# How might I eliminate asymmetrical gameplay caused by turn order?

I'm designing a turn based game in which players profit from buying, transporting, and selling resources. Each turn, the map has to produce a certain number of resources and different locations, and resource prices have to be updated. Because of this, each round, after every player has taken their turn, the game state has to be updated; resources are consumed/produced, prices in each cell of the map need to be updated, etc. Originally, I was going to have a simple turn order, where each player took their turn, then the map is updated, then the cycle repeats in the same order. However, after a little bit of testing, it became clear that this gave a significant advantage to players who have their turn right after the map is updated. They're able to collect the newly produced resources before any one else has a chance to.

The easiest way I could think of to balance out the gameplay for all players is to randomize the turn order after each round. While this would give everyone a fair chance, I'm worried that this might be too big of a shift away from strategy and towards luck.

How might I eliminate asymmetrical gameplay caused by turn order?

• Have you considered something like Settlers of Catan's approach, where resources are produced at the start of every player's turn, rather than only once at the start of the round? – DMGregory Jun 28 '17 at 11:06
• Is your game electronic or table top? – Mindwin Jun 28 '17 at 14:06
• There's no need to randomize the turn order: at the beginning of each round generate what the map would have done, but only show 1 / n * 100 percent before each players turn, where n is the number of players. If two people are playing, 50% of the updates get applied before each players turn. You can then randomize and build an algorithm that would decide what updates to apply at which turns. This makes it more fair and keeps the game flowing. – Der Kommissar Jun 28 '17 at 14:31
• ...asked every TCG ever :) – xDaizu Jun 29 '17 at 14:48
• Another approach is to embrace the asymmetry and auction the right to go first at the start of the game. If people start out with some money, ask them how much they will pay to the other players (or to the bank) to go first. High bid wins, then auction second place and so on. Alternately you can auction the right to go last as the minimum somebody needs to be paid to accept it. This makes it a transient advantage to go last. As people learn the game, the prices will settle down. – Ross Millikan Jun 30 '17 at 0:57

Have the players take their turns simultaneously. This also has the added benefit of speeding up the game, because players don't sit idle while waiting for the other players to make their moves. In that case you might want to separate each round into an interactive "planning" phase and an automatic "execution" phase.

During the planning phase, all players give orders, but no orders get executed yet. The other players do not see what orders the other players are giving. Players are free to take back any actions during that phase. When a player is satisfied with their plan, they click on "end turn".

When all players clicked on "end turn", the game goes into an "execution" phase. The orders of the players get executed and the results are resolved. This requires some game design considerations for handling cases where two players make moves which contradict each other, for example two players try to collect the same resource, move onto the same space (which can only hold one of them) or buy the same unique item. There are several ways to resolve such situations. Which one is most interesting depends on your overall game design.

When this just doesn't fit into your game design, do a game-state update before every individual player's turn, and not just when all players have finished. That way every player has the opportunity to snatch a resource which got spawned on the start of their turn.

• Frozen Synapse was famous for doing just this, and basing their whole game mechanics around it. Pretty cool mind games ensue – MrBrushy Jun 28 '17 at 8:51
• @TomášZato I think you misunderstood something about my answer. I rewrote it to make it a bit more clear what I am talking about. – Philipp Jun 28 '17 at 12:06
• @lozzajp Civilization allows this, but isn't really designed around it - it feels forced (though still handy), and it still depends on player action order in real-time. A better example would be Sword of the Stars, which only has simultaneous turn-based, and is designed for exactly that. All the things you give in "planning mode" are orders, and they are only executed when everyone presses "End turn". – Luaan Jun 28 '17 at 12:54
• @TomášZato That's talking about Civ-style simultaneous turns. Look at Sword of the Stars, which is a brilliant turn-based game with simultaneous turns - you lose nothing by taking your time on decisions. Civ is about who clicks first, SotS doesn't care about ordering - the actions are truly simultaneous. – Luaan Jun 28 '17 at 12:57
• This is also how Diplomacy works, which sometimes leads to fun stuff like convoy paradoxes. So make sure you consider all the corner cases if you use this approach and ensure that the rules cannot be interpreted ambiguously. – Doorknob Jun 28 '17 at 18:19

Do what Power Grid does:

Players take turns in order of farthest behind to furthest ahead in terms of scoring (in the case of Power Grid, the player who powered the fewest cities that round). This acts as a catch-up mechanic, giving the resource-advantage to the player in last place.

