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How many actions per turn OK?

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I recently started designing my first board game and came accross this forum quite by accident. I have been reading and enjoying the information on this forum and this is my first post.

In the game I am designing each player does the following on his/her turn:

1. Takes points (based on number of tiles)
2. Buys tiles
3. Trades
4. Moves game piece
5. Play an action card (optional any time during turn)

In my initial game testing (which has been limited) I have noticed that players often forget to do one or more of the actions, especially moving the game piece since they aren't relevent until later in the game. My question is how many actions per turn is OK and how many would be considered too many? I realize that the "flow" of the game is the most important, but is there a general rule I should follow?


Joined: 08/03/2008
How many actions per turn OK?

First, if people are forgetting phases, print up a reference card with the different phases on it. No one will actually use the thing, but it's nice to be able to say, on the 20th time someone asks what they do on their turn, "well, as it says on your reference card..."

There's probably no right or wrong answer to your question, but the biggest consideration is probably down time between turns. In a 5 player game, if each player's turn takes X minutes, then a player must wait 4X minutes between his turns. If X is too big, and he's not involved in the other players' turns, this could get boring.

I note that in your game, there's trading (between players, I assume), so downtime may not be as much of a problem. If you find that it is, you could consider doing things differently while preserving your overall structure:

Instead of players doing all actions during their turn, have each action be a "phase", in which all players will act prior to proceeding to the next phase. So, first, all players would take points, then all players would buy tiles, and so on.

In one of my games, I had a turn sequence like this, but having everyone take every action every turn was making the game too long, so I instead went to a model where each game turn, you could only take a limited number of the available actions. So, in your game, for example, maybe I only get 2 actions per turn, and if I choose to buy tiles and trade, I wouldn't be able to take points or move, for example. These kinds of restrictions can lead to a feeling of "wanting to do more in your turn than you're allowed to do", which leads to a very satisfying source of tension. The games of Wolfgang Kramer (e.g., Tikal, El Grande, Maharajah) typically have this kind of tension.

Good luck with your game!


Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
How many actions per turn OK?

I'll second Jeff on the "reference card" thing - it may prove to be superfluous but during the early testing it's a lot better than giving everyone a set of rules that probably aren't wonderfully written anyway!

As for your actual question, the answer is that you give players as many actions as they need to be able to play the game :-) This isn't a very useful answer, but it's the best I can think of. Sometimes you need to limit a player's choices, so you give them an artificial restriction (you can only take each action once, or you use an Action Points mechanic), sometimes it isn't a problem and you can let people do whatever they want to do as often as they want (in this case, the restriction is usually provided by the game system itself: you can trade as much as you want in Settlers, but you rarely have the resources to do this endlessly.)

Elsewhere I believe we discussed the "seven items or fewer" principle - a person's short-term attention can manage to handle about seven different options before they start to get confused - which suggests that your list of five still has some "wriggle room".

If people are forgetting to move their game piece, then you may need to add some more significance to that action than it currently has. Of course, it's hard to judge without seeing the whole game, but if the outcome of the game can be affected by players forgetting to do this then it needs to be emphasized.

Joined: 12/31/1969
How many actions per turn OK?

The idea that people can store anywhere between 5 and 9 units of whatever in their short-term memory is sometimes called "the rule of seven plus or minus two".

However, the reality of the situation is a little more complex. We are really only capable of reliably storing and operating on 3 units at a time if the units are not related to each other in some way. We end up storing and operating more than this, typically, because we group the items to be remembered in our minds in groups or structures of categorization. Imagine that human memory is like a tree of directories on your computer, and it's easiest to store any given structure of directories in memory if any given directory contains 3 or fewer directories or files. Psychologists call the mental equivalent of placing the files into the same directory "chunking", and the directory itself is called a "chunk".

The more distinctive and logical the grouping is, the more easily it is remembered. For most people, practice that shows us a consistent ordering (like any other consistency or association between units to be remembered) will automatically group units in our minds after some time of play.

So if you have a large number of phases (or anything else, for that matter) for your players to remember, you'll want these phases to be "groupable" in the players' minds. People are pretty good at doing the grouping thing automatically, especially after practice, but your game will just be easier to understand and pick up quickly if you work with the ability of memory to work better with categorizable or "chunkable" data.

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