Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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The Essence of Strategy

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Original Post

I have an excellent working memory, but my long term memory is genuinely awful. I'm not very good at remembering things that happened an hour ago and it gets worse the further back you go. I can count the number of memories that I have from infant school (5-8 years old) on my hands, but one burns brightly and I wanted to share it with you.

I can't remember exactly what point I was in my gaming, we'd definitely gotten rid of the trash and I was playing a lot of Titan (One game took over a year to finish and nearly ended in a draw, but that's a story for another time), but I think that I might still have been treating Talisman as a strategically interesting game which is a bit embarrassing. This story is about my dad teaching me to play chess, it's a very short story, but it really stuck in my head. He made a move that made my child protobrain conclude that he was cheating. Or a wizard. Or both. There were other pieces on the board, but I can only remember the position of three of them:

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When I saw that move something clicked, suddenly every other game that I'd ever played made a lot more sense to me. One move that did two things? It was perfect and felt like a lesson that I could apply to not only every game, but every aspect of my life. In Talisman you definitely want an axe, for it is both raft and weapon! In Titan you should move not just to claim a creature but to limit your opponents moves, protect your vulnerable stacks and maximise your possible moves next turn (One of my friends describes playing this game against me as "like trying to hide from someone in their own house."). In life you should seek work that not only pays enough to cover your rent, but also that you love doing, might make someone else happy and has the possibility to contribute something to your wider society.

I design games.

I think that every good strategy for every game or situation, at its core, is on some level an attempt to achieve two goals with one move. The best placed city in Settlers of Catan is one which allows you to access multiple resources you need, blocks off a location your opponent wanted and makes it unprofitable for your opponent to build in the way of your would-be longest road. The best buy in Dominion is a card that limits your opponents future options, gets closer to exhausting a stack you want to see empty and will be good in combination with a large number of cards in your deck. The list goes on.

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From a game design point of view I think that it's important to make sure any game you make offers players the possibility of single moves that accomplish several things. It is satisfying to do, which makes the game more rewarding to play. It rewards skill at the game, which makes people more likely to come back to it. It's also important that these rewards tend to be fairly visibly a result of good strategy, which helps teach new players how to play rather than leaving them with the illusion that they lost for no good reason. In other words ensuring that these options are present in a game is a single act which produces several good outcomes for your game. I didn't notice it consciously at the time, but to a large extent this is what I was thinking of when I wrote about elegance of design.

Perhaps another time I'll get into the means by which this can be achieved by the designer, I really need to write about emergent complexity (and emergent stupidity) sometime. For now, I hope that you've enjoyed this article. Also that it encourages you to read my other stuff. Also that my writing improves with practice. Also that you'll be inclined to back the kickstarter for my first game once it's ready. Also that when it shows up in my boss' RSS feed he feels he's hired a good person to be his games designer. Also that I've made you curious about how this concepts has been applied in my own game. Also that talking about strategies for other games encourages their fans to come and read my stuff. Also that I might get to discuss this philosophy and have it challenged by intelligent creative people who have other beliefs. Also that cardboard edison or someone else awesome finds the article inspiring enough to link to it. Also that there's something in it to make my witty proofreader smile. Also that it contributes to a backlog of daily posts that will ultimately make me seem reliable to would-be crowd funders. Also that writing it in advance provides me with something useful to do having already packed the game prototype away for testing tomorrow as well as meaning I can have a lie in.

I write for a lot of reasons
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