It also means that the player who's in the lead doesn't want to stay in the lead because it gets more expensive. For Power Grid, the "optimal" position is generally 2nd place until the game is nearing its conclusion, but I have seen "from behind" victories as well (that is, where the person in last place manages to out-compete on that last turn, taking the win).

Heck, there isn't even anything that stops the player in front from just not powering all of the cities they can a given turn in order to drop to the back and take the resource advantage, other than the fact that by powering fewer cities, they take less income. But as income is generally a diminishing returns scalar (the first city is $20, the second is$19, etc.) there are points in the game where it is more expensive to power a city than one would make in income for having done so (e.g. that unit of coal cost cost $10 to acquire this turn, but using it to power 1 more city only gets you$8 back). So generally players power as many cities as is worthwhile and the turn order attempts to keep the game close.

• I've never been a fan of this type of mechanic, which exists in various forms in other games too. What it boils down to is dumbing down the game by punishing the stronger players and assisting the weaker players, thereby weakening the strategy element of the game, which the OP wants to avoid. It is good if you want an overall "feel good" factor for all players but the price is the game feels less satisfying for players who put in the effort to play skillfully. – JBentley Jun 29 '17 at 12:10
• @JBentley Actually I think the point of that of game is that the "strongest" is not necessarily the one with the biggest score in the beginning – Pierre Arlaud Jun 29 '17 at 12:19
• @JBentley Keeping scores "close" makes for a more interesting game. I was playing Terraforming Mars last night and the final scores were something like 95, 85, 43. The player who lost hard knew they'd lost the game about an hour before the game finally ended. Power grid scores typically finish at numbers like 23, 21, 20 (where it's a close, heated game where anyone could still win up until that final round). Don't discount catch-up mechanics. No one likes being forced to keep playing a game they've already lost. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 29 '17 at 12:56
• You said, dumbing down the game by punishing the stronger players and assisting the weaker players, thereby weakening the strategy element of the game, which the OP wants to avoid. No where in the question does the OP state this. They stated they don't want a random element, which would make the game luck-based. Altering the calculus of the strategic landscape by introducing catch-up mechanics is fair game. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 29 '17 at 13:01
• @JBentley In the case of a pure catch-up mechanic, I agree that it punishes the stronger players. However, letting players to manipulate their own score in order to gain a turn advantage adds another layer of strategic depth. As in Draco's example, a player could choose to duck the lead on one turn in order to gain an advantage in the next round. – Kys Jun 29 '17 at 13:51

The easiest way I could think of to balance out the gameplay for all players is to randomize the turn order after each round. While this would give everyone a fair chance, I'm worried that this might be too big of a shift away from strategy and towards luck.

Do not randomize, change the turn order in a fixed way. If I play first, next turn I play last; if I play second next turn I play first, and so on..

