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Strategy versus tactics

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I posted this in the game design forum as part of one of Wav's threads, but as part of a larger thing so it may have been passed over a bit.


It's really a question of strategy versus tactics. Do you plan things out ahead, gather data on the probabilities and possible outcomes beforehand (strategy), or do you just dive in head-first and deal with things as they're thrown at you (tactics)? Arbitrary encounters aren't popular with the strategic players, but keep things interesting for the tactical guys. The optimal balance between the two is something that will differ for each player, so the biggest win will probably be to assess where that balance is based on the player's actions and adjust your randomness accordingly.

I think it's all related to the kind of enjoyment the player is looking for - a quick thrill, or a longer more sustaining experience? I could try and draw the same parallel with something like continuity in a comic - you've got Gary Larson's single panels, you've got Penny Arcade's three-panel-with-occasional-cross-strip-continuity, you've got Neil Gaiman's Sandman stories that fill a book each. The first requires a minimum of time investment from the reader, but the value gained - integral(additional entertainment value) - is smaller than the last (which has been known to keep me engaged for hours on end).
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All the old grognard board wargame types used to classify wargames in the following catagories:

Strategy: Involves diplomacy between sides; decisions on where to attack rather than how (Do I invade Normandy and open up a second front, or do I invade Yugoslavia and link up with the Russians?); decisions about production (economic expansion vs. military, land units vs. sea units); usually fewer decisions are made, but each one has a higher impact on the outcome than in the other types.

Tactical: Manouver of military units within/near weapons range of the enemy. Lots of small decisions (does this squad stay behind the brick wall, or does it rush the villa? Which flank should my armour move to support? Where is their bloody artillery?); this game type benefits more greatly than the others for "double blind" play (players only see in their own unit's LOS); lots of game rules for resolving lots of little things, each having a minimal impact on the overall outcome of the scenario and the larger war.

Operational: Moving groups (brigades, companies, battalions, divisions, usually below the corps level) of units, within their limitations of terrain and supply, yet at a level where weapons range of an individual unit is insignificant; at this level, the objective of the sceario should have some great import to the outcome of the conflict at large. Compared to tactical and strategic play, the decisions are of medium import to the outcome of the game and there are fewer individual decisions than at the tactical level, but far more decisions than at the strategic.


I think its worth noticing that the RTS is really a bastard child of the strategic and tactical. In light of this fact, the heritage of the genre becomes more clear; it is a group of games that emulate the basic dynamic of the old game Dune 2 (Dune 2 itself is a rather well done mini version of the military forces at work in Frank Herbert's Dune novels, which make these dynamics (harvesters, magic resource, etc.) an oddity).

When people have innovated in the genre, they have typically added things onto the simple combat models of the early Dune 2 clones, such as terrain effects, bonuses for flanking, etc. from tactical games.

They have also implimented things that result from players metagaming, and this is the strategic dimension- alliances and diplomacy in general. Standard parts of the RTS genre have also resulted from players demanding better UIs, things like telling a factory to keep making a specific unit forever (Blizzard needs to add build queues!), units autoprouping, formations/AI that replaces a lot of the old micromanagment, etc.

Ironically, they have been adding from the two genres that are least suited to realtime play due to the "density" of game meaning. In a true tactical scenario, there are too many decisions coming too fast for the player to consider and make them all, let alone time things right (MS Game's Close Combat series ran at 25% realtime), and in a true strategic game, the decisions are few and far between, leaving the player with no decisions of import for long tracts of time in a realtime game.

IMHO, the Operational level seems to offer the best compromise- you still make some decisions as to the makeup of your reinforcements (new units), you still pick up people and have them walk across the map, and you don't have to micromanage where some group of guys is standing to keep them on the edge of the other side's artillery range (as either the game system or unit AI takes care of that for you). You also don't have to micromanage having artillery to support your troops say, and you only see your capital warships (their escorts are presumed there, again game system or AI takes care of it).

Interestingly, several RTS games on the horizon seem to impliment these features or close analogues; an example is Supreme Commander, from the mind of Chris Taylor.

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I don't think it's as discrete as that, though. I don't think that a game is either 'Tactical' or 'Strategic' or 'Operational' - I just think they're points on a continuous scale. Furthermore, the place your game takes on this scale isn't determined by you, it's determined by the player - some will charge in and be diving around between cover, while others will be sniping people out from a distance and preplanning their routes.

If we could detect where the player is on that scale, keep metrics about their play style and figure out the balance they like to employ, then we could adjust gameplay accordingly - vary the 'luck' factor such that things don't happen randomly for the strategists but may do for the tacticians.

Oh, and I think this may be the same scale as puzzle versus action - puzzle gamers are strategists while action gamers are tacticians.

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I was using examples pulled from the TBS/RTS genre, as seemed appropriate from the context of the original quote.

I agree, its about different play styles- and these play styles draw players towards different genres. If a single game could use metrics like you described, it would probably be a huge hit if you could market it effectively (each person who tried it would be presented with the bits of gameplay that interested them most).

I also have a sneaky suspicion that this might improve the takeup of gaming as passtime by more women- in my experience, they seem less tolerant to a degree about wading through the "boring parts" to get to the gameplay/narrative/pretty flashing lights/whatever in a game they are interested in.

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