like this.

We'll see how things go. At this point, the idea is purely speculative, but as the semester progresses I may try and get something together. The idea of being able to get a quick gaming fix during the week is just too darn appealing.


I think my goals of a lunch time game would be different than yours. I think if I weren't running a crunchy D&D combat game, I'd want to take advantage of short sessions with a minimal amount of players. I'd pick a system that has a number of sub-systems, like Aces & Eights or Starblazer Adventures (never played either, just received the capsule decisions.) That way, on Monday, it could be a session where Bob just gambles for an hour, and Ted manages his saloon, without trying to squeeze in a discrete plot (that would have to be planned for every day.) I'd probably also want an actual long session once every two weeks or so outside of lunch.

I've been thinking of what I would want in a lunchtime game. I think I would want (1) A brief introduction that drops me right into the action, (2) A really unique, even strange, combat encounter, (3) A clear choice between two or more important options, (4) A reward, based on the outcome of the combat + the choice I made.

I agree -- I think that a lunch time game would need to be tightly focused, with clear, achievable objectives. I envision it as being highly serialized, and you need to make up for the lack of multi-hour, in-depth game play with rapid-fire character development.

I think that sort of thing plays to a lunchtime game's strengths, and over the course of a month you could really string together a pretty cool story.

That could work. It's something I've thought about in my own campaign -- how do you give players the chance to do their own thing in the game without bogging down the rest of the group? Offering short lunch time adventures (or role-playing encounters, such as gambling) would be a good way of doing that.

It's something I'll need to keep in mind as we head into our Star Wars campaign; I'm not sure what everyone will be playing, but I could see running a short lunchtime serial where two of the Jedi run off to investigate some particular problem for the order, or the mechanic has to chase down a part for their disabled starship. We've done some of this through play-by-post in our forums, but that's often hit or miss.

Scheduling an hour over Skype though, in which everyone needs to block out some time to focus, could be a great solution.