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# Holistic Game Design

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
Well, DashZero offered the food, so I''ll take the bite with this thread
(...)

I almost wonder sometimes if America''s little excursions into hot-spots is simply "testing" (i.e Grenada, Panama, Somalia).
Don''t wonder, man...

You''re right in that tribe-modelling is a very succiinct and accurate way to analyze and stratify the various cultures or avatar-groups.

Holistic, though? I''m not sure it''s so much some new way to design, rather than A Right Way.

You have my respect, that''s for certain. You are 100% correct whn it comes to balancing. It''s important to stress it, but it is far far far from the sole aspect of building a warsim, much less any other game. Part of what makes heroes heroic is facing, and either defeating or taking a good slice of, a daunting, powerful enemy. Mazer Rackham would be just another Kiwi if he hadn''t destroyed the Bugger command ship and won the First Formic War.

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-WarMage
...we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all (wo+)men are created equal, and that they want cool games...

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
If the player was allowed to design his own units, and perhaps even more impressively, design his own country, I think this in itself could be a very interesting game. The game itself would be about design issues...seeing how you could build society itself, its science, its socio-economic model, its psychological profile to build the foundation on which your units are built

I''d play a game like that. My question is, how would the programming "understand", "judge", and "reward" the player''s society-building ability?

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I would think you pretty much don''t give a hoot about the society-building, just that you build a society.

My thoughts were to build an RTS engine, and allow the users to "skin" units and weapon effects and upload them to the server after some qualification step. This would allow users to join fantasy, amazon, techwar, or whatever, based on the series of units available to a realm.

-----------------
-WarMage
...yes. i _am_ that good.

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
From a wargaming perspective, I almost wonder if the game should be about balancing itself?

This is meaty enough to deserve its own thead...

While I like the idea the major problem is that to be a fair game it must be an even contest at the start. This implies "already balanced."

quote:

Wars are fought with only a vague idea how effective they will be against an opponent. I almost wonder sometimes if America''s little excursions into hot-spots is simply "testing" (i.e Grenada, Panama, Somalia).

There definitely is testing. But there are two vital things here I think you overlook: Effects of past wars on strategic thinking, and raw brilliance.

We''ve moved from cattle raids to the blitz or pincer movement because of centuries of analysis. Modern admirals look to Mahan. He in turn studied Clausewitz and Jomini; they in turn looked to geniuses before them, all going all the way back to Sun Tzu. That''s a lot of study!!!!

And all of that doesn''t even begin to mimic the intelligent problem solving that warriors apply in their own age. (After all, generals don''t just rely on doctrine).

quote:

If the player was allowed to design his own units, and perhaps even more impressively, design his own country, I think this in itself could be a very interesting game. The game itself would be about design issues...seeing how you could build society itself, its science, its socio-economic model, its psychological profile to build the foundation on which your units are built

Mmmmm... SimCivilization, something I''ve been waiting for for ages. Heard in an interview that Will Wright won''t touch this, so it''s open season!

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Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
I''d play a game like that. My question is, how would the programming "understand", "judge", and "reward" the player''s society-building ability?

I''d think myself that the effects you get would be the reward, sort of like in Civilization. Weak police? Corruption. Huge gap between rich and poor? More revolutionaries. Heavy infringement on civil rights? Lost resources. You could layer the effects, too, for a richer experience.

But as for the AI playing against you, that''s where the real problem would be.

I''d be a fan of building the challenge into the numbers of the rules system itself. Then it would only need to understand that "Society X" produces more labor; or "Society Y" has a greater social cohension factor vs. revolution. The AI would see this as a bunch of bar graphs, and match strength to weaknesses (with a lot of preprogrammed help).

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Just waiting for the mothership...

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Hmmm, SimCivilization, that pretty much sums it up really, thanks Wavinator

But what I had in mind was more of the capability of the player to in essence build the foundation as he saw fit.

The best analogy I can think of right now is martial arts. Let''s say you want to be good at Jiujitsu. For a good foundation, you need to do lots of joint stretching (as opposed to muscle stretching, though you''ll need to do that too), lots of breakfall practice to toughen your body, and very good sensitivity training to get a "feel" for your opponents body language (so you can intercept his movements and control him with a lock....a much more diffucult proposition than a simple parry or block). On the other hand, if you want to be good at Wu-shu, you have to do lots of muscle stretching, lots of plyometric work for explosive power, and work on agility and coordination (it''s almost like acrobatics with the body mechanics of punching and kicking thrown in).

