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Subject: Between Strategy and Tactics (discussion) rss

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Kyle
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So I have been thinking a lot about how we rate 'weight' and most conversations devolve into 'complexity' and 'depth'. But where do we find depth, and in most cases I think the answer would be the limitations, or availability of a strategy. I sometimes feels strategy is placed on a higher pedestal than tactics, but that raises the question:

Can you have Strategy, without Tactics?

For the sake of those who may not be familiar with the words in practice (although I wager that is a small minority here) a Strategy is a high level plan, the on paper I want this end result, conceived at the beginning of the game. It can be adjusted, but everything has to follow it. Tactics is the turn by turn decisions, if this - then that, what actions are required to fulfill your strategy, how will you react to hurdles and simply what do I need right now. Risk management is highly rooted in tactics, so any game will benefit from a tactical approach. In our libraries I'm sure we all have both tactical, and strategic games, but these are all executed with different levels of success. I'll try to touch on a few titles I am more familiar with (and enjoy), feel free to contribute your thoughts, criticism, or other games along those lines. Naturally you can't have a game without tactics, so the baseline is a little higher for that.


Agricola: Strategy - High ; Tactics - High

You start every game of Agricola with a hand of cards. These cards are going to define how you play the game, and which paths are easier to take. Naturally, you probably want to execute these first to get your engine revving and smooth you round out for the best farm come game end. Tactics comes into play in a real way in this game through Harvests, the immediate need to feed your family, every couple turns. These require you to keep your goal in mind, but remember it is all wasted if you don't just take a moment and eat. This creates a pretty weighty experience as you need to balance your seemingly conflicting goals well, which in my mind makes for a rich experience.

This is largely the same in Caverna, but Caverna I feel requires less strategy, and likely also less tactics. This is due to the fact the stress is not there, the trade-in options are quite varied (and available to everyone, regardless), and worst case scenario you lose some money or rubies to feed and move on.

The Castles of Burgundy: Strategy - Light to Moderate ; Tactics - High

I feel like this one deserves a mention as I feel it is a fantastic example of a highly tactical game. While an overall strategy is important it is hardly imperative, and the heavy chance factor means you need to turn on a dime to maximize your returns. It does all this without feeling as if you are lacking control, or the game is playing you. This is largely achieved through varied steps/actions when using a die (sell, place, or purchase) as well as incorporating the workers, which allow the adjustment of a die. Pair that with the yellow tiles, which allow you to improve any of these actions and you can feel as if you have complete control of this whirlwind, and are the master of all things dice.

This games 'luck done right' element really puts the shine on what a almost entirely tactical game can be.

Terra Mystica: Strategy - High ; Tactics - Moderate

Why do I rate tactics lower on this one? Simply that things like the round tiles are there from the get-go, and are incorporated into your strategy, which in turn you select your race through. Terra Mystica is an exceptionally strategic game, but I feel the lack of ease to block, or deny makes it much more strategic than tactical. Tactics generally boil down to what order do I want to complete my set of actions this turn, and what do I need to rush (power actions?), who do I need to outlast (bonus tiles you want?, do you need to be first to feel safe next round?). The interim goals don't really make you feel the crunch on this one as you are almost always playing the long game.

As far as requiring strategy goes, this one is a bit of a bear. Everything hinges on your grand scheme of empire. Almost every move is planned, to a specific goal, not to be unhinged easily or terribly reactionary. A pretty stable game, with some hiccups (naturally) caused by others, but nothing to the extent of say racing to plow and sow to ensure you have enough vegetables to not get denied points. Resource management is the name of the game for TM, but again to me this is more strategic, and overarching than tactical.

Not much feels as fulfilling as looking at your empire, in its glory (feeling the lamentations of the other players meeples) as you stand proud dominating a good chunk of the board.


Then we move on to gateway games. Something interesting happens here, most of these games are very light on strategy, and might have moderate tactics. Ticket to Ride and Catan are largely games of making the best move, for now, and reacting to your opponents. Yes TtR has a strategy (get from A to B), but it is fed to you, and rather limited as you are still going from A to B. Catan is almost without strategy as the goal is 'get the points', and relies entirely on (tactically) outmaneuvering your opponents through commerce, and some good ole fashioned you can't build across my road. Dominion could fit into this light strategy, moderate tactics pile also, but I'm not sure I would offer it to beginners as like small world, it looks a lot more intimidating than it is.

