Multitap: Turn-based craziness without the waiting

October 24, 2012

Hotseat matches, long a popular option in PC games for purely practical reasons, can be a lot of fun. The problem, usually, is that they tend to get boring, especially with more people. Most of the time, you’re just sitting around, and no one likes being the third guy in line while someone takes a turn in Civilization.

My friends and I have found a solution that only a crazy person would think is a good idea, but what can I say? We’re crazy people. The solution? Play multiple turn-based games at once!

The idea started when I was in middle school. Two friends would come by in the afternoon to play games, and at the time, we had two vices: Heroes of Might & Magic III and the Pokemon TCG. We’d hole ourselves up in a room with the computer to play Heroes for hours at a time, taking out foes in a methodical, role-based fashion. One day, the other two guys started playing Pokemon while waiting for me to complete my turns as the designated border patrol. It wasn’t long before we had three separate play fields strewn about on the floor, switching off depending on which two weren’t taking a Heroes turn. And it was a blast.

These days, we don’t get to do that nearly as often, but when we do, our current cocktail still includes Heroes (currently VI, with its foot-clapping Kappas), but we’ve notched in a great pass-and-play companion: Advance Wars. The third slot has evolved, for practical reasons, to be filled by a random low-priority action game. If you’re interested in this particularly-manic brand of turn-based fun, here are my suggestions for games to try.

The showpiece: For this setup to work, you really only get one large, crazy-scale game that takes center stage. As I’ve mentioned, Heroes works well (III and VI preferred, though IV and II are also nice as a change-of-pace). Civ is also a nice choice, and you’re probably best going with the newest, with or without the latest expansion. (Hotseat was added in a patch.) The most important factor with the showpiece is that it needs to be at least somewhat cooperative. If you’re not all on the same team, not only will others most definitely see what you’re doing, but you also don’t get that collaboration and discussion about what to do next.

The sidekick: This is where you add another turn-based game, preferably with a shorter duration. You can break up the showpiece game into multiple nights, but you don’t want anything else left pending. Any Advance Wars is wonderful in this context. You can also use the GBA’s Rebelstar: Tactical Command, or either DS Age of Empires game. Shorter games can work too, like Worms or Hot Shots Golf. The key with those is to get them going on a reverse rotation to the showpiece, so that all waiting players can take a shot. If you like unplugged fare, a good, thinking-heavy board game can take this spot, like Pandemic or Dominion.

The filler: Adding a third turn-based game can be a bit crazy, unless you did what we did once and just pass around three copies of Advance Wars. But people shouldn’t just sit around waiting, especially if you’ve roped a fourth person into the festivities. This is where you can mix in a game that’s there for fun and can be interrupted anytime. We’ve thrown a Warriors game on a spare display, randomly started up a retro platformer like Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow and let people jump into Soul Calibur matches. Sometimes, though, you may want to leave this slot open for eating and generally heckling.

The experience isn’t one that works with every game, or really one you can handle incredibly often. What I can say, though, is I remember these nights vividly, and I can’t say that about most times I play a game. It’s definitely something to give a try.