Sunday, March 05, 2006

Strategy vs Tactics

Over the weekend I saw a really interesting geeklist about games with great strategy. Find the list here:

The concepts of strategy and tactics are pretty important in games, and I thought we might have our own little discussion.

In high school and grad school, I was deeply into chess, and I read more than a dozen books on chess theory. In that course of study, I learned that "tactics" refers to a short sequence of specific moves that you can completely calculate in detail: "if he captures my pawn with that knight, I'll move my queen and fork his rook and king." By contrast "strategy" refers to a long-term plan without a detailed move-response-move analysis: "he launched a central attack, so I'll clog the center then counter-attack on the king-side." Notice the strategy didn't mention a piece or a move, while the tactics named specific moves for specific pieces.

Sometimes people say that strategy is your plan and tactics are how you execute the plan. That is not too far off.

To have a lot of strategy, a game must be stable enough for long-term plans to be meaningful. The "game space" must also be big enough that you can't calculate most of the game tree. If you can calculate everything, you're back into tactics.

I offer the following questions to the group:

-- leaving aside the obvious chess & go, name a game(s) you've played that is (are) highly strategic

-- name a game(s) you've played that's highly tactical

-- do you have a personal preference? When you consider your favorite games, do they tend to be mostly tactical or strategic, or both?


At 6:36 AM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

Twilight Imperium 3 comes immediately to mind as a game with both strong strategic and tactical elements as you describe them. You have to achieve your strategic goals along with managic the tactical activities of your production and fleet operations.

Railroad games of various sorts seem to have this nature as well. RR Tycoon and even Ticket to Ride both involve long term goal achievement and short term train/tile placement.

A great tactical component many board games have I enjoy is the "screw your opponent" element. However, the question of just where, who, and when to play that nasty little event card you've been saving is strategic.

At 9:39 AM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

You bring up an excellent topic, Ted. Looking at my ratings, I'd have to say I have a strong slant toward tactics games (Blue Moon, Samurai, Fearsome Floors, Odin's Ravens). I'd say I do like strategy elements in games, but mostly I'm all about the particulars or guts of a game which tend to be the tactical aspects. I find the most basic concepts and mechanics of a system bring about the most fun through manipulation by clever and creative players. Strategy is more of pipe dream that one has much less control over but requires just as much skill.

Best Tactical Game: Blue Moon (hands down)

Best Strategy Game: Deflexion (Blokus, Railroad Tycoon honorary mentions)

At 12:37 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

Favorite strategic game:
- Low brow strategic: Axis & Allies: Pacific
- High brow strategic: I'm hoping it's going to be War of the Ring if I can ever get around to playing it!

Favorite pure tactical game:
- Low brow tactical: Decent
- High brow tactical: ASL Starter Kit

At 4:44 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

I am so not getting into this again, but it's conveniently archived.

Be sure to look at the comments after the first posts. That's where the heat starts.

At 6:09 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Good article Brian. I'll get into the extra posts tonight during my call when things get slow here. For those of those who haven't gotten into the subject before...

More tactics
Definitively my number one choice for a game with more tactics than strategy: Puerto Rico. You may have a general strategy, but so much of what you can do is dependent on what others do, you have to constantly adjust your tactics to stick to your strategy. The "Banana Strategy" anyone? Other games would be card driven games like Memoir 44, or Command and Colors.

More Strategy
In the other group (more strategy than tactics) I would include like Ben did, large scale games like TI3, or wargames in general (like ColumbiaGames).

To sum it up to me...

a. tend to be games where your opponents actions are somewhat restricted to a few options by the inherent mechanics of the game, ALL of which you are usually aware of (if you know the game well enough, and have your brain juice in overdrive)
b. So not only predict, but basically you have to be ready to react effectively to them
c. ironically there is still a big element of surprise which is key in this group of games, even when you know a game that well to be able to know what your opponents options are (card-driven games fall here)

a. they have less of that surprise element because more information is available for all to see (usually on the board)
b. each player will have a lot more options because the game tends to be more open-ended and therefore it is hard to anticipate them just stick to a few you think are highly probable and mount a counter move.
c. you have more flexibility to come up with an appropriate response to an opponent's move even if you weren't able to predict effectively and suffer from it.

Of course these are not mutually exclusive... I don't think a game can be purely just one of the two.


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