Turn Taking

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Letting one player do some action or actions before letting other players act.

Many games only let one player act at a time. This Turn Taking makes the evaluation of actions in the game easier to do, since all players can supervise each other. Further it lets each player have control over what to do without having to keep track of what the other players are doing at the same time.


Many classic Board Games, including Chess, Go, and Hnefatafl, alternate between two players that can make their moves. In contract, Diplomacy is a turn-based game without Turn Taking as all players do their turns simultaneously. Puerto Rico as a week form of Turn Taking: a round consists of each player in turn choosing an action that they wish to have performed. The action chosen by the first player is however performed by all players before the next action is chosen and so on until all players have chosen actions (part of the challenge of the game lies in that the choosing player gets a bonus and not all actions occur each round).

Some games have Turn Taking but may let the same player do several turns in a row depending on the game state. For example, Golf uses Turn Taking where the player the farthest from the hole has the turn until all players have hit the ball into the hole. Eight-ball in contrast lets a player continue to make turns until he or she has committed a foul or has fails to legally pocket a ball. Spin the Bottle uses randomness to determine whose turn it is next and players may play a complete game session without having a turn. Agricola, Carolus Magnus, Egizia, and Ursuppe are examples of games where players can intentional make plans for being able to both the last turn in a round and the first in the next, setting up a flip-flop situation.

Using the pattern

Turn Taking considers gameplay where the possibility to update game states are restricted to one player at a time while the related pattern Turn-Based Games discusses the general effects of dividing games into different parts where some actions are possible and others not (all games with Turn Taking are Turn-Based Games but not all Turn-Based Games make use of Turn Taking, e.g. Diplomacy or Ricochet Robots). Games using Cards and Tiles often make use of Turn Taking as those games that have Drafting mechanics.

The order in which Turn Taking takes place can be varied in several different ways. The round-robin system, found e.g. in Chess and Monopoly, lets every player gets one turn in a predetermined structure before beginning the Turn Taking process again, and this is done until gameplay is finished. Other systems make use of Varying Turn Orders and these can be specifically design to allow or disallow Extra Turns or Flip-Flop Events. One such system, found both in Eight-ball and Golf is to have players whose turn it is continue to having additional turns as long as some given criteria regarding the game state are met, and after this is no longer met another rule determines the next player to have a turn. Turnovers is the case when this criteria is that one is allowed to continue until one fails with actions, as for example is the case in Eight-ball but also used as part of the turn order of Basketball and Bloodbowl. Egizia and Ursuppe also has this system but uses it to create a Balancing Effect by giving the player with the lowest Score on a Score Track the first turn. Finally, Randomness may be used to determine turn order. Time Limits can be added to Turn Taking to ensure that not too long time passes until the turn passes to another player (or a game is lost).

The turns that are created by Turn Taking can be structure in different ways in games. Rounds collect a series of turns into a large structure which allows for the counting of Scores and Ultra-Powerful Events (e.g. replenishing Resources or paying Maintenance Costs) to be regularly timed. These Rounds often consist of each player having done one turn (is some order) but Agricola shows how a round-robin can be used to let players take turns placing farmer tokens and continue this until no players have any tokens left. Dividing rounds into Planning Phases, where players e.g. can do Role Selection or Token Placement (which in turn requires a Turn Taking order), and Execution Phases. This can be done to let players more often make decisions, but as Space Alert shows games can be built around having only one Planning Phase and one Execution Phase but with rounds with them.

Players may also have the possibility to make turns inside turns (games supporting this often introduce concepts as segments and phases to distinguish between these). Perhaps the oldest example of this is the individual play of a Card or Tile by each player in a game with Trick Taking. Another basic form of this is having Budgeted Action Points, as for example done in Ticket to Ride and (regarding Movement) the Civilization series. Here, players have a number of action points that can be spend doing several actions one after another until the points are used up. The number of actions possible to do may vary if the cost is varied. Another way players may have several turns after each other is when they are allowed to move each of their Units before some other player gets to act. Interruptible Actions is yet another way, found for example in the tackling rules in Bloodbowl, but here it is other players that have turns inside a player's turn. Many times the Turn Taking for Interruptible Actions are not explicitly called out in gameplay; players may have to individually claim them within a reasonable Time Limit or lose the possibility. The various forms are often combine: the board game Space Hulk has Rounds consisting of players doing their turns in a round-robin fashion but each player may activate all their Units once and each of these Units have Budgeted Action Points. In addition, the Space Marine player may interrupt the Genestealer player's turn to do attacks in some circumstances. Finally, Bidding is a gameplay activity that can be modulate by having Turn Taking sequences in them or being a free-for-all contest.

Interface Aspects

Dedicated Game Facilitators can enforce that Turn Taking takes place it the correct order and that possible Time Limits are kept. This is built into games with Hotseating but Game Masters can do with a flexibility that supports Enactment, Smooth Learning Curves, and Storytelling.

