What Makes a Game a “Filler”?

We boardgame geeks certainly have our own lingo when it comes to games- Euro games, point salad, deck drafting, Ameritrash, filler games, 4x games, etc.  To the non-gamers, it could be a bit confusing. What does it all mean?

Is it a filler game? A hand management game? A Card game?

Is it a filler game? A hand management game? A Card game?

Often, in regards to certain games (like my recent review of Yardmaster Express), the word “filler” is thrown around a lot. I am guilty of this as well. For some this could be a little confusing. What do we mean by the word “filler” What makes a game a filler versus the “main event”?

First, lets get some logistics of the term defined. When I (and most gamers) use the word “filler”, we are referring to a game that is short in play length, with little set up. Typically, these are the little games that might come out as a friendly diversion in between games of say, Caylus, or Puerto Rico.

So short, simple, and light game play…. It could be tempting to add many micro games to this category, but some of them are more complicated than say Uno, or Yardmaster Express, or Ratuki. So do they make the cut?

And then, there is the consideration of time. Some nights, all we have time for are “filler” games, though we would gravitate towards one that feel more like a bigger game in a smaller package. In that case is the filler game still a filler game?

Some nights, the filler game becomes the main event....

Some nights, the filler game becomes the main event….

Granted this is rather meaningless debate over definitions, but it does seem a little hard to define what a filler game is- It can depend on who is playing and the time you have whether Scrabble Slam is the main event of the night, or just an ice-breaker/filler for that bigger game like Pay Dirt.

This brings us to the point of why I really like these so-called filler games- they are so versatile. They can stand in for a bigger game when time doesn’t allow, or when people want something simple. They can fill in the dead spaces in between bigger games. They can be thrown in a pocket or bag and taken on vacation, or on day trips. While they may not be as long or as deep as the big ticket games, they have more openings to be played.

For me, I consider any game that is portable, and plays in 45 minutes or less to be more of a filler game (In the broadest sense). They have varying degrees of depth, but all are light, portable, fun games that can fill this dual role.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

  1. Station Master– This is one of my popular games in this category. It has slightly longer gameplay, 30-45 minutes, and is simple to play. DSCF3197
  2. Empire Engine– This is a great strategy game in a small package. Short gameplay under 30 minutes, more complicated to learn and master, but fun to play.DSCF3172
  3. Yardmaster Express– Arguably the simplest game on this list, this game is closer to Uno than say Empire Engine. But it is fast (10 minutes) and really simple, and addictively fun.DSCF3595
  4. Harbour– This is arguably the most complicated game on this list, but it is still relatively easy to play, and a lot of fun. It nicely boils down the big worker placement strategy games into a smaller, simpler package. This game takes about 30-50 minutes to play.DSCF3133
  5. Infection Express– While very luck dependent, this game is a fun challenge. It takes the experience of Pandemic (which itself is a shorter, simpler game) and makes it smaller. Gameplay is quick, usually 10-15 minutes, and like Yardmaster Express, you will find yourself muttering, “just one more game!” or “Let’s play again, so I can beat you now!”

    All is not well in Disney World

    All is not well in Disney World

Weigh in with your comments: What do you define as a filler game? What are some of your favorites? Let us know!



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