• Many games implement this; play proceeds in a fixed fashion, but each round the "starting player" advances down the line. As long as the number of average rounds in a game is roughly divisible by the number of players, it's very balanced. Some games even build strategy around turn order rotation, where it is advantageous to do certain things when you're first, and advantageous to do other things when you're last. – Doktor J Jun 28 '17 at 19:35
• This IMO is superior to giving the weakest player the first turn as suggested by @0x5453 and one of the answers. Punishing players for playing skillfully moves the game more towards luck-based rather than strategy-based, which the OP wants to avoid. The system in this answer gets closer to giving everyone an equal chance than a randomized system (albeit you still need to determine who takes the initial turn), and allows players to strategize based on what position they are in. – JBentley Jun 29 '17 at 12:13
• @JBentley "Punishing" players for skillful moves isn't "luck based." Luck based is where the player doesn't know what the outcome will be for a given action. Charging ahead and taking the score-lead and having to go last next turn isn't luck. It's a calculated strategy: you KNOW you're going to go last and have a harder time buying resources, but that's the risk you take. If you don't want to take that risk, you don't charge ahead. If all players are trying to avoid the lead, someone will end up there anyway, sure, but who it is will change from round to round as players jockey for last. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 29 '17 at 14:22
• @JBentley Not really no. There is uncertainty but that uncertainty comes from Hidden Information: what your opponents do. But that doesn't make it luck based. If your skill is better than your opponent's then you know what your opponent plans on doing anyway, can account for it, and make your moves wisely. If they do something unexpected, isn't that just a difference in skill level? – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 29 '17 at 15:39
• @JBentley as evidenced by the very Q&A you linked, "hidden information" counts as luck. But every poker player says that the greatest skill in a game of poker is knowing what your opponent is thinking. Is there an element of luck? Yes, in a sense. But I disagree that "luck" becomes more emphasized. I stand behind my position as a gamer and a game designer. Uncertainty is good (or the game becomes "solved") Randomness is bad (well, not bad, but a tool to be used carefully). – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 29 '17 at 16:08

A good way to do this that I always liked is tying turn order to some resource expenditure. Thus determining turn order becomes part of the gameplay to get skilled at. This allows for some very interesting asymmetric play if done right. You can see this in games like Twilight Imperium or Five Tribes.

Twilight Imperium - Each round starts with players choosing their "roles" such as warfare or trade. Each role also has a number associated with it which determines turn order, and turn order determines the "role" choosing order. The "roles" have variable strength depending on what they do, with the weakest being lower and strongest higher. The lower the number the earlier you go. In this specific case the lowest number "Initiative" has no effect and simply gives you first turn advantage, while the highest number "Imperial" scores you 2 victory points to help win. Much of the game revolves around trying to grab "Initiative" to guarantee an "Imperial" turn following.

Five Tribes - Each round starts with players paying a certain number of coins. The most coins payed gets to start the round. Ties are resolved as a stack and the bidding is done in turn order from the previous round. That forces players to think about how much first turn advantage is really worth in game currency.

One thing to consider would be to do your update at the end/start of each player's turn instead of at the end of the round. That way, every player would have the opportunity to collect freshly spawned resources every turn. You would definitely want to shift the amount that spawns (or inflate costs) to compensate for the influx of new resources.

Alternatively, you could make it so that resource collection occurs at the end of the round instead of during any player's turn. During a round, players would be competing to be the ones controlling the resource production, but would only gain new resources at the end of the round when everything updates. With this approach you may still want to implement a turn order rotation, but it will be less imbalanced within each round.

A non random way to do it, its making that to be the first player is a choice of the players.

I mean, you can take the stone resource, the peasant or the first player turn token, flag, or any other more roleplaying reason.

Thats the way of games as the Agricola boardgame.

The other way of taking that first turn token is like in Terra Mystica.

Every player during every round (there are 6) can do an "unlimited" number of actions. One of the actions is stop playing in the current round. The good thing of do it faster than the other player is that it will mark the turn order in the next round. First to end first to play, second to end second to play, ...

Always avoid to be too much random!

