Turn Based Games

I distinctly remember when reviewers and biz-dev types declared that turn based games were dead. It was some time after the first XBOX (2001) was released, since I recall reading an article in a console magazine (lol) where a toque wearing, xtreme! t-shirt, attitude up front, “games journalist” was offended that a turn based game had appeared on his new age console.

Of course, large western game developers had started moving away from turn based games long before that. I remember how x-com apocalypse  (1997) included both turn based and real time combat modes, which were radically divergent to the point where it was desirable for me to fight certain foes and missions in one mode and switch to others when I wanted to use something else. XCOM, of course, was a banner bearer for turn based games and considered a hot IP at the time, worthy of rescue.

Why would a hot turn based IP be in need of rescue you might ask? Well marketers, producers, and bad game theorists decided at some point that the only reason they were making turn based games were purely technical. In this view they had overcome the limitation that turn based systems presented so why not discard them? After all, wasn’t real time strategy exclusively better?

Of course, turn based gaming has little to do with technical limitations and has enjoyed a great resurgence in both big studio and indie development. Civ games remained popular and are now a mainstay of steam, gog, and other PC platforms. Developers outside of North America never really turned up their nose at turn based games either, and I remember eagerly playing games like Disgaea to get my fix.

The return of XCOM (resurrected by Firaxis, who also make Civ) to wide critical acclaim finally put the issue to rest. Now, long after the technological hurdles have been overcome even the most obtuse biz-dev type can see that there is a market for turn based games.

Here are five reasons that I enjoy turn based games

  • Get Up And Go: true turn based games advance entirely at the player’s discretion. If something arises requiring your attention you don’t even need to pause the game to go away from the game. As someone whose game time is frequently interrupted by real life, and sudden inspirations, I can really appreciate this aspect. I also find that since I control game-flow that turn based games are easier to get back into after a pause. This dovetails nicely with my next point.
  • Controlled Pacing: In a good turn based game the designer will control the flow so that the player is presented with interesting choices each turn. This leads to a much more consistent level of play. In XCOM you know you that if you are in a mission there are aliens about and that you should be wary, moving in cover, looking for the foe, etc. Ideally a turn based game could skip all the boring parts, just getting to the meat of the game. The upcoming Duelyst game looks like a good example, concentrating on creating a great battle experience above all else.
  • Options: Turn based games revolve around choices. If all a unit can do is move and attack in one fashion then the game will be very dull indeed. Instead most games give players a variety of choices including different attack types, alternate fire modes, grenade types, and reaction fire in XCOM or a plethora of magical abilities and skills in fantasy games like FF Tactics (JP up!).
  • Control: Turn based games allow a player to control diverse multiple units with less time pressure than other systems. Achieving the same level of micro-management in other games is considered a skill.
  • Mental Challenge: The real reason to play turn based games on the computer is the same reason that chess, go, and similar games remain popular. They provide the player with a mental challenge in the same way that few other game types can. Without time pressure or twitch factor turn based games have to provide the player with interesting choices to entertain them. Considering these choices, with the added luxury of control of the time flow of the game allows the player to really stretch their mental muscles, if the game is any good. Consequently when I am playing a turn based game I find myself thinking about it when I am away from the playing field more often. This goes for board games, and tabletop RPGS/minis games as well.

When all you are left with is choices, better make them interesting!


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