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Fixing the Turn-based Strategy genre (lostgarden.com)
56 points by bpierre on Mar 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

There's not a lot in the way of new ideas here, but it's a nice distillation of bits and pieces that I've seen incorporated into other games.

The web-based half RTS/half TBS genre has incorporated the idea of X command points per Y time period as part of the norm for a long while (Travian, et. al.) Turns in such games are generally not immediately exposed as mechanics (if they, in fact, exist at all). I recall an old space based RTS (the name escapes me, sorry) which exposed the amount of time left until the next tick, at which point all players would get more command points, while Travian appears to have a tick per second, with long waiting periods (relative to tick length) between updating command resources.

One thing which might be useful as a thought experiment to further this article is to look at TBS games which aren't dying--why is Civ V still popular? Or, to get even more basic, why is baduk still widely popular? Some thoughts regarding the latter: each move is very granular, which keeps the game moving foreward. Each move has an immediate impact on the game state (this relates to your point that "nothing happens in the first move.") There is a deep element of strategy, which is augmented by a need for strict time management. It's easy to review games and find mistakes, as well as to review games of higher level players to find new ideas and strategies.

I think the next round of TBS games needs to let all sides make plans at the same time and watch what happens. The trick is giving the units enough AI to be reasonably effective and letting people set up priorities. Naturally this lends it's self to a game clock, but IMO it better simulates the chaos of war and let's you have significantly larger battles.

PS: Frozen Synapse is part way there, but IMO units should be a little more capable when not told what to do.

Mechwarrior Tactics does this to some degree: there is an attack phase where both players declare all their attacks, which are then resolved simultaneously. Likewise for movement. Not quite what you describe, but it still creates a situation where you have to think about what your opponent is thinking. https://mwtactics.com/

Reminds me somewhat of Robo Rally (board game). But yes I love the idea of adding some AI into the mix.

The older Combat Mission games did this.

Another system to take notes from is embodied in Frozen Synapse.

Consider this article is 7 years old

This post doesn't seem to be very concerned with turn-based games beyond multiplayer.

I'll concede that turn-based has never been a good fit for multiplayer, but I was hoping for some analysis on single-player failings. There are reasons why turn-based single player games have at times been very popular, but many newer entrants seem to have forgotten what those are. The turn-based system gets rid of skillshots at the cost of respondability, which can both improve and degrade approachability.

I also wouldn't consider the two offered solutions to both be turn-based. I feel the Travian system of ticks is realtime, whereas the Age of Wonders system is mostly turn-based (though exploitable). I'm on the fence about a Planetarion style system, with sparser ticks - it retains some good parts of turn-based, but adds some bad parts from realtime.

I'm pretty sure there has been a multiplayer game like Frozen Synapse, which is the third simultaneous option. I feel like this is the only truly turn-based variant, though a very different system from traditional turn-based games.

Of course, there is the final, popular method of simply setting time limits on turns and simplifying the game until turns are fast. I dislike this approach as well - maybe turn-based games are better left in single-player mode.

Note that this is from 2005.

Yeah, I found interesting to discuss this 8 years later.

I think a good example could be Frozen Synapse. Not the first [1], but he has fixed some of the listed flaws [2].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turns,_rounds_and_time-keeping_...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_Synapse#Gameplay

This just seems like a variation on the "energy" system. Wait 2 minutes get another point of energy, make some moves.

I still think a Hero Academy type system is probably best. It doesn't give you the complexity of building up multiple cities Civ 5 style, but it does give you a multiplier final fantasy tactics, which is awesome!

I'm also a fan of the "energy" system in TBS. A recent game that used this method is Legend of Grimrock (really great game if you like old school). Also, the author mentioned Age of Wonders. That's another great game with a good turn-based system. AOW2 is coming out this year!

I would look at board games for a reference. I think almost every board game is essentially a turn-based strategy game, but there are some that involve a turn in which everyone moves at the same time.

One that comes to mind is Diplomacy. TBH I think Diplomacy is a great game, but it actually takes way longer than a normal board game (probably because everyone spends a long time negotiating during every turn to optimize each move) and usually ends with some group of winners rather than playing the game out.

I think designing a strong game of this type is extremely hard.

> I think almost every board game is essentially a turn-based strategy game

The distinction between "turn-based" and "real-time" is largely perceptual rather than actual. "Real-time" simply does two things: it slices the turns down to an extremely fine grain (such that they're more "frames" than "turns"), and it forcibly makes "do nothing" or "continue previous action" the default action.

Thus, the real distinction for a designer is, "How much time do you want your player to have to make a given decision?" The more time you're willing to give, the more likely you should make it turn-based, and vice versa. This is how chess starts to resemble an RTS when you add a clock. If you pared the "time to move" down to, say, 10 seconds... it becomes hard (but not impossible, since you're still right) to argue that chess is really turn-based.

Turn based games let you block other players from taking actions while you decide what to do. Realtime games do not.