Next Questions:

Why does Strategy generally have a greater influence on weight than tactics on BGG? This may be my perception, but generally it seems the heavy euros all lean to strategy.

Why do we offer new players tactics, but not strategy on average?


Why do we choose to present new player with the chaotic world of tactics, opposed to the relative calm of strategy? Are they unfamiliar with strategy, or do we feel expecting strategy is not 'fair'? Is playing games without a reliance on strategy really going to help make strategy appealing, or develop the aptitude? I'm honestly not sure where this one goes.


The Players:

We have 4 players I am used to seeing in this Strategy - Tactics spectrum. I'll try to break them down a bit below

1) Strong Strategy - Weak Tactics: This guy is your typical AP player, in my mind. He always needs to stop and really think, for long periods of time, on how to make his strategy come to fruition. It is not that he doesn't have a goal or a plan, or see the finish line, he is just missing the swamp with alligators in front of him, or maybe not timing his leaps to avoid their open mouths. Sometimes this is unfamiliarity with a particular game, sometimes it is an inherent ability this person possesses regardless of time in the chair.

2) Strong Strategy and Tactics: You know what you want, and you have a pretty good idea how to get there. The occasionally stick in the spokes chokes them up but they keep the game moving. Generally no one rather I would like at my table.

3) Poor Strategy - Decent Tactics: Without a clear plan or goal in mind, this player often spends a lot of time re-evaluating the game. It isn't really analysis paralysis, because there is no analysis, just reabsorbing of everything in front of them. I find this is often paired with a lack of attention outside of their turn, and can result in a lot of needless delays easily mitigated by putting a bit more into the game. Regardless of an incurred delays by needing to plan every turn (due to a lack of end goal), this player can generally turn a decent turn out.

4) Poor strategy and tactics: Games may not be this person's thing.

Despite these players, I feel an AP player still has better tactics (generally) than a player with poor strategy. Which leads me back to our first question - Can you have strategy, without tactics (as a game, or as a player)?
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Adam Kazimierczak
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The closest thing to a high strategy/low tactics game would be a game with a very strong emphasis on an initial card draft like Seasons. The primary decision making of the game occurs in the first 10 minutes during the draft and subsequent ordering of your cards.

Then the rest of the game is fairly procedural with some thought required to adapt to the current round's dice and what your opponents pick, but usually decisions are constrained and fairly obvious.
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Kyle
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That is interesting, I have not encountered that game. What is funny is the game descriptor lists it as 'a tactical card game'. I appreciate the example, and I will have to check this out for nothing other than a mostly strategic experience.

Thanks!
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Simon Maynard
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Can I offer a suggestion of a game that is possibly an example of one that has strategy and not much in the way of tactics: "Dominion".

In my humble opinion, one has to approach each game thinking deeply at the beginning what kind of deck one wants to build given the particular array of kingdom cards are in play and then when the game commences, usually the cards to play (and their order) is fairly obvious given each particular hand with which one finds oneself. There are not many difficult decisions to make on a turn by turn basis.

Of course, I'm not saying that the game has no tactics and that one never has to revise one's strategy according to how the other player(s) are building their decks or that there are never any difficult decisions to make for a given hand.

And I certainly wouldn't say that games that favour strategy over tactics are inherently superior. It must come down a lot to personal preference. Games that heavily favour strategy over tactics may be somewhat less enjoyable in the actual playing as one is, too some extent, just going through the motions, executing a plan that they crafted at the beginning. Games that favour tactics give the player a lot more to think about each turn. But does that mean that tactical games imply they are more driven by luck? If you are forced to continuously re-evaluate your plans each turn, this must surely be down to a high degree of unpredictability in the game? Perhaps such games are more forgiving to new players, allowing them to win more often against more experienced players?
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mike hayes
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Hi Kyle,

You've certainly gone into the Strategy/Tactics distinction in some detail - and be assured that somewhere out there, similar 600 page doctoral theses will be raining down on helpless examiners.

Just in passing, consider an extension to your analysis - the wheels-within-wheels skills of DIPLOMACY, STRATEGY, TACTICS and LOGISTICS.

Maybe a definition of a good game is one that has a nice mixture of these skills. But to say more would be to get bogged down in a doctoral thesis.

Enough said. For the intriguing implications of the Strategy/Tactics interface,you've made a fine, succinct outline.

Very stimulating.
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