• I always like the mechanic of paying for turn order. In the initial stages of a game, it may not matter much who plays first, but later on, there are often turns where the player order makes a huge difference. This solution turns "first player advantage" into another resource in your game, and the player market will usually set its value dynamically and appropriately. – Nuclear Wang Jun 28 '17 at 18:06
• But in Agricola, since turn order is fixed, I know someone who sits next to the guy who ALWAYS buys going first, and therefore this guy gets to go second every turn for free. – Almo Jun 29 '17 at 15:16
• @Almo, the solution to that is to roll dice to determine seat order. – Peter Taylor Jun 30 '17 at 8:23
• I'm a purist game designer, so I prefer my systems to work even if Satan himself is playing. :) – Almo Jun 30 '17 at 14:04
• @Almo Well he's cleverer than the other players then. – Miles Rout Jul 4 '17 at 20:53

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To calculate, count the number of bits that are 1 in the binary representation of the turn number (starting at 0):

• If there are an odd number of 1's, it's B
• Otherwise it's A

The sequence is not random, but it doesn't repeat in an intuitive pattern, so you could display the order players will move on the current turn and maybe even next turn(s) so people can strategize.

Otherwise handicap the player(s) who go earlier. This video explains how to do that: First Move Advantage - How to Balance Turn-Based Games

• I don't think a Thue-Morse sequence is usable, as you don't know how many turns the game will last and the sequence is only good at a specific number of turns. Not to mention being impossible to remember who goes next. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 28 '17 at 18:00
• unless you only have a few turns (<8), this is going to be fair, as it converges. If you only have a few turns it is good in case the number of turns are known and is a power of two. It's true it might be hard to implement this in a board game (unless you have a fixed number of turns in which case you can just draw the turn order on the board), but I don't see any problem implementing this in a computer game, it can also show you the next N turns, so you can always plan ahead. – SztupY Jun 29 '17 at 8:34
• +1 Great answer. I've not seen it in games, but would love to, and this is a great tool to have on one's belt. @Draco18s - The sequence doesn't depend on the total number of turns, and although turn-by-turn someone will be favoured, they only ever have a one-move advantage, which can be incorporated into the player strategy – Jibb Smart Jun 30 '17 at 5:38
• @JibbSmart What I mean is, if you have 3 players, the sequence is 012/120/201 for 3 "rounds" and 012/120/201/120/201/012/201/012/120 for 9 "rounds." If the game lasts only 7 rounds, you have 012/120/201/120/201/012/201: player 2 gets first-mover advantage 3 times. And if the game lasts 10 rounds, what's the turn order on that round? – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 30 '17 at 13:18
• @Draco18s You're right, if a game has a fixed number of rounds, and that number is not a multiple of the number of players, then it can't be perfectly balanced by changing turn order. But if the game ends when a win condition is met, this is a pretty darn good way to do it. In your example, player 2 has had 3 turns advantaged, and the other players have had 2. Many games work pretty well with one player having the first mover advantage every round, so a one round advantage that will be cancelled out by a disadvantage if they don't pull out a win that early seems like a pretty workable solution – Jibb Smart Jun 30 '17 at 14:41

If both players play on the same map, that might be impossible, since the first player can change what is possible for the second, so you might try to balance it out somehow different. It depends on what is possible:

• many card games go the way of additional resources, like an additional card (MTG) or the coin in Hearthstone. This could be one option to balance it, but might be dangerous to overdo and give the second player an advantage, maybe even based on the meta.

• some boardgames go for an approach, where the first players action ready up some other actions for the next player, that might be more lucrative. In your game, the first player might sell good A to a factory, that then wants good B for the second player. If both players know of this second option, it is more of a strategic use.

• similar to that suggestion before, give the second player more information, like what spawns where next turn. This way he might secure resources for the next turn, if possible. Of course, this is only possible, if your game mechanics support something like this.

• like the others suggested, mix up the turns. But instead of making it random or change turn by turn, make it part of the game itself: maybe the one with the least amount of money or resources goes first. Or, something like "El Grande", where you bet who goes first. But don't make that betting depending on money. If you give 500 from 1000 or from 4000 credits, that's a huge difference and can snowball the game early on. You could rather gamble, how many resources some is allowed to pick, the one with fewer goes first.