That's the distinction, IMO, not turn length.

You're not really disagreeing with me. You get to block other players for the length of your turn; if that length is infinitesimally small, that's still true. It just becomes meaningless; that's the entire point of blitzkrieg chess.

By which logic timesharing and batch computing are the same.

What matters is the player experience, not the implementation.

A good board game that utilizes simultaneous turns very well is 7 Wonders. The game play is basically like a Magic: the Gathering draft. However, a common criticism is that there is limited direct player interaction (although there are very subtle and important considerations for drafting). The game is very fast, even with 8 players.

On a digital side, I think the Pokemon games does simultaneous turns very well. There is an entire competitive community that is built around such a simple system, and I think this format has much room for improvement. I'm currently working on an online multiplayer game of this format, which tries to explore design ideas that Pokemon doesn't (as it seems 95% of moves are of the variant, deal X damage of a certain elemental type).

I think http://www.banghowdy.com/ is great example of making turn based game fun to play online.

I also had lots of fun playing http://www.kongregate.com/games/Kongregate/kongai that is also turn based and example of great game design.

I've never been able to get into TBS because of the issues he mentions at the start. Risk II [1] had a mode with simultaneous turns, which was fun for a bit but lost its luster because it was still basically Risk.

What I've come to prefer is RTS with a live pause: that is, you can pause at any time to give orders, line up production queues, etc. It works best for single player games, which is what I prefer anyway. Paradox Interactive's games (Crusader Kings series, Hearts of Iron series, Europa Universalis series) are prime examples of this method.

(Disclaimer: I worked on a spin-off of Europa Universalis II; see my profile for a link. I started on the project after having played the game for six years.)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_II

This idea is good, but pretty old. I know it's used in at least Wolfpack's version of the venerable Empire family: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_Classic_(video_game)

They don't seem to be reachable from the main page any more but My Name is Daniel and I am a Genre Addict [1] and Evolutionary Design [2] are two older Lost Garden essays very much worth reading. Especially the first one since it offers both possible psychological insight into how gaming was shaped into what it is today and a good direction for a small game developer to explore (i.e., business advice).

[1] http://lunar.lostgarden.com/essay_genreaddict.htm

[2] http://lunar.lostgarden.com/evolutionary_game_design.htm

One TBS game that solves this problem in an interesting way is Ultracorps [1] (very oldschool, browser based). Turns are simultaneous - you give commands, then when all players are done (or the timer expires) commands are executed simultaneously. When fleets clash, a battle happens which is resolved according to a fixed set of rules. The results of previous turns are accessible via logs.

For me, the downfall of that game was the excessive need to write down information outside the game, e.g. plausible enemy fleet positions based on where you last saw them.

[1]: http://ultracorps.sjgames.com/

I haven't played Ultracorps, but the game Diplomacy works in a similar fashion. All moves occur simultaneously. Makes for a great war game, much better than Risk.

I always thought the paradox interactive strategy games do things well. Games like Hearts of Iron 3 and Victoria 2 are technically RTS, but play with traditional turn based strategy micromanagement. They accomplish this by allowing you to slow, pause or speed up time, depending on how much a situation requires. It was a little weird at first from being used to how turn based games traditionally work, but I quite like it now and stops the down time you would experience in between turns.

All of these ideas were implemented in TradeWars and other BBS games during the 1980s.... even concurrent play with live updates (if they had multiple phone lines :)

I wonder what he'd think if you told him that 8 years later a turn based strategy game would be a strong contender for game of the year?

Yes XCOM is trading in large part on nostalgia, but I know plenty of people who never played it the first time round picking it up and enjoying it.

Not to mention the slew of TBS games on iOS (and I'm guessing Android) where the stop start nature of the play ties in well to how and where we use those devices.

To add to the list, I recall MAX featuring a similar kind of simultaneous turn-based thing. Players could both move during the same turn, but only had so many action points per turn, so you couldn't really get too far ahead just with good micro or quick thinking.


Black Nova Traders was an old school "TBS" with turns granted over time ( their version of command points.. ). it was a pretty fun game back in the early 2000's and at best i saw ~100 active players per game with 100 other's that provided extra targets...

I always felt Alpha Centauri did things well. You had as much time as it took you to move all of your units that still had movement points. When you had no more units with free movement points, your turn ended.

And for the record the AI in that game could be brutal.

It's time to remember PBEM (Play by e-mail games) where all players made their turns at the same time, I think these concepts can be used in concurrent turn based strategy games.

It would have been nice to see some case studies with games that already implement simultaneous turns, what makes them great or what other problems hold them back.

I'm of the opinion that MtG (magic the gathering) disproves the basic premise of this post.

For those of us who are largely unfamiliar with MtG, would you mind elaborating?

XCOM UFO Defense is still the greatest game ever, IMO. The sequels didn't fix anything.

Zynga solved this long ago.

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