Ok here's my first F:AT article submission. Sorry it's long and it's about turn order mechanisms used in games. I'll try not to use any of the banned words on F:AT like elegant, lovely, beautiful or insightful.
Ever since man begun playing games, turn order, or who goes first has been an issue. In many games there is a very slight advantage to who goes first. In 2 player classic games like Chess, Checkers or Go, the player who goes first has the initiative to control the positioning on the board. The player who goes second may have to be more reactive early in the game. The typical solution to this is to play two or more times, alternating who goes first each time.
In war games, the aggressor or attacker usually has the advantage of going first and possibly has more or better units while the defender may have the advantage of terrain. Newer card driven war games use initiative to determine who will go first. Players may have to give up a better card to gain initiative but that may be critical to victory in some war games.
To prevent Eurocrybabies from whining about turn order like my daughters fighting about who’s going first in Candyland, some Euros handicap the start player. The start player will get less money or food. In many Euros the start player rotates each turn, but the Eurocrybabies will still whine about who they're sitting next to. Recent, Euros that use drafting mechanism have added a drafting space that will let the player go first on the next turn. Other Euros have auction mechanism to determine turn order. I tend to like games where I can decide or control turn order. Usually, I have to give something up like money or an action to go first but that's my decision.
This brings us to the Ameritrash Multiplayer Conflict games and turn order. One of the most legitimate complaints about the original Risk game is the advantage the first player gets, or maybe the bigger problem is how screwed the 5th or 6th player in Risk is. On the first turn the 5th or 6th player may be attacked by 4 previous players before they get a chance to retaliate. The newer Risk games seem to have addressed the problem by adding features and limiting the number of players.
There may be some people who are critical about the newer Ameritrash games using Euro type mechanisms, but I think the designers handled turn order in a very integrated, unique and very Trashie way. I'm talking about the turn order mechanism from FFG like Ti3, Warrior Knights and StarCraft.
In Ti3, players will draft strategies to determine play order. If a player really wants to go first they’ll select Leadership. If they're willing to wait they can take Technology or Warfare. In Ti3 there is something else that's really cool and that is you don't know the sequence of how the strategies will be played. Will leadership come before production? Will technology come before assembly? Most players end up having to make educated guesses what the sequence of strategies will be. In a recent game of Ti3, I was the Mindnet and I was sitting next to Sol. I had to make a decision whether to attack his system early during a turn before he added additional ground troops or wait until production or technology came up. Production would let me increase my attack force and Technology would get me better odds of beating the humans. The Sol player was a new player so I waited, which worked since he didn't use his special ability to add additional ground forces to the planet I was attacking.
Warrior Knights uses a fairly random turn sequence. In Warrior knights there are 3 piles - Beginning, Middle and End of turn sequence. Players will place two orders in each of the three piles. The individual piles are shuffled and the order sequence is based on the orders of the cards. So each player will only know that their orders will be in the beginning, middle and end but won't know which order comes first, and they won't know if other player’s orders will come before their order. I've been burned a number of times in Warrior Knights believing one of my orders would come before somebody else's order. Having the turn order uncertainty adds to the strategy and the excitement of the game.
In StarCraft players can control the turn sequence more than in Warrior Knights. Turns in StarCraft works as follows: Each player is given 2 mobilize, 2 build and 2 R&D tokens. During the planning phase each player takes turns placing tokens faces down on different planet systems until everyone has place 4 tokens. Tokens are placed in a stack so the first placed will be on the bottom and played last, and the token on the top will be played first. During the execution phase players take turn resolving one of their tokens if they have a token on the top of a pile. With this turn order sequence it is possible to delay an enemy's action while you R&D and improve, or you may be able to build up your defenses in a system before your enemy can mobilize there.
Personally, I'm also glad Starcraft didn’t use a cheesy auction to decide turn order. Auctions are ok in economic games about railroads, but StarCraft is a game about destroying your enemy at all costs. I can't imagine the Overmind Zerg Hoards stopping to have an auction to decide if they attack and cause splash damage to Jim Raynor's Terran units before the Humans can build an Air Support Module to protect their base.
While most people not familiar with the Ti3, Warrior Knights or StarCraft would think there are loads and loads of battles in each of these game similar to Risk, but in reality the average player will be in about 3 – 7 major battles per game. Timing your troop movement and technological advances becomes even more critical when you're only in 3 – 7 battles per game. I really love the balance between turn sequence control and risk and uncertainty that is build into Ti3, Warrior Knights and StarCraft. While over looked by some players who think having the best units, lucky dice rolls, having better technology or being the best diplomat and getting other players to gang up on somebody will win these games, I still believe one of the most critical factors is timing.