So, if you want your style of figthing to be geared towards close-in grappling, learn Jiu-jitsu or Aikido, and make sure your foundation is good for that. Conversely, if you want to excel at jumping, and very acrobatic maneouvers, train your body in that manner to excel in wu-shu. So how does this relate to my game foundation? If you want your army to be excellent at blitzkreig style warfare, then your country should be optimized to be able to fight like that. Actually, it''s the other way around....since the country has all the right "characteristics" to make small, fast and deadly units, it will excel at Blitzkreig style warfare...but I want the player to have control over his factions "charactersitics". That''s why I would want the player to actually be able to control the cultural, socio-economic, and manufacturing capabilities of his country for the game.

Some games let you design the units, I would want to design the country. Although of course, this is worthy of a game itself, but it''s definitely something to shoot for.

As for sunandshadow''s question about how would the computer know how to judge these variables, I have no idea I''m basically a guy with game design/storytelling ideas that has a smattering of programming knowledge, so that when I hear words like classes, objects, pointers, arrays, virtual functions, etc, I know what''s going on. Basically, if I look at code, I can get a good idea of what''s going on, but don''t ask me to write my own. I''m slowly working on my programming skills and 3d modelling/animation skills (btw, I''ve discovered that this REALLY helps understand 3d programming, as most 3d programming books I''ve glossed over don''t explain translations, world coordinates, object coordinates, view frustrums, scaling etc very well for beginners like me....but some modelling books do a good job....but I digress). So, if anyone else has suggestions, I''d love to hear them as much as sunandshadow.

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My concern here would be that the tree only has a dozen or so leaves. (How many different war units do you really need?) Those dozen leaves connect to 30 twigs that connect to 75 branches that connect to 50 limbs to 6 trunks which have a million roots. The complexity lies in the center, which may not be where the fun is.

How much time do I have to spend deciding on crowd control vs. discipline? How much time do I spend maintaining my education level? WHEN THE HECK DO I GET TO SMACK SOMETHING!!??

GA&D said that if there are actions that you would perform automatically all the time, the computer should handle that without bothering you. How much of the time do you want to be worrying about proper sewer systems and other national infrastructure details instead of military strategy??

Or are we really building a simulation here?

You might be able to distill the central planning stuff if you made each player in charge of a giant organism instead of a civilization. Battle of the Tamaguchi Amoebas!!! You could build your amoeba with a few central planning decisions: brain (intellegence), energy level (speed), circulatory system (supply lines), etc. Then see how you did against other amoebas! Maybe each player gets a herd of amoebas, or maybe you get to manipulate the various cells of your creature.

Enough on that. The point being that if you want a game about strategy, but dont want to focus at the unit level, beware of endless (somewhat irrelevant??) complexity that is not directly effecting the main game.

Dash Zero

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
If the player was allowed to design his own

In Sigma we are allowing the player to create their own units and armies by combining two animals together. For example an eagle and a monkey to get a flying monkey.

The player builds up their army from creatures they create, then takes them into the game and fights for all their worth, the whole time learning the strengths and weaknesses of their army and their individual creatures. Games are deliberately kept short to allow the player to jump back and tweak their army before trying it out again.

In our playtesting weve found that the combining element of the game is just as fun as the actual game itself. People spend loads of time seeing what sort of combinations give what.

Its very cool

Drew "remnant" Chambers
Game Designer
Relic Entertainment

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Drew

Sounds interesting. I''ve thought of a game where the game was about...well, balancing itself. That''s how the real world works afterall in that you don''t really know how effective your units will be until you test them out against an opponent. You may THINK your unit design was good intandem with others, but in practice it may be different. It''d sort of be like having a game where you are always a playtester...tweaking this and tweaking that to develop your army and units.

I think half the fun could be about developing your own units (and hence, there would be no initial game balance, as the game designer can not take into consideration all the permutations that could exist).

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GA&D sort of hits this point, but imagine all the parameters that make up the game are intentionally exposed to the players. You could have a big ini file, or an Access DB or whatever. The original designers could tweak the parameters to their hearts content and then ship with what they found enjoyable. But the access to the params would still be left in for the player to change at will.

The shipping ini might say:

tank_attack_power=5
tank_armor=7
soldier_attack_power=2
soldier_armor=2
etc.

You could set them however you wanted. Maybe some rules would be created to allow multiplayer games a level of balance, but otherwise tweak away!!!

Dash Zero

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Well, DashZero, tweaking paramaters is good, but what about multiplayer? There would definately be some strangeness if everything was done on each client using internal data that wasn''t the same on each client.

What I''d like to see is some controlled randomization on the factors that influence how strong the units are. Say if you aim towards armor made of wax coated strips of flax, well, the effectiveness of that armor (besides being highly flammable) would depend on the components of the wax and the type of flax, which would be pseudo random, based off of the ecology of the area where the armor was made.

