Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Is it My Turn?

What is this thing called, anyway?

This is an old argument that goes back to roleplaying, second only to the confusion about the word "level".

The four most popular appear to be "turn", "round", "action", and "phase". There is no guarantee that anyone will use these words in the way you want them to be used. You could have several phases within a turn, or several turns within a phase.

Take two actions on your turn. Or is it three turns per round? Or three rounds per turn?

Does "round" imply that everyone gets a turn, and "turn" imply that only one person gets a turn?

Games and turns

Most games consist of a number of ... let's call 'em "turns" for now. However, not all do. A simple game of Pit is one turn for all players. In fact, you could say that there are no turns at all.

In games with turns you may have a fixed number of turns or a variable number, or both. A number of games now have the "until someone wins or N turns maximum" rule, which is a neat way of preventing a game from dragging on. Or dealing with a flawed game design.

Turn equality

In some games, each player has the same capabilities on their turn as every other player. Chess is a good example. One turn, one piece.

In other games, players may have unequal turns. On my turn I may be able to do X, Y, and Z, but on your turn you can only P and Q. This is usually due to having been assigned a certain role in the game, such as the Traitor in Shadows over Camelot, or the judge in Apples to Apples. In Cosmic Encounter it could be due to a variable player power.

Turn subdivisions

Sometimes it is hard to define what a turn consists of. In Apples to Apples, is a turn "each person gets to be the judge", or is it "one person judges and the other players play a card"? Is that one round with a number of turns?

Some games explicitly have unfairly balanced positions. They may say that multiple games are played with each player getting a chance to have a certain advantage or disadvantage. Is that one game with multiple turns, or multiple games?

And when dividing turns, you can end up with several types of divisions.


ASL is a classic example of this, as is Puerto Rico, Civilization, and so on. On each turn you do A and then B and then C, or you may be able to do A, B, and C in any order on your turn.

Action points

Tikal and Torres are famous examples, but so is Princes of Florence. There is no guarantee in any game that all people have the same number of points on each turn. In Goa, for example, some players earn additional action points through the auctions or other means.

Maybe in any game with resources, such as money or acquired cards, you can look at your holdings as action points. E.g. in Settlers of Catan you might have three wood action points, two brick action points, and a wheat action point. You get to play as many actions as you want or can by spending these points, or you can hold them over to the next round. In Power Grid you have as many actions as your money allows.

Sometimes they can be saved from one turn to the next, and sometimes action points are inherently variable (roll a die each round to see how many times you can play).

Task list

Similar to phases, you may have the opportunity to do certain things a certain number of times. For example, in Magic the Gathering you draw once, may attack once, may play a land once, and may play other cards multiple times.

Like action points, the game can make the available tasks variable or let you save them from one turn to the next.

Timed turns

A favorite of party games. In an odd contrast, also a favorite of tournament strategy games which give you an allotment of time you have to use for the entire game, such as Chess or Scrabble.

So there's more in common between Chess and Time's Up than you thought.

Turn Order

How do you take turns?

Simultaneous turns

Pit. Icehouse. Anagrams. Any game where all player's turns are simultaneous. Unless we're talking about sports, these games are usually loud and highly chaotic. Sports are less chaotic, but just as loud.

Responsive simultaneous turns

This would be any game where one player, or group of players, acts and then the other players act. Zendo is an example, where each player sets up a figure, then one player judges, and then this repeats. Or where teams take turns asking each other questions.

Alternating turns

Your classic turn taking game.

Alternating interruptible turns

Your classic turn taking game where other players have an opportunity to do something during your turn, such as Magic the Gathering (play instants) or Settlers of Catan (trade). These games are generally more involving than strictly alternating turns, unless the turns are short.

Alternating turn layers

Games where a turn is broken into various phases where all players act in sequence. It amuses me, so I will once again I will lump Puerto Rico and ASL together as good examples.

Fixed turn rotations

Not all games give each player a turn every N turns. This could be due to players earning or winning extra turn cards (Cosmic Encounter's Timegash), or due to a turn order changing mechanism (Puerto Rico, if you think of the phases as turns). Or in games where the winner of the round is "it" for the next round.

Variable number of turns

In some games you can only play if some conditions are fulfilled. In San Marco, you no longer play if you have accumulated a certain number of cards. In Goa, the player with the starting flag gets an extra turn to auction.

Of course, in some games you stop playing if you have been eliminated from the game. As bad as player elimination is as a mechanism, it is recommended that players stop taking turns when eliminated from the game only in games that actually include this mechanism.

Other player's turns

What do you do on other player's turns?


If the turns are short, you may not have time to think much. If the turns are too long, you may not want that much time to think. If the game is chaotic, thinking on other player's turns may be irrelevant. The game state will have changed so much by the time it gets back to your turn that you'll have another think coming.


When the game allows, you can participate when it is not your turn, such as offering to trade during Settlers of Catan. Or, when allowed, you may be able to interfere with their actions. For example, guarding the goalposts in some dexterity game. Sadly, I can't think of any Eurogames that allow this.


I could mean either one of two things with this. Either give advise to the other player, which some people like and some don't.

Or, if the game allows, I could mean give assistance, such as throwing cards that help the other player or calling out guesses for your team during Charades.

So nu? Is it my turn, yet?



Steadman said...

Interesting post.... what do I do on other peoples’ turns? Depends on the game…and the people I am playing with. That would be an interesting thread! Ever try to play two games at once? I do that a lot at Cons, but then again monster games have a lot of down time. Ever try that with a couple designer games?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

In my group I am usually the fastest player, because a) I read the rules and explain the game, b) I guess that I have an instictive general gaming nature, and c) I refuse to think more than two turns deep or remember more than two turns past.

So as host of the group, I will occasionally play a second game with a latecomer while the main game is going on. Since I play quickly anyway, it doesn't drag the game down.

The second game is usually a lighter game, like Yinsh or Cribbage.


Anonymous said...


When the game allows, you can participate when it is not your turn, such as offering to trade during Settlers of Catan. Or, when allowed, you may be able to interfere with their actions. For example, guarding the goalposts in some dexterity game. Sadly, I can't think of any Eurogames that allow this."

I can. Bang. He plays a Bang!, you play a Missed! to interfere with their play.

ekted said...

Oh, I long for the consistency of the usage of those words. The worst offender is Power Grid. :)

Shannon Appelcline said...

I wouldn't call Bang! a Eurogame, despite the nationality of the designers. It pretty clearly falls into the Anglo-American beer & pretzels school of games.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Dave: Now that I think about it, Cosmic Encounter and Munchkin both have that, too.


Fraser said...

Ditto Illuminati has playing or having actions out of turn, but again hardly a Euro. Also the much revered, or is that reviled, Kill Doctor Lucky.

Terminology was much easier in the old school D&D days. A turn consisted of ten rounds, a round consisted of ten segments.