For Self-Facilitated Games, but also those with Game Masters, the use of Bookkeeping Tokens such as Current Player Tokens and First Player Tokens can help players not make mistakes when the Turn Taking is more complex that round-robin systems.


Turn Taking gives players Execution Phases when they get to interact with the game system. On a most basic level, Turn Taking provides Role Reversal for players from being active to being passive participants in the game but the Turn Taking can also have changes in more specific functional roles. Turn Taking often leads to First Player Advantages, and thereby also Asymmetric Starting Conditions. How much this affects Player Balance can vary on many factors, but is often most important to games with Perfect Information and Stimulated Planning. For example, it is a generally recognized feature of both Chess and Go, and is the reason for these games often being played in Back-to-Back Game Sessions and for the komi rule in Go.

Having Turn Taking in games make them into Turn-Based Games of one form or another and is likely to have many of the typical characteristics of these types of games (e.g. limiting Freedom of Choice since one cannot act whenever one wants and potentially creating Analysis Paralysis without the presence of any other specific pattern). On one level Turn Taking is opposite to Real-Time Games since it defines updates to the game state in terms of player turns rather that time units, but the two pattern can be combined through the use of Time Limits to how long a turn may take. They also work against Synchronous Gameplay in the aspect the players waiting for their turn may not actually have play sessions while other do (this of course depends on to which extend players can perform actions during others' turns and if they can engage in gameplay-related actions such as planning their next move).

Turn Taking modulates Multiplayer Games by allowing players to separate their activities during gameplay into planning what to do, performing the planned actions, and observing the effects of the actions (this can become intermixed if players have a possibility of making several different turns, e.g. through Budgeted Action Points or having many Units). The planning can be done in other players' turns to a certain extent (depending on the presence or not of Predictable Consequences and Limited Foresight), and in this sense Turn Taking can support Planning Phases and Stimulated Planning. Turn Taking does however also modulate Predictable Consequences since players can have more or less good knowledge in which order turns may be made (depending on if a game has a fixed or flexible turn order). Also for Multiplayer Games, having Turn Taking may cause players not having their turn to have Downtime, which can be used to take use of Game State Overviews or act as Spectators (possibly to figure out other players' Secret Goals). The Downtime cause by Turn Taking can lead to Analysis Paralysis if not modified by Time Limits, and this can lead other players to start using Guilting as a way of Self-Facilitating the game flow. Another effect of Turn Taking in Multiplayer Games can be used to create more organized Negotiation when only the active player is eligible to negotiate with, and this can create less pressurized Social Interaction.

For actions that take more than one round to completed, Turn Taking makes these into Interruptible Actions if other players can affect the game state related to the action. This can in turn be countered in games where the Turn Taking order can changed, since this opens up for the possibility of players having two turns after each other - this is for example found in Agricola and Carolus Magnus. These events, called flip-flop events when being the last turn in one round and the first in the next round, usually give significant advantages to the players which can be seen as a Combo in itself. When this is possible, striving for these cause Stimulated Planning and provide one way to achieve Gameplay Mastery.

Turn Taking can relieve, create, and modulate Tension. Players may be relieved from Tension since they do not have to consider that The Show Must Go On while it is their turn and from having Downtime when it is not their turn. The latter can however also create Tension to others due to Analysis Paralysis. Already present Tension can also be increased by Turn Taking since it can force players to have to wait while Anticipation, Hovering Closures, and Interruptible Actions exist.


Can Instantiate

Analysis Paralysis, Asymmetric Starting Conditions, Combos, Execution Phases, First Player Advantages, Interruptible Actions, Planning Phases, Role Reversal, Self-Facilitated Games, Spectators, Stimulated Planning, Tension, Trick Taking, Turn-Based Games

with Analysis Paralysis

Downtime, Guilting

with Multiplayer Games

Analysis Paralysis, Downtime

Can Modulate

Bidding, Cards, Drafting, Game State Overviews, Multiplayer Games, Predictable Consequences, Role Selection, Secret Goals, Tension, Tiles, Token Placement

with Multiplayer Games

Negotiation, Social Interaction

Can Be Instantiated By

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Masters, Hotseating

Can Be Modulated By

Balancing Effects, Bookkeeping Tokens, Budgeted Action Points, Current Player Tokens, Execution Phases, Extra Turns, First Player Tokens, Flip-Flop Events, Interruptible Actions, Planning Phases, Randomness, Role Selection, Varying Turn Orders, Rounds, Score Tracks, Time Limits, Token Placement, Turnovers, Units, Ultra-Powerful Events

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Real-Time Games, Synchronous Gameplay, Tension, The Show Must Go On


An updated version of the pattern Turn Taking that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.