Hope that makes some sense.

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Reminds me of the red alert cheat where you can edit the units properties...

Tesla troops were always fun, and equipping medics with 8 inch guns and heavy armour was a good tactic against the computer (because the AI knew the unit was a waste of space and never built them)

I dont think there is anything wrong with this, (it''s fun) but for multiplayer the game should make sure that all players are using the same file.

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If you guys want to talk about multiplayer "fairness", you have to get back to balance issues.

Maybe the portal where you join to play with others gives a rating of how tough your opponents units are. (This is a can of worms, but assume there is some way to evaluate the tweaks each person made.)

Simplest case, assume there are 10 variables that can be tweaked. The portal could display the total number of points used by each player in the game. If all your opponents were each using a total of 100 points, you might see if you could beat them with an 80 point team. (Or 66 if you are Dauntless!)

Maybe each individual game would have a point total ceiling - 100 points or less division, 1000 points or less divison, unlimited class!!! You wouldn''t be able to join a game if your "tweak total" was higher than the ceiling.

You get the idea...

If this became popular, there would be web pages dedicated to strategies given point totals. You''d see stuff like "If you only have 100 tweakpoints forget about using tanks. You will not be able to reach scenario objectives with them - this is an all soldier brawl! Allocate 0 points to each of the tank variables. Now it is decision time - 2 main strategies exist: all infantry with heavy armor (agressive offense) just run towards the goal and try for a quick win -OR- split points between sharpshooters with no armor and spys and try a defensive/sneaky strategy..."

Dash Zero

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DREW

Sigma sure looks like something straight out of a player''s dream.

As for game balance:

Have each battle consist of two parts.
a) Player 1 picks his army and Player 2 picks his army.
b) Player 1 plays with Player 2''s army, Player 2 plays with Player 1''s army.
This would be pretty interesting in that players will try to design armies that THEY will be able to use in a tactic way and that MIGHT cause the other player to just completely lose it once he gains control of that army.

OR

Player 1 and Player 2 design their armies. A random roll is made. There''s a 50% chance that Player 1 will get to use his own army, and there''s a 50% chance he''ll have to use Player 2''s army.

DASHZERO: Nice idea. But it sounds a lot like ''unit cost'' which eventually always ends up in a ''this unit''s cost vs efficiency is best'' which means you''ll see that unit in nearly every battle.

Woohoo... I''m on day 4 on my C++ in 21 days course. %Another two weeks and I''ll be a master programmer!%

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Silvermyst said: "...it sounds a lot like ''unit cost'' which eventually always ends up in a ''this unit''s cost vs efficiency is best'' which means you''ll see that unit in nearly every battle."
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Uhhh, yes and no. I think you might be right when the dust settles, but there are some issues we haven''t touched on. Thinking about this some more:

If you can change the values of the units, their "icons" (tank, soldier, spaceship, gametoken, etc.) ends up being "camoflage".

Example: Game''s default INI has Tank (Offense=7, Armor=4) and Soldier (Offense=2, Armor=2). You could switch it to Tank (Offense=2, Armor=2) and Soldier (Offense=7, Armor=4). Now your soldier icons represent tank power...

The earlier post didn''t even address unit cost - how do you buy units? If there is a cost tied to each unit, Silvermyst is right, everyone would buff out the cheapest unit with maximum stats. Maybe you are charged the total number of tweak points spent on each unit to buy one - so in the default INI situation Tanks would cost $11 and in the tweaked version only$4. That still puts you back to optimizing on "Return on Investment" (ROI) - cost vs. efficiency. So, another cost system would have to be created to make this fun.

I am grasping at randomness as a possible evening factor, but that feels like it takes skill at strategy and throws it out the window...

I was thinking about something like Magic the Gathering, where you know what cards are in your deck, but they have been shuffled so that you are not sure exactly when you will get to use them. Maybe in this game, the soldier ALWAYS has to have at least one less Offense and one less Armor than the tank. (Rule: Tanks are stronger than Soldiers on their team.) But you could vary the values to create tanks that were super powerful and wimpy Soldiers, or Tanks that were barely better than Soldiers. Add something like the higher the number of points you spend on a unittype, the fewer you get in your army. (So maybe 3 supertanks and 20 wimpy Soldiers would take on 11 minimized tanks and 12 maxed soldiers.) Add to that some kind of delayed allocation (like having to draw cards in Magic) and it might get interesting - especially as you add units and rules. Add the Jeep and the Rule "Jeeps are the fastest unit".

