Budgeted Action Points

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Points that players use to be able to do actions.

Games that wish to make players have to husband the actions they perform can use Budgeted Action Points. This gives players a limited amount of points that can be used to pay for the actions they wish to perform. Usually they not only let players have a set of actions to choose from but also allow them to perform the same actions several times if they wished to.

A form of Budgeted Action Points is used to control how often certain actions can be performed in real-time games. In this case the actions costs a certain amount of points from some value and this value slowly increases until it has reached a maximum point. This means that the amount of uses of the action during a certain amount of time is limited but players can save up points in order to use the actions several times quickly after one another.

Note: BoardGameGeek uses Action Point Allowance System[1] to describe a similar concept.


The Board Game Space Hulk has a limited set of action points for each unit in the game. For the player controlling genestealers these action points are used for moving, turning, and attacking in close combat while the player controlling the space marines can use them for these activities and additionally to shoot and reload weapons. Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! Russia 1941-1942 has a similar structure but players only activate one unit before the turn passes to the other player. Cartagena, Forbidden Island, and Pandemic also make use of Budgeted Action Points but for less violent activities. Budgeted Action Points can also be used for more abstract actions in Board Game: Ticket to Ride uses it to let players take new cards or place railway lines while Neuroshima Hex uses it to let players choose two out of three chips that either place units or activate events. Agricola lets players have as many actions as they have members in their families but players alternate using their actions until all have been used. Dominant Species provide players with various amounts of tokens to use each turn depending on how many players are playing the game, but players can gain or lose such tokens during gameplay (in Agricola players can also gain but not lose family members).

Budgeted Action Points are also used in some Computer Games. The early installments of the Fallout series uses it in combat while Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas has it as an optional mode in combat (called V.A.T.S). Calling air strikes, producing ammunition boxes, or handing out health packs in Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory all requires resources. These resources are limited but are regained over time, letting players choose between continuously doing the actions at regular intervals or saving up to do several of them in a short time span. The Europa Universalis series have several different types of Budgeted Action Points represented as diplomats, magisters, missionaries, etc. that each can be used for various actions in the games. CityVille, Empires & Allies, and Ravenwood Fair also use a similar system, having a maximum amount of points one can store and replenishing one point every five minutes.

Using the pattern

Three main aspects need to be considered when creating games with Budgeted Action Points: what actions are controlled by this system, how much points do players have access to, and how are the points replenished?

The selection of possible actions which can be paid by the Budgeted Action Points can be any kind of action that is part of the overall game play. However, the action points may be for all actions, or individual budgets may exist for each Character or Unit. The Europa Universalis series shows how different budgets can be created for various abstract actions also. For Budgeted Action Points that are used during gameplay for Units or Characters, one common set of possible actions include Movement and different forms of actions related to Combat. One possible variation is to make it possible or not to reuse the same actions several times. Another, more abstract and strategic, set of possible actions include doing Investments in Technology Trees or choosing which Producers to activate. Budgeted Action Points can also be used to drive Token Placement systems where players use their action points to select which actions are to be done later, and this typically divides gameplay into Planning Phases and Execution Phases. All these actions may be constructed so they are performed at once or put in a sequence through Action Programming that will be evaluated later. Budgeted Action Points can also be used before gameplay, this is most often used to give players ways to select Attributes, Equipment, Skills, as well as Advantages and Disadvantages for Characters.

The amount of points available are mostly affected by how much of a Limited Resource they should be, the risk of causing Analysis Paralysis and having the right level of Predictable Consequences for other players. However, related to this is the cost of the actions. By having different costs for different actions, Balancing Effects can be put in place but also differences in Game Worlds and Levels through Environmental Effects. Having different costs also changes how often different actions are used (heavily affected by how many points are available) but balancing the selection of actions can also be accomplished by introducing No-Use Bonuses (e.g. the resource producing tiles in Agricola).

How Budgeted Action Points can be replenished depend primarily on how game time is updated. In games with Turn Taking or other Turn-Based Games, e.g. Space Hulk or Cartagena, this is typically done through refilling the whole supply of action points every turn, but Agricola shows an alternative by letting players spend one action on their turn and then moving on to the next players until all action points have been spend and only then replenishing everybody's supply. In Real-Time or Tick-Based Games, Budgeted Action Points are typically Renewable Resources through Regenerating over time. The Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and the computer-version of Space Hulk are examples of these design solutions. CityVille and Ravenwood Fair work similarly but also offer action points as Purchasable Game Advantages - this does not disturb Player Balance since these are Massively Single-Player Online Games.

Interface Aspects

Cards and Chips can be used when Budgeted Action Points need to be represented by game elements. Game State Indicators can be used in Computer Games.


Budgeted Action Points gives players a Freedom of Choice of which actions within a Limited Set of Actions they wish to do, and they also provide Action Caps since only a limited number of actions can be done within a time limit. They are indirect Resources which inherently are Limited Resources since they have Resource Caps, and when controlling Movement they also impose Movement Limitations. Handling these requires Resource Management and often also considering Trade-Offs between the different possible actions available, both which help create more Complex Gameplay.

The Freedom of Choice that Budgeted Action Points gives Stimulated Planning regarding Tactical Planning, and through this possibly also Cognitive Engrossment. However, in games that are Multiplayer and Turn-Based, this can cause Analysis Paralysis. For games with Persistent Game Worlds and where the Budgeted Action Points are Regenerating Resources, this combination supports Encouraged Return Visits. Similarly, the combination of Budgeted Action Points and Regenerating Resources can be used to create Tick-Based Games. In any type of game running out of Budgeted Action Points can lead to Helplessness.

Budgeted Action Points can have Balancing Effects on powerful abilities since these may cost more points and not be usable so often. Further, the impact of New Abilities or Privileged Abilities is lessened when used together with Budgeted Action Points as using them requires players to not use other actions.


Can Instantiate

Action Caps, Action Programming, Balancing Effects, Cognitive Engrossment, Complex Gameplay, Freedom of Choice, Helplessness, Limited Resources, Movement Limitations, Resources, Resource Caps, Resource Management, Stimulated Planning, Tactical Planning, Trade-Offs

with Multiplayer Games and Turn-Based Games

Analysis Paralysis

with Persistent Game Worlds and Regenerating Resources

Encouraged Return Visits

with Regenerating Resources

Tick-Based Games

Can Modulate

Advantages, Attributes, Characters, Combat, Disadvantages, Equipment, Investments, Movement, New Abilities, Privileged Abilities, Producers, Real-Time Games, Skills, Technology Trees, Turn Taking, Turn-Based Games, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Cards, Chips

Can Be Modulated By

Environmental Effects, Game State Indicators, No-Use Bonus, Purchasable Game Advantages, Regenerating Resources, Renewable Resources, Tick-Based Games, Token Placement

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Budgeted Action Points that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].


  1. Entry at BoardGameGeek for the mechanic Action Point Allowance System.
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.