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Loose strategy games, or Player's impact level on the game

Page: DesignArticle.Article200905120244PM - Last Modified : Tue, 18 Dec 12 - 2210 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

I played a lot of strategy video games when I was young and when I tried to design some of these games myself, it was really easier and there was much less play testing to do since they were loose strategy games and most mechanics consisted in placing numbers in an math formula. There was no components to deal with.

When playing more board games, I realized that many games were really strict and that one little move can make you loose the whole game. Which is totally the opposite of loose strategy games.

Loose strategy games

As opposed to tight strategy games, loose strategy games is first a game where a single bad move cannot make you lose the game. A series of bad moves can. The first game that comes to my mind is the "conflict" video game. Which could be comparable today to "Advanced wars".

In these games, if you make a bad move, let say you lose a tank, you still have a way to recover from your action. But don't repeat that too often.

The problem with loose strategy games is that they take more times to play because there is a lot of actions to do that each of them has little dramatic effects compared to tight strategy games that have few actions with dramatic effect.

But that does not mean they are shorter to play. In fact tight strategy games will demand much more thinking before doing your move, which creates more analysis paralysis, with almost no possibility to change your mind if you made a bad decision. While in a loose strategy game you will make many small move that does not require much thinking and as you see the game evolves, you still have a lot of maneuvering possible to change your plan. It's like if instead of thinking it all in your head, you can see in slowly evolve and change course if it looks bad.

Loose strategy games are much more immersive because they rely more on feeling and common sense rather than optimal calculated solution. For example: "I want to kill you with that dragon. He wants his revenge". While a game like chess, you generally try to find the optimal solution to win.

Player's impact on the game

Both loose and tight strategies have their extremes which brings me to talk about the players influence on the game. According to your kind of game you want players to have the feeling that they are actually affecting the course of the game else they won't feel any interest to play.

In some games, like "chutes and ladders", there are zero decision to make. The die decide what happens to you. Which mean that you have almost no control over the game.

Still even if some games give you some control, the impact of your actions on the game are so minimal that you feel like you are not going anywhere.

For example: There is a MOD of the civilization IV video game called "fall from heaven" in that game, I had a chance to experience a game where you actions had few impacts on iy. You have a natural resource called incense. In order to get the benefit from this incense, you must do the following:

Build a city near the incense
Develop the calendar technology to be able to build a plantation.
Build a worker
Build a plantation with that worker
Research philosophy to get the incense benefit
Build an herbalist guilt to get the incense benefit.

results: you gain +1 morale.

You must do all this work, which takes a lot of your time, to do something that is almost worthless. Galactic civilizations also had the same bug. You develop tons of technologies which gives you a few bonus here and there but again there is no dramatic effects on the game.

On the other hand, there were other civ like video games (ex: Master of magic and Master of orion) where the spell and technology you acquired gave you enough power to perform a considerable change in the power balance of the players.

So it is always important to consider what impact does the player have on the game, else they will feel like not playing a game.

Large list of weak abilities

Update: December 17th, 2012

I have seen a cheap technique lately to balance a game that has the effect of making player having almost no impact of the game. It consist of asking players to manage tons of powerups that will give little bonus. Forcing the player to stack a huge lead of bonus before getting something meaningful.

This technique is easier to use in video games since the computer can do all the calculations for your. For example, Elemental: Fallen Enchanteress has a huge load of buildings where each of them gives little bonus.

The advantage is that it makes the game easier to balance because there are less chance to have an over powered building. On the other hand, some player could find a flaw in the system and abuse it. Also it gives to the player almost no feeling of progress creating a lack a feed back to the player which might kick the player out of the game.

Personally, I like the opposite method that was used apparently to balance "Unreal Tournament"

We knew that the game was balanced when everybody complained that all weapons were too powerful

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