So, when you see an enemy unit you can make some general assumptions. "Oh, that''s a tank - it is tough. Look! Jeep! Careful it is fast." But you don''t really know the exact values until you start going toe-to-toe.

Dash Zero

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DASHZERO:

Ah, now I see where you''re going.

I had an idea similar to that; designing a system that would keep an opponent guessing.

I ended up with a system where each unit looked exactly the same, yet had different colors or slight differences (the units would be alien beings).

You, as the designer of the units, would know exactly what each unit could or couldn''t do. Yellow unit: flight capability. Red unit: breathes fire. Blue unit: casts frozen ice beam.

Your opponent would have to figure out what each of your units did DURING combat. The more diversity you would have in your team (the more colors), the harder it would be for the opponent to remember which unit did what.

I think the system you''re describing uses certain set rules within a system like this (tank can have power from 10-5, infantry can have power from 1-4. PowerInfantry>=PowerTank = false.)

What I like about systems like this, is that each battle is a new battle. And you wouldn''t even need the hundreds of different types of units. You could get by with even just 10 units. It would become almost like a chess game. You''d have to really determine your opponent''s unit''s strenghts and weaknesses as fast as you can and then react to the battle with that knowledge in mind.

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Good ideas DashZero and Sylvermyst. I think that unit effectiveness should be an unknown until they are engaged for the first time. However, in a more realistic sense, other than a few minor variants, I think after a point, the enemy will realize what kind of unit they are up against. If a country tries to build too many differing types of units all the time, it taxes their resources....the Germans faced this problem in WWII with their bazillion diffrent models of Panzer tanks.

Also, although I intended the topic to be about game design in general, it''s gone off on a strategic slant...which is fine with me But I''d like to get everyone''s opinion on how exactly they define strategy.

I think the vast majority of people here see strategy as I define tactics. Tactics are the means and methods of carrying out a strategy. Tactics are the means to the end, and the strategy is the overall plan on how to get there USING tactics to fulfill those plans.

I think people tend to see strategy like this..."I see that my opponent has two Tank Z''s and 4 heavy infantry guarding that resource factory. If I use two mobile artillery pieces backed up by 3 light tanks, I should be able to beat his units". To me, that''s pure tactics. Yes, there''s some thought and planning, but it''s only on a limited basis and it''s still unit vs. unit thinking.

To me, strategy is thinking about the "big picture". Strategy is also about groups, the movements of groups to actualize the end goal. Strategy is not so much about defeating a unit, as it is about making yourself stronger, and your enemy weaker. What''s the difference? Well, for example, in RL, a commander may decide to use some mechanized infantry to slow down the advance of a main column of armored forces. Not to destroy them, but to delay and possibly disorganize them abit. He would do this for several reasons, perhaps to buy time for reinforcements, or perhaps to maneuver his own main armored column along his enemy''s flanks.

In a nutshell, unit vs. unit vs. battles are not what truly intrigue me. It''s how you use those units AND the capabilities they have to effect a victory by different means.

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DAUNTLESS:

To me, strategy starts before the actual fight even begins.

What units will I produce, which ones will I send to which battle? What do I do after the battle is over? When do I retreat?

A strategy is like a gameplan before the actual game ever starts. During the game, you use tactics to achieve the goal of the strategy. You also use tactics to adapt to holes in your strategy.

Taking the 'many colored alien beings' idea:

Strategy would be:
I am going to use three different colored units. Yellow: fast but weak. Red: strong but slow. Blue: overall balanced.

The strategy would be to use the yellow units to locate and harass the enemy, use the red units to lay a trap and use the blue units as backup. The strategy would be:
Yellow units move and locate enemy. Harass enemy. When enemy counter attacks, retreat to position X. Red units, hide at position X. Blue units, stay behind yellow units as backup, but make sure to keep enough distance. When yellow units are attacked and have no means of retreat, attack enemy. When yellow units are retreating as planned to location X, run as fast as you can to location X but stay out of sight of enemy. Then, position behind red units. Once battle starts, do not engage until needed. When a group of red units is losing, assist them.

Tactics, as you mentioned, are just parts of a strategy. If drinking water to stay alive is the strategy, then moving to water, putting hand in water, lifting hand to mouth... those are all tactics.

Tactic of yellow unit:
Move out and spread out and locate enemy. Once enemy is located, contact other yellow units and once enough units are gathered, surprise attack the enemy at a weak spot. Make sure to make room for your retreat. Also make sure to keep enough energy to be able to run back to location X. Keep harassing enemy until enemy follows. Then move to location X. Once red units attack following enemy from flanks, fall back until needed. Assist only where red units are winning a fight.

