Why People Think Turn-Based is “Boring”

I started playing a bit of the expansion for Civilization V (Gods and Kings) recently.  I will say that it brought Civ V mostly up to the level of the other Civ games.  Combat is a little better than Civ IV, but some other things are a little worse.  The new system for spies seems very cool, at least on my first impression.  I’m pretty certain that vanilla Civ V did not have “quick move” and “quick attack” feature (even though every Civ before it did have that), but it’s been “re-added”.  Is this the pattern Civ is going to take?  Release a new game every 5 years stripping away various features, and then re-add them in an expansion?

But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about.  Most Civ players know that there’s an option in the game setup screen called “game speed”.  It’s one of the things you can configure for your game;  things like map type, map size, how many civilizations are playing, difficulty level, etc.

Now, there are four game speeds:  Quick, Normal, Slow and Very Slow (I’m not sure if those are the names of the slower ones, I haven’t even clicked on them for reasons that will become obvious in a few more sentences).  Each of them has a description.  Here’s a screenshot I took of the description for “Quick” mode:

Let me ask you:  how much do you like to “wait around”?  I’m going to guess that even if a million people read this blog, nobody answered “too much”.   I know, I know – they meant “too much” in a different sense of the phrase than I’ve just implied.  Either way, let’s cut out the “too much”.  Do you like to wait around at all?   I’m going to dare to guess that most people don’t like to “wait around” AT ALL.  Waiting around at all, pretty much universally, almost objectively, sucks.

Let me quickly clarify what I mean by waiting around.  In games, the thing that really makes them games is the decision-making.  Time where the user is not making any decisions is therefore wasted time.  One exception might be if the user is watching an important cutscene, or something, but that brings up a whole separate issue.

The Civ Experience

You might be thinking that I am trying to find some cheap  “gotcha” moment in some tiny amount of text in a game that has like roughly 9 million words of text in it.  I could probably find some text in Civ V to prove just about any point.

But the key here is, Civilization does make you wait around.  A LOT.

Every Civ player knows what I’m talking about, too.  The first 20-50 turns are exciting, interesting, scary, and dynamic.   You’re uncovering new lands.  You’re meeting new civilizations and deciding how to handle them.  You’re fighting off barbarians.  You’re getting into scary wars.  You’re struggling to survive.

But then, you reach the mid-game, and things generally tend to cool off.  If you’ve survived this long, it means you have often defeated (or at least pacified) your closest adversaries, and now it’s just you and your 8 to 12 cities.  During this time, most turns, all you will do is press “End Turn”.  Over, and over again.  Every couple turns a city will ask you “hey, do you want me to build a hospital or a barracks or one of 23 other possible options, almost all of which you eventually would like to have but none of which are a high priority at the moment”.  You scroll down, and sort of click on one half-heartedly just to get the window out of the way.

This kind of non-decision “waiting” shit ends up taking up at LEAST half of the time when you play Civilization.

Now, I play usually on the NORMAL difficulty mode or the mode just above it.  It’s possible that if I play on some super-high skill level, that it would be more intense more frequently, or that the game would simply end sooner by my being defeated, but I think it is fair to judge a game by its NORMAL difficulty.  Most people are going to be playing on this, and nowhere does it say in the manual “if you want to avoid boring horseshit, make sure to play on GODLY MASTER skill setting”.

Most Turn Based Videogames are Boring

This is why people think turn-based games are boring.  There aren’t a lot of turn-based games to choose from these days.  There’s basically the Civilization series, and JRPGs (and Advance Wars, which I’ll get to in a second).  So it’s no wonder that people think turn-based games are boring when the two existing games that are turn based both happen to be really boring and slow and liberal with wasting the user’s time.

90% of JRPG fights involve nothing more than simply holding down the A/Circle button

I’ve said it before, but if you actually take a stopwatch and time a user while he’s playing a videogame to see how frequently he’s actually getting to make any meaningful decisions at all, you’ll find it’s offensively, shockingly low.  Between load times, cutscenes, tutorials, more cutscenes, running down linear hallways, and other menial tasks, the actual decision is few and far between.

This is not an inherent property of turn-based games, though.  A great example is Advance Wars, which – especially when you turn those battle animations off – is quick and snappy.  Very little of your time is wasted while playing Advance Wars, and it’s a really well-liked modern turn-based game.  I would hope that more developers would learn from this example.

