Divulging Strategy

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Battle_Table_%28strategy%29[1]By Mario T. Lanza

When I originally rediscovered the hobby, one of the things that I was most interested in when scouring the web, was finding strategy discussions. I wanted to learn how to improve my play, plus simply reading posts on strategies and tactics for games was entertaining. Now, years later, my opinion has changed.

One thing about playing these games of ours is the fun factor and for me a large part of the fun I experience not only in games, but in life, is the sense of discovery. When I’m playing games, I tend to be a little intense simply because I’m absorbed in doing something I so enjoy. I’m no shmuck – in usually a couple games I’ve already developed a wide range of strategy and tactics. On top of that, I’m very observant. When others make particularly good moves, I’ll often experience an “aha!” and take mental note of some clever move or overriding strategy I may not have considered or one I may have mistakenly dismissed as weak. The discovery, therefore, adds a dimension to gaming that I’d hate to lose or diminish. For this reason, I don’t seek out strategy discussions and, in fact, actively avoid them. It’s only after I reach a plateau with a particular game that I won’t actively avoid strategy discussions.

So, let’s talk about divulging strategy and the right time for it. As I see it, there are three times:

  1. Before the game
  2. During the game
  3. After the game

Before the game

When speaking about before-game strategy discussions, we’re typically talking about how much strategy to discuss with the new players to whom we’ve just taught the rules. Some game enthusiasts are of the mind, in part because of the discovery aspect I mentioned, that divulging strategy is strictly off limits. To a degree, I agree with this. But there is a caveat, to the general rule that is worth noting.

Killer Tactics
Experience, in some games, brings tactics that are so powerful that, in fairness, they must be noted. I mean, c’mon everyone wants a reasonable shot at doing well, let alone winning. When novices and veterans gather round the same game board, the experienced are going to have an advantage, but must it be an overwhelming one?

For this reason, I tend to note the killer tactics that I’ve learned, rightly-timed moves that can crush an opponent or bring about a superior advantage. In most games, there are just a few such tactics and so mentioning them takes a minute or two. Those two minutes seem, to me, the right amount of time to discuss good game play. By no means, spell out all the tactical considerations–leave them to be discovered.

Also, note that I mention killer tactics and not killer strategies. I guess when I reflect on the games I play, the warnings I usually offer deal with killer blows that come from one move. In most games, I don’t see the need to mention the killer strategy. In part, I guess that’s because most gamers feel that a game with only one viable strategy is broken. In Puerto Rico I typically play a commodity diversification strategy that works well with the Harbor or the Factory, but I don’t feel it necessary to mention it because it is very possible to win using alternate means. Besides, strategies are too broad and trying to express them up front is a little much, esp. as players have not as of yet had the opportunity to frame their understanding of the rules against actual game play.

One killer tactic that comes readily to mind, in Mexica, is building a district dead in the middle of the board around the starting area. The start area may not have temples placed on it and, as such, may be wholly claimed by one player (without much difficulty) esp. when other players inadvertently contribute to its perimeter. This can lend that player a sizable advantage. Oddly enough, despite warning new players that I would indeed attempt to do this, I proceeded to do it in at least two games. I won both.

I don’t feel so guilty utilizing the forewarned killer tactic. I do feel guilty using it otherwise. I mean, how can a new player know to expect certain moves when they’re only just beginning to digest the game? As I said, forewarning about killer tactics seems only good etiquette. I, myself, would appreciate the same courtesy.

During the game

For the most part, in my circles specific tactics and strategies are not discussed much during game play. That is not to say that we don’t have our share of table talk; however, this belongs to another post altogether. We talk all the smack and make suggestions to one another about correcting inadequate defences or beating down the bloke who is obviously ahead, ad-nauseum.
Not entirely convicted about whether I should be doing it, I do tend to warn the inexperienced about particularly bad plays. My goal is always that the new players have fun too. Still at the same time, I do play to win. It never seems right that I shouldn’t, because it offers a false reward to the victor. In general, I defer during-the-game strategy and tactics to your house rules on table talk.

After the game

The post-mortem discussion begs for the discussion of strategy and tactics. I can’t recall how many times my friends have lingered at the tail-end of a game night to discuss the “would-of’s” and “should-of’s”. There is so much fun in discussing your considerations at key points in the game, about discussing what your mistakes were, about complaining that luck failed to afford you the needed tiles, about discussing how your plans unfolded or were thwarted. In every respect, the discussion of strategies and tactics was meant for the post-mortem.

Now, I know of a few good gamers who don’t like to divulge their strategies and tactics, perhaps considering that they won’t have the opportunity to reuse them. Where’s the opportunity for growth in that!? My objective is to help everyone around me improve, to let them know what my plans were, and to give them an insight to how I play. In this way, I must learn to adapt and try other roads to victory.

By and large, I’ve learned one thing about myself as a gamer. I zone in on tactics far more than strategy. My goal is to always make solid moves, one after the other.

Prior to getting into the Eurogames, I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering. Since I had no gamer friends at that time, I sought them elsewhere. Enter the booster draft tournaments and the Tuesday night duels at the local game shop. I always enjoyed Magic and still consider it the most fun 2-player game I’ve yet played, but I never devoted the time to it that the game shop geeks did. They lived and breathed the game so much so that their conversations sometimes sounded like a foreign language. I played these guys plenty of times and for the most part had a can of whoop-ass opened up on me every time. I almost never won. Granted we were playing with decks we built ourselves as opposed to pre-constructed decks that were fairly even, but I learned something valuable from the shop owner. He said to me, “Your decks are focused upon interesting themes and combos. The best decks are the ones that are made up of the best cards. In my decks, every card is useful and almost none depends on another.”

I liken this to my style of play: heavy tactics. And I’m open to sharing them. I’ll withhold them during the game, of course, but never in a post-mortem. Gaming is fun because it presents discovery coupled with challenge. By divulging strategy in post-mortem discussions, you may have to consider other roads to victory when, in future games, your friends have learned how to parry some of your best moves.

This article was originally posted on my long-defunct boardgame blog: Boardgamers’ Pastime. I’m posting it here to preserve it.


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