Recommendations: Group Games in an Hour


In conversations with some people who organize a festival I regularly attend, they were talking about how tabletop RPGs are a hard sell for people at a primarily non-tabletop focused event. In the course of brainstorming ways to make bigger, more complex games easier to sample in that particular venue, I started thinking about what games are good for approximately one hour of play for 4-6 people, and still provide a satisfying experience.

Here are three that I thought of:

Cheat Your Own Adventure: Players take turns narrating the twists and turns of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, steering the main character forward and at times narrating their untimely demise. This story game of unfortunate endings is a perfect experience in steadily ratcheting tension that can be applied to nearly any genre you can think of. It uses an incredibly simple resolution mechanic and requires only two D6 to play. The shared narrative control and ability for players to both advance the plot and narrate bad endings makes this one fun from a variety of angles. The tension mechanic means you’re guaranteed to finish in about an hour, barring the most loquacious of players. Learn more about Cheat Your Own Adventure here.

For The Queen: As fellow questers on a mission with your queen (whom you all love), you tell stories about how great and terrible she is until the sudden moment when calamity strikes. This oracle-based collaborative game can get really emotionally-involved and the world you collaboratively create can be as rich and detailed as you want, or you can focus totally on the interpersonal dramas. Can also flex well into most genres. The ending mechanic (drawing a specific card that forces you to make one final choice) can either be put into the deck to come up at random, or can be set aside and used when time has run out for your game. Learn more about For The Queen here.

Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller: I haven’t had the chance to play this one, so I’m just summarizing my understanding of the rules. This game revolves around one constant character, the host of a radio show who is broadcasting live as the world is ending. Every other player at different points phones in to expand on the world you all live in and how it is suddenly, irrevocably ending. You strip away layers of propriety and pretense until it’s just real people connecting at the end of everything. Each round brings players closer to the end, and mechanically this can be pushed forward as time necessitates. Learn more about Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller here.

What are your recommendations for games that can be played in an hour and still feel like complete, satisfying experiences?


The Short and Easy game jam focused on games that could be played in less than 2 hours, so it could be good to take a look at the submissions there


A UK designer, Simon Burley, often takes RPGs to gaming-adjacent conventions and runs The Delian Tomb (?) for complete beginners using a pared back Black Hack, where each chunk runs within an hour


Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller is a freeform larp and tends to run longer than an hour.

You might look at roleplaying poems and nano-games, which often distill an interesting experience into a small chunk. The Believers is one of my favorites.


It wasn’t me!
I never played it, but according to the author this is played in less than an hour:


If given only an hour, I’d probably run them through two missions in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. In my experience, I can usually handle explaining the game, character creation and the first mission in about half an hour. So if we have a short mission, we can finish and resolve the pilgrim’s destinies in about an hour.

I’d also consider Action Castle, which can definitely be completed in that time frame and would be a satisfying experience, but isn’t a very conventional RPG experience.

I’ve run Psi*Run for 1 or 2 players in that time frame, but it was pretty rushed. You could, maybe, have it work where the players only have one question apiece to answer, and the game ends when most players have done so.

I believe that Epidiah was running “speed runs” of Swords Without Master where they were trying to complete a game in under an hour. But I don’t think that would work well with people unfamiliar with the game.

You might be able to get a round of two in of a game like Microscope or The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen


One of the core rules of Puppetland is that sessions last no more than 60 minutes.


It’s in the territory of LARP but Ghost Court definitely applies, here.


The Goose of Grillner Grove is the best game I’ve played in a while, and it is super short and very charming.

Jonathan Walton’s game Restless, which you need to bug him for (totally worth it) allows for recursion and a rapid cycling of players. I’ve run it at a natural history museum, where people would stop in for ten minutes, play a scene, and move on. It’s a great game that I’ve also run in two hour chunks at Origins and Gen Con.