Speed Boost – overlapping turns in board games (Topic Discussion)

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind long games. I happily play the same game for two to three hours, as long as it keeps me captivated. Even when a game requires a lot of focus and concentration, I usually have no problem sticking with it for a few hours. One of the ways in which a game can keep players invested is by reducing the amount of downtime, that is the time it takes for a turn to come back round to you. Something that helps in this respect is overlapping turns, which I want to look at more closely in this article.

Non-Overlapping Turns

Generally speaking, if you want a game to go a bit quicker, you should start thinking about your next turn after your current turn is over, if not even during your current turn. It’s usually a good idea to have a rough strategy and plan ahead as far as you can. That way, when the game comes back round to you, you already know what you want to do. You don’t spend any time working out your actions on your turn. When everyone does this, a game can really fly.

It’s not really overlapping turns that I describe here. You don’t actually take your turn. You don’t carry out any actions. However, you do spend time on another player’s go so that you can get on with your turn when it’s yours next. When a game allows you to plan out your turn as a whole or at least to a large part, while others are taking theirs, it’s certainly very welcome. It is still a way of speeding up a game, even when it’s not through overlapping turns in a strict sense.

It can be really frustrating when you basically can’t make any decisions in advance. You might have an overall plan, but if you can’t be sure the actions you so desperately need to follow your strategy will be available on your next go and there aren’t even comparable, if less effective, alternative actions available, there is nothing you can do. You’re left waiting for everyone else to do what they need to do until it’s your turn again. A game like this is tactical rather than strategic. If turns also take a long time, the game will feel slow and frustrating.

Overlapping Turns

So, anything that can be done to speed up rounds, is going to be welcome. Some games have turns that have a clean-up or some sort of housekeeping step at the end. Often, that’s when overlapping turns are possible. If the decisions and actions taken at the end of one player’s turn don’t affect the game state or at least don’t affect what decisions other players will make, then overlapping turns are an option.

I think Tapestry and Scythe by Stonemaier Games both do this really well and even mention it in their rulebooks. In Tapestry, for example, the next player can usually take their turn as the previous player decides where to place their income building or finishes off their income turn. In Scythe, one player’s bottom-row action usually doesn’t affect the next player. So they can go while the previous player carries out that.

By overlapping turns, both games really speed up a lot. I reckon we have been able to reduce our playtime for 3-player games of Tapestry from almost two hours to around an hour and a half. Our first few 3-player games of Scythe lasted about two hours and now they regularly are done in an hour and a bit. That’s a huge speed boost for games that are already relatively short.

I try to find ways of overlapping turns in every game I play that’s familiar to everyone and that would normally take around two or more hours to play.

a close-up of the Tapestry game box with some plastic components on top (Photo courtesy of Stonemaier Games)
(Photo courtesy of Stonemaier Games)

Simultaneous Turns

Some games take it to another level. Instead of overlapping turns, everyone plays at the same time. Simultaneous turns are the other extreme of speeding up games. If you have played Karuba, you will know what I’m talking about. In this tile-laying game, one player randomly draws a tile and then everyone else around the table finds the same tile in their pile. Then everyone places it on their board and carries out the various actions and effects. So everyone plays at the same time. Everyone only takes their next turn, when everyone has finished their previous one. It really helps the game fly.

Yet, you can take that one step further. You can do away with the concept of turns altogether. Instead, you just have rounds. I would say that Quacks of Quedlinburg is one of the more famous examples of this approach. Here, everyone draws tokens from their bag all at the same time. In fact, some players may be quicker and have drawn and placed more ingredients into their cauldron than everyone else. Everyone just keeps taking turns when they’re ready and until they have to finish for that round. That’s except maybe for the very last round, when the rulebook suggests people draw and place at the same time.

Either way, both games go really very quickly and there is usually very little downtime, because everyone plays at the same time. Even when someone is quicker, turns are usually quite fast. So nobody has to wait for very long until the next turn, or round, as in the case of Quacks.

Multiplayer Solitaire

One thing to bear in mind though is how overlapping turns affect the amount of player interaction. By definition, if one player’s turn affects what another player can do on theirs, then you can’t have overlapping turns, let alone simultaneous turns. So the more turns overlap, the more multiplayer solitaire a game is. That’s unavoidable in my view.

Taking Quacks as the extreme example, the only thing you keep an eye on with regard to other players is their score. The further someone is in the lead, the more risk they might take when drawing ingredients. Someone who is further behind may be a bit more careful to ensure they can score points as well as be able to improve their bag. There is nothing you can do in Quacks to stop someone else or slow them down. There is nothing that they can do that you have to worry about either. It’s a true multi-player solitaire game and of course, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just something to bear in mind.

What About You?

Now I wonder if you can think of anything that can speed up gameplay, other than overlapping turns. Do you have come across anything that you really liked? Can you think of any games that have implemented overlapping turns really well? Are there games that could do with overlapping turns to speed them up and reduce downtime? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: https://www.purple-planet.com


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article: