Turn Based Games: Where’s the Gameplay?

in Gamer Thoughts

You hear it all the time from modern gamers, “C’mon, its just clicking in menus, that isn’t REAL gameplay.”

And I'm pretty sure we can all admit that technology has improved a bit in the last 30 years or so.

And I’m pretty sure we can all admit that technology has improved a bit in the last 30 years or so.

The next argument you always hear is that turn based gameplay was a product of the technology. That had they had the ability to make every game real time that they would have.

So the Question becomes: Does Turn Based Gameplay still have a place in modern design? Or is it a relic of the past that should stay dead?

The Technology Argument

As much as some people might not want to admit it, one of reasons that a lot of early video games were turn based, was the technology. The technology exists to go beyond that now; real time is easily achievable. This reason really doesn’t apply very much anymore, though for an RPG Maker developer, I would say turn based is still a simpler frame to use. But what an RPG Maker Developer can do doesn’t justify Turn Based Games in the larger world, so if this as the only reason for turn based games to exist, I would say that no, they shouldn’t. But why should they exist?


I think for my next point, I’ll have to try and define a word, one that seems relatively simple, but is used in so many different contexts.

Yes, the Text Speed changes things in game, but its not exactly challenging anything, so it isn't GAMEPLAY.

Not Testing a Skill = Not Gameplay

Gameplay to me is about two major things. The first is that the player should be an active participant. If he’s just watching words go by, he’s passively encountering the game. He has to be doing something that changes how things happen on the screen. The second is that it has to challenge a skill. If he is just changing the volume in the menus, that isn’t exactly gameplay.

Most games challenge your reflexes and hand/eye coordination: Shooters, Platfomers, Action Adventure games, etc. They also challenge your ability to make QUICK decisions. The decisions may or may not be deep, but they challenge you to do them very fast.

Turn Based Games, with RPGs and Strategy games most often falling into Turn Based, challenge a different set of skills. There are two main skills they challenge, and most Turn Based Games will challenge one or both of them.

turnbased2The first is planning. Think about any of the turn based empire building games out there. You have to plan out your technology trees, you have to plan out your distribution of forces.

There are even some games that utilize this part Turn Based, while doing other parts in real time, such as Creative Assembly’s Total War series.

The second is more immediate analysis. Think of the middle of combat decisions you make. Most of analysis will play out in your head right here: If I do this, then he can do this, and then I can do this. You also sometimes have to decide when something is worth the risk or sacrifice or not. This is very much the skill that makes good chess players good.


I would say that, to me, this justifies Turn Based games on its own. Variety is the spice of life after all, and some people get more enjoyment out of different skills being challenged. Someone with poor reflexes, or who makes decisions slowly can still enjoy a turn based game, while someone who does his best thinking on the fly might prefer something faster paced. Neither of them are really wrong.

Where Turn Based Goes Wrong

The thing is, not every challenge to turn based game is actually false. There are a lot of turn based games that fail to have real gameplay due to not taking into consideration the gameplay aspect.


Think of any game where you can just hit attack over and over all the way to the end. There is no challenging of your skills to be had there. Now, that doesn’t mean the game is without skill at all. If you had to have done a good deal of planning and preparation to get yourself to that level of ease in the actual combats you still were challenged at some point.

The big thing is, to always remember: the Player should be an active participant, and the player should be utilizing a skill.

What do you think? Do you think that Turn Based games are still relevant? Should real time take over entirely? Tell us about it in the comments below!

The first person who can name every game from the images in this article, either in the comments here, or as a comment on the Facebook link will receive $10 USD in forum store credit.

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