Tactic of red unit:
Move into position at location X. Hide. Wait until yellow units pass and attack enemy when they are running into trap. Attack from both flanks. Attack with full force. Do NOT retreat at any cost. You can count on support from blue units when a certain group of red units is in trouble. You can count on support from yellow units when you are winning a fight.

Tactic of blue unit:
Once yellow units locate enemy, move to position in between enemy position and location X. When yellow units are somehow surrounded and can't escape, attack enemy forces and create a hole for yellow units to escape. When yellow units are retreating, move to location X asap and hide behind red units.
When a group of red units is losing a fight, attack the enemy at that position asap.

Edited by - Silvermyst on July 31, 2001 1:30:11 PM

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I''m sorry Silver - and this is def no flame - but you are still talking tactics.

Strategy is looking at a much bigger picture. For example the battle of the Ardennes was tactics. The drive to Berlin was strategy.

Strategy is far more looking at the economic power you have to produce units and the way in which those units will be used to achieve final victory. So do you build U boats or panzers? It''s a strategic decision on how you see the war going. Do you attack on the left or right flank using your tank reserves is a tactical decision that affects the outcome of one battle.

So when you start your post you are right. Strategy starts before the actual fight begins. But a strategic goal is do I go for Berlin or the Rhur. A tactical goal is do I go for battalion X or battalion Y or hill A or B.

Unit effectiveness may vary. An two man infantry squad with an anti-tank weapon that is hidden in woods with a good line of retreat can take out your super tank.

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I''m thinking that few Computer Games give the player a chance to employ serious strategy.

(BTW - I think I am an offender when it comes to using the word strategy as a blanket term, covering tactics as well...my bad.)

Due to the difficulty of managing an army in a video game, I''m not sure there are a lot of good examples of strategy. In a RTS you can point and click at individual units to induce tactical responses but that''s about it.

What games out there *REALLY* allow strategy so we have an example? Please give details on strategic vs. tactical considerations in these games. C''mon - I dare ya!!!!

Dash Zero

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CRYDEE:

You''re right. Absolutely.

I''m still thinking to basic (per battle). Probably because in most of my designs I try to focus on giving a player the opportunity to use strategy in individual battles, rather than in lengthy campaigns... but maybe I should just think of tactic instead of strategy.

I just think that STRATEGY is ''the biggest picture'' and TACTIC is ''the smaller picture''.

In a war, the bigger picture is winning the war. Each battle is just a tactical factor in that picture.

But if there''s no war, just one all-or-nothing battle, then the battle itself becomes the ''bigger'' picture. I think in that case, what was ''tactical'' in the big war, becomes ''strategic'' in the one battle. And what is ''tactical'' in the one battle, used to be ''just a part of a tactic'' in the big war.

I''m starting to confuse myself. I better pick up a good dictionary and see how it defines strategy and tactic.

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Mazer Rackham would be just another Kiwi if he hadn''t destroyed the Bugger command ship and won the First Formic War.

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Merriam-Webster sez: (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm)

Main Entry: strat·e·gy
Pronunciation: -jE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -gies
Etymology: Greek stratEgia generalship, from stratEgos
Date: 1810
1 a (1) : the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war (2) : the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions b : a variety of or instance of the use of strategy
2 a : a careful plan or method : a clever stratagem b : the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal
3 : an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success

Main Entry: tac·tics
Pronunciation: ''tak-tiks
Function: noun plural but singular or plural in construction
Etymology: New Latin tactica, plural, from Greek taktika, from neuter plural of taktikos of order, of tactics, fit for arranging, from tassein to arrange, place in battle formation
Date: 1626
1 a : the science and art of disposing and maneuvering forces in combat b : the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end
2 : a system or mode of procedure
3 : the study of the grammatical relations within a language including morphology and syntax

Dash Zero

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DASHZERO:

So...

STRATEGY:
Used in campaigns. The goal is to achieve ultimate victory.
Political: pick you allies and enemies in multiplayer game.
Economic: make sure you have funds available and decide what to spend those funds on.
Psychological: keep the morale of your own troops high (victories), try to decrease morale of opponent (by crushing his forces) and try to create confusion: mindgames.
Military: use strategy to gain an advantage before the battle even begins.

STRATAGEM:
Strategy on a smaller scale. Example: SWAT team has to get criminal out of house. The plan devised is the stratagem (it''s carried out using different tactics).

TACTIC:
Procedures used to accomplish the strategy.

Should we just start a workshop and ask eachother questions? (is [example] strategy, stratagem or tactic?) Because even with the dictionary terms, it''s still confusing...