I very much prefer the "simultaneous turn-based" approach used by e.g. Sword of the Stars, but if you want to keep a more traditional turn-based structure, one option is to update the map between each player's turn.

For example, let's say you have a lumber mill that produces 2 wood per turn, up to 10 stored. If there's five players competing for the same mill, they each get 2 wood per turn; if there's only one, he gets ten per turn (assuming five players).

There's many ways of how exactly to balance this approach, and it largely depends on what kind of game you're trying to make and what works as fun for you. Say, more players might mean more resources overall (maintaining the same yield per turn per player), or it might mean the same amount of resources (more players -> less resources per player-turn). The max storage of a resource producer might be the same you had as per-turn production previously, or it could scale with the player count. Allowing even more resource storage while keeping the per-turn yield the same will increase the tactical options. There's endless variations you can play with :)

In either case, there's still a bonus to the first player exploits the resource when its storage is full, but it also means a great trade-off between "should I wait one more turn and hope to get 10 wood, or go in right now to get at least the 8 wood?". When you keep the resource storage scaled with player count (so that two players means 4 wood but five players means 10 wood), the one who last claimed the resources will also be the first one to get maximum yield from the producer, which makes "camping" the producer especially valuable - but anyone who claims the site will disrupt this, and both players "lose" - the original "owner" no longer has maximum yield per-turn, while the new "owner" sacrificed potential yield elsewhere.

I'll throw in how my Colonialism board game deals with this. Player order is set randomly for turn one, and I mean completely randomly: it might be player 1, 3, 2, 4, 5, or it might be 5, 1, 3, 2, 4. At the beginning of each turn (including the first), players may bid in an auction to go first. If you decide to go first, your marker on the turn order track moves to the front, and everyone else moves backward. So if the order is 1, 3, 2, 4, 5 and player 2 pays to go first, it's now 2, 1, 3, 4, 5.

An additional detail is that in the previous example, after player 4 bid to go first, player 2 might pay more than player 4 did, and then the order becomes 2, 4, 1, 3, 5. So player 4 moved forward, but still doesn't get to go first; but he did pay less for that position. This phase of the game happens in reverse turn order, giving advantage to the players who are further forward in the order.

So players only pay to go first if it is worth paying to. Historically, nobody pays to go first on turn one, because it's not an advantage yet. Eventually, the cost of the bid becomes worth the benefit, and people start doing it. My design is letting the value of the advantage determine the cost of getting it. Since order is not necessarily clockwise or counterclockwise, someone who never pays to go first will eventually be going last every turn.

• Do players choose whether they are going to pay based on what order they are currently in? at the beginning of the turn, 1,2,3,4,5.... 2 decides to pay: 2,1,3,4,5. can 1 pay more than 2 to restore his position in the same turn? – Mr.Mindor Jun 30 '17 at 21:31
• Turn order bidding goes in reverse order, with each player getting one shot at it. So if it's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, this can happen: 5 passes. 4 pays 1, 3 passes, 2 passes, and 1 pays 2. Now it's 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. Incidentally, income is fixed for the game, and each player earns a total of 33 currency. So bidding 2 for turn order is not cheap. – Almo Jul 1 '17 at 2:54

I can a few possibilites :

• If it is a kind of role playing game, it might be possible to implement an attribute (let's stay initiative) that determines the turn order. The person who have the most initiative starts first, then the second person etc. Dofus is a game implementing this and it works pretty good.
• If every player has to be equal, then it might be a good solution to choose randomly the first turn order and then to shift by one at each global turn end. For instance player A was the third to play at Turn 1, at Turn 2 he will be second, then first, then last etc.
• Based on what you said about your game, it could be possible to make the players that have the least resources start first the turn to let them have a chance to catch up.

There are 3 approaches I know of that work well:

• One turn per player.

• All players play during the same turn. Use game design to avoid contradicting moves.

• Use a realtime approach. First to click gets the resource.

• "Use a realtime approach. First to click gets the resource." Thats the last thing you want in a turn-based game. Most people play turn-based games because they precisely do not want the clicking frenzy of RTS games. – Polygnome Jun 28 '17 at 11:10
• @Polygnome If you use a realtime approach it's no longer a turn based game, so there is no problem. – Peter Jun 28 '17 at 11:57
• Civ5 is turn-based and has first click wins mechanics for multiplayer. – OrangeDog Jun 28 '17 at 12:53
• @OrangeDog And has exactly this problem - it turns into a frenzied click-fest. But even Civ has one crucial thing - the turns are simultaneous unless you're at war. When at war, turns are only simultaneous for allies, and enemy team/allied team switch as normal (non-simultaneously). – Luaan Jun 28 '17 at 13:00
• @Peter But the question is about a turn based game, not an RTS. So it should be appropriate for such a game. – Polygnome Jun 28 '17 at 13:02

One approach might be that players need 'agents' on the ground in reasonable proximity to the resources they want in order to be able to exploit them.

For example on your map you could have certain key locations, cities, markets, ports etc etc where players can commit counters representing their agents in order to have access to certain activities. Having an agent in a port might allow a transportation action while cities might give access to mines and factories while markets allow access to agricultural products. This system would force players to plan ahead and commit themselves before they know exactly what resources are available. It might even be possible to establish more remote trading posts on their own initiative. This is a relatively simple way to represent investment in infrastructure ie agents cost money to maintain but give more opportunities.

You could have a mixture of central trading hubs where actions are free and more remote locations where agents are needed.

Another key aspect of real world trading is bidding, if two people want the same thing one of them needs to either get to it first or be prepared to pay more for it.

You could also combine the two, having an agent in a cell gives the player the opportunity to bid for the resources in that cell, all eligible players make an offer and the highest bid by the end of the turn wins.

In this case during one turn players just take turns to take an action they have used up their available actions and order matters much less as action aren't resolved untill the end of the turn.

Try putting the environment into the turn order. That is, rather than having the entire game state update as a specific "end of turn" event, simply include it into the turn flow of the game - i.e. the environment is a "player" that takes actions such as producing resources and changing prices. The important insight here is that the environment can be split into multiple entities that each take their own turns that are interleaved with the other players, each tile and merchant taking the small actions that pertain to their responsibilities.

This could work especially well for price changes, because since not all sales points change their prices at once, resources could legitimately be worth different amounts on different parts of the board. A massive gold shortage on the east side of the board, for instance, might immediately create a price hike, but gold will still sell for cheap on the west side of the board while newsboys are taking their turns to travel there.

• For some games, this works (Sentinels of the Multiverse handles it this way), but for things like "adding more resources to the market" it doesn't: whoever goes right after that action is going to have an advantage of more plentiful / cheaper goods. Even if you break it up (wood generates here, stone generates there...) then the person who goes right after one of those steps will have an advantage on that resource. At which point, long-term advantage goes towards whatever resource has long-term strategic usage. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 30 '17 at 14:57
• @Draco18s This would be per tile (as in, this forest generates here, that forest generates there, this stone quarry generates at some other time). You are right in that this still grants some turn order advantage, though - whoever goes after the most strategic tile would have the most advantage. – TheHansinator Jun 30 '17 at 15:21

Lords of Waterdeep would have a similar problem with the first player to move gaining an advantage, but they solve it by allowing the players to steal the first turn as one of their limited actions in the preceding round.

A player assigns their workers to different locations in a round, one of which takes control of the token which denotes the first turn. If a player already controls that token, they can ensure they keep it by spending a worker to do so before someone steals it.

The tradeoff is that the workers are severely limited, and spending a third/quarter of your workforce every round to keep the first turn is not a viable strategy.