A Strategy Game I Would Like to See

A Strategy Game I Would Like to See

In all strategy games that I’m aware of, whether board games or computer games, the player has instantaneous access to knowledge and instantaneous control of entities under their control. There may be a fog of war, occluding areas out of sight of the player’s units – but what any unit sees, the player also immediately sees. Similarly, there may be a limit to the number of actions a player can take – whether the extreme limit, of one a turn, in chess, or a de facto limit, as in real time strategy games where the limit is imposed by the player’s human reactions – but if a player controls a unit (or a city, production unit or similar) the player may instantly move it.

For much of history, however, the world wasn’t like this. Before the rise of effectively instant communication, news travelled slowly, albeit faster than an army could march. By the time Caesar had heard that the Persians had invaded Asia Minor, they might already be in Greece – or perhaps in Judaea, or have already retreated across the border. And by the time his orders had reached the local army commander, they might be somewhere else again. Science fiction stories, set in the far future, can sometimes have the same effect, in universes which postulate faster than light travel without faster than light communication. As in the ancient world, news can only travel as fast as it can be carried, with fast scout ships taking the role of the galloping courier of yesteryear.

I would love to see this mechanic implemented in a game. It would have to be a computer game – a board game simply would not work, due to the necessity of hidden information. But on a computer, the mechanics would be relatively straightforward, though the gameplay might be more challenging.

In essence, the game would have to be carried out at a strategic level. The player  would make decisions about where to raise troops, where to despatch armies, what fortifications to build and what orders to give generals, whilst recognising that the exact way in which battles would play out would be out of their control. If this sounds uninteresting, think again: it is no different from a football manager game, where a player might make purchase or transfer decisions, select the squad and determine the tactics – but ultimately does not control the match. Long-term thinking would become essential, as the player would need to think several turns ahead about where resources might be needed, and would need to carefully weigh their risk appetite to either cover all eventualities or take a gamble on a decisive manoeuvre. Feints and bluffs would be critical, as misdirection, if successful, could result in an army  being dispatched out of position and unable to be recalled until far too late – though misjudging a true attack as a feint would have equally dire consequences. And the game would have a natural balancing mechanism, with the losing player having shorter communication lines, and therefore be able to react faster to events than the player with the upper hand.

To my knowledge, a game of this nature doesn’t currently exist – but perhaps one day someone will  make one.

6 thoughts on “A Strategy Game I Would Like to See

  1. Have you come across Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot? It can be very frustrating, and some people don’t like the fact that the winner is chosen at random (weighted by the number of carrots collected during the game), but I think it does include a mechanic that could be used to simulate the speed of communication.

    The relevant mechanic I like in Killer Bunnies is that each turn you normally play one card from a run of three face down in front of you and then replace the other end of the run with a card from your hand. The card you choose this turn won’t actually be played until three turns later. You have to make decisions based on the current state of play and your predictions of how the game might evolve over the following turns.

    The problem with Killer Bunnies is that the secondary object (apart from collecting carrots to increase your probability of winning) is killing your opponents bunnies. Someone without a live bunny in front of them cannot win, and also many of the cards played (like weapons) require a bunny. A player with no bunny in play can go through a frustrating few turns having to discard cards they played into their run which can no longer be activated, especially if they don’t have a replacement bunny in their hand and have to wait until they draw another.

    Another game with a somewhat similar mechanic is RoboRally. All players simultaneously select a round worth of actions (up to nine cards) and then the round is played out card by card, so chaos ensues both due to failures of players’ spatial planning and the fact that some moves might be blocked due to the position of other robots at the moment they come into play.

    1. I was about to reply and say ‘RoboRally’.
      The random carrot thing in Killer Bunnies is just stupid, though happily one can just ignore it.

      1. Personally, I like the principle that anyone with at least one carrot and a live bunny has a chance of winning — it’s one way to combat the runaway leader problem, and it reflects the fact that “winners” aren’t always the most deserving. You need talent AND luck.

        1. The random carrot aspect in Killer Bunnies is generally the sort of pointless risk that would annoy me in a more serious or strategic game, but given the overall silliness of the game I find it doesn’t.

  2. I was thinking about something very similar the other week, but with a different kind of game.

    Playing “Guess Who” with my 6 year old, I was struck by questions like “but daddy, does X have black hair or brown hair?” or “are Y’s lips big or middle sized?” There’s an inherent uncertainty there.

    It got me thinking about “Battleships”. I thought it would be interesting if, when you be a grid square to target, there was a certain percentage chance that it actually hit a neighbouring location. Your opponent would have to know the actual location, and would respond accordingly, but you would only know where you intended to target. The offset in the location might be calculated using a spinner, or using a (pseudo) random number generator of some sort (e.g. the milliseconds on a stopwatch) and a lookup table, or it could be done easily in a computer game. The simulations to get the probabilities fine tuned would certainly need a computer

    I thought maybe that perhaps as your ships got destroyed your accuracy might decrease as well – again, possibly easier in a computer.

    The real-world equivalent would be pre-GPS ships firing over the horizon, not knowing where the one landed exactly, but seeing whether or not there was an explosion.

    Clearly a more basic game, but it would be a neat way of teaching uncertainty, and relatively simple to set up. I just haven’t got the time myself, at least not at the moment. [I’d be more than happy to collaborate with someone who did have time]

    PS. We did *sort of* do this in a web-app we wrote about have telescope design, too. If you visit http://chrisnorth.github.io/design-a-space-telescope/ and put it in Advanced mode, the probability of success at each stage after launch is random (though still fairly likely), and beyond your control.

  3. I forgot about Killer Bunnies! I agree, that definitely counts – and Roborally seems to very much have this mechanism. It’s not quite the empire-spanning flavour I was thinking of, but impressive to see it implemented at all in a board game. Would definitely like to try it some time.

    Chris, that would be great, I agree! Although too much randomness (or pointless randomness) is irritating, I do actively enjoy the sort of game where managing risk and deciding what sort of gambles you wish to take is an active part of the strategy. Basically, it’s potentially good randomness if you can either (a) choose how much to expose yourself to risk vs reward or (b) make meaningful choices based on incomplete knowledge.

    I’ve noticed games seem to be reducing this though. Certainly the trend in Eurogames seems this way and I notice that whilst the first Civilization had a lot of luck (probably a bit too much), Civ 6 has gone the other way in literally telling you via a pop-up the result of each battle before you commit. I certainly enjoy games of pure skill too, but think there’s definitely a place for strategic risk management.

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