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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hesufo

    I think the grand strategy series like Civilization and Europa Universalis, and classics that continue to be turn-based like Pokémon, show that Turn Based gameplay can offer just as much depth in terms of gameplay as Real Time ones, which also depend a lot on reflexes, quick moving and such (which is a facet I really hate for strategy games even though I love playing them with my friends online).

    Very interesting read. I’ll be participating in the contest by the way!

    – Wizardry
    – Dragon Warrior I & II
    – Civilization 2
    – XCOM: Enemy Unknown
    – Final Fantasy VIII

    • Nailed it on the games. I’ll add it to your account on the forums :P.

    • I agree that strategy games like Civilization and Europa Universalis are brilliant. But aren’t these games also being killed by the so-called “social gaming” industry where they’re turning these great games into cash-cows where you have to make micropayments for in-game items? This is ruining a lot of my favourite strategy games, and I fear is putting a lot of people off the genre. What do you think?

      • I don’t think the long turn based strategy has gone away, but I agree that simpler social game and microtransaction games have taken a chunk out of turn based games. Not my thing either.

  • Jennifer Hunter

    Ok so we have Dragon Warrior II, Xcom enemy unknown, Final Fantasy VIII, Civilisation 2 (i think it’s 2) and the first one i’m just wildly guessing is Mystery House?????

    • Hesufo got it earlier. Wizardry for the first one, Dragon Warrior/Quest I&II GB, and you got the others right.

  • Maybe I’m more biased to Turn based games because I grew up on them and gotten really good at them. But gameplay to me is more about strategy and adjusting.
    Now that’s not to say First Person Shooters or Crowd Fighting Action Games are bad, I enjoy most platforms greatly.

    But when I’m looking for something that had me use my brain and require to pay attention of what’s going on, the T.B.S battle encounters in a good game can be rather complicated with a lot of things to remember.
    Elemental types, air types, even positions of enemies can be a necessary haste to think about at it requires learning when and when not to deal with it. There’s also the case of spells and buffs that both you and the enemies control.

    If something bad happened, you had to deal with it.
    If there’s an opening for a perfect move, you have to look for it.

    And there’s always the re-playability aspect. Most of these games give you the chance to go back and play differently which can sometimes make the experience more easier, or purposely challenge yourself.

    And though I could name the names of the games the images are showing, I will not.
    I am just here to state my opinion on this style of gameplay.

    • I just like how different games test different skills. Another type of game is stealth action games, which test your observation and memory a lot. Remembering all those guard patterns, spotting everything, planning out how to approach a room and take down everything. Its a lot of fun.

      • xein

        Yeah, I remembered a map in MGS Peace Walker. The first time entering that map took me about 1 hour to go from the start to the goal but when I became good, it took less than 5 minutes. Moving in stealth against snipers.

        • I love that part of stealth games. I started replaying Deus Ex: Human Revolution on a stealth run and just… I had gotten so much better at it and it made me feel so awesome.

  • Dan

    Admittedly it is much easier to implement turn-based gameplay, because the processing power and coding hassle of clicking through a menu and showing a picture get hit with an animation is much simpler than having multiple objects running around at once and all interacting with each other. But that does not mean everyone who made a turn-based game back in the day would have chosen an RTS given the opportunity. Turn based games allow for more time to think about each move, and can actually build more suspense as you wait for the outcome of a crazy gamble (think Persona/SMT/FF, choosing not to heal because you think you can take out the boss if the whole party goes all out this turn). In the case of games like Fire Emblem, the turn-based aspect allows for much more detailed strategy as you take into account the exact range of every enemy unit on the map and try to figure out exactly how far you can press forward without dying. In the end, the fact that SMT IV and Fire Emblem both got big numbers on the 3DS and people still play Chess today speaks for itself with regards to whether turn-based strategy offers something unique.

  • rixx

    “C’mon, its just clicking in menus, that isn’t REAL gameplay.” Does anyone really say that? Out of frustration i would point them to chess – super old, infinitely deep, turn-based, class-based combat simulator, which may be considered in certain circles as THE GAME. My last week i spent fending off aliens in XCOM 2 and dare i say the gameplay (as in actually making decisions that influence outcome) is actually far more versatile and demanding then most games out there.

  • Bad Habit

    There are a lot of things that people really enjoy in TBS Games, different kind of challenges then quick thinking and fast reaction, actually quite opposite to that. I am a big fan of TBS games. Recently started a blog about it. Here is my post explaining why people like to play them in first place:
    It is a bit more for 4X and Empire building Turn Based Strategy Games but still very relevant.

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