Tactics Revisited

Ah yes, I knew that my posting would be commented on. Recently I posted an entry talking about my enjoyment of Wizard Kings. In that posting I commented that "It doesn't seem that eurogames really focus too much on tactics as an essence of game play."

I knew that statement would garner comment, and so it has. Jeremiah has provided many examples of games where he feels that eurogames do indeed have tactics, but concedes that the range of options at any one time are rather limited (which he points out is not necessarily a bad thing).

Yes, it is true that eurogames have tactics. However, perhaps I didn't explain enough of my rationale about eurogames.

I suppose what I was struggling to describe is related to the two terms "tactics" and "strategy" and how badly they are defined. Someone can point at a strategy and say "see that's a strategy" and point at a tactic and say "see that's a tactic". However, defining them in anything other than example becomes problematic.

The problem is that the terms are interrelated with each other. Perhaps they aren't actually different at all, just terms applied to different levels of abstraction of the same thing. Presume we are talking about board games (see, the examples again!). I have a goal for how I want to move all my pieces from here to there and it will take many moves to do it. That's strategy. Now, I have these immediate problems during my turn, or over the next couple of turns, and I need to figure out how to solve those immediate problems to eventually achieve that goal I was just talking about. That's tactics. But are they different from one another?

I'm arguing that they're not really different. Yes, they are different levels of abstraction and change differently as the game moves forward, but other than the abstraction (or perhaps I could say "level of focus", which is really just another term for abstraction) they are pretty much the same.

What I'm writing makes me think of the the work done by the Goal Oriented Action Planning (GOAP) working group from the IGDA. GOAP is basically a way of programming artificial intelligence into games and other programs. GOAP considers that AIs have a modularity to them and the working group introduces definitions for "goal", "action", and "plan", which they themselves adapt from a planning standard. When you read these terms, they seem very close to each other and to the terms strategy (GOAP goal) and tactics (GOAP plan).

So what does this all mean when I said that eurogames don't focus too much on tactics? Well, it all comes down to feel or perception. Let's assume (as I do) that strategy and tactics are different levels of abstraction of the same thing. What I'm concerned with then is whether the game feels more strategic (more decisions at higher abstraction) or more tactical (more decisions at lower abstraction). Whichever way the game feels then dictates which of these two labels to apply.

In my mind eurogames are structured around making more (not all) decisions at the higher levels of abstraction. Wizard Kings, on the other hand, focuses on more (not all) decisions at lower levels of abstraction. Of course, the degree to which this is done varies from one game to the next, but I believe eurogames feel more strategic.

To use some example provided by Jeremiah: I would apply the strategic label to Caylus, Tigris & Euphrates, Tikal, Java, and Carcassonne: The City. I would argue that Blue Moon City, Samurai and Through the Desert are somewhere in the middle, and that Tongiaki, Kingdoms, Lost Cities, and Blue Moon are more tactical.

I have often wondered if this balance of game play towards the strategic is one of the characteristics defining a eurogame as opposed to an American-style board game, but that is an entirely different discussion.

I doubt this settles the matter. I'm not sure such a matter can ever be truly settled, due to the nature of the words we are using. However, it may help frame the discussion a bit more.