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Turn Order

O Updated
Turn order (Topic Discussion)
There Will Be Games

After you, Alphonse. No, you first, my dear Gaston!

Let's start 2020 with a serious topic and wade straight in. I might as well start the year as I mean to go on. So, turn order. It's something that matters very little in some games, and a lot in others. In some games, players take their turns in clockwise order, in others it's based on the faction they've chosen or some other similar measure, or you might bid for turn order. In some games, turn order remains the same throughout the game, in others it changes from round to round. I want to look at the different ways turn order is implemented in games and the effect this can have.

The probably simplest form of turn order is going clockwise, or anticlockwise, around the table and keeping that order the same throughout the game. In this form, a starting player is often chosen randomly, or maybe by using some sort of thematic or other measure, such as age, eye colour, how many countries someone has visited, who was last in a city, or similar.

A variation of this type of player order can be found in asymmetric games, where the relative "strength" of the chosen race, faction or similar decides what order people take their turn. However, again this order will remain the same throughout the game, and many games of this type suggest people take their seats at the table in clockwise player order, so that it's easier to remember whose turn it is next.

The common factor in all of these games is that it will be important who goes before and who goes after you in turn order. I think many of us will have come across a situation where the person before us always takes their turn in such a way as to block us or make it very hard for us to execute our strategy, allowing the player after us to benefit from our inability to do anything. Likewise, you may be after someone in turn order who always leaves you the best resources or actions to take, making it easy for you to win.

If you have a regular group of people you play games with, you may decide to intentionally sit before or after certain other people to ensure you get the best outcome for yourself, or rather avoid making the game a nightmare for yourself.

There are two groups of games, where turn order remains fixed throughout the game, but the first player can change from round to round. In some games, first player changes automatically in clockwise order each round. That is helpful, but still doesn't address the problem fully. In the other group of games, you get the opportunity to claim a first player token during a round, allowing you to be the first player in the next round.

However, neither of these two groups of games alleviates the problem of sitting after certain other people fully. It is true, you can now go first, effectively positioning yourself before the other person who you would otherwise play after, but for most of the game you probably still end up playing after the other person who makes your life hell.

There is another variant of fixed player order games. In these games, everyone can bid victory points or some other benefit at the beginning to decide what order turns are taken. The bidding might also be linked to what faction or race you play during the game, which in turn will decide the player order. However, ultimately turn order still remains the same throughout the game, once the initial bidding is done, so the problem of who you play after remains an issue.

Games that alleviate the problem of who sits next to whom the best, are those where turn order can change or is automatically changed every round. There are many different ways to achieve this, including bidding on turn order each round, allowing players to adjust turn order incrementally by taking a certain action or paying a certain resource, resetting player order based on who leads on certain point tracks, or some similar mechanism.

Now everyone gets the chance to go first, as well as influence who they play after - or before. Also, there is now an added mechanism you have to think about. It also adds another decision: whether you actually want to go first, or would rather go last, or somewhere in the middle, depending on the game and the situation. I think these sort of games are a lot of fun and the added element of having some way of adjusting turn order is interesting and exciting.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #306135 14 Jan 2020 10:16
Today we are introducing our new associate writer and podcaster Oliver Kinne. So give him a warm welcome by reading his article and leaving a comment.

Also will be expanding our publishing week to Saturday with Oliver's reviews, so stop by this weekend to check it out.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #306136 14 Jan 2020 10:57
Welcome Oliver!

I always liked the turn order in Dark World...random, but you got to shake the top of the castle to determine it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306140 14 Jan 2020 12:12
Good topic. If turn order is not crucial in terms of game balance, like in a co-op game, I like a simple clockwise turn order. If turn order is important, I like it to be another strategic element in the game, via bidding or some other way to seize the initiative. In one of my designs, I made initiative a push-your-luck element, where the first player was whoever had depleted their resources the most on the previous term. The game allowed for very direct interaction between players, so going first was an advantage, but being depleted made you more vulnerable to attacks by other players. Otherwise, I also like random initiative systems, especially a chit pull so nobody knows the turn order. Citadels has a great turn order, where there is a strategic element but the outcome is also secret until the turn plays out.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #306146 14 Jan 2020 16:12
Chit pull is my preferred turn order determination for wargames. Recent games like 1774 and 1812 make use of it nicely.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #306147 14 Jan 2020 17:17
Welcome, Oliver!

I tend to prefer some means of establishing turn order within the game, rather than doing simple rotation. However, I can see the value of simple rotation because it's, well... simple! If the game is balanced enough that rotation is sufficient, that's usually a good thing.

But I like the strategic choices presented by, say, Star Trek: Ascendancy, where you bid resources on the cards at the beginning of each round. While that's often an important thing to fit into your overall plan, ST: A also doesn't rotate actions. You do everything you want before anyone else does, which is kind of a rarity in a lot of modern games. It's different in something like Cry Havoc, where the turn order is known going into the next round and is based on cards that have been played. So, instead of sacrificing resources, you're affecting your tactical actions by choosing to play certain cards that will move you up in the turn order, rather than doing something else. In contrast, placing a dude at the Jarl's Longhouse in Champions of Midgard guarantees you the first move in the next round, but it also shifts the whole rotation, so you're benefiting yourself, but you may also be benefiting the person(s) following you, as opposed to those at the end of the chain.

I think my favorite method is probably in Cyclades, though. You bid for turn order like in ST: A, but you're also bidding for particular gods and their associated actions. So, it's not just the ability to act first (and do everything, like ST: A) but also to be able to carry out a specific strategy. Meanwhile, the player(s) that doesn't get access to one of the gods ends up at the bottom with Apollo, which means more money, which means potentially greater ability to win the bid next round. There are a number of cool interactions in Cyclades, but I think that one is among my favorites. It's fairly elegant and tends to drive the game forward.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #306160 15 Jan 2020 02:57
Welcome Oliver.

One of the games I like most for its Turn Order is Roll Player. Although it is a simple turn order going clockwise round the table, it manages to make sure every person gets a chance to go first when picking dice. What you pick then determines what order you go in the shopping phase so there is an interesting choice to be made every turn.
oliverkinne's Avatar
oliverkinne replied the topic: #306162 15 Jan 2020 03:15
Thank you for the warm welcome everyone! I'm pleased to have been asked to become an associate writer for this amazing website.

Thank you also very much for your comments about turn order in games. It sounds like there is a huge mix of preferences, which I think is reflected in the many different implementations of turn order in the many games available in our hobby.