Created By: Koveras on January 3, 2014 Last Edited By: Koveras on February 1, 2014
Nuked

Turn-Based Combat

A combat mode in tabletop/video games where combatants act in turns.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

This is part of a YKTTW series on video game combat systems, which will be launched together. Please see also Turn-Based Strategy, Real Time Tactics and Combatant Cooldown System.

A form of Tabletop/Video Game combat where players and their units act in turns. Combat time is split into chunks (turns), during which individual units can act in more or less fixed order. While a player contemplates their next action, Time Stands Still for everyone on the battlefield.

Turn-based combat is one of the most glaring Acceptable Breaks from Reality: while utterly unrealistic, its major appeal lies in the ability to abstract the chaotic mess that is Real Life combat with a few concise gameplay rules. Furthermore, its implementations tend to go easier on video game hardware than real-time combat, and it also allows for more gameplay complexity, since the players have all the time they need to review all options and select the best course of action.

Turn-based combat will often but not necessarily feature some of the Common Tactical Gameplay Elements. Compare Real Time with Pause, which is sometimes used to hide a turn-based move and attack resolution behind seemingly real-time gameplay. See also Sliding Scale of Turn Realism.

All War Gaming, Tabletop RPG, Turn-Based Tactics, and Turn-Based Strategy games feature turn-based combat by definition, making it an Omnipresent Trope in those media/genres, so please put those examples directly on the respective genre page.

Analysis entry:

When do you give commands?

  • Start of the Turn. At the start of each turn, each player gives the orders to every unit under their command. These orders are then carried out either simultaneously (so-called "Simultaneous Turn Resolution") or in order of initiative (see below).
  • Before the Unit Acts. The player gives orders to each unit individually and they are carried out immediately.

When is it a unit's turn to act?

  • Initiative Queue: Each unit, regardless of allegiance, is assigned an initiative score (partly randomized, partly dependent on its stats) at the start of combat: the one with the highest initiative gets to act first (as long as it is not killed), then the second highest, and so on. After the lowest initiative has acted, the next turn begins. The highest initiative may act first again, or the initiative may be recalculated every turn. A Visual Initiative Queue may be displayed.
  • One Side, One Turn: Each player (whether human or AI) gets to move each of their units individually in any order on their turn, while the enemies stand still. Afterwards, the other player gets to move all of their units in the same manner, and so on.
  • One Side, One Move: Each player gets to move with a single unit on their turn, after which the other player moves one of theirs, and so on. Chess works this way.

See also Sliding Scale of Turn Realism.

What can you do on your turn?

  • Action Types: On its turn, each unit can perform one action of a specific type, e.g. a "move action" and an "attack action", which allows it to move in position and attack the enemy, or attack and move away. Some action types can be traded for others (e.g. the attack for another move—but not vice versa), while some things don't require using up an action at all.
  • Action Points: Each unit gets a pool of "action points" each turn, which represent its quickness. Taking an action consumes a varying number of points from this pool until it is empty and the unit can no longer act on this turn. Leftover action points are not carried over to the next turn.

How far can you move on your turn?

  • Field Grid: The battle area is overlaid with a grid of square- or hexagon-shaped fields, and a unit can move up to a certain number of fields on its turn. A single field may only be occupied either by an inanimate obstacle, or by a single living unit at one time (although allies may be able to pass through each other's fields).
  • Continuous Terrain: There is no grid, and the unit can move to any point on the battlefield where the collision detection algorithm allows it to, with the cost of the move calculated by the appropriate pathfinding algorithm.

Can you act out of turn?

  • Delayed Action. A unit can choose not to attack on its turn, but instead to delay the attack until the enemy does something specific (e.g. comes into shooting range), effectively getting to act on the enemy's turn.
  • Attack of Opportunity. Under certain conditions, a unit can make a free attack out of turn, triggered by an enemy's action, such as firing a ranged weapon at close range, or attempting to disengage from melee.

Examples:

Western RPG

Eastern RPG
  • Final Fantasy I, II, and III used turn-based combat before the introduction of the Active Time Battle system in later titles. However, it is also used in the relatively recent Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (which is also a spin-off of the core Final Fantasy series) and its even more recent Spiritual Sequel Bravely Default (which also takes some elements from the FF series), mostly because these two are throwbacks to classic Final Fantasy (4 Heroes of Light, to the NES era FF and Bravely Default, to the SNES era FF sans ATB).
  • The Uncharted Waters series switches to turn-based combat mode during naval battles. In Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, sword duels between fleet captains are also fought like this, with each combatant attacking and defending in turns.
  • The main Shin Megami Tensei series tends to a be variation of One Side, One Turn where your party members act in order (based on the position in your party) until you run out of actions, and then the enemy goes in the same fashion. While they fit into the basic One Attack formula, the twist is that you can have more actions per turn than you have party members, and can gain or lose them based on what you do during the turn, generally gaining extra actions for critical hits and targeting weakness, while losing them for missing or targeting resistances. You don't have the freedom to choose who uses which actions, so the extra actions go to people further up on your party list, making formation very important. There are no out-of-turn actions except basic reprisal attacks on some characters.
  • Eternal Eyes.
  • In Golden Sun, actions are made at the beginning of every round with each party member going after the other. In some cases a party member can act twice.
  • The Dragon Quest series uses turn-based combat and, from DQ4 onwards, included a limited party member AI (it is possible to order them to automatically heal allies, enemies, etc.), which can speed up the combat considerably but is best to turn it off for boss battles.
  • In Epic Battle Fantasy, orders are not given at the beginning of a round but individually, making it easier to react to battle events (particularly useful against a boss whose resistance changes after every attack).
  • In Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World, each battle turn begins with player inputting commands for the Player Party and then watching as party members and enemies duke it out in order based on their agility stats.

Strategy RPG
  • The Disgaea series uses a pure One Side, One Turn system, with more freedom than most. Because of the emphasis on a combo bonus for multiple attacks on the same target, you're encouraged to move all your characters into position before making them attack, and in fact there's an "execute" command you need to use in order to make anything actually happen, upon which the actions occur in the order you selected them. There's also some meta-fiddliness you can do involving placing characters into position to support attackers, executing, and then canceling the movement. Since the support character never actually acted, they can then move again to support other attackers repeatedly until finally acting themselves. This doesn't make much logical sense in terms of movement rates, but it's a very "gamey" series that encourages clever abuses of game mechanics like that. As inferred, it uses One Move And One Attack and a Field Grid. Other games not in the main series have experimented with Continuous Terrain but have always felt awkward. Sometimes they also use a non-turn based initiative system like FFX.
  • Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is similar to Ogre Battle in that you construct parties that, for tactical purposes, acts as a single unit. Whenever this unit comes into contact with an enemy unit, themselves a full party, on the tactical map, it zooms in and has a little mini-battle plays out where each member of the party goes through their predetermined and limited action set (i.e. no more micromanaged player choices happen at that point). After that, the mini-battle ends regardless of whether or not any party-unit was fully destroyed, and the tactics game begins again. There's often a lot of complicated fiddling you can do with formations or side attacks or whatever. Ultimately though, it's no different from the One Move and One Attack thing combined with Field Grid, except each "unit" and each "attack" is a slightly more complicated array of mini-units with their own mini-actions.

Will go under Video Game Tropes, Tabletop RPG, and Role-Playing Game.
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • January 3, 2014
    Koveras
    Some of the examples have been airlifted from the Turn Based Tactics index, from where they will be removed after launch.
  • January 4, 2014
    Chabal2
    Dawn Of War: Dark Crusade and Soulstorm have each faction make its move by turn, with battles decided by real-time combat.
  • January 4, 2014
    Koveras
    But wouldn't that make it a mix of Turn Based Strategy and Real Time Strategy?
  • January 4, 2014
    DAN004
    Eastern RPG:
    • Mega Man Battle Network 5 introduces "Liberation Missions", special missions with turn-based elements in it. You have to "liberate" tiles and dark holes to reach the boss, and defeating the boss ends the mission.

    I believe that needs more context, but it won't be concise...
  • January 4, 2014
    Koveras
    ^ At least explain how these missions differ from regular gameplay and what turn-based elements do they employ...
  • January 5, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Alrighty (this is taken from a Game Faqs walkthrough)
    • Liberation Missions are a combination of regular Virus busting with Turn-Based
    strategy. First the good guys move, then the bad guys. The objective is to reach the end of the board to kill the boss. Of course, to reach the boss, you must first liberate all the dark holes, but more on that in Chapter 3.

    • There are no random battles during a Liberation mission, but the battles you do
    fight earn zero rewards besides the satisfaction of seeing a nice clean floor. ... and being one step closer towards your main objective, the boss.