For our part, AURO is the snappiest and most efficient game it can possibly be.  We really, really value every minute that a user would give us their attention, and so we want to make use of it.  We’re shooting for absolutely zero “waiting around” in AURO, and as close to zero no-brainer decisions as possible (no game, as far as I know, has ever actually reached zero on that).  Our animations are de-coupled from the turns system, so you never have to wait even a second for animations to play out.  Similarly, our text feeder is also decoupled from gameplay, so just like Portal’s voice-overs, you can play at your own speed;  there’s no need to “wait” while text happens.

People think turn based is boring because most modern turn-based games are boring.  This will change in the future, in part because of the merge between digital boardgames and videogames.

Another quick example:  Magic: The Gathering 2013 (PC), which I played a bit of.  Coming from playing Yomi over at www.fantasystrike.com, MTG is CRIPPLINGLY slow.  Like, it’s unforgivable.  Every time you do anything, there’s some “animation” you have to wait for (they can’t be turned off).  Every phase of your turn has, for some reason, a real-time timer to it, despite the game being turn-based.  Yomi does this way better by simply having prompts, which means you can move at your own God-damned speed.

Anyway, this has been a pretty haphazardly written article, but I’m actually knee deep in AURO development at the moment so I didn’t have time to write an outline as I usually do.  The point is – DON’T WASTE YOUR PLAYER’S TIME, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT OF IT.  That “players who don’t like to wait around too much” is too telling – it displays clearly that videogame developers really are okay with some amount of players “waiting around”.  We should not tolerate this kind of contempt for the audience.

civfinal fantasygods and kingsturn basedyomi

keithburgun • 07/03/2012

Previous Post

Next Post


  1. Leon 07/03/2012 - 2:13 pm Reply

    Yeah dude, I mean, thinking before acting is SO boring, let’s just run into the enemy spraying bullets in every direction

    Also, f*** Chess, so slow and boring and shit.

    • keithburgun 07/03/2012 - 2:16 pm Reply

      Leon, I hope you didn’t only read the headline and think that *I* was saying turn-based is boring!

      • Leon 07/03/2012 - 2:32 pm Reply

        Sorry if you think that I was saying that you implied this, it wasn’t my intention, the thing is, everyone has the right to like eveyrhing they want, so if some people like to be more in the action that’s ok, but I don’t understand why so much hate for turn based games, there are some people who like to think for several minutes before making their decisions, trying to figure out the enemy strategy or with strategy they should use for that boss(in case of most turn-based RPGs), so I don’t know why attack those kind of games, why can’t people have fun with whatever they want and just leave people who enjoy other kinds of stuff.

        And sorry again for not being clear on my first comment.

        • alastair 07/03/2012 - 7:38 pm Reply

          Are you serious? You must be reading the wrong site.

        • zeemer 07/03/2012 - 9:17 pm Reply

          Did you even read the article?

  2. Superlicious | Superlevel
  3. Jack Everitt 07/08/2012 - 5:45 pm Reply

    “important cutscene” – oxymoron?

    “Most Turn Based Videogames are Boring” – let’s just leap to “Most Videogames are Boring”?

    “We really, really value every minute that a user would give us their attention, and so we want to make use of it.” – I so agree with this design ethic. Imagine if Facebook game designers thought that way rather that it being the last thing they would ever do.

    “We should not tolerate this kind of contempt for the audience.” – Exactly! The player’s time is valuable and games should treat it as so.

    There are so many games today that waste a player’s time with cutscenes, unnecessary clicking, etc. – many of them to disguise their game’s lack of interesting game play. Every iOS and Facebook game with farming, for example.

  4. Arch Ellsworth 07/08/2012 - 6:00 pm Reply

    Tell us about the rabbits –

  5. Bret 07/13/2012 - 9:11 pm Reply

    We talked at length about this many times. I mostly agree with this concept that video games shouldn’t be wasting the player’s time, but I think there is another side to it too. Part of it, that you used to mention, is that turn-based games have the potential to be very fast and slick instead of putting in a bunch of animations and crap to show effects, attacks, or moves. In fact, you are saying that Auro is not going to be slowed by the animations but is also going to find a way to keep them in – I think this is great!

    The first thing to come to mind that I think is worth mentioning to the contrary is about JRPG fights. Back in the day of Final Fantasy (original) and Dragon Warrior (original), we could actually call these fights turn-based. And yes, 90% of the time we would only have to press multiple times – but those were the sort of no-brainer fights that we weren’t worry about dying. But I’m not sure that the solution is to make these faster. Final Fantasy games started blurring the lines with active battle timers and for the most part I was fine when it came to FFIV, FFVI, and FFVII – and I think that is because we still had an open world to explore and the easy battles were fairly quick to end. Still, I think major problems in JRPG games came up when they tried to speed up these games.

    I think the two main culprits are linearity and raising the monster level based on your character level. In FFXIII they show how linearity really kills the sense that you have a world to explore, which was one of the hallmarks of FF. I knew that, for the most part, the story in FF games were linear – but I thought in future FF games they would expand on world exploration, not narrow it down to walking one path. This is one example of completely missing the point when a developer tries to speed up the game. Why not try to make the exploration more fun and make more interesting decisions there instead of taking away that adventure element?

    Raising monster levels as your character grows is more of a pet peeve. I think this tries to address the other side of things. A player may find quick and easy battles to be boring, so the developer says to himself – well, then raise the monster levels as you level. And this, I think, is a huge mistake. And it feels wrong. It makes RPG’s as a whole incredibly slow. It takes away a sense of getting stronger in the game. You never get a sense of exploring more dangerous areas. I could go on and on about it – but it tends to make any RPG much slower and takes all the good stuff out.

    So the reason I’m defending JRPG’s, is because speeding these games up isn’t easy. And they are one type of game where I actually didn’t mind going a little slow or taking my time to explore. Maybe it is that certain people have different definitions of wasting time. Some people think that playing Chess is a complete waste of time no matter how fast the pieces move. As a gamer, I don’t mind picking up an RPG and spending 100 hours on it as long as the story is great, as long as I like the characters, and as long as I feel like I’m really having an adventure. In those games, some turn based battles that end quickly with a few button presses don’t worry me, it’s when developers try to change the system to the point of breaking what makes RPG’s so good in the first place. I was never bored with FFVII, even when felt I had to grind a little, or even a lot.

    So do I want to waste my time? In the case of FFVII – hell yes. Even with those 90% battles, I think there was good in it. If nothing else, it gave the player the sense of progress and being powerful or that he was patient with something and achieved something. Of course JRPG battle systems are housed in JRPG’s that you have oftentimes said are ‘not very game-like’. Which bring me around to the argument of simulations vs. games. There is room in the entertainment industry for JRPG hero simulators. :)

    Anyway, take Magic the Gathering online. The game is clearly turn based. Unless you are playing Multiplayer it seems odd to waste time showing what phases you are going through. It seems even more odd to put a response timer on certain decisions. And it seems even more odd to make the player wait while cards move to the center of the screen and attack each other with weird claw animations. It’s like they are limiting the amount of time I have to critically think and respond, but extending the amount of time I have to watch animations. I feel games like these are more frustrating by far.

    And when compared with JRPG’s, at least JRPG’s give me something to feel in these turn based battles – as it often has to do with the story. A game like Magic the Gathering online has no excuse.

    It is also one of the things that may go wrong with Auro if you guys aren’t careful. I’m saying this as an outsider, so I’m not sure what you guys have planned. Auro looks like an RPG. And when people start playing it they might expect a great deal of story, and get a board game in return. And if you guys don’t have a heavy story, the question about why people would play your game would come up. I suspect that the game will tickle the tactical strategy itch, sort of like Chess. I think, if that’s the case, having a leader board would be the bare minimum you guys could have to give players a sense of competition. Lastly, maybe vs. battles might be cool too. Just throwing that one out there.

    Anyway, sorry for the wall of text. Post gave me a lot to think about.

  6. keithburgun 07/13/2012 - 9:33 pm Reply

    >but those were the sort of no-brainer fights that we weren’t worry about dying. But I’m not sure that the solution is to make these faster. Final

    Right. The solution is to remove them – and any other no-brainers – from the game altogether.

    Keep in mind – “speed” actually isn’t the thing you want. What you want is efficiency. So, if I spend just 5 minutes playing your game, the game should be very very good at delivering interesting interactions to me in that time. Videogames are notoriously horrible at this.

    The whole system of “experience/leveling up” is flawed IMO. It doesn’t make sense that your character would get stronger over the course of the game. The player is getting better at playing the game as he’s going, right (ASTERISK)? So it’s redundant to have the character get better.

