The game I'm working on might feature a number of "timed" events, such as:

  • a big ability requiring a cooldown before it can be used again
  • a summoned or undead unit decaying over time
  • a bomb timing down until explosion
  • mines and factories generating resources over time (presumably up to a cap)

For ease of use, one's timers only tick at the beginning of one's turn, which is also when they get action points.

What could be some intuitive mechanisms to model these, preferrably in a unified way, that's not easy to forget or tedious? Bonus points if it blends in with an action point pool of varying size.


I plan on using timers around the 1-10 range, but they could be found in all sorts of areas, as I've said.


4 Answers 4


There are several ways to implement timers in board games

  1. Tokens. Games like Paper Tales or Pixel Tactics (starting from 2nd set) use addition/removal of tokens from game components to track passage of time. Like this:

    tokens in Paper Trails

    this option works well for cards (or other components you can easily store tokens upon) with relatively small number of simultaneous timers per player (up to 3 in Pixel Tactics and up to 4 in Paper Tales) and small number of ticks.

  2. Dice. Pretty much anywhere you would use token counters, you can substitute them with dice.Example:

    dice instead of tokens

    In this case instead of adding/removing tokens you just increment/decrement a die. Difference here is mostly personal preference, but if you operate big number of ticks, managing d20 or couple of d6 is much easier and clearer than pile of tokens.

  3. Time track. Your purposed solution falls into this category, but usually games like Bestiary of Sigillum move track itself rather than items on it. In game it looks like this (on the right):

    circular double time track in Bestiary of Sigillum

    and this video(russian language) shows how it operates. Basically, each ability has its own token. When ability is used, that token is placed on appropriate number on time track, say, 4. Time track moves one tick each turn and cooldown number for that token changes. When it passes 1, token is returned back and it means that ability is ready for next use.

    Another game Tavarua uses similar mechanic, but with segmented linear track: video example. Both this systems are best for tracking a lot of timers simultaneously, since they update all of them with single operation.

    I remember an example of time track on which objects are moved rather than track itself. Star Wars: Rebellion uses it as production queue production queue

  • +1. Lords of Waterdeep uses option 1, with tokens being placed on cards at the beginning of each round. This could easily be extended to place tokens at the beginning of each player's turn (or just one player), as well as having some effect happen when a specified number of tokens are accumulated on a particular card.
    – mmathis
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 17:11

Not sure if this is the right way to offer a suggestion I have thought of myself for feedback, but...

A time bar

Labelled 0-5 or so, various items are put on the time bar, and everything is brought one step down at the beginning of my turn. Normally, most of my action points are just set at "1" when used, to be regained next turn. However...
enter image description here
In this case, the player has taken some more complex actions and placed tagged (#3, #5) duplicate time-tokens on the bar.

He has summoned a decaying zombie (a duplicate of which is placed on the timebar, the original being on the board), which took two AP and one "ultimate" point to cooldown 3 (thus locking in both ability power and acting power to buy some temporary forces). The zombie being on cooldown 3 means it will die upon reaching 0. The player will also regain the powerful special token upon the spell's cooldown.

The player has also dropped a bomb (somewhere on the board. A duplicate is on the timebar) which will explode in 2 turns. This costed him just one action point. Bomb #3 will explode on the board upon its time-token reaching 0.

The player has one more AP this turn, which can be used to move, attack or throw another bomb.


I've developed a full engine out of this, and essentially you only need numbered tokens on the bar to represent situations to handle on the board.


I would recommend building your own timer out of something like card stock with spinning wheel, something similar to the design below (pardon the MSPaint):

MSPaint Blue Print

The Bottom layer:
The base of the Timer, it holds everything else.
The Middle Layer:
It has four support posts in the corners and a central wheel that can spin freely. The wheel has been subdivided into 8 sections with the number 8-0 printed on, you can subdivide it further if you wish.
The Top layer:
It has a small notch in the bottom to allow you to easily spin the wheel. It has also been subdivided into 8 sections, each section has a little window cut into it so that you can see the numerals on the wheel beneath.

How to use the wheel:
Say you want something to happen in three turns, the player would simply place a token or marker on the wheel where the three currently is. At the beginning of each turn simply turn the wheel one mark clockwise, when the marker is next to the number 0, 3 turns have passed and the effect will happen. This has the advantage of letting the player keep track of multiple different cooldowns, without having to move a whole bunch of tokens on a timeline each turn.

  • 1
    For a similar "wheel" or "clock-face" idea, see how it's done in Ora et Labora. Its tokens increase with time; but to implement OP's decrease-with-time mechanic, you just spin the wheel's "clock-hand" counter-arrowwise. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 18:26
  • @Quuxplusone I like the little sweep hand on the counter you linked, makes it easier to turn the counter, and forces the tokens off the board as it turns to 0.
    – Malco
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 18:53

Building on the timeline answer: If you have a board already, put a timeline around the edges - a strip of squares/hexagons/triangles representing turns. Each box that can hold tokens that indicate that certain events will happen which this turn is reached. (Any actions that occur every n-turns, regardless of game play, can be directly printed on the board.)

Another token shows which turn it is now, and is progressed by one each turn, sweeping up the tokens as it goes. When it gets to the end of the board, it can wrap around [which means there is a limit to how far in the future you can plan, but no limit to how long the game can last]

This has the benefits of:

  • only requiring one token to move one square, each turn, rather than moving all the tokens.
  • no moving parts that spin and cause tokens to shift.
  • still intuitive.

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