    • At the beginning of a mission, your team has 3 Order Points (OP). O Ps are
    used to activate special field abilities that most of your teammates possess. Every Field Ability costs 1 OP. To gain more O Ps, you must find them inside item panels and bonus panels.

    • On your turn, you control your team of Navis. If you liberate a panel, rest,
    or use an Order Point, that Navi's turn is over. Any damage you deal to a boss or miniboss carries over into following battles.

    • On the enemy's turn, they get to move and attack you, following a specific AI
    script. First, Bosses and Minibosses heal damage (see Chapter 4 under Rest). Second, a virus will almost always move and attack a Navi if they can do so. Royal Hawks will always move towards a Navi if it cannot attack that turn.

    • In Battles during Liberation Missions, you have three turns to win the battle.
    Every time the custom gauge fills up, the custom window will automatically open up. Because of this, Slow Gauge chips will give you more time to defeat viruses with your Buster and chips. If the viruses are not defeated by the end of the third turn, you will fail to liberate the panel(s) and that Navi's turn will end. However, if you are liberating a dark or item panel and you defeat the viruses on the first turn, you will liberate all of the dark and item panels surrounding your square in addition to those panels you were liberating. Napalm Bomb, Panel Search, and Twin Liberate do not benefit from a One-Turn.

    They're all that you need. Really long ain't it?
  • January 5, 2014
    Koveras
    What I needed is a summary, not a detailed out-of-context explanations of a game I've never even seen being played. :D But as far as I can tell right now, it is not really turn-based combat in the sense as defined in the write-up...
  • January 5, 2014
    DAN004
    Maybe I'd attempt a simpler example first
    • In Mega Man Battle Network, every "virus busting" battle is this: At the start you'd be given a moment to prepare your weapons (the Battle Chips in this case), then when you decide to start, it's action time, with you and the enemy moving at real time; after a few seconds you can go back to the weapon selection again (since the chips can only be used once per "turn", i.e the chip selection screen).
  • January 5, 2014
    frosty
    Civ 2 counts, under the One Side One Turn rule.

    Also, would Lords Of the Realm 2 count? All the high-level property management is turn-based, but anytime you enter combat, it becomes real-time.
  • January 5, 2014
    Koveras
    ^ The entire Civilization series is already listed under Turn Based Strategy genre.

    As for Lords of the Realm 2, I am beginning to think that this formula needs as separate YKTTW, something along the lines of Turn Based Politics Real Time Battles or Turn Based Strategy Real Time Tactics. The Dawn of War and Total War series would fall under it too. That formula is basically the inversion of the trope suggested here (turn-based combat in a mostly real time game vs. real time battles in a turn-based strategy game).

    Come think of it, even the Mega Man example would fall under that.
  • January 6, 2014
    Larkmarn
    Where would games like Grandia and Final Fantasy Tactics fall under "Who Gets To Move When"? Combat is turn-based, but it's entirely dependent on a character's speed; a suitably fast character can make multiple moves before a slow character can make one.
  • January 6, 2014
    Koveras
    That's a great question, which I have been wondering about, too. This seems like a interesting and woefully underused alternative that falls between full real time and chess-like turns, and yet is distinct from both of them.

    I believe it is intrinsically related to the Cooldown trope, but that trope is about ability cooldowns (so a character can have multiple abilities on cooldown simultaneously, yet still be able to attack with a faster ability), while in this case acting places the character on cooldown, whether it's measured in seconds, turns, or initiative, etc.

    This type of cooldown is actually mentioned on that page as "global cooldown", but I think it warrants a separate trope, though I'd have no idea how to name it.

    EDIT: By the way, Final Fantasy's patented Active Time Battle is a specific variation of this "global cooldown battle system", which differs mainly in that it doesn't pause the game while the player chooses the next action, thus leaning more to the real time side than then the turn-based.

    EDIT2: I see some indications on the Visual Initiative Queue page that it was supposed to be about this type of combat (see the passage "Another is that someone's speed stat tends to become more prominent, as not only will faster characters get turns sooner, but can often get multiple turns within a round.") but somehow ended up being about an interface element.
  • January 7, 2014
    Koveras
    Program Note: Another troper pointed out to me that a whole bunch of Eastern RP Gs feature turn-based combat (I wouldn't know). Since this is not a genre, I don't think it's possible to just make an index out of it, therefore all examples need context. However, I do not demand more context than simply naming which variations of TBC (of the ones listed in the write-up) does the game implement and maybe explaining an unusual feature of it. "Game X features turn-base battles with one-team-one-turn sequence, a hexagon grid, and action points" is enough of a context for me.

    Note also that I haven't listed Strategy RPG along with Turn Based Strategy—because its description states that games in that genre can also include RTS elements. In other words, if it's a strategy RPG with turn-based combat, it should be listed here.

    So please, give me all examples you can remember.
  • January 7, 2014
    ArkadyDarell
    I'm not sure how you want to format the example, but Jagged Alliance 2's combat mechanic is essentially just a more detailed version of Fallout's combat system. (I have no idea if it was intentional or not.) Both use Initiative Queue, Action Points, Field Grid, and Attack of Opportunity.
  • January 7, 2014
    DAN004
    Does my example count? :/
  • January 7, 2014
    Koveras
    @ArkadyDarell: But Jagged Alliance falls under the Turn Based Tactics genre, which as a page of its own...

    @DAN004: No. It falls under the Turn Based Strategy Real Time Tactics variation, which is a separate thing and needs to be YKTTWed separately.
  • January 7, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Come to think of it, we once had a YKTTW that separates "strategy" and "tactics". What is it? Has it been launched?
  • January 8, 2014
    Koveras
    Yes. But it was less about game mechanics and more about plot-relevant aspects...
  • January 8, 2014
    DAN004
  • January 8, 2014
    Koveras
    See here.
  • January 9, 2014
    troacctid
    Turn Based Tactics and Turn Based Strategy should be in the description, not the examples.
  • January 9, 2014
    Koveras
    I can do that...
  • January 13, 2014
    robinjohnson
    EDIT: never mind, I put that in the wrong YKTTW somehow.
  • January 14, 2014
    robinjohnson
    EDIT: for goodness' sake, another misplaced example. Move along.
  • January 14, 2014
    Koveras
    ^ I'm curious—how does that even work? :D
  • January 17, 2014
    Chabal2
    • Golden Sun: Actions are made at the beginning of each round with each party going after the other, in some cases a party member can act twice.
    • The Dragon Quest series uses turn based combat, and is notable in that it has a limited AI (keep the party alive, Attack Attack Attack, etc.) that can considerably speed up combat (though it's best to turn it off for boss battles).
    • Epic Battle Fantasy: Orders are not given at the beginning of a round but individually, making it easier to react to battle events (particularly useful against a boss whose resistance changes after every attack).
    • Final Fantasy X: When and how often a combatant can act is determined by its speed. Using a Haste spell essentially multiplies the number of actions that can be used before the enemy gets a turn.

  • January 17, 2014
    Koveras
    FFX actually has a Combatant Cooldown System. It does lean towards turn-based more than the series' usual ATB, but it's still based on individual character's speeds rather than a global turn cycle.
  • January 18, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Something something Fire Emblem Advance Wars.
  • January 19, 2014
    Koveras
    Something, something, Zero Context Example, unfortunately...
  • January 21, 2014
    Koveras
  • January 22, 2014
    Koveras
  • January 23, 2014
    Koveras
  • January 24, 2014
    Koveras
    To whoever removed their hat: Can you please also comment on the issues you see with this YKTTW? If you have any concerns about the write-up, please help me fix it. :)
  • January 25, 2014
    Antigone3
    Tabletop Game example: Hero System runs fight scenes on a strict turn chart, with action sequence determined by the characters' Speed and Dexterity stats.
  • January 25, 2014
    Koveras
    ^ But all Tabletop Games feature turn-based combat by default, making it an Omnipresent Trope in that medium...
  • January 25, 2014
    m8e
    ^Not all tabletop games are turnbased(or involves combat). Like foosball, table hockey, Hungry hungry hippos, Mr. bucket...
  • January 26, 2014
    Koveras
    Sorry, let me correct myself: all Tabletop RPGs feature turn-based combat in one form or another. And the Hero System is an RPG. This is what I meant earlier.
  • January 26, 2014
    Diask
  • February 1, 2014
    Koveras
    You know what, I am tired of zero-editing this every day and receiving zero feedback, so I am gonna launch it with just two hats tomorrow. If you still see any issues with the write-up, now is your last chance to point them out.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ej2tbwquqfrzwx5uxhsqzpee&trope=TurnBasedCombat