    (ASTERISK – You can’t get good at 99% of RPGs because their gameplay is incredibly shallow)

    >. It seems even more odd to put a response timer on certain decisions.

    I totally agree. Can’t stand how MTG2013 has those unskippable timed phases. They should do it how Fantasy Strike does it.

    >Auro looks like an RPG.

    Well, it’s marketed as a dungeon-crawling strategy game” or possibly “tactics game”. In fact, we may even make the subtitle be “AURO: The Dungeon Crawling Tactics Game”.

    I agree that if people expect an RPG, that would be a problem.

    • Bret 07/19/2012 - 3:38 am Reply

      We’ve always differed in opinion on leveling up. I would bring up games vs. simulations again. If we separate the concept of having simulations and games together – then yes – i believe games should be efficient and those no brainer battles should be taken out. We could even have a little counter whenever we would have run into little enemies that we can easily kill just to get a little bit of experience while we walk around or something. Just something to suggest: Hey you’re pretty strong now, so we won’t make you fight that random battle that just triggered. However, in a simulation, there is more to it than just making things efficient. One example I keep coming back to is Shadow of the Colossus. This game is a far cry from the games you are developing, and it’s mostly because your games simulate almost nothing, and they try to slim things down right down to the interesting interactions. However, SotC adds the element of exploration and adventure. Some people say that this adds nothing to the game, but I would suggest that riding around on your horse is such a pleasure to do (because of beautiful scenery, just for starters) that simulations will always have the advantage of atmosphere and feeling like you are in an amazing other worldly place. So it comes down to what kind of games you are making and for what kind of people. It seems you want to make games for people that want a tight, efficient, and interesting decisions. Whereas, I would love to see games that still want to simulate the adventure of walking around new cities and landscapes, having epic stories, and so on – even at the cost of efficiency. Am I right in thinking that you don’t want this? What do you think of games that continue to include these aspects? Is there no room for them?

      • keithburgun 07/19/2012 - 10:49 am Reply

        I think that you have to look fundamentally at what you mean by games. If you just mean interactive entertainment, the of course there’s room for such a thing. However, there’s a kind of system I have in mind that I call “game” (i’ve explained it here and on gamasutra and I think you probably know what I mean), and in that kind of system, a “big epic sprawling area you have to walk over” or a story are both necessarily bad qualities.

        • Bret 07/20/2012 - 1:58 am Reply

          I think I’m finally going to agree with you on this. I still think in the future you’ll have a hard time explaining your concept to people if you use the word ‘game’ to describe all of it. I say that because it overlaps with a word that people use for all kinds of interactive media. Most are already comfortable with it. I honestly don’t know what other word you could use off the top of my head, but I’ve been starting to use the term ‘Keith game’. Auro is a Keith game. :)

          • keithburgun 07/20/2012 - 2:26 am Reply

            When I talk about games I usually make the distinction up front these days, but no I don’t use the term “keith game”. Naomi Clark and DanC have both suggested I use “strategy game”, but I think that causes other complications.

            I think my only solution is to continue to use the word game, but just explain what I mean.

            My favorite solution is to use “game” for the system I’m talking about, and “videogame” for the “any digital interactive entertainment”.

  7. Naomi Clark 07/14/2012 - 2:23 am Reply

    I gotta say I agree that the decision-making is the most important part, but it’s often the empty space between decisions that lends the whole experience — and even the punctuation of decisios — a different psychological quality. It’s like the white space in a painting, or driving down a long stretch of road with no turn-offs. This kind of stuff is not the “game” part of games, certainly not by your definitions (or what I’d call “strategy games”) but even in your model, games are ultimately built up on top of the lowest, most expansive foundation of “interactive experience.” And creating a quality interactive experience has a lot to do with pacing of interaction, decisions, a textured and non-homogenous space of meaning and choice.

    That said, Civ probably isn’t the greatest example of a game with excellent “empty space.” It gets a little better in this regard if you have a lot of terrain-changing projects going on, spies and caravans, little processes advancing, but not much. Final Fantasy may be even worse, since the traveling in those games is some of the weakest parts of gameplay. But Journey (which is a contested platformer in the guise of a pretty art-game) is great at this, as are parts of Minecraft, and any board game where you wait for the other player to take a turn while you sit and watch and think, but mostly wait in anticipation.

    • keithburgun 07/14/2012 - 2:43 am Reply

      Hmm. Well, if you’re saying “digital software can use non-decision time to do something of value to people”, I think that’s certainly true. The question really is, does it have value in games (as I define the word)? It’s worth asking. I tend to think the answer is still “no”, though, because the whole point of playing a game is expressed through making decisions.

      Back to the music example, I don’t think comparing “silence” to “lack of decisions” works, precisely. Silence is a fundamentally unavoidable part of music (you can’t have a beat without some silences, for example). But “lack of decisions” is not a fundamental part of games – there are plenty of great games that are constantly nothing but decisions. You said, “creating a quality interactive experience has a lot to do with pacing of interaction”. I would say Go is like, really 100% decision-making, does that mean it’s not a quality interactive experience (if you count the other player’s turn as down-time, how about a game versus a bot).

      Journey and Minecraft, as you’d probably guess, aren’t games by my definition, and so they aren’t bound to this rule of delivering decisions frequently. And I agree, with things like that, stuff like pacing can override a need for decisions at all, let alone frequent ones.

      One thing to note is that stuff like “animation time” has a perfectly good place in real-time games, where time is a resource that must be managed. In that situation where a character just did a move that takes 2 seconds to complete, and things can happen inside those 2 seconds (so he invested them and took some kind of risk, and the time during the animation is still gameplay), I think it totally makes sense to force players to “wait” for the durations of those animations. Of course, even that needs to be watched very closely as it can get out of hand, fast.

  8. Sam 07/17/2012 - 6:54 am Reply

    “We’re shooting for absolutely zero “waiting around” in AURO, and as close to zero no-brainer decisions as possible (no game, as far as I know, has ever actually reached zero on that)”

    How do you feel about a game like Dota? I’d love to see what you think about that game (Dota 2 specifically, but it’s basically a remake). Fast paced and everything you do has massive consequences. As far as I can see, from about 800 hours of playing it, there hasn’t been a single second, once a game starts, where my decision is a no-brainer.

    • keithburgun 07/17/2012 - 10:18 am Reply

      in Dota, firstly I think often that running up to the fight and fighting the little monsters are no brainery. Dota’s way better than most videogames in this way but it has a few other problems, namely that it’s a billion times too complicated (too many heroes/spells/etc).

  9. Random_Phobosis 08/08/2012 - 9:53 am Reply

    Did you try FFG’s Civilization the Boardgame?

    FFG managed to solve lots of digital Civ problems (like boring linear decision-less tech tree and some others), and while the game isn’t ideal, the simple fact that every turn (of probably 8-12) really matters and could bring about the victory (or downfall) of your empire makes the board game vastly superior to CivV in my opinion.
    In fact, combined with other improvements in board game version, this is a reason enough for me to never play digital version again, at least not until they start to actually improve the game. And yeah, I’m a Civ fan too.

    • keithburgun 08/08/2012 - 11:44 am Reply

      I haven’t played it yet. To be honest, I’m a little scared to. Most of what Fantasy Flight publishes is noisy, dice-rolly and longer than it needs to be. Then again, I do love Civ, and even if this game is 5 hours long it’s still half as long as the PC version, so…

      • Random_Phobosis 08/08/2012 - 12:53 pm Reply

        You know, FFG style changed a lot in last years.
        Their newer games, I mean Civ tBG and Runewars, borrow a lot (mostly good) design choices from euros. Both games don’t even use dice – I for one have no problem with dice if they are used correctly, but more importantly, both games are real good in meaningful decision department, and that’s awesome. Anyways, they now require 2-3 hours to play (and not 6-10, like Twilight Imperium 3), this alone is enough to give them a chance.

        I know, I probably sound like fanboy here, but that’s only because after playing TI3, Doom, Descent and Arkham Horror I thought FFG is hopeless and they will never embrace modern board game design. I’m just glad they proved me wrong.

        • keithburgun 08/08/2012 - 4:30 pm Reply

          Okay, if you are saying that you dislike Descent and AH, then I’m adding some merit to your point of view, and will definitely see about getting my hands on Civilization. Thanks!

  10. noname 12/02/2012 - 4:24 am Reply

    I think you should play shin megami tensei. It has turn-based combat, but it is hard to call that boring.

    • keithburgun 12/02/2012 - 5:30 am Reply

      I don’t think you read this article…

      First of all, I don’t think turn-based is boring. Usually. JRPGs like SMT (and Persona, many of the games I have played) however are exceptions to that rule, in that the combat very rarely involves interesting decision-making.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *