Keeping Turns On Point

At the moment I’m talking about pace in games. Last post was about making sure there’s not massive gaps and doing whatever we can to reduce the game killer- downtime. Today I want to write about something else- the structure of a player’s turn.

The structure of a player’s turn has a massive impact on the pace of a game. If you’ve ever played a game where someone has sat around not knowing if it’s there turn, that’s a pace issue caused by either a lack of structure to a turn (or player’s not paying enough attention). I know from playtesting some of my old designs, if a player could do too many things during their turn, or rounds weren’t structured enough, the game can dissolve quite rapidly. Some of the causes are: excessive admin during a turn, being able to do multiple things in any order; & spending resources/ action points to do an action, but also being able to do multiple additional actions on top, or stockpiling resources to have an exceedingly long turn when they choose. Now unfortunately I don’t want to turn this into a slagging blog where I criticise other games, so I guess I’m talking in abstracts here when highlighting the bad, but hopefully I can illustrate excellent turn structures in (non-simultaneous play) games.

The ‘you can only do one thing’ turn. In so many superb games. Agricola- place one person and do the action, Splendour- either take some tokens, a card, or buy a card, and so on and so forth. A quick an easy Euro mechanism to make sure everyone can stay on point. You’ll know it’s your turn because the player next to you has just had there’s. The structure will game the game progressing smoothly, provided no AP, and makes it simple for people to see what’s happening.

The ‘you do these things in this order’ structure. Think any game which comes with a list of instructions for players to follow, such as Cosmic Encounter or Good Cop, Bad Cop. Or even the finality of buying a card in Dominion. Clearly less intuitive the first time then just giving players one thing to do, but with a clear list and order to follow, players can understand the flow of a game, and get to the point where it’s not needed. In Dominion the importance of buying a card is emphasised through it’s place in the turn structure- everything you do is to build up to this action. The changing of the aim in Good Cop, Bad Cop, is cleverly placed at the end of the turn, catching out most new players who want to change and then shoot, but that delay gives the game a lot of its tension. Not only does clever turn structure elegantly draw attention wherever the designer wants it, but a final full stop to a turn lets other players know the turn is finished without having to announce it to the table.

In 3 Districts* I have tried to follow the second of these structures. I’m toying with the idea of only allowing players one action, but even with that restriction there still needs to be a ‘tax’ phase at the beginning of every turn. But the turn structure is written on the player mats and allows for clear progression from player to player.

*thinking of changing the name to ‘From the Ground Up’, which I’m growing fonder and fonder of.

You can always go…

Downtime.

(AKA Maintaining the Pace pt 2)

In my last post (before I lost the internet for over a week. What a calamity!) I talked about why pace is so important, and that I’d revisit the three things I consider key to maintaining a good pace. So here’s the first one from the list: Downtime (as well as some stuff about 3 Districts because that’s what’s compelling me to write all this stuff).

Downtime is, at best, an unfortunate necessity in a lot of games. If there’s meaningful choice there has to be meaningful time to consider the options. But there are things games can do to alleviate the downtime.

  • No cards filled with text. If most cards have an array of new rules, conditions, events etc, then every time a card is drawn the game comes to a halt whilst people work out what it means. If the mechanics are too complex to describe with symbols or a few words, then question whether they’re worth disrupting play for. It may be the case that some exciting cards are needed to make the game what it is- but make sure when playtesting that you measure the downtime induced by these cards, and always look for ways to streamline their explanation.
  • Keep player’s turns as short yet meaningful as possible. A players’ turn should never consist of just boring admin, there should always be a decision to make. But if there are several then split them up, interleaving each player’s actions. Better to wait 3 minutes to make a 1 minute move, than 15 to make a 5 minute move.
  • Ensure the players are involved on other player’s turns. Even if you love solitaire Euros, there’s still some element of interactivity (I hope). The more there is, even if it’s passive, the more engaged players will feel on other players turns.
Some icons designed by Mike Brown on BGG for prototypes of 3 Districts.

In 3 Districts I’ve worked hard to get the amount of new information on cards down to a minimum. There are a few which are still worded- special cases which only occur once, and iconography would be overkill. The card effects have become simpler, but are no worse for it. The game now moves a lot faster and is much more fun, as well as being better balanced. Is there room for more complex cards? Probably, but only a few, no more. As for the other two points, the game is definitely interactive, people visiting you can be advantageous or disadvantageous, and your city stays open for everyone else’s turn. And the turns are short and sweet, yet meaningful.

As always, let me know any thoughts or even just rant about the plain wrong things I’ve said. Next time: the other things I said on the list.