One of the most obscure topics I came across when I first started with modern board games was board game weight. If you have not done much with board games recently, you might assume that this is referring to the physical weight of the board game. Some discussions on board games do involve the physical weight of the game, most will revolve around the logical weight of the game.
Board game weight usually refers to the length, depth, or complexity in learning for a particular game. The complexity of a game is the most commonly accepted usage, and it is the metric that Board Game Geek uses to measure game weight. However, the meaning of game weight tends to vary depending on who you’re talking to.
To help understand why discussions on game weight are so confusing, let’s examine the ways gamers understand the term.
Definitions of game weight
Game weight is typically described by gamers as how involved they felt after playing a game, how long a game is, or how deep the game feels to them. I think that the real answer is actually a combination of all three, but let’s look at each one a little more closely.
How the game feels
When I talked to several people I know, they usually described game weight as the feeling of a game after you’ve finished playing it. I especially hear this when talking about heavy games and how drained they make you feel after you’ve finished playing them. These are games that make you feel like you’ve had a workout for your brain.
The problem with judging a game based on how it makes you feel is that different people will feel differently about different games. Also, your level of engagement while you’re playing the game might be different than someone else. So, if you based game weight on feeling, the results are highly subjective. Also, it would be incredibly difficult to compare the weight of a game based on emotions, unless you reduced the argument to judge whether the game is merely light or heavy.
The depth of a game
When I talk about depth in a game, I’m usually referring to how involved the game makes you feel. A game with a rich story and incredible gameplay that uses the theme to drive the mechanics can make you feel like you’re part of the game. That you are deep within the game (see what I did there).
The difficulty of using this as a measurement for game weight is that - like the first measurement - this is highly subjective. One person can think a game is profoundly immersive while another person won’t. This is also difficult because it can be inconsistent throughout play-throughs of the same game by the same group.
If you’re playing a new game that is incredibly immersive, the first time around it will have a lot of depth because it is new. If you play that same game - provided there’s little to no variability provided in the game mechanisms - then the game will steadily become less involved. The weight will get lighter as you play. So how do you use a more measurable metric to measure game weight?
The length of a game
Game weight can also be defined by how long the game takes to play. This one is a little more concrete since you can measure how long a game takes to play, Using this metric, an arbitrary scale could make games that can play in 15 minutes be light games, and games that are 2 hours or more heavy games (I guess this scale would make Twilight Imperium a colossal game).
The tricky thing about this is game length can vary depending on many factors, such as who you’re playing with and how well they know the game, randomness in some games, or how focused you are while playing. Monopoly can take hours to play, but I don’t know anyone who would consider it a heavy game. (If you do, please let me know in the comments below).
King of Tokyo can play pretty quickly - especially if you start an all-out brawl going for the quick KO victory. However, the game can also take over an hour if you’re playing with young kids. Or you could try to play a highly tactical game, balancing attacks with healing and resource management that can make the game drag out for well over an hour.
Nevertheless, this can drastically impact the length of a game, and a long game that doesn’t leave you mentally exhausted defies the first definition we used of game weight.
Now you should understand why the weight of a game is hard to understand. I think that the best way to judge weight is by combining the metrics. On one end, a long game that is immersive and leaves you mentally exhausted would be a heavy game. On the other would be a short game with no depth and has the mental requirements of breathing would be the lightest of light games. Now, the problem comes into determining where games should fall on that scale.
Common terms for game weight
Many conversations on game weight use specific terms to describe the weight of games. These terms make discussing game weight a little more straightforward:
- Filler - This term is used for very light-weight games that can usually be played in 20 minutes or less. These are games that you use while you’re waiting for another group of gamers to finish their game.
- Family-weight - These games are usually games that trend towards the lighter side, but have more substance. These are games you can put on the table for a family game night, and everyone will be able to play.
- Party games - This term is usually used as a genre of games, but I felt it was appropriate to include here. These are often games with very little weight, little dependency on the game itself, and can be played simultaneously by large numbers of people.
- Heavy games - These are the games you see that usually - but not always - are sprawled out over a table. They are incredibly immersive, complex and tout long play times. Basically, these are games you schedule a game night around.
Hopefully including these terms helps you understand a bit more what people mean when they talk about different game weights. With the different weights of games out there, which ones are best to play? Or does the weight of a game matter?
How game weight affects playability
The weight of the game does matter, but for me, it doesn’t affect playability. I enjoy some light games like Zombie Dice, but I also thoroughly enjoy a play-through of Gloomhaven. However, some people tend to avoid games based on their weight.
Some people avoid heavy games because they are too involved or take too long to play. On the other hand, some gamers avoid light games because they might feel like their time is wasted on what they consider fluff.
It can be challenging to put together a game group if you have friends that don’t like to play a certain weight of games. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that you can’t please everyone. If you choose a good selection of games, you should be able to get your group to sit around the table, and everyone will have a good time.
What are the weight and dimensions of board games? Game weight is heavily dependent on the game. While there are standard box sizes, the weight can range between a few ounces and 20+ pounds. It's best to check the product page for each game for this information.
What are family-weight games? Family-weight games are games that are quick and easy to learn but have some depth to them. These are games you can put on the table and most people would be able to play.
What are party games? Party games are light games that rely on - or at least highly encourage - player interaction. These can also be played with large groups of players.
Game weight is something that is hard to define because it is not well understood. It can mean the immersiveness, length or complexity of a game. Board Game Geek uses the last of these in its weight measurement, which can help you find similar games.
What does game weight mean to you? Do you agree with the complexity rating on BGG to define the weight of a game? What game weight do you prefer to play? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
If you want to know when we release new content, please check back soon. Our email list will be coming out before too long.