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Jul 20, 2005



Nifty points. Ian Bogost's 2004 paper for the Other Players conference discusses asynchronous, multiplayer gaming: examples headed in the direction of turn-based worlds include the way Animal Crossing can be played serially and collaboratively within a household, and Ian's own The Howard Dean for Iowa game that aggregated individual player actions into an evolving map.

Love turn-based? Definitely. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, for starters. Actually, that one could be counted as war as well...

In our own era, Carl Steadman's epistolary story Two Solitudes originally was a series of emails between the two characters, with the reader bcc'd. It made great use of the form's tics such as sigs and bounce daemons, and ends in a way that's sad but authentic, and not unfamiliar to anyone who's ever had an outdated address book.


I have a lifetime of gaming experience behind me, including over 20 years designing computer games and another 10+ designing paper games (including turn-based wargames as well as RPGs, miniatures rules, etc.).

For game mechanics reasons, most wargames and miniatures rules have been turn-based. Game mechanics are fairly clean, no matter how many phases and sub-phases designers add to reflect doctrinal differences, air power, armored breakthroughs, etc., etc.

However, some of the greatest designs, starting with Victory Games' Korean War title, broke the mould and had players alternating moves (you move something, I move something, you move another something, I move another something, etc.). One could invoke extra supplies, quality generalship, and similar ploys to move a few extra somethings when you had a chance to move. This allowed you to horde resources and expertise to inflict major blows, or counterblows. While the game still had an overall concept of "turns," there was incredible back-and-forth throughout the turn.

An even more revolutionary approach to gaming was Scotty Bowden's "Empire" series of miniature rules. In these you could select a general, and his associated troops, and move them large distances - until they came in contact with the enemy. That fight ended the move AND the player's turn. Then the opposition could select a general and moved their troops into a fight (the same one, or a different one, as they wished). When it was back to your "turn" you could select any general again, even the fellow you'd just moved. Of course, his troops were probably full of casualties and exhausted, so using them again was a calculated risk. Alternately you could not move anyone and let all your men (and generals) recuperate. Of course, this inevitably meant turning over the initiative to the enemy.

This approach was remarkably good at reproducing the ebb and flow of the Napoleonic battlefield, from Margeno to Borodino, Talavera to Waterloo. Small but elite armies could cut through the enemy, wheel and exploit victory, especially if the enemy's organization was compromised and they couldn't find an appropriate force with which to react (a common problem in many continental armies through 1806).

My point is that serious, sophisticated wargames can "play games" with turn structures to such a degree that the traditional "my turn, your turn" concept all but disappears. In its place emerges a very real pace and fog of war, major clashes in which opportunities emerge for one side to exploit and the opposition to nip in the bud, often with a counterattack.

Needless to say, many RTS games have the same feeling, although the rapid-fire click-fest can be dizzying to watch and tiring on the wrist.


In its place emerges a very real pace...

This is a great point. I think a common misconception introduced by the simple "my turn... your turn" mechanics is the concept of *initiative* and how it can be reflected by interrupts and choice in a turn-based system.

An exhausted opponent may have few options in the imaginary field of battle, and too, few options afforded by the mechanics of the system.

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