My post from the other day about making conscious design choices for convention-style play was mostly throat-clearing — I mentioned a couple examples, but it’s worth addressing more directly the methods that I’ve seen prove themselves useful. So, what are some concrete steps that a game or designer can take to better respect the time of busy players?
A reality check. What does this game really require in terms of time? When it comes to running it as a one-shot with just a few hours, is such a thing even possible? It’s fine if the answer is no! But be sure to state that plainly in the text, and ideally include the basis for why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Let people know what the obstacles will be, if they attempt to try and do it anyway.
Start-up prompts for players & facilitators. Lists of traits, looks, opening situations, provocative questions, possible conflicts already in play, and perhaps above all, names! You can use soft prompts, meant to be used or just inspire other options, or hard prompts that must be used to speed up the setup process even more. Life on Mars and Fall of Magic both do hard prompts well, and I mentioned a host of other games that do all or part of this well in my previous post.
Rules or adjustments for faster play. This could mean an abbreviated system instead of resolution rather than using a particular subsystem, like Bloody Versus instead of the full Fight! mechanics in Burning Wheel. It might also mean adjusting a mechanic that controls the number of scenes, when end conditions trigger, where the game starts, etc.
Advice for what to use, what to do, and what to avoid. Tips that are focused on what a facilitator should do in general are an expected part of a game’s text, but running a one-shot or convention game presents unique needs. All of these questions hit on those needs: Are some player roles less beginner-friendly, other otherwise outside the “core” of the game? Do certain setup choices lend themselves for a quicker start and better one-shot play? Does a particular subsystem eat up a lot of time? Do certain kinds of settings, plots, etc. work better for longform play than for shortform? What should absolutely be included for a typical one-shot game to be a success? The designer of a game probably has a lot of insight into what would make a single session the best it can be, and it’s incredibly useful to share that in plainspoken terms.
Dead-simple reference sheets. Not all games have a form that easily suits this, but when a game can boil down the moving parts of the play experience into an easy-to-follow outline, it’s a huge relief. The play reference for Kingdom is a great example — you can nearly play the entire game off that sheet. The book is still necessary for reference, as each step is listed more than explained, but it’s a wonderful tool to be sure you’re staying on track. That kind of tool puts all the players on more even footing, too. Anyone can look over the outline and have an idea of what might happen, how the game might end, etc., and inform themselves without needing to use more playtime to go over everything.