I have decided to mine my game design blog for interesting posts, update them, and publish them here. What follows is one of those posts, originally written September 05, 2008, edited and updated for the League of Gamemakers audience. The original post and its comments can still be found on my blog. Enjoy!
Strategy (strāt’ə-jē): A plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.
In an online discussion one day I encountered a speed bump in communication between myself and someone I used to chat with. They said they didn’t believe in “multiple paths to victory” – they said it was a bewildering concept which in the end has no actual meaning. Rather it’s one of those catch-phrases that people adhere to without ever bothering to look back to reality.
In my mind that’s not the case at all. To me, “multiple paths to victory” means more than 1 distinct strategic approach to a game. When I mentioned this, it was met by something I found interesting, and which explained to me why we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye:
PUERTO RICO HAS ONE DOMINANT STRATEGY. THE DOMINANT STRATEGY, DOCUMENTED FLAWLESSLY ON BGG, IS TO FIRST ESTABLISH INCOME SOURCES, THEN GENERATE INCOME, THEN TURN THAT INCOME INTO POINTS.
To me, that’s not a “strategy”, it’s simply how you go about games with economic engines. It’s like saying “my strategy is to win the game.” … of course it is!
By strict definition the above proposal could be called a strategy, but to me that’s not useful for discussion of any game in particular. At the genre level sure – “establish an income engine and then establish a VP engine” is a way to approach economic engine games. I could say that in Agricola you need to get a food engine going before you start increasing your family and building up your farm. In Puerto Rico you need to get some kind of cash crop in order to establish income before you can start shipping or building in earnest. To that extent maybe this overarching plan is the “strategy” you can go into the game – any game of this type – with.
On the game level though, when discussing any particular game, I find it more useful to consider more local strategy than that. Once you determine what type of game you’re playing, the global – genre level – strategy becomes common sense, and now you need to consider game specific strategy. In my mind there’s still room for both long term strategy as well as short term tactics at the local, game level, and that is distinct from a genre-level, general, over-arching strategy.
So when I say that Puerto Rico has 2 main strategic paths, shipping and building, I’m referring to local (game level) strategy. I agree that as a game in the economic engine genre there’s a global (genre level) strategy of “establish income, then generate victory points,” but to me that’s not useful for any kind of discussion.
“Multiple paths to victory” is an aspect I really like in games. By this I mean more than 1 distinct strategic approach at the game level to establishing that engine, or to acquiring those victory points. Puerto Rico is a great example…
What many refer to as a “building strategy” in Puerto Rico – focusing your actions on earning money to buy buildings, building out your board, and ending the game with multiple high-scoring big buildings – is a much different approach to a “shipping strategy” where your building choices tend to help production of goods rather than money, the majority of your points come from shipping goods, and your big late game play is a single big building such as Customs House or Guild Hall.
When designing my games, and when looking at other designs, this is what I’m considering. To me it’s more useful than general strategic commentary such as “score more points over the course of the game than the other guys.”
What do you think? Is it useful to differentiate between global, genre level strategy and local, game level strategy? Can a game have “multiple paths to victory”, or is that a buzzphrase with no real meaning? Let us know in the comments below!