The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Whose Turn is it Anyway?

There’s an old joke among gamers – if you have to ask whose turn it is, it’s probably yours.

So, what would cause some people to not realize it’s their turn?

There are a few reasons that come to mind.

The first is that turns are too long. If you’re playing a game with 4 or 5 other people, even if each turn takes only a couple of minutes, this can mean a lot of downtime between your last turn in the next. If you’re waiting 10 minutes for something to do, you’re naturally going to get bored and stop paying as much attention. Suddenly, the pattern on the floor tiles becomes immensely interesting.

The second reason is that there is a lack of investment. By that, I mean that whatever other players are doing on their turn, there is little to no impact on what you will be doing on your turn. If you’re simply waiting for something to do, once again you will quickly lose interest.

Reason number three is too many choices. When people have an overwhelming number of options, they sometimes face analysis paralysis (AP). It can sometimes take a player forever to take their turn if they are presented with too many choices.

Yet, there’s also another reason that you sometimes see people not remembering whose turn it is. This is when all the players are very engaged and interacting with each other. There may be some trading, negotiation, or bluffing going on, and when the smoke clears you have to focus back on where you were in the game and whose turn is next.

The first three you really want to avoid when you’re creating your own game. However, the last one is something you may want to strive for if it suits your game. It means that players are really getting into your game and are caught up in the moment.

How to avoid players losing interest

When it comes to designing your own game there are some helpful approaches you can take to ensure that players will not get bored when it’s not their turn, which in most games is the majority of the time.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Keep player turns short

The first idea is to keep turns short. Limit the number of things that a player can do on his or her turn so that it will quickly move on to the next player, reducing downtime substantially.

A good example of this comes from the game Splendor. On each turn, you can only do one thing. You must choose one of the following four actions:

  • Take three different coloured gems
  • Take two gems of the same colour
  • Take a wild “joker” gem and reserve a card
  • Purchase a card with your gems

You can see how this would keep the game moving along quickly.

Simultaneous play

A second method to try is to have all players involved at all times.

Take Telestrations for example. It’s a simple party game based on the concept of broken telephone. One person starts the message and it’s passed along from one person to the next. It is inevitably altered right up until it reaches the final destination with a completely new meaning.

Telestrations does this through pictures. You pick up a card, choose a topic, and write this down in your booklet. It then gets passed around the table, alternating between people drawing a picture and guessing what it is. Everyone gets one minute to complete their task. By the end, it’s often a completely different subject and everyone is laughing their heads off!

But it’s not just one player doing this at a time. Each player has their own booklet, which is constantly passed around the table. Everyone is playing simultaneously and there’s very little downtime.

Make player’s choices directly impact other players

The third way to accomplish this is through making player decisions directly impact others. If what I do on my turn matters to you, you’re going to be paying attention!

A great example of this is Cheaty Mages. In this game, you’re betting on which monster will win the battle, but you can also affect the battle by casting spells. You have to watch who is casting spells and on which monster. Are they trying to make it more difficult or improving that monster’s chance of winning?

Because the outcome of the battle depends on which monsters are being helped or hindered, you’re always paying attention to who is doing what.

Trade, negotiation, teamwork, or bluffing

Other ways to keep players engaged at all times can be achieved by making players engage directly with each other.

One example is Resistance. This is a social deduction game, in which you are trying to figure out who’s on your team and who is against you. Players form alliances, bluff, and try to call each other out. It’s a lot of fun and even if you’re the quiet shy type, you will find yourself deeply involved, whether through observing others, being questioned, or getting wrapped up in the intrigue.

Planning and strategizing

If players need to look at the board, their cards, and what other people are doing when it’s not their turn, they will continue to be engaged with the game. You want players to be thinking about what to do next, how to accomplish a goal, or how to best use a card they’ve just drawn.

In Azul, you’re always looking at the available tiles and plotting what your best move is. What tiles should I take? Where should I place them? What do my opponents want? What’s my backup plan if another player takes what I want?

You’re always focused on the game, as you need to be planning, sometimes many moves ahead.

What to keep your eye on when making your own game

While playtesting your game, observe the amount of time it takes for players to take their turn. What are players doing during their turn? What are other players doing while they are waiting for their turn?

Are you giving them enough meaningful choices without putting their brain into overload?

Figure out ways to keep all the players engaged using one or more of the approaches above. Quite often they work very effectively in combination.

What game do you love for its quick turns or constant action? How does this game accomplish this pace and player interest?

Tags: , , , , ,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    I disagree with the direct impact thing. If my entire turn depends on an ever changing board state, then I can’t plan during someone else’s turn, which means my turns take longer, and the downtime leaves me with little to do. I think those moments have a place in games, but they have to be rare enough that I still feel like it’s worth planning my turn ahead of time.

    Good point, Jon.

    I should have added more specifically “as long as previous players can’t change the game state so drastically that subsequent players can’t really plan their turn.”

    I’m working on a game right now that faces this challenge. All players draw tiles at the start of a round and can begin to plan their turn, however all players can alter the board fairly substantially during their turn, so planning ahead is only somewhat helpful. We’re testing solutions for this dilemma currently.