What Is Strategy?

true strategy game

If you take a look at the App Store, you’ll see a lot of games in the strategy category. But are any of these actually strategy games?

What then is strategy? Max McKeown argues that “strategy is about shaping the future” and is the human attempt to get to “desirable ends with available means”. Okay, that’s interesting, but could just as well applied to shaping a future where I am not hungry by eating this biscuit. Maybe we’ll have better luck with “Strategy Game”?

Wikipedia says that “A strategy game… is a game in which the players’ un-coerced, and often autonomous decision-making skills have a high significance in determining the outcome.” This is still bollocks though, because decision-making skills is so vague that we’re not saying anything.

A strategy game is a game in which each player’s ability to anticipate their opponent’s move has a high significance in determining the outcome.

This means that, contrary to what Apple would have you believe, Cookie Jam is not a strategy game.

best strategy games

But what about Clash of Clans? Is it a strategy game? There is actually not much strategy involved, not even the potential for it, because the game is essentially single-player. Even though there are millions of dedicated players and any one of them could attack you, there is no potential response to that attack.

There is one part of the game though that is very strategic: placing traps.

Placing buildings and towers is much more like solving a puzzle than anything else. My goal is to provide the most defensive coverage possible. I don’t know who will be attacking or what troops they will bring, I have to prepare for all possibilities. I am not engaged with any specific attacker.

When placing traps, however, I am trying to get into the mind of the attacker. I know what he sees (my towers), and I have to predict where he will most likely send his troops to attack. Maybe I have a narrow, undefended corridor that is obviously where all my traps are. So instead I put my traps in another location. Will the attacker fall for it?

So does this not make Clash of Clans a strategy game? Does a drop of lemon make a pint of lemonade? When attacking, I have two minutes to do as much damage as possible, but that doesn’t make it a racing game.

strategy games

What is the simplest strategy game? Rock Paper Scissors is probably one of them. While chance surely plays a large part in the game, the goal of each player is to predict the opponent’s throw, and respond accordingly.

Now, if instead of throwing simultaneously, one player threw and then the other player responded, would that be a strategy game anymore? That’s Clash of Clans. A million people playing turn-based Rock-Paper-Scissors, randomly changing opponents after each match. The best way to succeed is to play the most matches as the player who throws second (the attacker in Clash of Clans).

(I’m being a little harsh. Clash of Clans is Tower-Defense, after all, not Rock-Paper-Scissors. And I’m a sucker for TD as much as the next guy)

Well, that’s a lot of words to define what a Strategy game is and isn’t. What now? Certainly I don’t expect Apple or Google to update their app stores. But that’s where OSG1 comes in! Are you looking for a game of strategy, where you can pit your wits against players from all over the world? Let’s find this game together!

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Neptune’s Pride anyone? It’s a “simplified” 4x-style OSG that initally consists of players talking and trading with each other before the match even begins proper, and then progresses to alliances forming only to fall apart due to the inevitable backstabbing that occurs every single round.

    It’s everything an OSG should be, and it accomplishes this without even treading new ground.

  • Great article for getting people thinking about it, but what “strategy” is, is far less ambiguous than you made it seem. Strategy is creating and implementing a plan of action meant to achieve a goal. Strategy as it applies to gaming adds military connotations of predicting and countering your opponents actions.

    Why do TD’s feel like they fall short of being a full “strategy” game? The first definition gives it away, “…a plan of action..,” not a plan of buildings, a plan of in-action. And there it is. The reason why so many of us gamers are starting to get a little pissed of at what passes for a “strategy” game nowadays. We aren’t creating plans of action, we’re reacting with constrained choices of inaction.

    That’s why games like, “Last War,” piss us off so much. That’s why everything about Travian sucks until you get into clan wars. Once you’re creating and acting on a plan of action meant to deceive, outwit, and outlast your opponent, you’re playing a strategy game, and those moments are beautiful. Once your choices include troop selection, placement, movement, AND those choices force your opponent to alter their choices, THEN and ONLY THEN are you in a strategy game.

    Everything else, is just a farmville clone.

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