The Art of the Lunchtime Gaming

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.

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.

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