Turn-Based Games

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Games where the gameplay is clearly divided into clearly defined parts where players can plan and select actions

Many games separate gameplay into easily understandable units where some actions are allowed and others not allowed. Most traditional games follow this pattern by letting one player plan and then execute an action as a turn and then letting another player do a turn, alternating until the game is finished. Turns are in this way typically used to describe periods of gameplay when one player can plan without risk of interruption to select and perform one action. However, this can challenged in various ways in games while still having them be perceived as having turns, e.g. by having several players do turns simultaneously, being able to do several actions, introducing time limits to make the actions, or letting other players have the possibility of interrupting turns.

Games with more complex structures of organizing gameplay can have turn-like structures on many levels. To distinguish between these rounds, phases, and segments are often introduced as concepts, while turns typically signify when players make important choices that need several steps to evaluate or get to make an uninterrupted series of actions. The players' perception of the gameplay is often the determining factor if a game is called turn-based rather than its internal structure. This is the case why not all computer games have seen as turn-based, even if they do have clearly defined states at all points due to being programs.


In Chess and Go, the players take turns to move or place their pieces on the board. In the basic variant, there is no strict time limit for the players to execute their turns apart from social pressure exerted by the other player while in tournaments

Laser Squad Nemesis and the Combat Mission series offer the players modes for hot-seating, switching the player whose turn it is, and sending the turn information via e-mail to the other player.

Space Alert has a real-time phase where decisions are made followed by a turn-based phase when they are executed. By having this structure, the turns

Related Descriptions

Wikipedia[1] as a section on Turn-Based Games.

Interruptible Actions Real-Time Games Time Pressure Space Alert Time Limits Bloodbowl Diplomacy Space Alert Space Alert - the computer games

Using the pattern

Turn-Based Games may be easily changed to Tick-Based Games by simply introducing Time Limits to the players' Turn Taking. Turn-Based Games can be supported by Dedicated Game Facilitators, especially when the turn is resolved simultaneously, but they are also at least partly Self-Facilitated Games, as completing the turn requires effort from the players, distinct from the actual gameplay.

Combat and Capture in Turn-Based Games compared to Real-Time Games requires more of players cognitive skills, as they have more time to think, and the Timing of actions in Combat and Capture require more Puzzle Solving skills than skills in Dexterity-Based Actions.

Some Turn-Based Games allow players to pass their turn without making any actions, in principle, making one big No-Op action. The actions available to the players during their turn can vary from simple pre-specified actions (such as roll a die and move) to complex action sequences with Budgeted Action Points. An interesting alternative is to have Asymmetric Abilities that rotate out of sync with the turns. Also in some games, these action sequences can have characteristics of Real-Time Games such as Maneuvering, although these have otherwise contradictory characteristics.

Simultaneous turns

Note that Turn-Based Games do not have to force other players

Budgeted Action Points


Turn-Based Games almost always have Downtime when the other players have to wait for the active player's turn to terminate during the Game Pauses for Turn Taking, especially in Synchronous Games. This effect of Downtime in Asynchronous Games is often less drastic, as the players have a possibility of some action other than waiting for the other players to complete their turns. It is possible, however, to limit the effects of this Downtime by having the players plan and execute their actions at the same time, and the actions are resolved simultaneously when the players have submitted their actions. If the Turn Taking is sequential, there are Role Reversals when the players change their modes of play from active to passive.


Instantiates: Role Reversal, Downtime

Modulates: Combat, Tick-Based Games, Synchronous Games, Asynchronous Games, Asymmetric Abilities, Capture


Using the pattern

Diegetic Aspects

Interface Aspects

Narrative Aspects



Can Instantiate

Turn Taking

Can Modulate

Can Be Instantiated By

Can Be Modulated By

Self-Facilitated Games, No-Ops, Budgeted Action Points, Timing, Puzzle Solving, Real-Time Games, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Pauses

Potentially Conflicting With

Maneuvering, Real-Time Games


A revised version of the pattern that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].


  1. Wikipedia entry on Time-keeping systems in games
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.